Editors’ Choice: Dallas Woodburn

The Belly Dancer

“You hear about the belly dancer?” Donny asked George. It was a warm Saturday afternoon in late June and they were playing gin rummy on George’s sun porch. Donny swept the cards off the table and began to shuffle.

“What belly dancer?” George said.

“At that new Greek restaurant downtown. I’ve heard she’s something else!”

“Greek food?” George shook his head. “I don’t like Greek food. It’s all lamb.” More than forty years had passed since his Navy days, but George still refused to buy anything Japanese and the countless galley dinners of gamey mutton had forever banished his appetite for lamb.

George’s wife, Mary Ellen, looked up from across the porch, where she knelt watering the potted petunias. “It’s not all lamb, George,” she put in. “There’s vegetables. And chicken.”

George scowled at her, feeling betrayed. “How do you know they have chicken? You’ve never been there.”

“Every decent restaurant serves chicken,” she said. She stood, wiping her hands on her skirt. “Besides, I want to see this belly dancer.”

“All right!” Donny declared, slapping the deck of cards down on the table. He beamed at George. “It’s settled. I’ll call Sue and have her meet us there. We can get a table before the dinner rush.”

“They won’t have chicken,” George said.

***

He was right.

“See?” he said to Mary Ellen. “This place is not a decent restaurant.”

“Oh, hush,” she said.

George put on his reading glasses and squinted at the laminated menu. The lighting was dim; heavy tapestries covered the windows so the last of the day’s sunlight was rendered useless. George leaned closer to Mary Ellen, thrusting his menu at her. “Can you read this damn thing?” he asked.

“Yes, and I think I’m getting the lamb gyro.” She smiled sweetly at him.

“What’s a gyro?”

“It’s a type of sandwich. They make it with pita bread.”

“What’s pita bread?”

“It’s like tortillas, only thicker.”

“Huh. Well, I don’t like lamb.”

“I know you don’t, dear, but I do.”

George turned his menu over. There was nothing written on the back, just a picture of some Greek God lording over some Greek temple. He turned his menu back over. The laminate felt slick and greasy. “The writing’s so small, I can’t read this damn thing,” he muttered.

“Here, want me to help?” Mary Ellen asked. She was using her schoolteacher voice. George hated when she used that voice on him. He was eight years older than her, and their own kids were grown and gone, and still she talked to him like he was a child.

“I’ll manage,” he said.

“I think I’ll get the veal,” Sue said. “Or maybe the vegetables with rice.” She was a petite woman, much younger than Donny (and, for that matter, George and Mary Ellen) and she favored cowl-neck sweaters and bright red manicures. To George it looked like her fingers were always bleeding. Donny met her just two weeks after his divorce to Connie was finalized. He was driving home from the hardware store when Sue rear-ended his truck at a red light.

“No, I’ll get the veal,” Sue said. She set her menu down and smiled across the table at George.

Donny hadn’t picked up his menu. His eyes roved around the room. “Wonder when she comes out,” he said.

“Donny is so excited to see this belly dancer,” Sue remarked. She reached over and rubbed his knee. “I’m gonna have to get myself a belly dance costume, huh honey?”

“Yeah,” Donny said. He turned his chair slightly to face the kitchen doorway.

“You ever seen a belly dancer before?” George asked.

“Only in the movies,” Donny said.

“There’s something mysterious about belly dancers,” said Mary Ellen.

George didn’t think mysterious was the right word. More like furtive. Clandestine. In the movies, the camera would zoom in on their veiled faces, and their half-narrowed eyes would gleam as if they knew a secret everyone else didn’t know.

***

The food arrived. George picked at his hummus and mousaka. Their plates were cleared away by the time the belly dancer wiggled her way to the center of the room. Her hair hung in lank, ropy curls and rolls of fat swayed on her exposed belly. George nearly laughed out loud. Sue puffed out her cheeks and caught his eye, and then he did laugh a little. He steeled himself for Mary Ellen’s chiding, but she didn’t say anything. She and Donny stared at the belly dancer, wide smiles on their faces, utterly entranced.

