Robert Wallace Paolinelli
705 Vallejo St. No.6
San Francisco, Ca 94133–3820
Dante and the Ballerina
Robert Wallace Paolinelli
One warm spring night I stepped out onto my enclosed porch and stood in the dark smoking. The air was clear; the rain had stopped not too long before; a slight breeze was blowing, and the leaves on the trees were rustling almost in perfect harmony with the wind chimes hanging in a lower bough.
The street was half dark; there is only one street lamp on my block, and it is about five houses away and the lamp does not really throw much illumination my way. As I stood smoking, enjoying the sweet smelling, post–pluvial night, I saw a figure running down my street. Another jogger, I thought; and I was right. But this jogger was graceful. I couldn't tell in the dim light whether or not the runner was a man or a woman until the figure was close to my porch; but all the time I was attracted by the fluid motion of the jogger. And then I saw the runner was a woman.
As she so gracefully passed in front of my house I could not help remarking, "You've a sprint like a ballerina."
It was just a remark of the moment; I said it not really intending it to go any farther.
"What did you say?" she asked, in a smooth, low voice without any of the difficulties one would expect from someone who had just stopped running.
The evening had been for me, thus far, an almost magical sequence of thunder and lightning, followed by a downpour which gradually changed into a soft rain, then, the cessation of the rain, followed by the good smells after a rain; and in the spirit of this magic night, I opened my screen door and walked down my three steps and went up to her.
"I said, you sprint like a ballerina."
She laughed. "Really? What a remarkably astute observer you are. As a matter of fact, I am, or rather, I was a ballerina. I'm retired, though. Are you a danseur?"
"I, a danseur? Hardly."
"But, then, you must be a devotee of ballet. How else would you have been able to sense what you did about me?"
"I hate to disappoint you, but, frankly, I've never seen a ballet. I don't even think I like ballet. I don't even know why I said what I did."
"Well, no matter; I find it rather a compliment; and I shall say again: you are indeed a remarkably astute observer. Do you run?"
"I'm not a runner, either."
"But you must be something or have a something to have intuited that my life was spent as a ballerina. Do you think it's kismet which made you say what you did? Perhaps there is some greater motive to this meeting––ah, the mystery of my life ever absorbs me." She paused a moment, turned her head to either side and resumed: "I've passed this house before. Do you live alone? What do you do?"
She spoke without having once paused to breathe; her breath control was something to be admired. Her voice was like that of a harp, but a little raspy, and she spoke in an abrupt way, and, I liked that. My curiosity about her was aroused and I wanted to find out more; yet her flamboyancy was a bit much to handle all at once. My occupation keeps me pretty well isolated (which I don't mind) and the strange visitor, whom I'd hailed, was a mild jolt to my normally monk–like life.
"I'm a translator, and, yes, I do live alone; the silence in conducive to my work. Do you live nearby? Allow me to introduce myself: Dante Sagra'." I extended my hand; she reached out and took it. I was sincerely sparked by her; otherwise, I would not have introduced myself so boldly.
"Viola Oliphant, and I live not too far away. My stage name was Ekaterina Petrovna. Have you ever heard of me? We all took Russian names in my day. It's a ballet tradition," she ended with a toss of her head.
"No; I've never heard the name; but I'm still very pleased to have met you. Are you married or..."
She cut in before I could finish my question. I liked the way she commanded herself; self–assured woman have always been very special to me.
"I never married. No time, no time. I was too busy, busy dancing. I was a dancer before I could walk."
I smiled politely at what I thought was a mild exaggeration.
"I know that might be hard to believe, but my mother told me that I always crawled to her bedroom to look at a lamp shade she had; it had a scene from Swan Lake on it, and, so I was told, I would sit and stare at the scene on the lamp shade...always a dancer...ah, my life, my life."
Her kind of fervency was new to me, yet she seemed so distant from me at the moment she'd finished speaking; her eyes closed and a dreamy look came over her face.
"Reminiscing?" I asked.
"Ah, it is so good to be reminded of my childhood and career, Mister...oh, oh, excuse me. I seem to have forgotten your name."
"Sagra', Dante Sagra'."
