Thursday, April 7, 2011

Patricia Highsmith / The Dancer

Grays and Reds
Anna Cichon

They danced marvelously together, swooping back and forth across the floor to the erotic rhythms of the tango, sometimes the waltz. At the age of twenty and twenty-two respectively, Claudette and Rodolphe became lovers. They wanted to marry, but their employer thought they were more titillating to the customers if they were not married. So they remained single.
The nightclub where they worked was called ‘The Rendez-vous’, and was known amongst a certain jaded, middle-aged male clientele as a sure cure for impotence. Just come and watch Claudette and Rodolphe dance, everyone said. Journalists, trying to spice their columns, described their act as sadomasochistic, because Rodolphe often appezzred to be choking Claudette to death. He would seize her throat and advance, bending her backward, or he would retreat – it didn’t matter – keeping her throat in the grip of his hands, sometimes shaking her neck so that her hair tossed wildly. The audience would gasp, sigh, and watch with fascination. The drumrolls of the three-man band would grow louder and more insistent.
Claudette stopped sleeping with Rodolphe, because she thought deprivation would whet his appetite. It was easy for Claudette to excite Rodolphe when dancing with him, then to abandon him with a flounce as she made her exit to applause, sometimes the laughter, of the spectators. Little did they know that Rodolphe was really being abandoned.
Claudette was whimsical, with no real plans, but she took up with a paunchy man called Charles, goodnatured, generous and rich. She even slept with him. Charles applauded loudly when Claudette and Rodolphe danced together, Rodolphe with his hands about Claudette’s graceful white neck, and she bending backward. Charles could afford to laugh. He was going to bed with her later.
Since their earnings were bound together, Rodolphe put it up to Claudette: stop seeing Charles, or he would not perform with her. Or at least he would not perform with his hands about her throat as if he went going to throttle her in an excess of passion, which was what the customers came for. Rodolphe meant it, so Claudette promised not to sleep with Charles again. She kept her promise, Charles drifted away and was seen at ‘The Rendez-vous’ seldom, and then sadly moping, and finally he stopped coming at all. But Rodolphe gradually realized that Claudette was taking on two or three other men. She began sleeping with these, and business went up more than it had with the rich Charles, who after all was only one man, with one group of friends whom he could bring to ‘The Rendez-vous’.
Rodolphe asked Claudette to drop all three. She promised. But either they or their messengers with notes and flowers still hung around the dressing-room every evening.
Rodolphe, who had not spent a night with Claudette in five months now, yet whose body was pressed against hers every night before the eyes of two hundred people – Rodolphe danced a splendid tango one evening. He pressed himself against her as usual, and she bent backwards.
‘More! More!’ cried the audience, mostly men, as Rodolphe’s hands tightened about her throat.
Claudette always pretended to suffer, to love Rodolphe and to suffer at the hands of his passion in the dance. This time she did not rise when he released her. Nor did he assist her, as he usually did. He had strangled her, too tightly for her to cry about. Rodolphe walked off the little stage, and left Claudette for other people to pick up.

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