Tales From Earth:Kabuki Belly Dancer

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This is part of the compilation created for the book Tales From The Third Planet, created by the Cubehunters on Earth, and printed by Lulu. Anyone can buy it here, with proceeds to go to unfiction! :)


Kabuki Belly Dancer

The Perplexians love their games. But unlike those fortunate enough to live in a city that revolves around entertainment, we on Earth sometimes forget to relax and let the important things take over. Not only games, but music and performance. These things can take a person out of his regular grind and bring him to the places he most needs to go. Sometimes it's that dream vacation in his mind. Sometimes it's the heart of the girl five cubicles down. Everyone needs to escape, and everyone's escape is different. We read a book, play cards, watch a show, skip rope. What's confusing is which comes first. Do we escape to get away from harsh reality? Or do we plod through harsh reality so we can afford our escape?

Part I: Onnagata

The kabuki belly dancer shifted her hips and vibrated like an electric toothbrush. Her white face remained placid next to her midnight hair. Soft, albino hands posed above her head, fingers touching each other lightly, wrists swiveling in tiny circles.


An odaiko drum beat the rhythm of the story. A demon, a trance, a ghost. The pale woman danced this story in her electric hips.


It was Sam’s story. Others in the audience around him shouted at the stage like wolves barking for their dinner. They called out names of actors, dancers, musicians.


Sam didn’t know the dancer’s name, but he didn’t want to shout anyway. He just came to watch her belly wriggle. In and out, in and out. She sucked her navel in like a starving child and then pushed it out so far Sam swore he could see each tiny bead of sweat zig-zagging its way down to her scarlet hip scarf.


He wasn’t in love. The woman wasn’t even very beautiful. But when Sam sat there in that creaky old theatre seat with its spongy orange cushion, something happened to him.


The first time, Sam had almost run out screaming. But he had kept his cool. He had stayed. From that night on, Sam came nightly to watch his kabuki belly dancer swivel. It didn’t matter that the kids were waiting at home. With his cell phone on silent, Martha could shout at his voicemail all night about a divorce. The work reports for Frank would never get done.


As long as she could dance, Sam could watch.


And as long as Sam could watch, the visions would get better.


At first it was just a flash, a glimpse of his future. He hadn’t understood it that first night. The dancer had entered, and Sam was shocked to see a female in the show. This wasn’t a man made up to look like a woman. This was a woman. And as she peeled away her multi-colored veils to reveal her chalk-white belly, a window opened up in Sam’s eyes.


He didn’t see the stage anymore. Instead, he saw Stacie, his high school sweetheart. Stacie, standing in front of him with a grin on her face and a check for ten million dollars in her hand. She reached out for Sam…


Every night at the theatre brought a new installment in this story, in Sam’s future. The odaiko drum moved the dancer, and the dancer shook until he saw it again, only in more detail, for longer.


Stacie laughed that way she used to when she would sneak out late at night to drink stolen gin with him in his dad’s car. Her cheeks blushed against her golden hair. In the vision she whispered, “We’ve done it, Sam. After all these years. Now we can finally be together.” She pushed the check toward him…


That was as far as he had come. Three weeks of at least four hours a night had brought him here, and he wasn’t about to give up now. Stacie was going to tell him how they could accomplish it.


Of course she meant the robbery.


In their tightest moments in his dad’s car, Sam and Stacie used to joke that only a ridiculous sum of cash could stop her family from sending her away to college. Her parents only loved money. They wouldn’t even mind how she got it. “You could rob a bank for all they cared. As long as you gave them a check for ten million dollars, I could stay.”


“They’re such money-grubbers.”


“My parents don’t understand me.”


“I understand you, Stacie. Don‘t we understand each other?”


“I understand you’re drinking all the gin! Share, you lush!”


There was no other girl like Stacie. Certainly Martha couldn’t hold a candle to her. Plain, dim-witted, pregnant Martha. It baffled Sam how any woman could be so fertile in the womb and yet so sterile in the brain.


Sam relaxed and closed his eyes. He listened to the drum. He breathed in the sweat of the room.


Dance for me. Bring me Stacie. Show me how to get what we want. Dance for me. Dance. Please.


A familiar feeling filled his body. For a moment he was the dancer on stage. He could tell her movements without looking at them. Now she was twisting her arms like a snake. Now she was moving her rib cage from left to right. He felt his own muscles contract with hers.


And then Stacie kissed him on the cheek as she dangled the check in front of his nose. Her lips were so soft he barely felt them, but her breath was sweet and warm, and it lingered near his face.


Sam whispered, “How can I do it, Stacie? How can I get you back? It’s been fifteen years. I don’t know how to find you.”


