Jacky Fowler's Stuff

July 14, 2010

The Passion of the Dance

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 12:35 pm
Tags: , ,

 

 “Oh, she couldn’t have.”

“Oh yes, she could. And she did.”

“But what did Andy say to her?”

“I don’t think he had a breath left in his body to say anything to anybody. He was ashen though – white as a sheet.”

“No wonder. Had she been drinking?”

“Well, to be fair to her, I honestly wouldn’t have said so.”

“What made her do it then? It’s so unlike her – she’s usually so ….. well, so quiet.”

“I know, but one minute she was sitting right beside me and the next she was – well …. I was shocked! …. talk about attention seeking!”

“I still can’t believe it. Surely she must have known it would set everyone agog?”

“Not so that you’d notice. She came right back to the table and sat down looking like butter wouldn’t melt. It was everyone else left gaping like a bowl of goldfish.”

With a click, the speed of the treadmills increased and the conversation between the two women ceased as they saved their breath for running.

The subject of their conversation was hidden from them in the huge cage-like structure of the chest press. Elaine had heard Jean and Linda come into the gym, and steeled herself. She’d known there’d be gossip and she’d known she’d have to face it sometime, but not quite so soon. That they hadn’t seen her before getting onto the treadmills had been an unexpected reprieve, but it wouldn’t be very long before they moved on to a different piece of equipment and pass too close to miss seeing her. What would she say? What could she do?

****** 

Coming to the gym regularly was a turning point for Elaine. Feeling fat and forty wasn’t something she’d enjoyed and although Andy hadn’t said anything, she felt he’d been disappointed by her descent into dumpy drabness. They’d drifted apart. As Andy worked long hours on his way up the management ladder of his company, Elaine concentrated more and more on the kids and their home. But she loved him and missed the closeness they’d shared. She wanted to put the spark back into their marriage, so she gritted her teeth, cut down on the calories and put herself through a pretty tough workout several times a week.

After six months she braved a shopping trip and had been amazed at the pretty new clothes she was able to buy to flatter the trim figure she’d regained. But Andy had just been promoted and, struggling with a demanding new job, he hardly seemed to notice any of her new outfits. A slightly puzzled “you look nice dear” had greeted her new hair colour, but that was it.

Elaine was thoroughly frustrated. I might just as well give up. What’s the point of all that hard work if he doesn’t even notice that I’ve gone down two whole dress sizes? Okay, I feel a lot better about how I look.

She smiled a little to herself. Better than I have for years as a matter of fact. The smile faded, to be replaced with a slight frown. That’s it – I’ve come this far, so I’m not giving up now. I just need to figure out what to do to get him to really see me again.

The idea came to her one Saturday night a few weeks later. They were watching Strictly Ballroom on television. As usual, Andy was thoroughly involved in the programme.

He sprang from his chair and reverse turned his way around the room. “I can’t believe she could get such a simple step so badly wrong! Look!” He continued to effortlessly ease around the furniture with his arms holding an imaginary partner. “Good grief, it’s so easy even you could manage it better than her!”

Elaine’s face crumpled, but Andy was already engrossed in the comments of the judges, oblivious to her distress. It was an old wound, rarely re-opened these days. Andy was a talented, stylish dancer, he’d even been a junior champion in his teens, but Elaine had two left feet. In the early days he’d tried to teach her to relax and enjoy a simple waltz, but still she’d felt like he was dragging a sack of potatoes around the dance floor.

Elaine had never felt comfortable or confident enough to improve and eventually, Andy had given up trying. Then she’d had to watch from the sidelines as he enjoyed himself partnering other women, or, when he’d seen how much that could upset her, feel the frustration pouring out of him as they’d watched other couples dance. 

Alright, if that’s what it takes to make you notice me again, then that’s just what I’ll do. If that celebrity carthorse can learn to dance, then I must be able to!

******

So why had she picked such a difficult dance? Elaine asked herself that question so many times over the next few weeks. Finding a teacher had been her first task and it had been much easier said than done. Trawling through the telephone directory she’d spoken to half a dozen or more teachers before she reached Enrique.

“It doesn’t matter if you have three left feet, with me, you will dance el tango maravillosamente.” He sounded so emphatic that she believed him. “So, two-thirty on Wednesday, and bring your high heels.”

Enrique’s dance studio was in the city centre, at the top of an office block. As she stepped out of the lift, Elaine could hear the sultry beat of the tango music pulsing through the air. She pushed the door open slowly, peered timidly around it, and there was Enrique.  

He wasn’t quite what she’d been expecting. He definitely had the Latin looks to go with his name – olive skin, dark hair slicked back, a wiry build.

Elaine was filled with dismay. He must be sixty-something if he’s a day. Would he really be able to dance the tango with the energy it required? Then he looked at her, and his dark, penetrating gaze somehow made her pull herself up to her full height. Taking a deep breath, she walked forward, her high heels tapping out a determined rhythm as she crossed the beautiful wooden dance floor.

It had been a battle of wills right from the start.  Somehow it had seemed almost indecent that a perfect stranger was holding her in such an intimate fashion.

