Stealing from the Dead

A.J. Zerries

Forge Books

Greta wasn’t the only one who heard the music.
The beat seeped into the Seventh Avenue express as it slowed for the Ninety-sixth Street station, and even the bleariest early rush hour passengers were tilting their heads and squeezing their eyes shut, trying to place it.
When the doors parted, it slithered in like a woman in a rumpled party dress, mascara smeared, hair a mess: a tango, predatory and voluptuous, lust thinly disguised as music.
At least twenty people were gathered in a loose circle near the middle of the platform, drawn by the boom box breathing out piano and bandoneón and bass. An eleven- or twelve-year-old girl in a school uniform, cheeks flushed, tore herself away and ran for the departing uptown train. Greta slipped into her place.
All eyes were on the two dancers in the center: a man in tight black pants, his redheaded partner in a miniskirt and clingy glitter sweater. Though meticulously choreographed, their routine’s every feint, advance, and retreat still gave off the heat of a spontaneous erotic skirmish.
A swooning dip accompanied the song’s end, and the man bent his partner so low that her long hair fanned out, flamelike, over the concrete floor. Only then did Greta catch on. It wasn’t a couple at all, but a man and … a tango dummy. She had a pretty Macy’s mannequin face and a stuffed body, like a Raggedy Ann doll—except Raggedy Ann never had D-cup boobs. Her flared mini showed off a small waist, a literally well-padded derrière, and willowy legs sheathed in black fishnet stockings. The dancer had skillfully kept her crude, mittenlike hands out of sight, clasped in his; clear plastic bands attached her black patent leather shoes to his ankles, so she’d never fail to follow his lead.
Applause broke out—for the dancer, for his partner, even for the clever deception. When the man and his life-size doll took their bow, he copped a feel, she slapped his face, and he pulled back, surprised and wounded. Dollar bills dropped into the basket that sat next to the boom box, another train pulled in, a new song began, and on they tangoed.
The rhythm made it impossible to walk away without moving to the beat. Strangers were grinning at one another, half-dancing up the subway stairs.
Greta, unsmiling, wondered about her life so far, and how much of it resembled the dummy’s.

Copyright © 2012 by A. J. Zerries