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Play For Me

9 Nov

Doreen was pottering about in her kitchen listening to the radio. It was the talk-back station that she would occasionally call when the urge took her. Today they were talking about the interests that people pursued after retirement.

Doreen’s interests hadn’t changed when she retired. She did however pursue them with more verve than she had when she was working. Just before she and her husband George had made that change she had invested in building a dance studio on the bottom floor of her house. She would take flamenco dancing students on from time to time, but really it was for her own pleasure that she had the dance floor and wall of mirrors installed.

Her house was adorned with velvet prints of flamenco dancers and bull-fighters; it was full of dolls in traditional Spanish dress, and the kind of kitsch knick-knacks that someone obsessed with a culture will envelop themselves in, but a person from that actual culture would find absurd. She interwove her own history with flamenco and her connection with the Romani people who had taught her clairvoyance as a girl to create a persona that was (although improbable) completely her. She was eccentric, self-centred and impossibly charming. A flirtatious 16 year old girl in 70 year old’s body. If she had aged, she’d never noticed it.

She gave passing mind to the pursuits that the callers were rattling on about: gardening, quilt making, woodcraft, volunteering, learning musical instruments. None of it really interested her, but she felt a kind of connection with the callers if only because age provided the only demographic that she fitted in these days.

Then Simon came on. “Hello. Long time listener, first time caller. I’m actually a classical guitarist and wanted to reach out to anyone else out there with an interest in classical or Spanish guitar. I moved back to town a few years ago but it’s hard to meet people these days with similar interests. I was just calling in to see if any listeners who liked Spanish guitar music, or Spanish cuisine – anything really – would like to get in touch.”

‘Oh!’ thought Doreen. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to meet someone who could play the kind of music that I dance to. Maybe we could even perform together.’

She called the station and asked to be put in touch with Simon. They gave her his number and she rang him straight away.

“Hello Simon, I’m Doreen. I heard you on the radio just now. I am a flamenco dancer and I love Spanish guitar; Paco Pena – that sort of thing, so I thought I’d get in touch”.

“Ah Hi. Yes I can play Paco Pena. He’s great. I lived in Spain for 25 years where I learnt the style.”

“Really! Can you play other Flamenco music?”

“Of course. I made my living travelling with a troupe of dancers, playing small townships. That’s where I learned my craft. I miss it a lot you know – playing that music. I still tinker a bit, but I never really play. There’s no-one to play with, or play for.”

“Oh that’s such a shame. I live for Flamenco. I’ve been dancing it since the 60s when my competitive ballroom career came to an end. My husband and I were national champions in the UK, but then the children came. Flamenco was like all the fire I felt dancing all those different dances condensed into one. It’s very passionate”

“It is that. I played many a show with the beautiful dancers of our troupe in the small towns of the regions. The crowd’s enthusiasm would fuel the dancers emotionally. It got pretty fiery at time’s I can tell you! The audience yells out and claps the dancers on. Not like here at all. I also learnt to make Spanish cuisine Paella and the like. I love cooking it, but you can’t really cook it just for yourself.”

“I love cooking, but I don’t know any Spanish cuisine” said Doreen, though she was in fact a terrible cook.

“Well maybe you should come over to my house. I could play you some flamenco and cook you something traditional. Bring your husband too.”

“That sounds lovely. I think we’d enjoy that. Thank you for the invitation Simon.”

“How does Sunday evening sound to you?”

“That sounds fine. I usually cook a roast for my daughter and the grand kids but I think we can shuffle that around.”

“Great, well I’ll see you Sunday then, say 5:30?”

“Yes, we’ll see you then.”

Doreen hung up the phone, very excited. She shuffled around her kitchen for about 10 minutes trying to concentrate, before calling her daughter to relate the news.

Her husband George wasn’t nearly as excited as she was. He didn’t share her enthusiasm for all things Spanish, though to be fair he didn’t really enthuse over anything. He had nothing against his wife’s obsession though and went along to the Sunday engagement relatively happily.

At precisely 5:30pm on Sunday Doreen and George arrived at Simon’s house. It was a small, modest looking bungalow, a little messy on the outside, but Simon was a pensioner and maintenance gets harder as the body slows down along with the bank account. Doreen was carrying a trifle that she had made for desert. It was her self-professed speciality. George was tucking his shirt into his trousers as Doreen knocked on the door.

The door opened with a slightly grinding creak to reveal the silhouette of a person in a very dim hallway. The couple’s eyes widened, perplexed, as they digested the image of the man that stood before them. He did not resemble whatever image both of them had constructed in their mind’s eye.

