Tom Eubanks

The Dancer

     The cold embraced Sam like a cocoon, forcing him to defend himself against it with his brand-new corduroy coat and a salmon-colored blanket that an empathetic woman on the same bus had given him.  The bus had just crossed into southern Utah.   They were stopped in St. George; dropped off one passenger, gained two.  Snow was falling. It was late—past ten p.m. At their stop in Las Vegas, the bus driver had grabbed a beanie-cap from a bag behind his seat and pulled it down over his ears, while he apologized to the passengers en masse for the heater not working.  Eventually, the cold found Sam’s bones and he pulled the blanket up under his chin.
     One of the two boarding passengers, an attractive woman, sat next to him, and he could feel the heat she’d absorbed from the heated station emanating from her.  He amused himself by thinking how much he wanted to borrow some heat by hugging her, but all he did was inform her about the broken heater.  She wrinkled her nose like it was a minor inconvenience, smiled and wished him a Merry Christmas.  Even though she was about his mother’s age—early 40s—she reminded Sam of a girl he’d liked in high school who, once she decided she was content, would let nothing interfere with her happiness.  
     She was sensibly dressed in a hooded down coat and knit cap.   Her fleece-trimmed gloves aroused Sam’s awareness of how cold his hands were—exposed by having to hold the blanket against his chest to keep it from slipping off. 
     “Salt Lake,” she said, cheerfully.
     “Me, too.”
     “Weather’s bigger there, I hear.  Worse storm in years.”  She shrugged, pursing her lips and bugging her eyes, establishing how exciting that sounded to her.
     “I’m not really prepared for snow,” he said.
     “What happened?”
     “Nothing happened,” he said, wishing he hadn’t mentioned it.  “Last minute trip to visit friends in Utah.  Grabbed a few things and hopped a bus.”
     “Utah in the winter is cold and snowy.”
     “I know that now.”
     “Didn’t your friends tell you the forecast?” she asked. 
     “Don’t have a phone.  I’m kinda like a surprise.”
     “You know this bus gets into Salt Lake at two-thirty in the morning. You know that, right? There’s going to be a lot of snow–up to your knees.  How will you get from the station to their house?  Especially if they don’t know you’re coming?”
     “Walk.”
     “Not in those shoes.  You need boots—you have to buy boots.  And this is the worst time to buy boots.  Winter’s not the time to buy boots.  No deals on boots when it’s already snowing.  And when you get there, nothing’s going to be open that time of morning.”
     Sam decided he wouldn’t cuddle with this woman even if he was losing fingers to frostbite—she had nothing for him but bad news.  Sam adjusted his position to face out the window. 
     She wasn’t done talking.  “You know about frostbite?” she asked.  
     “I was just thinking about losing my fingers to frostbite,” he said, sitting up, turning back to her.
     “Your toes,” she said, not really listening to him.  “Without boots, you run the risk of losing your toes.  There might be taxis running, but if it’s really coming down they’ll only plow the main roads.  Your friends live on a main road?  Because if they don’t live on a main road, you’ll be hiking in deep snow up to your knees.”
     “Bummer,” he said, raising his eyebrows as a terminal mark on the topic.  
     “Used to live in Salt Lake.  Moved south to St. George partly because of the weather.  It’s warmer down here on average by 5.6 degrees.  Been to Salt Lake before?”
     “Huh-uh.”    
     “First time,” she said, popping on a grin.  “That’s exciting!  These kinds of trips are good for us–spontaneous, you know, like whoosh!  Off I go!  Without a plan!  I mean, it’s good to be spontaneous—especially at your age. You’re what?  Twenty five, twenty six?”
     “Twenty,” Sam said, sitting up, pulling the blanket tight, flattered that she thought he looked older. 
     She hesitated, and then nodded.  “I’m Diane,” she said.
     “Sam.”
     “Glad to meet you, Sam.  You must have an old soul.” 


