By Lisabet Sarai
"I named my first car after you." As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I want to snatch them back. My clumsy attempt at homage comes out as insensitivity, given the tragedies of her children's demise, and her own. My companion simply smiles, though, her expression a bit vague - the effects, perhaps, of the vin ordinaire we've shared (one glass so far for me, three for her).
"That's flattering, I suppose," she says finally. "Though I've never cared much for machines..." The lowering sun slants between the narrow buildings, drawing bars of gold on the cobblestones. A gaggle of primary schoolers erupt from one side of the square, tumble past us, and disappear in a cloud of shrieks and laughter on the other. Her moist eyes follow their progress, but her lips still quirk up at the corners. "The natural exuberance of childhood," she murmurs. "I still feel it."
She's pulled her silver-streaked hair into a classical bun, but stray locks have escaped to tangle upon her thin shoulders. The many layers of her clothing, dove gray, hide her body from me, but as she shifts in her chair to pick up her glass, I sense strength and grace, a purity of form that illuminates even her smallest movements. She drinks deep. I stare at the ruby drop that lingers for a moment on her upper lip, before her tongue darts out to gather it in. The tiny, casual gesture sends bolts of heat to my sex. I understand why she fascinated so many men - and women.
"Please, go on." She turns her full attention to me. I feel blood rushing into my cheeks. Laughter bubbles in her voice. "Why in the world would you christen your automobile with my name?"
"Freedom. That's what you've always been for me, a beacon of freedom in a world of constraint. You followed your heart, your vision, your passion. You didn't care what people thought of you. You defied convention. I've always wanted to be that sort of person."
"So why not be?" She leaned forward, fingers fluttering across my cheek, leaving trails of electricity in their wake. "No one can give you freedom, my dear. You must seize it for yourself."
"You make it sound so easy."
"No, it's never easy. You have to be brave. There will always be people who condemn you, who label you as trivial, or immoral. Who put obstacles in your path. Who try to bury you. It's far easier to give in and do as you're told. In the end, though, their approval means nothing. It won't compensate you for frittering away your soul."
I nodded. I already know the truth in what she says - otherwise, I wouldn't be here, in the waning Paris afternoon, ordering another round. Isadora winks at the slender young waiter who sets her goblet down on the table in front of her. He stumbles, almost spilling the contents into her lap. "Such lovely dark curls," she comments as he scurries back to safety of the bar. "I wonder if he has the same sort of hair on his chest. Drink quickly, Lisabet, so we can get him to come back."
"Tell me about your dancing," I urge, needing to change the subject, simultaneously embarrassed and aroused by her frank sexuality. "When did you first start? Where did you get your ideas?"
"I probably danced in my mother's womb. I don't remember ever not dancing. It wasn't something I chose. The dance chose me."
"I think I know what you mean," I respond. No one ever really taught me how to write. It was just something I've always done, a part of who I am.
"The Greeks really did understand - making the Muses into goddesses. There's a core of the divine in every art. And every artist has a touch of divine madness." She giggles, shaking her head till her long hair springs free from its chaste arrangement and tumbles over her breasts. I ache to run my fingers through those wild locks, working out the knots. I imagine stroking a finger tip across her nipple, sensing the stiffening response. I wonder what the wine would taste like, sampled from her laughing red mouth.
"And what about your dancing, my dear? I know that words are your primary medium but I sense that your lovely petite body craves movement."
I want to drop through the pavement. I want to gather her in my arms. I stall, sipping the blood-hued liquid and feeling liquid courage course through me.
"Sometimes - sometimes I dance. Sometimes I just forget myself and let the music take me over, control me." I don't tell her that the surest way for a man to seduce me is to dance with me.
"No, no, it's not the music. It doesn't come from outside. It's Spirit, that spark of truth, of the gods, inside all of us. The rhythm calls it forth, perhaps. You must let your guard down, let it out."
"I try. Sometimes I succeed. And then, the joy...."
Isadora's face is luminous in the dusk. "Yes. Nothing can quench that bliss. Poverty, illness, death... none of them has any power in the face of that glorious perfect grace. The bad things don't vanish, oh no, but somehow the dance transforms them. I transform them, weaving them all into the Art."
She's taken my hand now. She leans forward until I feel her warm breath on my face. "That's the secret," she whispers. "The body, this weak, misshapen, gross thing we lug around for half a century or more, is the crucible where we transmute base existence into transcendent beauty."
She grins as though mocking her own seriousness and waves at the boy cowering inside the café. The slight motion is so eloquent it brings an ache to my chest. "Garçon! L'addition, s'il vous plait!"
"A pity he's so shy," she adds, in a conspiratorial tone. "Ah well. He's probably too young to know much about love anyway."
Our check settled, we rise from our seats, so perfectly in unison that we might have been choreographed. Gas lights flicker into life around the square. Overhead the sky gleams a translucent teal. The café has filled up while we talked; the chatter of the other patrons is loud around us but velvet stillness has invaded my heart. I wait upon my companion.
Isadora surveys me, pleasure obvious in her expression. Desire surges through me, leaving me sweaty and trembling. She flings her scarlet silk scarf behind her and reaches for my hand. "My pension is a few blocks away. Shall we walk?"