"Yes, Dante, like the poet. Are you a poet? No, no; of course not; you told me you were a writer. My, my, I'm so absent–minded at times. Do forgive me."
"Forgiven; but I'm not a writer, just a translator; not very creative."
"But it is! It must be!" she exclaimed with an opening and a raising of her arms above her head, then letting them fall silently, gracefully back to her sides. "Everything is creative; otherwise, life is just a lump of shit!"
I"m not usually taken aback by vulgar language; but coming from this woman––it was unexpected; but I regained my sense of presence and sense of humor and laughed uproariously because, after all, it was funny; and she stood smiling, waiting for me to stop laughing, which I did.
She was a bit self–centered; but that's not such a bad thing to be; human nature having produced liars, thieves, torturers, sadists and murderers, self–centeredness is a mild eccentricity, considering the extremes in human comportment.
"Tell me, Miss Oliphant, or would you like to be called Miss Petrovna?––if you've finished your run, I'd like to invite you in for a late coffee. I assume you drink coffee."
"I'd simply adore it if you called me Miss Petrovna; but you can call me Viola, too. I never did like Oliphant. I was always teased as a child by my schoolmates. They used to call me elephant! Can you imagine that? And me so slender and poised...and, of course, I'd love to drink a coffee with you. I'll run back, change out of this hideous sweat–suit and take a shower. You must think me a mess." She said all this in one breath, while her hands went to her hair and patted it, then tugged at her sweat shirt in an attempt to straighten it, and she did this with such effortlessness that I couldn't help admiring her all the more.
"Very good; take your time; I keep late hours. I'll serve on the porch. It's such a lovely night."
"How wonderfully exciting. I've not done anything like this in ages...it reminds me of...well it reminds me of so many pleasant evenings. I'll be off. See you in a bit."
Off she went running in that graceful manner that first attracted me to her.
I had some cookies land a small pound cake in my larder. I put them on a platter, dusted my demitasse service and carried everything out to the porch. I prepared my coffee pot and decided to play some music. I chose a Beethoven violin and piano sonata of my liking, turned up the usually low volume of my stereo, then went to the porch to smoke and wait for my guest.
I waited over an hour. I played the sonata again. I wasn't particularly impatient; but I began to wonder if she was really coming. That thought no sooner came to my mind when a small car pulled into my driveway and stopped, and out came my honored guest dressed in a long, black velvet gown which showed every curve of her body; and around her neck she wore several strands of fine, turquoise hishi. She was ravishingly beautiful, and I had to restrain myself from staring at her too long.
"Welcome back," I said, opening the porch to greet her.
"How kind of you to have invited me. Hark! Is that Beethoven I hear?" she said, putting her cupped hand to her ear, listening intently to the music.
"Yes, his Kreutzer Sonata."
"Charming, positively charming. I knew it sounded familiar. It's just the music I would have selected for our soiree. You've good taste, Monsieur Sagra'."
"Thank you. Do sit."
"Yes, yes; but first let me bring my contribution; I'm so absent–minded these days, dear Dante. I've left it in the car. I'll get it."
She returned with a bottle of brandy which she presented to me with a slight curtsy. "For the house, good sir."
I was touched by her gift and told her so.
"How sensitive you are," she said. "I had a favorite uncle like you. Oh, dear Uncle Maurice, such a sensitive human being; how I wish he had lived to old age; how he encouraged me in my early career...oh, well, there's nothing for it. The great reaper will harvest us all, someday."
I was truly feeling the spirit of the evening, and was not particularly interested in her reference to dying, so I quickly turned the conversation: "I'll put the coffee on; the pot is ready; I'll just be la minute.:"
"May I come in and see your kitchen?"
"Certainly; and excuse me for not having invited you myself."
My house has a large front room; but it is sparsely furnished, to say the least; after all, I'm a bachelor, so what need have I for a lot of furniture?
"You've only that couch and stereo, Dante. How on earth do you stand all this emptiness?" said Viola, making a circuit of the room as if she were walking in a theater in the round. "You really ought to do something about the echo, really, you should. Have you thought, perhaps, of laying a rug or two?"
