I like your hair, she shouts across the intersection, her friends grabbing her by the arm, all of them giggling. He kisses his fingertips and flutters a kiss through the crowd, his hand continuing the motion up, smoothing through the arc of his pompadour, like a surfer riding a wave. For a moment he’s more dazzling than the fifty-foot televisions screens above them. He’s louder than all the sound and colour of the Village. Then the girls are gone and he’s popping the collar of his motorcycle jacket, moving past the boutiques and bodegas on Bleecker, his feet strutting to the rhythm of the city.
If he’s asked, he’ll say he prefers dancing. Footwork and flesh, sweat and spit, unison and discord—that focus you only get when you’re two bodies in a room, trying to be one. It’s like fighting without the blood.
The subways send lawyers dervishing with their attachés up onto the street. People curse and crash. He slides through the crowd like a minnow. Uno, dos, ha-cha-cha. Nobody can touch him.
In Madrid, he’d had a partner Carmen. He also had a girl Carmen. Different Carmens. One he danced with, one he lived with. He didn’t love either of them. Both left him because he didn’t want to lead. He had been born at the wrong time. Fighting was the only way he could get close to his heart.
He buys a rosado from a girl selling flowers from a cart, next to the arch in Washington Square. I like your hair, she says. It’s older than you are, he replies, letting his accent slide over her like melting butter. He buys a rose every day, each day from a different cart. He has to spread himself around. He cuts through the grass, grapevining the concrete lip of the fountain and out onto Fifth. Purple clouds are rushing in, tarantelling across the fading sun.
For some people, it’s a moustache, a shade of lipstick. For him it’s always been the hair. Unchanging. Unchangeable. He’s been in fashion and out, and in again. He was a radio dial trying to find the right tune. He had been born at the wrong time.
A woman catcalls him from a balcony. He puts the rose between his teeth and points up at her with both hands. They worship the beauty in each other for a moment and then he’s hopping off the curb, ducking around the corner into an alley. Back against the brick. Thunder trembles like clogs overhead.
He opens his lips and the rose drops into his hand. He’s cut his lip on a thorn. Already the first blood drawn and not one punch thrown. He’s almost there. Just another few blocks. Through the doors of the arena. Footwork and flesh, sweat and spit, unison and discord. Just two bodies in a room, being one. They only do as much damage as they have to.
Afterwards, he’ll knock on his opponent’s dressing room door. The gloves will be off. The shorts bunched in the corner. He’ll toss his wig on the floor. He’ll let himself be seen. He’ll be born again. He’ll still be beautiful.
He wipes his eyes looks out onto the busy street. People walk past holding hands. Different patterns, different arrangements. The dance is still going but he’s lost the beat.