A Buenos Aires Affair

       I did not go to Argentina for any romantic notions -- not even because I had read a book about Argentina, which, thank God, I had not. I did Mexico because of that. I read Aztec, a book which aroused both my libidinal and archaeological interests. I was not sure if pampa land was even populated. My travel agent helped me make the decision to go. That balding, bespectacled man behind his computer monitor had booked many a trip for me. Loyalty and expertise such as his were rare to find when faces bobbed in and out of life like so many bubbles in a champagne glass quaffed then forgotten. That short, near-sighted, dapperly dressed agent had been the only constant in my life. Ever since I had started to work downtown twenty-four years ago, the ink still wet on my diploma from Northwestern University, Gerald had prepared my vacation packages from his Michigan Avenue office, which was as dapper as he was.
More than business or the pleasure-business -- Gerald was a friend, probably the only male friend I have ever had in my life. Sad to say, but I have always treated men as sex objects. Despite ERA, despite Gloria Steinem, despite my equal opportunity employer, women were my friends and men were my lays. The borders were carefully drawn. Gwen, my closest friend, told me the reason Gerald was such a terrific friend was that he was gay. That intimation took me somewhat aback. All the time I had thought he was merely sexless.
Gwen was too intelligent for most men. A woman's woman, none of the usual jealousies over the attentions of men developed with Gwen. She was fashionable, even chic, if you will, for care with her make-up and clothes rendered plain material attractive. We had met at a woman's self-defense class several years ago. Gwen read people well, and for that, men feared her, intimidated by her perceptions -- all except Gerald. No one intimidated Gerald.
Gerald, next to Gwen, was my closest confidant. He could take me for a drink at the Michigan Club after work and I could spill my guts to him -- it's called ventilating nowadays -- about my job, about my growing alienation from my brother and sister, and the ups and downs of my romantic relationships. He never touched me, never kissed me; the camaraderie was divine. He was cute in his cue ball sort of way, with deep-blue expressive eyes, and rich, mellow male voice.
It was November and we sitting in La Cabra after work, when Gerald asked me where I was going this year. The unadulterated fact was that I had run out of places I knew about in which to spend my annual three-week vacation. I had done Europe -- in fact, three times. I did Acapulco twice, the Orient three times and the Egypt once. Of course, I had done America first. Years ago I had taken in Disneyland and Yellowstone. What more was there?
I was grateful for my three-week summer traveling sprees. They were one of the pluses in an otherwise humdrum job as a Revenue Officer for the Internal Revenue Service. Auditing small businessmen was my particular delight. I had been in more Chicago tenements tracking my prey than I cared to count. I had found equal opportunity all right in government service, starting as a young college graduate of twenty-one, and here I was twenty-four years later. That made twenty-five vacations in search of something more exciting than my job. This was to be my twenty-fifth journey in the forty-fifth year of my life.
Gerald stirred his whisky sour tenderly, picked his cherry and sensually nibbled it, then spun the stem between his carefully manicured fingers.
"Leave it to me, baby . . . to my unlimited imagination. A cruise to New Zealand?"
I shook my head. "I get seasick. Airplanes are the only way to go for me -- if I've got to go."
"Zanzibar on the sands?"
"Nope. The safari in Zimbabwe did the trick for me with the 'z's and zebras."
"In that case, it is time to start over again with the letter 'A'. I don't recall -- have you been on the Alaskan Aurora Borealis Cruise?"
"Yes, Gerald, ten years ago. Remember the sealskin coat I brought back? I couldn't bear to look at a package of Eskimo Pies in the supermarket freezer for months afterwards."
Gerald smiled and sat quietly for a few minutes. I fondled the stem of my glass of white wine and observed a blond woman leaning against a center beam surrounded by four men dressed in three-piece suits. Which one would be the lucky winner tonight, she thought.
"I've got it!" Gerald exclaimed. "Argentina is for you!"
"What!" I gasped. "You're joking Gerry. I'll stick to a bucket of gaucho beef from the frozen food department."
"No, really, Evelyn. Picture it! The pampas, fashionable Buenos Aires, the tango, the soccer games, the polo matches, the gauchos astride their ponies. Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America and you have already done Paris."
"Three times, Gerald, thanks to you."
"Thanks to me," Gerald repeated modestly. "You will be the first to make this excursion. How would you like to be a trendsetter, Evelyn? I will be the first agent to feature the Buenos Aires Tour. This will be the Rainbow Connection to the South. What do you think of that, Evelyn?"
"I think you are ever the promoter and the planner. It has its possibilities, though. It's true that after Machu Picchu I did want to see more of South America. But I know so little about Argentina. Maybe you're right. It would be nice for a change to go some place about which I have no preconceptions -- negative or positive. I know nothing at all about the place."
"Leave it to me. Buenos Aires here you come."
I let the idea sink in and as I did, it pleased me more and more. This would be different, quite different. Leave it to Gerald to always come up with something different.
"Leave it to Gerald," I though as I sat counting my money in the Aljibe Restaurant of the Buenos Aires Sheraton where Gerald had booked me. There wasn't any money to count. The Southern atmosphere had left me in a haze of insolvency. I overspent myself. I had never done that before on any of my trips. What had gotten into me? Was it the sultriness of the tango, the smell of asado roasting in La Cabana, the phallic obelisk rising in the middle of la Avenida Nueve de Julio or the tang of a leather shop on Alvear Street? On Calle Florida, I had gone on a massive spending spree to match any oil princess on a Paris Street, fiercely buying up ponchos and gaucho belts for my brother whose love I'd never have and shipping original paintings to my sister direct from the boutiques of La Boca, its fabulous brightly-colored houses along the waterfront warming me up for yet more spending, justifying it all to the end that she needed more art and beauty in her life married to a boorish truck driver who thrived on country music and infidelities. My parents had gone to their graves hoping I would marry a good man before they died, but they were both dead by the time I was thirty-five. Well, they should have known a good man is hard to find, but a hard man is good to find, as the old saw goes. Better that way. And they should have known I supplemented my government salary once by the sale of a pornographic story. The rag paid well -- a whopping $3,000 which helped finance one of my junkets -- I think it was the one to the Orient.
Broke in Buenos Aires and five more days to go, I sat at my table regretting my ancestry, for I retained one of my immigrant forebears conservative philosophies to eschew credit buying, having not a single bank credit card to my name. The waiter collected my few remaining pesos. I left the Aljibe trying to avoid total panic. The only course was to wire someone for money, but who? The mortification of contacting my brother, the tightwad, or my sister, barely financially afloat herself, were not acceptable alternatives. Both frowned on my lifestyle as it was -- one of spending today rather than saving for a tomorrow which never came. I only saved enough money over a year to make these trips. My brother constantly nagged me, "stop renting and buy a condominium." My cult of enjoyment did not sit well with my sister either, who had procreated prolifically. Her six children ranged in age from seven to seventeen. She never failed to remind me that soon I would be past my childbearing years, that if I did not reproduce soon I might give birth to a Mongoloid.
