The Ballet Dancer of Ivancha


Like the others, this house kept no mailbox. Here was hard to reach, and hard to leave. The thin, weed-lined roads from the gate before the two-story house led into calm hills of grazing sheep and grassy patches with a few scattered donkeys or cows or a cluster of chickens. To tomatoes and fields of corn or sunflowers. At night, tractor combines returned home like alien ships, steely growling, headlights putting forth a shock of light into the post dinner soundlessness.

Somedays, the hills were pushed down by an appearance of rain, fading in haze, promising winds. But nothing ever poured from the sky. The bonfire was put on night after night, hot gauze of air attacking the cooler evening air, sparks rising up like a celebration, old walnut tree branches giving up their light.

The neighbor had been a ballet dancer. He spoke many languages, kept all the photos and performance bills. I watched him do what I had been told he would do, what he did with each new visitor. No one spoke, we only listened and carefully studied each photo he presented. Then suddenly, he put down his pile of old papers, his face grew sober, he sipped silently on his whiskey. He stood up to find something in the kitchen, coming back with nothing, and collected the pictures gently into the old yellowish plastic bag. Someone mentioned gifting him a photo album, everyone agreed quietly, happily, such a good idea.

IMG_6773The dancer-teacher wore pieces of old costumes he put together himself, every day something else shiny, copper sequins, wide belt of velvet, rabbit-soft white boots. In these accoutrements he had sweated from taut, young, anxious muscles, shone like the star he knew he was on international stages surrounded by fawning creatures in fairytale costumes, and he embraced each one like a story, entangling them with his own, adding sleek eyes, leafy limbs, and unstoppable hearts to his sparse plots.

Tonight he served his neighbors dinner. With great flourish, he brought out pink-flowered china plates and decorated each one with a bed of rice and smoky eggplant stuffed peppers. For dessert, each guest received a carved-out miniature watermelon stuffed with chocolate ice cream and various fresh berries. Of course they were fresh. The tomato salad (this country had a secret: the best tomatoes in the world) hid apples and raisins and walnuts.

IMG_6714He covered his dyed red-orange hair with a baseball cap embroidered with a sequin dollar sign. He had several, and showed his guests where they rested upstairs, in his armoire. But this house–he smiled when he whispered its price tag of 900 euro–was a temporary home, he only came here time to time, summer weeks, winter holidays. Soon, he might retire, he said as he turned his graceful hands, and stay here forever.

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