222. The Dance

Louise fetched the Victrola
From her car.
This was a last-ditch try:
She hid a frown.
Since that boy died,
Riah’d not been right.
She had faded,
It seemed to Louise,
Before Louise’s very eyes–
“Could pass my hand
Clear through her,” she thought,
Seeing Riah’s blank
Unfocused stare.
So to cheer her,
This new plan today
Had all points for it–music
For Louise; for
Riah, a machine.
“You start it.
Wind it up this way”: placed
Riah’s fingers on the crank.
Her hand likes it,
Louise thought,
If she don’t.

A song arose!
They hardly believed
Their ears: a novel melody
In this familiar house.
They’d heard most every
Sound here–kitchen noises,
James’ school tales,
Raw duster–
But not this.
Music swept in
Like a guest, a bloom,
Guitars plunking rhythm,
Rising violins,
Caressing, noodling sax.

Louise took a spin.
She held out her skirts
And shook her head, to feel
Her hair loose on her neck.
“Riah, come on.
Try it.”

A man began to sing:

          “Dancing
          In the dark,
          Till the tune ends,
          We’re dancing
          In the dark,
          And it soon ends,
          We’re waltzing
          In the wonder–”

“Let’s dance together.”
Louise stepped up close:
“Those college girls in ‘Life’
Dance in the dorm”–
She laid hands on Riah’s waist
And gently tugged.

         “–Of why we’re here.
          Time hurries by,
          We’re here
          And gone–”

“Sings like he drank some hair oil,
Don’t you think?
Come on,
Like this, Riah.”
She had her moving now;
Riah, always silent,
Reluctant, yet not resisting,
Rocking stiff, but side
To side, with her.

         “Looking
          For the light
          Of a new love,
          To brighten up the night
          I have you,
          Love–”

“Dancing,” said Louise, low
Laughter in her voice, her
Lips at Riah’s ear, her cheek
Brushing the brown hair–Riah
Had never danced.
“It’s dancing.
It’s like this,” arms
Circling Riah now.
Sad-eyed, but miraculous,
Riah raised arms, too.
Stunned silent, Louise
Spun them round the room.

          “And we can
          Face the music–”

She felt a heaviness
In Riah’s sway,
A weight descending
That Louise had never
Known, held in Riah’s
Frail body, like
A stone. Louise,
With her broad hand
Drew the mute dark head
Onto her shoulder.
For Riah, then,
The weariness poured
Free, as if she were a broken
Vessel, tipped, full,
Spilling, body crying
Wholly into her friend’s body,
And all horror of the death
Flowed, cupped and held
Safe harbor there.
She shaped her leaning
In Louise’s warmth,
Louise’s arms.

          “Together,
          Dancing
          In the dark,
          Dancing
          In the dark,
          Dancing
          In the dark–”

James at the front door:
He looked them over,
With one canny glance.
He grinned.
Mama dancing.
“The needle’s stuck,”
He offered,
Walking in.

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