Art Deco is a style of design and architecture that once represented luxury, glamour and exuberance. The Miami Beach Architectural District was established to preserve the colourful collection of Art Deco buildings found there.
It is from one such building that Annie Giles emerges, guide book in hand. She looks around expecting to see a giant fan heater directed at the front of the building. Leaving the air-conditioning behind, her new designer sunglasses are immediately fogged up. She is now on first name terms with Isabella in a certain Chelsea store where she recently spent a small fortune re-inventing her wardrobe. Her friends had said she deserved it after what she'd been through in the last two years but she had been unsure about being quite so frivolous after a lifetime of frugality.
She had landed at Miami airport late last night, seeing only a blur of lights through the window of the taxi on the way to the hotel and so she is looking forward to exploring fully today. What she hadn't planned on was the intensity of this heat. She had been determined to look glamorous so had plucked up the courage to visit one of those fancy salons she had always found so daunting. She had left feeling like Jackie Onassis.
'Wow you look fab. You'll knock 'em dead', were just some of the encouraging words from her friends, many of whom had turned up to give her a good send off at the pub before she left. All great friends but none had been able to join her on the trip, commitments of family, work, husbands making a seven day absence impossible.
She runs her fingers through her new hair, still getting used to the fashionable graduated bob. It is already feeling the effects of this climate and would soon be a frizzy mess. She smiles to herself as she remembers how she would once spend most of her wages on getting a “perm” at the end of each month. But that had been a long time ago.
One friend had given her a copy of Time Out Miami, she is determined to experience every sight, sound and taste recommended within the two hundred or so pages. She intends to “admire the many Art Deco buildings that South Beach has to offer.” Make sure she stops off at a Cuban restaurant to sample their "strong and sweet coffee, just the thing to keep you going for the rest of the day." Before visiting “Miami Beach stalwart Joe’s Stone Crab” for lunch. Afterwards she will stroll on the beach front making sure to “look out for the many beautiful people walking, jogging or skating by.” Everyone here seems so young and healthy, maybe she should have gone somewhere more suitable for someone like her.
She passes the Shelborne Hotel where the music is booming and through the fence she can see hundreds of young people dancing and drinking around the pool, enjoying the "pool party, held at this Ocean Drive hotel every Saturday.” She remembers how she used to love to dance. Bonaparte’s nightclub in a rainy town in the north of England wasn't quite as glamorous as Miami's South Beach, but to her it had given her some of the most enjoyable times of her late teens and early twenties. It had also given her Mark.
You would have found her there every Friday and Saturday night in the mid eighties turning heads from the moment she walked in, jealous girlfriends glaring at her as they tried to revert the male attention back on them. However Annie had only had eyes for Mark, eyes which would scan the club for sight of him as soon as she arrived. If he wasn't already there she would make conversation and share drinks with other admirers but they would never hold her full attention, constantly looking over their shoulders in case he should arrive. She would always play it cool with him at first but she would always end up in his bed. They had been so in love for many years. Indestructible she’d thought. Then he'd decided to ruin everything, turning their life into a sad cliché.
She arrives back at the hotel around six, feeling very disheveled and in desperate need of a shower but can’t resist the welcoming smile of the barman. ‘You look like you need a drink, I have just the thing.’
He was right, he did make a mean Margarita, the tang of the lime revives her a little whilst the tequila takes the edge off her nerves. She is still unsure about being on her own, this is her first holiday without Mark.
After ten minutes of telling the guy behind the bar how all the young and glamorous people of South Beach just made her feel old, he hands her a card. 'You should try this place, I hear it's really cool.’
She runs her thumb over the raised gold lettering "The Sound Machine.”
‘Ha yes Gloria Estefan very good. But there's no address,’ she says turning the card over to find a blank black reverse. But he's already turned his attention to his next customer.
She hands the card to the taxi driver a few hours later. He shakes his head, obviously doesn’t know the place. ‘You like Mexican food?’ He asks ‘I take you to good place, friend of mine’. Off they go before she even has a chance to reply.
The place doesn’t look like much, not quite the “ultimate sensory experience” of the Versace Mansion where she has a table booked the following evening. This place looks little more than the street food vans on London’s Southbank, where she and Mark had visited many times.
The façade of the Mexican restaurant is a mock Air Stream caravan. It is very popular, people spilling out onto the street, salsa and guacamole dripping from their burritos. She pushes her way through the throng to the counter and orders what seems to be the most popular then finds a space in a corner and takes her first bite. A huge blob the spicy red sauce shoots out and lands right in the middle of her crisp white blouse. “Shit, shit. Unbelievable, just fucking unbelievable.” She thinks.
She looks around and sees the ladies sign illuminating the opposite corner.
Strangely there is no-one else inside so she is able to dab away at the stain in peace. “Hopeless I’m just making it worse”. She is just thinking of calling it a night when the door flies open and two twenty-something girls fall in, arms linked, giggling loudly. As the door closed slowly behind them she hears a familiar tune fighting the noise of people enjoying themselves.
“Wake me up before you go-go, don’t leave me hanging on a line of yo-yo….”
