They think it just happens, that perfect line, the grace, the leap. Or maybe they realize we’ve had lessons, rehearsed a bit before performances. They’ve no idea.
“Lessons” doesn’t mean a weekly class for an hour or so. It means every day, every damned day, four hours minimum, more if you want to be good. And that’s just the lessons. That doesn’t count the time spent rubbing the cramped calves and pushing the hip joint back in place, wrapping the bleeding feet cause you’d better not mark up the studio floor with blood.
Terpsichore? She’s a fucking cannibal. She eats you alive and doesn’t even have the grace to spit out the bones. At the end of the day, when all you can think about is home, a tub of hot water, Aleve, maybe a little glass of wine, she vomits you out on the homeless guy you’ve been trying to avoid seeing for weeks, sitting there, hunched against the wall.
But suddenly, there you are, at the end of a weary day at the end of a weary week, doing the last thing you wanted — making eye contact with some guy wearing everything he owns cause he’s got no place to keep things except on his back, or set on the concrete in his little world held there within his armspan.
He winces away. WTF? He’s snubbing me? That’s brick wall time, at least for a second or two.
“You hurt so much.” That merits a longer pause, another meeting of the eyes.
How does he know? I’m not limping. I look decent, checked the mirror before I left the studio.
While I’m still deciding about asking, he blurts it out. “I can feel it, the way you hurt. It hurts me, too.”
Oh boy. Weird Willie and his traveling band of Woo-Woos. Just what I need. Thanks, Terpsichore.
I almost move on.
“I could make it stop.”
“Oh, yeah? If I give you twenty for coffee and a burger, you’ll magic up some pain relief? Or are you holding out for the big prize, a little dancer nookie in the alley?”
“Please, miss, don’t throw that anger, that hardness of your soul at me. That hurts, too, you know. I wouldn’t take your money if you offered it to me. As for the other, I’m gay, miss. You’re beautiful, but my ass is decked out in rainbows.”
I feel my eyebrow reach for the fire escape and almost make it. But then … it’s in his jade green eyes. I don’t know what it is, what to call it, but it’s there, a spark of … something. I stare, trying to figure it out, and then look away from his sky blue eyes. Wait. His eyes are green. They were a moment ago. Weren’t they?
I look again. They’re brown now. A flashmob of goosebumps swarms over me and I’m trembling. “How — what the hell? Who are you? What are you?” I demand of the black-eyed man.
And then he smiles and I know. “Oh my god,” I whisper as my knees give way and I join him on the sidewalk.
He nods. “Yes, that’s right.”
A big dude steps up and goes all white knight on his ass. “Leave the lady alone,” he snarls and reaches a hand to help me up.
“No, no, it’s all right,” I murmur. “I know this man. I was just surprised to see him here.”
“Your chivalry is apparent. I thank you. But please don’t hurl that anger at me.”
The big dude gasps. He’s seen it too, the eye color shift. They’re back to blue now. “Oh, god,” he blurts and backs away.
“Hey, wait,” I call, but my companion lays a hand on my arm and shakes his head. “They have to be ready, Audrey. He’s not. You are.”
Even though I shouldn’t be surprised he knows my name, considering, still the creep factor starts.
He smiles again and everything else just … fades away. It’s him; it’s me; and that’s all, just freaking all. I can’t see anything else, can’t hear anything else except what he’s whispering to me, in some language I shouldn’t know but understand perfectly. I can’t even tell if we’re moving, though I have the feeling that we’ve gone Dorothying away and aren’t in Kansas — or NYC — anymore.
When he’s through speaking, the world snaps back. All at once, no fading in, just wham, in my face. The smells — exhaust and rotting trash and a million billion armpits and yesterday’s farts hanging around just because and warring perfumes and aftershaves and a snarled yarn tangle of ethnic cooking aromas — the smells hit first and hardest. I gag. When did the City start stinking like this?
And then the sounds. My god, the horns honking and shouts of “taxi” and whistles and cat calls and “fuck you” and squealing brakes and a thousand musics rocketing from car and boom box and throat! My hands press over my ears.
But the sights, oh, god, the sights. The butt-ugly sidewalk detritus and concrete and stone and asphalt and painted lines and way too much taxi-yellow and awnings and dear god in heaven the people, scurrying like roaches from one stolen crumb to the next, eyes down, wrapping themselves in ‘don’t see me, because then you’ll expect something from me’.
I sob and weep. I can’t stand this. “I can’t. Take me somewhere else. I can’t do this anymore.”
“It’s all right, Audrey. I’ll help you.”
I open my eyes again just as the dancer in red stands up and smiles before she walks away.