Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"The Dance of Romance" a short story by David Appleby

"The Dance of Romance"
a short story by

David Appleby

Author Bio

Author Bio: 
David Appleby is the author of "Moon Alley," a novel written in the form of connected stories and cited by an's 'top 10 reviewer as "a solidly unique voice...and a highly recommended first novel," and was praised by 'Book View Ireland' for its "pleasing symmetry of structure and convincingly drawn picture of a once-thriving area."

His new book is titled, "Love Sketches," a collection of short stories which explores the "sensuality of romance and the varieties and vagaries of love." One of the stories in this collection has been anthologized in "Short Breaks: The Very Best of Shortbread Short Stories," published by Discovery Press, Scotland. It has also been recorded as an audio narrated by the distinguished British actor, Paul Jerricho.
The author, a recipient of a PEW Fellowship, is a graduate of Temple University

"The Dance of Romance"
by David Appleby

I pulled my white tank top over my head, wiggled my arms through without a problem, and reached into the dresser for the alphabetical list that I had been updating as needed. I had created an alphabetical list of my medical conditions and made it a point to periodically review the list, hoping to remove a condition or disease, not add one. Thus far I’ve only added to the list; it appears at this point in my life only time is subtracted. We learn late in life that life has always been about time—not wealth, not status, not prestige—simply time, nothing more than that. Of course that’s a rather profound insight, but then again I am a professor of English Literature.
I unfolded my legal-sized sheet and sighed hopelessly. A=arthritis (both thumbs); B=BHP(enlarged prostate gland); C=cholesterol (high) D=dry eye (severe); E=erectile dysfunction (hopeless); F=blank space; G=blank space; H=hernia (double); I=intermittent claudication (both legs), and so on for six more letters of the alphabet. I had nothing new to add on this particular morning so I dropped the depressing document on top of my short stack of clean underwear and closed the dresser drawer. My despair level remains where it was yesterday, I told myself, pretending that was a net gain for the day.
And then the most remarkable thing happened. I looked at my reflection in the dresser mirror and in a moment or two I realized for the first time that I bore a distinct resemblance to Pablo Picasso. Despite my fears of melanoma, I had attended a baseball game yesterday and sat in the sun for the full nine innings. I awoke with a deep tan, and now with this white tank top, well, I think this is what has caused me to notice that I seriously resembled Picasso!
I interpreted this sudden revelation to be my new lease on life, a small gift of time that had come my way. I’ll explain what I mean by this a bit later.
Of course, I had a basic knowledge of Picasso, the artist. But in past research for an essay on American ex-pat writers living in post-war France, I had also learned much about Picasso, the man. Few American writers living in

Europe over the decades did not seek out Picasso, and for good reason. What I had learned was that he had been throughout his life the ultimate seducer of women. And the truth was Pablo Picasso wasn’t a happy man unless he was in love and this became the second revelation I had while looking into the mirror. I was not a happy man. Like Picasso, I needed to be in love to be happy. I needed a romance. I needed the ‘dance of romance,’ as I called it, that sweet prelude to love.
I had seen numerous photographs of Picasso during my research, and I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I more than merely resembled him—bald on top, a ring of white hair along the sides and back of my head, a white, tank-top undershirt, and a solid set of dentures, my glowing, deep tan—I had become, at age seventy, a dead ringer for the great man. I examined my profile, left and right, and then my full face; I tried a gleeful expression; I affected a sad, doggy-eyed look, and then a look of surprise. I studied my clean shaven face, my rather large ears, and my mischievous eyes. I practiced Picasso’s sly smile that I remembered from one of the photos that he had taken with Jacqueline . . . or was it Françoise Gilot? Ah, yes, it was Marie Therese! Yes, deep into his seventies, Picasso continued to be romantically involved with a beautiful girl. Throughout his life Picasso continued the romantic dance that led to his love liaisons with beautiful young women. What a man! I beamed.
I knew then and there that I would use my Picasso resemblance to bring the girls a bit closer. This is what I meant by gaining a new lease on life: as Picasso did in his later years, so would I: I would see to it that from this moment forward, time (my old age) would be irrelevant vis-à-vis the lovely, young things to whom I had become invisible.
* * *
As a young Assistant Professor I had been known as the faculty Casanova—though fortunately, as a young man I in no way resembled that gruesome figure. No, I was given that moniker by several of my colleagues who were convinced that I had been bedding my TA graduate students two-at-a-time throughout my career. This was of course, untrue. And though I permitted my scandalous reputation to gain strength over the years, I nevertheless received my promotions, and not too many years after I had published several important papers on the Victorian Poets—to say nothing of my numerous conference appearances, and a book that brought serious attention to the department and the college—I was rewarded with tenure. A few retirements later, one or two deaths of senior faculty, and my Department Chairmanship was tendered. From that day to this, I haven’t published a thing—in fact, I haven’t written a damn word in years, though most of my