No, one of my relatives would not do. They had too much concern for the interest rate, and I had no interest whatsoever in the interest rate. Stan Everett might help -- but since I was trying to break away from his interest in me and had been rather successful in avoiding his invitations the last month, I hesitated to become indebted to him in this fashion and fan the flames of a dead romance -- or at least one I hoped was dead. Stan had begun to talk marriage. Playing stepmother to his two teenage girls every other weekend did not appeal to me in the least. I was running scared. In dating Stan I had broken one of my cardinal rules. Stan, another revenue officer, worked with me. At least he wasn't my supervisor, I consoled myself. Hard-working, understanding, loyal Stan was too good a man for me. Stan had money in the bank. My prodigality would not go well with his frugality. He liked to spend an evening before his fireplace, listening to classical music, sipping vintage wine and nibbling cheese and me. I wanted to go dancing, to travel. Ever faithful Stan would help me, but I decided I could not afford his help.
Outside I hailed a cab. "Florida 468," I confidently spoke in Spanish. "The Richmond Bar." The hotel maid had told me to try that one. The men were elegant. The cabby answered me in English. "Yes, lady, pronto. You like Buenos Aires? If you like, I pick you up tomorrow and take you all over -- San Telmo, La Boca, Palermo Park -- I show you everything in La Argentina. Cheap. You pay me American dollars."
The world over these cabbies want to be tour guides, I thought, and they always want to practice their English on you when you are quite prepared to try out your knowledge of the native patois with them. "He's quite handsome. Family probably from Italy," I thought. The older I got the more I unabashedly could appreciate a fine figure of a man.
"My name Salvatori Gaziano," he went on. "My family come to Buenos Aires from Sicily twenty years ago. We live in San Telmo -- know all about it. I paint beautiful pictures. I show them to you. Buy one, okay? I drive taxi at night. Paint during the day."
I switched to Spanish, politely declining and swiftly alighted from the taxi in front of the Richmond.
He stuck his head out the window, calling, "You be sorry, Señora. Salvatori the greatest lover in Buenos Aires!"
"Oh! The insufferable egos of these Latinos! Is the men's favorite sport really soccer or pinching ass on the Calle Corrientes? " I wondered, which reminded me, I still had to see an honest-to-goodness Argentinean soccer game. But the money, what was I going to do about my dwindling funds? "I'm going to have a drink tonight in this elegant place and call someone tomorrow for help, that's what I am going to do," I thought. "Mañana, yes, mañana . . . how delectable." It struck me already I was imbibing the atmosphere so well. Gerald was a genius I thought. Gerald. The name struck me. Gerald would help me. Gerald would get me out of this pickle. He trusted me. He would know I would make good any loan. Yes, I'd call him.
I selected a plush booth facing the crowd where I could comfortable watch the billiards and chess games. I was enjoying Buenos Aires more than any other place I had ever been. The machismo of the place reeked, yet I loved that strong male odor. Surely, this was a country where men were still men and women were still women, I romanticized to myself. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of the bar pleased me well. I ordered my drink and sat back to admire the fashionable men and women passing by. After counting my pesos in the Aljibe I knew that three would be my limit of drinks tonight and then I would head back to the Sheraton.
My euphoria was almost complete. I was in a fantasy now, being spirited away to a spacious mansion, seat of an oligarchic pampa family, when I was startled by the deep rich tones of a masculine voice. I looked up to see a tall wavy-haired man with a well-shaped mustached, wearing a dark brown three-piece suit, slip into the booth beside me, while he asked me, "May I join you, Señora?" without waiting for a reply.
Did I appear to be a Señora? I probably did. His wide blood-red tie caught my eye, a diamond pin stuck in the middle. His deep brown eyes intensely sparkled, his smile exposing almost perfectly white teeth.
"Jorge . . . Jorge Pirovano." He extended his hand to me and the two elegant rings -- one a ruby, the other a diamond -- on his forefinger and index glared up at me. I was not that overwhelmed, not to notice there was no wedding band on his left hand, but what significance did that have, I thought to myself. The gay blade never wears one.
"Why is a beautiful woman like you alone?" I felt him appraising my hair-do, my silk neck scarf, the fabric of my suit.
"I'm not any more, am I? When I travel I find company enough to suit me."
"You're American, I know. Some of my countrymen dislike the independence of American women, but to me it is exquisite, piquant like heady wine."
"You speak exquisite English, Señor Pirovano. You must have spent some time in the States."
"You American women are very intelligent, too. You're right. I studied at the University of Chicago for awhile -- a foreign exchange student from the University of Buenos Aires, but I never finished my degree. Homesickness overcame me and family business called me home." He laughed. "The truth is I liked to play too much and there was no polo major there. Now I do not travel much if I can avoid it and let my employees do it for me." He noted my chagrin, but smiled ingratiatingly the more. I followed up with the question I knew he wanted me to ask.
"Then, what kind of business are you in?"
"It's not beef," he chuckled. "I'm one of the few Argentineans who can say that. I have a Travel Bureau -- one of the largest in Buenos Aires, specializing in North American tours. We have offices in New York, Quebec and Chicago."
"Chicago? So you have not completely severed your attachments to the windy city?"
"I've been there once since my university days fifteen years ago -- only to set up the office."
I totaled the years. My calculation told me he had to be my junior by as much as nine years. So what? I was a liberated woman in mid-life who needed a younger man to keep up with her. "You don't like Chicago? How unfortunate. That's where I'm from." Jorge took my hand, bent to kiss it and murmured, "I shall not hold that against you, my lovely gringuita. You shall know Buenos Aires well before you leave. Jorge Pirovano, the emperor of North American travel, will be your tour guide here."
That was how Jorge swept away and vestige of rationality I possessed. The European hand kiss must have done it, that gentle dubbing me his gringuita that addled my head and made mush of my heart. And I continued to be his gringuita as long as our relationship lasted. He served up Buenos Aires to me on a silver platter. If he was my manservant, I was his maidservant overpowered by his male gentility. Jorge was new meat to my palate, southern asado, and the taste was making me more like a woman, no more the sexless tax collector in an androgynous bureaucracy.
Jorge looked at my Grecian locks. My hair was pulled back to the back of my head where I had gathered the curls. He fingered one of the blond curls, whispering "lovely," then he clasped my hand again between the two of his and asked, "How long will you be in Buenos Aires?"
He noticed my discomfiture as I averted his glance. "It's quite embarrassing," I stammered. I paused, wondering if it was really proper to be frank about my state of my finances. "I had planned to stay five more days, but you see, I have unfortunately overspent myself in those elegant shops on the Calle Florida of yours, and find myself short of cash, so I will be cutting my trip short also." "No. Absolutely not! You cannot do that. Jorge will not permit it. Have you tangoed yet?" I shook my head. "You must learn to tango the porteño way. You will learn from the best dancer -- me." Somehow or other the effrontery of the man did not affront me at all. I lapped up his ebullience, thirsty for more. I was willing to be swept across a dance floor by him any day or night.
Jorge summoned the waiter imperiously for two more drinks, then turned to me again and said, "In fact we shall go tonight -- after this drink. You must not be in Buenos Aires an hour longer without the tango."
His glass emptied, he whisked me up and out the door, hailed a taxi, and ordered, "To El Tango Azul, San Telmo."
