A Tango-Themed Fiction
Note: A tanda is a set of four songs, traditionally by the same tango orchestra. The cortina is a palate-cleansing snatch of non-tango music played between sets.
“Lomuto with Omar,” I ordered. “Orchestra Francisco Lomuto; singer Jorge Omar,” the silky voice parroted. “Lossy, as usual?” “Oh yes—what the hell, give me lots of crackle.” “Year/s?” “You choose,” I told it and the words floated in front of me on the air like a hallucination. Selecting a tanda. I wondered what it must have been like in the old days, when a pot-bellied, shiny-pated man sat in a dimly-lit eyrie in front of a nippled console, the light from an ancient computer screen illuminating his serious face, reflecting off twin earpieces round and shiny as the eyes of a fruit fly. When, instead of letting Malena™ analyse bpm, tonal colour, use of orchestration, mood and lyrics and select the ideal combination of tracks, some semi-drunk downed their fourth beer and put a set of tracks together at random. When, instead of taking readings of the dancers’ pulse rates, hormonal levels and neural activity, some skinny, geek boy surveyed the floor and tried to guess that the “energy levels” were low and that people “needed” a punchy D'Arienzo tanda to get them up and moving.
I bent down and retied a shoelace which was already perfectly adjusted. After all these years, this still made me feel a little self-conscious. But now the opening bars were sounding and I heard the familiar insistent stompiness of the introduction, the buzzy accompaniment like a sceptical humming, a murmur of disagreement, the sweetness of the violins, punctuated by the lightest ripples on the piano, the bubbliness of bandoneons. And there, sitting across the room, I spotted her, the companion of my own nightly nostalgias, my fellow time traveller.
I feel just as I did at primary school, when we bounced and rolled around on the giant grid-marked trampoline while a hologram of a man in a strange metal chair, squashed ugly face held upright by two padded black headrests, grey-blue eyes wide and playful behind round glasses, talked of black holes in a slurred voice. I have forgotten all the physics I learned at school, but I remember this: the joy of grabbing handfuls of the shiny stuff, of that hammock of space-time, and twisting and folding and rolling it into tubes.
And I wanted to do that now, to burrow through like a hamster, to wriggle out into another era, when a G-type star was still burning hydrogen in a nearby galaxy, when men with otter-sleek hair and pencil moustaches danced with women in silky skirts and strappy heels, when I still lived on The Orbital, when it hadn’t yet happened. When I hadn’t yet been convicted. Before everything changed for me.