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Learning to Sing and Dance

Dreamed before 1988 by Marilyn Barrett

I am the dreamer. The dream, encased in its own bubble of rainbow-hued perfection is pricked by the intruding pale yellow light of winter dawn. It is a resurrection, this dream I am having. It is now further assaulted by the sound of a Bach organ cantata unleashed by the radio alarm alongside my bed.

I am caught in a confusion of realities. The one now fading, a smoke-mirrored ballroom lit by a crystal chandelier in which an awkward, chubby girl of eleven with long bobbing frankfurter curls am twirled by my father around the dancefloor to the stains of the Skater's Waltz; the other, just another workday morning. I quickly pull the covers over my head to gather in the rapidly fading stands of dream memory. More fragmented pieces not in sequence come to me and I struggle to order them. My organdy dress with the pink sash its skirt brushing against my legs. My mother somewhere in the room looking serious.

My father and I laugh as we dance. He hums a tune to the waltz. Cousin Arthur, seated at a table near the floor calls out to us, "Hey, you two should be in the movies." We are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

As I dance with my father I notice something strange. Set into the flesh of his chest, gleaming in the flickering lights of the chandelier, is a twisted network of polished brass tubing which winds from his waist to his shoulders. Interspersed along the many turns of brass are several metal stops such as one might find on a trumpet. Indeed, that is what it is, a curious but wonderful trumpet.

Still in the dream, I run to tell my mother about having danced with my father even though he has been dead for twenty years, but realize as I cross the last bridge between sleep and wakefulness that she, having died two months earlier is gone as well.

As I bathe and dress I experience my father's trumpet still in my chest. I know I am reclaiming a part of him forbidden while my mother lived, for this sensation in my body has a rightness to it that cannot be explained.

I recall my father, the scapegoat of the family. He could do no right for he had failed to make "a good living" and my mother, the indulged eldest daughter of well-to-do parents, had been forced to take a job. Family life was delineated by an endless litany of my mother's embittered carping. "I should never have married you--my father tied to warn me, but I wouldn't listen", "God must be punishing me for something I did", "You can't do anything right!", were typical.

But at weddings and bar mitzvahs my father came miraculously to life. He could do everything right--dance and laugh and sing, and for a brief time I could foreswear my allegiance to my mother and love him.

I have the trumpet still, a gift from my father.

SOURCE: Dreamworks: an Interdisciplinary Quarterly (v.5, no.3/4, 1988, p.160)



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