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The Dream Dancers

He takes me in his arms, and we’re flying around the room. I’ve never done this backwards before, but somehow my feet go in all the right places. My dress is gold and silver, my hair braided with ribbons. I step lightly. I get it, I think. I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming.

The hall is huge, and packed with other couples. Some dance close, some can barely look at one another. Strange, lively music comes from somewhere, but I can’t see either a band or speakers.

His hands feel strange, heavy and large pressed into the curve of my back. He is intent on my face and body, looking at me  like I’m the only woman in the world.

I never thought you’d be beautiful, he says, and I blush, glancing away, mumbling something about how he must not be seeing me right.

No, it’s true, he says. I never imagined it. I always thought… you’d be average, or ugly. But you turned out so well.

I recognize it as a compliment, and smile. Our eyes meet, we are level with each other. He looks fat, and sad, and old, but he’s smiling back. He could be my brother, if I had a brother. His eyes devour me, and his thin mouth turns downward.

Don’t you have any words of wisdom for me? he demands. Nothing to say that will make it all better?

No, I say. I really don’t. He laughs, short and sharp, and abruptly hands me off to a young man waiting invisibly nearby. I don’t see him again.

This one is skin and bones, all awkwardness and nerves. He looks me up and down, and I can see the wheels turning in his adolescent mind. I—I don’t—who are you?

I laugh and let him sweep me onto the floor. He leads with a surprising amount of pluck, though he’s a terrible dancer. I wouldn’t have thought him capable of it—what else have I forgotten about him? The way he smells, the way he looks around, the way he hesitatingly moves his hands to where my waist sort of is, all so heartbreakingly familiar.

I think… I had a dream about you? he stammers. I think it was you.

Yes, it was me, I assure him. It was me all along, that dream. And now here I am. Yours, and yours, and yours forever.

His eyes are wide, but there is no way he can know. He’s beautiful, in his way, and I mourn for things lost, chances not taken. I want to say more, but he’s let his attention wander. There’s a breathtakingly gorgeous young woman over by the bar, probably only a few years older than he is. For a brief moment, my eyes lock with hers. She grins brilliantly, so far out of reach that neither he nor I will ever be anywhere near her.

Hey, I say after a moment. Eyes front. Dance with the one who brought you.

You didn’t bring me, he says after a moment.

I laugh, and it’s a deep, throaty sound. Oh, kid. You have no idea.

His mouth falls open in an O, and I think, by George, he’s got it. But at that moment, someone taps him hard on the shoulder, and I freeze for an instant. I’m cutting in, this new man says gruffly, and takes me by the hand. The young man fades away into the crowd so quickly, I think he must have vanished into the floor.

He’s shorter than me. I’m not used to touching him. He’s so much younger than he is now, he still has the mustache for God’s sake, but he smells just the same. We dance, focusing on the steps, letting the strained silence grow.

You stole my son away, he remarks casually after a while.

I never meant to! I protest, too quickly.

Yes you did. And you’d do it again. Wouldn’t you.

I feel like running and hiding, and try to pull away. But he just shakes his head and holds on, glaring left and right.

I wish you had never happened, he says. But now that you’re here…

Please, I say, tears coming to my eyes. You don’t have to say it. Please?

The music stops and we separate, arms at our sides. I breathe in and out.

Come home soon, he says at last. Your mother misses you. He takes my hand, and I’m crying. Then the dream shatters, and I wake, nightgown drenched in sweat.

“Susan?” My wife groggily turns over. “Are you okay?”

“Sure,” I say. “Just a strange dream.”

I get out of bed as she goes back to sleep, and shuffle out to the kitchen. Cats run over my feet in the dark. I open the heavy curtain and look out at the snow-covered, moonlit backyard.

It’s the new year, at last, and the world outside seems fresh. I hum a dance tune, and for a moment I glimpse them all, waiting out there in the dark, hands extended to me.

8 responses to “The Dream Dancers”

  1. Avatar Dani says:

    Really powerful. I'm not sure if I just like your style or if your experiences speak to my own. I have a theory about who the others in your dream are but I think I'll leave it unsaid here; let others draw their own conclusions. There's only one I'm really unsure of.

  2. Owen Owen says:

    I really enjoyed this. You do a great job capturing the feel of a dream, the way people appear and disappear and blend, and the way everything seems loaded with meanings that are just beyond comprehension. So much is hinted at without being revealed. Very cool.

    • llxt llxt says:

      I second what Owen said. I particularly like the ending, where "fantasy" and reality come together. Those moments before a strong cup of coffee, when anything can happen…

      • Avatar SusanJBigelow says:

        That's a good way of putting it–there's a moment after you're awake but before you actually wake up where reality is very mutable.

    • Avatar SusanJBigelow says:

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! I tried very hard to capture that dreamlike feeling, so I'm happy to hear that it worked.

  3. Kail Kail says:

    Great piece, Susan. I just did a bit of bad dancing on New Year's, first time in awhile, so this dream sequence was easy and enjoyable to imagine. A touching and thought provoking piece too! Great job!

    • Avatar SusanJBigelow says:

      Thanks! One of my secrets is that I'm actually a terrible, awkward dancer. Thank goodness for the magic of writing!

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