Shucks, Tom, it’s Huck!

“Tom, how are you doing, this fine day?”

“Not bad, Huck.  Not bad ‘tall.  Haven’t seen you in a cat’s nine lives.  Where are you living now?”

“Why do you ask?”

“No reason, reason ‘tall.  I’ve been solving mysteries of all-seeing eyes for many years, though, I can tell you.”

“Private inspecturating, are you?”

“Private investigator!”

“Private eye is what you are.”

“And you…what are you going about?”

“Me?  Well, haven’t you heard?  I’m a politician’s politician.  Head of the City Council.  They want me to run for governor.”

“Are the you Sean Finnegan what’s holding up headlines?”

“The very same, I am.  Yes, indeed.”

“The one with an honest wife and three little ones?”

“So the Good Lord has made it out for me in His own sweet time, yes.”

“Lord a’mighty.  Who woulda thunk it, you and I, two successful businessmen.”

“Busy is the word for it, Tom.  Do you think our tales are any better with age?”

“Maybe.  Maybe not.  But they sure pay a lot more per word than they used to, don’t they?”

“Paid…or stolen?”  Huck winked at Tom and nudged his shoulder with an outstretched hand.  “Would you be interested in joining my campaign.  I could use a good man on the team, one who knows his way with the ladies, especially the little old ladies like your aunt.  They say I’m a shoo-in if I can nab the elderly vote.”

Tom motioned Huck over to a bench next to the entrance of the corner druggist’s shop.

“Huck, I’m not the man you once knew.”

“Aww, don’t be modest.  Your reputation is as good as gold, assuming we can keep a gold standard in this wonderful country of ours.”

Tom dropped his elbows on his knees and lowered his head, his shiny boots reflecting the passing carriages.

“Tom, it’s not like you to be silent.  What gives?”

“Huck, have you ever heard of Edgar Allan Poe or Victor Hugo?”

“Of course.”

“Do their stories appear as anything other than a child’s tale?”

“No, of course not.  These are troubled men, men in whom the light of God’s love is distorted, good for scaring kids and twisting an old morality tale into troubled plots, but they are not stories meant for good, law-abiding adult citizens.  Certainly not a decent voter like you or I!”

Tom wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, wiping off a day’s worth of worry written in sweat and road dust.

“Huck, in my job…well…there’s more than conspiracies in what we see.  The rawness, the open wounds, the lies…”

“Tom, Tom, it’s all in a day’s work for an elected official like myself.  I completely understand where you’re coming from.  Have you been backed into a corner and forced to take a bribe to look the other way before a certain someone in a prominent position will let you loose?”

“That I have, yes, but…”

“Well, there you have it.  Nothing to worry about.  A job’s a job and you’re the man for it.  If you weren’t yourself, I wouldn’t be offering you this job, now, would I?”

Tom pushed himself to his feet.  “Huck, what say we find a saloon and talk this out some more?”

“You sayin’ you’re thirsty?”


“Why didn’t you say so?”

They agreed to meet a few hours later after they both finished business for the day, joining each other at the Red Lion Inn, an old hotel famous for its saloon that sold ‘genuwyne’ moonshine in bottles labeled “Grandma’s Secret Recipe Cough Medicine.”


Overcoming natural tendencies to protect family

They say you can smell your competition, doesn’t matter if it’s a covenant or a coven.

If you’re hungry enough, you can smell food through a brick wall.

Lee held out arms, slapping his hands together like a circus seal.

His wife, Karen, had told him that if he made Bai his traveling dance partner, then Karen considered it grounds for a divorce.

Lee looked at himself in the mirror as he practiced his dance turns.

Who was he, really?

He had taken up dancing two years ago because Karen wanted to go somewhere for their 25th wedding anniversary and look like smooth ballroom dancers, putting their dance lessons to use on their Alaskan holiday.

When they went to a regional dance competition in New Orleans a couple of months ago, they noticed that a large number of the dancers were young enough to be their children, if not their grandchildren.

Who was Lee?

He loved the infinite possibilities of living while managing the limited expectations that came with being married to a woman he had shared most of his life with, a woman not prone to taking risks — she had not wanted to see Lee jump out of an airplane, she didn’t even want to look at the Milky Way Galaxy while parked in the middle lane of a small suburban street.

