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The Waltz, by Dorothy Parkerfrom Dorothy Parker (The Viking Portable Library, 1944)
WHY, thank you so much. I’d adore to.
I don’t want to dance with him. I don’t want to dance with anybody. And even if Idid, it wouldn’t be him. He’d be well down among the last ten. I’ve seen the way hedances; it looks like something you do on Saint Walpurgis Night. Just think, not aquarter of an hour ago, here I was sitting, feeling so sorry for the poor girl he wasdancing with. And now I’m going to be the poor girl. Well, well. Isn’t it a smallworld?
And a peach of a world, too. A true little corker. Its events are so fascinatinglyunpredictable, are not they? Here I was, minding my own business, not doing astitch of harm to any living soul. And then he comes into my life, all smiles andcity manners, to sue me for the favor of one memorable mazurka. Why, he scarcelyknows my name, let alone what it stands for. It stands for Despair, Bewilderment,Futility, Degradation, and Premeditated Murder, but little does he wot. I don’t wothis name, either; I haven’t any idea what it is. Jukes, would be my guess from thelook in his eyes. How do you do, Mr. Jukes? And how is that dear little brother ofyours, with the two heads?
Ah, now why did he have to come around me, with his low requests? Why can’t helet me lead my own life? I ask so little — just to be left alone in my quiet corner ofthe table, to do my evening brooding over all my sorrows. And he must come, withhis bows and his scrapes and his may-l-have-this-ones. And I had to go and tellhim that I’d adore to dance with him. I cannot understand why I wasn’t struck rightdown dead. Yes, and being struck dead would look like a day in the country,compared to struggling out a dance with this boy. But what could I do? Everyoneelse at the table had got up to dance, except him and me. There was 1, trapped.Trapped like a trap in a trap.
What can you say, when a man asks you to dance with him? I most certainly willnot dance with you, I’ll see you in hell first. Why, thank you, I’d like to awfully, butI’m having labor pains. Oh, yes, do let’s dance together — it’s so nice to meet a manwho isn’t a scaredy-cat about catching my beri-beri. No. There was nothing for meto do, but say I’d adore to. Well, we might as well get it over with. All right,Cannonball, let’s run out on the field. You won the toss; you can lead.
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Why, I think it’s more of a waltz, really. Isn’t it? We might just listen to the music asecond. Shall we? Oh, yes, it’s a waltz. Mind? Why, I’m simply thrilled. I’d love towaltz with you.
I’d love to waltz with you. I’d love to waltz with you. I’d love to have my tonsilsout, I’d love to be in a midnight fire at sea. Well, it’s too late now. We’re gettingunder way. Oh. Oh, dear. Oh, dear, dear, dear. Oh, this is even worse than Ithought it would be. I suppose that’s the one dependable law of life — everything isalways worse than you thought it was going to be. Oh, if I had any real grasp ofwhat this dance would be like, I’d have held out for sitting it out. Well, it willprobably amount to the same thing in the end. We’ll be sitting it out on the floor ina minute, if he keeps this up.
I’m so glad I brought it to his attention that this is a waltz they’re playing. Heavenknows what might have happened, if he had thought it was something fast; we’dhave blown the sides right out of the building, Why does he always want to besomewhere that he isn’t? Why can’t we stay in one place just long enough to getacclimated? It’s this constant rush, rush, rush, that’s the curse of American life.That’s the reason that we’re all of us so — Ow! For God’s sake, don’t kick, you idiot;this is only second down. Oh, my shin. My poor, poor shin, that I’ve had ever sinceI was a little girl!
Oh, no, no, no. Goodness, no. It didn’t hurt the least little bit. And anyway it wasmy fault. Really it was. Truly. Well, you’re just being sweet, to say that. It reallywas all my fault.
I wonder what I’d better do — kill him this instant, with my naked hands, or waitand let him drop in his traces. Maybe it’s best not to make a scene. I guess I’ll justlie low, and watch the pace get him. He can’t keep this up indefinitely — he’s onlyflesh and blood. Die he must, and die he shall, for what he did to me. I don’t wantto be of the over-sensitive type, but you can’t tell me that kick was unpremeditated.Freud says there are no accidents. I’ve led no cloistered life, I’ve known dancingpartners who have spoiled my slippers and torn my dress; but when it comes tokicking, I am Outraged Womanhood. When you kick me in the shin, smile.
Maybe he didn’t do it maliciously. Maybe it’s just his way of showing his highspirits. I suppose I ought to be glad that one of us is having such a good time. Isuppose I ought to think myself lucky if he brings me back alive. Maybe it’scaptious to demand of a practically strange man that he leave your shins as hefound them. After all, the poor boy’s doing the best he can. Probably he grew up in
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the hill country, and never had no larnin’. I bet they had to throw him on his backto get shoes on him.
Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it? It’s simply lovely. It’s the loveliest waltz. Isn’t it? Oh, I thinkit’s lovely, too.
Why, I’m getting positively drawn to the Triple Threat here. He’s my hero. He hasthe heart of a lion, and the sinews of a buffalo. Look at him — never a thought ofthe consequences, never afraid of his face, hurling himself into every scrimmage,eyes shining, cheeks ablaze. And shall it be said that I hung back? No, a thousandtimes no. What’s it to me if I have to spend the next couple of years in a plastercast? Come on, Butch, right through them! Who wants to live forever?
Oh. Oh, dear. Oh, he’s all right, thank goodness. For a while I thought they’d haveto carry him off the field. Ah, I couldn’t bear to have anything happen to him. Ilove him. I love him better than anybody in the world. Look at the spirit he getsinto a dreary, commonplace waltz; how effete the other dancers seem, beside him.He is youth and vigor and courage, he is strength and gaiety and — Ow! Get off myinstep, you hulking peasant! What do you think I am, anyway — a gangplank? Ow!
No, of course it didn’t hurt. Why, it didn’t a bit. Honestly. And it was all my fault.You see, that little step of yours — well, it’s perfectly lovely, but it’s just a tiny bittricky to follow at first. Oh, did you work it up yourself? You really did? Well,aren’t you amazing! Oh, now I think I’ve got it. Oh, I think it’s lovely. I waswatching you do it when you were dancing before. It’s awfully effective when youlook at it.
It’s awfully effective when you look at it. I bet I’m awfully effective when you lookat me. My hair is hanging along my cheeks, my skirt is swaddling about me, I canfeel the cold damp of my brow. I must look like something out of the “Fall of theHouse of Usher.” This sort of thing takes a fearful toll of a woman my age. And heworked up his little step himself, he with his degenerate cunning. And it was just atiny bit tricky at first, but now I think I’ve got it. Two stumbles, slip, and a twenty-yard dash; yes. I’ve got it. I’ve got several other things, too, including a split shinand a bitter heart. I hate this creature I’m chained to. I hated him the moment I sawhis leering, bestial face. And here I’ve been locked in his noxious embrace for thethirty-five years this waltz has lasted. Is that orchestra never going to stop playing?Or must this obscene travesty of a dance go on until hell burns out?
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Oh, they’re going to play another encore. Oh, goody. Oh, that’s lovely. Tired? Ishould say I’m not tired. I’d like to go on like this forever.
I should say I’m not tired. I’m dead, that’s all I am. Dead, and in what a cause! Andthe music is never going to stop playing, and we’re going on like this, Double-TimeCharlie and I, throughout eternity. I suppose I won’t care any more, after the firsthundred thousand years. I suppose nothing will matter then, not heat nor pain norbroken heart nor cruel, aching weariness. Well. It can’t come too soon for me.
I wonder why I didn’t tell him I was tired. I wonder why I didn’t suggest goingback to the table. I could have said let’s just listen to the music. Yes, and if hewould, that would be the first bit of attention he has given it all evening. GeorgeJean Nathan said that the lovely rhythms of the waltz should be listened to instillness and not be accompanied by strange gyrations of the human body. I thinkthat’s what he said. I think it was George Jean Nathan. Anyhow, whatever he saidand whoever he was and whatever he’s doing now, he’s better off than I am. That’ssafe. Anybody who isn’t waltzing with this Mrs. O’Leary’s cow I’ve got here ishaving a good time.
Still if we were back at the table, I’d probably have to talk to him. Look at him –what could you say to a thing like that! Did you go to the circus this year, what’syour favorite kind of ice cream, how do you spell cat? I guess I’m as well off here.As well off as if I were in a cement mixer in full action.
I’m past all feeling now. The only way I can tell when he steps on me is that I canhear the splintering of bones. And all the events of my life are passing before myeyes. There was the time I was in a hurricane in the West Indies, there was the dayI got my head cut open in the taxi smash, there was the night the drunken ladythrew a bronze ashtray at her own true love and got me instead, there was thatsummer that the sailboat kept capsizing. Ah, what an easy, peaceful time was mine,until I fell in with Swifty, here. I didn’t know what trouble was, before I got drawninto this danse macabre. I think my mind is beginning to wander. It almost seemsto me as if the orchestra were stopping. It couldn’t be, of course; it could never,never be. And yet in my ears there is a silence like the sound of angel voices. . . .
Oh they’ve stopped, the mean things. They’re not going to play any more. Oh, darn.Oh, do you think they would? Do you really think so, if you gave them twentydollars? Oh, that would be lovely. And look, do tell them to play this same thing.I’d simply adore to go on waltzing.