Before I could get adjusted to the lithe couples gliding across the dimly lit dance floor of El Tango Azul, before I could absorb the unfamiliar sound of the bandoneon, an instrument Jorge informed me was a cross between the concertina and accordion, I found myself in Jorge's arms, propelled with an ease that surprised me; Jorge manipulating my body with the firmest pressure of his hand against the small of my back, so that within minutes I was oblivious of the movement of my feet; only that Jorge was directing my every step, that I was submitting to his touch and responding as if by telepathic waves to his voiceless commands. A magnificent dancer, he taught me the tango without anything which could be perceived as a formal lesson. Once as he spun me, he whispered salaciously in my ear, "The tango is the dance of love and death." When I swung and faced him again, I said boldly. "With this music, I can face love or death equally well." He laughed arrogantly. As the music ended, he bent my body back, and before pulling me back to my feet, he placed a quick dry kiss on my lips.
I had forgotten my shortage of funds until Jorge called for the bill and placed a wad of bills on the tray. Finding Jorge had momentarily obscured that problem and I remembered that first thing in the morning I would have to call Gerald. Enraptured with Buenos Aires and this cosmopolitan cavalier, I felt I would leave it at that and graciously thank him for a wonderful time. At the hotel curb, he got out of the cab to see me to the door. "Do not worry about your funds. Let me treat you to yet more wonderful sights and sounds of my city. I will hear of nothing else. Tomorrow morning I shall call on you here at nine o'clock for the rest of your tour."
I began to protest, but he would not wait for any reply. He had already turned, quickly got into the cab and ordered the driver to go. The cab veered away from the curb, before I reached it. I went up to my room, sat on the bed in my nightgown, and tried to sort out my impressions of Jorge Pirovano. That was all I had to go on -- a name and a fairy-tale night in a tango club. The only thing he had not done was leave his own glass slipper on the pavement as he rushed away. "This beats all," I thought. "I have nothing to lose, but five more marvelous days in Buenos Aires. If the man is willing, I would be a fool not to take him up on his offer. This is not the United States. Women are expected to accept the favors and attentions of a gallant as their due. Why shouldn't I, too? The man has taken a fancy to me. It's as simple as that. He may be foolish to flirt with an American woman, but here is a gift horse staring me in the face, and I'd better saddle up and ride it for all it's worth. For once I'll know how it feels to be a demimonde." The idea amused me, but what really decided the question was the embarrassment I would save myself by not having to call Gerald for help, kind though he was and certain I was that he would not rub in my injudiciousness.
Jorge was prompt. When I reached the lobby desk, he was standing at the counter reading the morning newspaper. I greeted him in Spanish and he complimented me on my red neck scarf and white blouse. Walking out with him, I realized that even in my two-inch heels, he was about two inches taller than I was. He hooked his arm in mine and promised me an exciting day. We would start off with the government buildings. I was whisked through the casa rosada, the cabildo and the National Congress. Crossing the Plaza de Mayo, Jorge said that was enough of politics and history, that it was time to see the theatre district, the cafes and bookstores on Corrientes Street.
I arrived back at my room that night with sore feet. No more heels, I vowed. Sandals tomorrow, I swore. Dummy me, against my better judgment I wanted to me fashionable, like the gorgeous women I saw on the streets of Buenos Aires. Phooey on that! My open-toed heels had left incipient calluses. I soaked in a warm tub, considering instead the triumphs of the day. Jorge had picked up the tab for the entire day, requiring no other remuneration but the pleasure of my company. As for his company, it was intensely pleasurable for me. Light-headed, freed from all decision-making, I had let my self-appointed escort take matters completely into his hands. In a time and a place removed in more than two dimensions from Chicago, I had let Buenos Aires take hold of me in the same way the warm bath water was suffusing my body in contentment, in a sense of wellness and wholeness foreign to anything I had ever experienced. Our Lade of the Good Air, patron of the city, was breathing a new spirit into me. Images of my brown-haired tour guide swirled in my mind as I lay later in bed, trying to drift off to sleep, but unable to surrender to its sweet embrace, too excited I was with the impressions of the day. We had dined after the theatre in an elegant restaurant, then strolled down Corrientes, browsing through bookstores open all night. I hoped that I had walked off my meal. Leaving me in the hotel lobby, Jorge gently kissed my hand, saying, "Sweet dreams, my gringuita. Tomorrow at nine."
Again he was prompt, well dressed in a beige vest under a tweed jacket. "Today you must see the contrasts, the grandeur of the city. I have rented a car."
He had rented not just a car -- a Mercedes, and he kept up a stream of commentary as he sped from one barrio to another, down the widest and longest boulevards I had ever seen. Jorge grew animated as we entered a district of cobble-stoned streets, the houses gaily decorated, murals enlivened the brick walls of many building. "La Boca, the waterfront district," this you will remember well. I asked if we could stop and explore the antique shops. Jorge said, "Later. We have much more to see and the moon will not wait for us."
We passed over a canal that surpassed the Chicago River for its ugly waters. Jorge saw my frown and said, "The Riachuelo." We drove silently through districts of corrugated tin-roofed hovels where men in undershirts lurked in doorways and dark-eyed women hung laundry while children played in the dust at their feet. "Misery is always in the shadow of luxury," Jorge finally said. The mirth was gone from his eyes. For once I did not see a smile crinkle a dimple in his cheek. If he is going to get somber, I thought, I would have to end the tour. I don't need any misery. Responding to his comment, I replied, "Yes, I suppose you're right. Chicago has its slums south of the Loop lying behind the grand skyscrapers." Jorge nodded, probably remembering them, and then added, "I did not see anyone living in corrugated boxes there. These are the lowly."
What point did the man want to make? It seemed to me that he was living high on the hog himself. Why didn't he go sell all, if poverty bothered him so much? I was irritated. I did not need a lesson in social justice. He turned north and said, "You are probably thinking what do I propose to do about it. Not much. The poor will always be with us. I propose to enjoy what God has given me. Whatever I do will not make any difference. It will be just a drop in the sea of poverty." He noticed my crestfallen look, and brightened. "Hey, Señora, none of that. We shall live, love, dance, and be happy. Besides, God is an Argentine. If he weren't, we'd be even worse off than we are already." The scenery brightened, too, as we approached again the center of the city, where Jorge eagerly took up his narrative, pointing out the landmarks.
"Over there, see that park. That is Luna Park. Perón met his Evita there. You have heard of her, no?" He did not wait for me to reply, but proceeded to recount the ups and downs of their rise to power in the 1940's. Jorge ended, "She died of cancer; it was too sad. Very young. Younger than you or me. But she lived, didn't she? She rose from the houses of misery to the casa rosada."
"Yes . . . like a female Abraham Lincoln," I offered, disinterested in this quaint saga of Argentinean politics. Jorge seemed to delight in relating its morbid aspects. Mary Lincoln going crazy after Lincoln's assassination was macabre enough for me, and I wanted to get a breath of fresh air. I rolled the window down, listening to how the best embalmer preserved the body of the dictator's dead wife, how the body accompanied the deposed ruler to Spain and finally journeyed back to its present resting place in Argentina.