* * *


     The dancer wasn’t petite.  She was flawlessly proportioned but not petite.  Her legs had muscle, her shoulders were pulled back, and her spine was straight.   She looked strong—and her strength was alluring, even sensual.  
     It was the first dance rehearsal and he hadn’t yet learned her name because he’d arrived late, by a mere minute, after she’d introduced herself to the cast.  She would be choreographing Parker College’s 1971 summer stock musical. 
     The first production up was the original musical called The Last Parable for a Mushroom Garden.  He was cast as Matthew, the lead, and, standing in the chorus line of actors, felt the confidence that came with being chosen for the role but uncomfortable at mastering the dances in two short weeks.
     The dancer had them spread out into a chorus line and she stood before them, feet together, and arms at her sides.  She wore a tight, white leotard and didn’t seem to care that her pubic triangle and her nipples showed through the fabric.  When she spoke, her voice was deep-toned and raspy, reminding Sam of how a sexy, chain-smoking lounge singer might sound.  Her lips were full, her mouth was wide–not overly large–but wide enough to get Sam’s attention.  He was a mouth man.  How her lips undulated to enunciate vowels was a turn-on.  
     Dance was new to him; this would be his first musical.  So Sam tried concentrating on the choreography.  He struggled to pay attention to what she was saying, though.  He was distracted by how aggressively and fluidly she moved, how explicitly precise.  
     Sam could tell she was conscious of how she moved her body, how each appendage should be positioned for interpretation—it was as if her eyes could see her entire self—and when she turned her palm up and cocked her hip, it was because she intended to form a visual with her body, exaggerating a natural movement to impart the story.  
     And even when she wasn’t dancing, she still moved like she was. 
     The dancer didn’t mean to be sexy, she didn’t mean it at all, it wasn’t the point of her moving and stretching and reaching and twisting her body, but it still brought to Sam an uninvited urge to watch her.    
     She demonstrated each step, extending her leg, folding her knee onto her other leg, touching her right big toe inward to the floor, twisting her torso, her right shoulder aimed at the ceiling, and then thrusting out her chest.  
     “Extend your right leg,” she said, “turn in the toe.  Then, beat-beat.  And then the same with the left toe–turn your body to the right, get that left shoulder to peek up at the ceiling, right shoulder down at the floor—beat, beat.  Got it?”
     As a young man who had not yet been with a woman, Sam was captivated.  His expression made her believe he was confused.
     “Aw, shoot,” she said.  “I’m doing a lousy job of this—let me show you again.”  He could watch her all day, but this time he paid closer attention to the steps.
     She danced across the room, her body twisting right, left, right, left, and then she stopped, placed her hands on her hips.  She wetted her lips, smiled at him and said, “Is that better?”  
     He nodded.  She asked his name and he told her. “You’re playing the lead,” she said.  “Why’re you here?  You’re not in this dance, sweetie.”  She laughed, hoarsely, wrapping her arm around his shoulder.  “Sit over there, honey, and watch.  You and I’ll work on something later, just you and me, okay? That sound good?”  
     He gladly found an empty chair in the corner of the room to watch her work.    

      
* * *


     Sam fell asleep on the bus.  He awoke to Diane using the overhead light to read.
     “Coming into Provo,” she said.  “About an hour away from Salt Lake.”  
     Diane dog-eared the page she was reading and closed the novel.  Sam tried not to make eye-contact with the book, but she asked him anyway:  “Do you like reading?”
     “Sometimes.”
     “What do you read?”                    
     “Scripts, mostly—and easy stuff.”
     “You in school?”
     “Second year, yeah.”
     “What’re you taking?”
     “Mostly stuff I hate.”
     “What’s your major?”
     “Theater.”
     “Interesting,” she said, not sounding like she meant it.  Diane smiled back at him.  
     Since deciding to become an actor, he’d been admonishing himself for not studying people more.  He decided to explore what might be interesting about Diane.  Besides, he could tell she wanted him to ask about her.  
     “Are you married?” he asked.  “Any kids?  Work?”  That should give her enough to get her started.
     “Divorced.  No children.  Own a plumbing business in St. George.  Actually, I own it with my ex-husband–he’s the plumber; I just make sure the business makes money.  I see that look—but we work well together now that we’re divorced.  Been a busy month, so I thought I’d celebrate Christmas and get up to Salt Lake for the ballet—The Nutcracker at the University.”
     “Oh, wow, that’s weird.  One of the friends I’m surprising teaches dance there.  Her husband’s a playwright.”
     “Same friends who don’t have a phone?”
     “Yeah.  Not into technology.”
     She laughed.  “It’s 1973–almost ’74, for crying out loud–how can they not like technology?  You know what’s happening, right?  That computer–they call it the Alto, I think–that Xerox has?  Can you imagine–I mean think about it–can you imagine having your own computer?  Right in your own office?  Even in your own home.  Can you imagine it?  That’s what they’re doing out there—out there in the big science world, the big technology universe.   I’m not a big technology person, but isn’t that interesting?”
     “What’s interesting,” Sam said, “is that the Xerox machine is no longer very interesting.  After a while, I guess, all the interesting things get boring because . . . .”
     “We take them for granted,” she finished.  “How do you know this couple?”
     “Did summer stock with them a couple years ago.” 
     “Theater?  Oh, you’re serious about acting—interesting.”  This time she actually seemed interested.  “I love talented people, I really do, you’re all amazing to me.  Why an actor?”
     No one had ever asked him that before, but the answer came easy once he thought about the truth.  “My dad’s a professional con artist,” he said.  “Taught me, you know, how to lie.  Got pretty good at it.  Guess it’s like a natural progression to become an actor.” She burst out laughing.  Sam realized she thought he was joking, so he added, “I guess I don’t know why I like acting.  I just know I like it.”       
     “Kinda like an artichoke,” she said, wiggling an invisible cigar and impersonating Groucho. 


