They'd met on a Saturday. From 10AM, the State was treating the people to a good time. Tank-trucks of soda pop blocked the streets. Trinidad was honoring the birth of the poet José Martì. Men in cowboy hats pranced through the streets on horseback, bending down to scoop up plastic cups of rum from the plank-and-sawhorse tables. Here and there, Salsa bands were playing on podiums, and nasal loudspeakers poured out earsplitting cacophony.
On that day, Iosvany's grandmother wore a brand new skin-tight dress, white and fringed above the knees. Swaying among the couples, the old woman waved her skinny arms, exuding a powerful stench of sugarcane. The dress clung to sweaty skin that was streaming with rivulets of talcum powder: she looked like some lewd priestess.
Who could have given the old woman that dress? Arching her back like a fighting cock, she ranted to the crowd, pounding her ribs and munching on her cigar. Suddenly, she was making her way towards a foreign woman in a striped dress, who stood tapping her foot to the music. The lecherous glances Iosvany had been casting in the blonde's direction had not escaped her keen eye. Firmly, she took the foreign women's purse and hat away from her, gave them for safekeeping to a friend in the pizzeria and then, to the strains of a mambo, led her on a wild dance into the middle of the street. She steered her catch towards her grandson, then detached herself from the woman and pressed up against Iosvany, slipping her leg behind his thigh long enough to show the girl the steps. When she'd finished her spirited demonstration, she threw them into each other's arms.
Iosvany was bored with the salsa and started rapping. The girl's pupils were extraordinarily bright. When he asked her age, he was amazed, she looked ten years younger. Here in Trinidad, women's eyes soon lost their luster, like the backs of old mirrors, they became dull and muted: zombie eyes.
The girl didn't know what to do with her arms. The skinny shoulders barely moved and only her pelvis swayed to the music. She grasped Iosvany's hips to try to catch the tempo. She wore rings on every finger. Iosvany couldn't help responding to her impish smile but then immediately bit his lower lip. He made it a rule never to smile at this stage of an affair. His teeth were sparkling white, but one incisor was missing. Soon the embargo would be lifted and foreign dentists could bring dentures to Cuba to fill all those holes sugar had dug.
On the evening of their first date, he waited in front of her hotel, scrubbed and polished as a new penny. His eyes gleamed with excitement when she appeared, so appetizing in her slit skirt. The sight of her made his heart catch fire. For the first time in his life, he let himself be tamed. He put his arm around her shoulders in the street. He pointed out statues of saints behind window-grills – Làzaro, Barbara, Roch and Antonio, the ones the slaves twinned with their African divinities. As for his missing tooth, the girl hadn't wrinkled her face in distaste and said, "Right in front, what a pity!" And as the evening wore on, he gradually stopped pursing his lips as if they were chapped.
They sat side by side on a bench in la Casa de la Trova. The French girl marveled at how much the maracas player looked like Charlton Heston and wanted to dance some more. He led her cheek to cheek through the swarm of tourists, cavorting about any which way. Their knees touched, their sneakers clung together, it was hot and humid, and from time to time he wiped his wet hands on his jeans.
Back on the bench, ignoring grand-ma's efforts to get their attention – the old woman was propped against the bar, holding forth in a low-cut ultra-marine dress – she kissed him on the nose, the chin, the neck. Now the old woman's voice was louder and she was pointing at them.
Thinking back on it now made his eyes grow hard and his mind begin to swim. Pressing the photos to his heart, he dragged himself out of the rocking chair with some difficulty and went back into the moist heat of the bedroom, trampling on the sheets that trailed on the floor. All he wanted was to sleep, shut out the present.
Lying with his eyes closed, he remembered how humiliated he'd felt when the French girl invited him up to her room. The clerk had called him a jinetero [horseman/woman = gigolo or occasional prostitute] and unceremoniously chased him away, a sour-faced guy consumed by envy. Tourist hotels were out of bounds for Cubans, but the French girl didn't know that.
He remembered the turquoise glow around the moon that night, and the girl's blond hair in the dark. He summoned up the sensations he loved to dwell upon when he was by himself, tongues intertwined, fingers linked till it hurt, rubbing crotches crazed by desire, the girl's breath on his neck, her frothy locks against his chin, while he took her from behind standing in the shelter of a cemetery vault.
He clenched his eyelids, slid his hands under the rough sheet and began running his tongue over the gap in his teeth, faster and faster, keeping time with his hand. No, she hadn't said a word about his missing tooth, her touch was tender and her behind was nice and round, just stroking it gave him a huge hard-on.
He remembered her pale face against the whitewashed wall, her skirt up high behind her. In the seclusion of the cemetery, she braced both hands against some dead person's house, arched her back and spread her legs. With the silky folds of skirt between his fingers, he'd rubbed his cock back and forth over the slit, slithering on the moist flesh. Feeling his way, he wandered, not even searching for the rim, in no hurry to get inside. The girl was going crazy, screaming to wake the dead. She wanted it, she begged for it: "Hurry up before someone comes along!" She mewed like a wild pussycat.