Friday, November 19, 2010

The Undead

We're morbid people, Will and me.

It might bear mentioning again that when our relationship became serious (book-collection-merging serious), we were amused to see that we each had a copy of the atrociously-written and endlessly fascinating Helter Skelter. We watched The Bridge when it came out on Netflix; over the years, I've converted him to SVU.

We've become rather callous people.

On Wednesday night, we were taking the beloved B on his evening (and only) walk, first in pleasant near-darkness through the streets in our neighborhood and then through sudden crushing darkness in the park. It might have been midnight and not daylight-savings-induced 5:30, the way everything was so quiet. You know what I mean, I'm sure -- the kind of odd inner-city quiet where you fear you might have missed the rapture, although you don't believe in it.

We performed our customary scan of the park -- no potentially dangerous people lurking near the public restrooms, no off-leash pit bulls, no solitary cars parked in leafy shadow. But when we were halfway through the park (a slow journey, with the sky growing darker by the second as the lovely B sniffed each blade of grass excitedly and, at least a dozen times, lifted a back leg delicately), I spotted something strange in the newly mown grass of the softball field. Right field, to be exact.

"What's that?" Will and I asked at the same time.

"Not a dog," I confirmed, coming closer. It was difficult to make out the shape; maybe if I had the night-vision goggles I've requested for the past thirty Christmases... but with ordinary human limitations, I could only see so much. "Maybe a person?"

We were within a hundred yards. Seventy-five. Fifty. It could have been a person, I decided. A small person, without a head. I cleared my throat, whistled, called, "Here, boy." The lump in right field remained completely still. "It's just a coat left behind," I said finally. We kept walking, leaving a trail of disintegrated leaves in our wake.

On Thursday, home early, we decided to give the long-suffering B a proper, leisurely walk, and this time we ended up in the park with plenty of daylight left. There were a few people by the swingsets and a few more in the infield, pitching, batting, fielding and in general displaying more energy than I've had in months. And there was also, most definitely, a face-down person in right field.

We looked at each other. "Is that the same...?"

It was a man wearing dark clothes, except for a jacket with a thick cream-colored stripe across its back. That's what I'd seen the night before, the stripe almost iridescent in the darkness, the rest of his body only vaguely suggested in the dusk. We inched closer to investigate. It's difficult to "inch" with a beagle lunging five feet ahead, but we needed a closer look. There was definitely a head, although the jacket collar was pulled up past his ears. One arm was wrapped around the back of his neck in a quite unnatural position. I know; I tried it right there on the spot. My mind raced: No one would lie down that way on his own. He must have been... posed.

"Call 911," I gasped to the man with the ubiquitous cell phone.

Will chuckled. "And say what? 'Come quickly, there's a man lying in the park'?"

"He's been there for two days, he's not moving, he's face-down..."

Will considered. "I'll call the non-emergency number."

I waited anxiously while he dialed. The man had not moved.

"Hmm. Busy," Will reported.

Wasn't this always how it went in the movies? Danger at hand and no one home?

"I'll tell you what," Will said. "I'll come back in a little while, when it's dark. If he's still here, I'll call 911."

Fair enough. Twenty minutes later, Will left our house in my car. I sat paralyzed, too dazed to even pick up the remote. I was imagining myself at the edge of the park, wrapped in a cashmere shawl, my hair wind-tussled. "He was just lying there," I would say to the detective with the tiny notepad. "We were so worried."

I snapped back to reality when Will's key turned in the lock. "Well," he shrugged, "no one there. So I guess..."

"... he wasn't dead," I finished. Why did this feel like such a disappointment?

We stared at each other for a long moment.

And then we laughed hysterically.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Put Your Right Foot In

Let me just say: I love to dance.

This doesn't mean that I have a natural sense of rhythm or movement, that I can bust any decent moves, or even that other people like to watch me dance.

I do most of my dancing while I clean, dustcloth in hand, or while I cook, sampling from a wooden spoon. Think of it as a less graceful version of Julia Roberts' love-interest-neighbor in Sleeping With the Enemy, who sang and leapt to "When You're a Jet, You're a Jet" with his garden hose as a prop.

But dance in public? Not so much. I need a bottle or so of chardonnay to boost my confidence first.

On Wednesday, I attended my first ever junior high dance, not as a chaperone, but as the event coordinator. It was my job to make sure the DJ arrived on time, the kids had fun, and all the stepped-on Skittles were pried off the floor at the end of the night.

While the other adults hovered near the snack table or stuck to the doors, as far from the speakers as possible, I drifted around ther periphery of the mob -- 100 or so 12- to 14-year-olds who had crammed themselves into a tight, sweaty circle of approximately twenty square feet. Around the edges of the circle, kids were standing, barely moving to the beat. The real dancers were in the middle, their faces slick and shiny.

A boy from my second period class was sitting with his back against the back wall. "'C'mon, get out there," I motioned, trying to encourage him. He shook his head, but later I saw him ask a girl to slow dance -- no doubt the moment he'd been anticipating/dreading since dance posters went up the week before.

As I wandered the periphery, I kept bumping into one tiny dark-haired girl, who was busy spinning in dizzying solo circles. Whenever I passed, she would call, "Come dance with me!" And I laughed, smiling, thinking, No way, sweetheart. But I admired her guts. She didn't care that the cool kids were in a tight, grinding bunch -- she was dancing her heart out and having the sugar-fueled time of her life. She reminded me of myself, doing the Charleston in my kitchen or jitterbugging my way down the hallway, terrified pets scattering at my approach.

I took a break during a slow song and pulled up a folding chair to the snack table. "Who's that girl out there?" I asked, gesturing. Although the floor had cleared except for about twenty couples, the girl was still out there, swaying with her arms hugged to her chest, as if her partner was a slim, invisible boy.

"Seventh grader," one of my colleagues replied. "She's in special ed."


I kept watching her, noticing how she kept dancing even after the music stopped. You go, girl, I thought. Put that whole body in.