You Kiss Like You Dance

I probably have many “better” short stories, but when it’s for fun I like to give Logan and Jackson some air. This one is for Stevie Turner’s October Short Story contest. Which, as long as it’s under 2k and not too far removed from tasteful (like me), send one.

After four days of hell in the “dressed up party dance” class, where he’d had to repeatedly pay a fine to his full-on “how stupid and clumsy can one human being be” partner every time he stepped on her feet or pinched her or twirled her wrist the wrong way, Jackson needed someplace to Zen. So he went to the one o’clock Saturday open class because when he was the idiot novice in ballet class he had to take everything else in his brain out of gear and just be there.

When class finished he assumed his sweat-drenched, bent over, hands on his thighs posture. His thighs had stopped shaking after the second week and that had been a relief. He kept telling himself one more week, just one more week of this humiliation and he was done. And there they were, ballet feet, interrupting his view of the polished wood floor. He recognized the beat-up toe shoes, one with two strips of kinesiology tape creeping out and around an ankle.

“Hey, Logan.”

“It’s Logan, Jax. Logan Bevan, um…Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns?”

“I’m not mad at you, and I’m definitely not your mom, Logan Nicole. You need help with something? I’ve got lots of —”

“No.” She pushed a greeting card envelope under his bent over nose. “Happy birthday!”

He looked up, watched her embarrassed blush go all the way to ten.
“No shit?” He raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t count if you don’t sing.” He watched her crumple a little. “Just kidding, Logan. Thanks.”

The card had a cartoon of a lady in a produce section holding a melon of some kind, her nose wrinkled.

“My mom said if I wasn’t sure how old something was,
I should sniff it or squeeze it”

He opened it, the cartoon lady still had the melon and also a devil smile.

“Consider yourself sniffed and squeezed.”
Happy birthday, Jackson. Thanks! Logan.

She had started to write ‘Love, Logan’ and caught it, he saw the combo v and g.

“Twenty-three, Logan. Love you, too.”

“I totally dorked that, didn’t I? I should have just said it. Like humongous duh me. Twenty-three? That is so okay. I’ll be twenty-two in September. Last September. I am twenty-two. Shit. Oh-ohhh, I shouldn’t swear, you’ll think I’m one of those girls.”

“What kind of girls? First, you’re another dancer with a guy’s name. Second, you’re another rehabbing real ballerina. From where, New York by way of Seattle? Third, you just gave me a really —”

“Clever.” She poked the card with her finger. “The man at the store? I told him I was totally clueless how old you were, and like I can’t just ask you, right? He said this, that, was a clever card. Clever, like smart. So I bought it. And it is. Clever. I’m not sometimes, right, because I just dance. You told me twenty-three because the card made you. I can’t really squeeze you or sniff you. Well, I could, but you’d be all like what is this ditzy spaz doing, right? Not like I wouldn’t like to squeeze you. I didn’t think you were really old, but, you know, you shaved that beard thing and that was like a major relief and…And, like for real not after class, that would be so seriously ick. I mean me, too, not just…Oh-ohhh, shit.” She turned a little, rubbed her nose with her finger. “Shit. I’m doing it, I know I am. Logan, you are totally wasting out. Stop. Shit.

“You a little nervous about something, Logan?”

“Yes, way. Kenny? She like took over with you. She takes over class all the time like queen bitch, you know? She’s gone, I think. For a while, anyway. Like thank God for another Nutcracker and an oops, preggo Snow Queen, right? We’re different, you know, Kenny and I, but um, we dance a lot alike, but not. We get off the ground the same. She’s more,” she angled her arms, robot Egyptian style. “Mechanical? Um…No. Not technique-wise, what I mean is she dances so like a gymnast sometimes, you know, all boing, boing and everything, so she completely gets all those snotty, techie choreographers with their mega urbano thing.” She rubbed her nose again while she thought. “I’m, I do the, um, she’s a…I’m more of a girl. That’s what I mean. And I get the, well, like I’m a prettier dancer, in a dancer way. Not that I’m prettier, that would be so like a total ego bitch thing to say, but I, well —”

“Logan?”

“Like I am so sorry. I haven’t done it yet, have I?”

“I don’t know. You are a pretty dancer. She explodes into things, you bloom into them. Different girls, painting the same picture with different brushes, playing the same song with different instruments. What haven’t you done?”

The brushes had her thinking, so much so that she was painting the air with an invisible brush in her right hand, a couple of quick strokes, a couple of softer ones.

“That is so totally awesome a way to think about that! Flick, flick and swoo-oop.” She let her imaginary paintings hang in the air, admired them. Snapped herself back.