"I don't want to cover up the parquet floor; anyway, you might want to dance for me sometime; and look at all this space," I answered, in defense of my bachelor's prerogative.
"Quite right, quite right. I never thought of it that way; and this parquet is simply beautiful. What craftsmanship. One doesn't see this kind of work anymore. Oh, the world corrupts beauty so quickly, so very quickly," and she sighed. Viola closed her eyes and lapsed into silence. Not wanting to wait for her to make some utterance or other, I said, "Let's fire up the coffee and crack that bottle of brandy."
As if breaking from some profound thought, Viola opened her eyes`es and raised her eyebrows almost in anger for having been interrupted; and for a moment I thought she would stamp her foot; but no, she fooled me; all of a sudden her face softened, and she said in an almost meek voice, "Yes, let's have our coffee and brandy."
"I think you'll like the kitchen," I said. She glided towards me and stretched out a dramatic arm to me: "You are such a good man, Dante; such a good man; so understanding, so sensitive to the mood and spirit of others."
The sincerity of her voice and her gesture were almost embarrassing to me. Her spontaneous demonstrativeness was a bit much; not that I'm shy; but I rarely have company and the few guests I do have are not at all demonstrative. But, I must admit, her outbursts were stimulating and I was most comfortable in her company.
In contrast to the rest of my house, my kitchen is full: A table, four chairs, pots and pans hanging; utensils all about; a large butcher's block and a large, old–fashioned, cast iron overpowers the space. And on one wall is a reproduction of a Maxwell Parrish print I'm particularly fond of, Enchantment. In fact, as i waited for the coffee to boil, I glanced up to the Parrish print and saw something of Viola in the woman in the print.
I thought Viola would comment endlessly on my kitchen; but she didn't. I watched her; she looked a bit subdued, and I asked her if something was wrong.
"Wrong? What makes you think something is wrong?"
"You seem to be preoccupied," I said, not wanting to say subdued; I don't think she would have taken kindly to being called subdued.
"Preoccupied? Yes; I was thinking about what you said: Me dancing for you in your front room. Would you like me to? I mean, really?"
I'd said that to her earlier not as an invitation, but as a way of avoiding any further comment on my half–empty room, and it never occurred to me that she would take it to heart; but she did and, wanting to be pleasant, I said: "Yes, I'd like that. But shouldn't we have our coffee first?"
"Yes, yes, of course," she burst out like a sun through grey clouds.
"Do let us have our coffee and chat, Dante. Oh, but you are an inspiration to me. Since my retirement I've no fun; how boring my life is at times...and this too divine kitchen, Dante––you've an eye for decorating––and that coffee pot...I love those Italian, octagonal shapes. Ah, the Italians, they are so expressive. I adored Italy. Have you been there? Why when I last danced in Rome, oh, me, that was such a lovely tour, I fell in love. Can you imagine? and with a short Neopolitan, what wonderfully sweet nothings they can tell a woman. But you've an Italian name. Were you born there? Do tell me all about yourself."
When she stopped speaking her face was once again bright with smiles, and I could see her straight, white teeth, and they were, I must admit, a pleasure to see.
The coffee boiled and, with little ceremony, I carried the pot to the porch. We settled ourselves on my high–backed, wicker chairs and finally drank our coffee and ate the cookies and pound cake, which I was very glad to drink and eat as I (do) usually have coffee at that late hour as part of my regular routine, which that night had been replaced by a spontaneous soiree with a charming woman, whom I truly liked, in spite of her odd, mercurial ways. Nevertheless, she was certainly a change from the insipid life I had come to lead.
We two chatted of this and of that and three times she noted that my coffee was worthy of gold medals and other high honors; she praised the cookies and the pound cake; and even after I told her that had been bought at the neighborhood supermarket, she went ahead, anyway, and insisted I was only being modest and said I surely must have purchased them at a local, well–known bakery.
At any rate, it was pleasant, her banter; it cheered me and I changed the character of the evening a bit by playing a recording of Songs of the Auvergne. Together we listened to the simple songs of shepherds, which had been collected and arranged for a full orchestra and a lark–like soprano's voice. I'd not played those songs by Cantalube for many months; but that night I hummed along and sang, sotto voce, all the parts and refrains I could remember.
