by Catherine M. Wilson
I wonder how long I have loved her. From the beginning, I think.
I remember not being able to take my eyes off her. I had never seen
anyone like her. Everything about her was strange and wonderful.
There were no women like her in my little village. Now I know there
is no other like her in the world. I will never see another like
her. I will never see anyone else.
We have been good friends to each other, but the road to friendship was
a rough one. I left her once. I couldnít bear to see her hurt
or to be the cause of it, and so I played the coward and went home.
I hurt her more by that than by anything I might have done to endanger
her. But she waited for me. I have spoken out of turn and made
her turn away from me. She has sometimes had to go where I couldnít
follow. She still goes places in her mind where she wonít let me
near. But I have always waited for her.
I have wondered what it is about her that draws me. She is strong,
but I am stronger than I have ever been. I donít need her strength
as I once did. She is courageous, but I have found my own courage
to be as great as hers. I donít need her courage any more.
She goes her own way. I have always been her equal in that.
I left home to go my own way. My way was with her.
Our friendship is a dance between us. Sometimes we move together
for a common cause or against an enemy. Sometimes we move apart as
life separates us for awhile, but always we come back together as partners
in a circle dance. Side by side we stand. We move in unison.
If we separate to weave among the other dancers, we will come full circle
to join hands again.
But now we have begun to dance a different dance. We are no longer
side by side. More and more we stand and face each other. I
move closer; she moves away. She reaches out to me; I
step back. Sometimes hands touch, sometimes bodies. The movement
of the dance will bring us close, almost too close, then carry us apart
again, but my eyes are still on her, and hers on me.
When did this dance begin? Is it new or have I just begun to notice?
I see it now in everyday things we do and say. Sometimes words are
spoken that can mean one thing or the other. No one asks which meaning
was intended. Sometimes things are almost said, and then held back.
With this new dance has come a distance.
I feel the change in her. I miss our easy friendship. She seems
far away. I ask for reassurance. She denies the distance that
I feel. How can I partner her in this dance? Would I move towards
her if I were not assured of her retreat? Would she move towards
me if she were not assured of mine?
Sometimes this dance feels like a dance of war. An approach feels
like a challenge. To be too close feels dangerous. Each step
back is a retreat. Sometimes this dance feels like a dance of love.
An approach is a promise. To be too close is overwhelming.
A step back is an invitation. But in love the distance between the
dancers closes. How can the distance close between us? When
did I begin to want it to?
If I had married, as my family wanted, I would have spent my life with
one man, in one place. I couldnít stand the thought. But if
I could marry her, I would. The rest of my life wouldnít be long
enough. If I could marry her. Why canít I? Why canít
we spend our lives together? Why canít we agree before each other
and the world that each of us is first with the other, that nothing, no
one, will come between us?
If I had married I would have slept in one manís bed, in one manís arms,
for the rest of my life. I couldnít stand the thought. But
I would give the world to sleep in her arms for just one night. To
sleep in her arms. Is that all I want? No, I want more than
that from her. I want all that she can give me, her love, her trust,
her faithfulness. And as a seal upon that gift, I want the gift of
her body as well. And that is the distance in our dance. That
is why our coming too close is dangerous. That is why we both retreat.
Once we close the distance there is no going back.
When I was much younger and kept company with the village boys, they made
a game of it. For them it was a conquest. It meant little more
to them than a stolen kiss, forgotten by morning. For us, there will
be no forgetting.
How can I partner her in this dance? This is a dance that I donít
know. A maiden goes innocent to her marriage bed, but my innocence
puts me at a disadvantage. If I could count on her to court me, I
would know the part that was mine to play. I know the coy refusals
that draw a suitor closer until he has committed himself. But one
refusal and she would be gone.
And of course she will never court me. I know that.
And if I court her, what then? She will laugh at me. But how
can we remain the way we are? I think she tires of dancing.
We canít remain the way we are. If we donít close this distance,
the distance will end our friendship. It has become a painful distance,
for both of us. I have tried to be her friend again, to stand beside
her, to take her hand as I used to do. Nothing is the same.