colleagues continue to believe that I’m still deep into completing a major re-interpretation of Tennyson. (The very partial manuscript rests in the bottom desk drawer in my office.)
Yes, I diligently promoted the illusion that I was still an important scholar, and not yet over the hill, not merely hanging on. I was rather good at playing this game, a game which is played in every college in America by at least one professor who should have retired years ago to make room for new blood. And with equal skill, I had successfully perpetuated the fraud that my Casanova reputation was yet valid. About five years ago pretty much everyone caught on to both lies, and now at age 70 I find myself one semester away from forced retirement. With the girls, I too had become an invisible man, another elderly man drowning in a sea of youth.
* * *
I drove to the Gap and bought a French sailor’s T-shirt, wide rimmed at the throat, with blue and white horizontal stripes. I looked in the dressing room mirror and swooned at my Picasso pose, assured that I was back in business. I would pose like Picasso, be as confidant as Picasso, and wear typical Picasso-type clothes; I would bring my acting skills—all professors are actors, you know—to my late afternoon graduate seminar in the American Novel, 1950-1970.
* * *
I deliberately walked the campus mall from one end to the other, pausing at those key spots where the female students congregated, but despite my new look, no heads turned to ‘check me out,’ as the saying goes. I stopped at the bell tower, the gathering place for the girls from the School of Dance, and as before, not one looked my way. I bought a latte at Starbucks and received my change with the usual indifference. I practiced my Picasso pose—head tilted close to the shoulder, my thick lips slightly parted, eyes glistening (thanks to Visine’s Dry Eye Relief), and allowed for wisps of white chest hairs to poke over my French sailor’s T-shirt. Still there were no takers.
True, I had grown accustomed to being invisible on campus; let’s face it: a university campus, like all of life, exists for the young. What I wanted was one last chance to push the pause button; I knew my alphabetical list was destined to grow—today, tomorrow, each new day threatened me. At seventy you simply ratchet your thoughts back to the past, for you have so little of a future; each time I reviewed my alphabetical list, I became consumed waiting for the other shoe to drop.

* * *
Her name was Ginger Clarkson, my twenty-three year old, comely, and achingly desirable teaching assistant. In my prime, Ginger and I surely would have been scandalously linked, the subject of gossip and whispers hidden behind hands held close to the mouth: “Did you hear that she and Professor . . . what’s his name, in the Eng. Lit Dept?”
Ginger had English-major written all over her—precisely the type of girl that I had been drawn to throughout my career; the lovely graduate student so star-struck, and eager to be made ‘authentic’ by a short, torrid affair with her brilliant professor-mentor. It’s a story that is so utterly trite, it barely merits mention. What does, however, is this: a study of literature is not exactly a healthy thing for a young woman—in fact, I believe that some warning label should be attached to the course of study, perhaps one similar to that given to cigarettes: Caution: Literature can be hazardous to your health. It has been known to cause depression, misery, and the long term malaise associated with romanticism. This warning should have been tattooed to Ginger’s forehead.
Ginger had acquired her mournful expression from the tragic Victorian novels she had devoured as an undergraduate, and it handsomely complimented her strikingly wistful personality. Her soft brown eyes had enslaved me from the start, and yes, that was a factor in my offering her a teaching assistantship. I flirted with her from that first day, but to no avail. Once my conditions, ailments, and diseases had grown to include the letter P= (pacemaker), I simply gave up my efforts to bring truth to my phony Casanova-like reputation. And yet, despite my age and health realities, I always felt in my heart that my Ginger was, for me, that incredible rarity: an NVN woman. (NVN=No Viagra Needed.)
Yes, I was ready to reclaim my long-lost reputation, and end my campus invisibility. I hurried to the classroom, convinced that my Picasso moment was near.
I arrived at my seminar to find Ginger standing at the door. She wore her familiar dark blue skirt that dropped at her knees; my breath quickened as I drank in her slender legs, her small breasts, her lazy bedroom eyes. She lifted her thin, sleeveless arm and pointed to the classroom. My students were inside reading, comparing notes, chatting on cell phones, dozing. Several students turned and looked my way, and with familiar indifference and insouciance, returned to their secretive texting.
“We thought you were going to bag it today,” Ginger said, lowering her vanilla arm. “They thought,” she indicated the students with a lovely toss of her head, “that you were ill again.”