Viola closed her eyes and had a smile on her face and now and then she would burst out saying, "Ah, how delightful; how gorgeously delightful is that singer's voice."
I didn't mind her outbursts anymore; I welcomed them. But what I did mind was her sliding away from her joyous outbursts, changing the expression on her face to a melancholic one and sighing deep, deep sighs. It was something pathetic to see and hear her sighs. They disturbed the atmosphere I was trying to create.
It was when I opened the bottle of brandy and was about to pour that she proclaimed: "I'm having the jolliest time I've had in months! Being retired, at my age, frankly, is a strain. Bluntly, it's boring. Look at me, past my middle fifties, accustomed to lights, masses of people and a great deal of attention––a constant excitement of body and soul––and where am I now? Every day I go for my run; sometimes twice. On Mondays I teach five private students who are slobs––absolutely graceless; on Tuesdays I spend cleaning my house. I don't mind that; it gives me something to do. On Wednesdays, I go to an advanced adult French class and try to stimulate some brilliant exchanges with my fellow students––but it seems no one is interested, including the teacher. And the rest of the week I keep busy, somehow, mainly to keep busy! It's so demoralizing and, indecent. Why I'm a veritable dynamo; all this energy, and not a thing to do with it. How do you ever manage to sit all day and translate?"
I was in sympathy with her; I have my own doldrums at times. Nevertheless, I responded: "I don't mind at all, sitting for many hours translating. It's probably the only true joy I have. Maybe what dancing did for you, my translating does for me."
"Yes; it seems to be so. Alas, I've had my heyday and you still have yours; and maybe will have for many years to come. By the time I was forty I knew I would have to leave the ballet. I was sore all of the time. Oh we dancers burn up so quickly. It's positively distressing."
"When I met you earlier this evening I didn't imagine you were in such a funk."
"Oh? I'm not, really; not as bad off as I make out to be. I've not lost my pepper. I still have fire and spice in my life. Don't misunderstand my venting my spleen. Did I tell you I dance in front of my studio mirrors naked?"
I smiled and made a naughty wince at her; she gave me back a broad grin, and her eyes lit up. Her frankness was refreshing; but I was unprepared for it.
"Did I shock you Dante? My, my; you're as modest as a schoolboy." She burst out into joyous and playfully mocking laughter.
"Not really shocked; only you say things so spontaneously that it's hard for me to appreciate them all at once. Naked? Well, now I'll tell you something: In the summer I sit in my studio with the doors open to my back yard––naked as a babe. How's that for you?"
"Marvellous! You are a soul mate, dear, dear Dante; the stars have brought us together. Under what sign were you born? Do pour that brandy and do let us drink to this splendid night."
I filled our small glasses and we gently knocked them together in a toast, and much to my surprise, I saw her tilt her head back, open her mouth and take the brandy down in one smooth swallow, after which she smacked her lips, put out her glass and, in a most polite manners asked for a refill, which di did, commending her on her ability to drink.
"Why don't you try it? Drink it down and take another quick shot and wait for a slight drunk. Being drunk can be a blessing. I know. Being drunk once saved my life. Just after I retired, I seriously contemplated suicide––of course it all seems so silly now. But those first months were an absolute strain on me. Not too very long before I was still being hailed as a prima ballerina––and then––I was a nothing. I decided to end it all and I ordered three cases of champagne and proceeded to drink myself to death...ha, ha, ha!" (Her laugh was a hardy one). "But I was on my second bottle, and I was so deliciously drunk that I had no desire at all to die, so I called all the people I knew to come over and help me finish off the rest of the champagne. What a smashing time we all had that night. So, Dante, pick up your glass again––go on––try it. Drink it down."
"Why not?" I said, raising my glass and taking the remainder of my brandy down all at once, then refilling and repeating the process. The brandy burned my throat, but it was good.
Viola followed suit and did me one better: Taking the bottle by the neck with her slender fingers, she put it to her lips and swigged on it with gusto. And I, further inspired by her pluck, reached out for the bottle and she passed it to me.