She mistrusts me. She pulls away.
Now I am afraid. Itís already too late. We canít go back to
being friends again. I see how this will end. Unless we come
together, we will break apart. Friendship will not hold us.
Not even love will hold us, unless we acknowledge it.
I must be the one to do it. She wonít. I know her well enough
to know that. I must do what I donít know how to do and I must do
it without any help from her. I must do it in spite of her.
What if my feelings have misled me? What if she doesnít feel as I
do? What if she doesnít want what I want? What will I do then?
If anything can overcome my fear, it is her face this morning. Her
unhappiness shows plainly in her eyes. When I try to joke with her,
she just stares back at me. She isnít listening. She listens
to another voice. What that voice tells her I canít even guess, but
I fear it, more than I fear revealing myself.
I already have a plan, but to carry it out will take more courage than
facing any enemy. Still, I have to try.
She rose early but she is still tired. She lingers before our breakfast
fire. She pays me no attention. I am able to approach her before
she realizes I am so close. I lay my hand on her forehead and when
she draws back I scold her. You have a fever. Just a slight
one. You must be coming down with something. You should have
told me. Itís too cold at night now to sleep outdoors. We need
to find a room for a few nights at least, until this fever passes.
She protests. I will not take no for an answer. She gives in
too quickly. She doesnít seem to care, one way or the other.
I press my advantage. You must be sick, I say, or you would still
be arguing with me.
We are in the village I have chosen by mid-afternoon.
Tomorrow there will be a festival. She hates festivals. She
hates crowds. But I need to surround her, so that she will find it
difficult to run. And I need to distract her, so that by the time
she realizes what Iím doing, it will be too late.
My first worry is that we wonít be able to find a room, but there are plenty
to be had today. I plead poverty to the landlord and finally accept
a room with one small bed and a fireplace. It is perfect. The
evening is chilly and a fire has already been lit.
When I have mothered her before, she has been good-natured about it.
Tonight she submits without complaint. I fuss over her. I feel
her forehead. I feed her bread and broth. I help her to undress
and get ready for bed. I tuck her in. When I do not join her
she looks a silent question at me. Iím going to go downstairs and
tell some stories, I say. Go to sleep, now. You need your rest.
If I didnít know better, I would believe that she is really sick.
She does everything I tell her without a word. When I return a few
hours later, she is fast asleep. The moonlight falls upon her face.
How beautiful she is. I stand and look at her while time stands still.
I undress as quietly as I can and slip into the bed beside her. How
many times have we slept this close and I thought nothing of it.
Tonight I feel her living body next to me. My body melts against
her. My heartbeat deafens me. I am ashamed of my own innocence.
By this time tomorrow, if I do not lose my courage, I will be innocent
no more. I have never felt more the coward. I lie beside my
love and dream, but the thought of acting on my dreams frightens me to
death. In my dreams she is willing. In my dreams, she loves
me as I love her. In my dreams, I know what I am doing. What
am I going to do tomorrow? I have no idea.
In the morning when I wake, I expect her to be up already. She is
an early riser and does not lie abed once she is awake. But when
I wake I feel her arms around me. She is not asleep. This is
a good sign.
She feels me wake. She moves away from me a bit. Before she
can tease me about sleeping late, I tease her for lying so long in bed.
You must be getting worse, I say. I turn to her and feel her forehead.
Maybe you should stay in bed today. Iím fine, she says, but she doesnít
move. I get up and dress and go to fetch her breakfast. The
streets have begun to fill with carts and children.
Vendors are setting up shop for the festival day and the children are too
excited to wait. They are everywhere underfoot. Their laughter
reminds me of home.
For just a moment, I stop and think, if I had married as my parents wanted,
I would have this life every day. I would have festivals and laughing
children and always the comfort of home. My cowardice shames me.
That was not the life I chose. I chose her. I could have had
all this. I didnít want it. My nerves are playing tricks on
When I return to our room, she is up and dressed and looking out the window.
