Shall We Dance
Missy had prodigious aspirations for me and I counted the ticks of her grandfather clock. This got me into a heap of trouble and I hated to be scolded, especially since I was paid by the hour. Missy was married and lonely. Her husband messed around with junk bonds or depressed assets. It kept Missy in mink and Picassos on the walls. The place smacked of good breeding or, at least, had a sharp interior decorator. Trendy made way for style, right down to the snazziest lampshades. She had a chauffeur, a personal masseuse, “a tennis pro,” a gardener who tended to the forsythias on the balcony, and metaphysician who helped iron out her wrinkled thoughts. In a pinch, she could score a quartette from the Philharmonic to play Berlioz or Debussy or whatever the heck she wanted in her living room. I was her dance partner.
We hooked up because I answered the ad she’d tacked up at my coffee shop. I was saving to buy a new laptop since my old one stunk. Too many keys were missing and the ones that hung on were wobbly and had muffin crumbs, hiding under their springs. It was a bona fide monstrosity, an antique by today’s standards, but I kept it. I’ve always had a soft spot for clunkers.
Missy didn’t pay me the first few times we tangoed. She was too much of an artiste to be bothered by such garish frivolities. Also, she never carried cash. After the third session, she got the sense I wasn’t a happy camper so she sent Milty, the valet, out shopping. He brought me back a periwinkle Hermes scarf and a pair of Valentino loafers. The deuce was hands down the nicest gift combo anybody on this mudball had ever given me, but I had a small gripe. I still hadn’t been paid.
Perhaps I’m a big creepola for mentioning something so petty, but how could I explain my relationship with Missy if I wasn’t on the payroll. For the record, I wasn’t sleeping with her either, which doesn’t necessarily mean I couldn’t have also been on the payroll. Claude, her “tennis pro,” boffed her brains out. This was, of course, according to Diego the gardener, Missy’s erstwhile paramour (former boffer to the layperson).
Frankly, I didn’t care to evince Claude and become Missy’s “tennis pro.” I wanted some clarity regarding my status. Say I’d planned on counting this dancing stint on my résumé how was I going to explain to my future employers that I didn’t receive a salary or an hourly wage. The lady bought me toys. Nice as these trinkets were, I wanted, well, more. Not materialistically speaking. I wanted my input to be considered. Don’t get me wrong that scarf and those loafers turned me into a Masterpiece Theatre gentleman. But could I look myself in the mirror? The answer was unequivocally yes. I liked what I saw and I enjoyed the whole kooky experience. So I told myself not to be so petty about the money thing.
For a while this worked. Eventually though my lofty ambitions lost steam. My big qualm was not having a clearly defined incentive and this went right to the very heart of my makeup (DNA for all you science nuts). You see, I’m the kind of person who needs to walk by a shop window and see the shiny blue bicycle before the butterflies start swarming in my belly. I mark Xs on the calendar to know how long it will take to ride off into the sunset. As a matriculated city college student that shiny blue bicycle was a brand new computer.
While my newfangled self continued blossoming, my computer kept crumbling. I took to writing my term papers longhand and my professors started to give me the stinkeye. You probably already know that if a sophomore gets a certain reputation his chances of making the Dean’s List are slim to none. I’m not a status person per se, but I needed my professors to respect me. I also tried not showing up to class too foppish. There was no need giving them any ideas that I might be of the trust fund persuasion. I showed up mostly in jeans and t-shirts, but once a week, when I was heading over to Missy’s, I was dolled up in Oscar de la Renta.
When we first started dancing she kept adjusting my feet, my hands, my head. She clapped so I’d capture the beat. She made a smashing gadfly. She carried a professional’s air though I knew she was merely a passionate enthusiast. Soon our steps began to sync. Missy’s spirit was ebullient, her body lithe and sinewy. She kept her cheek a hanky-crease from mine and sometimes looped her leg round my calf when I took her for a dip. Her pecan-brown eyes simmered. We danced to Astor Piazzola who she’d met twice, once while vacationing in Mar de Plata as a twenty-something and again many years later at a benefit in Paris. With a wink, she told me she only let him kiss her hand. We traipsed throughout the ballroom and I felt as if Missy was back on the debutante circuit and I was her mustachioed Tango King.
