Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2016  Vol. 15 No. 1
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A December evening two years ago. Full house at City Center for XYZ Ballet, New York’s third-ranked company. The pas de deux between Ali the Slave and Medora the Slave Girl from Le Corsaire. Medora exited the stage, leaving Ali, danced by Alex Trecher, alone. Bare-chested, in slave pants and turban, he got through the tours à la seconde. Then came the famous scissor leaps that finish on one knee—one, two. Bravos drowned out the bang. Wasn’t he supposed to get up? God. The conductor cut off the orchestra. The red velvet curtains plunged and puddled like blood, then swayed lightly while two chunky guys with fast hands stabilized the patient’s leg and the understudy stepped into his slave pants.


The pain was oddly bearable, a deep ache in the calf muscle, where his Achilles tendon had curled up like a lazy cat or Atlas on break from holding the world. After so many years of dancing, it was almost a relief to let it go.

Around midnight, the surgeon sliced open Trecher’s calf, pulled the bloody cord taut, and returned it to duty.

Trecher woke to find the doctor and Peter, his lover, conferring at his bedside. Peter, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum, wore what Trecher called his “El Greco face,” a study in hollows and shadows heralding bad news.

“Mr. Trecher, I’m honored to work on such an accomplished tendon,” the surgeon said.

“When can I dance?”

“Don’t expect miracles, pal. You’re talking about thirty-eight-year-old tissue.” He patted his bare shoulder where the hospital gown had slipped coyly.

“I should have joined the Army. If I stepped on an IED, I’d have gotten a pension,” Trecher said.

“We’ll get through this,” Peter said.

“What about the apartment?” The one they’d bid on had a view of the Queensboro Bridge from its tiny balcony.

“The Times put up an online piece. ‘Young Dancer Rescues Pirate Ballet.’ I got an email from the agent. The seller saw it and went with someone else. The co-op board won’t take us with one income.”

“That’s too bad.” Trecher drifted off, holding Peter’s hand.


Winter turned to spring. Trecher’s cast came off. He put the crutches in recycling. He could walk, not jump. The surgeon, a former college athlete, refused to operate again. “It would be a Hail Mary pass.”

“You wouldn’t say that if I weighed 250 pounds and made millions,” said Russian-born Trecher, exhausting his capacity for American football banter.

“I would,” said the doctor. “And you could afford to ignore me, which ain’t the case, son.”

For a while, Trecher’s company friends dropped by, bringing stories of the China tour, egomaniacal guest choreographers, the insufferable new Ali, and the forthcoming revival of Fokine’s Petrouchka, the ballet to Stravinsky’s music about a puppet controlled by a cruel magician and martyred for love of a ballerina doll. Trecher had hoped to be cast as Petrouchka, a role he’d waited to dance his entire career. He became irrationally angry when he heard who got it. “Petrouchka is one of the most surreal roles in ballet. How could they cast that marshmallow, that sugarplum fairy?” he groaned, pounding the couch cushions.

His colleagues found this hard to listen to, and their visits dwindled.

In June, his disability payments ended. He only wanted jobs for which he was preposterously unqualified. Advertising executive. Management consultant.

“This stuff is a piece of cake compared to dancing,” Trecher told Peter. “I have many applicable skills.”

“Employers notoriously lack imagination. You say dance, they think tights,” Peter said. “Look for a niche.”

“Limo driver, Russian-speaking.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

Trecher’s negativity took over like a roommate who leaves shoes and beer cans and dirty dishes everywhere and invites his idiot friends at all hours. The breaking point arrived when Peter came home to takeout for the fifth night running. “No more General Tso’s fucking chicken. We’re eating our down payment,” Peter said, shaking the dripping, white box. “Work for Walmart. Do something. Anything.”

Trecher’s father, who lived in Brighton Beach, offered to set him up in appliance sales. An engineer in Russia, he’d worked at a store on Coney Island Avenue that catered to Orthodox Jews since he and Trecher had arrived in 1987. (Trecher’s mother had died when he was five.)

“Each couple buys two Sub-Zeros, two stoves, two dishwashers, and has ten kids,” his father said. “Each kid marries, buys two Sub-Zeros, two stoves, two dishwashers, and has ten kids. It’s not a bad business model. All they ask is you wear a yarmulke and a wedding ring.”

On the elevated F train going back to Manhattan, Trecher dozed off. He was dreaming that he was ushering Orthodox couples and their appliances two by two onto a ship, when his phone rang. “Alex, Manny Gold, Dance Emporium. I need a ballet teacher. One of my gals has been sentenced to bed rest.”

“How did you get my name?”

“I saw you! I was in the audience.”

“Then you know I can’t jump,” Trecher said.

“Alex, baby, I haven’t jumped in twenty years.”


The studio occupied two floors over a grocery store on Broadway in the 80s. Entering, Trecher realized how much he had missed the smell of sweat.

Manny was a little man with a leathery tan and a concave chest. He wore a brown toupee and a white tank-top leotard. He conformed so closely to the image Trecher had formed on the phone that he felt as if he’d made him up.

In a sense, he would be working at a Terpsichorean Walmart. The studio offered jazz, tap, hip-hop, flamenco, belly dancing, Hawaiian, modern, yoga, and baton-twirling classes. It sold dancewear, shoes, nutritional supplements, CDs, videos, and awarded professional certificates so foreign students could get visas.

