Short Story: The Dancer

What does it mean to get lost in the dance?

I arrive late in the evening. She opens the door, half shocked that I’m even there. We sit in different chairs with Japanese food between us. Sushi, fish and some hot gyoza, in these little rectangular brown cardboard boxes.

“A feast,” she says, staring at them, giving a cute little laugh.

Our eyes meet a few times as we eat and trade war stories. Her – a rickshaw driver in London, ferrying wealthy patrons from denizen to denizen, tracking the backstreets of Soho to late night bars, clubs and brothels. Me – a salary man fresh out of the job, down on my luck and looking for some direction.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she says, “In a rickshaw you need to know how to get everywhere. It’s like the London cab drivers, you need to memorize all of the roads and alleyways. You’re actually less of a driver and more of a tour guide.”

“To what?” I say.

“To whatever the customer wants.”

“I see.”

I pick up a piece of sushi, flying it through the soy sauce.

“I’ve had many odd jobs,” she says, “I used to work as a cocktail waitress in a nightclub, that’s before I learned how to dance. Now, I just teach.”

“You’ve had a great life,” I say.

“Not many people say that,” she says, breaking eye contact, “I’ve been pretty broken up by the world.”

I tell her of how I became broken too. I tell her of the long days working in a thankless job, and the longer nights struggling to hold together a semblance of my authentic self.

“I want to be creative, to be free to just be me, you know?” I say.

“I know exactly what you mean,” she says.

The Japanese has run out and we switch over to wine. She walks lightly to the kitchen and comes back cradling two glasses in her left hand. She almost glides the way she walks -back to the table- one glass to me, then back to her chair.

“What’s your favourite song?” she says, passing me her mobile.

I smile as I put in the name. It’s an old trick, borrowed from a friend of mine. A man’s voice comes out of the speaker, singing of lovers in Venice. How sad Venice can be, when you return alone. It’s an old, old tune.

What had been and what could be. Nostalgia captured by moonlight and bottled in a jar – shared by that crooning voice filling up the apartment, the space between us thick with significance. She glances over at me and her eyes are bright. There is already something between us – but the expectation becomes something else – something more.

“I was learning how to dance earlier in the year,” I say, “Before everything fell apart, I guess.”

“Show me,” she says.

It’s not a question.

We clear the table out of the way. The rug becomes our dance floor. She changes the song, from the ballad to a slow jazz number, slow enough to make me nervous. I grab her hands. She steps closer. Close enough that I become too aware of her body, close enough that we breach the realm of platonic decency and into the beginnings of something else. Before I can think, I move, stepping towards her and back again, all while counting in my head. That endless 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

The brightness in her eyes fades a little and I see her lips begin to curve in the wrong direction.

“You are not listening to it,” she says, “Stop.”

I pause and we wait. As if for some starting gun to sound. I listen to the song, now something South American, and I let it wash over me – the sound, the beat and the clanky guitar.

I’m trying to remember that feeling I had when I was a kid learning to play the piano. I could play the piano without looking at the music. I remember that. That I could close my eyes and still be able to play. So I try to replicate the feeling. I close my eyes and I can almost feel her smile without looking at her.

I step towards her and she steps back. I pull her in and she spins around in my arms, and we repeat the movement. Again and again. The song changes from one to the next but the rhythm stays the same beneath it all. That same quiet unspoken 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

I’m still counting and when I miss a beat I almost step on her foot. That makes her stumble and in a split second, the spell is broken. We are back in the now. Two lonely people on a Friday night, too aware of why they’re there together and what brought them there to begin with.

“Try loosen these,” she says.

She shakes my arms out and wiggles hers in demonstration.

I copy her.

 “And lower this,” she says.

Her hands go to my hips and she pushes down gently, rocking them from side to side. I can’t help but laugh and she joins me.

“Sorry,” I say.

“No, no. Don’t apologize.”

“Okay, I think I’ve got it,” I say.

I step forward. No, this time, I move forward – and she moves with me. For some reason, I give up on counting, with my arm and body loosened it doesn’t seem necessary anymore. Something changes. The music feels like its coming from the inside. As we move across that small space, I watch as she smiles and this time, she closes her eyes. We move in this perfect synchronization, back and forth across the few feet of the rug, sticking within those four corners. I spin her and its effortless, catching her back again in my arms. Without pause, we are straight back into the movement. The friction is gone. The hesitation between us. All walls have come crumbling down like the fall of Rome to the barbarian hoards. She opens her eyes and they are filled with delight and awe. Awe at me. At us. I must look the same.

“It’s good,” she says, swaying, “Very good.”

“Thank you,” I say, shooting her a grin.

We are so close now and as we dance our bodies touch at various points and places. I try not to notice but it is impossible not to. We are pressed together at chest and hip, so close that we are no longer apart at all. One body, two minds, circling in that cramped apartment on that rainy Friday night, loneliness abandoned, rain colliding with the pavement outside, cool orange lights glowing on the windowsill, casting long shadows into the room.

The room is hot and our cheeks are flushed.

“A break?” she says.

“Definitely,” I say.

I lay back on the couch and she sits back on the lounge chair, several feet away. We breathe in and we stare breathlessly into space for a minute, neither of us having the words.

“I – that was – ” she says.

I laugh and she does too.

After a moment, the air from the window cools us down and I pull up a blanket onto the couch.

“Share it?” I say, nodding to the seat beside me.

She glides over in that way of hers, and sits beside me, lifting my arm and nestling it around her shoulders.

For a long time, we merely lay there. Her eyes droop and her breathing goes even. There are grand poems written about moments like that. The start of it – great symphonies – but no orchestra could capture that silence, my arm on her shoulders, her heartbeat and mine, our bodies pressed together and that weight of the night lifted somehow, soft enough to ease the darkness. Loneliness gone. Rain falling too softly to hear outside. Lights still glowing. Feeling for the first time in years that there is beauty in the world. Her beauty and mine. I slip further down into the leather, and soon enough my eyes are closed too. Together, we dream.