Friday Story: Mariann, Dancing Alone

This is an older story. I wrote it when I was in high school! (Some thirteen years ago now. Yikes). The last scene makes me cry every time.

I don’t have  a cover for this yet, but I think I’ll get one put together today because they are fun to make.

Hope you enjoy!

Mariann, Dancing Alone

by Ruth Madison

Copyright 1998 by Ruth Madison

            Mariann woke up with her fingers tapping the Cha-cha against the blanket.  She turned her face off the pillow and looked at her little purple clock.  Hrmph, she thought, and blinked blearily.  She sat up on her bed and ran fingers through her mass of red hair and let it fall back against her shoulders.  She stretched forward, touching her toes with her fingers.  Her fingers were strong and defined; so too were her feet.  Sticking out at the bottom of her sweat pants her feet showed every one of their muscles.  Mariann rolled off the couch on which she had slept, her feet tapping out the Cha-cha rhythm on the floor.  She went to the bathroom and looked at herself for a few moments in the mirror.  She had a youthful appearance, even some freckles left over from when she was twelve dotted under her blue eyes.  But the last few months had been rough on her and her appearance.  This morning she could feel herself aging.  Her skin was looking a little drawn, she had two gray hairs above her right ear which blended into the red curls.  Mariann splashed cold water on her face and brushed her teeth.

            She grabbed her dance shoes and put them in her bag.  She pulled her feet into sneakers and put on a sweatshirt that fell over her knee-length leggings.  She grabbed her pile of red hair, snapped a clip around it and shoved her sunglasses over her eyes.  She threw her bag in the passenger seat of her car and pulled out of the garage.  Mariann was living with her mother now, ever since Mariann and her husband had had The Fight.  She didn’t know what was going to happen next, but for now all she could do was go to work and pretend nothing was different.  It was not what Mariann had expected from life, to be living with her mother at this age.  “I told you it was crazy to marry him,” her mother had said when Mariann arrived at her door last month.

            That’s what everyone who met her husband seemed to think.  Why would a dancer marry a paraplegic?  They didn’t know him, though, if that’s all they saw.  They had so much in common when they met, both pursuing careers in the arts.  Kevin was a gifted actor.

            Over the years, though, her career had grown and his had withered.  It broke her heart as much as his when he went to auditions and was dismissed without even reading.  She had not been fair, though.  She had wanted to keep her life with him separate from her life as a dancer.  Her excuse to herself was that she was tired of answering the question why had she married him.  If her coworkers never met him, they couldn’t wonder about the husband in a wheelchair.  It was more than that, though, there was some terrible superstitious part of her mind that was afraid his failure could drag her down too.

            Then he had asked the question himself.  Why did you marry me?  She wasn’t sure, she couldn’t remember, she didn’t have an answer to the one question that followed her around where ever she went.

            Traffic wasn’t bad on the highway.  Mariann drove absently past red, orange and yellow trees.  She exited, going through the same familiar routine. The sign for the dance studio came up quickly and she pulled into the parking lot.  She parked her car and hopped out, her fingers tapping out the Samba rhythm. The Samba was all about percussion and it had a beat that felt as though it was your heart pounding against the inside of your chest.

She put her sunglasses on top of her head as she pushed open the door to the studio and walked down the cool white hallway.  Through a swinging glass door a fake wood floor spread across a huge room.  The ceiling was high with a few large lights.  Tables and chairs sat in a corner.  Empty shoeboxes lay all across them along with coats and sunglasses.  Mariann added her own to the pile.  All across the floor in almost every place people were practicing.  No music played other than the click, click, stomp; tap, tap, tap, spin of shoes clumping against the floor and the murmured repetitions as a cannon around the room “one, two, three; one, two, three…”… “One and two and one and two and.”… “One, two, three, and four and; one, two, three, and four and..”…  Mariann eventually picked out her partner in the crowd.  Standing in a corner of the dance floor, he had his eyes closed and was moving his feet to some rhythm he heard only in his head.  Charles was scrawny, mechanical, and not that good at leading.  He saw Mariann and walked over. She put on her high-heeled dance shoes and took his hand.  As he pulled her arm forward, thin silver bangles slipped down from her wrist and pattered lightly against her rolled up sleeves.

