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.