“The Place I Come From” by Sara Habein

Lillian hated washing her tights. The dance company’s per diem only allowed thirty dollars, and it needed to last. After meals and shoe maintenance and stage make-up, new tights every night were out of the question. Regular wages came at the end of the month. Aching over the sink full of Woolite, she watched the evening’s sweat and stage grime turn the water milky grey. A box of bobby pins and hair elastics sat to the left of the faucet, next to the unwrapped bar of complimentary soap. Lillian still needed to shower, but she’d already released the bun from the base of her neck and put the false eyelashes back in their case. I’ll let these soak. She shook the water from her hands. Get them hung up before Sal comes back.

Sal drew Lillian’s name for room assignments, and they didn’t know each other well. Sal came from Brooklyn by way of Brazil, and the weekend offered hedonistic release. She and some of the other New York-based dancers would probably regret the late evening. Lillian wished she had a party to regret and not this weak silence with Ransom. She didn’t mean to get so… so proprietary with him, but this woman, this severe and curvaceous woman he’d been seeing… She could still hear them fucking through their shared bedroom wall. She could still hear Ransom trying and failing to keep his groans quiet.

Ransom McClure — The name still sounded made-up, something right out of a bad western, but it suited him. Broad-shouldered and thick-browed, Ransom had the sort of unsettling stare that she loved. They’d known each other since school, and now ten years on, no one could quite say for certain what they were to each other. They lived together, yes, but he had girlfriends. She had dance and last call settling. In the daylight, most men didn’t want to come back, knowing he was around.

“Did your name come from your mother or by reputation?” she’d asked him when they met.

“My great-grandfather,” he said. “I can’t speak to how he received the name.”

God, she missed him.

The hot water beat against her shoulders and she smacked the shampoo from its bottle. The lilacs and honey soon dissolved the remains of hairspray, and she started to breathe easy. Maybe I’ll just pop a couple sleeping pills. Turn the news on. The company had one more show in the city, and then they’d fly to Toronto. Two performances in a massive theater, and he, a three-hour train ride away. He’d already flown across the country, for Christ’s sake. Forget this Caroline woman, forget whatever she’s asked. Don’t you know I need you?

She had to stop thinking about him — if not for these three months, then at least for the night. Her sadness had infected everything between them, and she needed to concentrate. To be paid to dance, however little it was, should have left her feeling joyous, but it felt like a well-timed out. They’d stayed in this shitty, insecure waltz too long.

On the TV, rain and snow battered the southeast coast, and the next day, twenty inches might fall in the District before it covered New York. “Great,” she said to the inside of her glass. The night sky looked heavy with slate clouds, and she’d smelled the impending snow on the walk home.

Deciding to pad through the hallway in sweats, Lillian searched for the ice machine and considered buying a candy bar. All these younger, more neurotic dancers seemed to live on nothing but pills and air, hoping that would somehow make them more appealing soloists, but she’d long ago made peace with her station. She could be the bit player, the one behind the flexible legs of the moment. All these pretty girls with pale, reedy hands and Fabergé cheekbones were of course lovely and deserving, but she would never be them. Just like every musical needed a chorus, not everyone could be the company’s star. Yes, she wanted a candy bar.

Rounding the corner back, she noticed a brown envelope sitting by the door. For a moment, her heart quickened.

 

LILLIAN MEYER

SALONDA RIOS

 

Only a notice from the tour manager saying that if the weather grew worse, they would postpone their Toronto show. Maybe Sal would decide to stay at a friend’s, which Lillian wouldn’t mind.  Behind a nearby door, she could hear the chattering of dancers ignoring a movie, like teenagers on an overnight school trip. It wouldn’t kill her to be more social, even if to them, she was an impossible five years older. She considered knocking on their door, but instead slid the key into the slot of her own room. Tomorrow, tomorrow.

She heard Sal vomiting sometime in the early morning. The light from the bathroom cut across the black room, and Lillian blinked a few times before calling out, “You okay?”

A groan. “Yeah, yeah …” Sal cleared her throat. “Mixed my liquors.”

“Need anything?”

“A wet washcloth?” Her accent came out thick.

Lillian went to the sink and soaked a cloth. Sal sat on the floor and leaned against the tub, her blue dress rumpled against her thighs. “Did you have fun, at least?”

