Dancing to the Death of Beauty

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Drug dealers only ever offer me cocaine. We are in Portugal, an old man grabs my arm, he smiles, his teeth are black.

“What?”

“Cocaine-ah?”

“Why would you offer me cocaine? You have offered everyone else here Hashish but yet you offer me cocaine? I don’t think I look like I like cocaine.”

“You do kind of look like you like cocaine,” Hank says, standing back.

“Why cause I’m skinny and white? Maybe I like Hashish, you’re skinny and white but they still offer you Hashish!”

“Hashish?”

“What?” I turn back to the old man. He had replaced the bag of cocaine with what looked like a balled up brownie.

“What is that?”

“Hashish.”

I sigh. “No, no–thank you.”

He frowns, looking hurt. He reaches in his pocket, pulls back out the bag of cocaine. “Cocaine-ah?” he asks, sheepish.

“No! Thanks,” I tell him. He sighs, shuffling over to a group of French girls nearby. “Hashish?” he asks them.

Hank and I walk on. We find a half-circled row of steps at the end, leading into the sea. A crowd has formed there. Below, a band, a couple flamenco dancers are getting ready to perform.

“Why can’t people just offer me some pot for once?” I ask. But, Hank isn’t listening. He is one of those people always looking for beauty behind every corner. So, anytime someone does something, claiming beauty, he plays close attention–hopeful. If it is beautiful, he gets annoyed at his own short-comings, if it isn’t, he gets annoyed at the short-comings of the rest of the world.

What happens next makes “beautiful” look like a truly dull and worthless word. They are all over the platform–clapping, stomping, hollering. The guitarist narrates in Portuguese as the man and woman dance. We can’t understand; it doesn’t matter. It is like watching two storms make love. The woman, wearing red–violent. The man, his white shirt open; his whole chest beating. There is something about it, something sexual–no, the word “sexual” is a party-cracker to the napalm that is their dance.

I try to imagine the pair having sex and all I see is a building being demolished. I try to picture myself, brazen, following the pair to bed; my mind backs away, scared as a puppy following the scent of steak into a fire.

When it ends, the woman sets her foot down with such force it cracks the cobble-stone. Finally, I take a breath.

“Good lord,” I say, turning to Hank. He is looking down at his own hands, he is weeping.

“I’m worthless!” he cries at them.

I reach out and pat him on the back, gently.

 

 

 

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The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Ever Seen

most_beautifulI remember the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember when. I don’t remember why. I do remember where; Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There was a girl. We met in Maine. We met again two years later in Massachusetts. She moved to Minnesota in that phase after a first kiss when colors vibrate and whistle tunes.

I worked two jobs for two months. I bought a flight to Minneapolis. I told her I loved her. She took me to a rave with her friends. It was a Friday. The music was loud, so loud it made my bones ache. I sat in a corner drawing cartoons on coasters. She danced. I left for a cigarette. It was cold; late fall, maybe. The lights were on in a bar across the street.

I don’t remember crossing the road. I remember sitting at the bar. It was light there. The bartender made me a gin and tonic; fast, cheap and watered down, with a dry lime.

A musician with a rag of hair in green sunglasses played cover-tunes on a corner-platform.

A man made of cut-off sleeves of old T-shirts and unwashed beer cans stumbled around on the floor. He cried out the words to “Sweet Caroline.” He sounded like a lost child in the grocery store. All of him danced. His fingers played two guitars, his feet stepped on two different sets of phantom toes and his eyes did the waltz. He was the happiest man in the world.

Then a sound broke through the music. A sound that would make you run, alone in the woods. A woman, made entirely of week old bread and wet ash-trays leapt onto the floor. She had a mole on her left temple. She stumbled into the man. Her wild hair met his camouflage hat and fell in love. They regained their composure and fell into a bestial jig. She fell left, him right. They complimented each other like yin and yang in a blender.

I watched as they both howled out “Bap-Bap-Bah!” into the air. The man in green sunglasses upped his game. He played louder, sang harder. People in the bar began to clap. I did too, forgetting my gin and tonic. The pair on the floor swung each other around. The man dipped the woman and dropped her on her ass. She wriggled around on the ground. The man stood above her shaking his butt, lower, and lower. She spanked it. He howled. He turned and pulled her up off the ground. They both came in close, singing into each other’s invisible microphones. Then, they spread their arms wide as the last verse died, their pot bellies kissing for the first and last time.

The song ended. The bar cheered. The man and woman high-fived. The woman went back to her table of friends. The man slumped into a nearby booth.

Someone touched my arm. The girl I was there to see looked at the scene, then at me.

“What are you doing in here?” she asked.

I opened my mouth. I closed it. She grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out of the bar. I stared across the street at the concert hall. A hoard of high-heels and hair-gel are smoking outside of it.

“You go ahead. I’ll be in soon,” I told her. She shrugged and dashed off. I sat down on the curb and lit a cigarette. I took a breath and began to cry.

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