I originally wrote this story back in 2006, inspired by a prompt from Heather Blakey’s Alluvial Mine at the Soul Food Cafe.
Duende: a. A ghost, an evil spirit.
b. transf. Inspiration, magic, ‘fire’. –Oxford English Dictionary
Marta whipped her red Mustang around the corner and slipped into a parking space behind the Café Andaluz. Resting her pounding head on the steering wheel, she listened to the tick-tick-tick of the cooling engine and tried to calm her nerves.
She jumped as her cell phone trilled. She grabbed it from her bag and punched it.
“What?!……I’m here, Bryan! Relax, will you?” She ended the call by cramming the phone back into her bag.
Marta scrambled out of her car, scanning the dimly lit lot behind the Café. As she headed towards the backstage door, she heard a rustling noise from the dumpster in the corner of the lot. She stopped and stared. A dark figure of a man stood next to the dumpster.
“Go away and leave me alone!”, Marta shouted. She sprinted through the stage door and nearly collided with Bryan, the stage manager and director.
“It’s about time you showed up. Your call was two hours ago.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I got held up.”
“’Sorry’ doesn’t cut it sweetie. Esteban wanted a dress rehearsal of your number. You do remember, don’t you, that the dance reviewer from the Weekly is coming tonight? Esteban is having a royal hissy because of you. I swear, that man is gonna break a string if he keeps strumming his picados so hard.”
Marta had stopped listening to Bryan and stared at his face. For a moment, his face seemed to transform from his fair boyish looks to something darker, more sinister. The image vanished as quickly as it came.
“Marta! What is wrong with you? You’ve got 25 minutes until the curtain goes up. You’re the fourth number, right after Luz and Maria’s cante chico. Get into costume now, puhleeze, and, omigawd, tell me that’s not how you’re going to wear your hair tonight?”
Marta ignored Bryan’s last remark as she headed down the hall to the dressing room. When she entered, she met Lupe, the wardrobe mistress, who glared at her.
“You are late….again.”
“Sorry.” Marta slipped off her sweat pants and t-shirt and began putting on her costume, a flaming orange gown over layers of white lace underskirts.
“You need a manton for your routine,” Lupe flatly stated. “Which one do you want?”
“The long black one, please. Thank you.”
Lupe waddled down the hall to the wardrobe closet to fetch the fringed shawl that would be an integral part of Marta’s dance. Marta was pleased to have the dressing room to herself for a few minutes. The other flamencas were already dressed, waiting in the wings for the curtain to go up. Marta buried her face in her hands. Every evening, the same thing—he comes—the dark one—to whisper in her ear.
The visits began about six months earlier right after she had auditioned to dance at the Café. Hector de Borromeo, the owner of the Café Andaluz, had muttered over and over as he watched her audition: “Fantastic!—That’s it; that’s dancing! Duende! She has it!” Senor de Borromeo hired her on the spot.
Then it started. Every afternoon on the days she danced at the Café, as she tried to get a few hours of sleep before going to work, he would show up. At first, it was only his voice, penetrating her dreams as she tried to sleep, then later, while she was awake. Lately, he had been manifesting in physical form, moving in and out of the dark recesses of her apartment, only for a moment, but long enough to cast his smoky brown eyes upon her. Always he would say, “you are mine—remember me when you dance.”
Then the headaches began—blinding migraines that slowed her down and made her late for work almost every night. She was afraid to say anything about the migraines for fear they wouldn’t let her dance. She certainly did not mention the voices or manifestations, for obvious reasons.
Marta began assembling her makeup and hair accessories. She looked up at the mirror and began to apply her foundation. Her eyes widened in horror. He was here, behind her, his face unseen. He had never followed her into the Café before.
She swung around. “Get out!”
“No, you need me,” he softly replied.
“No, I do not. I don’t even know who…who you are.”
“I am Duende.”
Marta snorted. “Fairy tales. There’s no such thing.”
“If I am a fairy tale, then for certain you are mad.”
Marta had already considered this—a number of times.
“Come to me….” He reached out his hand to her.
Just then the door opened. Lupe, holding a folded shawl, entered, looking around the room. “Who are you talking with?”
“No one”. Marta turned back to the mirror and began brushing and tying back her hair.
Lupe raised an eyebrow and put the shawl on the dressing table “Bryan says hurry up.”
Marta quickly applied the rest of her make-up, slipped on her dance shoes and smoothed her hair. She heard the sound of applause and knew that the show had started. Marta made her way to the wings and waited for her turn.
She scanned the corners and rafters of the backstage looking for the dark man.
Luz and Maria finished singing their cante. The curtain fell and Bryan cued Marta to find her mark on the stage. Marta positioned herself, placing one hand on her hip and arching her back. She lifted the other arm high above her head, twisting her wrist into a graceful curve. The curtain rose and the spotlight fell on her.
Esteban began an aggressive strumming of his guitar. Luz and Maria clapped in rhythm with Esteban as Marta began rapid-fire tapping of her feet. Esteban’s deep voice boomed across the stage in a somber, resonating canto jondo.
As his singing became more passionate and the music rose in intensity, Marta’s awareness receded from her surroundings. Esteban and the dancers faded from her sight as did the audience. It was just Marta and the music.
Suddenly, unseen hands gripped Marta’s shoulders, and she could no longer move. She was frozen in the darkness. She felt a hand release one shoulder and begin to caress her cheek. She lifted her eyes. A light fell across his face and she could saw him. His skin was a light warm brown; his face angular with full lips. His brown eyes glittered and bored straight through to the deepest part of her being.
Marta opened her mouth to say something, but he put a finger to her lips to silence her. She felt a tingle grow in her stomach. A terror gripped her, yet she could not pull away from the man. Still gazing in her eyes, he slid his hand from her mouth, tracing with the barest brush her form all the way to her waist. He then slipped his arm around her to the small of her back and pulled her to him.
With his other hand, he lifted her face to his and pressed his lips to hers. Marta felt as if she were falling into the darkness, her soul merging with the duende.
Suddenly, her awareness was thrown back to the stage. Her routine had reached a climax, Esteban strumming furiously as Marta’s feet tapped in rhythm to the music. With a great flourish of her arms, Marta froze at the sound of the last down stroke of the guitar. The audience erupted into vigorous applause and shouts of “Jaleo! Jaleo! Brava!”
A photographer leaned over the edge of the stage and flashed a picture. Another man rapidly scribbled in his notebook. Marta smiled and with a graceful sweep, she took her bows.
Duende! It had rocked her to her foundations. She savored the terror and pleasure of the encounter, as she had before. Tomorrow, he would visit again.
“Yes…..” she whispered.
Story and Image: LJGloyd (c) 2006, 20014