Naming Himself

The following week is reserved for a fancy lunch at Shura’s diner, which requires a ride in the seductive car. After a brief walk, in which Dance still has the same problem in his pants as last week, which is still funny and oddly flattering, finally they’re passing into the gate of the secure garage Drin always uses in the area. He holds up one warning finger. “Hold the lovely thought. This place has many security cameras.”

“Ahh,” Dance says. “But our Drin also has the very good imagination, yes?”

Drin smiles. “Oh yes. And practice at planning, too, don’t forget that.”

Dance does have a way of reminding him why he bought that car.

“Good,” Drin breathes at last, kissing the other man’s mouth as the hot body melts down into Drin’s embrace, muscles loosening. Drin disentangles himself with a reluctant little noise from Dance, and puts the car in gear. Well, lunch is still on the agenda. People will certainly ask Dance how it went. He himself took the afternoon off work with the sure knowledge he’d never make it back anyway. If he’d driven Dance home with a strict no-touching policy, they could have been together naked in Dance’s bed by now. He could have had Dance snugged up like this in his arms, all warm and cleaned up and fucked down to a standstill and ready to sleep.

“So how do you feel about having some lunch?” he asks instead. The smell of Dance’s sweat and semen in the car is getting to him. Drin’s cock is hardening again, which is crazy.

Dance smiles slowly. “We–I– would like to have lunch– if I can behave myself. Amalia warned us all to be careful. We really don’t want to go fucking in any restroom of Shura’s restaurants.”

Drin starts laughing. “Wow, Amalia really lays down the law!”

“She is blunt, yes.” Dance is sprawled back in the seat, turned a little toward Drin. His hand comes out and rests on Drin’s thigh. “Miss Amalia says you are sex on nice long legs. She is right. I do… want to fuck in restrooms. Oh, being honest, it is just wanting to try everything–and in bed is nice too, Mister Planning Expert.”

Drin laughs. “I’ll scope out some nice places just for you. You come up with some ideas, you just let me know, we’ll see what’s on the calendar, how’s that?”

At Shura’s cafe, lunch is slow and ceremonial and full of pauses to think about things they’re saying. Perhaps it’s the civilized tidiness, the bright cheerful bustle, the open light, the feeling of being outside time. There’s no rush. Dance has an interesting conversational rhythm, full of pauses for thought, picking his words a little slowly, as if he’s halfway distracted by what’s going on in his head, and yet so quick to react when Drin speaks, so light on his feet taking off in Drin’s new direction, like tango for brains. He’s absorbed great rafts of his roomate’s phrasing and terminology, he sounds half-Aussie himself. His wry stories are delivered dead-pan, the eyes smiling slowly as he gets the reaction he was looking for. That, and the whisper of his original Korean accent–the softened glottals, the open Chinese-style R sounds, and a scholarly coolness of body language–make Drin hard as rock in his pants.

Drin brings up one hand, rests his chin in it. He knows a few things about Dance that probably he shouldn’t, as a personnel matter. The Metro’s office ladies give Drin ridiculously free rein in their files; and he’s been shameless about raking through unrelated things while looking for those misplaced records he needed to do the taxes properly. He’s got a few questions about Dance’s file, but they can wait a few more hours or days. He’s told Dance some of the fun bits about his own family, describing the friendly faces and who can be counted on, but he hasn’t asked about Dance’s family.

Dance doesn’t gush into his silences, like some would. Any performer knows the uses of silence. Sometimes he just settles back and smiles, and lets it stretch out and he waits, like a cat in his corner, about to pounce if Drin moves. Drin sometimes leaves the string dangling quiet, as if he doesn’t notice the muscles poised in the other man’s body, waiting. It makes the temptation to pounce so unbearable, when he goes casually flicking out the next hint.

A king can play with a cat, too, and pretend to ignore it. Just wait.

It’s a long sip of the excellent coffee before Dance decides he has something to put in that silence. Something worth sharing with Drin, who might not want to hear his confessions. He’s shy, or cautious, aware that he might be the toy of the month, and his bloom as brief as the time that he opens his mouth and says just the wrong thing, or too much. Perhaps he is afraid of being perceived as just another Robert. But he looks up in Drin’s eyes, and he says it.

Even if he could afford to go back to his country, he’d keep it short, he tells Drin coolly, not trying to whisper, not trying to lower his voice, saying it out right there in the brightly-colored diner booth. He’s been dismissed from his Korean family. Told not to come back.

“Disinherited? Thrown out?”

A nod, a retreat that draws down a curtain of hair over the eyes. Brown notes in that hair catch the light, but the folds and shadows go blue.

“Why?”

“When this happens, big surprise. No idea why. Later on, our grandmother, our teacher, she tells. Bad things came in their postal service. And then very bad things come to–me. We do not know if it was different or same as what our honored parents suffered. We do not know if it was faked. But they believe it. They were shocked by– by my wild new American ways.” An eye emerges from the curtain. Not coy, or angry, or cautious; sad.

