“If you like what you do, do it. There is absolutely no reason to change your life, Mary,” Joseph Gottsched was saying to Mary Hoffman in the great dining hall of his castle in the Adirondacks where he sat with his wife Elizabeth next to him on a leather sofa. Mary was sitting opposite of them on the raised hearth stone of the massive fireplace. The stone was almost cold to sit on, not having been warmed much by the sun that was now setting and casting the last of its rays into the castle.
Mary smiled and thought, “No reason to change my life?” But that thought was quickly replaced by thinking of how beautiful Joseph and Elizabeth Gottsched were, especially Elizabeth whom Mary had come to think of as Beth, her Beth.
Beth was sultry in a Mediterranean way with some Gypsy and Spanish blood in her. She was svelte in figure, had long black hair, yet exuded an aura of strength beyond the smallness of her frame. Joseph had about him a curious blend of European handsomeness and world weariness. Were it not for Mary’s experiences of the past few days, her eyes might have focused upon Joseph. She thought he was cute. But things had happened and those things tended to cause Mary to view Joseph as a rival.
Yes, there was about him a little boy’s innocence and youthfulness that floated on a nonchalant attitude most strikingly seen in the way his eyes twinkled and his lips seemed almost always ready to break his usual seriousness with a smile. He was neither short nor tall, neither fat nor thin, had black hair like his wife, though not as long, and in the proper lighting, he could almost be mistaken for being a brother rather than a husband to his wife. Beth and Joseph appeared to be in their late twenties or early thirties at most. But in their cases, in more ways than one, appearances could be very deceiving.
With glass of red wine in one hand and cigarette in the other, Beth said, “Show Joseph how well you dance, Mary. You know I won’t mind. You know how I love to watch you dance.”
Mary laughed, “Here?”
“Obviously,” Elizabeth said. “Oh! I suppose you would like some music, even though I know you don’t need it. I’ll put something on.”
Mary shrugged her shoulders and stood. Why not? Her world had gone totally crazy over the last few days and dancing might restore some degree of normalcy. She watched Elizabeth look through a pile of CDs next to the CD player on a nearby table and suggested, “Something moody but with a good beat. And not slow. Afro-pop or something like that. Rock is good too.”
“Yes,” Joseph agreed.
“And I give a rat’s ass?” Mary thought and started to dance, not waiting for the music to begin. She really didn’t need music to dance. It was in her head, even more so since meeting Beth on the trail. But it was difficult to understand the idea of since, the idea that she was no longer who she had thought she was and had become who she really was. Then again, maybe she was only dreaming the events of the past few days. Yes, no, maybe. “Screw it. I like this,” she told herself as she slipped into the mind set of an erotic dancer.
The black dress she was wearing -silky, clingy, showing all her curves -was a delightful dress for the type of dancing she did for a living. It was not her dress. Beth had given it to her to wear because all she had to wear were the hiking clothes she had packed for her hike in the northern wilds of New York on the Northville/Lake Placid trail. She had not planned on dancing. She had not planned on meeting Beth on the trail and then being invited to stay at a castle on a private lake deep within the forest. She had not planned for anything that had happened since meeting Beth.
Mary was already moving languidly, sensuously, when the New Age African beat reached her ears and where she quickly translated it into her flesh and blood. She closed her eyes and took herself to the erotic dance club where she worked in Schenectady. Sway and regain my balance, she thought. Be who I really am.
When she opened her eyes, she saw Beth and Joseph were sitting side by side again while watching her dance. She noticed but did not care that Joseph had one hand resting casually on one knee of Beth’s and had an arm draped over her shoulders. They did make a beautiful couple. So what? Fuck him!
But it was Beth’s eyes Mary’s eyes focused upon. It was Beth’s eyes that had first trapped her on the trail and were now trapping her again to dance her sexy best. Joseph did not really matter, she told herself, other than for the fact that he was proof Beth had good taste when it came to picking a man to marry. And how could she possibly blame Beth for picking a man who had given Beth so much more than the wealth this castle exemplified. Just look at them, she thought. Neither looked to be past their early thirties. How could she or anyone believe both were hundreds of years old? But Mary did believe and was now almost willing to believe she too could live a very long life without aging, maybe even live long enough to see the end of the United States if not the end of the world.
Mary smiled, undid the spaghetti straps holding up her dress, let the dress fall, let it slide down past her breasts, slip past her hips, let it fall to the floor and step out of it, kicking it out of the way and sending it sailing to land on Joseph’s lap. Yes! It was very definitely enjoyable to be feeling so very much alive!
Excerpted from "The Dancing Valkyrie" by Peter Klein. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Klein. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.