I kept the brandy draining down my throat until I had to put the bottle down for lack of air; and when I did, I experienced such a rushing in my body that I literally hung on to the arms of my chair tightly, for odd things were happening inside my body: All at once I felt nauseated and I was certain I'd lose everything in my stomach; and, I was uncertain I could walk. When Viola asked me why I was acting so strangely, I was unable to utter one word. I shook my head to Viola and she, in immediate understanding of my plight, jumped quickly to my aid.
"Up, up up you go, Dante. Come along; only some walking and deep breathing will settle you."
She took me gingerly by the arm and I followed. She lead the way through the screen door and all the while she encouraged me to breathe in a certain pattern, which I did. And her remedy seemed to do the trick; for as we reached the end of my driveway, I was feeling ever so much better, but my thirst was a mighty one and I said so.
"Where is the closest water?" she asked.
I indicated the tap and hose at the side of the driveway. Viola took up the hose and turned on the tap.
"Here, drink your fill and give your kidneys a good flushing out."
I drank until my thirst was slaked.
"Take some water and splash your face. There's nothing like a jolt of cold water to revive one."
I followed her advice without question; and after a couple of handfuls of water in my face, Viola, an impish chuckle in her voice said: "Here, let me show you how." Whereupon, she turned the hose full in my face and, stepping back, kept the stream steady on it. The water flowed down my neck and onto my chest, soaking my shirt to the skin. I was peeved because of her practical joke and I said so. But my admonition didn't phase her.
"Don't tell me you're angry with me; not after I've saved your life! You must admit we are having fun. Isn't it grand to be so spontaneously mischievous, DAnte? Don't be a stick in the mud; you've probably a whole drawer full of shirts, I'm sure. After all, it's only water on a cotton shirt."
I couldn't argue with her wit or her reason.
"You're right. I should be laughing."
All of a sudden my head was clear, my hearing was sharp, my intestines calmed and I was recovered from my upset caused by the too deep draught of brandy. My body felt light, my thoughts were electric and I knew I was (as Viola would say) deliciously drunk. I felt carefree and knew I could be just as impish as my bold ballerina.
I snatched the hose from her hands and turned it on her. She let out a child–like shriek and jumped back for the suddenness of my move. The water drenched her lovely velvet dress. I shook with laughter and dropped the hose which twitched on the ground like a snake, wetting our feet and the hem of her dress. I squatted and shut the valve, and, in doing so, exposed myself to the still twitching hose even more and was made wet all over.
We roared at our folly and she clapped me on the back in good camaraderie and said, "You do have promise, Dante. You could easily develop your sense of humor and join the ranks of us indefatigable jesters; you learn so quickly. You must seduce me sometime; I would simply love it, just love it."
I started to bean even thought she cut short her inviting words to me by suggesting we go back to the house for a warm drink and to change into robes.
I was, so I thought, prepared for anything. The night was open to a thousand charms––and I wanted all of them––much to my normally reserved surprise. I was breathing easily, and for the first time in a long time I felt unburdened and released into the flowing, unpredictable joys of my ballerina.
I gave her a rich, dark blue Japanese yukata to wear, and I donned a pale green one. We made more coffee, took it to the porch and drank it and I smoked, smiling at our highjinks with the hose.
The hour was late, the atmosphere one of merriment, and suddenly I was struck by a flash of inspiration. I rose to my feet. I stood like an orator. I lifted my voice in fervency:––
"Ekaterina Petrovna, I want you to dance for me as you've never danced before! Destiny is in the air, ah, I can feel it, almost smell it," and I threw out my arms in an all–encompassing gesture, just as she would have done, and I sucked in a deep draught of air. My head went spinning; I was intoxicated not only in body but, also, in spirit!
"Come, O my ballerina, dance for me!" I was infected with delight at the thought of her dancing for me. I wanted her body, and its movements, to fill up the emptiness of my room and my life, for suddenly I became aware of how empty was my life dedicated to enhancing the words and thoughts of others.
Viola became radiantly dignified and rose up from her chair, and in a stately manner walked from the porch straight to my record collection next to the stereo. She studied my records, then slowly turned to me. "Here is the music, dear Dante, I shall dance to."