Whatís all that, she asks. Itís a festival day, I say. She
isnít happy. If youíre feeling well enough, I say, why donít we go
down and see whatís going on? She rolls her eyes, but I know she
will come with me. We eat our breakfast in silence. I fuss
over her some more. I touch her when I fuss. She is used to
When she and I were first together, she didnít like to be touched.
But I have always taken friends by the arm when we walked together, and
little by little she has grown accustomed to it. Now if I take her
arm when we are in a crowd, she doesnít flinch or startle as she used to.
The streets are full. I take her hand. Hand in hand we walk
through crowded streets. There is so much to look at. I look
at everything, but she is all I see. Her hand in mine distracts
me. The crowd jostles me and I bump against her. When we stop
to watch a juggler or a puppet show, I let the crowd press my body against
hers. I want to turn to her and put my arms around her. I want
to hide my face against her. I want her arms around me. Just
thinking of it takes my breath away and makes me dizzy.
I laid this snare for her, but I have caught myself in it. I wanted
to coax her out of hiding, but it is my own heart that stands revealed.
Whatís the matter? she says. Nothing. Youíre white as a ghost,
she says. She leads me to a bench and we sit down. I just need
some air, I say. Iíll be all right. She is still holding my
hand. She looks at me with concern in her eyes. I am ashamed.
I am lying to her but I donít know how to tell her the truth.
She tells me not to move and leaves me here. She returns with a cool
drink. I make her share it with me. I hear music. Soon
the dancing will begin.
We make our way towards the music. We find a place beside a low wall
next to the brick courtyard where the dancers make ready. She places
me against the wall and shields me from the crowds with her body.
It is a tender gesture and not long ago I would never have noticed it.
She pretends to watch the dancers but I catch her eyes on me. She
is worried. I slip my hand in hers and squeeze it. She smiles.
She is so beautiful. The sunlight glances off her raven hair.
It shines like silk.
The dancers are in costume. Their colors swirl before my eyes.
The music fills the air around us. I am thinking of a different dance.
Her fingers touch my face. She startles me. Sorry, she says,
and takes her hand away. This is not going well. Youíre overheated,
she says. Yes. Shall we go back? she says. Yes.
She makes a path for us through the crowd. Soon we are in our room
She closes the shutters against the afternoon sun. Soft light filters
through and a soft breeze. I hear the music and the noise of the
crowd. It sounds far away. She bathes my face with cool water.
I think youíre the one thatís coming down with something, she says.
Iím just tired. Why donít you take a nap, she says. I think
I will too. I am too surprised to answer her. I lie down on
the bed and she lies down beside me. She smiles at me, then her eyes
close and she sleeps.
I could not have planned this better. We are alone here.
We will not be disturbed. The entire town is making merry.
No one knows us here. No one will be looking for us. No one
will notice our absense. But my conscience bothers me. I have
been dishonest with her about everything. I tricked her into coming
here. Even worse, I planned to lead her into something she might
not choose herself.
I planned to seduce her, to take her unawares before she could think it
over, before her head could betray her heart, before she could reject me
for my own good. I planned to do to her what I feared that she would
do to me. I feared that she would make a decision for me that was
mine to make. I canít decide this for her now.
I have been dishonest with myself as well. I made myself believe
that this is what she wants, if she only knew it. But she either
wants it or she doesnít. She either knows her own mind or she doesnít.
If she needs more time, I must give it to her. If she needs to be
alone, I must give her that too. I didnít know I loved her quite
Her face in sleep is lovely. She is unguarded, as she never is when
she is awake. It makes my heart ache to look at her. If she
leaves me, how will I ever gather up all the pieces of my heart.
I lie beside my love and watch the light of afternoon fade into evening.
I lie beside my love. I will not waste the time in sleep. In
her sleep she turns away from me. I turn to her and let my body fall
against her. I lay my face against her back. What I have been
afraid to do all day, now I could do easily. I could slip my arms
around her. I could cover her shoulders with kisses. When she
turns to ask me what Iím doing, I could stop her questions with my lips.
I could tell her with my body what my heart knows. I could do it
I awake alone. The room is dark. A blanket covers me.