* * *


     The dancer’s name was Linda, but everyone called her Lindy. After Lindy taught the actors basic dance steps to one of the numbers, she excused everyone but Sam to work on his opening solo number. 
     She popped a mint into her mouth and touched him; the intimacy made him feel nervy—in a noble way.  
     She spoke in a low voice, saying, “A mushroom is the fleshy, fruiting body of a fungus.  Think of that as we move, all right, do you understand?”
     Fleshy . . . fruiting body . . . .
     She wanted him to feel the connection between the muscles in his legs and shoulders so his body could learn to move like a blooming mushroom. She held and moved his arms, his hands, even his head, lightly rolling it around on his neck like a chiropractor, and then she grasped his thigh, jerked on his leg, pressed her hands against his lower back and slid them up to his shoulders and lightly gripped them, which shot a chill up his spine to the top of his head.
     His body shivered.  She said, “See? You’re feeling it—that’s your zenith you’re connecting to—way up there, directly above you—all right?”
     Sam had never been touched by a woman like that.  Dreamed of it, but it hadn’t happened—until that moment.  Standing before him, closely, Lindy explained how movement could express his character.  He nodded, pretending to understand the subtext of the movement, enjoying the minty smell of her breath. 
     “Now feel this.”  Turning her back to him, she said, “Give me your hand,” and blindly reached behind herself to take his hand, and unintentionally brushed his penis through his pants.  She planted the palm of his hand to the small of her back and told him to put the other hand on the front of her bare thigh.  “Slide your hand up my back and feel this,” she said.  She jerked her leg backwards.  He immediately slid his hand up her spine to her shoulder, and she arched her back.  She turned back, saying, “You feel that lag between the leg jerk and the shoulders pulling back?  That’s the mushroom-blooming effect I’m trying to get.  Feel it?  See it?”  She circled her hands through the air as if shaping his body.  Her gaze lowered; her eyebrows jumped.  
     “Oh,” she said. 
     Sam dropped his hands in front of himself to hide the erection that bulged through the front of his shorts.  He looked away, mortified. 
     “Now, Sam, don’t do that, don’t feel embarrassed,” she said. “Dance is sensory, Sam.  Dance is definitely a turn-on–and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Getting turned on by art, by movement, by expression means you’re . . . what’s the word?”
     “Horny?”  Sam wasn’t trying to be funny.
     “Maybe, yeah,” she said, smiling.  “But that’s not what I’m saying.  This is a reaction to the movement, right?”
     “Honest, I don’t know.  Maybe.”
     “All right.”
     “But maybe it was because you kind of accidentally—you know.”
     “What?”
     “Accidentally kind of touched it down there.”
     “I–really? That was–I’m sorry–completely unintentional.”
     “I know, yeah.”
     “I wasn’t–”
     “You couldn’t see–you had your back to me.”
     Lindy glanced at his bulge, looked up, straight-faced.  “It’s no one’s fault.  Let’s take ten.”


