Saturday, November 20, 1999

The Dancer

This story originally appeared on the Secret Garden website and is archived here at the request of author Doug Rogers.

"The guy is a fruit loop," Tommy told me flatly.
"So?" I returned. "This is a gay club. What's your point?"
"Not that kind of fruit loop, Will," he returned. "This dude is like a couple of bubbles off plumb."
I shook my head. "He doesn't look crazy to me. What makes you say that."
Tommy Bledsoe took a long pull at his whiskey and soda. "I bought him a drink a few weeks back and he told me this tale of woe that you wouldn't believe. It was all about his dead lover and some freaky story about how they had made a deathbed promise. It weirded me out!"
I looked over at the lone man sitting at the side table again. He had a half-empty beer held loosely in his right hand. He had a world-weary look that made him look older than the early thirty-something that was his apparent age. His dark good looks had caught my eye when we had entered. He had classic features and was dressed to kill. To any casual looker at Wanderlust he was just another cruiser albeit an upscale and attractive one. The pulse of the disco music and the play of the dance floor lighting only added to the mystique the man exuded. I smiled at Tommy. "Guess I'll go check the story out myself." I grabbed my drink and headed across the room. Bledsoe just shook his head and picked his own target for the evening.
"Is this seat taken?" I asked with a smile as I reached his table.
The man's eyes looked up, surveying me casually. "Not at all," he said simply, gesturing for me to sit down if I pleased.
"Will Ramsey," I said, offering my hand.
"John Allenson," he returned with the shake.
"Buy you a drink?" I asked.
"Still working on this one," he answered. "But nice of you to offer."
"I haven't seen you around."
"I haven't been here very often these days," he answered. He took a swig of the beer as if trying to wash something away.
"You used to come here a lot?"
Memories seemed to cross his face like thin clouds skittering across the moon on a cold autumn night. They obscured nothing but still changed the nature of the way he looked. "Yes," he finally answered. "My lover and I used to come here quite often."
I was crestfallen, but tried not to show it. "Oh? He's not with you tonight."
He smiled wistfully. "No." He paused. "Of course, in a way he's always with me." He looked across the table. "He passed away."
"I'm very sorry," I began uneasily. "I didn't know."
"It's okay."
"I must admit that I was going to ask you to dance," I said with embarrassment. "Now I feel like I've dredged up memories you'd rather not have."
John's smile showed no sign of pain. "There you're wrong. Those memories never leave, and I'm pleased to have them with me." He looked into my eyes. "Are you interested in hearing what happened?"
"It was five years ago," he began, the mild din of the nightclub mentally receding from his consciousness. "His name was Sergei Solokyov."
"I'd like you all to meet a new member of our troop," the Director announced on that September evening. "Sergei Solokyov comes to us from Kalstac, Russia. He's been studying ballet for the past 15 years, and was a member of a community company for the past five. Please make him welcome."
We all gathered around to introduce ourselves. I felt the electricity between us as soon as I took his hand to shake. Our eyes locked. My gay-dar blipped bright yellow. He smiled back.
I watched this lean animal move cat-like through the drills and practice of the next two hours. At the bar he was as supple as silk. When he practiced his jumps he almost flew. I was enchanted.
After the practice as we were picking at chicken caesar salads, I was even more charmed. "Your English is perfect," I complimented.
"I have studied your language since I was a schoolboy," he answered simply.
"Well, the only Russian that I know is 'Nyet'!"
He laughed. "Then you know no Russian," he answered. "You will never need to use that word with me."
I suppose it shows the slut that I was, but I took him home with me that night and was amazed. Sergei could keep up with me in every way. When I woke up the next morning, try as I might, I realized that I was in love.
"I have never been to a place like this," Sergei told me the first time we visited Wanderlust. "And anyone can use the dance floor here?"
"Sure," I told him.
"Then we may?"
I nodded and led him to the middle of the swirling, pulsing lights.
"We must dance well in this place," he said seriously. "To dance well is to show love, both of the dance," he paused and smiled, "and of one's partner!"
God, did we dance well. The longer we lived together, the more we made love, the more we knew how the other responded to music... you cannot imagine how it was! We were like one man moving out there! When Sergei and I would go out on the floor, the other couples would stop dancing and turn to watch us! They could see in the way we moved what we were to each other.
Then came the night he fell. We were doing twirls and extensions and he came down hard on his left foot and he just crumpled to the floor!
"Sergei?" I asked with great concern, "are you all right?"
"I don't know," he said slowly. "My leg just folded under me."
"Can you get up?"
He tried and collapsed back to the Plexiglas surface. "No."
It all happened so fast after that: the paramedics, the hospital, the sad-faced doctor telling me that Sergei's knee was eaten up with bone cancer and the leg would have to come off. The hospital stay, the endless tests, the slow revelation that the cancer had spread to his liver and that about six months was all we had left.
In all of it, I actually believe that I was more devastated than Sergei was. At first he had tried to cheer me up in the hospital. "Do not be so sad, John," he said, gesturing to the vacant spot under the bed sheets. "This is America! I have heard that your artificial limb makers can do magic! Just you wait and see, we will be out on the dance floor again and I shall dance as well as before!"
I knew that he was kidding. He knew it too. Still, I did hope that Sergei would be able to at least try and dance again. He was a writer by trade, so losing the limb wasn't going to hit him there. I worried at first about his longing for the dance. We talked several times about how he would get around and do things with his new leg. He was actually quite excited about it, I think. But even that was a forlorn dream.
