Ask him about family, and Dance’s eyes get that familiar shadow of reserve. Ahh, Drin thinks, so things didn’t go well when he came out.
Even if he could afford to go back he’d keep it short, he tells Drin coolly, right there in the brightly-lit chocolatier. Over amazing little confections, and even more amazing coffees, the place induces entirely different sorts of conversation. Drin chose it for that, not just because it stays open late for the theater crowd.
There is no anger, no bitterness. It’s left unspoken that fury gets transmuted into art. He 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, “of course. Yes. Dvorak giving an old world musician’s reactions to visiting American wilderness, being in a strange new place.”
That earns a flash of answering energy in those amazing almond eyes.
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 that night, he starts poking at Drin with his musical claws, probing Drin’s mind that evening 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.
Drin knows a few things about the man’s name, though he shouldn’t, as a personnel matter. People talk. His “real” name, as they put it, they can’t pronounce anyway. But he knows now that Ahn Ha Neul is not this man’s name. Not any more.
Dance made it legal, it’s not just an odd stage name that people can remember much better. The man’s legal last name is Dance of Knives, that’s it. No first name. It’s nothing like any Korean name he’s ever seen. Dance says freely that it’s a very Western, artsy, fake name, like one picked out by an American-born boy who doesn’t speak the language. Dance shrugs, saying it. Why not? He’s a fag who plays Western classical music for a living, and claiming anything about knives is pretentious as hell, when he knows his limits in the dojo.
Coming out? Drin doesn’t ask it. One doesn’t need to, being an older man who loves men. It’s assumed, in his generation, that it wasn’t pretty. It’s just the younger men who ask. They have more varied experience with coming out, some happy endings scattered brightly among the cruelties, and more of them every year.
Coming out to a family in Korea? In most of traditional Asia? That’s rough. Duty, subservience to the needs of the family, the demand to make money and marry well and have kids and serve the fairly demanding ceremonial needs of the spirits, that comes first. You can run off and fuck men when you’re drunk off your ass, and preferably way off in some other part of the world. If you’re lucky, or smart, you’ll avoid bringing back things that make your wife sterile. Or dead. You can become an artist and starve when you’re old. Or so the official line would have it.
But that doesn’t fit well with the artists he’s seen, mad startup companies run by whizkids inventing electronics and sculpting toys and crafting whacko promotional items for big media conglomerates, making money off all of that wildhair comic book energy, whiffling stuff out of thin air. There’s something desperately alive about all of that stuff, something that must have been rooted in the care and the skill of traditional arts, but where it’s going, he’s not sure. If he did, there’d be another fortune to hand. He’s got some new uses for money like that, but of course it’s not like the old demands have gone quietly away, either.
It’s a shame Dance’s parents never smelled that new stuff in the wind. The old rules won’t do, in the busy new crowd.
Maybe Dance doesn’t feel like telling him.
So he leaves space, just watching Dance talk, waiting for whatever his musician wants to say about that.
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.
That and the whisper of 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.
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 shadows, 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 good few bites and a 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. Knowing 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. But he looks in Drin’s eyes, and he says it.
Dance says that his family is more traditional than they knew, getting shocked by his wild new American ways. He says when he told them some few small things about being queer, they stopped returning his messages. For two months, for all his worried, frantic efforts, nothing.
Drin brings up one hand, rests his chin in it, frowning.
Dance gives another of those restless shrugs. Most of them still don’t respond to his calls. Now he hears, roundabout, from his blessedly tolerant grandmother, in emails. He smiles. He says this is the only proper term of respect for his most important music teacher, back home. 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.”
And then more nothing, for another month.
So he changed it. It’s a cardinal sin, for the only son to walk away from the family name. Dance says he did it during that time. He smiles, putting wry quote marks in the air. Says he calls it, “The Months of Being Alone”. He changed his name, in spite of difficulties it might cause with Immigration, because she asked him not to embarrass them. He says it was the least he could do, and he shrugs.
Drin considers this, for a long time. In this brightly lit shop, he has grown certain that there’s nothing decorative or tribal or careful about Dance’s scars.
They’re burn marks.
Dance is attending to the truffle, and the coffee, and Drin lets his eyes rest on the delicately scarred face of this delicately scarred man. When Dance meets his eyes once more, Drin says nothing; just cocks his head and offers openness.
He can see the body relax inside the rough black silk tux, and feels as if he made the right response.
This was coming out of a googledocs thingie that insisted on being a flashback that wanted to be more present. I’ve edited slightly for standalone and posted as new book page.
Okay, sez me and Stella, where’s it go?
It belongs in the back story section, A Rather Baroque Trio.
It follows after Who’s Your Daddy? and before the Knowing of Cats