Sense and Other Changes
by Nan Leslie
She had covered the furniture with thick beeswax candles,
yellow flames pulsing to Tori Amos, and she had chosen a long white
flowing dress, gathered over one white shoulder like a Roman statue,
and her feet were bare, blue-red toes covering the bare wood floor,
and she danced about the room, arms following the arc of her head, gold
curls falling into her face, feeling them brush her nose and then shaking
them away. Now she was spinning into her center, washing away necessary
things, as she had discovered it was the unnecessary things that breathed.
Her heart pumped harder, rushing blood to her face, and it was a face
she watched in the mirror, her nose pressed to the glass, checking for
certain angles, the light that flooded laugh lines bringing all that
blindness into focus; the focus of her years.
And she thought perhaps with the right lighting,
the right music, the swell of a chiffon scarf round her shoulders, there
would be other changes. She could play the music as loud as she wished,
reverberating notes off walls, and roll up the carpet on one side in
front of the fireplace, fresh gladiolas menstruating into new water
until fragrant, finger foods at long last, dipping into jars, licking
off the last bit of blackberry jam, artichokes, baby corn, the spicy
sting of ground humus with seventeen spices playing off her tongue.
HE had never liked those things. Order, timing,
long lists, preplanned menus, dry cleaning, plastic sheaths covering
suits, starch and allergies. Close the windows, white walls, thick carpets,
muffled sounds, droning of static, the flickering blue light of Cable,
world news, disasters: other people's, dollar bills, save that penny,
blood-red meats, congealed gravy bowls.
Paper plates and take-out. Her own cell phone
with a short but reassuring list of names, the thought of his money
sitting in bags in the vault, or maybe even now flying to a foreign
country, running her hands up her thighs at the thought of all that
newness. It was all forgiven now. Washed away. The house felt light-airy-mystical
as if it would rise up and fly away with her, and it did not matter
that dogs barked next door and the neighbor had made himself drunk on
cheap beer cans and gathered guests in his burned-out garage–cement-block
walls left roofless–to celebrate his being with a daily bonfire, against
all city ordinances, but more necessary because of them. His cronies
gathered, flat-nosed and beefy, bellies spilling forth over silver buckles,
tattoos gleaming off skin moist in the humidity, the fire flaring up
to roars of approval when a new log caught sparks, the epitaphs of their
jobs drowning machines for parched throats.
Music overflowed from her house over the lawn
and they wondered how anyone could listen to the same song endlessly,
and they saw her shadow as it crossed the window, the flash of gold,
and they knew she was dancing to the music.
"Heard about it, poor bastard," one of them
said, pulling on his beer.
"She's gone plumb crazy," said another.
"Not crazy," said the third. "She's always
done that. Just not at night."
"Nights are free now, eh?" said the fattest
one, wiping the last of the barbeque sauce off his chin with his sleeve.
"Maybe I should do something about that."
The other men laughed, but then they looked
toward the window again. Nervous little glances. A woman on her own
was more perplexing. Better to ogle her over her husband's shoulder
then to confront her barefoot in the garden, china-blue eyes boring
into their shortcomings. A woman like that...and they didn't know why.
"That's one hot lady," the quiet one of the
bunch stepped up to take the lead.
"Jesus, Brody, take a breather. Her husband's
body's still warm. Have a little respect." This from the pyromaniac
who suddenly felt protective.
"Judging from her evening, she's handling
it pretty well."
"that's just her way of dealing with things,"
the pyro said uncommittedly.
"That's a crock if I ever heard one," the
quiet one said. “Women don't dance around the house if they're dying
with grief. I may even go over there and ask her if she would like to
join us for a beer."
"You do and it'll be the last thing that ever
comes out of your stupid mouth." The pyro was serious now and he had
added a drop of testosterone to his voice, like a buck dipping his antler
to the ground in anticipation of a challenge.
"Like you're going to stop me," the quiet
one shocked everyone.
"What's bugging you?" asked the fattest one.
"Normally it's a miracle if we get three words out of you all friggin'
"Nothing," said the quiet one. "Where's those
"Coming right up," said the other one, pulling
out a pack of hotdogs and laying them across the grill they had fashioned
from steel pieces leftover in the yard. They had a whole slew of useful
items fashioned with a blow torch and power tools: pipes, lock picks,
butane stoves, even custom coffee cups that held the heat of the fire.
The backs of their pick-up trucks were filled with scraps of metal:
brass pulleys and copper piping-you never knew when you would need some.
The food had temporarily distracted the quiet one and the pyro glanced
from time to time in her direction; seeking her shadow, the flash of
her hair, and he knew he would be driven to some self-humiliating act
in the near future and was already ashamed.
China opened a bottle of Bordeaux, rich and
mellowed in the stone cellars of the Loire Valley. It left just the
touch of dry oak on the tongue, swirled with body, the intoxicating
fragrance. Now she moved with the glass in her hand, giving in to the
music, the rush of violins, the clear-driven piano-clean-she felt so
very clean. She finished her glass and set it down, to free up her arms,
which she placed on her waist, one in front, the other in back, guiding
herself across the floor. She waltzed, turning herself deftly, covering
the entire room. The furniture she had piled up in the dining room,
stacked to eye-level with useless knick-knacks she would never have
to dust. She held her neck tilted to the correct angle, long lost years
of ballet training adding a fluidity of movement, the arc of her fingers,
the spaces between shell-tipped nails. But the most extraordinary feature
was her smile. It had corrupted her face.
Sooner than she had hoped, the wine bottle
was empty, and she spun it around on the floor, lifting the skirt of
her dress to billow above her thighs, and her legs felt so smooth and
soft; she had taken care with a razor and lotion, and the fragrance
lifted with her skirt, and she breathed it in. Sometime after-she wasn't
sure how long-she heard the knock and floated over to the door. The
pyro stood there, a newly picked bunch of daisies clutched in his right
"Do you dance?" she asked him.
He swallowed, fingered his shirt, stumbling
onto the best answer. "A little."