Evelyn taps a cigarette from the pack and holds it poised, waiting for her husband to notice and strike the match, but his eyes are turned toward the flamenco dancer. Evelyn starts to light the cigarette herself and stops. She will wait.
Her husband has stopped eating his paella, his mouth half open before the halted forkful of saffron rice and shrimp as he stares at the dancer. Evelyn sips her wine and squints at the young woman. She has nothing against most dancers, even beautiful ones, but this girl she does not like. She does not like the arrogant stretch of her spine, her sly eyes that look too long at other women’s husbands.
“Peter,” she says. “Eat that or set it down.”
“Oh, yes, sorry,” he replies, and bites the fork. He takes the pack of matches she hands to him and holds the flame to her cigarette.
A trail of smoke from her cigarette makes its way to the man and woman at the adjacent table, and Evelyn waits for a frown, but it doesn’t come. She recognizes them as the friendly couple two cabins down on the cruise ship. She has seen them at the pool, marveling at the ease with which they inhabit their softening middle-aged bodies, lunching cross-legged in their swimsuits. Tonight, they might as well be alone on this patio, the moon and the light breeze only for them. The man places one arm around the bare shoulders of the woman and draws her close. His shirt is stained with perspiration, but the woman leans into him and smiles. A weight settles on Evelyn’s own shoulders as she regards her husband, sitting opposite her, just out of reach, his attention fused to the dancer on the small wooden stage.
The dancer holds herself still. She glares above the audience as if at a rival. Offstage, a hand begins to strum a guitar with a bursting, staccato rhythm. The dancer replies with an emphatic stomping of her tiny feet and a slow uncurling of her arms, hands, and fingers.
There is a trembling containment in the dancer’s slow first movements. The guitar speaks; she retorts with her body, sleek muscle and elegant bone under layers of ruffle and lace. The music grows insistent. Now every part of the dancer is set in motion: the parts with joints and the parts without, spinning in a colorful funnel of flesh and fabric. She is a tornado, an earthquake, a fire, a flood.
The room throbs to the pulse of the young woman with the pumping legs and fleshy bosom. Evelyn feels in her molars the flat clacking of the dancer’s feet. The wild thrashing of the dancer’s limbs fans a forgotten heat within Evelyn.
Evelyn reaches a hand across the table toward her husband. She wills him to take it, to look at her so she can make him a promise with her eyes. He doesn’t notice. “Shall we go?” she asks. “We could finally open that lovely bottle of Champagne we have in the cabin.” He doesn’t seem to hear. Evelyn takes her hand away.
Her cigarette has burned down to the filter. She stubs it in the ashtray and takes another from the pack. This time she does not try to catch her husband’s attention.
Evelyn strikes a match. It sputters white in her hand. She inhales as the little tongue of fire flickers out to lick the end of her cigarette. She sucks in a lungful of smoke, then blows it out, killing the flame.