One Year Past Perfect
“Cesar, five!” The door to the dressing room snapped shut as quickly as it had opened. Orchestral noise filtered in, a hodgepodge of dance notes that never quite made good on their promise of cohesion. Cesar Hernandez Osorio pulled on one end of his red silk bowtie and undid it, filed away in his mind the fact that five minutes really meant ten or even twenty.
Why had he never given himself over to the ease of ready-made bowties? Was it the feel of the silk as he curled the fabric around his fingers, the way it slipped into perfection and then sat at his throat, a bit of protection between his talent and the rest of the world? Was it his father sitting in some mental corner explaining the way of the gentleman, the way of the valet, the way of the world? Why, when it had taken three attempts to tie it tonight and it still wasn’t right, had he never given himself over to the ease of ready-made? Was it because Micaela always used to rescue him?
The satisfaction that should have come with the final crisp twist of the red slip of silk was interrupted as the door flew open and Vicente Diaz strode in, followed quickly by his son, Armando. Cesar shut his eyes as he mentally shut his mind to the argument he knew they were bringing with them.
“Cesar, I told you no—not again!”
Cesar studied himself in the mirror, brushed at his soft black hair, inspected it for the subtle gray he knew lurked at his temples, the slight thinning that threatened on the top. He glanced to his brother-in-law Vicente and his full head of silver hair. The older man folded his arms and the mirror reflected his look of studied unconcern.
But it was his twenty-six year old nephew Armando who had spoken and his nephew that he questioned. “What ‘no not again’?”
“This!” Armando brandished a table card from the club. His tuxedo shirt gaped open at the neck and a royal blue silk square spilled from his jacket pocket. “I told you I didn’t want to perform! The fiasco that was last weekend, that sub-par substitute sax player, the timing—I haven’t rehearsed, I have no intention of—”
Cesar held out his hand for the offending piece of cardboard. Armando snapped it into his palm and threw his hands to the tops of his hips. What a fine scene they must make, Cesar thought: an irate young man, a silver-haired temperamental old fox, and him, a man just trying to get by. All in various stages of formal dress.
“This is last Saturday’s card.” He held it so Armando could see the date.
“Well, it’s on this Saturday’s tables.”
“All of them?”
He nodded briskly.
“We will simply explain the mix-up.” He leaned into the mirror and brushed at his jacket shoulders, pulled on the lapels. “There will be a few moans of disappointment, but not many.”
Armando leveled his gaze. “That won’t work, Tio. You can’t guilt me.”
“That I should try.” He patted his pockets, searched the top of the dressing table, pulled open a drawer and started ransacking it, pulling out men’s handkerchiefs and separating them wildly. “Where—”
“It has to be in your inside pocket.” Vicente leaned over and touched him on the arm.
Cesar straightened and reached inside his jacket, letting out his breath as he pulled a lace-edged woman’s handkerchief from the pocket. He turned it over, smoothed the monogrammed corner, and gently refolded it, putting one of the men’s in with it. He finally turned his attention to Armando.
“As you have said so often: it is not your audience.”
“You don’t want to sing, don’t sing, Mando. I am weary of the arguments. The song is perfect for you, but some people have a habit of throwing away the best things.”