A story inspired by the cover of Pink Floyd’s A Collection of Great Dance Songs
“Make sure the guy-lines are nice and tight. I want them to be taut but have a nice spring to them. And they must be able to be moved for when we change positions.”
“Yes Director,” the stagehand said as he staked in the last few lines, testing them each with a light pluck to ensure they retained a bounce. The stakes were easy to drive into the soft, marshy soil but moved a little too much for comfort. Maybe if I could get a little cement, the stagehand thought, I could keep these firmly in place. But then they couldn’t be moved and the director said they have to be able to be moved.
“Everything must be perfect. Everything must be in proper place and positions. Is the orchestra ready?” The director indicated towards the record player sitting on the table behind him.
“Yes, sir” the stagehand said.
“And the stage?”
The stagehand turned and looked at the bare countryside around him. A small farm house stood across the field at the end of a dirt road, “Yes, sir.”
“And our actors?”
The two dancers stood locked in the frozen embrace of a ballroom waltz step. From their arms and waists the guy-lines led sharply to the stakes driven into the soft soil. The man’s left hand clasped the woman’s right while his other arm gently supported her in a slight dip. The guy-line around her forehead kept her staring right into his eyes. Their ankles were roped to nearby stakes so they couldn’t move their feet. They held each other in that frozen eternal moment like lovers about to die. The two had never before met each other.
The director seemed happy. He jotted down some notes onto the pad on his clipboard. He checked the time and noted it. He walked in a wide circle around the dancers, sometimes moving closer to eye a suspicious detail. Sometimes he pulled a guy-line to see if it would go any tighter. The stagehand took note of every time the director closely inspected something of his work. He wanted the director to like him. He didn’t want to lose his job. It was a good job. And while it didn’t provide some of the higher luxuries of modern life he had the basics; a small home and an ample collection of things to fill it with. Maybe a few more years working this job and he could move up to a director position. Then he could make some real money.
The director stepped back towards the table, holding his fingers like a little box with the dancers right in the center. He bumped into the table as he slowly paced backwards. He snapped at the stagehand and pointed down towards the record player. The stagehand, quickly and quietly and with the dexterity of a small field mammal, ran up to the table holding the record player and gently set the needle against the grooves of the spinning black circle. The music creaked and clinkered and clanked its way from the rusty horn snaking up from the back of the machine. It sauntered across the small field and slowly circled the dancers, bouncing up and down and turning right and left. The dancers stood guyed and motionless.
The director began to slowly circle the dance, sometimes adjusting the guy lines. He found one in particular and pulled it hard, taking the stake from the soil with clumps of dirt still falling off the end, and pushed it down a little farther away, at a different angle. The stagehand watched the director work. Very badly he wanted to be in his position. He could do so much more than a stagehand and the money would allow him more of the comforts that he’s seen people have in these days. As the director he could run the experiments. He would be able to choose the subjects. He would be able to find the greatest dance songs. He would be able to create the greatest dance moves. People everywhere would call him the greatest of all the directors. The most innovative. The most precise. They would hail his name like one hails a taxicab.
“Boy? Are you paying attention?”
“Because one day even you may become a director and you can learn by watching me correct your shoddy placements, first of all. Then you can watch me create the perfect dance. Voilá!”
It really was a beautiful scene. The man truly looked like he was strained supporting the woman. She actually looked like she loved the man holding her up. His elbow shot out into the air and his back toe so gracefully pointed straight down into the earth. One could even be so inclined to call it perfect. If one believed in such a word. The stagehand stood and took it all in. He saw the work of art the director had created and saw the good in it, even if it was a bit rudimentary. How would I do it differently? The stagehand thought on this and looked back at the director, who was marveling in all his glory.
Just then a stake shifted in the soft, marshy ground and the man was given some slack on his right arm. The stagehand saw it before the director did but didn’t react. He wanted to see what the dancer would do with this newfound ability of movement. The stagehand saw the man’s eyes move to his right and widen as he realized what had happened. With the softest and gentlest move he could make he shifted his arm to just under the small of the woman’s back. The stagehand saw this and realized that if the two hadn’t been guyed to the ground then the woman would fall. The man must know this too. And for half a minute the scene looked all the more stunning. He was doing something that couldn’t be done without being guyed down. Everything the director was doing was something that could be done without being guyed down. Maybe that’s the key, he thought. Maybe if the dancers were allowed into movements that they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to make then he would be on to something. Then he would be different. He wanted to see what else he could do, what else could be done.
“Stagehand? Are you even watching? Stop the orchestra!”
The stagehand obliged the director and pulled the needle from the spinning vinyl.
“Look at this! This is a loose stake. Did you see this?”
“Uh, no sir I didn’t see it.”
“Well the dancer was allowed to move! I cannot have the subjects moving or else it will ruin my tests. Now set the stake, this time correctly, and start the orchestra off from the top.”