The tests could not have come back any worse. "I wish I had some hope to hold out," the doctor told us. "What you have is something that we can't stop. I can keep you comfortable, Mr. Solokyov, but that's the best I can offer you."
Sergei looked at him blankly for a moment. I started to speak. I was going to say something like: "That's it? You're just telling him he's going to die and that's that?" But Sergei touched my arm.
"I understand, Doctor." He paused a moment, then asked almost casually, "Must I spend this time here in the hospital? Will I be able to go home at all?"
"You can go anywhere you please," the physician returned. He looked at me. "You two are family?"
I almost laughed at the double meaning of the phrase. "Yes," we both nodded.
"Certainly you can go home." He looked at me. "You'll need some hospice nursing care later on, but the next few months should be quite normal for you." His eyes cut to the amputated limb and then he added: "Considering."
"How long before I can begin to wear an artificial limb?" Sergei asked hopefully.
The doctor shook his head. "I don't think that's something you want to worry with. You are several months out right now from being able to be fitted, and I'm afraid by the time your stump is ready..." his voice trailed off.
"...I shall have no need of it," Sergei finished.
The doctor simply nodded.
So there it was. A few days later I pulled the car around to the patient discharge door and they wheeled my lover out in a wheel chair. He could have walked it. Sergei had gotten very good on his crutches in just a few days of therapy there at the hospital.
We got home and I realized that I didn't know what to do or say. Sergei took care of that. "John," he began, "I am afraid that I will need you to help me install these holding bars in the bathroom. Would you do this?"
I was only too happy to. It gave me something to do. Correction: It gave us something to do. Together.
We had been home about a week when I could tell Sergei was getting cabin fever. I almost suggested that we go to Wanderlust out of habit but caught myself. I think it occurred to him too, but he said nothing. "How about a turn around the park?" I asked. "I can load your chair in the back of the car and we can make an evening of it there!"
"No need," he assured me. "I can make it just fine. Let us take a stroll!"
We turned quite a few heads on that stroll. Ever the dancer, Sergei made this crutches appear as fluid and graceful as any leg could ever have been. He seemed oblivious to the stares of the crudely curious and the politely amazed. At first I wanted to protect him, but after a short while I realized that Sergei needed no protection from anyone. He was being who and what he was, regardless of how that might have changed.
So this became out thrice weekly evening routine, that stroll in the park. Sergei even verbalized it once: "These will be pleasant months spent in this way."
I was unsure about our making love, but he wasn't. As soon as his stump had healed enough he was ready... wrong word... eager to get back at it and me! I was surprised and delighted. I'll share a secret with you: never pass an opportunity with a handicapped lover. They much more than make up for what they lack!
It turned out to be only five months. Almost four months to the day from when he had left the hospital, he returned. I had planned to nurse him there at home, but the dull pains he had been feeling burst through as true agony one afternoon. The doctor assured me he would be more comfortable with 24 hour care. Sergei didn't put up a fight. I'm glad of that.
The last time he was awake enough to know I was there he weakly reached for my hand. "I wish to thank you," he whispered. "for wonderful memories of America; for giving me someone to love."
I was unable to speak. I simply nodded.
"My only regret," he said haltingly, "is that we never danced again. At the Wanderlust. I could always tell... how jealous everyone was of us..."
I smiled at him, but my tears betrayed me.
"You must go there again, John." I could hardly hear him. His words were slurring. "You must go there and dance again. I shall always be there with you..."
He lapsed into sleep and died three days later.
John Allenson took a final swig of his beer and placed the empty glass on the table. "So there it is," he said simply. "I come here for old times' sake." He glanced at his watch. "It's late."
I nodded. It was nearly midnight. I was about to see if John wanted a bit of comfort this night. He seemed truly lonely, and something in me wanted to reach out and comfort him.
Then, somewhere up in the DJ booth someone put on the old disco favorite "Heaven Knows." Without another word the man got up and walked to the center of the floor. It was just the way that he had told the story: the couples parted to let him by. They couldn't possibly be remembering who he was, the crowd would have changed almost completely in three years. Still, they parted, and for some reason all eyes were on him.
As the music picked up from the opening riff, John began to dance, casually at first. His hands were at his sides and he reminded me of Gene Kelley in one of those old movies where he made the dances he did look so smooth and effortless.
As he continued he raised his arms and made a circle with them, seeming to embrace the empty air before him. The changing position of his limbs allowed the viewers to imagine what moves his partner might be making, as they would do twirls and extensions, followed by a close clutch cheek to cheek and then backing up to dance for a few beats face to face. It was enchanting.
The DJ hit the swirl lights and turned on the fog machine.
I'm not certain, even now, if it was real or if my eyes were playing tricks on me in that psychedelic kaleidoscope. Sylph-like, the smoke just in front of John was being dispersed as it would have been by another dancer matching his every move. As the fog thickened, I could make out a shape in that atmospheric haze. I couldn't make out the details, but I know in my heart that there were two men out there, dancing as one.
I tore my eyes from the scene and walked slowly away, not because I wasn't amazed and fascinated, but because suddenly I realized that I was watching something not meant for my eyes. I was watching two people showing their love for each other.
I was never going to be able to compete with Sergei. I wasn't even going to try.

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