She pressed the washcloth against her forehead and nodded. “Saw an old friend and his brother and it was… fun, yeah.” Her eyes widened and she leaned towards the toilet again, waving Lillian away. “Don’t watch me. I’ll be fine.”

Back in bed, she tried to ignore the light and the noise, and soon found sleep again. Outside, snow started to collect.

 

“Dancers, please take care not slip on the ice while out tonight,” the tour manager said after the show. “Please, we can’t have anymore injuries.”

Two girls had fallen and sprained their ankles before the performance, and another danced with a swollen knee. Still, even with the understudies, and despite the mounting drifts outside the theater, they’d put on a decent show for a good-sized crowd. Not a full house, as it had been the night before, but no one felt as though they’d wasted the effort. Until the airports reopened, they would stay in the city. Sal already had plans with the old friend, and Cynthia, the girl from Spokane, had invited Lillian for drinks with some of the others. Lillian agreed and carefully made her way back to her room to change. Yes, perhaps she needed a night out.

She nearly missed the brown envelope by her door, until the heel of her shoe caught the edge as she stepped inside.

 

COME AS YOU ARE.

MEET ME IN THE BAR.

R.

 

Heat rose in her chest, and she stuck her head back out into the hallway, seeing no one in either direction. “Jesus, Ransom,” she exhaled. No, she would not come to him. First, she called Cynthia and gave an excuse, feeling guilty all the while, and then she called the hotel bar.

“Is there a man sitting there with dark hair and drinking a whiskey? He might have a black hat next to him. Wool jacket,” she said to the woman who answered. “Can you ask him his name?”

She heard some muffled conversation, the clinking of ice, and Smokey Robinson. The woman returned to the phone with the correct answer.

“Tell him that room 533 will do fine.”

Lillian could just picture him, pleased with himself for surprising her, fingers curled around the caramel liquid as he waited. She didn’t need the preamble, the public hushed conversation, and they couldn’t stay in the bar forever, so why even start there? She would wash her face, soak her tights, and wait.

About fifteen minutes passed, just long enough to wonder if there’d been a mistake, that she’d only confused some stranger, but then came the knock. She glanced in the mirror one more time.

“Hey, Lil.” A few days’ dark stubble grew along his jaw. “Want to be snowed in together?”

“You missed the show.” She could have punched him. She could have thrown her arms around him.

“No, I didn’t. Got in last night.” His mouth flattened into a smile. “I’ve been an idiot, but can I come in?”

Instead, she nodded and motioned for him to pass. “Why didn’t you call?”

“Thought it would be easier if I just turned up.” He looked around the room, at Sal’s stuff scattered in one corner and Lillian’s pointe shoes peeking out of her bag. “I saw some of the girls out last night. They told me where you all were staying. I’m right up the road at the Ace.”

She let out a short laugh. “Of course you are.” she said. “What happened at the conference?”

“Oh, you know. Same old line. ‘Arts are vital part of our schools,’ followed by ‘We don’t have the budget.’” He studied her face. “You looked great up there tonight.”

“What happened with Caroline?”

An embarrassed smile threatened to escape his pink, smooth lips and he shrugged. “Oh. I’m no match for a lobbyist, but you had the wrong idea about us. She and I … She just needed some help, from a music teacher, you know?”

“Help. Right.” She left her underwear on your floor.

“You don’t have to believe me, that’s fine.” After placing the hat on the table, his hand landed on her shoulder. “Lil, I’m sorry. I’ve started this conversation in my head about a thousand times, and I still don’t know what I’m doing.”

Lillian wanted to take that hand and pull him near, to run her mouth against his neck and breathe in the salty scent of his collar, but she sat on the edge of the bed and let his arm return to his side. “Still, I’ve no business telling you who to spend time with.”

“You have a little business.” His smile turned more genuine and he sat next to her. “I’m not due back until the fourth. Maybe I’ll come to Toronto, if they ever let us out of here.”

“You liked the ballet?”

“I liked you in the ballet.” He leaned into her side and she relaxed.

“Can we just go to sleep? Can we start there?” she said.

“Anywhere you like, Lil.”

Maybe she would only have one night feeling the weight of his arm draped over her waist. Maybe she would wake with only his imprint left on the pillow. But maybe he would return with breakfast. Maybe they could start again.

More fiction at Used Furniture.

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Comments

  1. Cheers, UFR.

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