Dancing With God
The night the rabbi dumped her, Sally drove back to Providence through a
rainstorm. When her vision blurred, she pulled over to wipe her eyes.
Earlier, at the Israel Bond testimonial dinner for her father in Boston, Mark
had told her he was marrying a woman he didn’t love (her opinion), a woman who
would make a good mother to his boys (his opinion), a social worker who worked
with newly arrived Russian Jews, a more appropriate choice for a rabbi’s wife
than she, who had a position as a ballroom dance instructor. Had some sleaze
bag in his Boston congregation gone slumming in Providence some years back,
maybe recognized her face from an old Krazy Kat poster when she’d showed up as
the tenth man at minion? Not that her face was a prominent feature in the
club’s advertising. Or was Mark afraid of dancing again with God? Of
following her onto the empty dance floor she kept inside herself, so there was
always room if He showed up? Mark was weak, she thought, afraid of her
passion and his own—a spectator not a dancer. Sally could have told him that
God didn’t dance with spectators, but he was the rabbi.
She pulled back onto the highway. This was for the best. He was a
schlimiel. Then for a moment it wasn’t for the best. It was simply awful,
and nothing could make it okay. She remembered the lines from a poem she’d
written him, and her cheeks were wet again with humiliation and she drove onto
the shoulder. Rain pelted the windshield, breaking like blisters across the
glass. She sat for a long time with her forehead against the steering wheel.
Then it was okay again, and she could re-enter the stream of cars trailing
through the storm. He only talked Kabbala. If she'd dumped him, he’d
probably go home and read Isaac of Luria or some other Jewish mystic. Talking
God. Reading God. He didn’t live it. He didn’t dance with God, and now that
he was marrying some do-gooder, some good mother for his boys, he never would.
How stupid to have spent half the day dressing for rejection. This morning,
she’d spread her dressy clothes across the bed and had scattered scarves,
belts and shoes around the room. She’d wanted to be a suitable daughter of
the honoree, since she’d only recently been resurrected from the dead daughter
bin. It took the divorce from Gerry and the fact that she was dating a rabbi
to bring her back to life. If her father had known that her tits and ass had
once been framed in the foyer of the Krazy Kat Club, she’d be permanently
barred from The Book of Life, her father’s edition, anyway. Mostly, though,
she’d wanted Mark to ask himself why he hadn’t called her in two weeks. She’d
finally settled on a soft white sweater with a lacy black camisole peeking
through, over a black skirt, and pearls. Laura had worn a blue suit,
What would happen if she died tonight? She saw herself sprawled, ripped and
crumpled along the muddy shoulder of the highway. Who would take care of the
funeral arrangements? Maybe Mark was right about her. She didn’t need other
people. Maybe she didn’t want a permanent commitment in the way everybody
else did. Something other than love drove her love life. Whatever it was
accelerated too fast and ran all the stop signs. Whatever it was meant she
didn’t carry a next-of-kin number in her wallet. "You’re so independent,"
he’d said, "so solitary. You can live alone. I can’t and, neither can Laura.
We’re family people, community people. We enjoy the ordinary pressures and
responsibilities." Laura was probably good with details and routines and
rules, too. All the things Sally, through forty years of living, one real
marriage, and the several relationships that felt like marriage, only worse,
had never quite got the hang of. But for almost a year, Sally had thought
Mark and she were seeking something extraordinary together, that he’d needed
what she needed. That their yearning united them. That he’d been a seeker as
long as she had.
Sally had once considered herself a transcendentalist. But even before she
discovered Emerson and Thoreau in junior high English class, she’d wanted to
be a rabbi. It just wasn’t a sixty’s option for a girl. She remembered that
old yearning now, how she’d sung the Sh’ma with such fervor, almost swooning
in the pew. Of course, that was the same year she discovered how good it felt
to touch herself—nearly the same rush and puddling of feeling. The longing
for God and the pleasure of masturbation had come to her almost on the same
breath that late spring afternoon as she lay on her back in the woods behind
her house, looking up through budding leaves at a glorious blue sky.
Why else would she have fallen for a rabbi? Loving a rabbi was as close to
God as a Jewish girl born in the fifties could get. Mark stood at the gate of
a secret entrance back into her own faith, not only its communal and familial
traditions but also it’s mystical traditions, from which as a female and a
Reform Jew, she’d been excluded.
And their lovemaking, so full of yearning, so much room for God—how could he
give that up? He couldn’t. In the last few months, every time he’d said they
had to talk, that he had something to say, he’d made love to her instead.