             They were practicing their routine for a competition coming up in a few months.  Mariann was hardly in the mood for it. In the past Kevin, conscientious of her desire not to have the other dancers know about him, came to the dances later and sat quietly at the side, never acknowledging knowing her.  Mariann thought it was sweet of him.  She always appreciated his presence.  In fact, she wasn’t sure she could dance without it.  Why couldn’t she just be proud of him? Show him off to her friends?  Let them wonder.  Let them ask questions, she didn’t have to answer them.

            Over and over Mariann and Charles danced the same routine.  Toe, side together, heel up, knee bent, slide back, arm over head.  Two, three, four and one; two, three, four and one; two, three, four and one. Mariann lowered her head for a moment and it threw her body off balance.  The dance fell apart and Charles stopped.  The director of the studios sighed and snapped, “Pay attention to the dance, Mari.”

            “I’m sorry,” Mariann murmured, “I’m having trouble concentrating.”

            “I know something is bothering you,” The director of the studio said walking over to them, “But you can’t let it interfere with your work.”

            “I know and I’m sorry,” Mariann said.

            “I don’t mean to be harsh, you understand, but you have a job to do,” the director said, “But if you want to talk about what’s on your mind I’ll be in the office late tonight.”

            “No, I’m fine.  But thanks, Sam.”

            “All right, back to work,” he said, striding over to the other couples.  He passed by all the mirrors walking away from them and each one reflected him back.

            Charles liked to talk while he and Mariann danced.  To keep away boredom, he said.  He was in a cheerful mood today, and so chattered about whatever came into his head.

            “Do you know what they teach kids these days?  My girls are getting this great concept of esteem.  They come home and tell me how they can do and be anything.”

            Mariann nodded politely. Toe, side together, heel up, knee bent, slide back, arm over head.

            “And it’s true.  When I was growing up people told me not to be a dancer.  But here I am.  The sky’s the limit, you know?”  He smiled happily.  “Do you have kids, Mari?”

            “Sorry, what was that?”

            “I asked if you had kids.”

            “Oh.  No, no I don’t.” Toe, side together, heel up, knee bent, slide back, arm over head.  Two, three, four and one; two, three, four and one.

            “That’s too bad.  You’ve been married a while, haven’t you?”

            “A few years.”

            “Me and my wife had our first before we were married.”  He laughed.

            “Mmm-hhmm,” Mariann murmured.  She didn’t really care about Charles’s life and she didn’t want him poking into hers.  If only what he said were true.  If only children could grow up to be whatever they wanted, then Kevin would not be watching her achieve her dream while his leaked away. When Kevin was a kid they didn’t tell him he could do anything.  He tried out for his high school play and, he had told her more than once, “I was up on that stage and I had watched all the other people trying out.  I was better than all of them, but they were angry at me for it.  They couldn’t tell me I wasn’t allowed to try out, but they didn’t have to even pretend that I could get a part.”

            He was born an actor.  A very good actor with a beautiful, startling voice and a face adept at taking on expressions.  No one ever gave him the opportunity to express his talent.  Kevin was stubbornly persistent, but no one even gave him a chance.  Together they had rehearsed a scene from Taming of the Shrew and Mariann had started crying half way through.  Never had fiction moved her to tears before.  At the theater they refused to see his audition.  She hadn’t been surprised, but Kevin was a talented man who deserved to be doing what he loved.

            Mariann and Charles finished their rehearsals and Mariann went to the bathroom to wash the sweat from her face and re-clip her hair before the class that she was teaching began.  The mirror showed her a face flushed with energy and the love of dance.  She couldn’t get away from it; she loved dancing more than anything.  Did she love it more than Kevin?  But then she started thinking about kids, about Charles’s kids.  When it came to kids, no one ever asked you to justify your love.  You could love them just for being.

            She had a class to teach, but first she ran to her bag and pulled out her cellphone, taking it with her outside, behind the studio. She leaned on the brick wall and dialed her home number.  There was no answer.

            The voicemail beeped and she said, “I married you because I love you.  I’m sorry.”  It probably wasn’t enough, the phrase “too little, too late” came to mind, but she was glad she had apologized at least.

She walked back to the studio and found her class milling about.  This was her advanced class.  She taught it with the help of a male dancer.  Mariann would show the woman’s part, and he would show the man’s part and then they would demonstrate it together.  The wall to wall mirrors would show a million glistening arms flying in circles.  Usually Mariann’s eyes sparkled when she danced…but she knew they were dull and flat these days.  Mariann was teaching the Rumba today.  It was the slowest of the Latin dances.  One, two, three, and four; quick, quick, slow; quick, quick, slow; one, two, three, and four.  Slow, sensual, pained, full of heartache and longing.

