If there’s greater things to life than dance, liquor, and intimacy I’ve yet to discover them. But I feel the question is whether or not I would like to. I haven’t thought about it all that much, to be honest. The gals and I are quite content with our present situations as it is. And change is an awful lot to stomach.
If living could be as simple as a rehearsed show, then I’m sure everyone would have some merit in finding happy days. If chaos finding its order was just a sight away from watching an excellent movie, then misfortune might not rear his ugly head. And if finding love could be as simple as the debonair to a dance routine then no one would have to be damned to be lonely. Mm, no – I think fate is not quite familiar with theatre just yet.
But here we are, all dolled up for a night of fancy and undignified merrymaking.
And a five, six, seven, eight –
And so it begins with the swing, the sways, the jeers, the singing, the lights. Oh, I adore the lights. Some see themselves in isolation with a thousand poking eyes looking beneath their dresses; but unlike the likes of those folk, I like to find my comfort. There’s no magic quite like the lights that you can find anywhere else, and their adoration for my body fills me with a thrill that no man can replicate. Mm – Ma isn’t fond of the lights. She didn’t care for them as much as I did. Granted, she didn’t care much for a lot of people.
She’s dead now.
Oh my, the liveliness when people enjoy themselves for a while. It’s a wonder why people don’t do it more often. I do. It’s utterly splendid! The gals and I give it our all each night, arms like puppet dolls and our legs slim and slick with gaiety. But my solo is something special, I tell you. The boys are especially fond of me. They especially like it when I turn my back to them and I sway my hips. I feel them staring, and some of the more confident of the lot give a whistle or two. Oh, how sweet. The trick to get them to think about you is a wink accompanied by a sly smile, and they return smiles of their own, fueled with lust. It’s like they hand you a hand-crafted key – an invitation to hop in their dreams. Goodness, they love me so.
Admired by the eyes of today, robbed of any from yesterday.
There’s not much I remember of my days of being a child, but I find that one of the few things I can remember are the things that I should forget.
I remember being taken from my bed, promised by my father that we were going on a trip to New York, and that I’d be treated to all the ice cream I wanted and I’ll get to see all the movie stars I fantasised about. I asked if Mama wanted to go too. And he said that Mama was just too tired to go to New York now. She’ll meet us there, he said. I can remember that the high spirits of a child are some of the purest things you can witness; yet, I had a cloak of wariness on me that night. That night that my father was being oddly kind to me. He held me close. He smelled of cigarette smoke.
Cigarette smoke. It lingered in the joint no matter where and when you stood. It smelled of ambivalence. Sometimes I think you can tell what people are thinking based on the smoke they exhale. Their reviews plastered to their breath, and likewise their aromas exalted their character.
I wish I was a clever girl to figure it out then.
I never said goodbye to Mama. My father and I took a streetcar to the train station, and had I known that I would never be the same little girl again, I might’ve run away sooner.
My father stared at me before we boarded. Now that I think of it, I think he might’ve thought about leaving me on that train on my own. It might have been so much easier on him. He would have been a free man sooner, and he could have left Mama that night. I suppose even the wickedest of men have some speck of compassion in them – he boarded the train with me after a minute or so of contemplation. He let me hold his hand. I was afraid of all those people on the train. They all looked like slender giants with old weathered faces. I was still in my jammies.
The lights help. They help me see things that I want to see, the liquor flirts with my thoughts, and sometimes my feet move so quickly that I forget who I am. And in those intervals, I revel in my reverie. It makes me feel so much younger. While we dance, I steal a glance at the other girls. Oh, they’re so pretty. The lights truly embellish their beauty and in the heat of our vehemence we turn into different people altogether. I think that first impressions should really be made on the stage. Ah, it makes me feel so much younger.
I don’t remember much of the train at all. Only that I was awake for the first 15 minutes or so, and then I fell asleep again on my father’s lap. I should have stayed awake. I could have asked my father more questions, convince him to let us go back for Mama, or at the very least taken in the sights. Anything to let me just be a little girl for a while longer.
We eventually did get off the train. My father held me, wrapped in his coat, and I did not recognise any of the buildings and houses that just looked so ghastly and unfamiliar. It wasn’t New York. We took a taxi to a part of town that looked just as frightening at night. The sun was starting to come out. The sky turned a dismal purple. I’ll always remember that sky.
