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from the December 2005 issue

from “Lord of the Horns”

Of course it had to be salsa,

which Broschkus detested. In a perfunctory way, he set his legs in motion, more the representation of a dance than the dance itself, he wanted to focus on the silvery toenails before him, on the brown feet in their cheap sandals, on the ankles, sinews, calf muscles; but the girl, swaying in wondrously soft motions, made him a gift of her long black tresses that snapped back and forth in syncopation with her every move, and when Broschkus dared to raise his eyes all the way, she laughed at him with dark lips, a miniscule black gap between her incisors. When she spun away from him, her hair flew into his face; and when she spun right back toward him, she let herself be spiraled in even closer than before—so close that she reached for him as if in alarm with her long narrow fingers to avoid crashing into him outright, this, too, part of the same fluid motion, and of course her naked brown hips knew what they were doing when they swished against the hips of Mr. Broder Broschkus in passing—and only then did she glide past him, the girl, he felt her breath in his ear. Wafting about her was not some cloying perfume, as Broschkus noted with horrified nostrils, but rather a powerful and unadulterated tang as she went on swaying to the beat as if she were all alone in the world and not located in rather dubious proximity to a slightly padded, slightly graying tourist. Oh how hideous Herr Broschkus found himself, how pale, how ungainly, and nonetheless he saw clearly before him the gentle slope of a pelvic bone, saw the sparkling hollows above and below it, perceived a sudden thickening of sound, it was either the beer in his head or a delicate whirring noise, for the fraction of a second he recognized Kristina beside him, Kristina whose properly suited limbs, under the guidance of the dark, heavier woman, had commenced a merry skipping about. Later he claimed to remember above all the way her neckline in back was sitting askew, this of all things, and in the next fraction of a second—? Was that a bite he'd just felt on his earlobe, a tiny bite? Or perhaps more a kiss?

Or just a coolness brushing past him at downy hair's-length, already the girl had pulled her head away, whatever-do-you-mean, once more she was transformed into pure rhythm, an intricately accentuated pulsation about the midriff that left Broschkus a dumb and dizzy idiot, one moment the trumpet was thrusting him forward, the next he was shoved back again by the brief solo on clay jug, now the bongos sent him lunging after the girl with enormous steps, now the guitar tore him away from her, and when, out of breath, all he could manage was to lurch this way and that, she just gave him a look, the girl, looked at him with such innocence, her cheekbone a slender shimmer, a smile upon her lips, that it had most certainly not been a bite, not a kiss, not even a random touch. She looked at him so hard, this girl, that his nostrils quivered, so nakedly, so directly was she looking at him, so ungirlishly all at once, she was all woman now, looking at him with her girlish, no, womanish eyes, something shone green in them, not as a hot promise but as cold desire that completely knocked Broschkus off the beat. Then he discovered it: the hairline crack in all the gleam, a colorless pale crystal embedded in the green of her iris, a millimeter-wide line traced in the left eye from the outer edge of the iris to the pupil, or rather the right eye, that's right, the right eye, a fleck.

Any second now!—Broschkus didn't actually think this, though he was certainly feeling it: Any second now the earth will split open and I'll tumble down to Hell. How loudly the chorus of singers was calling to him, how mercilessly the brass players clamoring for him, how heavily his breath rattled in his chest! But then the woman, right in the middle of his gaze and the trumpet solo and who-knows-why, seized one of his awkwardly dangling hands, she was now all girlishly demure again, and without a word of explanation, led him to his seat.

Where no one was awaiting him, not even Kristina.

When Broschkus had sunk back onto his barstool, finding no beer can he could have reached for, the girl bent over in a parting gesture and kissed—no, bit—him gently on his neck? The instant her teeth buried themselves in his throat, gooseflesh prickled up all over his body, I'm going mad, going on-the-spot here-and-now mad! But while he, blind from this surplus of happiness, dared not lift his eyes, he had already been left on his own again. Left sitting beside a properly coiffed lady who, wondrously, had reappeared at just that moment, before a beer can that was empty but, wondrously, back in its place again.

When one of the men seated near them clapped him on the shoulder, Broschkus did not feel it, but he accepted the proffered cigarette without a word of thanks. And smoked it down to a nub in a single drag, he, the self-proclaimed nonsmoker, while laboriously attempting to remember where and what he was, surely he had remained an expert in economics (PhD)? A time-tested department head and specialist for downward speculation and short sales? Or was he just another pasty-faced tourist incredulously fingering his throat with crumbs of tobacco stuck to his lips? The ceiling fan, even now it was swirling a tangy scent in his direction, or at least a breeze, the shirt was clinging to his chest, which was violently rising and falling, a disgrace. How greedily the little flies kept flitting about him!

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