Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Fifteen
When Dr. Cluff arrived at my studio, he actually smiled and shook my hand. "You never left Egypt, I see."
For the first time in years, I actually looked him in the eye. He hadn't changed much. His skin was still lined, brown and leathery from his years in Upper Egypt. He still walked with the vigor of a much younger man.
I caught a faint whiff of the archaeology lab. "You still smell like moldy bones," I answered. "I mean, I miss that."
Quite spryly, he hitched up linen trousers and sat cross-legged on my carpet. He opened a briefcase.
I brought out a samovar of tea that shivered and clattered subtly in my hands. It was blended Persian style: Indian Gulabi mixed with Earl Gray and green pods of cardamom, and served with hardened chunks of sugar called quand. We drank from small crystal glasses for two reasons: first, it was traditional. Second, I had bashed every one of my teacups on Bentley's hard hide.
I watched Dr. Cluff place a chunk of quand behind his teeth and sip the tea. "Your dissertation is not precisely terrible," he said, "but you do have to substantiate your hypothesis that tribal dancing springs from the family birth ritual."
"But on page seventy-two," I said, "I clearly show that--"
"Tut. You've jumped to a conclusion. Document that wild assertion in paragraph four, clean up those abominable errors of grammar, and you'll be ready to defend."
"Did you think I was such a coward that I would flunk you for your little dancing prank? Or did you assume that I had no sense of humor?"
"I, um, assumed--" Stop, Carmen. "Sir, your ferocity is legendary."
He smiled thinly. "I am not entirely as dull as you think."
As my gums flapped and babbled a reply, the phone rang.
"Delilah, darling." It was Nevada. "How are you?"
"Tired," I said. "Murder isn't that glamorous."
"That dog's ass, Bentley, won't let me speak to you. He thinks we're having an affair. But we have to talk. When you were lying there, half-dead, I did a lot of praying. The Lord showed me that if I don't trust you, I may kill you."
"I'm extremely trustworthy," I said. "Come on over. We'll have tea and fiddle around."
"Hell," he said, grieved, "there's a policeman there."
This was an interesting twist. Nevada was going to tell me something illegal. Should I run off to a rendezvous with him? Bentley would kill me. But Nevada wasn't confiding in him. He was confiding in me: that is, if he wasn't simply looking for a chance to silence me.
"How about twelve twenty-five tomorrow?" I said. "At The Larkspur in Old Town." At The Larkspur, business people sat in slightly rustic chic, sipping wine and observing Wichita's main drag through wide glass windows. One could even tuck into a steak processed just two miles north.
"Why don't we do it while Bentley's on shift?" Nevada said. "I don't want to see him."
"He won't be there," I promised. "The Lord said to trust me."
He thought about it a long time. Finally, he said, "Okay, but come alone. Don't tell anyone, and I mean anyone. If St. Peter comes down on a cloud, darling, lie to him."
"You're in that much trouble?"
He chuckled, but the sound was grim. "I'm in a fair amount of it, but you're in it worse."
What did he mean?
As for not telling anyone, I had already blown it. Dr. Cluff was busily peering into his tea glass, but his wrinkled old ears were alert as radar.
When I hung up, he said, "Why don't you show me your digs?"
I scrambled to my feet. "You actually want to see where I live?"
"Of course. Throughout my tenure, a good number of my graduate students have gone mad, but none has ever gone native."
The professor peered into room after room. "I'm glad to see that you've reformed your life. You were notorious for your lack of organization." He said this straight-faced while crunching teacup shards underfoot.
"David Bentley has had quite an influence on me," I said.
"Yes, quite. And this is your, ahem. So many videotapes?"
We were squinting into my Balloons Away! office-bedroom.
"I use these for post-game analysis," I explained. "To see how the choreography looks: what needs to be rehearsed or changed."
"And none of them are labeled?"
"Waste of time," I said. "I used to stack each one in a special place. I knew exactly what was on them until Bentley messed with them. Now he's dumped them all into one basket. I think he did it to trick me into getting bedrest."
"Clever young man."
"Marginally," I said.
The professor examined me. On his face was a bare hint of warmth. "Carmen, you are far too young to abandon your life's work."
"This studio is my life's work, ” I told him. I smothered a twinge of regret. "It is. You just don't appreciate it."
We shook hands.
I waved goodbye from the porch, holding a red-marked copy of my dissertation. The professor motored off down the street. His shiny new BMW, quite bruised, was the hue of a ripe banana.
My debonair cat burglar was Dr. Cluff! The dissertation slipped from my nerveless fingers. Its pages fluttered against the porch railings as I ran for the street.
But the professor was long gone, while I was tired and weak. "Catch you later," I said.
I was weary but thrilled. This news was almost too good to share with Bentley. But I had reformed and agreed to cooperate. I sat on the edge of my bed and poured coffee down the hatch, waiting for him to arrive.
Unfortunately, I closed my eyes just for a moment. I awoke the next morning in my expensive designer dress. Someone had taken the trouble to pull off my shoes, spread a blanket over me and tuck it snugly into the mattress. My dissertation was neatly stacked on the desk.
I crept into the studio. Bentley was prone on my carpet, jean-clad legs and huge bare feet sticking from a heap of old afghans. A pillow was stuffed in his face. He was still snoring loudly enough to vibrate the mirrors. I warmed up last night's coffee. He woke up when the smell drifted in.
"Well," I said, pouring him a cup, "how many heads did you bang last night?"
