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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Night and Day. By John von Daler

                "Oh, my!"
                You see, I heard the words just as I awakened with a start - or a stop - in the middle of one gigantic snore. I lay on our little, black couch in the living room, my head toward the books, my feet toward the piano.
                "Pleeze, monsieur! You may wake ze dead wiz your snoring."

                I heard the words as out of a dream. In fact, they were spoken in the language of dreams, which has no nationality. Somehow a bit of a French accent had unexpectedly worked its way into the speaker's sentences. Without knowing the woman, I thought she sounded agitated. It would not have surprised me if the accent came and went with her state of mind, that state being French when she felt stress.
                "Sank you, for stoppink zat horreeble noise."
                We both enjoyed a moment of silence. Then it occurred to me that I was speaking to an unknown woman in our living room. I let my eyes meander among the dark silhouettes around me. I had a suspicion already that it might be one of our small statues, and I was betting that it might be our copy of Degas' little ballerina, the one wearing a real tutu. She stood in the corner opposite the black head of an Egyptian king from 1800 years before the birth of Christ. The voice could hardly come from that black king. Nor could it originate in Beethoven's bust down among the Bs in our alphabet of books.
                I looked over at the window where she posed in the right corner. Light from the last fireworks above Tivoli flickered through the glass in speckles of red, yellow and blue onto her upturned face.
                "So," she began again, "Now that we have some quiet I would like to ask you somesing."
                I raised myself up from the couch on one elbow and felt immediately the last half-bottle of Sancerre sloshing back and forth in my brain. I should just have made do with the first half.
                "Ask. Do. Please."
                "Why do you never wash my dress?"
                "It never occurred to me," I mumble. "We do vacuum clean you once a week!" I added hopefully.
                "Eef you pleeze!" she snarled. "Vacuum clean!"
                "Okay, okay," I shout back. "I, ah, don't want to take your ballet costume off. After all, I am a man."
                "Are we in the middle ages?!" I for one have never known what the middle ages did to get such a bad reputation. I consider lecturing her on Charlemagne, but reconsider and try to find my footing in our discussion.
                "I...don' have on...uh...panties."
                An impudent little snicker comes from the corner of the window.
                "I know," she says, "Even in private you are somewhat of a gentleman."
                Before I can congratulate myself too much she adds, "But you do fart and burp when your people are not around. I have heard you. No denials now."
                I settle back onto the sofa.
                "But you are welcome to take off my clothes. I want them washed and I don't mind standing here naked to wait for a clean tutu. After all, Mr. Degas was a gentleman too. Any of us would have posed naked for him, but he only asked a very few and they were often the ugliest of us."
                "So Degas was a gentleman?"
                "Well, up to a certain point. A gentleman with hands of silk. I cannot forget the feel of his fingers as he formed my body. He could work without looking, even in the dark. You, too, may have been conceived in the dark, but not whole and forever complete as I was. There I was, not existing at all until suddenly some pieces of clay got mashed together by some caressing fingers, a roll and a pat and, oh, la-la, I immediately had feelings and even thoughts. He was a nice, bad man."
                "But he gave you no underwear," I add.
                "No, he did not think that necessary."
                "I don't think I would like you to stand naked in the corner of our window, even if just for a moment."
                "My face is permanently pointed at God, sir, as are my thoughts and feelings."
                I look over towards her little head. We had purchased a small copy of the original cast. Still, she seems large, confident, almost arrogant in her posture.
                "Were you a great ballet dancer?" I ask.
                "Now, I am not the original, as you know, but I do have more or less the same background. And of course, we statues are not the girl herself. But, yes, indeed, I had a bright future ahead of me! I was really about to become something great! I most certainly was not supposed to lie in a living room late at night drinking Sancerre. I was going to have solos to dance, premieres to attend, kings to entertain."
                Her head seems to tilt even farther back, her face point even more at the ceiling. I think, The funny thing about the young is, they always equate their future with our present, as if, without doing anything whatsoever, they already had caught up with the older generation, which, of course, has failed to live up to its own expectations.
                "What or whom did you in fact become?" I ask.
                "Oh, Monsieur, my life exists eternally in the present at sixteen years of age. My future will never happen! But I assure you that it would have been glorious!"
                I remain silent. Her cheekbones reflect the light from the last brilliantly white rocket from Tivoli.
                "In that case, I will be happy to wash your tutu. But I will cover your body with a pillowcase all the while. That, you will have to stand. But now I want to get some sleep."
                She remained silent from then on. I went to bed and slept a drunken sleep and dreamed of a giant field of clay, myself hopping through the wet stuff all naked while trying to form one giant statue after another with my hands. But my statues only melted and fell and slid back to the earth. I left no monuments of men or women, great or inconsequential, on this plain of dreams.
                In the morning I had my coffee in my usual seat by the window beside Degas' little dancer. I could see there was dust on her face. I'll have to remember to get a cloth to clean that, I thought. Then I moved over to the opposite chair, sat down beside the black king and started to read my newspaper. Above its top edge, I occasionally glimpsed the dancer, her nose and nostrils pointing upwards, perhaps at God. 
                 You ask, did I ever wash the dress? Please, as a gentleman, that is not a question I am prepared to answer.

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