* * *


     Diane had dreamed of becoming a dancer.  As a child, she took lessons.  Her father joined the army in 1942, when she was twelve.  There wouldn’t be enough money for dance lessons, until maybe after the war, her mother told her.  Her father died the moment he stepped on French soil at Normandy, and so that ended the possibility of continuing dance lessons forever.  
     She hadn’t thought about dancing for a very long time.  She attended ballets, had even traveled to Los Angeles and Denver, but she hadn’t thought about herself, dancing.  
     Until Sam told her about his friend teaching dance at the university.  Talking about her–Lindy, he called her–seemed to warm him up, too.  There was evidence of his body shirking the cold.  Sam’s borrowed blanket dropped to the floor when he sat up out of his defrosting self-hug, but instead of picking it up, he told her how he met Lindy and a playwright named Theo. 
     Lindy had been hired to choreograph the original musical in which Sam played the lead.  He admitted that he was “slain” by the way she moved.  Sam called her “experienced and very wild.”  The “wild” Sam described wouldn’t be considered wild by everyone’s appraisal, but Lindy was wild enough for Sam—as “wild” women go.  
     He said she drank Boone’s Farm Apple Wine with her lunch, which was mainly protein.  She gave blunt observations about everything artistic, thought one thing was delicious and gagged over another thing, and after each “delish!” or “gag!” uttered, she’d roll her eyes to make sure you knew that it was incredulous to think otherwise.  
     Diane thought his puppy-love reactions to Lindy were cute. To him, Lindy was exotic.  He’d never met this kind of woman before.  Although he wouldn’t characterize things too specifically, Diane listened to him carefully and came away understanding that he’d been thunderstruck by the dancer.
     But the playwright had changed everything. 
     Theo, the playwright, was 25 years old and had written the play in which Sam played the lead role.  Theo had long, wavy hair, a pinched face like a rodent, and his legs set apart like parentheses. 
     “He was bowlegged as an old cowboy,” Sam said. “He didn’t wear glasses, but he squinted all the time like he needed them.”   
     Theo had made many changes to the dialogue and lyrics during rehearsals.  Sam and the cast learned and unlearned lines nearly every day, which didn’t seem to bother anyone else but drove Sam nuts.  
     Until a break during the third rehearsal.  
     Sam was smoking a cigarette behind the theater, when Theo burst through the backstage door, agitated, ploughing his fingers through his hair.  He broke into a verbal tirade that included calling himself a dumb-ass artistic snob and toughly reminding himself he could do much better.
     Sam glanced over just as Theo got a whiff of his cigarette.  Instead of looking embarrassed, Theo grinned. 
     “Caught me in the middle of my daily meltdown,” he said.  “Sorry you had to see that.”
     Sam assured him that he understood.
     “The play’s pretty bad, huh?” 
     Sam assured him it was a great musical. 
     “Oliver! is a great musical.  Hello, Dolly! is a great musical.  Great musicals have exclamation points!”  He laughed at his joke but kept on going.  “That thing in there is a long way away from being great—it’s on its way to the City of Nowhere—in fact, it’s loitering around the Statue of Mediocrity, which sits smack-dab in the middle of the City of Nowhere. And it’s not the acting or directing either.  It’s my plain-ass, sloppy writing, man!  Melodrama meets stupid!”
     Sam was surprised by Theo’s display of self-flagellation, his passionate self-doubt, and especially his willingness to expose it.  It wasn’t often he got to meet someone true and open—especially in theater.  
     Instantly, he admired Theo.  Sam offered him a cigarette.  He declined, still frustrated, and then asked Sam what he thought about the dialogue between the character he played and the antagonist at the beginning of the second scene.  Theo wanted a real answer and Sam didn’t know what to say at first.  He felt obligated to the production, to his own interest in it, so he thought about it for a moment.  Finally, he realized and told Theo the scene was unnecessary, that it was too similar to another scene toward the end of the first act.  He was being honest.   Theo didn’t react at first.  He stared back at Sam, concentrating directly on Sam’s chest, lost in his own head.  Then he grinned, said, “Bless you, Shakespeare!  You’re a genius!” and ran back into the theater.
     After the break, the director, who was also the drama department head, announced to the cast that Act I, Scene 2 was too much like a later scene in the first act and was out of the play.       


* * *


     Sam told Diane how he’d met Lindy and Theo, but he hadn’t intended on telling her what happened after they met. It was the more interesting part of the story, but it wasn’t his responsibility to make her whole trip interesting.  She pressed him, though, with questions and he found himself answering them.  
     He told her how he and Theo had shared their lives with long conversations.  These conversations about their families, art, their hopes and dreams had created a mentor-friendship.  Sam, younger by seven years, looked up to Theo as he would an older brother.  Their common interest in theater bridged their age difference.    
     “Theo was a really great person,” Sam said.  “He was kind of shy but not, you know, like shy-shy.  He was careful.  About revealing things about himself.  But he could talk for hours–literally, hours–about strange things or ordinary, you know, regular things in life.  Like first he’d talk about baseball strategy and then maybe about some cult that made you wear Nike tennis shoes to bed.  Weird stuff like that.  He even joined a cult.  Not as a follower but as a reporter for a northern California magazine. Wrote about a cult called The Sheep.  He exposed the leader’s real expertise–which was making money.  Like, no kidding, right?  Guy called himself The Shepherd.  Created his own religion.  So sure of himself, he called his group The Sheep–and like without raising the suspicions of any followers that–hey, I think you’re all a bunch of sheep by selling all your stuff and giving me the money!  It was a cool story.  I think I liked it, because it sounded like something my dad would do. 
     “At first, I didn’t believe him, though.  But Theo had way, like, too many details—like his own failure to fight off getting sucked in himself.  Theo flat-out admitted he was overpowered, overwhelmed by this guy.  But he fought back like in his mind and he did it.  He spent about three months with The Sheep and then wrote about it.  Got it published and then family members of people in the cult got involved and then the truth came out about who The Shepherd really was.  He wasn’t some frickin’ guru.  He was a wildlife biologist from Sacramento who did a ton of drugs and owed money to a bunch of all the very wrong people.  It was a big deal, made news up and down California.  I was impressed by Theo’s courage—brave guy.  And his strength, his will.  And his talent. Guy was talented.”
     Somehow along the short way, however, Theo decided, for the thinnest of reasons, that Sam was a theatrical savant, having insight into Theo’s plays that no one else had ever been able to find.  Early during summer stock, Theo had given Sam his newest play to read, a drama titled, The Drum and the Bridge, about a schizophrenic San Francisco woman who falls in love with a vacationing African mjembe drummer.  Sam was flattered, but he felt like a fraud giving Theo his opinion, since he wasn’t a writer and was only 18 years old.  
     But on the night Sam finished reading it, he’d decided it was a good reason to go and hang out with his buddy Theo, maybe drink green tea and talk about the script.