What was preserving the illusion of safety for his wife worth to Lee’s mental health?

It was easy to pretend to be a lone, independent cowboy when surrounded by friends and family.

Where was his reality located?

Lee’s imagination was full of dark oaths sworn in secrecy, training assassins to weed out the deadwood, killing for purpose, pleasure or both, maiming for fun, creating pain and chaos for the sake of business associates; forcing families into starvation just to say we can.

But it wasn’t just his imagination at work.

He created false walls, barriers of plausible deniability that allowed him to give the highly moral/ethical childhood training a safe place to thrive in his thoughts, showing his family that he was preserving their heritage guilt-free.

Aliens creeped and crawled, slipped and slid through his thoughts without boundaries, using Earth as a playground and feed lot.

The sets of states of energy that comprised the visible universe were such temporary illusions that Lee often was bored trying to explain once again to the illusions around him their place in the greater “universe” that was currently invisible to all instrumentation that had been imagined/theorized/conceived, invented and built.

Yet, Lee had found no way to sit idly by when the universe as he knew it kept changing.

One look in the mirror, compared to the photographs of Lee at a younger age, convinced Lee he was doing anything but sitting idly by — the concepts of entropy and chaos were clearly visible.

Lee cocked his head from side-to-side, feeling the popping sounds within his spine.

Who was he?

He was no natural dancer, having little in the way of converting his imagination into physical actions that overcame his stiff joints and aching nerve connections.  He could flail around but training his flails into consistent movement exercised his brain in ways that were mentally painful, pushing past the noise and chaos that flooded his thoughts constantly.

Teaching an old horse, breaking it in without breaking its spirit, in other words.

Lee felt a twinge between his shoulder blades.

It was time.

Lee sat down on the floor, his legs straight out in front of him, his back propped up against the dance mirror.

Although Lee believed in the sanctity of science, he had developed a second sense, thanks to the elderly lady who visited him as an infant, almost a toddler, when he could hardly speak his own internally-forming language, let alone that of his parents or the wide old woman.

Lee was married to his wife but he was connected to the curved spacetime of the universe that existed outside of explanation.

A voice spoke to him, a low, gravely voice, ancient but ageless.

“We are what you call the ‘mound builders.'”

Lee looked straight ahead and nodded as if the speaker was sitting in front of him.

“Our spirits are your spirits.  We are one people.”

Lee nodded again.

“Your ways were not our ways but all ways belong to every one of us.”

Lee blinked.

“We know you.  You and I have not spoken but I know you.  Your spirit is strong.”

Lee smiled.  “Yes.  I know.”

“You are here because the spirits called you here.”

Lee felt his heart skip a beat.

“The spirits have plans for you.”

The pain in Lee’s back subsided.

“Your people say, ‘Resistance is futile.’  We say you cannot escape your destiny.”

Lee swallowed, his throat dry.

“There are others who will travel with you to St. Louis.  Their spirits, too, are strong.”

Lee nodded again.

“In your travels, you will meet a man.  You will not speak but you will talk to each other like brothers.”

Lee leaned his head back against the cool mirror, looking up at the air duct in the ceiling tiles.

“The female spirit in you will meet a sister.  We remind you, she is not like your earthly sister.  She is a sister spirit.”

Lee arched his eyebrows, unsure of the voice’s meaning.

“Our earthly brothers long fought the white man’s way, thinking the European was ruinous, a destroyer, taking from the land more than he gave back.  In spirit we see that the universe is bigger than this planet.  Our message to our brothers and sisters, our message to you, has changed.”

Lee closed his eyes, waiting to hear the message.

He opened his eyes again, unaware of the time change, not knowing that an hour had passed as he entered a trance state, communicating directly with the mound builder’s spirit without words, sixty minutes to the second of a deep conversation about what Lee was going to do in preparation for his trip to St. Louis, turning his internal eye toward a bigger goal, clearing his thoughts of present-day storylines and focusing on an eternal message he would receive and pass on to other strong spirits during their ritual dances over three and a half days in the Gateway to the West.

The pain in Lee’s body was gone, his muscles no longer tense, his worries behind him.

His old thought patterns had shifted.  The story was not about dancing, wives, marriage status or planned assassinations.

