Dancing in the Dark
Published in The Hong Kong Writers’ Circle July 2002
Amy peeked at the clock on the night table. Four-thirty! When will this endless night end?
She pulled her blanket over her head and cried, unable to decide if she should get up or continue to torture herself by counting the sheep. “Get up? To do what? If only I could forget Michael!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. Finally, the crying exhausted her and she fell asleep. When she got up, she felt her eyelids heavy. In the bathroom, she washed up without looking at the mirror. She knew too well what two walnuts beneath her eyebrows looked like.
From the thirteen floor of the Marriott’s Hotel, she looked down at the Charles River. The colorful jigsaw of the Boston neighborhoods with distinct personalities across the water captivated her, as it did many years earlier when she lived in the scholastic ivory tower. She took in a deep breath, feeling a knot in her stomach.
“Go home to your monotonous life,” she said to herself. “Seth’s graduation was over a week ago. You can’t run away from reality. Jeffrey would hate to see you like this from where he is.”
At dawn, she decided to take a walk. Strolling along the riverbank, the peacefulness of the river contrasted the undertow inside her. She sighed. Old memories fogged her mind. Sixteen years had passed, the time with Michael – the bike rides, the hiking trips, the ski weekends, and the cuddling in front of the fire with Chinese take-out was as fresh as clean snow. She sat down on the dew-damped grass and pitched a pebble in the water.
A strong voice from behind interrupted her thoughts, “Testing your throwing range? Don’t hurt those people in the kayak!”
She turned around and looked up. The rising sun bouncing off the Charles River blinded her view. She shielded her eyes with a cupped hand and saw a firm, square-jawed face with a set of narrow brown eyes. His physique reminded her of Michael. A soft wave rippled up inside her, tickling her senses.
“Andrew Wong, MIT undergrad 2004,” said the young man, bending down to offer
his muscular hand. Amy shook it.
“Hello. I know a few Wongs,” she said, feeling an unusual but natural closeness with the young man standing in front of her. “I’m Amy Banks, MIT Alumni ’87.”
“87? That’s incredible,” he exclaimed. “You must have started college at five.”
She smiled. He sat down next to her, crossed his arms and studied her. “It must be the ponytail,” he said.
“The ponytail makes you look like a teenager, hanging out in a local ice-cream parlor.”
“Well, I’m killing time,” she double-talked.
“You’ve a complex face.” He sat down, staring at her.
“Are you in the habit of analyzing strangers?”
it’s just that your eyes, the turquoise color, I suppose, is what I noticed.
You’ve more secrets than a teenager. Are you okay?” he said.
Amy did not answer. An inappropriate question for someone he just met. From her silence, he sensed that his bluntness might have offended her. He changed the line of conversation.
“Do you live in Cambridge?” he asked, “or in Beacon Hill with the soignée crowd?”
“Neither. I’m a psychotherapist from New York, here for my nephew’s graduation at BU.”
“Oh, that was almost two weeks ago.”
“I stayed behind for the Dragon Boat Festival,” she said, making up an excuse to explain her extended stay. She didn’t know why she had to.
“That’s awesome! I’m the leader of one of the competition teams. Come and root for me next Sunday.”
Before she could answer, he said, “Let’s take a walk to celebrate this glorious day.”
Their stroll stopped at an old oak tree with hundreds of knife-engraved hearts on the trunk. Andrew stood upright as if he was welded to a pole, staring at the names.
“It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who do the childish engraving thing, as if these words meant something,” he murmured.
Amy spotted the heart “Michael and Amy Forever” and immediately looked away. Her body twitched, she felt an ache in her bones. Andrew was right: meaningless words! “Don’t you believe in love?” she said, keeping her composure.
“Love, yes. Young love, no! I came to MIT with my high school sweetheart. She dumped me the first year for another guy.”
“Who says love has to last forever?” she said cynically.
“After three years, she said goodbye just like that,” he said, voice choked up. “Do you know what I mean when I say words vaporize into thin air?”
She felt for him. She understood the feeling of being jilted. Later in the evening at the outdoor café in Harvard Square, three empty bottles of Merlot sat quietly on the small round table. Two street performers played their violins across the street in front of the line of bookstores. Norah Jones’ alluring Come Away With Me was playing in the background, teasing the full moon hanging in the sky. They got on their feet and danced to the music. Their conversation about books, movies, theaters, politics, religion, travels and life went on and on. They connected like lifelong friends.
“I’d a child born out-of-wedlock,” she told him, holding back her tears. “Jeffrey went through years of painful leukemia chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He died three years ago.”
“Does his father know?” Andrew asked.
“No. Jeffrey never knew his father. I don’t grieve my loss, I’m grateful for all the love he’d given me.”
He listened attentively, as if he was chewing on her every word, studying her every move. He reached over to hold her hand, guiding it around the closed petals of a single white rose on the table. Her heart danced like the piano keys, striking the wire strings that produced the erotic tune. She felt an inexplicable attraction toward him.
At the dark corner of the hotel entrance, they waltzed in the moonlight and he kissed her. She was paralyzed in the thrust of his tongue, feeling his throbbing heartbeats and his passion pressing on her legs. She pushed him away and said goodbye.
She slept until noon the next day and woke up grinning from a dream she had where she and Andrew made mad love in a cove with soft waves rippling up the shore, tickling their toes. She picked up the phone and dialed a number.
“Mom, I’m still in Cambridge.”
“Really? Until when?” said the voice on the phone.
“One more week, enjoying my first vacation in ten years,” she said gleefully.
“You sound different. Anything new?”
“Mom, I’ve met someone.”
“No, a sheep. Of course, a man.”
“Thank God! A man! The first in years!” her mother trumpeted.