Jorge exclaimed cheerily, "Enough stories. You must see Palermo Park. We will refresh ourselves there. It is exquisite." Palermo Park was all he promised and more. I was glad to get out of the car and stretch my legs. Jorge propelled me to the Rose Garden walk. I was enchanted, enthralled with the garden as any fairy princess. I breathed deeply of the fragrances, glad I was alive, glad I was with a suave South American gentleman who was treating me like a visiting dignitary. I sat beneath a jacaranda tree to rest long. "I'm hungry. Let's eat." He took me to a restaurant in a fashionable neighborhood. Afterwards we drove through neighborhoods with geranium-filled patios and balconied, red-roofed houses with wrought-iron railings. Mansions became plentiful. On an impulse, I asked Jorge, "Where do you live?"
"You will see."
"What neighborhood is this?" I asked.
"El Barrio Norte."
He pulled up to a three-storied balconied building. The gate opened automatically and he drove his car into a garage below the sidewalk level. "This is it," he said. "Now, you shall see my house. I entered his apartment without trepidation, cognizant of the consequences. I don't know if I was the seducer or the seducee, but admittedly I collaborated in my own downfall, if it were such in anything more than a literal sense. Call me hedonist, if you will, all my inclinations were to enjoy the man, to mold him to my purposes, if I could, if he was willing. The French tapestries, the canopied bed and the armoire reflected his fine taste. I surrendered voluntarily, and afterwards he draped a white silk robe around my shoulders and led me to the sitting room. I was not disappointed in his ardor and he lovingly held my hand.
"My gringuita," he said. "I do not wish to deceive you. This is only my apartment in the city. I have a ranch in the provinces -- my family's seat -- acres and acres of grassland and open sky. Most of the time I am here to run my travel bureau. My wife stays in the country except for the social season or an opera premier."
"Wife?" startled momentarily, I repeated. Then the realization dawned that, of course, such an arrangement of affairs was to be expected. I added, "Why certainly! I should have known! Me -- who prided herself on her realism. How apropos, in fact! I'm the other woman. Don't worry -- I'm not disturbed at all. It changes nothing for me. You merely withheld some information you considered immaterial. It's immaterial whether I would have considered it material or not. Come on, smile. Let's not cry over spilled semen." I poked him in the ribs. Apparently, he was taken off guard by my disregard of his revelation -- a situation I would have found a shocking betrayal, a low deception, in my country -- seemed normal, the natural order in Buenos Aires. Norms changed with the clime. A relativist, I could wear this custom well if I chose, and I chose to enjoy Jorge, to wear him like a spangle on my arm.
I resisted the temptation to inquire about his señora in the country, or the number and sexes of his children. The information struck me as irrelevant, immaterial; his family's existence was surrealistic. This amour would end for me like a drugstore novel read and put aside later in a cardboard box in an attic. End it would, when I boarded the big bird for Chicago, waving this Latin lover "adios, amigo." I was not the first of his long line of ladies nor certainly the last. Did not Washington warn us of entangling alliances, and north or south that was what I had always striven to follow. I had barely eluded Stan's net before embarking on this trip, and no stranger here or in paradise was going to ensnare me.
Jorge, pensive, clasped my hand. "Gringuita, I know it must be difficult for you norteamericaños to understand our manner. You can't understand. My señora is beautiful, cultured and a good mother. I love her, but she is a different thing. You are a different thing. Distinct things -- cosas distintas. That is enough to comprehend, no?"
I nodded and smiled. "Dear, Jorge, I have no quarrel with that. I am here on vacation. Shall we enjoy my last two days in Buenos Aires?"
"Yes, of course." His eyes sparkled. "Tonight, a concert at the Colon Theatre."
After the concert, we returned to his apartment in El Barrio Norte where I spent the night with him. He fell asleep before I did, and I lay taking in the feel of the curve of his arm and the morning stubble on his cheek, surprised that he was spent before me. And Stan had recommended a younger man for me, I thought. Why should I think of Stan? Comparisons were no good. Here I am with another man. As Jorge said, they were cosas distintas.
Jorge asked me if I could make an omelet in the morning. I obliged and went to it with gusto, anxious to show him that his gringuita knew a thing or two about cooking, and he was impressed with what I threw together from the ingredients he had on hand in his kitchenette.
After breakfast Jorge drove me around his neighborhood. "Jorge, that's a cemetery! Why are you taking me to a cemetery?" I exclaimed, astounded by the dimensions of the grounds and the ostentation of the tall monuments that loomed over shrubs and trees.
"This is no ordinary cemetery, gringuita. Death here is dignified beyond any proportions you have ever seen, or will see -- beyond the Egyptian Pyramids, for the pyramids do not take on the aspect of death. A pyramid, after all, is just a pyramid, a geometric shape. This is Recoleta."
Jorge parked the car and we got out to walk. I stared at Frenchmen, Japanese, Pakistani tourists snapping pictures and school girls in white smocks visiting ornate family mausoleums along cypress-lined avenues. I was more awed than if I had seen a mummy in Chicago's Field Museum stand up in his winding sheet and grin at me. Jorge, inured to the necrophilia around him, commented, "There are thirteen Argentinean presidents buried here."
Not so extraordinary, I thought, when Argentinean presidents were such a prolific bunch. I refrained from uttering aloud my though for fear of offending his national pride. Gorgeous granite and marble houses of the dead loomed over generals on horseback and politicians declaimed before spectral audiences as black-veiled widows walked past, oblivious to their frozen speech. Jorge stopped before a larger than life bronze statue of a prizefighter.
"I've seen everything," I jested, struck by the incongruity of this statue and the political pomposity and martial glory I had seen displayed all around me.
"He's nothing to laugh about," Jorge scolded me. "That is the Bull of the Pampas who knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring."
"Another coup of sorts," I murmured softly and turned away. Jorge chose to ignore my innuendo.
Any macabre sense of humor I may have maintained was stifled once and for all when Jorge led me into one of the gigantic mausoleums. Relatives in ornate chairs sat before the lace-draped coffin surrounded by lighted tapers and sprays of flowers. A circular stairway wound down into the depths to yet more vaults where other family members were buried. I covered my mouth and gasped for breath, pulling Jorge's arm. I wanted out of that temple where the living worshipped the dead. Outside in the air overshadowed by marble and granite, I trembled. "Let's get out of this bone yard, now! I want to live!"
A surprised look spread over Jorge's face. He apologized for his insensitivity to my feelings, saying he did not know that the visitation of a cemetery where I knew no one could cause me such distress; it was merely an historical relic, an antiquarian's garden of delights was all. It was unfortunate I was so distraught or he would show me the most significant mausoleum in the place. It was too bad, I would miss seeing the Duarte family vault.
"And who pray tell, are the Duartes?" I simpered. "The champion polo players of the world?" "Eva Perón's family. Remember I told you about her? She was born Eva Duarte in Los Toldos, a provincial village. Through her efforts women gained the right to vote in 1947. She is the patron saint of the poor, of lowly women who aspire to heights. Hardly a Blessed Virgin Mary, but revered like the Mother of God., she taught the masses how to adore Perón."
Knowing nothing more than the sketchy portrait Jorge had given me in bits and pieces, the spell of the woman came upon me. I began to hear the crowds echoing, "Evita, Evita!" before he was through giving me a brief chronology of her life and death in a half-mocking way, that struck me that he was trying not to commit himself either to her adoration or to her condemnation.
