Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Thirty-Two

The sky outside the windows of the MD-80 would be dark by the time Diana broke again with company policy and gave Lloyd Barton her telephone number. They were flying east, into the night.

But it was earlier in Dallas-Ft. Worth and there was still light in the sky when Vivian Teller took Charley for a walk through the park a half mile from her apartment building. She had purchased a leash and other items at a pet store earlier in the day. On the way out of the store she passed a vending machine that would create engraved identification tags while you wait. She inserted the appropriate money and used a keyboard on the machine to type in her information. A few minutes later she had a tag in her hand with her last name and telephone number stamped on it. She’d read that you shouldn’t put the dog’s name on such tags.

When she got home from the pet store she found Charley on the bed again. She used a pair of pliers to attach the new tag to his collar and he spent the rest of the day jingling wherever he went in the house.

Vivian listened to how different her house sounded with a dog in it and she very much liked the new background. They went for a short walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon, but Vivian decided they needed to explore on their before dinner evening walk so she tugged Charley in a different direction, toward the park.

It was a manicured multi-purpose community oriented sort of park. Rolling expanses of grass trimmed to almost golf course intensity, a globular shaped pond surrounded by a concrete walkway wide enough for silly looking, canopied, two-seater sit down bicycle contraptions you could rent by the hour from a shed near the lake. There was an area dedicated to family cook-outs with black metal barbecue grills attached to metal poles driven into the ground. Vivian’s favorite thing in the park was the small band shell set at one end of the lake, facing a hillside. They did concerts here in the summer. Light classical things, Gilbert and Sullivan, show-tunes. And on the Fourth of July they played The Stars and Stripes for a finale, supplementing the Sousa with skyrockets fired from a barge floating at the center of the pond.

Charley approved of this park to the point where Vivian had trouble keeping up with him as he ran from smell to smell. She would have let him off his new leash, but she was afraid he’d run off and get lost in this unfamiliar place and she would lose him. So she ran after him, trying to run fast enough so that the dog could move at his own pace. He went from stroll to trot to gallop, stretching his thin legs out in front and behind, ears blowing back, face up, mouth open, experiencing some rapture forbidden to lowly bipeds.

All Vivian could do was hang on, try to keep up, and laugh.

They stayed in the park a very long time, past sunset and into the beginning of twilight. They walked around the pond twice then headed up the hill above the band shell, climbing up to the near horizon. Near the crest of the hill Charley stopped and sat down. Vivian gave him water from the handsome blue walking bottle she bought for him at the pet store. Charley lapped loudly then stretched out on the grass.

Vivian sat next to the dog and felt safe enough to put down her end of the leash. She looked down at the band shell. The Fourth of July program always opened with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” which she liked, but there was so much more Copland she liked better. There was, in particular, a piece her dancer lover used in a solo performance, a piece called “Poetic, Somewhat Mournful” from Copland’s works for piano and violin. At the beginning of the piece the lights would find her standing alone on stage, wearing a white danskin and a diaphanous purple cape. The music would start and she would move in fluid ways you would never think a human body could achieve. Few could do it as well as she. This sweet, sad, lost music playing and her moving alone on stage.

At first you think she’s looking for something, then you realize she’s not. She’s lost something or she’s waiting for something, but you know it’s not about searching. Vivian was never sure what the piece was about and she never asked because she was afraid her lover would think her impenetrably stupid. But she loved the piece and she loved watching her dance it. She loved the sheen of sweat across her throat and the taste of the salt when she came off stage and they kissed.

Where was her dancer now?

Vivian stood, slapped the cut grass off the backside of her jeans and slipped her hands into the back pockets. It was getting dark. They’d have to head home soon.

She took a step away from Charley and then another step and then she lifted her leg and held it in the air for a moment before she folded her knee and brought the toe of her running shoe down on the earth. She thought about how the piece set to “Poetic, Somewhat Mournful” began.

Vivian turned her back on Charley for a moment, and she began to dance. She was older now, older than her lover had been when they were together and she was never a dancer so she knew the movements would be slow and stiff and far removed from graceful. She just wanted to see if she could remember them. And she did. The dance came back to her, not through her memory, but from somewhere else inside her.

And as Vivian Teller danced on the side of the hill she understood the dance her lover danced so many years ago. It wasn’t about loss or searching or waiting, it was about something very different, something Vivian could never have known before she danced it herself on the darkening hill.

The light was going quickly. Vivian could barely make out the shape of Charley on the grass as she moved in front of him. But dogs see very well at twilight so while Vivian could not see Charley in detail, Charley could see her very well. He had lifted his head when she first stood, assuming this was a signal that they would be going and there might be food at the end of the journey. Then she stepped away from him and started to move in a way he’d never seen a human move before. He was fascinated and grateful as only a dog can be grateful.

You see, no one had ever danced for Charley before.


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