The other day, Kathy asked me why I moved to New York.
The idea of explaining spoken word poetry to an 84 year old was a bit daunting, so I eased in.
“Well, I actually moved her to -“
She pressed one finger against my lips, drawing an exclamation mark against my pout.
“Sweetheart”, she whispered. “I’ve known since the day you moved in here. You never had to tell me.”
My mouth opened in shock and my teeth grazed against her finger. It tasted like cigarette ash and coffee grounds.
I pulled back, incredulous.
“Kathy, how’d you know?” I couldn’t believe that she had taken me for a poet from the moment she met me. I felt a giddiness coursing through my veins.
“Oh, Clare.” She smiled. “I’ve known you were a -“ she lowered her voice and looked both ways. “I’ve known you were a dancer, always.”
I felt the blood in my arms and legs start to flow in reverse. Less giddy, more confused.
“Oh yes, dear.” By the why she was whispering and smirking, it was clear she didn’t think I was a ballerina. “And I’m all for it, dear. I wanted to dance when I moved here. I was twenty-three and beautiful, but too short for the stage.”
I pressed the giggles back down into my stomach, not wanting to break the illusion. The wicked glimmer in her eyes told me that this was one of the most exciting things that had happened in her building in awhile. So, I went with it.
“Do your parents know?”
“Yes, they’re very supportive.”
“Good. It’s honest work - don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
“Do the men tip you well?”
“Ok well, if they are ever get fresh, you just call me and I’ll be over there to break some knees faster than you can say Brooklyn Bridge. I know how to - I used to date a Gambino cousin, you know.”
She asked lots of questions and I made up lots of answers. The customers are wealthy. The establishment, honorable. We agreed that it wasn’t one of those sleezy places - not a “strip club”, but a cabaret. It was clear that in this fantasy, I wasn’t just dancing - I was dancing in 1958, when Kathy wanted to dance. We sat there and gossiped like a couple showgirls for an hour or so, until I realized it was it was time to go to work.
“Be safe”, she whispered while squeezing my hand goodbye. And then she followed her warning with a wink - “but be young!!”