"The question remains," Jorge concluded, "for the historians and psychologists to debate whether Juan Perón manipulated the woman for his purposes or Eva played Perón like a piano for her psychological needs. Either way, both could play upon the emotions of the rabble like no other duet before or since, I think."
Jorge saw I was deep in thought as we arrived back at the car. He pinched my cheek, and said, "Enough of this seriousness. If we hurry we can make the Boca Juniors soccer match. I smiled, glad he had lifted the pall from my spirits and eagerly agreed that I would love to see a live soccer game; it was a sport I had never seen played.
The wild animation of the cheering home crowd exceeded any American college football game I had ever attended. The enthusiasm was contagious and I was so swept up by the loud jeering and cheering, shouting, loud cursing, and spasms of joy when the home team made a goal that I soon was joining in the general uproar. After the soccer match, I realized that the excitement of the game had tired me, and I told Jorge to take me back to my hotel room; I needed a nap. He cavalierly agreed, expressing concern about my health; perhaps the humidity was getting to me. Yes, he said, I must rest. He dropped me off at the hotel and promised to pick me up at nine that evening. We would spend a relaxing, romantic evening again at El Tango Azul. I agreed, saying that would be a wonderful way to end my trip. I must be packed and leave for the airport at noon the next day.
I forewent the pleasure of another night of lovemaking. The tango quenched my desire that last night in his arms. As he swept me again in that embrace of love and death, my thoughts were not of more passion but of more rest for the journey I must make the next day; of the adjustments I must rapidly make in my thought process before I got off the airplane at O'Hare Airport. I would be going back to bleak February days after summer in the Southern Hemisphere. My disinterest annoyed Jorge; he insisted I stay the night with him and he would get me to the airport on time. I demurred over and over again. He pouted, pleaded some more, kissed me passionately in the taxi going back to the hotel, hoping he could dissuade me from my resolution.
"You're turning cold already, and you are not even north yet, gringuita. I adore you. You must let me love you one more time. This is our grand finale, no? We shall never meet again. Perhaps memories of you will stir with a certain fragrance or when a sea breeze blows. When I see a head of blond curls like yours in the street, I shall think of you." I pushed him away and adamantly refused. This time he appeared convinced of my determination. He sat back in the seat, smiled benignly, and said, "As you wish. It has been my pleasure to serve you. Will you write me? Tell me if you marry?"
"No, Jorge. Let us leave it as it is. Here our interlude ends. You go back to your señora and I go back to work." "As you will," and he graciously bent to kiss my hand, bowed and left me at the door of the hotel. Slowly, I went back up the elevator to my room, considering the affair a closed case. I collected a few brushes, hair clips, postcards and souvenir booklets, which were strewn about the room and threw them into a suitcase. Later snuggling my head against the pillow in bed, I thought what a splendid five days I had spent in Buenos Aires on Señor Jorge Pirovano's expense account.
The next morning I arrived in plenty of time for my flight back to Chicago with a stopover in Miami. I had twenty minutes to wait for departure, so I settled in a chair in the boarding area and opened a magazine.
"Do you mind, madam, if I sit beside you?"
Startled, I looked up from my page. The rich male voice belonged to no other than Jorge who stood impeccably groomed before me, holding a briefcase in one hand. He sat down.
"It occurred to me I have business in Chicago." II
Jorge made himself at home in my apartment. He took over mildly. At first I admired his commanding air, his self-assurance, how he stalked through my apartment like a maned lion in a cage much too small for him, his black silk robe flowing behind him, his shaving equipment spread over my bathroom counter. I had never lived with anyone as long as I ended up sharing my quarters with Jorge. He seemed to install himself permanently. At first I enjoyed cooking for the hungry animal, delighting to see a man devour the food I set before him without a complaint, complimenting me on my culinary abilities.
I selected the menu completely and prepared it while he sat, his nose in the newspaper in the living room, the stereo playing Mozart. We did our share of eating out during that time, too, but Jorge selected the restaurant. Usually ignoring my recommendations, he chose the ones that caught his eye on the street or ones he selected from a city restaurant guide. Doing the town was his domain also. He mainly wanted to revisit the haunts of his student days on Rush Street. The first place he insisted upon revisiting was the Art Institute. I worked downtown, and during the day, he would go back to the Art Institute. He must have gone through it at least three times a week. Other days he went to other museums or walked around the north side, peeking all the art shops in Old Town.
I had to go back to work the Monday after I returned, and Jorge was waiting for me at the elevator entrance when I got out on the ground floor. At first this delighted me; the man was so attentive. I usually took the elevated train home with Stan. It was hard to avoid him since we worked in the same place and lived in the same neighborhood, but before I had gone on vacation I had begun to linger at my desk and stay later to catch up on a few odds and ends to avoid being with him so much.
The next morning Stan came by my desk, and asked, "Who's your constant companion, if I might ask? A stranger in town?" I looked up from my work and brushing off the inquiry replied, "He's not exactly a stranger in these parts. I ran into him on my trip. He went to school at the University of Chicago, has a travel agency here and happened to be coming to Chicago on business, so we've had an opportunity to continue our acquaintanceship."
"He looks very much the man of the world to me. You do have taste, Evelyn. I always thought you did." He smiled.
"Are you suggesting that I am not the woman of the world?"
"No. No, not at all. I know you too well, Evey. You can take care of yourself. You never failed to make that quite clear to me. I know you wanted to cool our relationship. You know that first of all I am your friend and I can always be that, can't I? I have bowed out gracefully of your life, without putting any strain on you. Besides, jealousy does not become me very well. I'm able to abide the thought of another man in your life. I have my job and my children to fall back upon when I experience a disappointment in love."
"Jorge is not here to stay. Our motto is to forget about tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes. For the time being we are enjoying each other. As long as the cold doesn't get to him, I suppose he'll stay."
"Where's he staying?"
"Why, with me! I must admit, though, despite his charm, wit, gaiety, gallantry, taste, intelligence and good looks -- what any woman would call the recipe for a perfect lover -- at times I crave the joy of going home to an empty apartment and eating my cottage cheese out of the container. Jorge hates paper products. It's an affront to civilization to serve food on a paper plate, he says. My plastic place mats had to go. He bought me a linen table cloth and napkins. I appreciated the gift, but . . ."
Stan looked at me understandingly and finished, "You've learned to love your convenience. You know, guests are disposable, too," and he walked back to his office.
One evening after Jorge had been in Chicago for about a week, Gwen appeared at the door just as we were on our way to a discotheque. She excused herself, saying she would visit me some other evening; she was dying to hear about my trip. I introduced her to Jorge and invited her to join us, telling her my biggest souvenir from Buenos Aires was right before her eyes. Gwen did not want to intrude, but after I continued to insist on her joining us, she relented, asking were we sure she would not be a fifth wheel. I reassured her and suggested that we ring up Gerald; he would be glad to join us for the company and conversation. He usually spent Friday nights at home reading or playing around with his clarinet -- a love from his youth he had never lost.