 

* * *


     For a quick, scary moment, the bus lost traction, and the back end came around.  The driver corrected and got them back in their lane.  
     Diane pointed through the window to the east.  “We’re coming through Lehi.”
     Sam nodded, but he was still thinking about that night at the ranch.  
     He’d left his dorm to return the script and hitchhiked to Theo’s place, an old house on a dead farm, surrounded by dirt and weeds, fallow for decades.  A monstrous pepper tree guarded the front porch.  He walked up the driveway, a gauntlet between tall Italian cypress trees. 
     The clapboard house was faded yellow.  A light was on in the living room.  Theo’s red Econoline van was parked in front in the loop.  Another car, too—Lindy’s powder blue Toyota with a pair of ballet slippers hanging from the rear-view mirror.  She often came by to hang out with Theo.
     As he stepped up onto the porch, he heard a moan coming from an open window near the front door, which was open with the screen door closed.  He pushed his nose to the screen.  No one was in the living room.  Then the female moans began to get drowned out by a man’s huffing.  There was no screen on the open bedroom window.   He parted the curtain an inch, maybe not even that, and peered into the dark room.  In a moment, his vision adjusted to the moonlight beaming through the bathroom window and blanketing the bed in a parallelogram of illumination.  Across see-sawing bare bodies glistening with sweat.   
     He backed away from the window.  The images, even fleeting ones, immersed him in sensation, like a rain, like standing naked in the rain, in the open, with the threat of being seen.   The sensation kept him standing there, outside the window, listening to the sounds of pleasure for a while longer.  
     Sam didn’t want to leave; he wanted to watch.  Instead, he ran into the field and hid behind a barrow of soil, on his stomach, chin on the backs of his hands, smelling the earth.  Knots of jealousy bound him against Theo’s good fortune to be with Lindy.   
     Why didn’t I notice them before?  Is this new?  Is this their first time?  Is it secret?
     Theo and Lindy often talked during rehearsals, off to the side of the stage, or outside of the theater on the quad.  Sam hadn’t thought much about it.  After all, Lindy was the choreographer and Theo was the playwright.  He’d seen them talking to the director, too, and to the lighting designer, the set builders, and cast members. He hadn’t noticed that they were something to each other.   
     When did they become together? 
     His mother had taught him what was right, and what was right was to wait, to wait to share affection and sexual pleasure with one woman.  For a lifetime.  Commit his body to one woman.  Physical pleasure was not God’s priority.  His mother had promised him that if he was patient the right woman would come along.  God would send a woman just for him. 
     Lying in the field of that dead ranch that night, he realized the first time he’d watched her dance that Lindy was his God-send.  An open book, filled with wild possibilities, alluring, hypnotic.  
     Just what he wanted.  He wanted Lindy’s ample attention, but he’d be happy just to sit and watch her.  Be.
     Sam hadn’t told Diane about going to the ranch or hearing them in the bedroom.  He ended his story back where Theo had given him his new script to read.
     Diane raised her eyebrows, though, grinning, and encouraged him to go on.  
     Sam escaped the past for the present, watching the curiosity in her beaming face.  Diane was very appealing.  For a woman who could be his mother.  
     It had taken Sam a couple of hours, maybe three, to begin to notice how one corner of her mouth would curl up and give away that she was interested in what he was saying.  He noticed that Diane wore her loveliness like camouflage. 

 

