… She’d joined a class, you see. The lure had been too much and once she’d started thinking about it, she couldn’t put the thought aside, no matter how hard she tried. She’d gone during the day when he was at work or on a Saturday morning when he thought she was doing the shopping. She’d practiced hard. She’d mastered the dips and the drops, the shimmering vibrations of the body layered ontostaccatomovements of the hips as they flicked and twitched in a wicked invitation to touch, no don’t touch! The fluid undulations and rotations, mimicking the impression of riding a camel, or some other beast, as her body circled and enticed, come here, join, entwine…Slow and tantalising, wild and whirling, graceful and floating, with a myriad of veils divested, one by one as the various layers of the human psyche are divested from the loftiest and most philosophical thoughts – the cool blue veil – to the earthiness of physical desire and need – the red veil . . .
She dropped the blood red veil to the floor in a swirl. The dance had finished. She breathed heavily. Yes, she would perform well tomorrow evening.
The whole secret gave Sandra such satisfaction. And it had insidiously changed so much for her too. Just the exercise itself had made her slim down, and that weight problem that he thought she had? Well it had simply melted away, replacing her low self-esteem with a sense of admiration, for her now sleek but voluptuous body, but also for having been able to master the subtle arts of the dance. Of course he didn’t even notice the change. He saw nothing but what he expected to see in front of him and she kept up the persona for him, refusing to share even the smallest part of her new self with him. He might share the same bed with her, but his hands never touched even the top layer of the shapeless old nightie she wore so even the most intimate moment they might share didn’t betray her.
The mantra of ‘stupid , fat and useless’ which he’d instilled in her over the years was replaced with ‘lithe, skilled and able.’ So, what else could she do? Maybe she wasn’t so useless after all. She’d looked in the ‘sits vac’ column, something she hadn’t done in years. She’d ringed the ones she tentatively wondered if she could manage and been amazedly delighted when she’d been offered a job. She started it next week.
The next evening she had to wait for him to go out before she could leave herself. She’d already carefully packed her costume in a bag and hidden it behind the shabby brown suitcase in the wardrobe. When she arrived at the venue, the other dancers were bustling around in the dressing rooms. Marie, the class teacher fell on her breathlessly,
‘Oh Sandy, thank goodness you’re here now. I was starting to worry…You’re our star… Everything is alright, isn’t it?
Sandra smiled at her. ‘Just a little delayed.’
She slid into her costume and swiftly completed the transformation. Looking in the full length mirror, she barely recognised herself. Not fifty, fat and frumpy as she’d used to joke ruefully to her friends, but a sibilant siren, skirts slipping softly to her ankles, swishing as she slid gracefully onto the dance floor. It was a ‘hafla’, a Turkish dance party, with other troupes and classes joining in the demonstrations and the audience made up of the class members, their friends and partners. Her class was hosting it. The audience sat at tables around the dance floor, cabaret style.
As soon as she was on the dance floor she spotted him. He was sitting on the far side of a table towards one side, trying to be insignificant, yet watching the movements of the dancers with hard, hungry eyes. She felt a moment of panic as she felt his eyes slide over her. Not yet, not now, she silently prayed. The eyes stayed on her, but not out of recognition, out of desire. He shifted his position, straining forward to get a better look from his deliberately slightly obstructed view – probably cursing he’d chosen this half-hidden seat now.
She stood in position, shrouded in the seven veils of her dance, eyes masked with vibrant, sumptuous sequins and feathers so only her full mouth could be seen, curved slightly in a mysterious smile. Cool spiritual blue was the top layer, peeling down through turquoise, green, yellow, orange, cerise to deep pulsating red; the red of blood coursing through a body that was revealed in its transformation from spiritual to sensual as each layer enveloping her unfurled, coloured the room and dropped like shimmering pool to the floor; another layer of herself had been discarded. All restrictions removed. Sandra whirled and gyrated, entreated and enticed, withdrew – and the metamorphosis happened in front of their eyes – from a cool blue nymph to a scarlet siren, climaxing by throwing herself in abandon across the floor with a gesture that flung her body open in its’ entirety to any would be possessor – ‘take me . . .’
The room was transfixed, and so was he.
Sandra escaped to the dressing room, exhausted with the effort of portraying the emotions as much as following the right choreography. The class crowded round her, congratulating her, expressing their delight in her, and the class teacher was enraptured, holding onto her hand and grinning like a clown. The bustle swathed her in a sense of having finally arrived. Her exhaustion dissipated as their energy and enthusiasm trickled into her, until all of a sudden, the moment was now. Now was right. She allowed them to lead her back into the dance arena for a general round of applause for the whole class for having put on the show, and then she was being whisked into the crowds to say hello here, have her hand shook there, be introduced to this person or that.
‘I must introduce you to Frank,’ Mandy said, ‘you know my . . .’ Her voice trailed off, as she made a coy gesture indicating ‘my lover’ but not actually saying it. ‘He’s always a bit derogatory about belly dancing, but he won’t be able to be now he’s seen you dance.’
Sandra smiled and turned to look into the ashen face of Frank.
The chapter ended there, and Mary rested the book back into her lap. Frank – father’s name was Frank. Was the book telling her something? Had father treated mother this way? She concentrated hard on reviving the sense of her father in her mind. The way he’d stood – the sag of his shoulders mimicking the droop of his moustache, eyes dulled and defeated. Then by contrast mother sitting in her chair – this chair – ram-rod straight, cold, brushing Mary’s hair so hard she felt sore afterwards; not a soft atom in mother’s body, ever. No, fathers’ whole demeanour told her that he was unlikely to have been the aggressor. Mother on the other hand . . .
More to follow next week …
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