A spirit brother of Geronimo had spoken to Lee in a language he did not know but fully understood.

In his thoughts, too, were Helen Keller, Charles Lindbergh, Henri Poincaré, and Scott Joplin.

The future is the past retold.

Lee looked forward to hearing from his brother spirit again.

Earbud, ‘ear, phone, come ‘ere

She couldn’t remember the first time she killed one of her new friends because she had never stayed in any one town long enough to make old friends.

Everyone was a new friend to her.

As a traveling nurse’s aide, she frequently moved from one community to another, her belongings easily fitting into the eight-passenger van that had been willed to her by a former homebound patient, the only time she allowed herself to be connected with a murder victim.

She didn’t think in terms of killing and murder.  Those were just the words she knew that the law used to describe what she did.

She had renamed herself Chromcalsia in community college, a trick on the chrome calculator that her boyfriend at the time had, a relic of the presmartphone days that he proudly carried around with him.

But when people asked her where her name came from, she told them it was the name of an ancient queen in a videogame that her mother loved to play and no, she didn’t know the name of the videogame.

Chromcalsia looked at her schedule for the day — a roster of lonely old people virtually locked into solitary confinement in their homes, no visitors except for the occasional physical therapy assistant and nurse’s aides like Chromcalsia.

Her first few months on the job, in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska, had been the best and worst.

She loved the smile that beamed at her after she walked into a patient’s house, having used a hidden key in a fake shell or fake rock next to the backdoor as instructed because the patient was bedridden or confined to a special recliner.

She wished she was talented enough to write down the patients’ stories, tales about fighting in wars, raising children in strange environments, inventing new gadgets or their observations about world events that happened decades ago but the patients recalled as if it was still happening, their demented thought sets out of touch with reality, calling her names like Doris, Ann or Sylvia because that was their daughter’s name or their granddaughter’s name or a niece or the nice nurse who tended their wounds in a foreign war.

She saw a lot more women than men.

She enjoyed them all.

She didn’t enjoy the bad side of her job, realising through vital sign measurements and smells that the patient was dying a long, excruciating death, with no one to provide daily comfort to help ease the pain.

Chromcalsia was not allowed to visit patients for social visits.

So, she spent as much time as she could during her official visits to find out what each patient wanted most of all.

Besides companionship, the number one wish was a quick, painfree death because the world was falling to pieces and the patient couldn’t stand to see the local community so devastated by a global meltdown.

Chromcalsia had tried to convince her first patients that the world was a wonderful place but it didn’t work — either their thoughts were so fixed they couldn’t process her view or they just couldn’t accept that a wonderful world would put them in such miserable conditions.

Having come from humblest of humble conditions, what her community college boyfriend called the slums, Chromcalsia laughed to herself when her patients, with a telephone, a clean house, cable TV and home healthcare, would say the world was going to hell.  She learned to nod her head and agree, providing verbal affirmation of what the patients wanted to hear.

As an experiement one day, she texted a note in a patient’s file that went straight to the physician assigned to the patient, requesting extra pain medication.

Chromcalsia could not pick up the prescriptions for the patient but she could administer the medication when she was in the patient’s house.

She arrived to see the patient in extreme pain, moaning and begging Chromcalsia to end her misery.

Chromcalsia was scheduled to visit the patient three times that week so the first day she doubled the patient’s pain meds, doubled that again the second day and on the third day she convinced the patient that the remaining pills in the bottle had to be taken the next day.

The patient was so delirious that Chromcalsia was surprised he remembered what she told him.

Back at the office  the next week, Chromcalsia was informed that one of her patients had unexpectedly died of a drug overdose.

She smiled to herself, knowing she had helped a man do what he wouldn’t have done for himself, his body emaciated from multiple surgeries to repair gastrointestinal damage from a roadside bomb.

Chromcalsia talked to other nurse’s aides about what happened, feeling around to see if they had done anything similar.

One or two stated out loud that they wondered if their joking suggestion to a patient to end it all had led to a drug overdose.

In every case, none of the aides had been suspected of foul play, the overdose taking place days after their last visit.

That sealed the idea for Chromcalsia.