He’d finally given her the news with Laura standing just a few feet away,
chatting with Sally’s father at the donors table. Turned out Laura had been
his first love. High school. But she’d married an Israeli and moved there.
Her husband was dead, victim of a sniper incident, and she and her three
children were back. Permanently.
Then Laura had joined them, waiting to be introduced. There was that stupid,
awkward moment with the three of them standing there, trying to make
conversation. "I really admire the way Mark explains things," Laura had said.
"I’m seeing Torah in a whole new light."
Explains things? That wasn’t the Mark she loved. It wasn’t about
explaining. It wasn’t about anything that needed to be explained. Sally
stared at Mark. What she’d loved in this man was his willingness to hang out
in the unexplained, in ambiguity. "We studied Kabbala," she said.
So. He was returning to a drier, clearer theology, a Judaism of action and
debate, one in which she could not find spirit. He had sipped from her cup,
rolling the liquid around on his tongue, savoring the flavor, and now he was
spitting it out. He would drink strong Russian tea from here on in. His mind
would be clear, rational, Jewish. She was the pagan, drunk on ecstasy, and he
was on the wagon.
It was still raining when Sally pulled into the lot behind the club. In the
year since she’d quit, she hadn’t bothered to remove the key to the back
entrance from her key ring. Maybe she'd always been planning to come back.
Not a conscious thought, really—not a thought at all—but some coiled muscle in
her calf or a knot tensed beneath her shoulder blade that wouldn't relax until
she entered the dressing room one more time. But of course, she wouldn’t
dance in public again. Ever.
So, why was she here, sitting in her car, staring at the metal door,
imagining the cold feel of the knob in her hand, if she inserted the key? No
one had bothered to turn on the light. Was this crummy club where she truly
The door opened, and a woman in a pink robe stepped into a pool of yellow
light. Brenda? Sally watched her lean her elbows on the railing, pulling her
robe closer around her throat. A cigarette dangled from the other hand. As
Sally climbed from her car, the woman straightened and took a long drag.
Brenda had been Sally’s trainee, a blue-eyed, blonde—an American beauty from
Nebraska. In the early days, they'd hung out, got stoned together. In a
moment, Sally would be saying hello, making up an excuse for coming back after
a year. When she reached the bottom step, she saw Brenda’s eyes were
unfocused, dim. Brenda was wasted. Climbing the stairs, she remembered that
Brenda had actually been clean for some time before Sally left the club.
Relapse, she thought. Is that what I'm doing here? No, closure is all.
That, and maybe one drink at the bar.
Brenda gazed at her without recognition.
Brenda nodded. "Oh, yeah."
"Why are you out here in the rain?"
"What do you care?"
Brenda had a point. Sally didn’t care. Here she was at the back door of a
strip joint, Miss Priss in her pearls and tailored black skirt, asking
condescending questions. Precisely, Brenda. I don’t care about the rain or
anything right now, including you. She could leave now, just get in her car
and drive home to her meditation tapes, her books. There was food, too.
Carbo's--crackers, peanut butter, popcorn. A couple of glasses of wine, and
she'd forget about her hope of spending the night in Boston with Mark.
Stepping around Brenda, she passed through the back hall to the dressing room
door. She breathed the familiar body smell of women's sweat and cigarettes--a
cozy smell, fetid and slightly sweet. The overhead florescent flickered gray,
then flat white, just the way it always had, and she sat on a stool in front
of the wall of mirrors. Leaning her elbows on the long formica counter, she
stared at her tailored reflection among the sequins and the feathers. You're
independent. He'd said it as though it were a curse. You can live alone.
From the litter of make-up at Brenda’s mirror, she picked up a tube of
lipstick and uncapped it. As she turned the base, Radical Red emerged,
glistening, beckoning. She rolled it over her lips. Laura would never choose
such a color, and Mark had chosen Laura.
Since quitting the club, Sally had stopped wearing make-up. Now, she liked
what she saw. Her face brightened in the mirror, looked not exactly happy,
but alive, ready. It was after midnight, and she was just waking up.
Down the wall of mirrors, under two burned-out bulbs, there was a message to
her ex-husband printed with pink lipstick in even, block letters. "Fuck
Jerry!" Whoever wrote it, probably knew what kind of a fuck he was, but she
didn't know how to spell his name. Fuck Gerry? No. That wasn't why she was
here. She didn't want Gerry or any other man, tonight. Maybe, ever again.
Reaching back to the nape of her neck, she unclasped her pearls, then began
to unpin the hair she'd twisted into the appropriate look for the evening.
