Greta Floating, Lillian Straight Ahead

One splash of cranberry would have ruined my white suit forever, so waiting for Greta Woetzel I had to drink a martini instead of the juice cocktail I really wanted. As sunny as ever, she'd insisted on meeting me in a dingy bar near the video store where she works, and she was late. I was the only woman there, and the only person wearing a business suit.

I'd brought Greta a surprise she was going to like, a review of her modern dance performance I'd seen last week. It's not every day that four women pretending to be dancing flowers make the pages of one of the city's top magazines. The piece wasn't big, but it was all I could manage to squeeze past my editor, and I was imagining her pleasure at reading it when she finally walked in.

She was smiling. We made noises about seeing each other twice in a week after not at all for nearly ten years and then she read the story. She read it sitting Indian-style on top of a barstool, wobbling a little. Greta, the modern dancer, had never been able sit in a chair the way it was designed to be sat in.

"Lil," she said, "this is awful. It's making fun of us."

"It's funny," I told her. "It's just the style of the magazine. We make fun of everything."

Greta unfolded her legs, and wrapped one foot around a leg of the barstool.

"Want a beer?" I said.

"It compares us to the Miss America talent competition," she said. "I can't believe you wrote this."

"Oh, Greta," I said, exasperated. "A lot of people thought it was funny, compared to one person who's all hurt. I think that's a pretty good ratio."

Greta bit her lip.

"A beer," I told the bartender. "And another martini for me."

The conversation died. I sat looking at the light reflecting through the liquor bottles.

"How's work at the video store?" I asked.

"We got a ticket today," Greta said, unwillingly. "We got a ticket for not hosing off the sidewalk."

The bartender brought her beer.

"Lil, how could you do this?" she said. "You're a dancer yourself."

"That was college," I said. "In college you can get away with dancing around pretending you're a unicorn or a light switch, can't you? Or whatever you and your people were trying to be the other night."

"Fireflies in a garden."

"Right, flowers in a garden. Now I have a job."

Greta tucked her feet beneath her on the barstool.

"Did you like it?" she asked. " I mean, I know it's the style of the magazine to be all flip and dismissive, but did you think it was good?"

I thought for a moment. "It was nicely put together," I said.

"See, that's it!" she said jubilantly. "Putting the dances together. I just... I just love to work on them. Dances. You just feel so good doing it. I don't even care that there's barely anybody in the audience except the friends and relatives of the people in the company. It's intoxicating, just making something beautiful and showing it off. It's like nothing else. You remember."

Greta leaned forward over the bar. With her lovely back and her swanlike neck, she looked better in her shabby clothes than I did in my nice ones.

I put up a single finger to the bartender. Greta hadn't finished half her beer.

"You never used to drink so much," Greta said.

"I have drinks," I said, "with some of the top people in New York City. That's how I get some of my best stories. The more I drink, the more they drink. That's the thing about journalism. You never really do much of anything, but you get to be around people who are doing great things."

"You used to be a very good dancer," she said.

I swallowed, and swallowed again, swallowing nothing, and my heart was beating faster. I didn't answer. I made her change the subject. We talked about some girls we knew in school, and what the big dance companies were doing, and the cover story I was going to have in next week's magazine, with two of the city's top gossip columnists interviewing each other.

Late that night, I rode home in a cab through the most beautiful city in the world. All these priceless buildings laid themselves out for me along Park Avenue, buildings filled with great works of art, and the most beautiful people in the world waited on corners to cross the street. I was at the top of everything, I thought, the top. What in the world do I have to complain about? What in the world?

I stopped the cab blocks away from my apartment, and I got out and walked. On the way home my teeth started chattering. It was the sound of ghosts coming out.



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