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"So She Danced"

 by Wayne Faust  

2014 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved


            My dreams are sweet. They're the only sweetness that remains to me in this claustrophobic world of cold metal and plastic, of soft hums and beeps, of stale odors. Outside the small window it's blacker than black, pierced by waves and waves of brilliant, twinkling lights. It would be pretty if it ever changed, even slightly. Or if I could go out into the vastness. But I can't.

So I fall asleep. And then I dream.

            In my dreams she dances. She twirls and spins and pirouettes in an elegant, cream-colored dress. She looks like a swan that has just emerged and found her wings. She is doing a gentle waltz all by herself in a glittering ballroom, floating in front of my eyes as she moves up and down with the lilting beat, her feet gliding across the floor with achingly beautiful grace. Her dress reveals white shoulders that could be porcelain if they didn't pulse with life. The place where her shoulders meet her neck is taut because she is holding her head high. The line of her upturned chin is smooth and chiseled and her smile is brighter than all the twinkling stars outside my grimy window.

            As she dances before me, coming closer and then gliding away, I reach out my silver gloved hand but she is just beyond my reach. I feel a lump form in my throat and the trickle of a tear running down my cheek. I want to rise to me feet, to approach her shyly, to offer her my arm. I ache to join her in the dance, to twirl her around, to find my own legs. But, like in most dreams, my legs are rooted in place and I can only watch. Still, it brings me a hint of joy, the only joy I'm ever likely to experience again.

            From somewhere in the distance I hear the sound of cascading water - a fountain I think - and soft music. And then I hear the voice:

            "This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet Military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island...

            It was that voice which sent me on this journey. I was the last faint hope for humanity. But what hope was there really? Ahead of me, Mars is probably just a bone-dry chunk of rust colored rock. But it's human nature to strive until the last possible moment, to never surrender, to defy the inevitable. I think it's that fierce, indomitable nature which caused us to ultimately destroy ourselves in the final, flaming conflagration I'm leaving behind.

I wasn't supposed to be alone on this spacecraft, for what good is it if I survive by myself on Mars, only to grow old and die, merging with the red Martian dust and blowing away into space, the last of my kind? When Columbus went to the New World, didn't he return home and show others the way back there? But I can never return home for there is only death and fire and poison there. There was no time to train someone to go with me, no room in this tiny spacecraft, this little tin can floating among the stars. So even if I can somehow make it to where I'm going and miraculously survive, I'll be the last remaining seed, left to rot and die, even if the seeds I've brought along with me can take root in the Martian soil.

            And now the voice is back. It's saying something else but I can't understand. I'm weary of the voice so I think I'll sleep again because I have plenty of time. Earth has long since dwindled behind me and Mars is far, far ahead.

            I know she'll come to me again when I sleep. And she'll dance once more. I'll feel the soft breath of her swirling dress as she comes close. I'll smell her sweet perfume. I'll hear the music of Heaven. But it won't be Heaven. If it was, I could rise to take her hand. We could dance together. Instead, I'll simply watch.

            It will have to do.




            The voice blared out from the small, black and white TV fastened to the hospital room wall:

            "I have today been informed by Chairman Khrushchev that all of the IL-28 bombers now in Cuba will be withdrawn within 30 days. He also agrees that these planes can be observed and counted as they leave. Inasmuch as this goes a long way toward reducing the danger which faced this Hemisphere four weeks ago, I have this afternoon instructed the Secretary of Defense to lift our naval quarantine."

            "Thank God," she muttered as she turned her head away. Then she said a soft prayer of thanks.

            There were cheers and shouts from down the hallway, most of them for the young, heroic President Kennedy, for he had faced down the Russians and they had blinked. But mainly they were cheers of sweet, blessed relief, for they would all live to see another day. The world would not end in a fiery holocaust, the one that everyone had been dreading since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

            But she didn't feel much relief. Yes, the world would go on but for her it would be a lonely world. The doctors had not given her much hope.

            "We can't know for sure with comas," they had told her. "We have no way of measuring if there is any brain activity. But your husband suffered a massive stroke. It's not likely he'll ever come back to us."

            She stared down at her husband lying on the bed and listened to the soft beeps and hums from the machines, as well as the quiet music from the transistor radio she had placed by his ear. He looked peaceful enough, and occasionally, a brief smile fluttered across his face. Where was he now? Was he lost in some alien world, like in the pulp science-fiction magazines he always read? She'd gone home and gathered them up from his library. Then she'd taken them here to the hospital and stacked them on the floor beside his bed, hoping against hope that one day he would wake up and read them again.  Or had he simply gone and left her, leaving his wasting body behind, hooked up to cold metal machines?

            It was morning. 7:55 AM. She knew from the past week that in five minutes it would be time for the nurses to go on a shift change. This section of the hospital would be quiet for a short while and she would be all alone with her husband, with no one walking by in the hallway, no one coming in to the room. Hospitals were busy places but sometimes there were lulls. She'd been here long enough to know when they came.

She closed her eyes and listened to the soothing sound of cascading water from the fountain in the lobby down the hall. All that water, running and running, the way the years ran as people got older. The years with her husband had been mostly good. She'd given him most of her life and she'd never regretted it. And now this.

What would life be without her husband? There was an empty blackness stretching in front of her like the blackness of space. A trickle of a tear ran down her cheek.

            She reached over and gently turned up the volume on the radio. It was set to an FM dance music station and they were playing another waltz. That was her husband's favorite, maybe because it was the only dance he was ever able to do without having to count off the beat out loud. And he always told her that she looked most elegant when she was doing a waltz.

            She went into the small bathroom and opened her overnight case. She gently pulled out the cream colored dress she had folded up and placed inside. She put it on again, smoothing it in front of the mirror. It was the dress she had been wearing the night her husband collapsed onto the dance floor. She'd worn it all through those first few agonizing days as her husband fought for life amidst the news flashes on the radio and TV about Cuba. And now peace had returned. But her husband had not.

            She came out of the bathroom and self-consciously glanced around the room and out into the hallway, feeling a familiar lump forming in her throat. She knew this was foolish. Anything she did now probably wouldn't make a bit of difference. But it was all she could think of to do. And there was always a chance. If her husband did finally wake up, she wanted him to see her first, doing the thing he loved her to do.

            So she danced.



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