Dancer

by Wendy Biller

He woke up. All the weight he had been carrying around had landed in his hands. It was the first thing he saw in the morning. His eyes opened and there were fat puffy hands, resting on his chest. Overnight, they decided to take flight. This was odd, especially since he was still a modern dancer; even at age fifty he performed, long body, slender fingers.

He lifted his weight off the bed, as he did every morning, folding his body over, a slight breath to propel himself up, reaching for the glass of water that would slide the pills down his parched throat, but this morning it felt different.

He had been preparing for death in a way he had not understood until this very moment. He had prepped his body with layer upon layer of fat so his body would push the ground and with solid weight take its place below the earth. There would be two round circles where his feet would enter but make no mistake about it; this was a difficult journey through rock and cement. There was nothing airy about it, no floating involved. Maybe a moment of suspension before the thick stumps, the legs, would settle in below.

Two months earlier, the body had stopped playing by the rules. The daily rituals became too trying. The rules that had to be obeyed to keep the mass going, to keep it moving as it walked the earth, became too exhausting. There were no rules anymore, no restraints. They had gloriously been replaced by a certain freedom. The mass had no choice but to separate from the head like Scotland breaking free from the UK to become its own ruler.

But this morning was a day to reckon with. The mass was paying the price for its freedom. He felt the weariness in the lungs, his chest. It was breathing hard, asking the head to take its body back. To give it one more chance. But it refused. So the body had no other choice. It would have to join the other separated bodies in a place somewhere. But where was this place? Who were these people?

The body decided to make a list in its pelvis. The list would include the departed and the ones that were still living with AIDS, but would be welcomed, once they were ready to make the journey. The list took up the right corner of the pelvis. Tucked in a secret cavity, with a view of resting bones ossified, but still kicking. Separate but united in the struggle … the unspoken heroes … ghosts of the East Village, a whole bunch of creative folks who died of AIDS in the eighties, who broke rules, leaping through the streets barefoot until their feet turned to stone. He wondered if they knew, that it was because of them …

He glanced over at a photo of his no-nonsense grandmother, who invited him and the boys over for baked chocolate chip cookies, and gin gimlets that summer. He wished she were here now to see him off, but he felt her presence; after all, she was the only one who had truly accepted him when he came out.

Years later, when he found out he had AIDS, she was with him, holding his hand, wearing a white satin glove. She shook her gloved finger at him and told him, with all the new medicine, he would outlive her and dance forever, and took out her hanky and said, “Blow.”

He visited with her often, their gin-infused tea parties continued through that hot summer in Brooklyn. And then she stopped coming. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was sent away. It was rumored that she fell from the widow’s walk in a nursing home in the coastal town of New England. Disappeared, swallowed into a flabby salty ocean.

“It’s time,” he thought, as he took his final breath. A chill settled in as the last wind blew through the window. The smell of winter gone.

 

Wendy Biller’s plays include Leaves Falling on a Brooklyn Girl, Fragile, The Refrigerator, and An Intolerant Vaudeville. Her choreography has appeared at the Public Theater, P.S. 1, The Kitchen and New York Live Arts. Screenwriting projects include Showtime, TBS, Fox. Honors include the Writers Guild of America Award, National Endowment for the Arts Award, Emmy Nomination, Andaluz Jury Prize (for The Refrigerator.  Her monologue from Annette Funicello is Dead has been selected for inclusion in WE/US: Monologues for Gender Minority Characters (Smith & Krause) for publication in 2023. Member of the Dramatists Guild and Writers Guild of America.