* * *


     Sam suddenly ended his story about Theo.   Diane didn’t ask him to go on, because the bus lost traction over black ice and slid off the road for a moment.  They both turned to look out the window as the driver regained control of the bus.  Helpless to her curiosity, Diane said, “So did the dance turn out all right—your pas seul?”
     He cleared his throat and grinned.  “No one threw tomatoes.”  
     Amused, she shook her head, while he sat up and got comfortable again with the blanket.
     “We’ve got time to kill,” she said. “Come on, Sam, tell me more.  Or would you rather hear all about ball valves and different sizes of 40 Grade PVC?”  
     Relenting, he adjusted himself to face her.  Over the course of rehearsals, he said, uncomfortable to admit it, Lindy seemed not only to like him but wanted to be around him outside of the play, inviting him on breaks to sit with her and some of the juniors and seniors, veterans of past summer stocks, and how once when going out for dinner with everyone at the end of the day she patted the chair beside her for him to come sit in.
     She was five years older than Sam, but she often complimented him on his “mature” talent. 
     “She noticed you were an old soul, too,” Diane said. 
     Sam said, “I don’t know what that means.”
     “It’s not important.”
     “So, um, anyway . . . we became friends.  But just at school.  And then Theo gave me a ride home one day and on the way he invited me to hang out at his place, this big old yellow ranch house near the college.   Had a big tree right in front, all this bare land around it.  I thought it was cool he’d invite me.  But when I got there, Lindy was cooking dinner in his kitchen.  At the time, I didn’t think, you know, anything about it.  There’s a communal—I don’t know—everybody-help-everybody kind of atmosphere in theater.  Everybody shares everything.  None of us had much.  We shared food, gas, rides, basic stuff.  So it wasn’t weird or anything for Lindy to be in Theo’s kitchen cooking food.”
     Sam hadn’t put two and two together about Theo and Lindy.  Diane thought fondly about how sweet and naïve Sam was not to notice.
     “But you knew, right?  That they were more than just friends?” she asked, enjoying how he avoided telling her everything.
     Sam shrugged, like it had been obvious to him all along.  “Oh, yeah.”  
     “Did you know it at that time?” 
     “Maybe, deep down.  I wasn’t paying attention to . . . to them.”
     “Just Lindy.”
     “Yeah, maybe.”
     “More than a friend?” 
     “For me, yeah.  But I don’t know if she saw me like that.  She liked to hang out with me but never did anything to make me think it was, you know, anything lovey-dovey-like.”
     “What did you do together?”
     “Talked.  Drank tea.  Massages—she liked giving neck massages. ”
     Diane noticed how he breathed deeply through his nose, going into his own head for a moment, remembering.  She also felt he was dancing around the details like they were thumbtacks on the floor. 
     “So Theo and Lindy fell in love, got married and moved to Utah,” Diane said.  “Why Utah?”
     “Teaching job at the university.  Dance and movement.  I just found out about it a few days ago.”
     Sam explained how when summer stock ended Lindy and Theo had moved in together. Lindy was teaching dance at a local studio while Theo worked for a local newspaper.  He’d tried to keep in touch with them, but they were always busy and he’d seen them only twice over the last two years.  
     Last week, one of the techies from summer stock happened to come to the restaurant where he worked and told Sam that Lindy had gotten hurt in an accident a few months ago and then married Theo, before she’d gotten the teaching job.  Theo’s brother, Paul, who he’d met a couple of times, gave Sam their address in Utah.  He considered writing, in lieu of their not having a phone, but that didn’t suit him; he wanted to see them—together.
     “My roommate’s spending Christmas in Fresno with his family.  He loaned me bus money, since I don’t have a car.”
     “What about your family?”
     Sam glanced out the window.  “My dad’s in the Colony.  Up in SLO.  Serving time for insurance fraud—he ran a squat-and-swoop ring out of Bakersfield.”
     “Oh, wow.  What about your mother?”
     “She’s disabled.  Lives in a hospital.”

 

* * *

 

