Stories by
Harley Hahn

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(August 11, 2012)

Holly sat quietly behind the desk, her hands folded neatly in her lap. She turned to the left and looked out the large wide window. It would, she decided, be her favorite window in the house. As her gaze traveled through the glass, she could feel the pulsating contour of closely cropped brown and green brush, all the way to the edge of a wide rolling hill. In the middle distance, a handful of tall oak trees punctuated the brush. Holly smiled wistfully. Far away to the right she could see the ocean. Very far away, past the blueness, she could discern the outline of the islands.

She sighed and felt a long, deep wave of sadness pass through her. She began to cry, slowly and silently. A moment later she recovered her breath, unfolded her hands, refolded them, and looked straight ahead. In front of the desk were two large sliding glass doors, opening onto a deck. The deck overlooked a paving-stone driveway, lined by a collection of fruit trees: peach, nectarine, avocado, apple, pear, fig, and plum. The plum tree was filled with dark purple and red fruit, wet and ready. Holly could taste the tartness. She wondered what it would be like later in the summer when more of the fruit became ripe. Would she like the figs? Would she even be here long enough to enjoy them?

She stood up and looked out to the right at the mountains. Between here and there was a long narrow valley filled with houses, cars, trees and, she imagined, tiny people she couldn't even see. She wondered what life was like down there. What if she were to move here, to this wonderful, magical house on top of the hill with the view of the ocean, the islands, the mountains, and the valley? Would she be happy? Would she enjoy being one of the people who, from time to time, went down the hill into the valley to disappear into the city?

The deck in front of her had a black metal railing, covered with overflowing vines of bright red bougainvillea. She imagined herself on that deck, sitting in a soft chair and sleeping in the sunshine. Would she feel comfortable, she asked herself? She was, after all, only a visitor. Maybe, however, one day, she might live here. Maybe.

Her gaze moved to two very tall, very thin palm trees poking their heads above the street, their leaves flopping gently back and forth in the ocean breeze. They waved mysteriously to Holly. In her imagination, they were comforting her in her sadness, and she found herself smiling at them, trying her best to send back warm thoughts.

She struggled to pull back her awareness and to focus. She wanted so much to settle her mind. She was able to do so for a moment, but then the enormity of where she was and what had happened took away her breath and her feelings, replacing both with a single thought:

How did I get here? How did I ever get here?

She thought back to when she first met Henry. It was at a weekly dance. Holly had been swing dancing for some time and had a lot of experience. Her movements were fluid and she could follow well. Thus, unlike many of the other women, she enjoyed dancing with most everyone, and she always seemed to have a big smile on her face.

Henry had come over to her and asked her to dance. She hadn't really noticed him before. He was taller than her, but only of medium height. She looked at him carefully. He was cute, but not handsome. She had a feeling about him. In some indefinable way he looked, well... he looked smart, perhaps even very smart. He seemed to have confidence, but she could also sense an undercurrent of self-doubt.

When it came to swing dancing, leading was complex and, in fact, was a lot more difficult than following. Over the years, Holly had noticed that many of the men who asked her to dance had that same paradoxical combination of confidence and doubt. When other women were talking by themselves, they would critique the men who had asked them to dance: this one wasn't gentle enough; that one couldn't stay on the beat; and so on. Holly was different. As long as there was music and she was moving, she was able to be in the moment and enjoy herself. That is why, when she danced, she always had a big smile on her face and, indeed, that is why so many men liked to dance with her. Holly was a skillful dancer, but unlike many of the other women who danced well, she was fluid, not flashy, and she was never, ever intimating. Moreover, she was generous. She danced in a way that made it easy for her partners to relax and have a good time, which made her a highly desirable partner. And because she always gave more than she took, Holly was happy.

