New Short Fiction Award
We value creative writing and wish to encourage writers of short fiction to pursue their dream of being published. Jerry Jazz Musician would like to provide another step in the career of an aspiring writer. Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.
Kate Robinson of Chino Valley, Arizona is the third recipient of the Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on June 15, 2003.
photo by Arami Odukun & Kate Robinson 1988/2003
Author Kate Robinson
Kate Robinson writes under the sun and star-spangled skies of central Arizona. She’s most interested in the appearance of the extraordinary in the course of our ordinary daily lives. “Dancing Universe” is her first published literary short story.
by Kate Robinson
Though she sat alone, Mira wasn’t lonely. Woman, chair, patio, trees and sky merged in her nightly meditation. Mira finished her prayer, touching the crown of her head, forehead and heart center with folded hands, crossed herself, and opened her eyes to the East, observing in one smooth movement her indigenous heritage, Catholic upbringing, and conversion to Buddhism.
Gathering and tossing her long raven-wing hair over one shoulder, Mira shifted her weight from one hip to the other, rubbing her ample belly. She turned over mental stones from the last few months, examining the process of shock, resignation, and acceptance that marked this pregnancy. The youngest of five daughters, she ruefully watched her older sisters succumb one by one to the entanglements of family life. She vowed while still a teenager to never clip her wings.
Don’t ever say never, abuelita, her grandmother, told her, life has its own way of happening.
And happen it had, in one of the most poignant and unthinkable ways she could imagine. Marriage was out of the question. She had fought too long and fiercely for her freedom. Anyway, the life-creating union was just an ephemeral passion with a wandering musician too self-absorbed to understand her or parent a child. Sol had abused her, just that once. One lesson was all it took.
* * * *
She had met Sol one exuberant spring night, dancing World Beat at El Casino, an old ballroom in South Tucson near her folks’ house. Mira and her girlfriends twirled sweaty and laughing in the smoky glare just under the stage. The wooden floor thumped with the dancers’ efforts, echoing the cadence of brass and conga drums and electric guitars. Still young at thirty-nine, she caught the eye of the multi-ethnic band’s jaded lead singer, wearily playing the first set.
“I’m glad I found you. I thought you had gone,” a male voice chimed behind her.
“Dios, you startled me,” Mira said, turning on one of the narrow steps of the hall entrance. She looked up into one of the most beautiful male faces she had ever seen.
“And you startled my heart. I’m Sol, like the sun.”
“And I’m Mira, as in looking.”
“You say this to many women. And girls, I’m sure. It’s part of the profession.”
“Then you know about us troubadours.” Sol’s smile was perfect, empathetic, not mocking.
“I dated a musician once. There were so many women . . . ” Mira took a step down, preparing for her escape.
“Wait, Mira. I’m almost thirty. I’m burned-out on all this. I’ve been alone . . . there’s really something about you. If I don’t try now, I may never see you again.”
Mira scribbled her phone number on a page torn from her checkbook, excusing herself to find her friends before the next set, her favorite hometown salsa band, fired up. She smiled at Sol and told him to call her from the road sometime.
She had only wanted to dance. And dance she did, this time with Sol, who followed her back to the floor. He spun around her, a golden satellite orbiting a planet, dance after dance, holding her eyes in his. Her friends watched, amused by his captivation. Mira knew she would sleep with him that night, an indiscretion she had not allowed herself in nearly a decade.
She was not disappointed. He dove under the full skirt of her dancing dress before she could get out of it, intoxicated by the moonlight drenching the room.
Sol left the band and moved in with her. He wrote songs, some inspired by Mira. She painted with more passion than she could remember, the colors nearly flying from the palette to the canvas of their own volition. Sol’s Roman face, long curls backlit by the desert sun or moon, was often her subject.
In a season, the attraction wore down to a nub predictably, like a pencil needing sharpening.
“You’ve got to contribute, Sol. My bills are low, but I can’t keep feeding and clothing both of us.” Mira spoke softly, pleading with him.
“I’m doing the best I can,” he shouted at her. He picked up the guitar case by its handle and toted it like a piece of heavy luggage, pacing three or four steps back and forth across the floor to make his point. “When you met me you saw me with this. This is what I do. It’s all I know how to do. I can go back on the road. Or try to do more local gigs.”
“And be gone. Or gone at night until all hours.” Mira felt surprise at her statement, but didn’t retract it.
Exasperated, he swung the empty guitar case at her, catching her in the nose. She ran to the kitchen sink, catching a stream of blood in her cupped hands.
“Oh God, Mira. God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” There were tears in Sol’s voice. He sounded more boy than man.
He carried her to the sofa, wiped her face with a warm washcloth, and fetched a bag of frozen vegetables for her nose. For a few minutes he held her tenderly, stroking her hair. Then his hands wandered, to her breasts, her belly, her crotch.
Tired, she pulled away. “Please. Not now.”
He lay on her, forced his tongue into her mouth. “Babe, you know I love you. Don’t push me away.”
“No,” she said. “I may still be fertile.” She pushed him by his shoulders more than once, locking her legs together.
