“It has to be perfect.”
Madame Foretsi puts her right hand on the long mirror and pulls it toward her. Her eyeliner is feathered out like a bird’s wing. “Even a millimeter matters. In tango, a millimeter may as well be a foot.”
She gazes into the mirror and nods approval. She adjusts her arms so that they are strong yet pliant, inviting yet wrapped in the allure of the cabeceo. She holds the pose for a moment then drops her arms heavily. “You were the one who told me that it mattered. I believed you then.”
Then seems long ago, a decade ago, a year ago. She smiles ruefully at her reflection. “And now, the shoes.”
Madame Foretsi melts into the gold brocade lounge chair next to the mirror. She is careful that she does not wrinkle her dress, as it was his favorite tango dress. The fabric is like a river running across her body, and he always loved to touch her when she wore it.
“Red has always been my best color,” she says and watches her reflection in the mirror. She puts one hand in front of her body like she is reaching into the mirror to pull out her reflection.
She drops her hand and adjusts the straps of the dress. Her flesh is not as firm as it once was, though it is not discolored or wrinkled. “Come on,” she says in a commanding tone and keeps trying to tighten the straps. “This body is not so old.”
After several more tries, she sighs. The straps won’t stay in place without tape. “Nasty stuff, tape,” she mutters and leans over to collect her shoes. She won’t stoop to use it. “Let them fall.”
She feels pleasure when she holds the new Comme Il Faut shoes in her hands. Each shoe is a masterpiece of design and style, and she strokes the right then left one with her fingers. She holds one up to the light, then sniffs it. It smells like moonlight nights and the glitter of milongas.
“Pretty, pretty,” she mumbles and admires the way the red metallic leather gleams in the soft light. “He would have liked these.”
She slips the right shoe on and leans over to fasten the buckle. Her fingers shake, and she struggles to pull the slender piece of leather through the opening. Since the heart attack, she hasn’t taught a single class. Without him, there seemed to be no point.
“Come now,” she says and finally gets the leather strap to behave. She sits up and stretches her foot in front of her. She admires the curve of her leg and the way the shoe molds to her foot. It was time to use them again. “I have to keep this place, love,” she says. “For us. It’s where our memories are. The best ones.”
The estate had very little money, and after the funeral expenses, all she had left was the house and enough cash to live on for two months.
And she planned to live more than two months. In fact, when she was young, she planned to live forever. She’d investigated the possibilities of cryogenics when she turned 20. But then tango had found her, and her tango man.
Madame Foretsi calculates her expenses for the thousandth time. “Just enough for two months. And that doesn’t include eating out.”
She slips the left shoe on and wishes that she could prepare meals as easily as she can execute a giro. She despises cooking as much as she despises vermin and fake diamonds.
Irritated, she stands and walks to the mirror. Her body does not look 60. She narrows her eyes. Realistically, her body looks 40, possibly 38. She possesses a lightness of age.
“And I can teach,” she says to her reflection. “You always said there were only two steps to master in tango.” The idea of teaching without him makes her ill, but she is a tanguera. She snaps her fingers and boleos in front of the mirror.
She turns to the side and watches her ochos in the mirror. She relaxes into the pattern of the step and breathes deeply. She knows that it is perfect, that she is perfect, and revels in the knowledge. “I am a survivor.”
The grandfather clock chimes, and Madame Foretsi looks at the room. Several observation chairs are cluttered in the middle of the floor. She hadn’t moved them since he’d died in the middle of his last lesson.
It is time.
“They must be moved,” she says in a cold voice. She still hasn’t forgiven the students for watching as he died. She had tried to make them leave, but they said they wanted to support her, and yet...
Madame Foretsi stands up tall and shakes her head. She had wanted no one to watch him die but her. She’d wanted his last moments, as she’d only had the scraps the tango had left during their life together.
She takes the first square seat and picks it up resolutely. It is heavier than she thought it would be, and she feels a twinge in her back. She is more careful when she picks up the other three seats. She moves them to the four corners of the room.
“He always wanted red,” she mutters and sits on the seat nearest to the entryway. She looks at the pictures on the side table. She is young and carefree in one of them, on vacation with her family in Argentina.
Her parents had traveled extensively. She had gone with them, but never really loved travel as much. This trip was the last they took together, as after that, she had traveled with him.
“But that is where we met,” she says and stands. She walks to the other side of the room. She feels every step, makes sure her knees are shut and her head is high. “Near the park in Palermo Chico. I was in a white dress with a red cherry pattern. There was a dog, and I had stopped to pet it. I was in my prime, and you, my love - you never left your prime, did you?”
She turns slowly and looks at the long mirror on the opposite side of the room. There are four mirrors total, placed in the cardinal directions for the best viewing angle. She watches herself walk across the room again. He had always insisted upon perfection. She had agreed.
The bell rings, and she hurries to the side of the door. “Yes,” she whispers.
“Pizza, total $24.95, ma’am.”
The voice is brash and young, and Madame Foretsi closes her eyes. She remembers the way his fingers would brush her bare back when she had first met him, when they first danced. His fingers were full of ancient knowledge.
“Wrong unit, dear,” Madame Foretsi says and holds the button for a second longer than she has to. She finally lets it go and leans against the door. And his first words -- “we will walk until the music ends.”
She had almost forgotten about music. She pushes her body away from the door and walks to the desk. His Ipod is still charged and connected to the Bose system. She turns it on, and presses play.
“Malena” plays, and she runs her fingers across the top of the desk. He had called her Malena, though her name was Doris.
“And the others, he called pumpkin,” she says bitterly and turns to look in the mirror farthest from her. “A regular squash.”
She raises her right arm in a beckoning gesture, then lets it drop. “I would never have answered to the name of a vegetable.”
But the other girls had. The girls, the women, who had come to their home and walked the floor, had learned to shut their knees when they danced, and open their hearts to the music.
“Whores, all of them,” Madame Foretsi mutters and stops the music. She never wanted to be the sad singer in the song. She’d wanted to be the red he desired, the brilliance he was always reaching for in tango.
And they had achieved it. The gold championship trophy was above the second bookcase, just as it always had been. They had been champions.
But the women had stolen her spotlight, and when he was dying in the middle of their floor, she had wanted to tell him that she did not forgive him for it. But there were the students watching...always watching.
The bell rings again, and this time she runs to the door. “Yes, yes,” she says breathlessly.
“Here for fundamentals.”
She presses her lips to the speaker and closes her eyes. “Yes, second floor, please. Only bring your tango shoes up.”
She lets the button go. The strap of her dress falls from her shoulder, and she does not pull it back up. She dims the lights, and waits for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.
She is her own light.
Katarina Boudreaux is a writer, musician, composer, tango dancer, and teacher -- a shaper of word, sound, and mind. She returned to New Orleans after circuitous journeying. Her chapbook “Anatomy Lessons” is available from Flutter Press. Her play “Awake at 4:30” is a finalist in the 2016 Tennessee Williams Festival. Visit her site at www.katarinaboudreaux.com.