When this man had asked her to dance, Holly expected nothing special. She expected only that they would dance together for a few minutes and have a reasonably good time. When the song was over he would, like all the other men, thank her and melt back into the crowd. Perhaps another time, on another day, he would ask her to dance again. She would say yes, they would dance together and, again, he would disappear. Holly had come to the dance alone, and she would leave alone, a bit happier and a bit more relaxed, but pretty much with the same feelings she had when she walked in the door. However, it was not to be.

The man led her onto the floor, and took her in his arms. He introduced himself as Henry, and she told him her name. He then asked her something she had never heard before. Would she, he asked, like to lead him?

She found herself saying yes and, as the music started, she took control. She did one move after another and Henry did his best to follow, although it was clear he was having trouble. Leading was really a lot harder than she had ever realized, and Holly found it difficult to pay attention to her partner. However, when the music ended and she could focus on Henry, she sensed something was different, something she couldn't articulate. She thanked him for the dance and started to walk away, but he held her hands. "Now," he said to her as the music started again, "it's my turn."

The next song was Holly's favorite, "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller. As Henry started to lead her, Holly noticed something she hadn't felt in a long time, perhaps ever. It took her by surprise. She looked up at the intense blue eyes. Who was this man? When she had been leading him, she could tell he was an above-average dancer but, actually, that wasn't saying much. Compared to some of her other partners, this man was a bit clumsy and unsure of himself. She could tell he was trying to be gentle and to lead well, but he just didn't have enough experience. Moreover, from time to time, he would mix up the beat and they would both have to recalibrate. To Holly, of course, this was not a new experience.

This time, however, something was different, or rather, something became different. Holly was able to relax more and more, and as her mind cleared she realized something unusual: it was her, not him. Something inside her was affecting Henry, calming him, stilling and intensifying his energy. Their bodies started to move together: at first haltingly, then more and more seemlessly. Within a short time, she found Henry was becoming more gentle. His movements were smoother and more in sync with hers, and she found herself feeling a sense of connection and presence. He still wasn't a great dancer, but she could tell there was something about the two of them together that worked well.

When the music ended Holly once again thanked him for the dance and, this time, Henry did walk away. The next week and the week after that Holly returned, but she didn't see Henry. She found herself missing him and wondering if he would come back. However, Holly was practical. She told herself there was no use missing someone she didn't even know, someone she might never see again. After all, she asked herself, what can you tell about someone simply from dancing with him twice? Every time she thought it over, Holly felt proud of herself that she could be so sensible. There's no use wanting something you might never get, especially when you don't even know what it is. But then, the next week, Henry came back.

When he entered the room Holly was dancing with someone else and her back was to the door. However, she instinctively turned around. The moment she saw him, she felt a wave of happiness and, when he caught sight of her, she noticed a smile light up his face. Her world became blurry. A moment later, somehow, she found herself in his arms. A moment after that he was leading her smoothly and gently as the music flowed through them. Her thoughts and her feelings faded away, leaving her within a bubble of deep energy, moving rhythmically to a song she barely noticed.

Although Holly danced with other men that night and Henry danced with other women, they kept returning to one another. As the night passed, Holly realized that something about her feelings was new, different than she had ever experienced. She found herself both connected to Henry and separate from him at the same time, a feeling that seemed so natural she didn't even think about it.

Over the next two months, she and Henry began to spend time together. Henry lived up the coast, about an hour away so, whenever they could arrange it, they would meet halfway and spend time walking on the beach, hiking in the mountains, and talking. And, of course, every seven days they would meet at the weekly swing dance.

As life ebbed and flowed around her, Holly learned to share her daily ups and downs. As she and Henry grew to know one another, the feelings she had that second night increased and solidified. When they were apart, Holly felt connected to him. She even felt the same connection during the weekly dances when they were dancing with other people. When they were together, however, she retained a firm sense of herself. As odd as it seemed, being with Henry never, ever smothered her. Indeed, as time passed, she noticed an ever-growing sense of autonomy, and she liked it. She felt as if, day by day, she was growing into a new, better version of Holly, and she liked that as well.