     Telling Diane about Lindy aroused sensual memories in Sam. Like that first rehearsal with Lindy, and then after another rehearsal, standing off-stage with her as she casually slipped out of her white leotard, while she explained to him how to better transition from mushroom to man in his solo dance, and stood there boldly unembarrassed before him nude, slipping into jean shorts and t-shirt without even putting on underwear.  
     Lindy had often changed into street clothes in front of whoever was in the room, and he’d tried desperately not to stare, but none duplicated the first time—just the two of them. 
     Even after more important future milestones like getting married, the birth of his first child, the loss of a parent, he knew he would never forget those moments with Lindy. 
     And he remembered finding out about the accident.  That was a big thing because, even though it was called an accident, it wasn’t.  And it wasn’t any of Diane’s business that it wasn’t an accident, so he wasn’t going to tell her about it.   
     The big thing was that Theo had attacked Lindy with a hunting knife.  Slashed her face. Both cheeks, her chin and forehead, leaving long, bloody lacerations.  But there were no details.  No one knew what happened.  No one understood why Theo, this gentle soul who practiced Zen, who practiced all sorts of peaceful, hippie things, carved up Lindy’s beautiful face.
     Lindy spent several days in the hospital recovering, while Theo was out on bail and living at his family’s home.  Sam figured he’d ask Theo what happened; they were, after all, good friends.  Sam showed up unannounced at Theo’s parents’ house, and Theo’s brother politely told him it wasn’t any of his business what happened, that Theo wasn’t home, and closed the door in his face.
     He hadn’t thought much about them, until he’d run into one of the actors from Theo’s play.  She told him something stunning and that angered him.  Theo and Lindy had married.  A guy slices open a woman’s beautiful face, and she willingly marries him?  It was mystifying to him.  How could she–why would she–have anything to do with Theo after such a vicious and personal attack?  And why wasn’t he in prison?  Sam strained to fathom the depth of that mystery.  
     The ridiculous, tiny remnant of a dream that he and Lindy could be together had slipped away when she had married Theo, a crazed, knife-wielding maniac.  Hope of something growing from his friendship with Lindy withered away.
     But then a scrap of possibility lay before him after receiving their address in Salt Lake City and images of Lindy’s face, scarred, began to dominate his mind.  Sam craved to understand.  To understand how real life had raised its bedeviling head, he needed to uproot the ugly attack from matrimonial bliss.  
     Two years before, on that night at the ranch, as he lay in the field, a part of Sam had wanted to leave.  But something kept him there.  He hadn’t known if it was curiosity or a need to be found out and forced to confess or the hope that what he saw and heard through the open window was random, meaningless free love.  After nearly an hour watching the house, watching Theo, post-coitus, walking naked about his living room, into the kitchen, returning with glasses of wine, Sam decided to end their night together.  He wanted their attention.  Individually, communally, in every way, he would have their attention.   
     To end it, their night together, he groaned.  Then again, louder.  Until he heard their muffled voices.  Sam turned on his back, facing up and away from the house.  He sucked saliva from the back of his mouth to the front, until he had enough of it to push out over his lower lip, to the corners of his mouth.  Groaning louder, he tilted his head to the side, so that drool ran down from his mouth to his chin. 
     Lindy rushed from the house wrapped in a blanket to his side.  She gently put her hands on his chest and wanted to know what was wrong. Theo, catching his breath from running, too, asked him what he was doing there.
     Sam’s father had taught him well, so the lies came easily.
     Came to surprise Theo, saw Lindy’s car, decided not to bother you, walking down the driveway, got dizzy, fell, maybe unconscious, don’t know how long, woke up, head hurt, dazed.  And now you’re here, thank you.
     They’d helped Sam into the house, sat him in a big, leather chair.  Lindy had wanted to call an ambulance, but Sam had convinced her he was all right, and lied again, telling her that this had happened before on two or three occasions.  But then Theo wanted to know what was wrong, did he have a condition; could he get home okay, did he need money for medication?  He said he just needed to rest for a while.
     They let him lie down on their couch.  Lindy got water for him to drink, while Theo questioned him about the symptoms again.  Lindy concluded he had a seizure and encouraged Sam to see a doctor.  
     Lindy boiled herbal tea and they sat around Theo’s book-strewn living room sipping it from mismatched China cups.  Theo talked about the Irish Republican Army’s attacks and the Manson murders.  It grew late and he caught hints that they wanted him to leave when they began to stretch, yawn and clean up the mess.   He didn’t want to leave, but he had enough self-awareness to know that the performance was over.  It was time to be himself, alone.  
     Lindy hugged him, said she was worried about him, and then ran off into the kitchen.  On the porch, Theo stopped and looked at him.
     “What the fuck?” he said.
     “What.”
     “What’re you doing?”
     “Leaving.”
     “No, you’re spying on us.  Pretending to have a seizure.  Maybe Lindy bought it, but–I don’t know, man–that was fucked up.  What’re you doing?  I don’t get it.”
     Sam’s instinct was to lie, act, pretend, convince.  He quickly began mining for incredulity, to say, “Wait a minute, Theo, I’m not making anything up, it’s just how I said it was, it was some kind of neurological episode.”  
     But before he could do that, Theo said, “Sam.  I’m not mad.” A knowing smile appeared. “Lindy’s groovy, man, I know.  Sexy as hell.  But she’s mine.  If you can accept that, you’re welcome back any time, man.  You can tell her how you feel about her.  Tell her whatever you want.  Be totally honest.  She knows, man.  She knows how she affects us men.  She knows younger guys like the older-woman thing.  She told me how you look at her all the time.  She doesn’t mind, she doesn’t feel threatened by it.  We’re all just living this thing together, man, and if we’re just honest and open and don’t worry about humiliating ourselves, it’s an awesome way to love each other.”  
     Just then, Lindy came out onto the porch, drying her hands on a towel.  
     “What’s an awesome way to love each other?” she asked.
     “Tell her, Sam.”
     Panicking, he’d begun to sweat, adrenaline surging through his body, and he couldn’t look her in the eye.  Lindy touched his chin, lifted his face, and stared into his eyes.  And then she pivoted, leaped and spun in the air, landing on the opposite leg. A perfect tour jeté.  She smiled and put her hands on her hips.  
     “That’s how you make me feel, Sam.”  He just stood there.  She ran over and hugged him.  “How do you feel?”  He pulled away.
     “Sam,” Theo said, “tell her.  Or go home.”
     “Don’t talk to him like that,” she said.  She looked into Sam’s eyes. “Go on.  You can tell me anything, Sam.” 
     “I . . . I love you,” Sam said softly. 
     Lindy stepped back, tilted her head to the side and said: “I knew that, I could tell.  That’s awesome.  Thank you.  It’s official now.  We can be something meaningful to each other.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Anything we want.”  Sam looked at Theo and back again.  “No,” she said, “don’t–I’m not suggesting the three of us–no, no.  I mean, it’s okay to feel things, let our bodies respond to those feelings.  It’s when we–how do I put this?  It’s when we want to own each other that things get stupid and wrong.”
     “It’s all new to you,” Theo said.  “It’s okay, man.  Being a virgin’s okay.”
     ”I didn’t say I was a virgin,” Sam interjected forcefully.
     “You’re young.  You’re learning to be human.  Psychologically, your parents abandoned you, man.  You’re a bird pecking through the shell.”  
     “My dad’s in jail and my mom’s in a nut house!” Sam yelled back.  “Doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be human, so shut up!” 
     Lindy suddenly slung her arms around Sam, hugged him, and kissed his cheek.  She took his face in her hands.  “Hey, it’s okay.  Theo doesn’t know everything.  Let me tell you what’s going on, okay?  I’m attracted to you.  I’m attracted to a lot of men.  Some I sleep with, most I don’t.  Just be you, Sam.  Express your feelings any way you want.  But don’t pursue me.  I’m not a gazelle.”  
     She smiled, touching her nose to his.  She hugged him again.  He felt her warmth, her words still in his head.  He wanted to kiss her on the mouth.  But before he could act on the urge, Lindy suddenly kissed him on the mouth.  Theo jumped in and wrapped his arms around both of them, kissing Lindy’s cheek first, then Sam’s.


