The Mystery Dance—Clark Humphrey
• A man dressed in a budget store version of the pseudo-“casual” uniform of the high tech industry. Black tapered shirt, denim jacket, khakis, canvas shoes. Hair groomed with a slight touch of pomade. Left hand clutching a little too hard onto a pint glass. Remembering to sit up straight every minute and a half.
• A woman dressed in standard winter wear: wool sweater, wool scarf, jeans, black boots, black eyeglasses. Sitting back. Making nervous little hand gestures as she talks. Slowly nursing a well gin and tonic.
• Conversation topics: Weather. Bad bosses past and present. Bad dates past. The careers they wished they were really in. The performance art event they’d just attended. Movies they’d seen lately. Dumb politicians. Items of ever decreasing relevance to their actual lives.
• The man puts his glass down. He reaches across the table, latching on to the woman’s hands in mid-gesture.
• The woman looks at him, turns to one side, and looks at him again.
• He reaches in for a kiss, somehow not spilling his beer in the motion.
• The woman accepts and reciprocates.
• Neither resumes drinking.
• A waitress brings the red velvet cake and creme brulé they’d ordered. They don’t immediately dig in.
• One minute later, there are new conversation topics: Whose place they’re going to. Where she can park that’s anywhere near his place. How soon they have to get up in the morning. Whether they need to get condoms or lube or anything on the way. Whether he has roommates/a cat (she’s allergic)/an ex he’s still hung up on. Whether she’s really broken up with the boyfriend she’d talked about previously, or is just testing at being broken up
• Thirteen minutes later, their drinks finished but their desserts unfinished, they get up to go to their respective restrooms. He tells her he’ll wait for her at the restaurant/bar’s front door. That’s where he is when he sees her instead go directly from the women’s room to the table they’d just abandoned, then proclaim out loud that he had bugged out and abandoned her.
• They’re at a performance art event. The female lead dancer shuffles about the stage like a limp marionette, while a second woman recites an a capella poem/song/rap about the banality of everyday existence. Other dancers in the background mime ordinary everyday drudgeries—eating, drinking to excess, working on computers, driving, engaging in rote mating rituals, sleepwalking.
• Suddenly, recorded music starts up, abrupt and loud. In the audience, the woman and man become momentarily shaken. They look at one another, startled, then find just enough reassurance in one another’s faces.
• The lead dancer moves into a vigorous series of abstract steps, turns, and jumps. Some of these movements are in time with the new music. Others counterpoint against it. The other dancers each similarly break out in solo and duet routines. The narrator proclaims the value of breaking out from reality, banality, into the underlying mystery.
• The music suddenly stops. The lead dancer stops in mid-gesture. She and the others, one by one revert to their previous tedious routines. Except for one woman in the background line. She continues to be alert and alive, in a solo dance of energetic joy, ignored by everyone else on the stage.
• The woman has trouble achieving and maintaining the only position in bed in which she can reliably sleep. She eventually sprawls over two thirds of the queen size bed. The man makes no move to push her aside. He remains at least semi conscious throughout the night. He sometimes opens his eyes to look at her, at rest but not necessarily at peace. Then he closes his eyes to just listen to her breath, to feel her left arm sprawled on top of his chest.
• Her initial disappointment with the looks of his place.
• He stays outside the bathroom when she’s in it. Later, he will tell her about his first definition of “class” in a woman, which is that she doesn’t demand he come in and talk to her while she’s on the toilet.
• He makes coffee, while she pokes around for something decent for breakfast. He doesn’t have any eggs. His only fruit is a couple of aging oranges. He offers her a microwaved Pop-Tart. She graciously accepts. He hand-washes a coffee mug for her, bearing the logo of a long-forgotten dot-com. They exchange occasional tender kisses throughout this time.
• They exchange phones, to enter their respective numbers in them. He briefly spies her phonebook pages to see how many male names are on it. She briefly spies his app menu to try to determine if he’s addicted to any online games.
• He insists on walking with her to her car. Even though he’s not completely dressed yet and she’s running late.
• A few blocks after their (sloppy) goodbye kiss, she pulls over to the curb. To figure out how to get to her work from his place, she turns on her phone. Her other phone; the one she doesn’t lend out. That phone lists a call made late last night by her most recent ex. She lets that call remained unreturned for now. After she’s determined the best way to her work, but before she pulls back out into traffic, she decides she won’t put on the change of clothes she’d kept in the car just in case the night turned out this way.
• As he walks back to his apartment, he gives mental orders to himself not to obsess about whether or not this encounter will turn into a regular thing.
• At work, she thinks of a hundred little things about him. His horrid sense of decor. The way his eyes seemed to point in different directions when he wasn’t looking directly at her. His determination to get her off through almost athletic cunnilingus. The detectable but not unpleasant aroma of his not-recently-washed bedsheets. She’s thinking about this when she gets his text.
• His text is about the dance performance. Does she think they’re banal? And does it even matter?