The bill came, and George paid. He would make Donny pick up the next one. The belly dancer waved a gauzy strip of blue fabric in front of her face. She flung it towards their table, but it landed feebly a few feet away. Donny lunged forward and grabbed it, then slid back into his seat, glowing. Mary Ellen reached across the table and fingered the fabric.

George sighed. “You gang ready to head out soon?” he said.

“Already?” Mary Ellen said. “The belly dancer’s just started.”

“I’m ready!” Sue announced. “Donny?”

“No, not yet,” Donny said.

“I know,” Sue said, shrugging on her coat. “George can take me home. Donny, you and Mary Ellen stay as long as you want. Here’s my keys – you can drive my car home.” She leaned over and kissed Donny on the cheek, but he barely stirred.

***

George opened the car door for Sue, then walked around to the driver’s side. His stomach felt tight and unsettled. Damn Greek food, he thought.

The drive was silent. Sue leaned back against the headrest. Gingerly, she placed her arm along the armrest between them. Her fingertips no longer looked bloody, just shiny and dark.

Sue spoke when George turned down her street. “Know how Donny and I met?”

“You rear-ended his truck.”

“Well, but the light was green. Donny wasn’t paying attention.”

George laughed. “Donny never pays attention.”

“Sure was tonight. To that belly dancer, I mean.” Sue fiddled with a pearl earring. “I remember climbing out of my car after the accident. I was so worried the other driver would be furious. But you know what Donny said to me?

The first thing he said?”

“What?”

“He winked at me and said, ‘It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re such a pretty little thing, you don’t need to be a good driver.’ And I thought, here’s a man I can have fun with.”

They approached a stop sign. Slowing the car, George glanced over at Sue. They passed under a streetlamp and for an instant her face lit up and her teeth gleamed in the shadows. All at once George understood what it meant to yearn for something unfamiliar, just to break the monotony of your life.

“Sue,” he said.

She met his eyes and smiled. George pictured Mary Ellen and Donny, sitting at that half-lit table, spellbound by that belly dancer: the swish of her hips, the sway of her arms, the enticing jingle-jangle of her costume, promising something exotic, daring, new. Secrets that remained secret. George glimpsed Sue’s house and accelerated down the empty street. Listening for the first slight strains of music. Waiting for the dance to begin.

Editors’ Choice: Hannah Melville-Weatherbee

For You:

I want to break pomegranates for you,
Serve the segments on porcelain and
Feed the seeds like cells of sweet wine—
One
At a time
To your tongue.
I want to bathe you in a bear-claw bath
Of warm milk and—
Please,
May I touch your ears?
Let me bring you beaches,
I’ll carry sand in my hands and pockets,
I’ll carry the ocean in my mouth
And salt at the nape of my neck.
I will make the starlings all come back for you.
I will turn the moon so you may see the other side,
Give you Venice in a drinking glass
And the glaciers— every glacier—
I will wrap in my arms and
Present to you like pearls in a candy dish.

Editors’ Choice: James Claffey

Each week we will feature one of our favorite pieces from the Ayris 2013 edition. We are pleased to begin with this piece from James Claffey.


Prehistory

Raindrops marble the tin roof as we sneak into the darkened clubhouse. The line of hooks and eyes on the back of your shirt are too complicated for me to decode. I’m afraid your mother will find out about us and the things we do in the darkness. She scares me, your mother, with her religious fervor, and the cross she leaves the house with on weekend mornings. How she strides in circles under the statue of Parnell, paper rosettes pinned to her coat, the prayers tumbling from her lips, passers-by staring with dubious wonder.

You never speak of her crusade against the promiscuous, only ignoring the barbs of those who know, but are too embarrassed to tease you. You tell her you are going to the church’s youth group—a lie. Instead, we meet by the petrol station and follow the shadows to the tennis club’s back door. Light from outside paints your face a gently-washed pink, a faint halo around you. The curve of your back reminds me of a rowan tree bending in the wind.

