Dances with Words (Middle)


They spent at least two years passing books back and forth, meeting gradually more regularly, becoming more familiar. They all remember the evening they converted to writing.

It was a Thursday as usual. Late enough in the spring that it was still light at 7 p.m. when they met at Eliot’s house in the hills. They sat around his new wooden table on his back deck, a little chilled but pleased to hear the burbling of the creek that ran through his next-door neighbor’s yard. He served them hot tea, gooey dates, and raw trail mix. Olivia commented that she wished the nuts were salted and Judd said, with his blood pressure, he was very glad they weren’t.

The new table was patio-construction fir, round and well-finished, and it gleamed brown-gold under their arms. The benches curved too, and were backed with more wood and flat cushions in durable dark green fabric. It was a beautiful arrangement, and Eliot was pleased with it.

He’d considered the improvements for years. He grew up poor, and it was hard for him to spend money. But he had learned five years earlier that life was short, when he lost the love of his to pancreatic cancer, and he had to do something about the stress. He was a very diligent worker, compulsive about preparedness and other details, and it had gotten to the point where Eliot had heartburn many nights, and most others he awoke at 3 or 4 a.m. and started fretting about ways things could go wrong. So he took the plunge, spent the money, made a deck and a hot tub and a huge investment in attempts at yoga and meditation. He was almost relaxed at that table that night. Arms crossed over his narrow chest, right foot swinging almost freely from his right knee hung upon his left, he breathed the steam from his tea and almost grinned.

Judd sat next to him. He sprawled as much as the wooden furniture allowed. He imagined himself a cross between a jock and a sailor. He tried to keep his body loose, to live up to his 6’4″ frame.

Judd had fitness fantasies. He had high blood pressure and spent more time than any of the others around doctors’ equipment, but he was always imagining himself astounding them with his cardiac health. A stress test in which he went beyond where anyone else ever had. And then, return to a resting pulse of 48 in less then a minute. Yes. His heart an efficient machine, each beat sending a surge of oxygenated blood through the conditioned body. Ka-WUMP. (Pause three seconds) Ka-WUMP.

In fact, Judd had a fast raggedly pulse and a dismal recovery rate. In fact, he never worked out as much as he intended or walked as much as he needed. He longed to sail alone around the world. He seldom saw a boat. He wanted to love a thousand partners. He had been impotent the last three times he’d tried to start an affair.

He was insecure about another attempt, to say the least. But still, better off than Eliot. Eliot figured five years ago, after the funeral, that he’d never have sex again. He told himself he’d had more in his life than he expected anyway; he’d been lucky. But sometimes he felt a little wistful. Not lusty: wistful. Sometimes he caught sight of the shape of an ankle, the turn of an instep, and he was flooded instantly with that old acquisitive never-quenched passion.

Karin, sitting there quiet and apparently contemplative, felt not a particle of empathy. She wasn’t particularly attracted to any body part, and feet would be at the bottom of her list if she were. Karin was her own lover. Her secret was her masturbation, a solace she had discovered at age four, and indulged in since. She fondled herself so regularly and rigorously that she had a chronic wrist problem. The doctor thought it was her keyboard at work and made her employer furnish her station with all the latest in ergonomic components. Her coworkers thought it was compulsive computer solitaire; everyone who worked around computers knew the wrist weakness came from mouse antics rather than from touch-typing. Only Karin knew the root of the problem was her onanism. She tried to switch off to her left but it just wasn’t the same.

She was ashamed of herself. Always afraid someone would find out. That fear bloomed to include issues about apartment security and health. She installed four deadbolts, gave up meat, and took a CPR course.

Karin woke every weekday in a panic. The pink pills helped, but only later in the day, after she was up and around and had eaten. First thing in the morning, her only comfort worked her right wrist. She needed something more.

Olivia got the most action of the four, maybe because she made it. She liked to take her clothes off. She suggested. She was the one who blurted, “We ought to do some writing” that night. She had just draped her shawl around her hips and she was struck as she looked around the table at how old everyone looked. Eliot had a prissiness about him like a bookworm and Judd was starting to look craggy like the sailors he described. Karin’s face was getting that flat appearance, retreating into itself, from too much introspection. Olivia knew she looked better than any of them but she was glad she didn’t have a mirror then. She’d been displeased lately at what she saw in the glass. All that neck. It wasn’t a happy surprise to discover that, after a lifetime thin, her breasts could droop so much, her neck could look so stretched. She’d always taken such delight in presenting herself, like a present, to her selected lover. Her throat caught sometimes lately, when she saw herself for a moment as a desperate offering instead of a bountiful treat.

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