Drin cocks an eyebrow at him, and Dance spreads those expressive hands wide, lets them fall. “Yes, we know, all this staying up late to work, every night copying scores, so shocking.”

“Perhaps somebody wanted you to lose your position at the Metro. Any idea who might be that bad an enemy?”

Dance shrugs. “Too many possibilities there. Open up the upper ranks, yes? It can get ugly.” He tilts his head. “Our Miss Emma makes a quote, she says, ‘The fights are so bitter when the stakes are so low.'”

Drin feels a flinch that he tries not to show. “When did all this happen?”

Dance shakes his head. “Third week after we–after I just got here. Yes, that letter went to our Miss Amalia’s house. The second time, when our grandmother calls, maybe a month later. Yes–we– I– I was at our Miss Emma’s house. We hear that somebody sent nasty pictures to our parents, and then someone called them. Our grandmother thinks the pictures were fakes, she says no way to be sure. But our parents believe it is true. Must be all true. Will not say to our Grandmother why they believe it. Very bad things. Crimes. The parents told her this angry caller spoke bad Korean with thick Slavic accent. Not Russian, not Chinese, not Polish, some other Eastern European language.”

girl looks back in trad Korean clothes
Back in the Old Country

He explains that the parents cut him off from phone calls, from letters, shut off the contest matching funds that brought him over from Korea, stopped everything. They stopped returning his messages. For two months, for all his worried frantic efforts, nothing. Dance gives another of those restless shrugs. He admits that few of his family ever responded to his calls to begin with.

“How did you keep going?” Drin asks.

“Our Miss Emma rescues us,” Dance says. It was his roomate who kept him fed, who scratched around and got him new funding as first chair. Anonymous donor, so he doesn’t even know how to thank them, and he wishes he could.

Drin knows more than he should from the files about that, too. The anonymous donor is hardly unknown. But it wasn’t Bud Innes, as he half-expected. Shura Korachevnik kicked in matching funds to keep Dance’s prize grant active. Miss Emma likely does know about that, as her name is on the earliest emails on file for the change; interesting that she kept the confidence, and didn’t pass it on to Dance.

“Have you heard from your family since then?” Drin asks.

Dance takes a deep breath, and replies that he gets emails from his blessedly tolerant grandmother. He explains this is the proper term of respect for his most important music teacher back home, she is very distantly related. He was so relieved when she sent him that first, tentative, awkward message on the computer. She’d always used the phone before.

Don’t tell your father I try talking at you, she wrote him, don’t disgrace his name or our name.

Dance makes a grim face, looks up at Drin. He says, “Then pictures came to us. Bad ones. We– I do not want to tell our Emma. She’s on a trip. We– I– I just cannot do it on the phone. So– so– I take this to police. I do this again when we– when I get more pictures, a second time. After that, nothing.” He shrugs.

Drin watches the mobile face flicker through expressions, like clouds passing. The musician smiles, putting wry quote marks in the air. “We get good emails from our grandmother now. She learned to– attach pictures. Baby pictures, school events, our nieces. Better now, yes? Back then, bad. Our Emma, and–and me– we call that ‘the Months of Being Alone’. We did–I did email our grandmother, asking about how to– how to save face for our parents, our family. I ask how not to mess up the family name. But no answer. So–” A shrug.

So he changed his name.

Drin knows a few things about that, too. That was a strange thing to do. It’s a cardinal sin for the only son to walk away from the family name, but Dance did it. Now the man’s legal last name is Dance of Knives, that’s it. No first name. Part of the puzzle of the guy–it’s nothing like any Korean name he’s ever seen. Come to think, it’d take some kind of special exemption for Immigration agents to allow him to do that, too. Drin leaves space, waiting for whatever his musician wants to say.

Dance fidgets with the coffee cup, perhaps thinking out words. Then he says, “In spite of problems with INS rules, we must be doing this. Our grandmother asked us not to embarrass her family. We are– I am still feeling it was the least we must do for her.” He lowers his chin, falling silent, and the wing of glossy hair falls forward again, draping loose across his shoulder.

closeup b/w image of partial face, one eye veiled in hair
eye veiled in hair, source unknown

It costs Drin pain to sit still. He wants to stroke back that hair in a reassuring touch. He is not sure–not yet–that Dance will understand it that way. “Why did you choose that name?”

Dance flicks up a smile. “Oh, it just started as a nickname from our Miss Amalia, when we–when I am–I was angry, in her kitchen cutting carrots. Whack-whack-whack. She calls it out, she says it sounds like a very Western, artsy, fake name. We say to her it is a big chop socky movie name picked out by an American-born boy who doesn’t speak Korean at home.” Another shrug. “Now our Miss Emma says, why not, for a fag who plays Western classical music for a living.” At Drin’s skeptical glance, Dance smiles again. “Our Miss Emma is very butch when she is off work, in the car, in private. She says it loud, like big banner: Dance, you are the cutest damn faggot, go be fuckin’ proud of it.”

Drin says wryly, “I guess I’ll have to start calling her Killer, or something.”