* * *


     Listening to him tell his story in that cautious, innocent way, wrapped up in the blanket, was charming.  Diane wanted to hold him.  It had been a long time since she’d felt a man against her.  Would a younger man be enough?
     To keep him talking, Diane asked him about Lindy’s accident.  She was being nosy, but Sam had glossed right over that part of the story.   He looked out the window and said, “Just an accident.  She recovered.”
     “When I was dancing, I used to get hurt all the time,” she said.  “Was it a dance injury?”
     Sam turned to her, scowling.  “Okay.  I’ll tell you.  He took some drugs and hallucinated.  No one knows what he was thinking, how he saw Lindy that night, but for some reason he cut her face up with a hunting knife, okay? And then she married him. ”
     It was instantly clear to Diane that Sam was on a journey to understand the strange and often evil ways of love.  Certain instincts rose in her.  She wanted to protect this innocent from discarding his fantasies, from having them replaced with the painful reality that love wears many faces, and some are cruel.  But she knew he had to learn the difference—everyone did.
     “So,” Diane said, “first you like them both; then you see them together when Lindy makes dinner at Theo’s house; then you stop by one night, overhear them having sex and pretend to have a seizure to stop it, and Theo calls you on it and Lindy kisses you in front of Theo, who joins in on the affection; and then you find out he tries to kill her and then marries her; and now after being angry at them, you want to see them in their domestic tranquility.  See if evil can turn to good.  Did I miss anything?”
     He threw off the blanket, stared out the window, and whispered, “I’ve never done anything.”  He turned to Diane. “With any woman.”  
     Diane nodded, clinically.  
     “Lindy ‘s the only one . . . .”  He laid his head against the window.
     “Only one, what?”
     “I wanted to, to have.”
     “Sam, you’re very handsome,” Diane said.  “There are thousands of women who would love having you.  Pursuing this woman, though, this dancer might . . . hurt.  Don’t you think?”
     “Is that what I’m doing—pursuing her?”
     “I think so.”
     He remembered what Lindy had said about pursuing her.  He shook his head, chastened, and looked out the window.  The whole world had turned white.  Snow fell like torn sheets, making it impossible to see.  
     The bus slowed to a crawl. The driver announced that they had to pull off the highway until visibility was better and, again, apologized for the heat not working.
     “Get to know each other, folks!” he said.  “Get close and share your body heat!”
     Diane looked at Sam.  She raised her eyebrows and let one corner of her mouth go up, as a signal to him that she was willing.

 

* * *

 

     She was old enough to be his mother, but she wasn’t.  
     She was very nice-looking for her age.  
     She was a dancer.  
     Sam took her hand, pulled her toward him.  
     She enfolded him with her warmth.

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