Chapter 13: Dirty Work
Merlyn could hear the cafe music as she approached a distinctive blue door on which the words Tom & Hardy had been freshly painted.
I’m a fool to do your dirty work
I don’t wanna do your dirty work
I’m a fool to do your dirty work
“Hi Merlyn,” said Tom. “Glad you came to see my new place. Take a seat anywhere.”
Merlyn sat in a quiet corner and gathered some of the hessian cushions with embroidered motifs of Brussels griffons. The room was large for a city cafe and had numerous nooks and crannies. She knew that Ben could be there. He worked next door at The State Ballet. No longer a performing dancer, he taught and choreographed. A large, u-shaped lounge in the far corner held a noisy group of lively people. It was Ben with about eight of the young dancers and a few other staff members. They were all engrossed in their own carry-on, so Merlyn watched them in the way that introspects watch people. They stare with an inappropriate single-mindedness until something reminds them that it is not polite to peer at people.
As usual, Ben was ruling the roost in his understated, polished way. By his age, he was far too good at it to have to exert much effort. He was smiling, talking, and touching each person just enough to reassure them that they were important to him. The young ones, of course, were easy fodder. Not much more than kids, they needed Ben’s support. They had their careers to think about. Besides, people tend to fall in love with those who have much more than them. Somewhere along the way, Ben had learned that the most successful approach to people was warmth and humour. However, if challenged, he could be as feral as any outright power maniac (although he preferred not to do his own dirty work unless he had to).
It’s not bad, thought Merlyn. It’s normal. Actually, it’s more accomplished than normal and, at least, Ben has some idea that there might be something more. After all, he loved me. Merlyn caught the light bouncing from the small window above her onto her water glass and back out into a complex world. Returning her gaze to the group, she thought, Who am I to judge any of them? They are all building their own worlds, growing their abilities, and forming relationships. How else do people learn but by experience and practice?
The group was on the move. Tom spoke animatedly to them on their way out. Some of the girls hugged him. Some of the boys whacked his bum. Tom knew how to work them. Ben and Tom shook hands. They could read each other without even trying.
After the group left, Tom walked over to Merlyn, smiled, and said, “Gotta keep the customers happy.” His face changed to a more serious expression and he said quietly, “They’re not my peeps.”
“I know,” said Merlyn.
Chapter 14: Blue Skies
Just as Merlyn was gathering her things to leave the cafe, Ben opened the blue door and headed purposely for her.
“Did you see me before?” said Merlyn.
“Of course,” said Ben.
Why didn’t you say hello when you were with the others? thought Merlyn. After a second thought, she let it go and patted the chair next to her. Having already decided to oblige, Ben sat down. His eyes and voice were soft.
“How’s things?” he asked.
“Everything is fine,” said Merlyn. “And you?”
“You know, the same,” said Ben. “Busy. People. Problems. Ugh!”
They chatted a few more minutes before Ben said he needed to go back to teaching. Giving each other a kiss, they parted peacefully.
As Merlyn paid for her coffee, Tom asked, “Ex?” Merlyn was surprised. Tom shrugged and said, “I’ve been in hospitality a long time.”
“We were married,” said Merlyn. “I suppose we still are.”
Merlyn opened the door onto a splendid, blue sky. It back-dropped the city landscape and danced between all the buildings, old and new, wherever it had space. It brought some sparkle into the hordes on the street who accordingly lifted their gaze and walked more lightly and brightly. As Merlyn looked at the magnificent, heritage-listed, sandstone building that became the home of The State Ballet eighty years ago, she thought about all the dancers who had walked in and out of those doors. So many dreams and aspirations; so much failure and disappointment. In amongst the momentary glory and the inevitable change would always be the unrelenting, ferocious desire to express the soul through the mechanics of a limited body in the hope that it could bring some peace to a painful inner and outer world.
It does do that, thought Merlyn. Maybe it’s limited. Maybe it’s a lot of work for fleeting imperfection but along with all the dirty work, there is also love. Along with all the dirty dancing, there is also purity. Along with all the hatred, hurt, and anger, there is also healing. That is the life of a ballet company. Indeed, that is life.