Amy then called her assistant to re-schedule all the appointments for the week. Though she felt bad for the needy patients, she justified that her mental health would benefit the future treatment of theirs. As soon as she hung up with her assistant, the telephone rang. It was Andrew.
“Good afternoon!” his voice was high and eager. “I packed a picnic basket with wine, cheese and sandwiches. I’ll be in your hotel lobby in fifteen minutes.”
Her heart swirled and her feet danced to rhythmic moves, something she had not done for a long time. She slipped her favorite CD into the player. Springsteen's voice came on singing ……. You can’t start a fire without a spark …. Even if we’re just dancing in the dark…She
giggled like a teenager as she rushed to pull up her khaki shorts and put on
her Gucci sunglasses. Her heart leaped when they met.
By the water, they spread the blanket under a huge sycamore. The afternoon sun was hot, compensated by Charles’s light breeze. They sat side-by-side, sipping wine. Her head on his shoulder, her eyebrows suddenly locked. The setting seems so familiar.
“Why are you sad? Jeffrey?” Andrew asked.
She shook her head and gazed at the moving clouds. They took her back to 1987, the day Michael and her graduated from MIT. His words still lingered, “I must say goodbye for good. I’ve a wife and a young child in Hong Kong.”
She had screamed as if lightning had hit her, “I don’t believe you.”
“Then believe this.” Michael had pulled out a photograph from his wallet and placed it in front of her. A beautiful woman with a curvaceous figure stood next to Michael and a young boy. She had turned the picture over, the neat handwriting read, “My darling, I long for your return. Love, LuLu.”
“With my PhD, I’ll take over my father-in-law’s medical practice,” he added.
Tears had flooded her lashes. “How could you bed me for two years and have been married to someone else?”
“I’m tied to the cultural chain. I can’t leave my wife and betray my orthodox Buddhist family to involve myself with an outsider.”
“Don’t go! I love you!” Amy was pleading.
“I must go. You’ll be fine going back to your privileged life in New York.”
Still chilled in those words, Amy unexpectedly felt Andrew’s warm lips on her face. She hugged him and sobbed. He licked away her tears, first on one side, and then on the other. He began kissing her face and neck. She shook. The warmth of his firm body revitalized her dormant passion. She no longer could pretend the professional accomplishment was enough to fill the hole in her heart and the emptiness in her soul. She held her legs tight, but they felt no longer her own.
They spent the next five days in her room. They talked, laughed, read poetry, ordered room service, and made love. She was ambivalent about her young lover, yet his touches awoke every nerve of her flesh. Again and again, she moved atop him, like dancing to the slow rhythm of tango, enjoying every beat as if it were the last. The pain from seventeen years ago diminished with the passing of every second.
The night before the Dragon Boat race, Andrew caressed her flat stomach in bed. “You’re ageless and passionate. I almost can’t keep up with you.”
“I’m afraid youth is leaving me as we speak,” Amy said, stroking the small crinkles on her throat.
“I fell in love with you at first sight.” He paused. “Will you marry me?”
“I’m fifteen years older than you!” she said, stunned at the proposal.
“I’m not letting love slip through my fingers because of some meaningless numbers.”
“I can’t have any more children. My doctor said so.”
He held up her hand and pressed his lips on it, laughing. “I don’t want any kids. Children are burdens to the soul, my father said so.” He took off a silver chain with a circular jade pendant from his neck and slipped it over her head, next to her Star of David. “This is a family heirloom. Marry me.”
Amy moved her lips, wanted to say something but no words came out. The momentum of the relationship overwhelmed her, yet she was thrilled at the prospect. His passion constituted her entire being. Before him, she thought she could never be whole again.
“By the way, my parents will arrive from Hong Kong this weekend. You must meet them,” Andrew said, kissing her.
“My father is the representative of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, a key sponsor of the Dragon Boat Festival.”
“What are your parents like?”
“They’re a strange pair, like oil and water for as long as I can remember, mainly because of my father strays like an alley cat.” His voice shrilled with expectation. “Nonetheless, I’m sure that they’ll be happy for us.”
On the day of the race, Amy marveled at the display of brightly colored dragon boats as they raced through the Charles River. She enjoyed the special Lion Dance opening ceremony was spectacular. She sidled through the walls of people to find their designated meeting place, still thinking how disappointed she was that Andrew’s team only came in third.
“Amy! Amy!” Andrew waved his big hand among the thousand spectators when he spotted her.
She inched her way through the crowd. Standing next to Andrew were a fortyish woman and a familiar looking man with a square-jawed face. His receding hair had gone slightly grey, but his straight nose and bright eyes made it easy to imagine what he must have looked like at an earlier age.
“My father, Dr. Michael Wong, and my mother LuLu,” Andrew introduced them. “This is Amy, the love of my life.”
Amy and Michael stared at each other. There was a heavy stillness, in which both of them took a deep breath. He stood frozen and was ashen by the presence of his former lover. Her mouth curved down, the thought of Jeffrey not knowing his father crazed her. Yet Michael’s old whisper drifted through her blood, under her skin. She felt her legs trembling.
“How do you do?” LuLu broke the silence, extending her hand to Amy.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?” Andrew cut in.
“Pleasure meeting you both,” Amy said, recovering in a strained smile, slipping her arm through the crook of Andrew’s elbow. “I hope the cultural chain will not stop Andrew from marrying an outsider.”
Michael’s bulged vein on his neck moved like a struggling spider caught in Amy’s web of words. His face indicated that her sarcasm was not lost on him. LuLu stood still, knowing but straight-faced. Andrew reached to kiss Amy with a questioning glance. She gently moved away.
“Andrew, we need to talk,” Amy and Michael said simultaneously.