From then on, as she moved from one town to another, she decided which patients of hers were in the worst shape and assisted them in finding a peaceful way to die to prevent a more horrible ending that their medical conditions indicated was waiting for them.

To keep suspicion off of her, Chromcalsia planted the idea of assisted suicide in the thoughts of her coworkers, who in turn planted the idea in their patients’ thoughts, half-jokingly.

Enough patients understood in their delirium what they were being told that they followed the instructions told in jest, statistically taking the heat off Chromcalsia.

Chromcalsia made sure she never financially benefited from her patients, leaving town whenever a patient mentioned leaving her something.

The passenger van was the one exception because the patient made the statement in front of Chromcalsia’s supervisor on the day of Chromcalsia’s first visit with the patient.  She thought he was joking.  The supervisor later told Chromcalsia the patient told the supervisor that the next nurse to come help him was going to get the vehicle.

Chromcalsia did not fantasize about herself being an angel or anyone other than the kind of person she wanted to know when she was at death’s door without friends or family to quietly assist her comfortable exit from this world, no matter how wonderful it really was.

Dozens?  Hundreds?  Chromcalsia thought for a moment but wasn’t sure of the count.  It wasn’t her goal to meet a number.

She parked the van in front of the office building.  Two days off before she’d start looking for a new town, spreading the love and joy that had surrounded her from birth, her mother telling Chromcalsia as a toddler, while her mother was dying of stage four breast cancer, that she was a special child whose very presence was what dying people wished for, a magic elixir, a sedative that made dying worthwhile.

Chromcalsia was going to spend the rest of her life living out her mother’s image of her.

The declining interest in listening to politicians because you’re too turned off to vote

As a fictional character, I get confused sometimes.  I forget that the universe is here for my entertainment.

No, seriously.  I really want the universe to be here for your entertainment, doing everything I can to pretend I don’t exist because the entertainment I want is not the entertainment that my subculture has programmed me to want.

Thank goodness, the author who created me allows me to go off on adventures that have nothing to do with whatever we believe reality is supposed to be.

I look back at my fictional ancestry and all I see is devotion to community service — military duty, social clubs, religious worship, etc.

The only way I can look back is because there was a child who was born into community service, a child who became an adult and conceived another child.

The one illusion of continuity that is hard to deny exists.

You know what I mean.

Take the images below, familiar to anyone who’s taken a psychology class:

Continuity illusion

Can you take anything away from the images that haven’t already been taken away and still imagine you see a circle, line, triangle and/or square/rectangle?  Do the black segments look punched out of the white background?  Are you looking for a hidden meaning like a word or reversed image?

That’s the same set of questions I ask about my existence.

Can I take it anymore?

There’s only a small segment of the population I directly influence as a fictional character broadcast out into the Internet world, limited to hypertext in all its hyper implications and programmed representations.

But that doesn’t stop me from being.

In the next chapter/blog entry, I’m taking a sharp turn away from the storylines currently in progress, wondering what and why I’m exploring storylines that have nothing to do with the implied direction my subcultural training is supposed to take me.

I’m not into managing my image but I do concern myself with managing expectations, surprising you only when it looks like you’re ready to be surprised even when you’re not.

Talk to you again soon.

Never back ’em in a corner without a bargaining chip

“Here.  Here’s somebody new to write about.  Listen to what he has to say and analyse his life.  I need the spotlight off of me for a while. I’m gonna go see your wife, Karen, over there.”

“Okay, Guin.  Hi, I’m Lee.”

“I’m Kirby.”

“Yeah.  So we know each other already.”

“Or we think we do.  Nice outfit you got there.  I’m not much for wearing pinned-on jewelery myself, though.”

“It’s not jewelery.  It’s supposed to be part of the outfit…”

“Is that what they call ‘steampunk’?”

“Yeah.  Karen made it for me.  It’s supposed to look like I’m geared up.  See, this key winds.”

“Uh-huh.  Still looks like jewelery to me.”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“Me, I don’t even wear a wedding band.  I don’t like rings or nothing like that.  Guin, see, she likes her ring but she says it keeps falling off and she’s afraid she’s going to lose it.  Looks like you’re wearing two rings.  Why’s that?”

