The Dance


Painting by Maya Fielder


She begins her hourly dance. It takes her ten steps until she can fully straighten her legs. She over-balances forward and threatens to fall into his arms. He slows the pace of his retreat as she finds her center and in a minute they have completed their circuit of the carpeted expanse. Daniel gently lowers Faith into the chair where she began. He puts the finishing touch to her blanketed lap with a gentle tuck and hands her a floppy stuffed cat. A sideways shuffle left brings Daniel before his next partner. With a soft Romanian-accented invitation, “Come on, Iris. Let’s dance.” Daniel smiles and takes Iris by both her knobbed and stiffened hands and pulls her from her chair…
At 11:30am sharp, we pulled up to the foster home. It was the appointed time to pick up Mom for her weekly Wednesday trip to see Linda at Riley’s Beauty Parlor. It was also the last. For sixty years, you could know when Riley’s was open for business by the giant ring of Phyllis’ keys hanging from the door lock, where they would dangle until she closed and locked the door at five. After this Wednesday, it was a door that would open no more. Ladies with a taste for tight curls, sculpted and hair-sprayed into a helmet that would weather the rigors of cooking and housework for a full week between appointments, have become few and far between. Beauty operators with the chops to effectuate these industrial-duty friseurs are fewer still. Sometimes doors close the last time and forever.
As we lightly knock and step into the foster home, we can see that Faith is home today. (She is always there, but not always home.) Today her eyes follow us into the room. There is a ghost of a smile as her hands reach out for a double-fisted grip of silent welcome. Her beautiful eyes say it all. They must. Her lips, her tongue, her throat lack the flow of words to fuel them. On the days when Faith is not at home, she sits and stares at her hands in her lap, ignoring her floppy cat. Or, more correctly, the eyes point at the hands in the lap. The use of the personal pronoun implies a person in attendance. Some days Faith is not home. But today is a good day. Faith is home today.

Mom sits in the fourth recliner. She’s the bossy one. The princess. And, according to her, the saint.

Iris is a singer. All the verses of every hymn rise up from a throat unused to the mundanities of secular speech. Start a song, she is suddenly awake, upright and singing. Her vocal coach, is rumored, was a fallow pasture’s rusty gate: too few visitors to give the moving parts exercise. The song creaks to a close as she settles back silent again into her chair.
Esther runs hot and cold. Cold, she sighs and stares into a melancholic present. Hot, she’s ready to dance. Esther does not need to be lead in the dance. She dances all on her own. Eyes aflirt, her speech a rapid-fire torrent of verbs and indeterminate pronouns punctuated by the soft susurrus of laughter. “…once he told me to do that. In them days it was all like that, you know. ‘Course, you might not remember. It wasn’t long before she came in with a whole stack them things to be dealt with, and none of us knowin’ where to begin. It’s hard sometimes…”