            There were other classes too.  The private lesson Mariann gave to the couple preparing a waltz for their wedding dance, the advanced technique class, and then the meetings with Sam about how they could expand and what they should be teaching.  Would anyone sign up for lessons in Mambo?  How could they use the new interest in Swing and Salsa in their advertising?

            At the end of the day Mariann went out for dinner before the social dance hour.  The bottoms of her feet still got sore after such a long time dancing.  To go out she changed into sneakers.  Mariann went to the same fast-food restaurant she always went to on Friday.  Before they were married she and Kevin would share meals here, Mariann eating more of his food than of her own, and Kevin always sticking his fork in whatever she was eating.

            Back at the studio the director had been working on the mood of the place for the evening social dance.  The lights were on dim; the mirrors glimmered faintly in the darkness.  The music was turned up and all the dancers got in their costumes.  Mariann wore a short pink skirt with small leggings underneath and a purple shirt that clung tight to her skin and exposed her entire back.  She pulled on her high-heeled dance shoes and took Charles’s hand.  They were using this time to improve their partnership and how they worked with each other.  He led her mechanically through the Cha-cha, the Samba, and the Merengue, chatting the whole time.  Then came the Rhumba.  Either Charles had run out of things to talk about or the mood of the gentle, soft music had reached him.  It didn’t matter; at least he was finally quiet.

The Rhumba, the slowest and softest of all Latin dances.  Mariann moved from her center, her ribs going forward, then her hips, followed by her knees, her toe, her heel.  Slow, sensual, her head up, the arm Charles wasn’t holding moved in rhythm, twisting in the air.

            Then Charles raised his arm, pushed her hand and Mariann began to spin.  As the room went by faster and faster Mariann tried, as she often did, to imagine that the hand holding hers was Kevin’s.  Suddenly Charles’s hand snapped up and Mariann jerked to a stop, lost her balance, and fell to the fake wood floor.

            “Geez, I’m real sorry, Mari.”

            “Damn it.”  Mariann stood up, brushing off her skirt.

            Then she noticed over his shoulder, just inside the door, a man with short-cut black hair sitting on a sleek black wheelchair.  Charles tried to take her hand again, but Mariann wasn’t paying attention to him.

            “Are you looking for something?” One of the other dancers asked the man.

            Mariann took one step forward from the dance floor toward him.  He rolled gracefully forward to meet her.  He raised one eyebrow.

            A voice said, “Mari, what is going on?” She didn’t know who had spoken. She didn’t care.

            “Hello,” he said.

            “Hello,” she said.

            He held out one hand.  Mariann knew everyone was looking at them; but then, looking just at his hand, everything in the background vanished.  There was only she, this man, and a gentle Rhumba.

            She put her slender fingers in his and his hand almost swallowed hers.  They were in the center of the dance floor; in the center of the universe.  Expertly his hand shot forward and her long legs snapped together, twisted, and one came forward in a beautiful arc.  Her hips moved as she walked around him, then both his hands covered her hips and, as she came forward to him, she bent her knees and he lifted her into the air.  Her arms ran down his like intertwined threads. Her legs split above his head, and then he lowered her down behind his back.  She grabbed his shoulder and pivoted him to her.  They danced across the floor holding both hands between them.  She danced backwards, zig-zaging him with her. His shoulder blades curved the same way as the center of her body.

            Half way back across the floor, in the dim light he held onto her hands and she used him to lift herself off the ground.  Her knees came up and his arms lowered her onto his lap.  Their hands in perfect synchrony, both touched his wheels and, as one body, they began to spin.  His wheels sparkled and her red hair glowed, creating a cylinder of brightness in the middle of the dark room.

            As the spin slowed Mariann uncurled and her body stretched over his legs.  His strong arms held onto her.  The wheelchair came to a gentle stop and Mariann twisted across to land beside him on her knees.

            The song ended.  Her breath and his were the only sounds.  She stood up and pushed red curls out of her face, wiping aside sweat.  She stood beside Kevin and they faced the entire studio.  No one moved.  They just stared.  Mariann felt Kevin’s hand squeeze hers.  He had done just what Mariann had always wished he would.  He had let her stand beside him.

            A new song came on the stereo, but no one danced.  Finally Mariann smiled and said, “Everyone, this is Kevin, my husband.”

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