Between the band's sets, Gerald and Jorge babbled on about airlines and hotel accommodations. Gwen danced a few sultry tunes with Gerald, her five-foot, eight-inch frame towering above his short bald-headed figure. While Jorge and I boogied to the fast ones, Gwen studied us from the other side of the table where she sipped her Chablis, and Gerald talked unceasingly, heedless whether she were listening to him or not. Jorge, the consummate gentleman, asked Gwen to dance the next slow one. Afterwards, Gerald and Jorge went to the bar for more drinks, having failed to catch the attention of the waitress. Jorge left annoyed, saying such bad service could not occur in any respectable place in Buenos Aires. I turned to Gwen, and confided:
"Buenos Aires fulfilled my wildest dreams. It was bizarre, but vibrant and alive. Jorge was absolutely correct. For taste in food, clothes or art the city is matchless."
Gwen studied me intently, and in the aloof, elevated measured tones that I had become accustomed to when she was formulating a new opinion, responded, "He's smooth, Evelyn. I'm wondering if it's more fire or ice. To tell you the truth, Evey, at one point when I was dancing with him, I thought I was dancing with a sophisticated mannequin."
"Gwen, you can't be serious. He's divine; he exudes warmth, soul."
"Oh, yes, granted," Gwen agreed. "His kind of warmth clabbered me."
I laughed. She smiled and said, "He's not my type. I leave him to you, but be careful. I don't want you to be hurt."
"Oh, Gwen! Me? Hurt? A man can't hurt you unless you let him. It's simply joie de vivre as far as I'm concerned."
Gwen smiled faintly. "I'm not so sure that a woman is constituted exactly like a man and can brush off the spiritual side of a sexual relationship as easily as a man, despite all those protestations today of being able to do so. I think it hits their psychic center too deeply. They want more. Babies, for instance . . . eventually, that is, even if they manage to subdue the maternal instinct for years."
This time I laughed. "Gwen, you're beginning to sound like my dearly beloved departed parents, and my poor sister who has child-borned herself almost to death. Even if I have subdued the old maternal instinct, nature is rapidly catching up on me, and I don't think I could conceive any more if I tried. And aren't you the one to talk! You live a single life."
"You forget, Evey. My husband left me. After five years of marriage, I wanted a child. He walked out, preferring his freedom to responsibility. Unfortunately, I have had no takers or I would have remarried long since."
Gwen maintained a comfortable silence the rest of the night. Gerald's spirits soared higher; he laughed inanely, wore a smirk on his face and squeezed my forearm with every joke he told. I began to yawn. Jorge saw me gape and proposed that we leave. Gerald and Gwen took a cab, heading to their Irving Park apartments and we flagged another cab to take us to my Lincoln Park apartment.
A few evenings later, when I had my fingers full of pizza dough, Gwen showed up at my apartment. I told her to make herself comfortable with Jorge on the living room sofa while I finished putting the pizza together in the kitchen. When I joined them in the living room area, the two were quietly looking at magazines. Gwen looked up and quipped, "You're certainly becoming domesticated in your old age. Has this South American lion tamer subdued the lioness no one else was able to?"
"I'm being the gracious, obliging hostess to our visiting dignitary, offering the hospitality he gave me in abundance when I was in Buenos Aires." I brought out my photographs of the trip to show Gwen and let Jorge do the explanations of the shots. Later Gwen followed me into the kitchen to cut up the pizza.
"Evey, how long is this gorgeous George going to decorate your apartment? Doesn't he have a wife and family south of the border to tend to? What about his business? Travel agency he said, didn't he? Are you sure it isn't the drug traffic business? Have you actually seen his supposed place of business?"
"Gwen, don't be so suspicious. Yes, I've been to the agency here. It's on Michigan Avenue."
"And the woman back home, what about her?" Gwen persisted. My effort to ignore the suggestion failed, and in an offhand manner I countered, "She, I'm sure, is used to his so-called business trips. They spend most of their time apart. He stays in Buenos Aires most of the time. Meanwhile she's back at the ranch, as they say."
"Evey, you've gone and done some unorthodox things in your time, but have you gone completely made taking up with this South American playboy? He'll leave you, Evey. You think you're just having a fling that you deserve for being a hard-working girl putting up with red tape and the men of the bureaucracy all year long, but this man might have claws that scratch deeper than you think." She looked at me tenderly and put her hand on my shoulder. "You've more feelings than you give yourself credit for having." I shrugged my shoulder and finished slicing the pizza.
I appreciated Gwen's concern, but felt she gave me too much credit. I doubted I had the ability to love as she had. The meager love I gave was uncommitted where the door never closed behind me. I was free to come and go as I pleased. Later in bed, Jorge lay back, put his arms behind his head and said, "There's something cold about that woman. Is she a lesbian?" I burst out laughing. "What on earth makes you think that? Her short hair?" "No. I smell a man-hater when I'm around her. I think she looks at you like no woman should look at another woman."
"That's preposterous," I answered. "Gwendolyn is just a very close friend. She has been hurt a lot in her life. She watches over me like an older sister."
"Jorge drew me close to him, "You don't need looking after. If anyone needs to care for you, it will be me. Me . . . gringuita." And he resumed covering my entire body with kisses, then turned me over and covered my back with caresses until I clung to him as if locked in the links of a chain I had forged myself from the heat of our passion.
The next morning I was five minutes late for work. I felt myself dozing off several times during the day while reading reports. Each time I'd shake my head and dart to the coffee machine for a refill.
"What's the matter, Evey? You look a little peaked." Stan asked me at the coffee machine.
"I'm fine. I'll catch up on my rest this weekend and be as good as new."
"Maybe you should have a check-up," Stan suggested.
"I'll be all right."
"I don't want to pry into this business, but is your visitor gone yet?" "That's all right. No, he isn't gone yet."
"Well, if he's the gentleman, you believe him to be, he'll know when he's outstaying his welcome."
"He'll have to leave soon, I'm sure."
After work Stan followed me to the ground floor. Jorge was in the lobby as usual waiting for me. We were to go to a restaurant and then to a concert directly from there. Jorge greeted Stan politely. Stan did not linger long, but rushed off to catch the elevated to his north side home.
Walking down the street to the restaurant, Jorge commented, "You work with that man. He's attractive. Have you been to bed with him?"
I stopped dead in my tracks, aghast at his remarks. How dare he? Stunned, I looked at him, amazed, unable to say anything.
Jorge attempted his disarming smile, took my arm and resumed walking. "Don't be alarmed, my dear. It's a compliment to your charms. And besides, it was quite obvious from by brief encounter with Sam that he's very much taken with you."
"Stan is his name," I corrected, irritated with his innuendoes.
"All right . . . Stan. Was Stan better in bed than me?"
I choked. This time I stammered, "I don't have to put up with that, Señor." I turned around and walked back in the opposite direction. Jorge ran after me.
"Darling, forgive me." He kissed my hand. "Just blame that on my inane passion for you. My jealousy, that anyone could desire you as I desire you. Please, forgive me. Smile. That's better. Come with me to dinner. I shall not descend to these crudities again. Gringuita, forgive me."