I recognized the album: A ballet score by Sarkoff, Dance of the Damned. She held it out for me. I took it from her with a little bow, and Viola, now the elegantly poised Ekaterina Petrovna, walked to the center of the room, stopping, standing noble, her head slightly bowed, her hands clasped as if in an attitude of reverence to Terpsichore.
I was ready at the turntable; she lifted her head and gave a commanding nod to me. I placed the needle on the record, sat on my couch and waited.
Began the music:––
Ekaterina, the somber, living statue lin the center of my room came alive. In a flash she threw up her arms land let out a shout, an almost primitive shout, calling up in me what I imagined to be ancient pagan cult cries, which sent a shiver of erotic delight down my back.
She pulled at the knot of the sash holding the yukata, and let the blue robe fall from her body, revealing to me her remarkable nakedness. At first I could not believe that a woman's body could be so beautiful; but her beauty seemed to radiate like electronic pulses which I could feel against my body.
She leapt high into the air, her body straight as a spear; and once off the ground, her body turned in midair, she swung out her arms, cruciform, and her dance began.
She was a whirlwind of motion, jumping, hopping, leaping, twirling, bending, moving her body and arms in ways I never knew a body could move. She spun and spun around and around until my eyes had difficulty following her movements of blurred circles. At times her body flowed gracefully, and, at others, it twitched, almost contorting to the grinding atonality of the music. She was a frenzy of movement. Faster and faster she danced, never stopping for a moment, and the music played on and on until I thought she must collapse; but she didn't.
The record ended. She stood in the center of the room, her body dripping pearls of perspiration; her hair was wild and wet and stuck to her neck and cheek like fine cobwebs. Her muscles were taut, her smooth skin gleamed and her eyes were as if on fire with excitement.
"Bis" she called out in a commanding voice and clapped her hands simultaneously. I did not question, but went to the stereo and pushed the replay button. Again the music sounded and again she set her body in motion, approaching me, holding out her arms in a beckoning manner and her long fingers pleading for me.
"Come, Dante, you must dance with me," she said, in a deep, sensuous voice. "Come to me, my dear and strip away your masks, Dance, damn it!" she said in an almost harsh whisper.
"But I'm no dancer––and I'd rather watch you. It pleases me to see you dance and move with such vigor land grace and so powerfully wild, yet disciplined movements."
Suddenly I was feeling uncomfortable.
"You sound like a scholar or a naive dance critic––never mind the words, Dante––God knows you know enough of them. Come, my darling, take off that robe––quickly––the music calls," she said, cocking her head toward the speakers and bringing a cupped hand to her ear.
"Take it off, Dante," and she seized the belt and pulled out its knot and with a graceful uplifting of her hand she pulled off one shoulder and danced around me pulling off the other and I found myself face to face with her nakedness as she danced round to my front again.
There, it was done, I didn't know what to do and I said so, as I followed her back to the center. I did feel a bit shy being naked for the first time in front of a woman I had only met a few hours before. But I'm no prude and I did not cringe.
We stopped. She turned and faced me; and although we were almost the same height, it seemed as if she were taller.
Her hands found mine. "Don't be afraid," she said, "and you don't have to do anything. Just listen to the music; let it it tell you what it wants you to do. Surrender to the music, become the music, Dante, let it penetrate and speak to you from your heart. Listen to the music with your heart, not with your ears."
"That's impossible," said I, rather amazed at such a theory.
"Impossible? Rot. I've been doing it most of my life. Just do it; don't question. Shut your mind and listen with your heart. Dante. Ah, my love, open the ear of your heart," she said, lovingly.
I closed my eyes. I concentrated on my heart and gave myself up to the music. I started clapping my hands to the tempo; many times I missed the beat and felt a bit foolish for clapping out of time like a mechanical toy winding down.
"Leap!" shouted my ballet mistress, "Leap and try to touch God––and if you can touch Him, you'll never come down, Dante. Leap! Jump as high as you can and mean it––do it as if your life depended on it," she exhorted me.
I started to prance in place, increasing my speed until I ran in place as if to gather momentum. I stated to run across the room waiting for the moment when I would propel myself into the air.