“So, um, Jackson, Jax, sorry, will you, like, um, go out to dinner with me? For your birthday? Like, you know, thanks for all the help and taping my foot and your birthday and everything dinner…No, that’s like all so monumentally a lie. Because I want us to is why.”

“When would you  –”

“Today? No. Like tonight, I mean? I need a shower yesterday. Whew. I am like sweat-ee ick. And my legs are hairy to the max,” she rolled her eyes. “It must have been days, right? Like I forget because until my tights snag or something or I have a date, right, like that ever happens. I shouldn’t have told you that, but it just like comes out. Girls do that, shave their legs, so it’s okay. It’s not like a secret, you know, that I shave them because you don’t think they don’t magically not get hairy or anything ‘cause we’re girls. Do you? Cause I knew this guy, and —”

“No, I… Jesus, Logan. Yes. I’ll go. I’m yours. Nobody has done anything for my birthday since I was nineteen.”

“Get out! No-oh way! We all knew it was your birthday. Because Madam dance Nazi? She told us two days ago but like no one brought a cake. She wanted us to do something for you, you know because you’ve been like really nice to all of us. But no cake. So, um, we totally kicked you to the curb on your birthday. I wanted to ask you before, you know when Kenny was all Queenie and everything. But she was like so possessive. But, um, you always helped me. ‘Specially after I boiled over on my tape that day and everybody said I was a total crybaby diva bitch and you said like no, I wasn’t, I just had bad advice about tape from somebody. And you like fixed my whole foot and pointe shoe drama with two pieces of tape, and —”

“Logan, even with Kenny here, all you had to do was ask.”

“No way, Hose-A. We knew Kenny would get all that way she gets and like Gack, you know? Who wants to deal with her going total postal bitch, right? Well, like Erica got all Wonder Woman that day right in front of her and asked you to hold her ankle for-ever while you walked her around en pointe. She said you checked her out deep and you didn’t miss a thing and…There I go. Shit. Sorr-eee.”

“Logan, stop apologizing and tell me how we do this tonight?”

“I have a place picked out, to like eat, but um, it’s your birthday, so like am I driving ’cause I asked?” She got flustered, stalled briefly. “I don’t know where you live.”

“Off Broadway, in Long Beach, but I’ll drive. Give me your address and phone number and clue me with a time?”

She put her hand out for him to hold, pulled up her non-taped foot, untied her pointe shoe and pulled out a sweat softened card. “I live with Lyle, she’s in modern and still at SoCal and Erica. We have a three-bedroom not far at all. I wrote it down already, you know, like in case you weren’t like old or weird and said yes. I made a reservation for seven forty-five, that’s all they had, and like it’s so small but way on some list or something. It’s about thirty minutes, maybe?”

“Seven? It can’t be a suit place.”

“No, no. Not jeans is all, and like this year gear is best. I have a way hot new dress. It’s too short. I, um, bought it in case you said yes. It’s really not too short. Yes, it is. I have others, they aren’t new, but I could wear one, you know, if…The new one is fuh-un. I was worried, you know, like about how short it is? And then you see me in tights and they’re like ‘here’s my butt’ all the time.” She pulled on her leotard. “No place to hide in here. They tell us that when we’re young so we get over being self-conscious. But you’re a guy, you know, not a dancer, but a street guy, so it’s different. Or is it?”

“Logan? Wear it. If they don’t like it we’ll go somewhere else. You and I. Your apartment at seven. I’ll be cleaned up.” He leaned into a backstretch before he straightened, threw his sweatshirt around his neck.  “Thanks, Logan. Seriously.”

She tried to get right up in front of him, like an awkward dance partner, tried an even more awkward kiss and missed it. She went to ten on the embarrassed scale again, looked at her feet, popped the sides of her thighs with her palms.

Uhh! They all said, well, if I could get all the way through and you like said ‘yes’ then I was supposed to kiss you and say ‘Happy Birthday’ and everything and tell them I had a real date and —”

He caught her hand before she could walk away embarrassed, twisted her wrist lightly, just enough, and there she was. Boobs and banana.

“Wha — Oh!”

He kissed her, let her get used to it, leaned into it a little with his hand still holding hers at the small of her back and she warmed way up.

“You kiss like you dance.”

“You don’t!” Her face lit up like she’d just won the lottery. “Like thank God, right?”

 

The Grandest Illusion / Throw Some Flowers

The Nutcracker

The remarkable thing about The Nutcracker is that it does with music and dance what we, as a global society, often cannot. It transcends religion and geography and tells a story full of cross cultural fantasy and spectacle and fear and joy and when it’s over everyone throws or delivers flowers to the stage where it happened. How cool is that?

