When I was in high school I was involved with our school’s theater department. Now, if you’ve ever met me you will undoubtedly be completely shocked by this confession. I most certainly am not the theater type – I have near panic-attacks whenever I have to speak in front of more than 2 people. But, yes… I was in theater and loved it. So much, in fact, that I wanted to major in theater in college. But that’s another story.
During my senior year our drama teacher decided that we, her Theater 3 (or as high as you can go) class, would write our own play and our focus would be the 1920s writers known as expatriates. You know… Stein, Fitzgerald, Lowell and the like.
It was an interesting play and something I’m sincerely grateful to have been a part of. Our teacher helped us to meld together the writings of these expatriates with the art of Matisse. We all picked a various writer and researched him or her, then were responsible for writing a scene in which our research subject was featured. My research subject: Dorothy Parker.
What started as a random Google – or whatever search engine we used in the early 2000s (probably AOL) – find, Dorothy Parker quickly became my favorite writer, hands down. If there was someone who wrote the snarky things that I sometimes envisioned saying in my head, it was her. Her wit was undeniable, something I’d never experienced before.
I chose “The Waltz” for my piece to feature in the play. “The Waltz” is a short story written by Parker that features a female narrator the struggle between what she actually says to and her inner thoughts regarding a man who asks her to dance. It’s pretty funny – okay, it’s downright hilarious – because we’ve all been there, asked to dance with a man who makes your skin crawl.
Since it’s actually a VERY short story, I thought I’d share the whole thing with you. If you want to read it, that’s wonderful! I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, well that’s fine too; you can simply comment and say how much you enjoyed it and I won’t think any the less of you.
Why, thank you so much. I’d adore to.
I don’t want to dance with him. I don’t want to dance with anybody. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be him. He’d be well down among the last ten. I’ve seen the way he dances; it looks like something you do on Saint Walplurgia Night. Just think, not a quarter of an hour ago, here I was sitting, felling so sorry for the poor girl he was dancing with. And now I’m going to be the poor girl. Well, well. Isn’t it a small world?
And a peach of a world, too. A true little corker. Its events are so fascinatingly unpredictable, are not they? Here I was minding my own business, not doing a stitch of harm to any living soul. And then he comes into my life, all smiles and city manners, to sue me for the favor of one memorable mazurka. Why, he scarcely knows my name, let alone what it stands for. It stands for Despair, Bewilderment, Futility, Degradation, and Premeditated Murder, but little does he wot. I don’t wot his name, either; I haven’t any idea what it is. Jukes, would be my guess from the look in his eyes. How do you do, Mr. Jukes? And how is that dear little brother of yours, with the two heads?
Ah, now why did he have to come around me, with his low requests? Why can’t he let me lead my own life? I ask so little– just to be left alone in my quiet corner of the table, to do my evening brooding over all my sorrows. And he must come, with his bows and his scrapes and his may-I-have-this-ones. And I had to go and tell him that I’d adore to dance with him. I cannot understand why I wasn’t struck right down dead. Yes, and being struck dead would look like a day in the country, compared to struggling out a dance with this boy. But what could I do? Everyone else at the table had got up to dance, except him and me. There was I, trapped. Trapped like a trap in a trap.
What can you say, when a man asks you to dance with him? I most certainly will not dance with, I’ll see you in hell first. Why, thank you, I’d like to awfully, but I’m having labor pains. Oh, yes, do let’s dance together–it’s so nice to meet a man who isn’t a scaredy-cat about catching my beri–beri. No. There was nothing for me to do but say I’d adore to. Well, we might as well get it over with. All right, Cannonball, let’s run out on the field. You won the toss; you can lead.
Why I think it’s more of a waltz, really. Isn’t it? We might just listen to the music a second. Shall we? Oh, yes, it’s a waltz. Mind? Why, I’m simply thrilled. I’d love to waltz with you.
I’d love to waltz with you. I’d love to waltz with you. I’d love to have my tonsils out. I’d love to be in a midnight fire at sea. Well, it’s too late now. We’re getting under way. Oh. Oh, dear. Oh, dear, dear, dear. Oh, this is even worse that I thought it would be. I suppose that’s the one dependable law of life– everything is always worse than you thought it was going to be. Oh, if I had any real grasp of what this dance would be like, I’d have held out for sitting it out. Well, it will probably amount to the same thing in the end. We’ll be sitting it out on the floor in a minute. If he keeps this up.
I’m so glad I brought it to his attention that this is a waltz they’re playing. Heaven knows what might have happened, if he had thought it was something fast; we’d have blown the sides right off the building. Why does he always want to be somewhere that he isn’t? Why can’t we stay in one place just long enough to get acclimated? It’s this constant rush, rush, rush, that’s the curse of American life. That’s the reason that we’re all of us so–Ow! For God’s sake, don’t kick, you idiot; this is only second down. Oh, my shin. My poor, poor shin, that I’ve had ever since I was a little girl!
Oh, no, no, no. Goodness, no. It didn’t hurt the least little bit. And anyway it was my fault. Really it was. Truly. Well, you’re just being sweet, to say that. It really was all my fault.