Sol uttered a sound that was half moan and half whine, loosening his pants, holding her tighter. Mira pushed him as hard as she could, but she was trapped. He pinned her legs with his knees, forcing them apart, slipping himself past the elastic of her panties’ crotch to her wet warmth.
Mira resigned herself to Sol’s male display of love. It’s not like a stranger is raping me, she reasoned. I’ve loved this man, made love to him many times. But she lay limp, refusing to participate.
Afterwards, Sol lunged into sleep. Mira left him lolling on the couch, tight little butt dusted with golden hairs hanging out of his jeans. She pulled his luggage from her closet and packed Sol’s clothing and guitars with certainty more than anger. She placed his belongings on the porch, taped a note to the back of the sofa, and locked her bedroom door.
“The end of this story,” she said to herself, turning her sheets back.
Two weeks later, Mira woke with a start from a dream. A doctor handed her a baby girl wrapped in hospital receiving blankets. For a few weeks the potential escape of abortion tugged at her heart. The forceful conception worried her. How would this affect the child? One morning she woke with clarity and knew that no matter how rough the rhythm, it was certainly her dance.
* * * *
The last fire of sunset blazed around Mira, an ocean breaking on a beach of sky. Stars shone, one by one, gradually exploding into thousands against pure indigo. A gentle breeze shifted, a soft flutter of invisible wings, bringing the scent of greasewood from the open desert.
Mira cradled her lush belly in her arms. I feel this universe inside me, she mused. And what do I get — the secret center of another universe dancing in my belly. “Monkey mind,” she said aloud, her whispery giggle tap-dancing in the silence.
Mira’s thoughts shifted dreamily to the black jaguar that a hiker had seen near the edge of the city yesterday. She wondered why it would wander a thousand miles to this stretch of rocky hills. Jaguars had once ranged as far north as the Sonora Desert, but human habitats had forced them out. Did the cat seek something from its ancestral home? Thinking of it, the tropics and this cactus forest reminded her of tales her abuelita told of shamans and their power animals. Maybe this cat was more than a cat.
“Let’s walk, mija,” she crooned to her belly, heaving herself up from the rocker.
“It’s almost time to meet you and I’m not so hungry tonight.”
Her daughter’s tiny body squirmed in response to her voice. Mira waddled down from the porch to the wall, shadowed by the spiky forms of mesquite and palo verde. The back gate groaned open to the glittering mirage of city lights in the hills below. Edging along the wall for support, she found the familiar thread of a game trail winding up a rise, then down toward a small canyon and ultimately inside Saguaro National Monument.
A new moon sliver settled into the dark lap of the Tucson Mountains, scattering a waterfall plume of light. She followed the trail for a quarter mile until it dropped into the navel of the canyon, turning to follow the meandering streambed. Mira’s labored breath and strong heartbeat filled her chest, an incantation to the night.
The desert welled up in dreamlike volcanic formations. These hills were sprinkled with petroglyphs — spirals, animals and handprints pecked into stone by native people centuries before. Mira thought of them as stone celebrations that defy mortality and loved to sketch them in her spare time. She passed a tributary containing a small frieze of pictures on boulders, a favorite daytime haunt of hers. She shivered in response to the current of cool air flowing from little side canyon and pulled her ‘hatching jacket,’ abuelita’s name for a maternity coat, snugly around her.
“Aaii-ii-ii!” Mira bit her lip, simultaneously stumbling and taking needled jab to an ankle from an unnoticed patch of prickly pear. She squatted to reach the ankle, put a hand to the ground to steady herself, and shot backwards like a howling locomotive. She landed with a solid thump four feet away on her hind end.
“Dios!” Mira exploded into laughing tears when she found the ‘stone’ she had touched. She rubbed her aching belly. The baby tortoise, caught on its back, had the acute good fortune of being found and righted. She lifted it close to her face to get a better look. Maternal instinct propelled her ahead to a jumble of large stones to find a safer place for the little reptile.
Mira considered setting the tortoise near the outside edge of the boulders. Perhaps the patch of darkness at the center would be the perfect place, in spite of the danger of disturbing a snake. She reached gingerly down into the hollow framed by night-blooming datura plants, eerie in their poisonous elegance.
“I’ll try to check on you tomorrow,” Mira said to the tortoise, her remark met by a low growl and frantic mewling. Dumbfounded, she gazed down into the iridescent pools of a large cat’s eyes, too fascinated to jump back. The jaguar was passive, spent from her long journey and her recent birthing. Held captive by her suckling cubs, she recognized Mira’s condition and resumed licking her still wet babies.
There are omens given by Spirit everywhere, abuelita had pronounced solemnly, and once found, you must always look within.
The ebb and flow of soft uterine contractions that Mira felt throughout her pregnancy took on a new urgency. She backed away trembling, the little tortoise still wrapped in her fingers. It was time to dance to new rhythms, adjust dreams to reality. Time to open up, feel the blinding hot pain of expulsion, and receive her infant wet in blood and saltwater. Time to honor life without attachment or aversion.