The ballerinas found runs in their tights, tiny smelly turds in their slippers, and nibble marks on the blocks at the bottom of their satin toes. They took it as a declaration of war. But Clara insisted that evidence of merriment is a sign of the season; like peppermint sticks in a stocking, brandy in eggnog, and fireplace ashes.
She said, “Think of it, other dancers mirroring your steps at night.” They stood backstage, where telltale claw marks had opened holes in the velvet backdrop. Peeking after dark confirmed their hopes. They joined the mice to dance the night away.
Heels, flashing at silver speed, step to the beat of a brassy swing band. It seems effortless. A shoulder shrug here, a dip of the hips as she circles in a tight twirl, sliding under her partner’s arm. She vamps, he poses. Their faces are flushed with exertion. The music, a seductive lover, gets what it wants. He smiles and smirks and waves his glad hand in a shimmy. She moves away and rounds back, moves away and rounds back. They say nothing. There’s no need. Everything is there in the rhythm, in the moves, in the love of dance.
She smiled at the waitress. “A whiskey sour, please.” A youngish woman took the order, her short skirt stretched over lean legs.
He looked up. “Bourbon, neat.”
He surveyed her ass as she motored towards the back, where the Happy Hour crowd filled wooden barstools. Picking up empties, she glided past banks of booths arranged in tight lines on either side of adobe tiled floors. When she reached the midway point between the entrance and the end, he remembered who he’d come with.
Touching his ex-wife’s scented wrist with the palm of his hand, he asked how she’d been.
He stood close to the mortuary exit. He thought she might change her mind. Mourning doves called, cooing in short and long bursts of flutelike music, cooling the dry warmth of the afternoon. She arrived carrying a vase, then dumped water into a hedge and tossed the flowers into a trash bin. The bouquet was large, composed of scentless yellow roses, blue irises, and red tulips. They were filled with sorrow dripping from broken stems, the way that funeral arrangements are. He imagined his longing for her upended like the discarded green spikes.
The natty corpse sported a Panama suit and a paisley ascot that covered his wrinkled neck. Standing tall, she averted her eyes from the dead man’s face, avoiding his unrepentant grimace. Smiling tragically, she suffered condolences from her father’s ex-wives. She referred to a list of names written on a paper concealed in her sleeve. Glancing towards her ex, she saw his jaw loosening with regret. He asked forgiveness. She asked him to meet her later. For a drink.
rode the elevator to the basement parking garage, bracing
himself between a metal handhold and a luggage rack filled with their
daughter’s wedding gifts. His ex’s musky perfume reached into his
past, infusing the stories they traded on the way to her car. She was
the only one he loved. Laughing, she told him that the lights on the
Bay Bridge kept her company at night. She’d never moved.
He wanted to see the metal span from the window in the bedroom of
their old flat. Maybe the view had changed?
He traveled on business, sending special occasion checks and tuition in Ritz Carlton envelopes. She became custodial parent. He whirled his daughter across a ballroom floor on her wedding night. Sparse wisps of brown, the color of the bride’s thick locks, clung to his head.
The mother, her fading red hair pulled into a matronly knot, held a damp tissue. She danced with the groom beneath twinkling chandeliers while the band played smooth jazz. Stray guests conversed at the buffet. She circulated among them, passing by white clad tables and recessed pillars. He swept past. She turned away, uninterested, unimpressed.
Ten years on, perfumed stationary fell as his wife packed his suitcase. In breathless script his new fling wrote, “See you in Chicago.”
Furious, she left the note, as witness, on rumpled cotton sheets that smelled of morning sex, the quick kind that happens between waking, stripping bare, and showering. She placed his empty bag on the pillow. Stepping over soiled clothing piled on the floor where he dropped it, she slammed the door.
She left for the
park, where she pushed their daughter’s swing like a mantra. On the
way home from the daycare drop, she shopped for groceries she didn’t
need and stayed clear until he collected his baggage.
Her apartment, a one room walk-up covered in flowered wallpaper, occupied a Victorian attic in the Haight section of San Francisco. Propped against a Laura Ashley covered double bed, they ate cherries and drank white wine. He breathed her almond scent, nosing the curve of her neck. Stretching, she touched his face, rough with evening stubble, soft with desire. They cuddled, warm at first and then wet. Wrapped in Peruvian blankets, they talked about childhood, and raising children, and work, and the sensual feeling of skin on skin. When they married, it was as if they had never been apart.