All at once I left the earth. My body was (so it seemed) weightless. My eyes were wide open and I saw the room as if I were staring down from a great height, much as I'd experienced in my traveling days, when I stood on the last tier of Saint Peter's dome, in Rome, looking down to the mosaic floor and seeing the tourist and pilgrims as miniatures. All of this I recalled in those few seconds of liberation from the laws of gravity.
A feeling of exhilaration filled me. I had a sense of something, something I could not say exactly what, but there had been a something which charged or re–charged me, for I immediately wanted to jump again and again.
My Ekaterina joined me, and together we leaped across the floor, or we jumped in place, hurling ourselves into the air with our arms extended above our heads like sharp lances trying to pierce the firmament and come out on the other side of everything.
Faster and faster we went, still jumping, still leaping, flying, landing, flying, returning back to the earth where we moved our bodies and swung our arms in circles and arcs, chopping out the space around us to fit our bodies.
We crouched and waddled; we lay on our bellies and rocked land spread out our arms and legs. All at once we were rays of stars and kin of spiders; we became every long thing in the universe as we rolled over on our backs and lifted our legs into the air, and brought them back down with loud crashes as we banged the hardwood floor with our palms and the soles of our feet.
Springing up from the floor, I looked at my ballerina who began to spin herself around and around, making small circles with her body as she made a great circle at the same time around the room. I followed as best I could.
My body had loosened; i had done things with it I'd never done before, and I felt confident I could copy my supple guide, my teacher, and I began to spin around, making small circles as I propelled myself around the room in a great circle.
We were like two planets in similar orbit. But I did not long keep up the pace. The room started to spin, my vision blurred; I felt dizzier and dizzier. My head spun so fast nothing was real. I was erasing time and my sense of reality. My spinning world, my orbit toward Viola and the unknown, spurred me on, my dizziness notwithstanding.
Faster and faster I went; when I was able to gain some equilibrium again, I was able to control my spinning to a point where I was no longer dizzy.
And then one of the most amazing things to have ever happened to me in my entire life descended upon me like a cape of stars:––
At one point in my spinning everything seemed to stand still. I was aware of my body, I knew I was spinning around my room with Viola, that the couch was in its usual place, and so on. But the amazing thing was that in the midst of all the twirling there was a stillness, a place where I could see three hundred sixty degrees without turning my head. The whole world was spinning around me!
The suspension from the gross world was complete. Our bodies were made out of iridescent particles of electricity, shimmering–rainbow–phosphorescence, transcending time and space, pulsating, stretching, condensing into a rhythm all their own. Sometimes it seemed we exploded scattering about like meteorites.
Oh, I had disappeared––in a manner of speaking! The world was but a stage and I understood why my darling Ekaterina loved the dance so much, why she had dedicated her life to it.
Yet the best was to come, for all at once Viola and I met.
At the point of our meeting, our arms went to our respective shoulders and hips, and we spun together as we looked into each other's eyes. Our vision was locked: Outside our magic circle was a haze as we gazed into one another's eyes and became focused and fused in spirit.
That realization of united spirits, however, was not long lasting. For suddenly I became frightened and I started to lose confidence in this higher consciousness. My hands slid from her shoulders. Quickly she caught my falling arms, our fingers entwined and for a few circuits we were at arms length and only our interlocking fingers kept us joined. We started to slow down.
Things were changing very quickly. I was beginning to feel my body again; nausea set in, dizziness returned, my vision blurred.
"Hang on! coaxed Viola. "Don't let go of the magic. Come back, it's too precious to lose."
But once again the laws of gravity took effect.
Viola grabbed my writs and tried to control our momentum; but my body's imbalance became so erratic that she was hard put to hang on to me, for I did outweigh her.
"Let me go,Viola; drop me; it doesn't matter."
"But you'll hurt yourself."
"I can't stand on my legs anymore.Please," I begged her, :"I can't take anymore." I was desperate. My body was being pulled and I didn't care if I fell and hurt myself.
