#

The following weeks turned into a blur for Jane. She was running into work, doing housekeeping clean-up as usual, balancing the sheets at the front desk, and greeting the studio guests. She was no more done with that, than Maude would show up for lesson. Jane became the dance partner for the men while Maude watched and gave pointers.

Jane started out liking the dancing, now she was starting to feel like something out of The Red Shoes. She was dancing her feet off and going home exhausted. And then, Stanley. Jesus! The man seemed to show up either everyday or every other day. It seemed she was constantly stuck with him. He was always smiling that sickly-sweet smile at her. Then, he started to bring her little gifts. He wouldn’t just leave a card or note. He’d wait until she was away from the desk and slip in a gift when no one else could see. If she got one more box of chocolates she would scream. She began opening them up and letting ‘everyone share’. Lately, she was walking them into the staff room and dumping them in the trash.

God, she couldn’t stand that guy! And heaven forbid she said anything to anyone. He was a great paying customer and they loved that. To top it off, Larry was there less and less. They had not had a private lesson in over a month, and he kept scuttling out of the studio promptly at 6 pm.

“Got to get home to those kids, you know,” he’d say. Then, giving her a warm smile or a wink, boom, he was out the door and into the night. Just when it couldn’t get worse, Lady G seemed to be hovering around her like some suffocating moth.

Reminds me of a pesky nat. Wish I could just swat her! Jane dunked her teabag into a cup of hot water with furious little jabs. Whether she wanted to admit it to herself, she was starting to hate her life and didn’t know what to do. She felt trapped.

It was that spring that the studio held its Spring Showcase of Talent. Many of the regulars from the studio were going to be in the show plus all the instructors. Of course, Larry and Lady G, the professional dancers, would be performing. Jane considered throwing her hat in, but honestly, was too tired to practice for some dumb show.

One evening, after a particularly grueling day, Jane found herself in the organic wine aisle looking at the bottles.

Hum, made naturally with only organic grapes in the heartland of California’s own wine country. “Well,” she told the air, “how bad can it be? It’s all organic.” She bought a bottle and took it home. The next day she had a headache and was surprised to find when she was in the kitchen looking for Tylenol, found an empty bottle in the trash.

“Did I do that?” she said softly. She located another bottle of pills in the cupboard and forced it open. She grabbed two pills and downed them with water. She was walking out of the kitchen when she looked at the wine bottle again. She stopped and shoved it further down in the trash.

Dancers were running in and out and in and out of the studio as the Showcase approached. Jane was delirious with constant lessons. Maude was shouting and yelling as more dancers practiced their routines for the show.

Jane was stopping at the grocery store on a nightly basis now to get her organic wine. She kept promising herself she would make the bottle last two nights, but it never did. She began to buy some small pints of vodka to make the evening last longer. Her unhappiness at work kept increasing.

It seemed like she rarely saw Larry these days, but Stanley was appearing on a regular basis. She began to have bad dreams. It seemed like she was being forced into some weird marriage ceremony with Stanley. She jerked awake from these dreams sweating.

                                                #

It was a Friday night and the Showcase was happening at 7 PM. All the staffers were frantic getting the studio cleaned up and ready for the performances. Lady G was supervising the costumes on the costume racks which were pushed into both staff rooms. Jane got out the vacuum and vacuumed the floor three times. People kept dropped bits of food on the carpet. She was nearly exhausted but keyed up at the same time.

They all had to park their cars further away than usual to give the guests more places to park. This was really annoying for Jane. It meant she had to go farther to get to the trunk of her car. She was keeping a bottle of hot vodka there and would sneak out to take sips at break. She choose vodka because everyone said you couldn’t smell it.

By the time she had made three trips to her car, the show was about to start, and she was light-headed. She parked herself at the desk and pulled her swivel chair around to watch. One tedious performance followed another for an hour and a half. Jane felt like throwing up. She couldn’t tell if it was the vodka or watching the dancers.

The show was winding down to the last few numbers. Larry and Lady G had something planned. They danced the tango to a hot salsa beat then stopped and took a bow. An older woman came on the floor leading three young tow-headed children.

Larry grabbed the microphone. “Thanks so much for coming tonight, folks. Lady G and I both want to thank you so much and introduce our three kids!” There was a huge round of applause and then the kids, mom and dad, all did a short rendition of Chattanooga Choo choo with bells and whistles, Larry rotating his arms like the wheels of a locomotive. The crowd went wild with shouts and applause.

Jane was struck dumb. She knew Larry had some kids, but three? And all blond and adorably cute? And they all sang together? She couldn’t stand it. Jane groped in the dark for her little evening bag and keys. She was crying hysterically. She stumbled out of the studio.

Why, why? Why did that bitch get the guy, the house, the business, the kids and all the applause? She should have that. She worked hard, she deserved center stage. She was younger and better looking. It just wasn’t fair. Jane stumbled toward her car. All she could think about was getting her hands on that bottle of vodka. She’d probably stop at the store on the way home and get a much, much bigger bottle this time.

She was still clutching something in her hand. It was the letter opener from the desk. She had forgotten she was even carrying it. Oh shit. She wasn’t going back for this dumb thing now. Screw it.

“Jane, Jane. What’s wrong?”

Out of the darkness, Jane heard the dreaded voice of Stanley. She turned. The asshole had followed her out to her car.

“You look upset. What’s wrong? Let me help you.” His face was wrinkled up with concern and sympathy.

Sympathy, Jesus, of all the things in the world I don’t need right now, sympathy was the worst!

Jane turned back and kept walking. She felt his hand on her shoulder, she turned around. The three fingered hand. “Get off me you horrible old freak!” she screamed. She staggered backward.

He lunged forward to catch her. That’s when she lashed out with the letter opener. It sank into Stanley’s juggler vein. Blood started to pump out of the vein and Stanley sank to the asphalt with one hand on the letter opener and a surprised look on his face.

Jane stood and stared in horror as Stanley was quickly covered in his own blood. She wanted to scream but no sound came out. In moments, it was over, and he was completely still, laying on the asphalt. She backed away from the body. First slowly, then quickly, then she was running. Running and stumbling as fast as she could, away.

Away, got to get away, was all she could think of. She jabbed the car key into the lock, wrenched the door open and jammed the key into the lock. She didn’t bother with the bottle in the trunk or even putting on her seat belt. She screamed out of the parking lot without another look back.

VII next