I had a crush on this new incarnation of myself. Maybe I originally took on this tango challenge as a lark, but the more I danced, the more I was regaled with Missy’s passion for this Argentine waltz, the more it became part of me. Whenever my roommate ducked out, I practiced in front of the mirror. Between commercials and breaks from Psych and Macro Economics, I worked on my steps. I bought a jar of hair gel and slicked back my locks.
When I showed up for our sessions, Missy appraised me as I imagined she might, considering a new Picasso. She’d tell me bluntly how many hours I’d practiced during the week and was almost always on the money. We never discussed my studies although I touched upon it a couple of times, mainly to bring up the fact I needed a new computer.
She was deep into one of her South American ruminations, when I decided I’d had enough. If I had to hurt her feelings so be it. How long did I have to suffer writing longhand? We sat at the table, nibbling on cucumber sandwiches. Prescott, the butler, served us herbal tea from a Russian samovar.
“Missy,” I said. “Don’t think I haven’t been appreciative and all.”
“You’re not bailing out on me already” Missy said, putting down her teacup.
“No, it’s just, I feel funny about these presents.”
“What’s so funny about them?”
“Nothing. They’re swell. In fact, I can’t imagine anybody with better taste. I’m just not so comfortable in them.”
“I see. You think I’m emasculating. Is that it?”
“Well, I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I’d rather you weren’t so generous.”
Her eyes sort’ve bugged out as I mentioned this vial and detestable piece of news. I might as well have been reciting free verse from a bathroom stall. I knew I couldn’t take back what I’d said in that instance, and that in all likelihood, things would be different from that point forward. She caught me completely by surprise, suggesting we go out to dance. It was time.
The following night we met at a lounge over on Stanton. I was so excited on my walk to see her that I didn’t even bother fixing the bunch in my right sock. On a plain vanilla day, a bunched sock could be as excruciatingly annoying as walking with a pebble in your shoe, but my reckless glee had me, hovering at least three feet above the cracks and gum splotches in the pavement. When I got there she was already by the bar, sipping on a mojito. For the first time, she let me take the lead and I escorted her to the dance floor. We kept great restrain though I felt a simmering undercurrent, burbling between us. I had on too much cologne and it whisked beyond my open collar and when the strobe light hit my bald cheeks I felt like I was glowing. Nothing in my life topped that glimmering moment until I noticed all the eager, lust-filled mouths, twirling around us. Bright red lips and sweaty cheeks. Still hands without a sense of place. I got antsy and our ages didn’t sync. Really though, I was embarrassed to be seen in public, dancing with such passion.
We stopped to catch our breath. Missy slugged back her mojito and I tried not to touch her knee. How strange when we clasped hands and brushed waists as we tangoed. Those were the rules of engagement. Now we lapsed into a hopeless lull, without rhythm. Maybe I was afraid of kissing her or being kissed by her because I hadn’t yet explored the fantasy and the moment was unfolding too fast. We sat swathed in mutual curiosity, my long fingers longing for something to roam as her liquid brown eyes studied me. I was ready to trade almost anything to know what she was thinking. How cruel the quiet and selfish mind. She bit her lip gingerly and found repose. Then she removed the cameo from her necklace and slipped it into my closed hand. First time she’d given me a piece of herself. It delighted and unsettled me.
Now I’m left with the wan smile from her cameo. It eyes my typing fingers from the nightstand and makes me wonder.
John’s a recovering anthropologist and a Trilobite wonk. He enjoys fried pickles and hoppy beers. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Gravel, Newtown Literary, and Writer’s Digest. His debut novel Shades of Luz is called a modern day Don Quixote. He snagged his MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University.
Paper Cut: Creative Juice with Pulp
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