Down I went, crashing onto the floor, my shoulder hitting first after my knees buckled and I fell backward, Viola tried to cushion my fall by rushing behind me and putting her hands out like a giant butterfly, just lat the back of my head, otherwise my head would have hit the floor and I would have been knocked unconscious. For that I am ever grateful because what happened next was the most terrible moment in my life.
I lay on the floor vanquished by the laws of motion. I was in pain, my head was still dizzy and I was seeing stars, but part of me was still on that high, cosmic plane, and I shouted out to my dancer: "Dance! Leave me be; I'm not important. Go! Don't lose the continuity. You must dance, Viola, mine. Quickly, dance out the dance––oh––it's beautiful, my love. Let me see you leap. I'll be alright."
And she danced and she danced; and even after the music had stopped she danced and she danced; and I, recovering my equilibrium, watched with an intensity I had never experienced before.
In her movement was a language and I was "reading" her language. It was all so clear to m, as clear as any of the fluid passages I had ever read or translated. Here was a new language I'd learned, the language of pure motion, rhythm and how space is filled and how it is emptied and how two people can rise to heights beyond their own, limiting ken. And I remembered what Viola had said to me in the first minutes of our encounter: "Everything is creative; otherwise life is just a lump of shit." And all at once I realized the great absurdity of my own life, but I knew that as long as Ekaterina was at my side as my companion, my lover, my wife, my dance teacher, my guide to beyond my self; as long as we could be together, life would have profound meaning––as I'd never understood it before.
She created a poem with her body, a poem of love and laughter, a poem esoteric and exoteric, encompassing all the history of the world and its future. The room seemed to be filled with the almost visible vortices cause by her dancing, which had stirred up subtle particles of the space in my sparse room.
She danced to the center of the room where the yukata
Around and around the Japanese robe she danced, getting closer and closer to it, inching her way to it like an animal trainer nearing a ferocious beast.
With her foot almost touching the robe, almost tempting it, she became wild, flailing the air with her arms and moving her hips in simultaneous rhythm. She stopped and stood rigid for a moment, then slowly she began to spin; she kicked out her foot and increased her speed. Faster and faster she spun, spinning until she became a blur. I knew not the source of her energy; she seemed to be possessed. In the middle of a flurry of whirling arms, her knees buckled, and she collapsed to the floor, pushing the robe, causing it to spread out like a wave flowing up a sloped beach.
"My dance is finished." she said in a low, deep–panting voice.
I'd been spellbound throughout her dance and when she fell I let her lie, thinking only of my extreme pleasure land excitement at having watched a most extraordinary woman dance an extraordinary monument of movement before me, and I was still lost in the bewilderment of it all. My hands came together, and as I applauded, I shouted, "Brava! Barava! Bravissima!"
Ekaterina didn't move; and it was only when I realized she wasn't moving that I stopped my buffoonery of clapping and calling and went to her side and cradled her in my arms.
"Speak to me. Are you alright?" I asked solicitously.
"My last dance, Dante, for you; only for you. My last and most stupendous performance. I have no more to give. I've given my all to you. Always remember me dancing. I'm going now; the light is fading. I'm in a dream; it's half rainbow, half silver, and I'm complete. Dante, I'm dying and I'm happy. Ah, how else should a dancer die except this way: Naked and her body exhausted by the dance. How exquisite, simply exqui......" she gasped, her body quivered all over, then stiffened, then relaxed and she lay limp in my arms.
I felt for a pulse; none; I put my ear to her chest; stillness within; I listened for breathing; she breathed not. She was gone. Her destiny had claimed her and I knew it––yet I panicked and ran to the telephone and punched in the three digit emergency number.
The emergency squad found me on my knees weeping over her. I'd half covered her with the yukata and had donned my own.
Later, there was an official inquiry; and, as embarrassing as it was, I gave my frank statement to the authorities. An autopsy showed she had died of natural causes: Heart failure.
I was then left in peace to mourn and mope about my house in deep bereavement for the exotic woman who had come running into my life and left it dancing––all in the same night.
I visit her grave now and then. Sometimes I wear the yukata she had worn and sometimes I dance without music in the room where Viola and I had tamed time and space.
Viola grabbed my writs and tried to