I held my head to the side, grinned, and willed my wet dark eyes to dance.
“What kind of get up is that?” she asked, pointing to my French sailor’s T-shirt, my baggy shorts, and my sandaled feet. Like Picasso, I wore no socks.
I looked her up and down with deliberate slowness. If I had a cigarette, I would have lighted it, and then passed it to her. “You know, I always feel good when you’re around,” I said softly. I watched her eyes move down to my baggy, khaki shorts. “I like being with you, being near to you.” I paused, as required. I reached into my repertoire of some years ago. “I must confess, I continue to be drawn to you, to this . . . underlook that you possess. So French, it’s kind of . . . well, I find it intoxicating.” I tried to remember where I had read that—a short story . . . but the author? I became momentarily distracted by my own senior moment. She raised her arms from her sides, turned her hands palms up.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Come on, Ginger, how can you fail to see the resemblance?” I asked.
“What resemblance? What are you talking about?” she asked. Her forehead grew creases.
“I bare a distinct resemblance to someone you must recognize,” I said. “Think.”
A moment passed. And then another. Finally she said, “You look like the guy who drives the ice-cream truck. Sells Popsicles and frozen chocolate bars at the corner of Benton Hall. He wears something just like that,” she said, pointing to my French T-shirt. I detected her snicker, quick and short, but a snicker no less.
“Do me a favor,” I said as my pacemaker kicked in. “Take today’s class.”
* * *
I returned to my office to pick up my unfinished, dust-covered manuscript on Tennyson. On the way to the faculty parking lot I looked at the girls lolling about the bell tower. I circled in front of one Amazon army of gabbing cell phone users who moved swiftly into the student service center; I sidestepped a clot of four girls enthralled by a tale being told by a fifth that included multiples of, ‘So like, I’m standing behind him, and like, I’m like, ‘Do you have Polly-Sy with Dr. Tillson?’ And he’s like, ‘Who?’ I’m like, Duh.’
And as I walked by the library a group of students congregating on the steps turned around and looked at me. I slowed my pace, expecting some giggles or even outright ridicule. Instead one girl smiled at me and said, “Excuse us for starring at you, but did anyone ever tell you that you look at lot like Henry Miller?”

An annoying rushing noise swept into my right ear. “I’m sorry?” I said. And as I turned slightly so that my left side was closer to her, she repeated what she had said.
I hesitated—almost began to stutter—before answering, “Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I get that all the time.” I walked closer to her. I read the spine of one the paperbacks she was holding: ‘Quiet Days in Clichy.’ I took note of her name tag ID that hung from a yanard.
“I’m majoring in Eng. Lit.,” she offered.
“Are you? Well, I’m happy to know that. Let me introduce myself.”
I walked her to her next class, and on the way, told her I’d be delighted to look at her paper on Henry Miller. Delighted, I repeated, simply delighted.
The moment I got home I Googled Henry Miller; (1891-1980), aged 88 when he died. His picture showed a ring of white hair, large ears, and there was a twinkle in his eyes. Another photo showed him playing pool with several bikini-wearing starlets. I looked in the mirror for a few moments. I removed the French sailor’s shirt, and put on a clean white shirt, and as Miller had in the photo, left the collar unbuttoned and combed my gray chest hairs upward. I studied my reflection. I was a man possessed with a new found happiness, a man reborn. I studied the new me for the longest time. “Yes, I do,” I told my reflection. “Yes, I do bear a resemblance to Henry!” I shouted out happily. I knew at once I had been given still another new lease on life. I could be back in the game. I could be doing the dance of romance with . . . what’s her name. “Oh, God, what did she say her name was? Damn these senior moments!”
I dropped the Tennyson pages into my bottom desk drawer and kicked it closed.
Happily, I removed the alphabetical list from my underwear drawer. I ran my finger down the page to the letter T. And there I entered: T=Tinnitus, (right ear, day & night.)
“Who cares?” I told the mirror. “I’m back in the dance,” I shouted. And then I slipped the list of ailments beneath my underwear and with newly found purpose, happily slammed the drawer closed.

End of Guest Post

My great thanks to David Appleby for allowing me to share this wonderful story with my readers.  I enjoyed this story a lot.   It is a very interesting commentary on human vanity.  And it is not really flattering to be told you look like Henry Miller.

I will, I hope, be posting more of his stories soon.

Mel u

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