Holly remembered all of this, fondly, with tears in her eyes, as she sat all alone at the desk, Henry's desk, looking out the windows at the fields, the ocean, the islands, the trees, the valley, and the mountains, marveling at the beauty of this magical place, still wondering how she got there.

She remembered how she had felt last week, when Henry had invited her to visit him and stay overnight. What with one thing and another, she had never actually visited his house. Most of the time, they met somewhere for the day or for the evening, returning alone to their separate homes. One time, Henry had come to her place, but that was only to pick her up to go to a concert in the large city an hour south of where she lived. Last week, however, Henry had invited her to a dance, part of Fiesta, a special celebration that was held every year in the town in which he lived.

Because they would be up late, Henry asked her to stay over, so she wouldn't have to drive home that night. They had never actually spent the night together, and Holly found herself a bit apprehensive. However, Henry assured her she would be comfortable. He had a lovely guest room, and she could make herself at home. They talked it over and decided that, one day, perhaps soon, they would be comfortable sharing the same bed. For now, however, it would be better if Holly were to accept Henry's offer and sleep alone in the guest room, so she did.

The morning after the dance, Holly sat at the desk, trying to get her mind around what had happened a few hours ago. Holly had cooked breakfast, and she and Henry were sitting at a table in the back yard, next to the swimming pool, eating leisurely under a large tipuana tipu tree, in the shade of a thick canopy of green leaves sprinkled with tiny yellow flowers. The sun beamed at them from the Eastern sky, and Holly found herself enormously content, admiring how beautifully Henry had landscaped the yard. In addition to the tipu trees, there were palm trees, hibiscus, azaleas, jasmine, geraniums, and a variety of ground covers. Around the perimeter of the yard were a series of pots, each of which contained a banana tree. Next to the table at which they sat was a large raised planter, which Henry had filled with brightly colored flowers.

Holly felt not only happy, she felt welcome. She had loved Henry's home the moment she walked through the front door: it was, she realized, the type of home she would have created for herself. The first thing Henry had done was take her for a tour. The house had an open floor plan, and each room seemed to flow into all the others. Henry loved green plants and there were many of them, filling each room with life. Every table, desk, and counter had a vase, all of which held flowers from Henry's garden. On the walls were beautiful abstract paintings, colorful and evocative, which Henry had painted himself.

He showed her to the guest room. He had been right. She did feel comfortable. After unpacking, she had a swim in the pool, a short dip in the hot tub, and then a long, cool shower. She then put on a colorful summer dress and her favorite dance shoes, and Henry drove her to the dance. Holly loved the Fiesta. She found herself in a park filled with colorfully dressed, noisy people, and she and Henry spent the night listening to a live band and dancing under the full moon.

Dancing together was getting better and better. Henry and Holly could now move as a team, and he was able to lead her smoothly and rhythmically. Moreover, because Henry didn't have to concentrate on the basics, he was able to focus on being creative. Holly found herself dancing more and more imaginatively, while synchronizing effortlessly. Every now and then, she would look up to see other people watching them, which made her feel cherished and special.

That night, Holly found, for the first time, that dancing with Henry was so effortless she was able to put herself on automatic. Now, in her mind's eye, she could see the two of them, as if she were one of the people on the sidelines enjoying themselves by watching. It was a wonderful, brand new sensation, and she wasn't sure what to make of it. After a few moments, she would return to her body and immerse herself in physical sensation, dancing without thought and without emotion. Once again she felt the unusual experience of being strong and autonomous while, at the same time, being bound tightly to her partner.

These thoughts revisited her the next morning, as she sat with Henry in the sunshine-filled backyard, slowly eating her breakfast. Holly couldn't remember when she had felt so comfortable, so secure, and so connected to someone.