“This one on my right hand is my real wedding band but my wedding finger knuckle is all swollen up, pre-arthritic, I think, so I bought this cheap fifty-dollar tungsten steel ring at Walmart.”

“Hey, works for me.  I think I got arthritis, too.”

“No kidding?  How old are you?”


“That’s awfully young.”

“Well, all the basketball I’m playing and all the other sports I played when I was younger, just about every joint in my lower body is torn up or was broken.”

“I heard you busted your ankle.”

“Yeah, I twisted it pretty bad three weeks ago.  It’s healing some, though.”

“Guin says you want her to choreograph a a rumba so you can do a dance showcase in November with her, as soon as the ankle heals.”

“She keeps saying that.  I don’t know.  My ankle may take a long time to heal.”

They nodded the guy nod together, which said, “I know what you mean.  We only go so far to accommodate our women and then we adopt a fallback position.  Theirs is ‘Sorry, honey, I have a headache,’ or ‘I’m too tired.’  Ours is ‘I’m the man of the house and when I say I don’t want to’ it means ‘I know you’re going to give me that look which means I’ll have to say I want to’ so we, instead, have our own set of chronic problems — backaches from too much heavy lifting around the house, ankle/knee sprains from sports outings with the guy,s or having to work strange/long hours.  We’re guys.  It’s what we do best.”

“Guin says you’re a member of the Club.”

“She did?”


“Looks like she keeps saying a lot of things.”

“You said it, not me.  But are you a member?”

“Naw.  But I’ll tell you something funny.  I went back to my hometown a couple of months ago and the barber whose been cutting my hair since I was six — that’s 45 years now — he told me that with my father gone, it’s my turn to join the Club and pick up where Dad left off.”

“Uh-huh.  Sounds like my family.  So, you gonna join?”

“I might.”

“There’s a local chapter that has my application.  All I’ve got to do is finish the interview process and pay my dues.”

“‘Pay your dues.’  Yeah, I know what you mean.”

They stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the crowd around them, satisfied their silence had no meaning or subtextual reference.

Lee looked up at Kirby’s head.  “You got a lot more gray hair than I remember.”

“It’s from my days at the Rocket Center.  That place’ll make anybody turn gray.  But I’m leaving it just the way it is.”

“I normally do, too.  I dyed my hair tonight for the show.”

“Uh-huh.  You gotta do what you gotta do.  So Guin says you’re connected.”

“She says what she’s gotta say.”

“Uh-huh.  I understand.”

“However, if there’s anything you need…”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Your dues have already been paid.”

“I see.”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re family.”

“‘Family?’  Like in…”

“Anything.  Anything at all.  If you want to join the Club, join the Club.  But your membership’s good, as far as I’m concerned.”


“We got your back covered.”

“Is that so?”

“Hey, why do you think we arranged the dance showcase with Guin?”

“You tell her this?”

“Nope.  And I’m not telling you ‘this,’ either.”

“Hey, I’m cool.”

“We know.  Oh, hi, Guin.  I was just talking with your man here about his joining the Club.  Sounds like maybe both of us are gonna join.”

“That’s good.  I wasn’t sure if you were already a member since you’d talked about it before.”

“No, it was never a requirement in my book.  But now that my father’s gone, I figure I owe it to the family to keep my legacy intact.”

“I thought so.”  She linked an arm through Kirby’s.  “Lee’s got friends.  He’s like my family back home.”

“Yeah, I get the drift.  Lee, good to see you, man.  Let’s do this Club thing.”

“All right, Kirby.  Talk to you soon.”  They shook hands.

Modeling models in modules, modes and nodules

Giving the Creative Arts Department free rein is not, I remind them, the same as giving them free reign.

Free rain, on the other hand, is fine in limited quantities.

Today, I stopped by their cubes, covered in bubble wrap so they can throw books at each other just to duck and hear the “pop, pop, poppety pop” of compressed air escaping through sheered plastic sheeting.

I asked for an update.

After two weeks of work, this is all they had to give me:

can a robot dance the robot

Umm…I’m not prone to violent outbursts except when I’m prone to violent outbursts.

Concentrate…ommmm….meditate upon the nothingness of the universe…remember I’m not paying them anything…the Kickstarter campaign will help them recover their costs…IF THEY ACTUALLY PRODUCE SOMETHING TANGIBLE!

