She’d been in American Ballet Theater, corps de ballet plus a few solo bits, a lean five foot six, honey skin, dark eyes, long arms, neck, legs, serious expression. Her dancing was clean but impersonal. I wondered if it was because she thought Broadway was a comedown.
We understudied the leading dance couple. Every show we’d watch their scene and the dramatic Agnes de Mille duet that followed, standing in the downstage right wing, she in front, me behind. One day I slid my arm around her waist and she let it stay. After that, every show, ten minutes, eight times a week.
Backstage, our paths hardly crossed, but four times a week we took Dagonova’s professional ballet class. I’d watch her when the women did their solo combination. She watched me when the men did theirs. And every Thursday afternoon, 4:30 to 6, we rehearsed on stage with a pianist. Afterward, in the two-hours before sign-in, we’d walk to the New York Times building on 43rd Street, employee cafeteria, 11th floor, good food, low prices, full of chorus dancers and singers on matinee days, sort of a show gypsy secret. One Thursday at dinner she mentioned she’d gotten engaged.
“To a dancer?”
` “Show biz?”
“Well, that’s smart.” I asked if he’d seen the show.
“Opening night. He takes his clients to opening nights.”
“He’s a lawyer.”
It meant he hadn’t seen her because she’d replaced the original understudy. “He should take one to see you in the Act Two opening.”
She had a flashy bit in the reel, but when she looked down I realized it was a dumb remark. And I didn’t want to talk about her fiancé.
“Do you miss Ballet Theater?”
“Not a bit.”
“Too much touring?”
“Too little living.”
She meant men. Plenty of ballet men were straight, especially Russians, of which Ballet Theater had a dozen. But touring was for affairs, and with so many more women, often not even that.”
Do you have a girl?” she asked.
“I had one but she ... got away.” Waited for more. “She’s an actress. The other guy was an actor but found a real job and quit. I suppose they’ll get married.”
She frowned. “You ever think about quitting dancing?”
“Not more than once an hour.” She rewarded me with a chuckle. Maybe that’s what gave me the nerve to ask, “Are you passionate?”
It didn’t faze her. She thought about it. “I’m enthusiastic.”
That night during the show I wondered what would happen when I slid my arm around her. When she relaxed back against me, I knew I still had my ten minutes, eight times a week.
Closing notice went up. We’d been playing to half houses so it was expected, yet the certainty of being unemployed in two weeks was unnerving. And I wouldn’t see her except maybe at ballet class. We didn’t have to watch our scene anymore, but both showed up in the wing. During the final performance, Saturday, I whispered in her ear: “I need to spend a night with you.”
She didn’t tense or pull away, so I quickly added, “Not making love. I mean we don’t have to... I just want to be near you, beside you, for a whole night.”
“All right,” she said.
Final curtain, mascara black tears, reassuring hugs, makeup boxes packed, dressing rooms cleared. I waited for her outside the stage door and we walked to the subway. She wouldn’t let me pay her fare.
She lived on the upper west side. After coffee and a bite we took separate showers. Her bed was king-size. She got in on the right. I slid in left. We didn’t touch. She lay on her back staring up. I lay on my right side watching her, but made no move. After maybe ten minutes, sleep oozing into me, I felt her hand come to rest on my arm. Sleep fled. I reached toward her.
We couldn’t sleep in on Sunday because she had to go to Brooklyn to meet her fiancé. I took the subway with her. She wouldn’t let me pay her fare. We sat silent until the train rose into the mid-morning light of the Manhattan Bridge.
“Last night...” she said.
“Magnificent!” I exploded.
A finger flew to lips which held the hint of a smile.
We got off at Atlantic Avenue, climbed out of the Williamsburg Bank Building. Brooklyn was sunnier than Manhattan. At the corner, she gestured that I could go no further,
“Well, so long.” I made no move to kiss her.
I watched her walk the long block until she turned right on Fort Green Place. The next day, Monday, she didn’t show up at ballet class. Or after that.