I could not resist his effusions. I relented and went with him. The rest of the evening he did everything to please me, flattering me, catering to every whim, delighting me with his commentary on the food, the music, the denizens of the city, and I forgot all, forgave all. I even forgot my weariness of earlier in the day, and joyfully sank into his arms back in my bedroom that night.
Awakening in the morning, I could not deny the tiredness pulling at every fiber of my body. I commanded my muscles to move into the shower by sheer force of will. After downing three cups of coffee, I rushed out to the office, not caring whether I had eye make-up or enough lipstick on, or that Jorge was sleeping like a lovely Adonis in my rumpled bed. I slept on the elevated and arrived ten minutes late, hoping my habitual promptness for the past twenty-five years would make this laxity go unnoticed, which it did, I thought, as I slunk to my desk.
But Stan had noticed and stood by my desk while I strained to appear preoccupied with the sorting of memoranda in my basket. "You look different this morning. No eye shadow maybe?" he said.
"I was in a hurry this morning," I answered. "I suppose I do look a bit washed-out, letting my middle-age show."
"Welcome to the club, then." He bent his head forward to exhibit his bald spot on the top of his head. "When it gets too bad, I'll stoop to three long strains of hair across it. I prefer you without all the cosmetics."
"I don't like myself without them." Stan smiled and I wanted to tell him I appreciated his acceptance of me for what I was. The man sensed my discomfiture. I sighed and said, "Stan, my guest is beginning to get on my nerves. The party is over, but he doesn't know it."
"Just tell him to go. You enjoyed having him, but it's time to check into a hotel. If he doesn't go, make reservations for him somewhere."
"The man is so gracious, I can't bear to hurt his feelings. He was so good to me in Buenos Aires, I can't be inhospitable."
"My dear, I would say, you've been more than hospitable. Perhaps you're subtly attached to him in a way that you just can't put out the cat."
"Maybe. All I know is I can't keep up the pace. He's wearing me out. Is there a sweet twenty-one year old who could turn his head somewhere?" I looked earnestly at him, hoping he would laugh at the half-joke.
"He's not through using you, but when he's done, you can be sure, he'll find a way to make an abrupt exit. Maybe leave a note on the dining room table -- be gone in the morning."
"Wait a minute, Stan. You presume too much. Since when is he using me? I think we both walked into this affair without any illusions. I believe we both knew what we were looking for and got it in equal measure. Let's say, he's becoming too possessive, stifling in his embrace."
"He's not disillusioned with you yet? So, you say, you used him as much as he used you. Peculiar type of usury I'm not familiar with in my observations of relationships. When do you collect the interest?"
"There's no interest. He's free to go whenever he wants. The problem is I have to work for a living. I have to get up and go to work in the morning, but he can sleep late, wander through art museums and attend antique auctions to his heart's content. His business actually requires little, if any, of his attention."
"Only the malaise of the super-rich, Evey. You could probably twist him around your little finger and get him to support you."
"It's not in my blood to be the kept woman of any man."
Stan raised his eyebrows and then asked with feigned innocence. "Then you go Dutch treat as you gad about town?"
"Well . . . no," I answered.
Stan stood without further comment and then turned to walk back to his office. I tried to focus my attention on my paperwork, but peace was not with me. My attention on my paperwork, but peace was not with me. My attention focused on the clock and how much farther the hands had to rotate for break, and then for lunch, then for quitting time.
Jorge, genial as ever, was waiting for me on the ground floor. I firmly but emphatically told him that I wanted to go home, have a cup of soup, cuddle up with a book and go to bed early. He tried to persuade me otherwise in his most ingratiating manner. Seeing he could not shake my resolve, he began to sulk, became quiet and did not speak a word to me the rest of the way home or even after I had fixed the soup and set one bowl out for him and another for myself. He refused his, pushed it aside and spouted, "This is garbage. A dog wouldn't drink it. I'm going to Pipitone's to eat." And with that he grabbed his overcoat and left. The silence after he went was sweet as if the heavy scent of dying flowers had been cleared from altar vases and I could breathe and exhale air around me that belonged to me alone. Weariness overcame me and I fell asleep on the sofa.
I was awakened I don't know how many hours later by the sound of the door opening. Jorge walked in with Gwen behind him. He took off his coat, hung it in the closet and without a word walked into the kitchen, from where we soon heard glasses clinking. Gwen took off her coat, greeted me and said, "We met coming up the stairs. He seems in a bit of a snit, complained of a cold. The temperature has dropped and snow is being forecast. He damned the snow and muttered in Spanish a lot, just to annoy me, I think. Is our northern clime finally getting to him, Evey? Perhaps a trip to Sears for some long underwear would cheer him."
"Spare the humor, now, Gwen. He's irritated with me because I wouldn't do the town with him tonight and my cuisine didn't please him."
"He did say something about eating tonight at some sleazy Italian restaurant that even the River Riachuelo would cough up. Is that anything like the Chicago River, Evey?"
"Worse," I answered.
"Maybe, then, he's suffering from a little indigestion and is fixing a nice alka-seltzer for himself."
Jorge came striding haughtily into the living room holding a wineglass. I looked at him and kindly asked, "Querido, could you get Gwen a glass of Chablis? It's her favorite." He turned and went back. I called to him, "One for me, dear, too. I feel a lot better after my nappy-wappy." I threw him a kiss.
Jorge brought the wine to us on a tray. He appeared cheerier and had recovered his usual charm as he elegantly handed Gwen her glass. She smiled back at him in the same studied manner.
"Jorge, have you heard from anyone back home?" He shook his head. She continued, "Do you have a large family in Argentina?"
"Quite large. The family is more important to us than to you in North America, so we still like the warmth and support of large family circles."
"Then, you must miss them when you have to travel."
"Yes, that's so, but it makes the homecoming all the sweeter. They appreciate me more when I return and are so happy to see me."
"Do you have children?" "Five brave boys and one girl."
"How nice!" Gwen crossed her legs and delicately sipped her drink. I knew she was assessing the mentality of this man who could flaunt his infidelity with no hint of guilt, for there was none. More astonishing, I felt none either, for he existed for me completely disjointed from home and family. I could not picture him a father. Therefore, his fatherhood did not exist for me. Gwen still wanted to pursue this enigma, and speculated, "Your señora must miss you sorely with so many children to care for."
"My señora only has to oversee. She has a household staff of servants and a full-time governess for the children. I assure you she lives in comfort and ease. She lacks for nothing."
"Not even affection?" Gwen said, thinly veiling her antipathy.
"Not even that," Jorge retorted self-assured and restrained. He walked over to where I was sitting and stood behind me, massaging my shoulder blades. He bent over and kissed my cheek. "Do you feel better, my gringuita?" I nodded. I looked up at him. "We know you have enough love for many women, Jorge, but surely your señora must need you now?"
"You want to get rid of me, my dear? Ho, ho . . . no, it's not that easy. I adore you. I'm devoted to you. I shall be your servant forever. You shall see. Even in Argentina I'll never forget you."
I knew as I looked at Gwen holding her wineglass in midair that she was thinking, "What a womanizer!"