She must have put it there. Where is she? I hear music coming
from the common room downstairs. I hear the dancersí feet keep time.
Where is she? If I go downstairs will I find her there or is she
gone? Where do these thoughts come from? She wouldnít leave
me. Where is she?
I find her downstairs. She has saved some supper for me. The
music is too loud for us to talk. I eat my supper and watch her watch
the dance. Where have I heard that tune before? It is like
a dance we did at home. I turn to watch the dancers.
I know this dance. The men stand still and let the women dance around
them. They keep time with their feet, but they donít dance.
Each manís eyes are on his partner. The womenís steps are intricate.
I know because I found them hard to learn. But I could still do them
now. Each woman dances for her partner. It is a courtship dance.
I learned it as a child. I will never dance it now. I have
learned so much that I will never need to know, and what I need to know
no one can teach me. The music speaks of love. It makes me
sad. When will I have my dancing day?
We go outside to get some air. The streets are full of people who
have had too much to drink. She puts her arm around my shoulders.
She draws me close to her. She stares down any that would come too
close to me.
There was a time when I would have been angry with her for being so protective.
I would have taken it to mean that she had no faith in me, that she didnít
believe that I could take care of myself. Now I am glad for her protection.
Now I want to walk these streets all night, just to keep her arm around
But at last we must go in. The music and the dancing will go on till
dawn. In our room we can still hear it. Neither one of us is
tired. She lights the lamp.
Are you going to tell me, she asks.
What? I feel the blood rush to my face. Does she know?
Whatever is the matter with you. Are you sick?
No, I say. She doesnít know.
Have I done something wrong?
I am speechless. What can she mean? And then I understand.
It is a loverís question. I had forgotten. She too is a dancer
in this dance. While I have been distracted by my feelings, she has
had feelings of her own. I hold out my hand to her and she takes
it. They are playing the wrong music downstairs, but it will do.
I begin the steps. I canít dance, she says. Your part is easy,
I say. You stand and watch. I dance for her. The steps
are intricate, but I know them all. I dance for her as I learned
to dance for the one I choose to marry. I dance my love for her.
I dance my desire for her. I dance for her as if my life depended
on her answer.
She is watching and she knows the meaning of my dance. If she wishes,
she can stop me. She has plenty of time now to think. Whatever
happens next will not take her by surprise. I move behind her and
touch her lightly on the shoulder. When I see her eyes again I see
that I have touched her heart. Her eyes on my body are a loverís
The music stops. I stop and stand before her. She doesnít move.
Her eyes are on my face. They tell me everything I need to know.
They tell me that the distance between us has hurt her too. They
tell me that she wants what I have offered her. They tell me that
she doesnít quite believe me. But at last she moves and I am in her
We both stand still. It is our hearts that dance. I am out
of breath, but not from dancing. Her embrace is strong. There
is a fierceness in it. She is my warrior. She is my love.
She is my choice. And I am hers.
Her fierce embrace turns gentle as her hands caress me.
She lifts my face to hers. Her kisses on my face are soft.
Her lips find mine. There can be no going back. I will not
forget her kiss or her embrace. I will need her like this every day.
Nothing will be the same.
She hesitates. Take me to bed. She starts to undress me.
Her hands are shaking. I have to help her. I help her to undress.
When we lie down together she takes me in her arms and holds me.
She is not what I expected. She is shy with me. So I begin.
Her body isnít shy. Her body burns under my hands. She wonít
let me take my time. She takes me with her.
But we have just begun to dance. I learn her body as I learn my own.
I learn the touches that arouse her, and the touches that prolong her pleasure.
I learn how to satisfy her desire. I learn her heart as I learn my
own. I learn the comforting she needs after I make love to her.
I learn the tenderness in her touch I never would have guessed. I
learn the sounds she makes and what they mean. I learn her shyness
and how to free her from it. She is not what I expected. She
is so much more.
There can be no going back. I will not forget her touch or her desire.
I will need her like this every day. Nothing will be the same.
This is my dancing day.