Enrique would pull Elaine firmly against his chest. “No, no, you must trust me. In tango, you must dance heart to heart with your partner.” When she grew stiff, unable to relax, Enrique would scold. “No, no – I am in control. I lead, you follow.”

With aching feet and a pounding head, Elaine left her first lesson exhausted. She had to grit her teeth and force herself to go back. The second lesson hadn’t been any easier and nor had the third, or the fourth for that matter.

Elaine steeled herself to tell Enrique that she wouldn’t be coming back next week. I’ve tried, but enough is enough.

When Elaine shared her frustration, and decision to stop lessons,  Enrique had simply raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly. “Okay, but one last dance, before you leave? To say goodbye.”  

Delighted to have been let off so lightly, Elaine agreed and the music began once again.

“Just look into my eyes – keep looking – don’t think of the steps, they don’t matter anymore if you’re not coming back. Just follow my lead.”

As she kept her eyes firmly on Enrique’s, Elaine did exactly as he had asked and just followed his movements. Concentrating on Enrique’s velvety brown eyes, she could suddenly feel the music oozing up through her feet and she no longer felt uncomfortable.

“See, following is easy. Enjoy it and let your feminine side take over.”

By the time the music ended, Elaine was out of breath, but exhilarated. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect, but for the first time she’d danced, really danced.

“So, two-thirty next Wednesday, don’t forget your high heels.”

******

A few weeks later she was thrilled, but apprehensive, when Andy came home with the invitation to the company’s annual dinner dance. It was the opportunity she’d been waiting for, all she had to do now was summon up her courage and grasp the chance wholeheartedly.

Elaine shifted in her seat. Stop fidgeting, Not long to go now.

The dinner had seemed endless. She hardly tasted anything she ate and had to stop herself reaching for her wine glass again and again, as the knot in her stomach got tighter and tighter.

The two other couples at the table with Elaine and Andy watched the dance floor, fascinated. Linda nodded toward the throng of couples who waltzed in time to the tempo of the music.

“They’re a fantastic band, don’t you think?”

“Mmmn” Elaine replied distractedly, trying to keep Andy in sight as he worked his way back towards the table from the bar.

The floor cleared at the end of the waltz.

The bandleader turned toward the audience. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, by very special request, something a little more energetic – the tango.”

Elaine tore off the shrug she’d kept so carefully over the rather low cut dress she was wearing. Before she could lose her nerve, she grabbed Andy by the hand and pulled him onto the dance floor. He was so surprised he just stood there and she’d had to take his hands and strike the opening pose of the dance.

He stared at her, bewildered, but when the music struck up he swiftly came to life and pulled her close – heart to heart. Keeping her eyes locked on his, Elaine abandoned herself to the music and Andy’s lead. At first he was cautious, keeping to simple steps, but Elaine followed his every move with ease, her body swaying and swirling in time with his.

A question in his eyes, he pulled her even closer and then swung and dipped her so low that her hair brushed the ground before he drew her smoothly up again. Elaine didn’t miss a beat and wound her left leg around his right hip, the lacy skirt of her dress sliding up to show a glimpse of her toned and tanned thigh. Then they were off again, circling the dance floor, lost in the music, the dance and each other. Elaine was tingling with excitement; her body so attuned to Andy’s that she responded by instinct, surrendering to his lead and dancing steps she hadn’t even known existed as the passion of the dance wove its seductive, magical spell.

When the music came to an end with a final flourish, they stood there, flushed and exhilarated. Only then did they realise that they were the only couple on the dance floor, which was ringed with just about every other guest, clapping and cheering.

Quickly Elaine turned and walked back to their table, sat down, took her glass of wine in a shaking hand and smiled vaguely at Linda. Linda simply stared back at her, her mouth open.

Very shortly afterwards, they’d driven home in silence, but Elaine could feel Andy’s darting glances through the dark. When they got home, Elaine bent down to undo the high-heeled strappy gold sandals she was wearing, but Andy took her hand and stopped her. He pulled her into the kitchen, pushed aside the table and put his arms around her. She leaned into his body and he danced her around the kitchen several times.

Andy’s eyes sparkeled with enthusiasm as he smiled. “You can dance. You really can dance.” Elaine felt the film of tears in her eyes – she couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked so happy.

“I can” she said softly, smiling back at him. Then, taking his hand once again, she led him out of the kitchen and upstairs.

****** 

Elaine shook herself, and put up her hands to cool her flushed face. She’d been so engrossed in her memories she hadn’t noticed the time moving on, but now she could hear Linda and Jean chatting again as the treadmills slowed to allow them to cool down. Time to face the music – again.

 Somehow though, much as she was dreading having to face the two women, she just couldn’t seem to stop smiling. She got up, straightened her shoulders and stepped off the exercise machine, walking round to the treadmills.  Her smile broadened as she saw the looks of chagrin on Jean and Linda’s faces.

 “Good morning” she said cheerfully.

Linda appeared flustered. “Oh, we didn’t see you there.”

“I know, but don’t worry; I don’t really take any notice of gossip – even if it’s about me. Oh, and, by the way, there was only one person’s attention I was seeking last night.” Her smile became a grin. “And I very, very definitely got it!”

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