The Don Quixote Piece
Lucia the French girl said,
"I am standing to the side of the stage and Carson and Victoria are seated there near and says Carson,
"'Yeah you really got it together, really had that movement quality.'
"And I was saying, 'Well, all I was able to do was to sell it because it was not working in any other manner.'
"And he was saying: 'What do you mean?'
"And I was saying: 'Well, it was all failing totally. Because of this I was able to give it some element of personality and nothing more. In no way was there technique.'
"And he was looking at me with total surprise and: 'Nobody but the choreographer would even have known anything was wrong.'
"And I say, 'Enough to give me a bad show!' And I am looking at them. And they are seated together. And I am saying: 'Victoria it was your choreography and I do not want to have to change it on the stage. For me this is a sin; this is a barbarism.'
"And Carson was saying, 'But you did it so beautifully.'
"And I said, 'But it should not be done in this way never.' And I am looking at them with total surprise. And I am saying to myself here I am wanting to ask for your pardons and you are saying to me well done?! I do not understand your point of view. I do not see your perspective.
"'I changed the choreography. That should not happen in no moment on the stage,' I said.
"And Victoria said, 'Yeah well, you see, sometimes things happen and it's wonderful, you see, that you can recover from it so well.'
"But each night? Each night this happens. What I am saying is that I was convincing them that it was bad. You see?"
Beth chortled. Beth chortled and leaned slightly over the cafe table. It was one of Lucia the French girl's countless endless stories. Between them sat two near-empty espressos, two packs of menthols, an ashtray half full of their own cigarette ends, a lighter, and a wee saucer proffering a lonely bite of bundt cake. Lucia the French girl leaned back as she spoke, her arms crossed pontificatingly, her sharp Gallic tongue flickering behind her teeth with professional affront.
"My god! You have to understand that this was not acceptable. It is not acceptable to me as a performer, as an artist, to perform some work with the knowledge that I have to appear on the stage and invent it all on the stage because my partner finds himself so timorous in front of the audience. He has never been able to do it well in the studio, and it was worse on the stage. Help me with this, please. You see?"
"So I take it you won't be doing a guesting for them again."
"Never! It was a barbarism. I am not an improviser. By the name of god! A performance like that should not be improvisation. I was trying to ask for their pardons and they were telling me well done!"
"He was right though, you know," Beth interrupted. "It was convincing. I couldn't tell. You did pull it off. And Jacob really liked it, too. He said you were beautiful."
"He said that?"
"Yeah," Beth answered. Beth paused then as if to speak again; paused in an attempt to break Lucia the French girl out of her raconteur rhythm, hoping to end Lucia's telling and re-telling of the guesting fiasco. "I wish you could stay in town and see our show," she finally offered, establishing a foothold in the silence.
"But, I know. Two weeks..."
And a lull fell here as Beth's stratagem worked, as Lucia the French girl let the story go, as Lucia reached for that last bite of bundt cake.
Beth watched Lucia consume the bite of bundt cake. Hungrily, Beth watched Lucia consume the bite of bundt cake.
The cafe sat across the street from the studios of Ballet Vovoshka. Class had just ended. The two dancers were disheveled still, still in threadbare sweats and tattered t-shirts over leotards and leggings. The damp nap of hair at their ears and temples had aired and grown wispy. Beth smoothed hers back with the tips of her fingers as she eased aside her empty demitasse and turned the foothold she had gained into possession.
"Jacob said the other day," and she checked herself here, checked herself with an ironic smile, "that you reminded him of an Ingres."
Lucia quirked. Her eyebrows rose. And the unspoken "really" hung for a moment, not neutrally, not seeking a confirmation, but soliciting maybe a repeating or rephrasing or expounding of the compliment. Beth nodded as she lit another menthol. The smile on her puckered lips was still ironic.
"God almighty, don't tell him I told you," she began. "I'm surprised he even told me. It just slipped from him. I saw he regretted it as soon as he said it. He was telling me of a painting in that temporary exhibit at The Paseo, the Ingres, said the face reminded him of a model he used for a short fiction. He got distant. He left me like he does sometimes. I slipped in--half out of curiosity, half out of wickedness--'Who was it?' He said your name and then with the saying of it came back. He looked at me angrily, as if I had tricked him. Then his anger turned to regret. Then he tried to cover it all by changing the subject, asked about Cynthia's birthday or something like that; something transparent and unbelievable which showed me just how upset he was at his gaffe. It was marvelous. It felt like a victory of sorts."
"But does it not bother you?"
But Lucia the French girl knew better than this. And Beth knew Lucia the French girl knew better than this. This was Lucia the French girl indulging herself, Beth thought. Beth tapped the ash off the end of her menthol--this third since class--and contemplated the mild surprise she felt swirling within her. Lucia was generally inured to flattery. Beth mused a long moment--solidly, thoughtfully. But she was very content, very confident. She looked Lucia squarely in her oval face.
"I will never doubt him. If it were merely the vows that bound him to me, I might. Who wouldn't. But this...code," and she tapped again at her menthol. "This discipline he has is stronger than any promise a man could make to God or woman. It sounds like hyperbole, I know. But I've witnessed it. I've seen this. His conscience is iron-clad."
Lucia the French girl's self-indulgent smile lingered. It lingered as Lucia weighed Beth's bold words, as she studied Beth's familiar face. Then Lucia's smile hardened toward a look more inward and penetrating.
"What do you think?" Beth asked then, moving on. "Too bad your guesting didn't happen two weeks later. You would have had no excuse to miss our show."
Lucia flicked at the lighter. Lucia flicked at the lighter. It lit. Lucia lit a menthol.
"So ugly that flight, my Beth," she said distantly. "And I am able to see you dancing it in my mind. How many times have we seen Cynthia's Midsummer?"
Lucia the French girl looked hard at her friend then. She exhaled.