She goes towards the music through the door which is she sure was the same one she’d used to enter the toilets, but it can’t have been. Inside is full of young people, most of them dancing to the eighties tune, they are obviously all big fans of the era as they are also dressed in the questionable fashion of the time. She is immediately transported back to the best time of her life and feels herself drawn to the bar where before she knows it she is ordering a Bacardi and Coke. Her favourite tipple in the eighties.
As Duran Duran’s Rio starts up a young man approaches the bar. He is so like the bands guitarist John Taylor that she feels herself blushing like a silly teenager. He smiles showing perfect straight, white teeth. She would have expected no less from an American, but to her surprise he is English, in fact he even sounds like John. She shakes her head in an attempt to dismiss the absurdities that are beginning to form in her mind, as he says. . ‘Hi. I’ve not seen you here before, is this your first time?’
‘Yes both here and Miami. In fact I found this place quite by accident, strange story.’
‘Let me get you another one of those,’ he offered, nodding towards her now empty glass. ‘You look really great by the way.’
She feels herself blushing again as her hand goes to her hair. ‘Oh this humidity is playing havoc with my hair and don’t get me started on….’ She is astonished to find as she looks down that the stain had disappeared from her blouse.
‘Are you kidding? You look amazing.’
His bright blue eyes are hypnotic. The phrase “come-to-bed-eyes” springs to mind.
‘Excuse me sorry,’ she stumbles. ‘I’ll be right back.’ When she reaches the sanctuary of the ladies toilet she stands in front of the mirror. Her hair is a total mess and the stain is still there! It must have been the lighting in there.
‘What the hell are you doing Annie?’ she asks her reflection. ‘He’s at least fifteen years younger than you, almost young enough to be your son. He’s probably just chatting you up for a bet, there will be a group of his friends somewhere in there currently finding the whole thing hilarious. Get the hell out of here.’
But when she turns round she can’t find the door back into the Mexican place. There are no doors other than the one she just came through, back to the club. She comes out tentatively hoping that he’s given up and gone back to his mates and she can find a way out somehow.
He hasn’t given up. In fact he’s waiting outside the door, still with that heart-melting smile. ‘I thought you got lost in there,’ he says, holding a fresh Bacardi and Coke towards her. ‘Everything okay?’
‘Oh fine yes. Sorry I….thanks for the drink.’
‘Would you like to sit over there?’ he asks, pointing to a booth that is surprisingly empty. ‘We can talk, the music’s not so loud there.’
She is sitting on a red velour banquette, next to a man who resembles someone she’d had many a teenage fantasy about, feeling things she hasn’t felt for a while.
“Oh what the hell.” She thinks. “This is supposed to be my adventure so let’s live a little.”
The next morning she wakes with a huge smile on her face as she remembers how the evening had progressed. The smile quickly fades as she realises she will now have to face him in the cold light of day, but as she sheepishly turns to face him she finds only empty sheets. At first she is relieved, then shame creeps in as she realises he must have sneaked out in the early hours when he’d sobered up and realised how old she was.
She feels that familiar sense of disappointment. He had seemed so genuine and they had talked all night, quite intimately. Then she remembers what they’d got up to back in her hotel room and pulls the covers over her face in an attempt to hide from her own mortification.
She decides to have a quiet day by the pool followed by “the ultimate Miami dining experience” at Gianni’s that evening. It is exceptional and such a beautiful setting but all she can think about is that place. And “him”.
So she finds herself heading through that door in those toilets once again. This time the tune playing is“Doctor Beat” by Gloria Estefan and the crowd are going wild. Every single person is dancing, arms in the air. The floor is bouncing with their collective energy.
She tries to make her to way to the bar but is suddenly grabbed and turns to see that beautiful smile again. ‘Hey! Everyone has to dance to this, it’s a rule.’ He says breathlessly as he twirls her around, then pulls her close. ‘I’m glad you came back.’ He whispers in her ear.
She will spend the next five days killing time just waiting to get back there every night and every night will end the same and every morning he will be gone before she wakes. She only asks him about it once, laughing at his response. ‘If you see me in the daylight you might not come back again’.
She finds herself feeling more and more tired each day, barely able to make it past the hotel pool as the end of her holiday approaches. But when she’s in that place, with him she feels like she's twenty again. She dances all night with him until he finally takes her by the hand and they stroll back to her hotel as the sun begins to creep up out of the ocean.
Her flight back to London is at ten pm so she had said goodbye to him the previous evening before they had fallen asleep. She had secretly hoped that he would be there that morning as it was their last but she just finds a note on his pillow.
“See you later xx”.
The taxi arrives at her hotel at seven and starts its thirty minute journey to the airport. They stop at a red light and she realises they are opposite that now familiar airstream caravan.
‘Pull over please, I need to get out here.’
He looked slightly miffed but perks up when she throws fifty dollars in his direction. Grabbing her cases from the boot, she heads once more for that toilet door.
Despite it being much earlier than previous visits, the place is as lively as ever and as he scoops her into his arms the nightly anthem of ‘Doctor Beat’ starts up again.
Suddenly a thought occurs to her. ‘Hey I’ve just realised I don’t even know what this place is called.’
He never replies and she soon forgets she even asked when she feels those lips on hers.