“Hey! Weirdo! What’s your problem?” A man next to Sam nudged him, but Sam refused to open his eyes. He couldn’t let Stacie get away this time.


“Tell me, Stacie. I’m going to do it. We’ll go away together.”


The odaiko drum slowed, and Sam knew the dancer was strutting around the stage, her sequins jangling and clanging like tiny cymbals on her breasts and waist.


Stacie blushed and twirled her golden hair. She kissed him again, on the lips this time.


“The safe,” she breathed into his mouth.


The curtain fell.



“Any idea who done it?”


“Actually, yes. An employee of mine. Sam Kaster. He hasn’t been in to work for weeks. No one knows where he’s gone.”


Detective Peterson nodded and smacked his chewing gum. Frank tried to conceal what he knew would be an expression of disapproval.


“What’s missing?”


“Some jewelry, documents, money, safe deposit key, jigsaw puzzle.”


“A jigsaw puzzle?”


“Valuables.”


“You keep all that at the office?”


“Yes.”


“How’d this Sam guy get in the safe, then?”


“Well,” Frank said. This part embarrassed him a little, but things had been different before. Sam had been down on his luck. Frank had offered him a job. “We gave him the key years ago, when he first became manager.”


The detective snorted softly.


“Look, he’s always been trustworthy. It was only the past month or so that things went downhill. He stopped coming to work. His wife would call crying. To tell you the truth, I didn’t give the safe another thought.”


“Right,” Peterson said slowly, and Frank was certain he was being insulted. “How about we letcha know if we get any leads on your former employee? That is to say, he is a former employee now, isn’t he? Not going to hand him over the key to your bedroom next, are you?”


“Thank you, detective,” Frank said. “I’ll look forward to your call.”


The rest of the morning, the empty safe haunted Frank. Hundreds of memories jangled his mind until he finally pulled out the black and white photograph of his parents that he kept in his bottom drawer. He stared at his father’s grinning eyes and remembered the last conversation they’d ever had.


A man arguing with a nineteen year-old boy shouldn’t take anything too seriously. But Frank’s father had.


Before his father had destroyed himself, he must have destroyed any pictures with Frank in them; Frank had never been able to find a good family portrait. The only photographs were of his mom and dad alone.


Frank wished Sam hadn’t stolen the puzzle as well. At least once a week for the past fourteen years, Frank had felt an uncomfortable obligation to pull the jigsaw out and looked at the pieces lying in their box. He remembered quiet afternoons with his father, hours upon hours of silent jigsaw puzzling until at last they could sit back and enjoy the picture they’d created. The only quality time they ever had together was spent in silence to avoid the fighting.


It was only two hours after lunch that Frank got a call.


“Kabuki Club,” said the voice on the other end, smacking his chewing gum into the receiver.


“Excuse me?”


“Peterson here. Yer favorite -- er, former employee was last seen at the Kabuki Club downtown. Two nights ago. Talking to himself.”


“Let’s go.”


“Huh? You mean you go with me? Naw, thanks. I’ll do this on my own. Don’t need company.”


“I want my things back, detective. I’m coming with you.”


“Right. Well, I’ll be there at 7 for their show tonight, but clients don’t come with me on these things. It’s --”


Frank hung up and shot a quick email to his wife about missing dinner.


“We’re gonna have to sit through the first part of the show,” Peterson said when Frank arrived. “Manager’s busy until then, and there’s no seats in the lobby.”


Frank nodded and went to a squeaky old chair in the musty theatre. Detective Peterson sat next to him, squeezed into his seat, breathing heavily under the weight of his own skin.


Several characters entered the stage and began speaking in Japanese. Soon it was clear that these were all men, though two of them wore old-fashioned kimonos and had feminine pins in their wigs.


Japan’s drag queens.


But somehow they came across differently. The audience cheered for them and applauded their acting. These actors were respected as artists, not the fringe of society.


Though he had no clue what they were saying, Frank felt mild amusement watching the show. For a moment he wasn’t Frank Milner, the Richard Corey of his day. He relaxed a little. Here he was just another man having an evening away from it all.


As the actors played on, Frank let the real world melt away. His job, his sins, his wife, his dead father…


Had Sam come for the same escape?


A muscle twitched at the corner of Frank’s eye. Poor Sam. Frank would have felt guilty, but he couldn’t be held responsible for his friend’s nervous breakdown. No matter what had happened.


Near the stage, a drummer began to beat out a rhythm deep and slow. The actors exited to cheers, and the lights dimmed. A solitary figure entered, wrapped in colorful veils.


Frank sat up straight to see better, taking care not to nudge the snoring Detective Peterson. Was that performer a woman?


Piece by piece, the dancer unwrapped herself, veils floating gracefully to the floor behind her as she glided around.