We stopped before a humble little house. I was confused. Father knocked on the door. We were greeted by a middle-aged woman, whose face as stern as the buildings we’d seen, and whose hair, brittle as it was, was the colour of dying embers. The woman took me, and, still confused by the exchange between her and my father, I didn’t struggle much. I looked back at my father. He took back his coat, and walked up to the front porch. He looked back at me. I only stared.
He smiled. And he winked.
That was the last time I ever saw my father.
The show was coming to a close. The house still amused with our antics. If there’s anything us show girls never fail to do is to impress. And impress we did. A number of certain gentlemen still had their eyes on me. You can’t possibly know the power one feels when you grab people’s attention. Performers: we’re like hypnotists. They can’t help but stare, perhaps expecting something extraordinary to happen to their lives just then. It’s lovely.
With a final synchronised tap dance, we dominated the audience. And with that, tonight’s show ended, and I feel like the crowd could just fall in love with us all over again. That was the biggest applause this week.
“You are to call me Ma, understood?” That was the first thing she said to me. The woman with the embers for hair. The older man beside her was Pa. My father just sold me off to a family of good-hearted Christians. “Sold” is rather a crude word to explain the situation, but that’s what it felt like. Lightly-loved by one family, and tossed aside to another. Betrayal hurts, you know? When your own father abandons you, who can you possibly turn to after that? Did Mama even know? Even know that her little girl was gone? I’d like to think that she went out to look for me, that she got the police involved, and there were “Have you seen me?” posters hung up all over the place. No one ever came though. Ma and Pa, they had a daughter of their own. Had. She wasn’t dead or anything, but she got out of there when she could, and she never came back. She probably doesn’t even know that her own parents adopted another child to raise so that she can grow up and be a proper woman of society. Boy, oh boy, would they be disappointed.
After the show, us performers were allowed to mingle around the club. Congratulations were dealt, and praise was offered. I could soak it all in. I went to the bar and ordered myself a drink. I felt someone approaching. Someone always does. I heeded no attention in the meantime. A shy, young man he was. He finally decided to say something when he felt he was intimidated by the other men eyeing the same woman. He said hello. A tender voice. Not-so-confident, but he had a small mark of courage; humble. I finished with my drink and turned to face him. He didn’t smell of cigarettes unlike the others I passed in the club. He was quite handsome. He had a cute smile, and he looked rather dashing in his attire. Afraid, but willing is what I noticed. Boys trying to be men. Remarkable the things you can notice just by looking at the little things. I returned the greeting, and he ordered me another drink as well as one for himself. We engaged in a conversation, and I’m slightly impressed by his way of speaking. Boys like him wouldn’t normally offer up the first few words, but we spoke and he amused me. He asked me questions and I couldn’t help but indulge him, whilst I indulged myself in a cigarette.
I grew up learning how to be a proper woman. I cooked, I cleaned, washed, partook in Bible studies. Ma taught me everything there was about the trade. I hated it all.
Ma, more or less, became a teacher of sorts; a mentor as opposed to a mother. And Pa… I don’t know what Pa did, but he was a curmudgeon old man. He started losing his teeth and he became a lot more disturbed as the years went on. He beat me a lot when I didn’t do something right. I hated him, too.
When I was 13 I tried to run away. I had enough. I wanted out. I lifted a bit of money out of Pa’s mattress, and I was ready to leave. I could have gone anywhere, I realised. Away from this dreadful town. Only problem was, I didn’t know which way to go. I was at home for most of my stay, under the strictness of my aggressors. We didn’t travel much elsewhere as a family other than the open market. This was no life for someone. So there I was in, the cusp of night and I ran. I obsessed about Mama all these years, and I just wanted to see her again. I don’t know where she lived though. I don’t even know if she was alive! But that didn’t matter, I just wanted my liberation. If I couldn’t figure out where Mama lived, then I’ll go to New York. That was the plan after all.
I couldn’t get past the train station. They wouldn’t let me on without an adult with me. They called the police to come take me home, but I got away and I ran back to Ma and Pa. I got home, and they were still asleep. I don’t know if I ever cried that much since the day my father left me on that doorstep.
He was an interesting fellow. His name was Myron Goodwin. He comes from a family of unfortunate beginnings but now works as freelance artist. I conveyed my interest. I mixed my glances to Myron, to my drink, to the clubbers who were off swing dancing. I could feel him observing my figure while he thought I wasn’t looking. I got closer to him. I insisted him on finishing his drink, and I finished my own. I grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him towards the fun. He was reluctant at first, but the thought of me being involved with someone else instigated a bit of a push, because, again, men were looking. So off we went to the circle of half-drunk men and women, and we began to dance.