I wonder what I’d better do–kill him this instant, with my naked hands, or wait and let him drop to his senses. Maybe it’s best not to make a scene. I guess I’ll just lie low, and watch the pace get him. He can’t keep this up indefinitely–he’s only flesh and blood. Die he must, and die he shall, for what he did to me. I don’t want to be of the over-sensitive type, but you can’t tell me that kick was unpremeditated. Freud says there are no accidents. I’ve lead no cloistered life. I’ve known dancing partners who have spoiled my shoes and turned my dress; but when it comes to kicking, I am Outraged Woman. When you kick me in the shin, smile.
Maybe he didn’t do it maliciously. Maybe it’s just his way of showing he is high spirits. I suppose I ought to be glad that one of us is having such a good time. I suppose I ought to think myself lucky if he brings me back alive. Maybe it’s captious to demand of a practically strange man that he leave your shins as he found them. After all, the poor boy’s doing the best he can. Probably he grew up in the hill country, and never had no larnin’. I bet they had to throw him on his back to get shoes on him.
Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it? It’s simply lovely. It’s the loveliest waltz. Isn’t it? Oh, I think it’s lovely, too.
Why, I’m getting positively drawn to the Triple Threat here. He’s my hero. He has the heart of a lion, and the sinews of a buffalo. Look at him–never a thought of the consequences, never afraid of his face, hurling himself into every scrimmage, eyes shining, cheeks ablaze. And shall it be said that I hung back? No, a thousand times no. What’s it to me if I have to spend the next couple of years in a plaster cast? Come on, Butch, right through them! Who wants to live forever? Oh. Oh, dear. Oh, he’s all right, thank goodness. For a while I thought they’d have to carry him off the field. Ah, I couldn’t bear to have anything happen to him. I love him. I love him better than anybody in the world. Look at the spirit he gets into a dreary, commonplace waltz; how effete the other dancers seem, beside him. He is youth and vigor and courage, he is peasant! What do you think I am, anyway–a gangplank? Ow!
No, of course it didn’t hurt. Why, it didn’t a bit. Honestly. And it was all my fault. You see, that little step of yours–well, it’s a perfectly lovely, but it’s just a tiny bit tricky to follow at first. Oh, did you work it up yourself? You really did? Well, weren’t you amazing? Oh, now I think I’ve got it. Oh, I think it’s lovely. I was watching you do it when you were dancing before. It’s awfully effective when you look at it.
It’s awfully effective when you look at it. I bet I’m awfully effective when you look at me. My hair is hanging along my cheeks, my skirt is swaddling about me, I can feel the cold damp of my brow. I must look like something out of “The Fall of the House of Usher”. This sort of thing takes a fearful toll of a woman my age. And he worked up his little step himself, he with his degenerate cunning. And it was just a tiny bit tricky at first, but now I think I’ve got it. Two stumbles, slip, and a twenty-yard dash; yes. I’ve got it. I’ve got several other things, too, including a shin split and a bitter heart. I hate this creature I’m chained to. I hated him the moment I saw his leering, bestial face. And here I’ve been locked in his noxious embrace for the thirty-five years this waltz has lasted. Is that orchestra never going to stop playing? Or must this obscene travesty of a dance go on until hell burns out?
Oh, they’re going to play another encore. Oh, goody. Oh, that’s lovely. Tired? I should say I’m not tired. I’d like to go on like this forever.
I should say I’m not tired. I’m dead, that’s all I am. Dead, and in what a cause! And the music is never going to stop playing and we’re going on like this, Double-Time Charlie and I, throughout eternity. I suppose I won’t care any more, after first hundred thousand years. I suppose nothing will matter then, not heat nor pain nor broken heart nor cruel, aching weariness. Well, it can’t come too soon for me.
I wonder why I didn’t tell him I was tired. I wonder why I didn’t suggest going back to the table. I could have said let’s just listen to the music. Yes, and if he would, that would be the first bit of attention he has given it all evening. George Jean Nathan said that the lovely rhythms of the waltz should be listened to its stillness and not be accompanied by strange gyrations of the human body. I think that’s what he said. I think it was George Jean Nathan. Anyhow, whatever he said and whoever he was and whatever he’s doing now, he’s better off than I am. That’s safe. Anybody who isn’t waltzing with this Mrs. OLeary’s cow I’ve got here is having a good time. Still if we were back at the table, I’d probably have to talk to him. Look at him–what could you say to a thing like that! Did you go to the circus this year, what’s your favorite kind of ice-cream, how do you spell cat? I guess I’m as well off here. As well off as if I were in a cement mixer in full action.
I’m past all feeling now. The only way I can tell when he steps on me is that I can hear the splintering of bones. And all the events of my life are passing before my eyes. There was the time I was in a hurricane in the West Indies, there was the day I got my head cut open in the taxi smash, there was the night the drunken lady threw a bronze ash-tray at her own true love and got me instead, there was that summer that the sailboat kept capsizing. Ah, what an easy, peaceful time was mine, until I fell in with Swifty, here. I didn’t know what trouble was, before I got drawn into this danse macabre. I think my mind is beginning to wander. It almost seems to me as if the orchestra were stopping. It couldn’t be, of course; it could never, never be. And yet in my ears there is a silence like the sound of angel voices. . . .
Oh, they’ve stopped, the mean things. They’re not going to play any more. Oh, darn. Oh do you think they would? Do you really think so, if you gave them twenty dollars? Oh, that would be lovely. And look, do tell them to play this same thing. I’d simply adore to go on waltzing.