San Miguel torch singer María Sánchez gave a stunning concert under the trees near Parque Juarez on Saturday, backed by the talent-rich Usual Suspects including Julián Arcos, Rubén Olivera, and Victor Monterrubio.
She is a wonderful singer for whom, my wife says, I carry a big crush. “He moans when she sings,” she tells friends.
Maybe so, on both accounts.
Her singing does something to me. I can’t deny it. But I am mature enough to separate the singer from the song, from the real person beneath it all. I think. I mean, I was wondering “What on earth is María Sánchez doing singing outside, and at 1 p.m.?” So my imagination does slip in through the backdoor when she sings.
In my mind, she is a torch meant to burn only in the night when the heart and soul are at their darkest and most lonely. Obviously, I do have fantasies about María Sánchez.
Rather than spoil her concert by trying to describe it, below is the story that wrote itself as I sat in the bright sunlight, listening to her sing. Any relationship to people living or dead is strictly coincidental. Blame it on mescal:
Broken hearts, mescal dreams, and torch songs
He comes in every night. Every night that she is singing, that is.
He settles into the shadows, an easy thing to do in a place that looks like it invented dark corners and would crumble into dust if a ray of sunshine ever stumbled in off the street.
This place has been casting out the light and replacing it with dust for more than a century. Not that he cares about history or longevity. His or the cantina’s.
History was meant to be forgotten. That is the point.
And longevity is a prison.
So every night, a table in the back, a double mescal in front, always cradled in his two worn sinewy hands as if the thick glass were an egg — or perhaps as if some other regular were about to snatch it away. The glass is his reprieve from the burdens of history and longevity. It deserves protection.
He never looks around, he is dead to curiosity.
There is only one other person and she is on the tiny stage across the room.
In his heart and what little imagination remains, he is sitting at a table up front, but he is not that kind of guy. This will do, in the shadows, offering up his broken heart and loneliness, as she sings about her own.
Maybe that’s why he keeps coming back, aside from the cheap mezcal. They share this history of sorts. Trust. Betrayal. Loneliness. Bitterness. Recovery. Do it all over again.
Her? She’s lucky. She can pour all that pain into her songs. Him, he can only pour another mescal. And another. And another. Until there is no memory of the pain.
His eyes never leave hers, those bottomless obsidian wells with their glint of fire. How could they? It would be an act of betrayal. She needs the intensity, the passion of his obsession to fight through the sobbed notes, the clutched throat, the smoke-and-tequila-tempered vocals.
How does she survive the night, he often wonders? To live and die on a stage for the amusement of these hard-drinking, uncaring souls. How does she do it?
He remembers the one night when she found his dark corner of the cantina. Singing, she strolled among the tables, touching a shoulder here, patting the top of a balding head there. He lifted his mescal to his lips, closed his eyes and sipped, shuddering, refusing to look.
Suddenly, she was beside him. She reached over, touched the bottom of his jaw with her delicate fingertips, then slowly and gently swept her hand up and over his left cheek, as if wiping away all the tears he had never shed in his lifetime.
It felt as if God himself said, “I have seen your pure heart and blackened soul and all is forgiven.”
It was magical. Or was it a dream?
To this day, he does not know if the prankster mescal was playing tricks with his heart and head, or if, for real, she reached out to him.
While he thinks about this moment often, he doesn’t think much about it.
He would no more dream of hanging out with her than the old woman would want to pal around with her priest after confession. There is an intimacy shared between the singer and this man that could only shatter with familiarity.
Her voice is from the gods but she is all too human.
Of course she is.
How else could she sing about the all-too-human failings that they share? No saint could sing like that. Only a woman who has committed the ultimate sins of giving herself too freely in the name of love, trusting the words of men who lie the same as they breathe, and yielding to passions of which can never be spoken.
Every night he wants to take her in his arms and make all her pain go away, but he knows he is no better than the men who came before him and betrayed her so badly.
Besides, without the pain, how else could she sing so beautifully?
So he sits, he drinks, he dreams, and watches the ship filled with all his pains, all his regrets, all his terrible memories slowly recede into the fog of mescal on the dark-red sea of songs of sorrow from a siren on the rocks whom he dares not embrace.
There are worse ways to die, he decides most every night, as he rises and grabs the back of a chair for a moment, until his legs relearn their purpose.
He slowly shuffles out through the cantina doors, talking to no one, waving good-bye to none, hearing only the sprinkling of applause for his savior and wondering who might buy her that drink that will win her heart if only for this one night.
His only mistress is the mescal and it is with her that he will lie down tonight.
As all the other nights before.
And what few may still be ahead.