The time you have all four wisdom teeth extracted at once. We sit on the couch, the two dogs sunk in pillows, your cheeks swollen, the H.B. Neapolitan’s ice cream’s striped sections melt from the fire’s heat. Now, everything is different, the shape of our lives a prolonged trajectory of disappointments. I heard you lost a baby at term, the careful months of preparation wasted. Once before, you might have been pregnant. It wouldn’t have been mine. Still, I drove you to the clinic, waited, held your hand, and when the false alarm sounded we parted without fuss.

When I go home tonight, I shall wear my hat—the one with the ear-flaps—and listen to some music that reminds me of you: Cream maybe, or Frampton Comes Alive. Despite the closeness of the street I will sing the words aloud, halfway between the kitchen and the back bedroom. The dog-walking neighbor with the three terriers might stare, the bells on their collars ringing with impatience. If there’s a decent moon she’ll make out my handsome face, the notching of my crooked nose, the way my feet slide on hardwood floor. More likely, I’ll go unnoticed, the same way I’ve done for most my life.

We meet in the margins of my book, between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. I wonder if you shall use the pear-scented soap, the one I bought for you at L’Occitane en Provence, the one you lathered your pale skin with as we listened to the rain on the slated roof? Shall you fold back the covers and slide into the bed? Those luxuriant sheets, Egyptian cotton, made before the revolution in Tahrir Square, in the days of slave labor. Ghostly apparitions of our former selves appeared in the steamed mirror.

In Skerries I sit at the same table every day for two weeks and imagine you back in my life. The owner twirls the tips of his mustache between thumb and forefinger as his daughter smokes cigarettes and pours my café-au-lait. The setting sun shadows the territory between skin and lace. I spare you a thought between sips, and let my mind wander back to the snow-crusted fuchsia bushes where we parted before the door opened and your mother poked her head out to call your name.

Call for Online Themed Edition

(Dis)Orientation

Spring isn’t the only time for change—with school years beginning and the leaves just starting to turn, autumn is a time for adjustment and adaptation.  From April 1 to May 1, Ayris Online is accepting works that deal in new people, places, and paradigms for our September feature.  All things new and dying welcome, no matter the medium.  Please limit poetry to three pieces per submission, visual art to two.  1000 word limit for prose.  Submit HERE.

Ayris 2013 Contributors

We have selected work from the following amazing artists and writers for the 2013 print edition of Ayris. Some of the pieces we’ve chosen will be featured here throughout the spring and summer. Check in regularly. You won’t want to miss any of it.

Poetry

Kim Baker
Pam Bernard
Kevin Brown
Valentina Cano
Charles Cantrell
Ha Kiet Chau
Jennifer Collins
Cat Dixon
William Doreski
Meg Eden
Susan Gabrille
Mark Goad
Allison Grayhurst
Quinton Hallett
Matt Hemmerich
Kyle Hemmings
Ed Higgins
Louisa Howerow
Tim Kahl
Toshiya Kamei
Joanne Lowery
Jeffrey MacLaclahn
John Mannone
John Marvin
Hannah Melville-Weatherbee
Erick Mertz
Mark Mitchell
Fernando Montejano
Nancy Carol Moody
Gregg Murray
Anne Britting Oleson
Thomas Pescatore
Kenneth Pobo
Adrian Potter
Jade Ramsey
George Such
Josette Torres
Sara Uribe

Prose

James Claffey
B.D. Fischer
Tom Ipri
J.E. Nissley
Neil Serven
Jon Steinhagen
Alexis Stratton
Dallas Woodburn

Visual Art

Dmitry Borshch
Holly Britt
Meg Cameron
Mia DeWaters
Heather Doherty
Jen Drociak
Jon Henry
Kiera McTigue
Emma Moreman
Dustin Panzino
Sheri Wright