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As Renata and Antonie reach the halfway point in the long hallway, Renata stops, turns again, and grazing Antonie’s smooth face with her fingertips, she brings the outside of each delicate hand to rest on his black velvet shoulders. For a moment, Renata seems poised, the couple looks ready to dance. But instead they embrace, Renata reaching up, Antonie down, the two pressing their open mouths together.
Renata pulls away.
“That,” she says, swiveling on the point of her toe, proceeding down the white stucco hallway of the elegant Spanish hacienda, “that is to show you I do sometimes need you in the way you think you need me.” Antonie lurches out, tries to grab her, to catch her slight waist, but Renata slips away and laughs. She picks up her ruffles and her pace, so that she is practically running through the hall, so that her cleats make a ragged clatter of metal against the floor. Antonie has the choice he makes without choosing, to chase her to the dining room where she’s danced so many times before.
There, the light is brighter. Hanging from the ceiling is an antique wagon wheel, into which are set thick candles. Today the candles are all lit. The ceiling is braced in dark beams, and the white walls are hung in turquoise and grey wool rugs and the thick trestle table runs almost the length of the immense room. The table is set for two, as it always is, with a wooden plate at each side, and heavy silverware resting on white cloth napkins. In the center of the table are two thick white candles, also lit, and a large shallow wooden bowl full of pure white gardenias. A painted clay plate to one side holds a variety of castanets, each set different, some pairs carved out of ivory, some of carved and painted wood.
Without waiting for a cue, Renata takes up the white ivory castanets, imbedded with abalone, and slips them on her fingers. As she does, she steps effortlessly from the floor to the leather saddle seat of a chair directly to the top of the trestle table, so that as Antonie arrives in the room, she is standing above, adorning the trestle, her muscular calves at work, both arms raised above her head, her feet pounding, already immersed in the rhythms of the dance. The sharp crackle of the castanets alternates with the pounding of her shoes on wood.
Antonie picks up the Spanish guitar leaning against the far wall, and raising one leg to the leather chair, rests the instrument there. Setting one hand to the strings, and the slender fingers of the other hand to the narrow neck of the guitar, he strums, softly at first, but gradually gaining momentum to fit Renata’s pace. She sweeps a tight circle, her brow knotted, her mouth wide. One wrist raised and twisted, she crushes the red satin-edged ruffles of her dress in the other hand, exposing first one and then the other thigh. Antonie eyes the naked leg, then looks down at the guitar, his right fingers moving in a nimble rasgueado across the strings.
Slowly, Renata makes her way the length of the table, working her heels, her hips, all the while her red lips are set firmly in a line. As she approaches the wooden bowl in the center it begins to rattle, to twist, the drumming of her feet setting the bowl, the fragrant gardenias, in a slow tipsy spin.
The flames of the candles thin and flicker as she steps delicately between them, and the bottom-most ruffle of her dress just grazes the lip of hot wax pouring over the top edge of the thick candle. The heavy silver candle holders, ornate and engraved like the door knob and crucifix, canter slightly out toward the edge of the table. Still Renata moves on, slowly, methodically, approaching the end of the long thick table as Antonie brings louder and louder rounds of sound from the guitar. Antonie too moves forward, approaching the table.
As Renata reaches the end, Antonie lays the guitar aside and extends both arms and Renata steps down, knees bent, both legs tucked into the ruffles. Delicately, she collapses into the waiting velvet arms, pushing Antonie’s hat to the floor. From beneath the hat cascades a flood of blue black hair, hair that takes the shape of a thick cloud, a mass of regular waves that form a cloak over the black velvet shoulders.
You could say this about the pair: they share a remarkable resemblance: the same color hair, the same exaggerated mouths, strongly curved lower lips, the same hue in their caramel skin. In a word, they are cousins, and they are sinking into more than one kind of sin there on the floor.
CHAPTER FIVE of Switch!!appears Sunday, March 30, 2008.