“Hello Doreen, and you must be George” said Simon, “Come on in”. The cigarette on his lip ashed itself as he spoke. He was a man in his late sixties or early seventies; long greasy wisps of hair hanging from a mostly bald head. His white t-shirt was tattered and holey, and covered in stains of at least four different colours and textures. He was in pyjama pants as well, and barefoot. He was not who they were expecting.

Doreen knew she had made a mistake, but was too polite to back out at that moment. It would be rude after all. Surely George will say something. His bluntness would be really useful about now.

But no, their legs carried them into the bowels of what they now recognised as a hovel. Old news papers and magazines were stacked on the floor along the hallway that lead to (what must have been intended to be) a dining room – though there was no real furniture. The house smelt of stale urine. Doreen assumed there must have been a cat, though she slowly began to notice the absence of one. There was no sign of any other pet either. Do free roaming rats count?

“Make yourselves comfortable”. Simon waved them toward some dirty pillows on the floor, against a wall. This was where they were to converse and (God forbid!) eat. There was no table, no chairs, just a kind of sideboard with an ashtray and a Best Bets on it. The only other things in the room were a tall, ancient lamp stand and a battery powered transistor radio.

“Mi casa es su casa.” Said Simon.

‘You can bloody well keep it’ she thought, but said “Thank you” instead.

“Did you find the place alright?” asked Simon as he placed a fresh cigarette in his mouth and began tapping his person in search of a lighter. ‘Really?’ Thought Doreen, ’pyjama pants don’t have pockets’.

“No trouble”. Said George. He sounded unperturbed by their surroundings and host. Stupid man.

Doreen noticed a lack of Spanish memorabilia. She had been hoping Simon would have some interesting trinkets she could fawn over. Nothing to fawn over here, not even a pissing cat. Still, she’d best be polite until George found a way for them to escape.

“Do you have a wife or children Simon?” She asked.

“No wife. We separated about 30 years ago. We had two kids together but I never see them. I never remarried. I just travelled. Found myself in Barcelona one day and thought I’d stay a while.”

“How long have you been back?”

“Oh, about two years now. Long enough to get lonely.” Simon sat down uncomfortably close to Doreen. All three of them now were squished up against the same wall looking out across the blanket that she imagined was to act as the tablecloth when he served dinner.

“Um, why don’t you play us some guitar. We’d love to hear it, wouldn’t we George?”

“Sure.” said George.

“Of course. I’ll just go and grab it.” Simon left the room.

“George, you stupid man.” She desperately whispered, “What are you doing?”

“What do you mean what am I doing? This is all your idea!” George replied also trying to keep his voice low.

“Well get us out of it!” She wanted to go on, but Simon was returning with a battered looking guitar.

“Oh good!” She exclaimed.

“I may be a little rusty,” Simon said as he sat down next to Doreen again.

“You wouldn’t mind sitting over there where we can watch you play could you Simon?”

“Not a problem.”

He sat down opposite them and Doreen got her first good look at him. Well, she wouldn’t describe it as good. From his features it was hard to imagine he’d ever been much to look at. His nose was long and red, and had white hair sprouting from its pointy end. His eyes were dark and beady pin-pricks behind an old pair of thick rimmed, coke-bottle glasses. His skin was blotchy, particularly on his scalp that reminded her of a shoreline when the tide had gone out. Thin strands of seaweed lying flat on the mottled sand stone and sediment. His head was dewy with sweat as well; the salty body odour adding to the low-tide theme her mind was forming.

He began to pluck a familiar tune.

“It’s Porompompero, one of the most famous classical Spanish songs.” Said Simon while he struggled with the strings.

“I’ve heard it before. Porompom isn’t it?” said Doreen.

“He just said that was the name Doreen” George grumped, agitated.

“No he didn’t, did he?”

“I did, but don’t worry about it.”

Simon continued to play a wobbly version of the song. He would slow down as he tried to remember or position his fingers for the coming chord changes. Doreen began to realise he wasn’t very good at all.

There is no way he could have played with a touring flamenco troupe in Spain. She’d come to hear him play, but God she just wanted it to stop now. When would George pull-finger and drag her out of there?

She didn’t have to wait long for the song to finish. Simon abruptly stopped playing as though he’d just given up his charade. She half expected him to apologise for lying about his abilities and confess that his entire Spanish experience had been a lie, but no, instead he eagerly looked her in the eyes and said “What did you think?”.