Here’s the deal. The Nutcracker is supposed to be about Clara, a little girl who dreams her dreams of faraway magical lands that she shares with a brave, handsome prince. But what makes the music come to life, what makes the principle dancers from the best ballet companies in the world look so spectacular, what makes people cheer year after year is that the stage where it happens is packed with ageless little girls’ dreams, not just Clara’s. Dreams so big and real they fill up a theater with their hope and that inexplicable magic of belief in something bigger than reality.

So if it’s your neighbor’s kid or your kid or grand kid or your wife, or even if no one you know is in The Nutcracker playing in your part of the world this year, go see it. Talk to a stranger in the lobby, toast the season. Take some flowers with you and give them to a dancer who might be famous, might have been famous, might have been hurt, might even be a grandmother. This season, no matter what you believe, make yourself part of something bigger and better and more magical than what the nightly news would lead you to believe is our world.

 

In North Texas? Chamberlain’s Nutcracker at the Eismann Center is my choice. My wife is in it.

http://chamberlainperformingarts.org/

Groupies – I Just Love Your Wife Version

“Thank you so much for coming! I just love your wife. Did she tell you what happened last week?”

Let’s see. Someone came back from China, and the girl from Boston Ballet was soooo beautiful and soooo nice, and the place was packed with girls back from their summer intensives and professionals from all over the world home to see family at the end of summer, and…Yes. I always go back to ballet class with Nana Ballet when she comes home. None of those feel like the right answer. “Duh, no…” doesn’t work in public when asked by a woman who was a New York City Ballet Ford Foundation scholar at 12 and loves your wife.

“I’m not sure. I heard a lot about the ballet studio last week.”

“Let me tell you, she is such an inspiration. She didn’t mention it, did she? Well, there was a large group of very talented young dancers, and some of the younger ones who adore her all filled the big studio on Saturday. And one of them overheard your wife say she needed to check on your grand daughter in the studio next door. You wouldn’t believe it. They were all talking. ‘NO! Like Oh my God. We don’t have to stop taking ballet just because we have a job, or get married or go to med school or get old? We can like still dance when we’re grandmothers? Oh. My. God’. One minute she was another adult taking her regular class crowded in the studio with them, telling them all how lovely they were, and whoops, there’s a grandmother in their ballet class? I think that’s wonderful, don’t you? All those talented young women realizing that dance can be forever. We just love her.”

Nana Ballet strapped the granddaughter into her eighteen-point space capsule car seat, climbed in the front seat, closed the car door and adjusted the air conditiong vents. Off of me and into the back seat like there’s not air blowing back there already. I turn one back my way and get the look.

“I hear Nana Ballet is an inspiration.”

“Seriously? Please. Those girls stand in center, no barre, stick their legs straight up in the air and say things like ‘I can’t believe how stiff I get when I don’t take class’. Ms. K has dancers at ABT, Miami, Seattle, Houston. Denmark. Everywhere. When I saw them all in there on Saturday morning I should have turned around and come home. I shouldn’t have been in a leo in the same building with girls that young and talented.”

No? Shouldn’t let strangers that come up to your knees and hug you get hugged back, either? Not likely…

All you need to do is show up, be real, and kind and able to appreciate your own limitations and the beauty of other people’s gifts, and the magic that needs to happen will take care of itself.

Skin Deep

The Nutcracker – Dress Rehearsal 2016

“You looked great up there.”

“For someone more than twice as old as the principals from New York City Ballet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did. We’ve been married ten years longer than they’ve been alive.”

“So, it’s good that you looked great up there on the same stage with them.”

“Mmm. I’m not so sure how great I looked.”

“I have pictures.”

“You weren’t supposed to take pictures.”

“No flash. How long have I been doing this?”

“We just had that discussion.” She flipped the visor down, opened the mirror. “Anyway, my costume is a blue velvet corset I’m cinched into. And I have my extra nylon hair.” She put the ringlets in a large zip lock, stuffed them in the dance bag then dumped fifteen bobby pins that would stay in the cup holder on her side of the console until the next trip to the free vacuums at the car wash. Or we bought drive-thru coffee in her car. Or she ran out of bobby pins.

“You still looked great.”

“The secret is old lady ballerina make up.” She peeled off one eyelash that would have made Dolly Parton envious, blinked in the mirror.

“I didn’t know they made that.”

“Oh, they make it, alright.” The other eyelash came off, got stuck to a small piece of white cardboard with the first one, wrapped in wax paper, dropped in a make up bag. She blinked again. Her own lipstick had come out and she did that thing women do with lipstick and a car vanity mirror.

