Beneath the Tulle and Frill by Taira Anderson

George Michael’s pithy voice makes me feel unsure as he sings into his wireless mic about feeling unsure of my hand clasped around his, about the dance floor, and his new hoop earrings.

But I lead George to the dance floor anyway, tell the unsure part of myself to knock it off. This is what you’ve been aiming for with George, I tell myself, this will demonstrate to George you’re capable, will demonstrate to yourself you’re desirable, I say. Because everyone knows this is where it starts. Everyone knows what dance is a metaphor for.

The dance floor is metallic, rose-tinged, and appears newly waxed—its sheen like wet meat, glossed lips. George and I maintain eye contact as he continues to sing about uncertainty. I keep his hand in mine and walk backwards, lead him out, and try to remain calm so my hand won’t sweat. I fear a sweaty palm would result in his hand slipping away.

I look down at my shoes, make sure the laces are tied, double-knotted, and I notice the floor’s sheen is strong enough to act as a reflector. This wouldn’t matter if it were just the two of us on the dance floor, but it’s not—the dance floor is teeming with dancers, all women.

As I proceed to walk backwards and lead George across the floor, the dancers part, allow us passage. As they part, I continue to observe the floor’s sheen. I glance reflections of what’s underneath the dancers’ skirts.

Beneath the tulle and frill, they’re keeping bundles of hairless, oiled gams / peasant women who clutch bouquets of silk flowers and wear wooden clogs / entire football teams—flexing and naked save for their mouth guards, helmets / and they’re keeping snacks underneath their skirts—lots and lots of snacks.

They’ve all come prepared with spare legs, with sustenance.

They will outlast me.

Now and then, I look up from the reflections, check if George Michael is considering the same reflections I am, to see if we’re together in it, or if he’s looking in a different direction, enjoying some separate thing without me. Usually, we’re not together in it.

Sometimes, our eyes meet, and when they do, he stops singing.

“What?”

“I just like looking at you—your handsome face,” I say.

He smiles, but only halfway.

Our eyes meet.

“What?”

“What’re you looking at?” I ask.

“Nothing.”

Our eyes meet.

“What?”

“Why don’t you look at me like that?” I ask.

“You remind me too much of my sister,” he says.

But I don’t really know what he means—I’ve never met George Michael’s sister, never even seen a picture of her. I want to know how to be less like her, but in what ways? I consider asking him, What is your sister like? but I stop myself. I don’t want to come off as nosy, especially since I’ve already approached what I think he’d call “nosy,” with my previous questions. Instead, I start to alter small things about myself as I lead him across the dance floor, and I watch to see if the way he looks at me changes as I change.

I change: Instead of speaking softly, I speak deeply. Instead of wearing my hair long, I crop it chin length, severe. Instead of calling myself “agnostic,” I call myself an “atheist.” Instead of keeping my blouse buttoned to the neck, I unbutton one button per day until I run out of buttons and my blouse hangs loose and open, like a skin almost shed.

I’ve been leading George Michael across the dance floor for a couple of weeks now, and still, we haven’t danced. I try to gage the distance we’ve covered, try to figure where we’re at compared to where we started, but I can’t tell. The dance floor is too large, too crowded, and I’m not tall enough to see above the crowd. As a kid, I thought this feeling of smallness would be temporary, that eventually I’d be a “grown-up” and would embody the term as it seemed the grown-ups around me, who blocked my view, embodied the term. Not true, though. We don’t get to grow in the directions we want to grow in.

And, even though my mind is made up, and it’s George Michael, I’m sort of at a loss. I don’t know how to change myself any further. I’m unsure—obsessing, How the hell do I get him to look at me like that? And by “that,” I mean like I’m not his sister, like he wants to dance with me, and by “dance,” I mean the thing everyone knows dance is a metaphor for.

It’s during this bout of uncertainty I realize my feet are tired. My feet are in pain. I wonder if they’ve been in pain since before I realized, only, I didn’t realize before because my mind was made up the moment I took his hand and began to lead him. I wonder, Was I ever even leading him, really? And it’s not just my feet that are aching, swollen, but my legs, too—knees purple, thighs trembling like two wet kittens. The arm I’ve had outstretched to him, the hand of mine holding his hand, is numb and cramped, stuck in place and stiff as road kill.

I stop walking backwards, lower myself to the floor using my good arm, and lay on my back atop my own, rose-tinted reflection. My bad arm remains stiff, stuck extended and reaching upward, to where his hand no longer is. Only then do I begin to grow. My hand grows wider, my arm, taller, until I reach the disco ball and can hold its glittering, fractured light.

 

 

 

Taira Anderson lives, works, and writes in Seattle.

 

 

(Front page image via)



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