Okay, on to other projects.  I’ll let the Creative Arts department know I’m serious by denying them more than four mochalattafrappaccinocarpediem drinks a day.

Or should I double their intake to 24 a day?

Decisions, decisions!

And now, back to business…

Wow!  What an action-packed last couple of months!

First of all, we want to thank our sponsors for making this business possible.  Without them…well, we’d probably be eating pine bark and panhandling with the rest of our employees…but then again, isn’t that what most of my vegan staff does already, since, as we know, I don’t actually pay them anything?

Anyway, back to business.

Where were we?  Hmm…

How about we check in on our Creative Arts Department and see how the Kickstarter campaign is coming along.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve been briefed, or debriefed?

When rocket propulsion and engineering program management met

Sometimes, the awkward, bullied grade-school nerd in me shows himself, his tiny, insignificant self-image forgetting that he’s a full-fledged grownup male who has traveled the world and negotiated multimillion-dollar deals.

As I’m oft reminded, a simple “thank you” for a compliment means more than a humorous attempt to act modest.

The awkwardness has declined with time and maturity but appeared this weekend.

So, too, saying thank you as a compliment is not easy for me in realtime, despite my frequent use of gratitude in this blog.

I can’t go back in time but I can record here my thanks for the hard work that Jenn put into not only the hours of practice she provided for our dance routine, but also the great effort she put into a costume for our performance.

It’s been rare to find such a good friend in someone like Jenn, who’s willing to play grownup pretend (or cosplay, in today’s parlance) for a public show, purely for the sake of fun exercise.

I appreciate her husband’s and my wife’s patience during the past couple of months.

Here’s our video, posted for posterity and eternity on the Internet, turned rightside-up, with titles and credits to identify us when we’re old and gray (and a little forgetful — “You mean that used to be you, Great Uncle Rick/Great Aunt Jenn?” “That’s what they tell me.”):

Lindy Hop fun!

Here’s hoping that we can find the time and energy to put another routine together.

The best leader doesn’t have say a thing to get his underlings to do his bidding

They say a true leader is a coach.  Rick is neither — he’s a storyteller who compels his readers to follow their own path to whatever they enjoy the most — pain, bliss, or painful bliss or blissful pain, numbness, joy, they choose it — whatever they do, they’re accomplishing Rick’s goals without knowing it.

That’s a true leader — Rick is the best mob boss in the business.

Think about that the next time you kill someone or steal in the name of justice — you just did what Rick told you to without question.

Mob bosses have different hobbies.

Rick likes to dance.

But Rick likes to dance with his girlfriend — let him make you jealous one more time.

Party on the patio, Jody in the backyard blitz

Karen sat down on the folding chair, pulling a pair of beige dance shoes out of a black bag.  “I love these shoes.  The heels are wide and they’re easy to slip on.”

Guin bent over to adjust her black shoe, the straps coming up from around her toes and crossing over the top of her foot, forming diamond patterns filled with black mesh.  “I like being able to adjust the straps on mine but this strap comes off too easily.”

“I’m going to stretch why you two finish the choreography.”  Karen stood up and walked over to the computer stand where Guin’s mobile phone was plugged into the dance studio’s sound system.

Lee shook his head from side-to-side while he stretched out his arms, lowering them behind his back to pop vertebrae into place.

He watched Guin work on the shoe strap, noticing for the first time the colour of her hair, a deep, dark brown that he mentally avoided associating with colours of wood, trying to get a sense of what colour meant to him without the use of labels such as adjectives.  He compared the colour of her hair to her toenails, which appeared to be painted white on the tips like the tips of an aeroplane propeller.

He thought about the backstory their choreographed routine was supposed to show, a steampunk tale, an alternate universe that appeared in this universe for a minute and thirty seconds or so.

He remembered Guin telling him about her divorce, that the California surf dude she had married in their partying years of late teens and early twenties could not handle the new Guin who emerged from a horrible car smashup.

He remembered the car smashup scenes and urban landscapes of J.G. Ballard.  How many people had inadvertentedly aligned their lives around the transportation fiction of a man who found a way to make a living by writing while raising children without a mother?

Guin took off the black shoes and put on a pair of Lindy Hop sneakers.