It was a woman, and she was a belly dancer. Frank blinked. That didn’t make sense. A kabuki belly dancer? But she was. Her body was covered in white paint, and the pattern on her blood-red hip scarf bore a vague resemblance to the kimonos the actors had worn.


She began to twist in place, her hips sliding to the right, her ribs sliding to the left. The dancer made figure-eights with her body parts as though nothing inside of her was actually connected. Frank watched her, entranced. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d seen, but she commanded attention. An overwhelming power reached out from her midsection and took hold of Frank.


And then a strange thing happened. Frank’s eyes closed without his willing them to. Inside the darkness of his eyelids, he was the belly dancer. He could feel his head, his chest, his waist being isolated and moving on their own. His legs worked with hers. His fingers brushed the air.


Someone appeared before him. A crying woman with dark brown hair and a plain face. She stared at him helplessly, and he knew her right away.


Martha.


In an instant, Frank felt a hidden guilt clutch at his gut. He watched the vision of Martha turn to Sam, red-faced and furious.


“How could you, Frank? My own wife! Is no woman of your own good enough for you? You have to take mine?”


This faded until he saw another young woman. She was crying. Her golden hair stuck to her red cheeks as the tears spilled down. Frank knew her. What was her name? They’d dated. He’d broken her heart.


Stacie.


He cringed as these memories played before him. Stacie, the girl he’d stolen when Sam couldn’t afford to follow her to college. Stacie, just another girl he had never cared about.


The images went further back into Frank‘s past until he heard Sam‘s voice over a telephone. “Frank. It’s about your dad. Your mom called me over. She wanted me to let you know. That argument you two had. He’s … hurt himself. You need to come home.”


“Dad,” Frank whispered, his closed eyes stinging. “Sam.”


“Hey, Milner. You going batty over there?” Peterson’s voice pushed the images out of Frank’s head.


“Huh?”


“You’re talking to yourself.”


“Sorry. Must have dozed.” Frank took a deep breath and wiped a band of sweat from his forehead. “It’s too hot in here.”


“Tell me about it. I’m ready to go talk to the owner about your employee. You wanna come?”


Frank looked at the stage and saw the belly dancer bowing out to let new actors on. Two of the men looked so familiar…


“When did this get here?”


Frank looked at Peterson. “When did what get here?”


“This,” he said, handing Frank a small package. “It was on the floor.”


It was addressed to Frank Milner.


Frank opened the package and found the entire contents of his safe. On top of everything lay a letter in a language he couldn‘t read.


私の友だち、 ごめんなさい。 サムはしんでいます。 今、私は女形です。 あなたの父も女形てす。 ありがとうございました。


Peterson breathed on Frank’s shoulder as Frank sifted through the contents of the package. His wife’s jewels. The company papers. The safe deposit key. The cash.


His father’s jigsaw puzzle.


He imagined the old, dusty smell of pieces aging over years. For the first time in a long time, Frank really wanted to look inside and touch the game his father had taught him how to assemble almost thirty years ago.


Peterson leaned in closer. “What‘s the letter say?”


Frank opened the box to the puzzle and saw that it wasn‘t his jigsaw. The old generic autumn scene was missing. Instead, he found a simple puzzle, the kind a child could manage, with only ten large pieces.


Slowly, he put them together until the black and white image became clear.


His mother.


His father.


Him.


All smiling. All happy.


“Oh, my God.”


“What is it?” Peterson huffed foul breath, leaning into Frank‘s seat. “What’s that letter mean?”


“I think I’m forgiven,” Frank said.



The kabuki belly dancer shifted her hips and vibrated like an electric toothbrush. Her white face remained placid next to her midnight hair. Soft, albino hands posed above her head, fingers touching each other lightly, wrists swiveling in tiny circles.


She looked out at the audience. A handful of people seeking answers.


Her belly, her paint, her sequins offered something for free -- not quite truth, but better than that.


Men and women wander through their days like treadmills, she thought. They wake, they feed, they work, they rest. They do it again and again until their souls wear with the grooves of repetition. They want, and want, and want.


Whenever someone wanted her, whether they knew it themselves or not, she felt a tugging at her navel. Something pulled her out onto the stage to perform. It twisted her body like a pretzel and shook her muscles like an earthquake. She danced when she was needed, and lately, she was always needed.


The kabuki belly dancer rolled her stomach upward to welcome her audience back to the world of anti-reality, to the relaxation of entertainment.


I’ll give you something different for once. My work is your leisure.


The men and women who found her would skip a meal, miss a job, forget to rest. And they would find themselves.


She danced on the stage, watching the people watching her. Some with eyes closed, some with mouths open. Who knew what they saw? She had no idea. For them, the escape was the kabuki belly dancer.


For the kabuki belly dancer, an escape did not exist.