It is only Country Dancing


Bill sat watching the still, sleeping form of the old woman. She was trapped between the two huge thick arms of the chair, her head barely reaching above them. Wrinkled socks hid her thin legs which had slipped off the footstool. Arthritis had deflected her, once slim, fingers into thick knurls which lay on her skinny lap.

She slept on as Bill watched her.

” You were beautiful once ” Bill muttered to himself.

As he gazed at her face it transformed to the innocent beauty of a young girl. Her skin was once again glowing olive, charged with vitality. The pinched nose was once more delicate and proud. Long dark lashes lay on her blushed cheeks, shimmering as she slept. Luxuriant black hair was flung around her head that was still, now that her passion was exhausted.

“Anaϊs. It’s Anaϊs. ” Bill breathed the name, breath hot on his lips.

The memory of the excitement and pleasure they had once shared flared up and Bill shuddered with the charge of energy that flowed through him.

He remembered the time he was camping in Perpignan, a town in the south west of France near to the Border with Spain. Bill was with a French family. Their son had spent time in England at his home earlier in the year, they were both sixteen. He’d first seen Anaϊs on the beach. She was a local girl, a Catalan, more Spanish than French. He could not keep his eyes off her. The others teased him, but he could not stop himself adoring her from afar. She was slim her body rounded and voluptuous, her eyes dark, lips full.

One day, as she played with the waves under the steady gaze of the sun, he plucked up courage to speak to her. To his surprise she stayed to talk. His French was stilted and stumbling and her accent strange to his ear, but they had fun as they laughed, splashed and chattered to each other, sometimes understanding sometimes not. She asked him if he would like to go to a Sardana, a festival of Catalan music and dance. He would have gone anywhere she asked.

The Sardana must have been held in a bull ring. He could remember sitting on wooden seats, high on a terrace. The excitement in the air was electric. Anaϊs could not sit still. She chattered in Spanish or French to all around her, turning to Bill every now and then to tell him something her eyes wide and smiling, lips shaping words he could not understand.

Bill was astounded, taken aback by the intensity of emotion he could see and feel. The audience of French and Spanish crackled with energy. He could feel sparks flying from one to the other charging the air like great rumbling clouds before a storm creating the great force that would flash to the earth below.

” It’s only country dancing ” he kept telling himself. ” but such energy is being created. ”

It was hot. The sand of the ring shone white. To one side was a collection of plain wooden chairs. An incongruous sight where once blood had been spilt. As he watched, the dancers and musicians entered in slow procession through gates that usually saw the belligerent rush of an angry fighting bull, confident of his strength and power. The women wore billowing skirts and the men straight white trousers. All had dark embroidered waistcoats.

The musicians sat on the chairs. About twelve quiet and serious men. The dancers formed a large ring alternating men and women. There was silence. The crowded terraces quiet. The huge excitement now contained, bursting to escape like a long-held breath.

A musician beat a complicated rhythm on a simple drum, the single stick holding the attention of thousands. A lone piper played a haunting tune, the sounds mysterious and exciting rising on the energy of the hot, still air. A melody that was a chord stretching back through the centuries. The dancers were still, absorbing the theme and rhythm being set. The music started, an eerie sound from instruments strange to Bill’s ear and eye. The ring of dancers began to revolve, dipping and turning with complicated steps. Each one was serenely controlled, calm, with no superfluous or un-choreographed movement. It was a powerful dance and Bill could sense a great and ancient magic.

Years later, he was told that Franco had banned the dance in Spain and Spanish Catalans had to cross into France to celebrate the Sardana. This was one explanation for the extraordinary tension and expectation that Bill had felt but it was the magic of the music and dance that had the greatest force.

They made love that evening under the great sky full of turbulent violent clouds painted red, purple, orange and yellow by the force of that day. Anaϊs was urgent, insistent in her passion her naked body assaulting his, reaching to claim every ounce of his energy to blend with hers and so completing the great mystery that had begun when the complicated and exotic rhythm had first floated into the air.

That was a long time ago. Her shining black hair now white, her energetic body still. Bill looked down at his hands that had once felt the warm glistening skin.  They too were old, blotched-brown, thin and pale resting on his cold barren lap. He looked up, Anaϊs’ hair, though grey, was long and thick, cast around her face as it had once been.

Anaϊs. Where’s Anaϊs? ” Bill called out, suddenly frightened.”

She’s sitting there in front of you. Your wife’s just there. ” The nurse rested her hand on Bill’s shoulder. ” Don’t worry she’s still here”.

” Oh yes. I remember. We met in France you know. It was a long time ago. It was only country dancing but there was a great magic in the air. We got caught up with it. It’s still here. We’re still part of it you know, always will be. ”

Bill’s head dropped onto his chest as he slipped into a light sleep. The nurse stayed a moment her hand on his shoulder. There was no time, she felt the past, present and future and love that was now and for ever.


© Anthony Fisher June 1988