Karen yelled across the studio.  “Do you all want to try the routine from the top…with music?”

Lee looked at Guin and she nodded.  “Sure!”

Lee put the palm of his right hand in the small of Guin’s lower back, holding her right hand in his left hand, tapping his left foot on the floor in anticipation of the first beat of the music.

He needed to look at himself in the mirror to see his posture but didn’t want to, expecting Guin to describe how he looked.

“We need to work on your technique” told him everything he needed to know.

They danced through two-thirds of the routine before Lee lost track of the steps, unable to hear the beat of the music because a financial spreadsheet was filling his thoughts.

“I’m sorry.  I can’t get my thoughts straight.”

Guin shrugged.  “That’s all right.  Let’s try it again and see how far we can go before you have to stop.”

Karen pressed a few buttons to clear the screen on Guin’s iPhone and started the music again after Guin and Lee had run over to the side of the studio, back to their starting position.

Lee could feel a bead of sweat rolling down his back, running into his shirt which was pressed to his skin by Guin’s hand which, although they had danced dozens of times together, he had never noticed before, the heat of his back seeming to warm her cooler hand.

As they danced their steps, going into and out of Lindy circles, forming sugar pushes, tuck turns, man passes and swingouts, their eyes met, sometimes triggering automatic head nods and smiles.

Lee found himself still fascinated by Guin’s hair.  He wondered how the thickness of the strands of her hair compared to that of other similarly-coloured heads.  What about the number of hair follicles her square inch?

After they reached a point in the routine where Lee forget what a pecking maneuver was, they broke into light laughter and stopped dancing.

Karen fumbled with the iPhone screen again because Guin had set the screen to lock into password mode quicker than the length of the song.  She finally stopped the music.

Meanwhile, Guin walked Lee through the pecking.  “We start the first half of a Lindy circle.  Remember?”

Lee nodded.

“Five, six, seven, eight.  Step, step, triple-step.  Step, step, triple-step.  Now step, step, stop.  Wait a beat.  Step forward.  Good!  You remember.”  She smiled encouragingly.


They walked through the rest of the routine without music.

Karen sat down in a chair and leaned her head back against the wall.  She was tired and enjoyed the precious seconds of rest before Guin would get far enough with the routine to call Karen onto the floor to dance the steps with her husband.

After nailing down another 20 seconds of the routine, Guin did get Karen’s attention and had them dance the routine with music.

They repeated this several times over the next hour.

Finally, Lee felt he was getting no farther, his thoughts filled with numbers and dance steps for the day.  “That’s it!  I think I’m done.”

Guin looked at the dance routine spreadsheet on the computer screen.  “Well, that’s good because we’re at the place where I want to work on the choreography a little better.  The camel move doesn’t fit here, I don’t think.  I’m thinking maybe a corkscrew.”

She lowered herself to the floor, had Lee hold her hands and then showed him how to spin her up off the floor.

He smiled.  “I like that.”

Karen nodded her head.  “Yeah, it fits with your steampunk theme.”

“Thanks.  Well, if you guys are finished, Eoj should be getting here soon.  We’ve got ten days to put together our routine.”  She walked back toward the row of chairs at the entrance to the changing room, Lee walking beside her.

“No kidding?” Lee jokingly put his hand in his mouth, pretending to chew his nails.

Karen pointed toward the bathroom.  “I’ll be right back.”

Guin sat down to change her shoes.  “Yeah.  And you know what, Kirby said to me last night that he never gets to see his wife anymore.  He works third shift and he knows I work first shift.  It’s not like anything has changed with what I do.”

“You’ve always been busy at night teaching dance lessons.”

“It gets worse.  He’s home during the day so our neighbours see him but not me.  They asked him yesterday if I had moved out or something so he told me, ‘Look, our neighbours don’t believe I have a wife anymore.  I never see you!’  I think it’s because he’s getting over his brother’s death.  He’s starting to blame me for every little thing.”

“Uh-huh.  Karen was the same way with me.  She accused me of stuff I hadn’t done, let alone thought of.”

Karen returned from the bathroom and Lee spoke to her.  “Do you remember being on my case all the time after your brother died?”