Nevertheless, a few hours later, as Holly sat at the desk upstairs looking out the window, she had difficulty recalling exactly what had happened. All she could remember was that, suddenly, she and Henry were arguing. Out of nowhere, they found themselves saying hurtful things. One minute, she was full of life and energy, smiling with love, hope, and kindness towards the whole world. The next moment, she felt as if something inside her chest had become dense and cramped. The part of her that had so recently been full of energy had suddenly turned lifeless. Her breath became more and more shallow, and she had trouble speaking. Within a minute or two, Holly realized that she had become extremely sensitive, and she wasn't able to look Henry in the eye. Her body began to feel heavy. All she wanted to do was to leave, to find a safe place, somewhere into which she could crawl and be alone.

At the same time, a part of her that she rarely saw woke up with a vengeance. Holly became upset, then angry, and then the anger turned to rage. She found herself bringing up a list of grievances: irritations, disappointments, complaints, only some of which concerned Henry. Talking, talking, talking, ranting at Henry, who by now was becoming upset himself and ranting back at her. And yet, at the same time, there was one tiny part of herself, a small voice she could barely hear, hoping that Henry would somehow dive into the pool of anger and sadness and save her from drowning. Only Henry, said the small voice, could rescue her.

But Henry was gone.

Holly pulled herself up and slowly, very slowly, trudged inside like a zombie. She walked through the kitchen, turned left and climbed the stairs, one at a time. She walked across the carpet and sat down at Henry's desk. She sat quietly behind the desk, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Then she turned to the left and looked out the large wide window. It would, she decided, be her favorite window in the house.

Holly began to cry, slowly and silently, and as the tears flowed over her cheeks, she realized just how much she hurt. The tiny voice in her head came back for a moment, telling her that it might have been her fault. Henry, said the voice, didn't really do anything all that bad. Holly began to think: maybe that's true. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe Henry will come back and...

So what if it wasn't Henry's fault? That didn't matter now. What she desperately needed now was to have Henry come back, look her in the eye, and apologize. But he wouldn't. Henry was a man, and she had never yet met a man who understood that when she became angry — regardless of whose fault it was — all she needed was for that man to hold her, comfort her, and say he was sorry.

At that moment, she craved his attention and his compassion, However, she realized it was not likely to happen. She recalled some of the things she said to him in her rage, and she could see that he too would be very upset. She remembered Henry once explaining to her that for most of his life, he had, every now and then, suffered from feelings of being unlovable, as if something inside him was broken. What she had said to Henry, she realized, would have triggered the most horrible feelings and doubts inside him. Never mind that most of it wasn't true. To him it would feel true, and he would be both shocked and devastated. At best, it would take him time to recover, maybe hours, but Holly needed him now.

She looked straight ahead, through the window of one of the sliding glass doors. She thought about the tiny figs that were growing slowly, one day at a time. Would she be here long enough to enjoy them? She sat in a daze, trying to remember to breathe. In, out, in, out, in, out. Then she heard footsteps.

The door opened. It was Henry. He looked upset. His face was lined with worry, his eyes were sad and puzzled. He walked upstairs and stood next to her. Slowly, with infinite care, he bent down and stroked her hair. He then lifted her into his arms and hugged her, telling her he was sorry he had hurt her. Holly gasped as something inside of her changed gears. The dense, cramped feeling in her chest began to dissipate. Her sadness and her anger drained away, one drop at a time. Her breathing became deeper and more regular, and she began to shake with relief as the sun came back out. She could see the lines in Henry's face disappear and, as she began to smile, so did he.

Henry went over to the computer, and pressed a few keys. The room was filled with music. Holly recognized her favorite swing dance tune, "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller. As Holly listened to the music her body began to move, back and forth, back and forth, left and right. She felt Henry take her hands in his, and she looked up at the intense blue eyes. Who was this man?

They stood together quietly and, as the music passed through them, their bodies began to sway together. Haltingly at first until, all at once, they synchronized. Holly felt her mind become calm as the last of her horrible feelings faded away. Within the growing stillness she could feel her energy intensify as Henry's voice reached out to touch her.

"Holly," she heard him say, "would you like to dance with me?"

Stories by Harley Hahn

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