“Wonderful!” she heard herself saying. George leant forward to look at her face in disbelief, obviously hoping to see some sense of sarcasm in her expression, but there was none there. He sat back rolling his eyes.

“Thank you!” said Simon, obviously chuffed with the compliment. “Well I should get on with dinner. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“Thank you Simon. Did you prepare it earlier?”

“No, but it doesn’t take long to put together.”

‘I hope he’s a better cook than he is a guitarist’ thought Doreen.

Simon left the room and could be heard opening cans and using the microwave.

“Get us out of here you stupid man!” She whispered at George once Simon was out of earshot.

“We can’t leave now, he’s cooking dinner.”

“Well as soon as dinner’s over you make an excuse.”

“Why me? You got us into this!”

“That’s why I can’t do it. It would be rude if I did it. You usually have no trouble dragging me away from things I want to do. Why can’t you do it when I need you to for once, you grumpy old sod.”

“Alright, after dinner I’ll tell him I’m not feeling well and we’ll leave.”

“Thank you.”

Simon came back holding their plates, after only about five minutes.

“That was quick.” Said Doreen.

“It’s my speciality so I’m pretty fast at putting it all together.”

As Doreen received her plate she jolted once she saw what was on it. Simon had served them microwaved black beans on soft tortilla wraps. That was all there was to the meal. Nothing accompanying it. No sides, no condiments. Shock gave way to disgust. She couldn’t eat anything that bland. She wasn’t that hungry. In any case she came for Spanish food, not Tex-Mex.

“Thank you Simon.” She said as George passed her a sideways glance both disapproving and disbelieving.

She made an effort to eat at least some of it. As she was taking her second bite of the makeshift wrap, she looked up at Simon who was now sitting once again cross-legged in front of her, eating his muck. He had balanced the paper plate on which the tortilla had come, upon one thigh. Upon the other she observed, lying quite impassively, his penis.

Doreen convulsed. She didn’t know if she was coughing, choking or gagging but as she did so a black bean shot forth from one of her nostrils.

She simultaneously felt George jump at her side, while Simon too jerked at her unexpected seizure. As he did so the fleshy appendage that had escaped the single button on the front of his pyjama pants flailed wildly for a second or two. That was when George first spotted it.

“Are you alright?” asked Simon, making a motion towards her as if to help. George began patting her on the back, while his saucer sized eyes flitted between Doreen’s face and the member, like someone caught between two adversaries in a stand-off.

“Um, yes, er…..the beans…..Sorry they were a bit spicy.” She said. They weren’t, but it was all she could think of.

“I didn’t add any chilly?”.

You didn’t add anything, you cheeky bastard.

“You’re, ah, flying a bit low there mate”. Said George finally asserting something to Doreen’s relief.

Simon looked down at himself for a moment, then as his eyes came up to meet George’s his expression changed. Not to one of shame, but to something quite different. There was a wry half-grin and a mischievous glint in his eye. “Oh, I am too!” he said with a touch of irony, and without breaking eye contact with George.

Everything froze for a second, as though the tension coagulated to stone.

Simon rocked back down on to his haunches, but left his smaller-self on show.

‘He’s going to have me!’ Thought Doreen.

George was speechless, though it sounded like he was trying to say something. He was grumbling, and coughing as if to clear his throat for a speech, but none followed.

“Would you mind, um, putting it away there Simon”. She heard herself say.

Simon momentarily broke his stare with George as he responded.

“Where would you like me to put it Doreen?” he said as he recommenced gazing at George.

“Oh, George, I just remembered we were supposed to pick one of the grandkids up from their dance recital in 20 minutes. Terribly sorry Simon but we must be off. ” Doreen feverishly rattled, raising to her feet while tugging at George’s arm. He was still trying to talk, and she could feel him shaking in her grip.

“You can’t leave now!” Simon interjected “I’ve only played you one song, and we still have desert.”

Doreen’s mind turned to the bowl she brought the trifle in, with a pang of loss. It was her favourite salad bowl. Somehow she knew that wasn’t the desert he was talking about though. Still, small price to pay she supposed.

“Sorry Simon, really must be off. We’ll show ourselves out.”

“We’ll have to finish this some other time then.” Said Simon innocently.

“Like hell!” George exclaimed as she dragged him down the hallway. They couldn’t leave fast enough.

As soon as they were in the car Doreen shouted at George “Fat lot of use you were! I thought he was going to have me. Didn’t you notice his John Thomas hanging out?”

“I thought he was going to have the both of us!”