“Yeah.”  Karen spoke to Guin.  “It takes a while to realise the effect you have on other people while you’re grieving.  I’m sure Kirby’s going through the same thing.”

Guin laughed.  “Kirby?  Yeah, he’s going through a lot and so am I.  I’m going out of town on business, on top of everything else.”

Lee looked at Guin, unable to read her face.  She bent over to change shoes and Lee looked at Guin’s hair again, noticing it was pulled back into a small ponytail.

He noticed her grimace slightly as she stood up.  “Your foot alright?”

She scrunched her face in a smile of pain.  “Yeah.  It locks up, though.”

They looked at the steampunk outfit that Lee had brought, including a vest Karen had made for him when he dressed as Not-So-Serious Black for the local midnight premiere of the last Harry Potter film.

They talked about matching their outfits when Guin laughed unexpectedly.

“You know John, the big guy that comes to the dance club every now and then?”

Lee nodded.

“Well, the other day he joked that he thought his man boobs were bigger than mine so I went to the restroom, took off my bra and had him try it on.  Sure enough, his were larger!”

Lee and Karen laughed.  Lee turned from Guin to Karen, a knowing look shared between them before Lee spoke.  “Should I tell her about Donald?”  Karen nodded as Guin, seeing she was left out of the loop on an inside joke, stood up and walked to the computer stand, hearing her phone ring, the ring tone a theme song from the original Super Mario Brothers videogame.

“That’s Eoj.  He better not ditch our dance practice again tonight!”

Lee and Karen followed.

Karen shut down the computer while Lee listened to Guin’s half of the phone conversation, entertaining Lee as she described back to Eoj how she understood that he cut himself accidentally at work and was unable to dance until tomorrow.

Lee mentally counted off on his fingers the multiple perceptions that he shared with, about and of Guin, his joy of writing helping him organise his thoughts for later recording, his love of self and his ability to fall in love with everyone he meets his joy and his curse.

It wasn’t his best dance practice night, distracted as he was by an undertone of sexual objectification that had put a layer between him and Guin but didn’t let him stop from learning more about his relation to the universe, wondering why there was part of him on any other night that could synch up with Guin without thinking, sharing their differences as if they were similarities, how people around Lee wanted to tell him their views of Guin without his asking so that he got more insights into people than he wanted, placing himself at odds with himself as the objective reporter in order for him to become a more descriptive author caught in the middle of the story in progress.

What about Guin’s hair, her makeup-free face and his wife’s willingness to strain their financial budget to the breaking point?

He had a robot construction kit to work on, didn’t he, a Kickstarter campaign that wasn’t going to create itself.

Lee wanted to stay and talk with Guin and Karen about life but knew his nervousness from earlier in the day was blocking him from seeing Guin as a friend rather than a sex object.

As he led Karen out of the dance studio, calling out a goodbye to Guin, the memory of the first words he had shared with Guin when he walked in floated into view.

Guin had looked at him knowingly, a twinkle in her eye, “So, how was YOUR day, after what happened yesterday and last night?”

A dozen thoughts had jumped to the foreground, fighting against the sexual objectification he had brought with him into the room before he had looked at Guin, the tiniest moment of friendship between them clouded over by his turning her into an object of lust.

He wanted to ask Guin exactly what she meant but was afraid to ask.  What if what he thought she meant was what she meant?  Would it have mattered if Karen was in the room?

Did Guin think he was drunk last night at the dance club?  Did the quick private conversation between Lee and Bai’s French boyfriend about their separate relationship with Bai get back to Guin?  Had Guin talked with Bai about the blog entry he had written where he briefly spoke about holding Bai’s hand for so long yesterday as if they were longtime lovers no longer bothered by sexual tension?  Had Bai told Guin that Lee had texted her while she was driving to Little Rock, Arkansas, on the way to a weekend dance competition in Dallas, Texas?  Had Guin seen the Frenchman dance with Lee, showing Lee how to be a better leader?  Was Guin referring to the dance lesson she gave Lee and Karen at the dance club?

Lee thrived on the uncertainty between his fictional characters but it drove him crazy in real life.

Did the bartender at the dance club really tell him that her real name was not Jody but she called herself Jody anyway, until friends called her Jody in the backyard so she changed her real fake name to Jodi with an “i”?