Full folds of it tumbled down her back and over the white silk sweater. In
the mirror, she saw a Sally she'd almost forgotten, the Sally buried beneath
her books on Kabbalah and Jewish meditation. Here was the raw material of her
life, and Mark didn't want it. But the lonely guys sitting out front—they
She heard the music crescendo. "More, baby, more," someone shouted. One
drink, she thought, then home.
"That fool ex-husband of yours is going to run this place into the ground!"
Candy, the bartender, set Sally's drink down hard. "Look around. It's a
crying shame. He's got tired girls working a tired crowd."
"It's not like this every night, is it?"
"This is about the worst I've seen, but even on a good night, it's nothing
like it was when you were dancing." B.K. swiped the bar with her cloth.
"Don't look now. Gerry's spotted you."
Sally turned to see him hurrying toward her from a corner table. The man
left sitting at the table did not look like anyone she'd want to meet.
"Sally," he said, as he patted her back and sat on the stool next to her.
"Long time, no see. Maybe you'll turn things around tonight."
"Business bad, Gerry?"
"Not really. This is temporary. We got a little competition is all."
"Who's that guy?"
"Potential investor. I want to fix the place up a little. He's got
She shook her head. "I can imagine what kind."
"Don't worry about it, babe. Not your club anymore."
She looked around slowly. "Sundays used to be a good night."
"The regulars will be back." He leaned toward her. "Especially when they
hear you're dancing."
"But I'm not."
"Look at that stage, honey. Look at those lights. It's your home, baby.
It's waiting for you."
She turned to face the stage, and it was as if her heart grew bigger in her
chest. "The runway needs paint," she said.
"Oh, I'm going to improve this place. Stick around. You're going to see big
improvements. Dance, Sally. You know that's why you're here. You need to
dance, and I sure as hell want you to."
"Whoa, Gerry. I don't think so." She looked over at the runway. "It's
He jumped off his stool. "Wait. I'll change the burned-out bulbs. It'll
look great. Just give me a minute."
"But I don't have my music."
"I do! I still have your drumming tape. Come on, babe. Do it for the club.
Do it for old time’s sake."
Mark was probably helping Laura out of her mid-life blue suit right now,
undoing those little pearl buttons on her powder blue blouse. She imagined
one hand cupping the social worker’s breast, the way he’d cupped hers,
standing just behind to gaze at her in the mirror. His lips on her neck.
Tilting her head back, Sally finished her drink. "All right."
She stood in the tiny back-stage area in borrowed pasties and layers of
Brenda's blue chiffon. Past the darkened stage, she saw that a few more men
had settled near the front, but it was still a slow night. A man with a wide
pock-marked face leaned against the runway. She hoped he wasn't a grabber.
Suddenly the spotlight came up on Gerry.
"This is a very special night for me and for you," Gerry said to the handful
of men. "The original Cat has returned. Regulars will remember the bombshell
from hell. Well, she's back! Couldn't stay away from you. She's missed you
so much, and she's purring and scratching to come out to play. Please welcome
the Krazy Kat's craziest cat, Miss Felicity!"
There was a smattering of applause as the stage went black. She stood in the
dark and let the music enter her. Opening herself to the light, she let the
straight beam of it lead her through the darkness as she moved across the
stage. The men calling, groaning, her body heating up—this was her life.
Then someone bleated like a slaughtered lamb. Premature ejaculator, she
thought, and she knew she was standing before them, not just in her mind, in
her own time, but in their time, that this singular act was not hers alone.
This one's for Rabbi Mark, she thought, rocking in fluid movements where she
stood, centering herself in the music again.
As the drum pulse quickened, she began to dance, each movement an invitation,
her body rising and falling in waves, and she forgot the men again. She was
liquid, pouring herself into the footlights. Balancing, undulating, always in
time to the rhythm of drums. Her fingernails traveled her flesh—belly,
breasts, thighs, until her skin felt almost raw. Out beyond the circle of her
own pain, her own pleasure, they clapped and whistled and made the animal
noises she loved to hear. With cat-like movements she licked her body with
her fingers, shedding her costume in layers, breathing the breath of the music
and the men, feeling herself desiring and desired.
She could no longer see them, but she could feel their eyes on her, swarming
her body, and she imagined their hands as she raked her skin with her long
fingers. She circled her buttocks to the rhythm of the congas as her hands
moved to her naked sex. Above the drum beat, she thought she heard the rumble
of thunder—God’s footsteps as he joined her in the dance. There at the edge
of the runway his lightening struck, and she gave herself completely. No man
could touch her in this smoky, boozy room. But she could almost touch God.