The stagehand went about resetting the stake. He wanted to leave it but he didn’t want to get into any trouble. He caught a glimpse of the stake next to him and saw it was attached to the woman’s waist. Perhaps if that had some more slack she could move her waist a little more. While the director was looking at his clipboard the stagehand quickly shifted the stake in its hole, allowing more slack on the line to the woman’s waist. She breathed deeply for the space provided. The man’s eyes darted over to see him then quickly moved back to the woman.
“Now cue up the orchestra!”
The stagehand really wished that the director could afford a real orchestra like all the other directors. But this was the only one that would hire him so he figured it better to get the experience with whomever he could get. So he set the needle back to the beginning of the record and stepped back to get a wide view of the scene. While the director was fretting over small details the stagehand looked over the whole scene as if it were simply one image. He didn’t think of them as separate dancers standing in grass and occupying space but rather one conjoined image born from his brain. He refused to let his brain break down the image into individual parts. He looked at the scene as a dog sees, only seeing a total image, not noticing the separate pieces. It was all one. The woman had shifted her hips slowly forward until they were joined with the man’s. The stagehand couldn’t tell where the woman began and the man ended. This time the director pulled the needle from the record with a dissonant scratch.
“What are you doing? Daydreaming? This is ridiculous! We have work to do! You know, your uncle recommended you highly but I’m starting to think he played me for the fool just so he could get his lazy nephew a job with one of the finest directors in the world! You should consider yourself lucky to have been even considered by someone of my stature! And now here you are daydreaming and lollygagging about while I’m doing all the real work!”
“I’m sorry sir.”
“You had better work on your attitude a little or you’ll be looking for a new line of work because if anyone else tries to hire you they won’t hear very well from me. I have a lot of clout in this field. You should take stock, boy. Take stock!”
“Yes sir.” He didn’t know what it meant to ‘take stock’.
“Now there is another stake loose. Fix it and cue the orchestra. We have work to do.”
He didn’t feel so well anymore. He was worried about his job after getting chewed out so roughly like that. He needed this job. He didn’t want to upset his uncle who got him this job. He didn’t want his parents to worry. He decided that he better fix the stake and hope no more come out of place. He pulled the line tight and staked it in. He heard a sharp breath from the woman and as he looked up he saw the man staring at him. Like bolts they went right through him. They looked angry. They looked vengeful. He was sure he hadn’t hurt the woman so he wasn’t quite sure what the man could possibly be upset about. It’s just an experiment anyway.
The man’s eyes tried to follow him over to the record player on the table. But they couldn’t quite move that far in his head to see the stagehand as he set the needle back on the record. The stagehand didn’t see the stake behind the man shift. He didn’t expect him to be able to turn his head just enough to look right at him. He said nothing. No other part of him moved. He simply stared at the stagehand.
At first the stagehand didn’t hear him calling. Then he was almost too afraid to move.
“Dammit boy I said move that fucking stake back! He turned his bloody head! I don’t know why he would want to do that but he should not be able to do that! Fix it now or I’ll send you back to your mother in a cardboard box!”
“Yes sir! Yes sir!”
“No. You know what? Go get that cement mix from the barn. I don’t think I’ll need to change their positions and having all these slipping stakes is becoming a nuisance. Yes, go get the cement and you’ll pour it into these stakes. And that will be that.”
“Yes sir.” He walked over to the barn and found two bags of cement and dumped them into the wheelbarrow. He picked up the hose and stooped to turn the nozzle. Water poured from the mouth of the hose and he turned to begin mixing it into the cement. He stood before the wheelbarrow looking into the gray and the dust and the rock inside, the hose pooling water in the dirt next to the front wheel. He wished then that he hadn’t moved the stake holding the woman’s waist. He shouldn’t have veered from his instructions. But it was better, he thought, it moved more. It was graceful and full and open and wide. It held more than the director’s pose. It flowed and floated more than his. It spoke and sang and screamed more than the directors ever could. Even the man’s eyes. They frightened him, he now thought, they frightened him but in them he also saw beauty. He saw the anguish and rage and hope and hate and regret. They were terrifying but they made the piece. He almost wanted to see them again. But he knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t look that man in the eye anymore than he could be the director. He couldn’t afford to risk his job. He knew he would be fired if he were caught messing with the stakes. He wouldn’t be able to get by without this job. If this director fired him then what other self-respecting director would hire him then? He wouldn’t be able to afford his home or even the meals on his table. It wasn’t worth the risk. He didn’t want to risk everything he had just to fiddle with the stakes. He probably wasn’t right anyway, he thought, what could he possibly know about being a director when he is only a stagehand? He knew that he just needed to stay in his place at the bottom of the steps and take them only one at a time or else he would fall. He wanted to be a director and he was going to do it the right and honest way. He was going to do his job the way he was supposed to. The way he was trained. Hopefully, he thought, hopefully I can move up to the next level of stagehand soon. One step at a time.
He started mixing the concrete.
Image is property of Pink Floyd Music, Ltd.
Disclaimer: The Great Dance Song is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the author.