In the smoky room, the dim light doesn't quite reach the far corners, where secrets hide. It is not crowded, except by the ghosts of regrets.
The men are there, as always. They sit, and drink, and watch. She sees the longing in their eyes. It calls her, and she answers as the music begins. The long first chords of "House of the Rising Sun" unfold the tale of regret and wisdom learned. She reaches into her soul to answer.
She stands before them, a few steps up on a low rise of the floor. Her head is bowed as she feels the ghosts, then raises her arms in response to their call and the song....She begins the steps, her lean muscular form slowly turning. She weaves with her arms, then her hips, "the ruin of many a poor boy..." Her hands pull in to her breast the sorrows: "and God, I know I'm one..." Her eyes open and reflect back the desire and the sorrows of her onlookers. Now she throws back her head, arms outstretched with the deepening keyboard strains of the tune. She spins across the floor, like an angel fleeing the night then slowly sinks down from the knees, crouching one beat at a time. In a flash with the crash of cymbals she rises to strut with the gambler "on a drunk." She calls to the lonely road and to the deep desires of sweet love to weave her spell of "one foot on the platform, the other on the train..." Her body bends from side to side as she reaches for love and finds only desire. She winds her sinewy way around till her back is to the men she loves and hates and slowly bends, sinks, legs dropping her down, back straight. Her arms draw an arc from the sky to her sides. Her head bows, her hands grasp each other behind her back to the fading strains "to wear that ball and chain..."
The music faded, releasing its grip on her soul. The dancer ignored the stares of the men as she returned to her seat. She felt their eyes on her as solidly as if they were hands. Her lips rose in a rueful smile; such was the price of the gift. They saw her now not as she was, but as their imaginations showed her to them. Still, she accepted the looks as a compliment--less painful than the alternative. She wondered if any ever saw beyond the dance and glimpsed her heart.
Music had always held a magical grip on her. She could soar with the fastest tempo or sink into the soulful understanding of the most mournful tune. She was drawn most to the slow, heavy bass beats of the rock ballads. Her body moved to their time almost of its own accord. She could no more be still hearing those low throbbing notes than a wave on the sea. When she was alone she might think about the meaning of the words, but if someone was watching she was acutely aware, yet oblivious. Her body spoke to them then in the way a flower reaches for the sun. And like the flower, she drew something vital from their stares. However, along with the food came always the poison. Lust clouded thoughts, hers as well as theirs. She would feel its questions asking "What if...?"
Now she must stand on the brink of decision and choose her path again. Brick by brick she would have to tell herself why her road was chosen and follow it home. Safety instead of excitement, acceptance without comprehension, need but not desire--these awaited her at the end of that road. They had served her well and she embraced them as the foundations of her life. This is the way of the world, she knew, but as she glanced up into the lingering gazes, she still wondered "What if?"
He wandered into these places now and again. Never any special reason, and he rarely paid attention to the girls. Most of them were either too high, or thought he was just some pervert who couldn't get laid. If he was a pervert, they were the perversions. Except one girl. He had caught her act once, and been entranced. Captivated. He could see her face, her eyes, reflecting the lights, and the lust, and he could see how much she hated these men that were all she clung to.
He watched her move, sensuous, her body a perfectly honed machine of flesh, muscle toned, not strained at all following the fastest rhythms, not afraid to show her soul on this stage. She looked out over her congregation, her worshippers, who knew, if they'd never admit it, they knew they'd never get any closer than this. And she knew she'd never get any closer either. Jaded, and lonely, she never expected to live the family life. Not the way she'd envisioned it.
And he recognized it in her, because it was the same way he looked out at the world around himself. He saw her eyes scanning the room, and as her face came around to his, he found an excuse in the drink in his hand, not even sure why he looked away, but afraid to make eye contact. That wasn't true, he knew why, he just thought it was stupid. Only poets and lovers believed you could lose yourself in someone's eyes. So, it had to be some other reason why he couldn't look directly at hers.
When she was done, she glided offstage, and sat down. He made his way out of the club, not rushing, but not taking his time either.
Since that night, he'd come here a few times. He knew her regular nights, knew what time she came in around. He felt like a stalker. Or maybe he was becoming a pervert like the other men here. Maybe it was because he knew he couldn't have her, she became more desirable. Maybe it was because on the rare occasion her eyes had met his, he'd swear he saw a glimmer of a smile. Whatever the case, he would come in, watch her set, maybe wait for a second set, then leave. He'd leave a large tip at the table, waiting until she was nearby to stalk out of the club, knowing she'd get the money.