Dance nods. “And what all our parents fear– why? We are never doing anything! All talk, no… I am so slow on learning these fun parts of queerness. Well, until now, of course.” He gives Drin that wry, sunrise smile of his.

“I’ll be happy to help in your education,” Drin says, smiling back.

“We would love to take our Drin to our country, meeting our Grandmother-teacher, but our parents would not allow it for her to see us,” Dance says.

“They could stop it?” Drin says.

Dance sighs. “Our grandmother warned us– me– not to come back. She says our parents turned over those nasty things to American Embassy. American INS asked me many questions first two months, but nothing now for a year. But our grandmother warned us, our parents promised to get–me–and any person who comes with me–arrested at the Korean airport. The threat is true enough. Our parents both work with status at aerospace companies.”

The man’s family, his background, that is something Drin checked out months ago. Of course Drin has done his homework on such an obsession. Drin studies his beautiful musician in the bright lights of the diner.

Dance seems calm about all of this. There is no anger, no bitterness. It’s left unspoken that fury gets transmuted into art.

Dance just says, mildly, that he thinks about that when he plays Dvorak’s old workhorse, the Symphony Number 9. One of the basic audience-friendly perennial favorites. People cry, when they play the piece. It reduces old ladies to tears.

“The New World,” Drin nods, “I remember reading that the composer was giving an old world musician’s reactions to our wilderness, how it felt to be in a strange new place.”

That earns a flash of answering energy in those amazing dark eyes smiling at him. Just an easy lob from Dance, a floater that any slob of a patron should have smashed. Which told Drin something about his fellow patrons–they aren’t the most musically literate bunch he’s ever run into. But they mean well, and he enjoys talking to them. Dance doesn’t test them at all, when he talks to them. But he’s studying Drin’s face, looking for something. “Did Drin– did you like it, when you heard it last?”

Drin has to stop and think about it. Something on the radio. He just remembers some gawky slow entries by the horns, and some questionable tempo choices. From his comments, Dance chuckles, and identifies which recording it probably was. He explains their Miss Amalia brings object lessons in, and she will play important new recordings during breaks. “Our Drin knows of better versions, we can tell. Knowing what it ought to be like! Which recording did our Drin like better?”

Drin smiles, lifting his hands in defeat. “I don’t remember the versions all that well, but I’ll try to do better!”

Dance leans in. He doesn’t blink much when he’s after something. “That is pretty good memory, honestly. Are there other pieces our Drin remembers liking?”

That afternoon is when he first starts poking at Drin with his musical claws, probing Drin’s mind in a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of what he likes, what he knows, what he pursues, what he dislikes, and why. It is something like resting gently on a bed of nails that moves all the time. Drin expected some questions. He didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, going back through all of his favorite things–and many of them not traditional repertoire at all.

It’s a kick listening to Dance hum Santana’s distinctive phrasing, chiming the water glass with his nails with the timing.

Dance smiles. “It was our grandmother who was the first telling us about him, sending us links on Santana. She told us, don’t pay attention to all the guitar masturbating, just study his technique.”

“She sounds as bad as Amalia!” Drin exclaims.

“Oh yes, like our Miss Emma. Our grandmother is blunt,” Dance agrees. He is attending to the wonderful borscht soup, and Drin lets his eyes rest on the delicately scarred face of this delicately scarred man. If Dance is some kind of criminal or con artist, he’s a remarkably convincing one. Genuinely poor, too. He licks off candy wrappers, retrieves every scrap of food from his cooking pans. The surprise is the generosity of the servings he spoons out for Drin as his guest, and for Emma.

From the tense set of his shoulders, Dance has gone back to his unpleasant topic, because there’s more to it, and he’s trying to be brave.

Drin asks quietly, “Were you worried about other bad things happening now, so you needed to warn me?”

Dance nods. “These people who hurt our parents with these nasty pictures, we do not know what they want. We do not know why it happened. Why do it?”

“Are you worried somebody will send me nasty things? Whisper nasty rumors?”

“They might. How did they know to send things to our parents over in our country?” Dance says. He pushes back the empty soup bowl, and folds the hands together on the table in a bony knot.

“You think I give up that easy?”

Dance just stares at him over the knotted hands. “Would it not depend on how nasty?”

Drin considers this. He’s not going to begin by lying to Dance. “Yes, you’re right. It might.”

Dance is already turning his head away before Drin can touch him. Dammit, he’s so fast! Drin reaches across the table and cups Dance’s face in both his hands, and strokes back the hair from his eyes. “I’m not easy to get rid of. Not without a lot of work, figuring out what’s going on.”

“Yes,” Dance says, and there’s a liquid glitter across his eyes. Muscles jump in his jaw. But he doesn’t lower his eyelids, and he doesn’t look away.

Drin strokes the sides of the man’s face. In this brightly lit diner, he has grown certain that there’s nothing decorative or tribal or careful about Dance’s scars.

They’re burn marks.

He’ll save the rest of his questions for another time.

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