My Left Foot, My Funny BoneCarmen Ruggero
"YOU AIN'T GOT NO RHYTHM!!" Austin shouted, punching the downbeat. He got some kind of sadistic pleasure out of humiliating me. I could hear the chuckling and throat clearing coming from the other dancers, and I wanted to cry something awful, but I didn't give in. "Five, six, seven, eight," he shouted, "not eight and one eighth," he mocked, showing his teeth.
He made me do it again, and again, till I got it right. Finally, we were done. Hardly able to catch our breath, egos on the offence, Austin and I held a fiery stare contest. Perspiration dripped profusely down his forehead, over his eyes, down his cheekbones, and gathered in one big drop that hung at the end of his nose. I know what he was thinking, "Damn, you're left-footed!"
Dancers filed out of the studio; towels draped around their necks, shaking their heads from side to side, and trying to hide their grins, like I couldn't tell. I hoped for a word of encouragement from him, some dismal acknowledgement for my hard work, but hell no! He just stared at me beyond the drop at the end of his nose.
Somewhere along the line, I would involuntarily switched gears and interrupt the steady count of a beat. A mystery that often turned a perfectly good tragedy, into a very untimely comedy. It made people laugh, and I believed they laughed at me. This 'ain't-got-no-rhythm' syndrome doomed me.
At the time, I was rehearsing an English melodrama, in which I played the maid accused of trying to poison the lady of the house. The end of the second act brought this mystery to a climax, when I descended the spiraling stairs carrying the infamous glass of milk intended for my insomniac mistress.
I portrayed this villainous character rather well and maintained my somber descend for ten very suspenseful steps, and on the very last step, every night, without exception, people chuckled. It drove my director insane. He would run backstage yelling and screaming: "Can't you keep a steady beat?!"
I was astonished. I had written complete journals and pages upon pages of biographical notes on this character that only had sixty-five lines, for Pete's sake! I knew my skills!
One day, before the show opened to the public, I went into the theater when I knew I'd be alone, and I practiced that scene till I dropped. The director's words kept repeating themselves. "Keep a steady beat."
"A lousy four by four count!" I muttered, "what am I to do about this spastic brain of mine?"
"Five, six, seven, eight," Austin had said, in ballet class, "not eight and one eighth." Then, it hit me! "Austin you're brilliant!" I shouted. It was that offbeat fraction that made people laugh! I punched it again, with purpose this time, and I got it!!!
Ain't-got-no-rhythm found its niche at last. "Left foot," I said, "meet my funny bone," and hoped Austin could watch me from behind that sweaty drop, watch me hit the offbeat, and make them laugh on cue, every time!"
Copyright ©2002 Carmen Ruggero. All Rights Reserved.
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