It was the fifth or sixth time he'd been here. She was onstage when he came in. He went to the bar, ordered a drink, and did something he'd never dreamt he'd do. He sat down in front of the stage. Immediately, she noticed him. She looked at him, and smiled. Her eyes were so deep, and he knew what the poets, and the lovers meant. He stared at her, not noticing the gentle rising of her breasts, or the trace of sweat on her long legs. He gazed into her eyes, and memorized that smile. She crawled across the stage, straight at him, and he realized she was staring back. He wanted to reach out, touch her, feel her against himself, even only against his palm. Instead, he just sat and watched. She twisted, her body undulating with the music, her hair whipping across her face, hips grinding, and the whole time, he never looked away from her eyes. And she never broke off the look.
Maybe it was his imagination, or maybe that feeling really was mutual, he wasn't sure, but it felt better than anything he could remember. It was pleasure, beyond sexual, and emotional, more so than love had ever been. He could feel her against him, across the space that separated them, he knew the love she craved, and for a momentary lifetime, they shared that feeling.
When the music ended, he got up, his drink untouched, and left.
© JEB 1997 Used by permission
The Fragile Edge
I tell myself I will not go even as I drive there
-Big Black , "Bad Houses"
She watched him walk away, not daring to trust what she thought she had felt, had seen in those eyes. She stood there trembling with the need to believe, at war with the urge to run after him.
Gradually her attention drifted back to the room and the dancer left the stage in a daze. Her whole mind focused on the past moment, turning it over, examining it like a precious gem. The bittersweet feeling of seeing the reflection of her heart in another's eyes was like a drug, powerful and overwhelming, yet dangerous and addictive. It threatened the foundation of her life as she realized fully how lonely and distant she had become from everything around her.
Her nature was not cold, she remembered as she saw again the spark that had kindled in his eyes, felt the hot tears begin to creep down her cheeks. Her pleasure in the memory of him turned to pain as the walls of her life rose up around her. His reaching gaze became a barred window, taunting her prison with unattainable freedom. She wondered then what kind of prison he lived in that let them see each other so clearly.
She dared not hope their walls could be torn down. Too many disappointments had left their scars on her soul. And then, she was bound also by her own pride, cursed with a loyalty that would not die. Had she not made her choices, had her chance to dance with fate? Now her loyalty mocked her as it asked her to choose between her pride and her soul, as if they were separable.
In the flood of all these emotions, her gaze wandered to the door. Were his bonds less tight? Could she ease his isolation? She was afraid of the answer, and at how willing she was to find out.
She shook her head and stood abruptly, like a sleeper waking from a dream. That was exactly how she felt as she looked around the dingy bar, almost empty now.
She chased the lingering daydream from her mind. Why she insisted on believing in fairy tales she would never know. In real life there were no happy endings. Dreams became nightmares when faced with reality. Love and justice were long-gone myths, replaced by sheer survival.
She stepped out onto the empty sidewalk and headed for her car. She felt faintly ridiculous for thinking hope could be found in a stranger's eyes. Hope could only come from one place, and she looked within her heart, trying to find some. That poets were liars and lovers fools was what she found instead. She knew she was prey to both and bit back the disappointment that knowledge brought her.
The dancer pulled away from the curb. When she passed a man walking alone a few blocks away, she reached for the radio and turned the music off.
The dancer shut her eyes, trying to force the tears away as she drove past the stranger walking alone through the night. She turned the car's radio back on in a vain attempt to muffle the frustrated clamor in her mind.
Never had she felt so drawn and yet so caged. It had been so long since she had felt anything beyond angry need or hungry power before a man. Why did she feel that the will she had always commanded over her motion and emotions was deserting her? She felt betrayed by the very things she had always depended upon to distance her from the pain, the longing, the loneliness.
She reached into her anger and distrust to distance her heart from those knowing eyes. She looked for comfort in the familiar grind of her life. She found that these things could no longer protect her. Always her breath came short and her world seemed empty at the memory of the stranger.
Despair was often her companion in the following days. She went through the motions of her life, taking less and less pleasure in its familiar security. Hungry desire became her dance partner. It controlled her steps, filled her heart as she wove her way around the stage. It gripped and swirled her body even as it gripped her heart, driving her soul to its knees. Even as she wrestled with her emotions in the war for stability, she knew she would lose, because she did not want to win.
The knowledge filled her with shame and guilt, but it could not drive the wanting away. The emptiness in her life was too visible to her now. The fear was the only remaining thing stronger than the loneliness and empty ache that filled her life.
Often the dancer wished she had never been forced to face the truth of her existence. She still did not understand what exactly had happened in that brief amazing moment. Perhaps in that heartbeat when her eyes had met those of the stranger, he had given her a piece of his tortured soul, or maybe just the key that had unlocked her own demons, taking away her comforting blindness. Whatever it had been, she knew her life must change and she must seek comfort in a new direction.
She sighed wearily as she drove out into the night. She doubted she would return and opened her heart to the waiting road, hoping she would find herself along the way
© Sonja Torres 1997