The yellow-furred dog arches her back in a post-slumber stretch before stepping gingerly out of her dog bed and jumping onto the brown couch stained with semen and tomato sauce––a sign of newlyweds if there ever was one. Indifferent to the darkness of the apartment, the dog licks only the red stains, but just for a moment, before arbitrarily growing tired of the taste of tomato mixed with worn-in fabric. She leaps back to the floor and trots towards the kitchen, a small space whose counter-bar doubles as a dining room table for the two young lovers, though it is currently occupied by several tall stacks of thick books. She crosses the threshold from the carpet of the small living room onto the tiled floor of the kitchen, but it is just as dark. The dog lets out a soft purr, almost cat-like in its register and neediness, as she aches for her apparently absent owners.
The dog leaves the kitchen in search of more options, but the doors to the bedroom, closet, and porch are all closed. The porch door is a clear screen door, however, so the dog sees what she missed in her first go-round of exploration: her owners are outside, swaying smoothly as they clutch one another. The dog barks to get their attention, but her bark is unheeded.
Claire presses her face to George’s chest as he places his elbows by her waist and his hands at her shoulders. They are enacting one of those dancing stances that is little more than upright snuggling, not any real attempt at an artistic movement synchronized to music. The couple begins to sway with one another but only slightly. They revolve in their step, but only in small increments, not adhering to any kind of codified form both of them were taught once upon a time in their respective cotillion classes.
The audio quality of their soundtrack is not particularly high: George’s portable turntable, resting on the ledge of their balcony, has small speakers that have begun to distort after years of use. It’s the same turntable his parents gave him for Christmas his freshman year of college, one he could take to school with him in lieu of the massive stereo he had requested and received for his thirteenth birthday in his desire to embody the Platonic ideal of an “old soul.” By the time he was twenty, when he and Claire first met, she saw him just as he had wanted to appear as an adolescent. Now, five years later, in the midst of their respective dissertations on Proust and Brecht (respectively), she still looks at him as that man with the wafey body of a smoker, the passionate intellect of an undergrad, and the heart of a thirteen-year-old just wanting to be loved. Claire looks up at her husband, but his eyes are closed. His head bobs slightly, to the beat of the blue-eyed soul song that doggedly escapes the speakers.
The couple keeps dancing in step with the interplay between a snare drum and an upright bass. The singer sings, achingly: “How’d she know what a heart sounds like / In the glow of a candle on a roof in the moonlight?” Neither of them sees their own candles glowing, so lost are they in themselves.
I can see them below me now, as if I am standing on a rooftop three stories up and one street over. The balcony takes form at first looking like the balcony of the apartment in Friends because, even though I know that Claire and George, as I have begun to imagine them, are far too young and poor to have an apartment with a balcony of that size. Nonetheless, it is the image that comes to mind when I begin to write. The more I write of my characters in their dance, in their love, the more this balcony begins to take a shape of its own. It’s smaller, and closer to a square than the skinnier rectangle of Monica and Rachel’s place. Furthermore, there is certainly no massive window-wall. No, this has now become its own place, as much informed by my conceptions of New York through 90s sitcoms as by an imagination spurred by a repeated listening of one Sara Bareilles song, the soulfully slow “Miss Simone.”
It’s interesting to me that this song, seemingly written to encapsulate Sara’s own romance and its connection with the music of the great Nina Simone, can inspire a fictional portrait of different romance. Perhaps Claire, herself a songwriter, will write her own ode to her new marriage, entitled something in the vain of “Stellar Sara” or “The Woman Who Helped Me Fall in Love.” It does not matter that Claire in real life, though a remarkably talented singer, is not a songwriter. This Claire is not that Claire, even though they are inextricably linked by more than their names and the name of their current partners.
In life, Claire and George have only been dating for nine months. Perhaps they will one day reenact this very scene that I have imagined for them, living together in a New York apartment as they have sex on the couch after afternoons of working in the library side by side and dinners of spaghetti and ginger ale. Perhaps they will break up in two months-time in conflict over his hope that she drink a little and her frustration that he goes out with her not nearly as much as she would like. It doesn’t matter. This Claire and George––my Claire and George––are dancing, and will continue to dance until I have decided that they have had enough and are ready to go to sleep.