"Dozens," he yawned. "We raided a fraternity party and filled three vans." He scratched an armpit and stared at me compassionately. "I'm sorry about the telegrams, D.T."
"You mean it's okay?"
"I mean, I'm sorry you can't go. I have to do my job. You could at least be grateful."
"Oh," I said. "More coffee?"
He drank it down. "Now you owe me an apology for that terrible thing you said yesterday."
"Which terrible thing?"
"You don't remember? You said Giselle made love like a trout in a dead eddy."
Some people think I have fluff for brains, but I do not. "Bentley," I said, scandalized. "I didn't even think of Giselle. I was trying to insult you."
His face stiffened with shock and surprise.
I could barely suppress the grin. "I'm sorry I said that about you. It was a cheap shot. But really, Bentley, is she that bad?"
A red flush crawled upward from the collar of his shirt.
"The way Giselle starves herself," I said, "she's probably just preoccupied with thoughts about food."
"You framed me," he said.
"Take her to dinner," I suggested, "then catch her before she sneaks into the bathroom to throw up."
"She never does that. Ever."
"Oh?" I said. "You know she has to step on a scale once a week, and the ballet mistress orders her to lose weight or retire."
He stared at the floor.
"But in a couple of years, she'll be too old to be a ballerina," I said, "and she'll go into teaching. She'll begin to keep her food down, and wear tee shirts over her leotards to hide the bulge."
I patted him on the shoulder and went upstairs to put on a little day makeup. I looked in my secret box.
My belly-gram orders were gone. In their place was a stack of blank sheets and a note which read, "Sorry, D.T. I have sisters."
I stuffed everything back into the box, then looked for the trap he had undoubtedly set. There it was. A broom straw had fallen from the top of the box. I laid it back in its place. Then I slipped on ratty sweats and a tee shirt with the sleeves torn off.
No. I was a woman who'd vomited herself back through death's door. I had a mission. I fished out a leotard someone had given me, and admired myself in the mirror.
I stuck out my chest.
It was hopeless. So I lengthened the straps until they showed a little of what little I had. I combed my newly red-blonde hair and strolled downstairs.
"Monopoly?" said Bentley. He had already brought the board into the studio. Ironic. He would undoubtedly dominate my time until well after noon. Then he'd bankrupt me and whistle his way off to work.
I knew how to play Monopoly, too. Bentley had always gotten the best of me. This time, I would absolutely bring him to his knees.
I spun up the thermostat.
We placed the board on the studio floor.
By ten-twenty, he had put hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. By ten thirty-five, his expensive knit shirt was sticking to his chest.
"Let's open some windows," he grumbled. "It's like a sauna in here."
"I'm still cold." My leotards were mostly cotton. "Take off that heavy shirt. The little alligator must be generating heat."
"So you can make fun of my chest again?"
I almost hated to do this to a man who was engaged to a fish. But I desperately wanted to win.
"I only made fun of you," I said, "because I was shy."
"Look in the mirror, Bentley. That physique's enough to make a mime stutter." I crawled seductively over the monopoly board, scattering land deeds and hotels, and fixed my eyes on his clear blue ones.
I saw surprise, then amusement. But he grabbed my waist and snugged me tight against his chest. I gave a push. As we fell, I made sure my foot struck his stash of five hundred dollar bills.
"What do you want from me, D.T.?" he said. "Do you want me to concede the game?"
"Oh, Bentley, I'm so embarrassed," I answered, drawing back dramatically about an inch. "I don't know what came over me. It must be the badge and the gun."
"Hush," he said.
He kissed me, thoroughly and with expertise. I felt my wild nature subdued by his manly resolve, especially when he rolled me underneath and pinned me down with his giant elbows.
"Put your hands in the air, Delilah," I said, doing so. "You're surrounded."
He leaned on one elbow and slipped an arm around my shoulders. I made myself comfortable. His lips moved skillfully down my throat. Agile, long fingers worked off one shoulder strap, then the other.
I put up a little resistance. Not too much.
I can't forget, I thought. What can't I forget? Oh, the belly-gram. Do I really want to go?
Bentley had taken hold of the neckline of my leotard. His fingers were inside, exploring, easing it down.
"Hey," I said.
"Please," he answered. "You're beautiful."
Sure. Compared to Giselle, I had cleavage.
My God, Giselle.
Yes, I'd swipe her man in a heartbeat. But I was not a prima ballerina with a perfectly flat stomach and I didn't have her poise. Of course he'd choose me. For thirty minutes.
"For Godsake, D.T., why did you turn up the heat?" Bentley held me, now, his breath in my hair. A vein in his throat pulsed against my cheek.
"Mmm. Animal. Tropical."
"Most people use liquor. I'm going to shut it off."
I watched his silk socks strut toward the thermostat in the sewing room. For a moment, I lay there, pretending I was special. Then I snapped my shoulder straps back up to reality.
I slipped into the bedroom and locked the door. I grabbed my jam box and vaulted out the window.
I had one fleeting, guilty thought of Bentley waiting in his Izod shirt and silk socks. Well, let Giselle console him. I crawled on hands and knees, searching for my dance bag, which had gotten wedged in the damp soil under the wiegela. I ripped it free in a shower of tiny green leaves, and ran pell-mell for the car.
I jammed the key in the ignition and heaved my bag into the back.
I was free. I had won!
I choked back tears.
I roared off before Bentley could even rush the door.
Thanks for reading! You too can be a belly dancer. :) It's not too late to jump into Belly Sculpt or Yo-Belly! Check us out on FB by clicking on the top left of the home page! --Safira