“What’s in it that makes it so special?”

“Spackling.”  She rubbed her lips together, checked the mirror, smiled. “And formaldehyde.”

The Nutcracker

Go see The Nutcracker, wherever you are, whoever is doing it. It’s good for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than a couple of times and it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Throw Some Flowers

“I got a new costume this year! It’s blue and lavender, not that old green thing that just made me disappear. And there’s a girl, she’s one of my teacher’s old students, she’s a mom with me this year, she was a principle at Houston ballet until guess what? She broke her sesamoid, too, like me. Then she went to college while it healed and she works at some corporation now and has a four-year old and doesn’t have time for ballet or anything…” I see the look that is doing child age and career math equals time line to return to ballet class. “But after this and Ms. Kathy, she’ll be back. It’s like a habit you can’t quit or something, almost. You can quit for a while, but then it just runs over you again. And she was a principle, a real professional, so she can’t stop. And this guy? He was there last year, he said he was so glad to be back because this is the best time of the whole year. And he’s right. Last year I said I probably shouldn’t do it anymore, but now I’m glad I am. I don’t know why I got picked again.”

Please. Maybe because put you on stage in a costume, some $20 curls and too much red lipstick and you light up like a freaking Christmas tree. And that’s the real story of The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker party scene is where, in regional productions anyway, lucky retired and adult ballet dancers get to put on costumes and make all of the rest of the year’s classes worthwhile. The hired dance-slingers from ABT or NYCB come to dance the dreams of a little girl named Clara alongside the best of the young dancers the area has to offer, some of their retired peers, maybe even an ex-childhood teacher. And a pretty grandmother who gets to wear a blue and lavender costume, not the old green one.

The remarkable thing about The Nutcracker is that it does with music and dance what we, as a global society, often cannot. It transcends religion and geography and tells a story full of cross cultural fantasy and spectacle and fear and joy and when it’s over everyone throws or delivers flowers to the stage where it happened. How cool is that?

Here’s the deal. The Nutcracker is supposed to be about Clara, a little girl who dreams her dreams of faraway magical lands that she shares with a brave, handsome prince. But what makes the music come to life, what makes the principle dancers from the best ballet companies in the world look so spectacular, what makes people cheer year after year is that the stage where it happens is packed with ageless little girls’ dreams, not just Clara’s. Dreams so big and real they fill up a theater with their hope and that inexplicable magic of belief in something bigger than reality.

So if it’s your neighbor’s kid or your kid or grand kid or your wife, or even if no one you know is in The Nutcracker playing in your part of the world this year, go see it. Talk to a stranger in the lobby, toast the season. Take some flowers with you and give them to a dancer who might be famous, might have been famous, might have been hurt, might even be a grandmother. This season, no matter what you believe, make yourself part of something bigger and better and more magical than what the nightly news would lead you to believe is our world.

Quesadilla

“All I want to be when I grow up is a ballerina.”

“I think everybody knows that, mom.”

“Most ballerinas retire by the time they’re forty. I don’t think anyone is going to hire me at sixty-one, huh?”

“Probably not.”

“I just love it so-o much. Is that stupid or what? Me and the other old – lady ballerinas. I can’t believe I’m going to a night class. I used to feel really guilty when you were a baby and I’d go. I won’t be home till after nine.”

“Lots of people are out after nine, mom. You’ll be fine.”

“I know, but I got up at five and I’m exhausted. I ate half a sandwich and a little bag of Cheetos at one. I guess I’m not too bloated.”

“Mom, it starts at seven. You’ll be fine. You haven’t gone to night ballet for a while, right, except for rehearsals? What’s dad say? He doesn’t care, does he?

“He says he’ll split a quesadilla with me and leave it in the microwave. And you know your dad, he said he knows if he bitched and told me to go fix dinner and run the vacuum cleaner I’d poison him. I told him I wasn’t passive-aggressive, I’d just stab him or something and be done with it because I don’t have the patience for manipulative stuff. He said the strangest thing, though.”

“Dad says lots of strange, spacey things.”

“Really, right? He said the reason he’d never told me ‘no’ about school or books or ballet wasn’t the knife or anything but because the two things in the universe that cast the longest shadows were love and art. And if I was lucky like him to know both I should stand  by the window and let the evening sun kiss me before it went down and throw my ballerina shadow into forever.”

“Sounds like it’s still okay if you go to ballet class at night.”

“I guess. But you know, I’d go anyway. Splitting a quesadilla with me is nice of him, though. Don’t you think?”