I didn't care myself. The experience of courtly love was more important than debating the fine points of morality or ethics. Jorge's performance sparkled for me. Here was Don Juan in the flesh and inexplicably he wasn't totally reprehensible to me. I seemed to be viewing the imaginary cultural marionette who moved and breathed, likable, despite his flagrant concupiscence, a condition the wife, I was learning, accepted as a fact of life also, leaving no room for moral debate. I began to feel that his flings would mean nothing to her, affect her very little if at all, because from girlhood she had accepted this was the way men behaved, the way they ought to behave, and if a man did not behave in this way, there was something seriously wrong with him.
I, too, could accept the behavior. Gwen was another matter. She sat quietly, satisfied she had probed as far as she wanted to go into the life of this visitor. Jorge's silence bode no good. The tenseness around his lips questioned when and how soon Gwen was to take up her inquisition again. He was disappointed, for she didn't, having lost interest in making any conversation at all. As soon as she finished her drink, she asked for her coat and left.
As soon as she had left, Jorge said, "I don't like that woman. She's what your American men would call a ball buster."
I laughed loudly. Vulgar English slang issuing from the fine lines of this southern gentleman's lips was so incongruous a sound that I couldn't control my amusement. Jorge looked at me surprised by the degree of my merriment, then he said, "You really should not associate with that woman. She knows nothing of the world."
"I don't know about that. She's a shrewd lady."
"Shrewish, I'd say," Jorge added. "Don't let me be around her again."
His tone of authority angered me. Affronted by his commands, I retorted. "Who are you to tell me who will be my friends? You're getting too big for your britches, Señor Pirovano." He looked at me with hurt eyes, but said nothing, which only irritated me more. I wanted to inflict more verbal abuse.
"You need not be around her again, nor me for that matter. You're stifling me with your body -- with your southern heat. I can't breathe anymore. I need to breathe freely. I'm satiated with your machismo, your charisma, and your animal magnetism. I've had enough sex to last a lifetime. It's been fun. We've both enjoyed it. Now it's over. You go on to your next delight. Who said women can only give to a relationship? I've taken, given, and now I'm spent. Go. I want to be alone."
Jorge, surprised at this declaration of independence, stood stunned. I collapsed on the sofa, feeling twenty pounds lighter, sensing a great relief as if I had climbed ten flights of stairs then parachuted back to the ground floor. After a few moments of silence, Jorge spoke quietly, "As you will, madam. Calm yourself. Tomorrow you'll feel differently."
I fell asleep again on the sofa. When I awoke in the morning, Jorge was fixing breakfast. I smelled the coffee brewing and bacon sizzling in the pan. He treated me tenderly as if there had been no outburst the night before. Since it was Saturday, he proposed we go to a French restaurant and then take in a matinee of a new play at the Blackstone. I agreed, glad to let by-gones be by-gones for the day. In the evening, over drinks I would diplomatically suggested that it was time he returned to Buenos Aires.
On our way to the theatre, Jorge said he would have to stop in at his Michigan Avenue agency to pick up any messages that had been left for him. I browsed in the bookstore on the ground floor while he went up to his tenth floor office. Soon he returned and briskly we walked down the skyscraper canyons to the theatre. The wind off the lake nipped our cheeks and we bent our heads into our pulled up collars. I clung to Jorge's arm. Chicagoans in their usual hurry hailed taxis, quickly walked past us, or ducked into revolving doors. Two Puerto Rican children selling plastic roses under cover of a newspaper stand moved Jorge to buy one for me. Handing the rose to him, the boy took the ten-dollar bill from Jorge, who held out his hand expecting change. Before Jorge could holler "stop" the two children had disappeared down an alley.
When we came out of the theatre, scattered flakes fought the wind down to the pavement. It was the first of March and I hoped that the little flurry was winter giving up the ghost. Jorge grunted with the cold and wanted hot chocolate and a warm bed. We went back to my apartment. I mixed him his hot chocolate and squirted whipped cream on top, bringing it to him where he sat with an afghan wrapped around his shoulders.
"You've captivated me longer than any other woman, gringuita. I've had more beautiful, more dutiful, more doting. Why is it, I don't know." He paused and set his cup down. "Gringuita, the opera season is beginning soon, and I must return to Buenos Aires. You'll not cry for me, will you?"
"No," I said truthfully, admiring his graceful bowing out.
"I've already booked my flight through the office. I must be at O'Hare at seven o'clock in the morning. I'll be gone when you wake."
"I'll see you off. I want to. Un buen viaje, you know."
"You're not sad to see me go?" "Yes, I am," I lied.
"If it were not that . . . I would stay whether you liked it or not . . . but, I didn't tell you . . . my señora is pregnant. Our seventh will be born any day now. Perhaps it is born already. I must be back for the baptism. The birth is not important, but the baptism, yes, I must be there, or they'll not forgive that. There will be a great gathering at the ranch, godparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews." He looked at me with his soulful brown eyes and I almost believed that he loved me. . . that I was a cosa distinta after all, but my monogamous heart said "no."
That same heart intimated that the coming in was not so important as the going out; the essence was more important than the appearance; the birth, the entry less important than the exit. I supposed that we had both had our brief fling upon the stage. Jorge would play longer, but I wanted the curtain to come down as slowly and unobtrusively as possible. I felt as if I were leaving something old and entering something new.
I saw Jorge off at O'Hare. He hugged me tightly, declaring he would always love me. The flight attendant summoned him to board and Jorge hurried through the accordion to his airplane, waving back once. I took a taxi back into the city, and felt like walking around the Loop. The snow began to fall. The traffic increased on the streets. I watched the slush build up as the warm wet snowfall collected on the pavement, the tires churning it up into gray mush. I ate lunch in a crowded cafeteria comforted by the crowds, by the people I need not speak to nor greet. I felt my company sufficed. Later, attracted by a marquee, I sat through a State Street movie, a not-so-funny comedy, of bigamy.
Emerging into the pall of a snowy March dusk, I sought the elevated train for my way home. The tall buildings enwrapped me in an urban womb. I felt at home, where non-exotic skyscrapers, simple steeples, the friendly honks of autos were comfortable and kind to me despite my disloyalties. The snow baptizing me again, reborn to this great strapping, blustering city; I breathed its bad air and felt good.
Approaching the elevated, a woman in a short fox fur, tight designer jeans and black high-heeled boots stopped a handsome man in a trench coat. Exchanging a few words, they walked off together toward a hotel. There were many walks in life and that was merely one of them. The trick was to turn the situation to one's advantage, as either a young man or young woman from the provinces could do, eager to gain fame or fortune in the big city. The politician could push his wife forward to sway the masses in order to win an election. If the woman were smart enough even though she lacked an education, she could attach herself to an up-and-coming doctor, lawyer or Indian chief to attain power. The lady in the fox fur knew her job as well as the President's wife did. I was forty-five, making it on my own in the big city. At twilight, standing on the elevated platform, waiting for my train to arrive, that seemed my grand illusion. I was a captive of this city as I had ever been, as rooted in the Midwest of my birth as ever, and in desperate need of another human body as ever.
Standing there, I remembered it was Sunday evening. It was Stan's weekend to have the children. In the fading light, Stan, his fireplace, his two teenagers, and a bowl of popcorn seemed the substance of the romance I had been seeking. Would they still be there when I got there? The elevated cranked to a halt before me, doors opened and I climbed aboard.