Ma and Pa rarely ever talked about their daughter, but when they did, all I ever heard was how much of a disappointment she was. But over the years, I only had my sympathies for Lorena. Lorena was her name. She was beautiful, I heard. And when she obeyed, she worked with incredible vigour. An ideal housewife, I was told. And the mantle of responsibility now fell to me. Housewife. Such a thought left me with contempt. I was not about to be bartered out and sold to another family. Not for a third time. I was 16. So I prepared to leave once again.
My parents didn’t know at the time, but every night I was going off to Jazz clubs, taking lessons with other women, learning how to dance, to sing. In all the years that I lived with my loathsome adopters, never have I felt such exuberance. Being around other women my age, spoiling ourselves with luxuries of movement and arts. I recognised a part of one’s youth that I haven’t touched in years. I got my first job that way. A handsome director saw my talents as a performer and took me under his wing – insisting that I “audition” for him. I would have never expected the things he would do for me, the places I got to go and see. The world was filled such wonders! Was this the life I could have had? The one I was missing? I always knew there were better things that the Americas had to offer than the life of a measly housewife.
The day quickly came when I took my leave. For the first time in years, I began to smile. I could feel the cobwebs and the dust finally become undone. Ma insisted I take my Bible with me. Disappointed as she was in my choosing to abandon everything they taught me to be, she still believed she had the right to call me a daughter of hers. With that stern look in her statuesque face, she said to adopt the Lord as my shepherd, and I would find forgiveness and refuge in my future. Instead, the only thing I adopted was short hair and even shorter skirts. She was not in control; I was.
For the record, Myron danced astonishingly well. The two of us ended up pushing all the other dance partners out of the cypher, and people looked on at the two of us at the center. I noticed some nods of envy within the eyes of some of the men. Goodness, if I was this popular I might as well have danced with all of them! But no, Myron was special. His movement, his demeanor, his fresh youth reminded me a lot of myself during my time with Ma and Pa.
The dance soon ended, Myron was left panting and in need of another drink and myself laughing with joy as its been a while since a boy was able to keep up. I took up another smoke. Myron had quite a bit of fun as well. He laughed and had the most brilliant smile. I felt like he deserved something for his efforts. I felt like I deserved something for mine. I walked up to him and blew smoke in his face. He grinned. I laughed, while I put even less distance between our bodies. Our lips were close. So close I could feel any remaining smoke from my lips were attracted to his. He wanted me, I know he did. His body was just faltering under a craving. He was too gentleman-like to say – do – anything. So I kissed him. He needed more. And I was struck under my desire as well.
I needed him.
I let him escort me home. We took a taxi.
We sheltered ourselves quickly into the apartment.
Words weren’t exchanged.
Hands groped at clothing. Lips parted not.
An unzipped dress. An unbuttoned shirt. Hair undone. Garments discarded.
Our bodies flushed red, flexing only with lust.
Hands on my chest, his tenderness, slipping down my body. His hunger. My starvation.
The heat of his breath on my throat.
My hands, my feet clutching him closer.
His hips moved silently. Our moans broke any stillness.
and stillness again.
He yields to me.
My only memory left of Mama was of myself peering out the window to see the commotion. There were street-performers dancing. People laughed at their foolery, but I remained fascinated. I was only a babe, and the door was open so I walked outside to get a closer look. I mimicked what the performers did. Amused by my own legs and what they could do. I showed Mama. I forget what she looks like, but I knew she was delighted with my gifts for movement. Proud, I cannot say for sure. But I feel like she was a dancer too. My good genes must have come from someone. And my two feet met pleasantly well. I won’t ever know for sure though. One thing for certain is that a child will always be cursed to their mother.
Both of them.
He sleeps. Sex is the only promise for a man to stick around. Myron lays next to me. And I remain wide awake. I remember the first time I made love to someone. It bloomed a yearning I never thought I wanted but needed. The pain interlaced with pleasure. Quick in becoming exclusively the latter. It provided fulfillment for something I never had.
But the years went by, so did the men, and it all became meaningless anyway.
What used to fill me with ecstasy then became void of feeling.
The girls ask why I even bother.
Partly because I dread to be left to my loneliness.
And partly because my young years are still left on that train.