There had been no consumer culture in Trecher’s dance experience. He had gone from the Izhevsk Municipal Conservatory to the School of American Ballet to the company. He had never danced anywhere that people could walk in off the street without an audition and wear any color of leotard they liked.

“When do you need an answer?” he asked.

Manny shook a tan finger at Trecher. “You’re a tough nut, Mr. Tretyakov. I don’t have anyone your equal in mind. But you know as well as me, tendons snap every day in this business. And we all need a job.” Uncanny. The guy knew Trecher’s real name before his father Americanized it. Perhaps he’d been destined to end up here, and this Borscht Belt Rumpelstiltskin was simply claiming his due.

Classes were getting out. The halls channeled the smell of sweat feet shoes rosin fear crotches armpits asses eucalyptus hair spray right guard the inside of pianos the outside of bags the dirty place behind the toilet communal showers baby powder—the smells that had lived in the hairs of his nostrils since he was eight, a smell-track, which, unreplenished, had run out in only six months. Since then, he smelled what everyone smelled, or so he assumed.

“Okay. When do I start?”

“Tomorrow,” Manny said. “Mazel tov.”

Trecher called Peter from the sidewalk, in front of the orange bins. “I have a job. It’s temporary. Thank God.”

“For Christ’s sake, be positive, for once,” Peter said.

“Okay,” Trecher said. “Now I’m being positive.”

He bought Mississippi paddlefish caviar at the grocery store. They had a bottle of Spanish cava left over from New Year’s.

“To the ballet,” Peter toasted.

“My Waterloo,” Trecher toasted back.

“Would it kill you to be positive?” Peter said.

“I am quite po-sitive,” Trecher said, exaggerating his accent. “For Russia, Waterloo was a po-sitive experience.”

This got a tiny smile out of Peter.

Trecher taught what was called advanced ballet. But no one screened. Manny told him to kick people out if they weren’t good enough. Trecher, who hated scenes, preferred to ignore the unqualified, which sometimes worked, but more often didn’t.

Only the certificate students, all of whom were Asian, wore pink tights and slippers, black leotards and buns. He had several modern dancers with tattooed arms and bodies like soccer players, who favored singlets and little-brother hand-me-down sweatpants, and an assortment of anorexic forty-something women who wore designer leotards and heavy gold jewelry. Sometimes on school holidays, very young dancers visited from the suburbs with their mothers. Lanky as fawns, they reminded him of himself as a child, living in the provinces, dreaming of the city. In his native city of Izhevsk, nine hundred kilometers from Moscow, he had dreamed of the Bolshoi until his father won the Green Card Lottery.

Occasionally, crazy people slipped in. There was so much diversity in the class that he couldn’t always be sure they were crazy until they paused mid-exercise to gaze at their reflections or strike a pose. As long as they didn’t talk or get in the way, Trecher let them stay. Anyone who’d danced The Sleeping Beauty as often as Trecher knew to give unwelcome visitors the benefit of the doubt.

Peter often worked late. To fill the hours between the end of his class and dinner, Trecher developed the habit of stopping at an old bar mid-block on 79th between Amsterdam and Columbus. The steel-haired bartender poured generously, and the place was usually empty when Trecher arrived, which spared him the shame of being pegged as a regular by other regulars. Today, however, there was a new bartender. He had a freckled nose, high cheekbones, and a square jaw and wore his wavy red hair in a topknot. Trecher ordered vodka because the question of whether vodka is a drink for people who have no taste or a noble tradition like wine made a good conversation starter with bartenders.

“House or Absolut?” The new boy had a southern accent.

“Absolut.” Bartenders respected discernment.

“Ten.” House cost eight.

Trecher put down twelve.

“Thanks.” The bartender rang up the sale and pocketed the tip, then he turned his back, displaying an elongated nape. A dancer. Trecher downed his vodka quickly and became quite lightheaded, not having eaten lunch. But he wanted to talk, and bartenders rarely became chatty unless you bought two drinks.

“Another Absolut?” the bartender asked.

“Naturally. I’m from Russia. How about you?”

“Midland, Texas.”

“What’s there?” asked Trecher, imagining a screensaver desert sunset.

“Glass buildings and malls.”

“So you came here to satisfy a childhood ambition to be a bartender?”

He smiled. “To dance.”

“I thought so. I teach ballet. Where do you study?”

The bartender named a teacher. A nasty old Belgian who’d danced for Béjart and had a mysteriously large following.

“You like him?”

“Well, he has called me ‘stoo-peed’ a few times.” They laughed together.

“Maybe he has a secret crush on you. You’re very good-looking.” Vodka made Trecher flirty.

The bartender smiled. “Maybe.”

Trecher watched the movements of his arms. His fingers were long and easy. He had a beautiful long-waisted torso and flat stomach. How bad could he be?

Trecher wrote the studio address and time of his class on a coaster. “Come by.”

The bartender put it in the pocket with the tips. “I sure will.”

Trecher left him three dollars.

“I’m Kevin,” the bartender said, extending a hand.

“Alex Trecher.” They shook.

It was a beautiful July day. The street trees were in full leaf. Trecher stopped at the grocery store below the studio before going to the subway. He’d reformed. Takeout no more than once a week. Manny stood in line at the smoked salmon counter, a basket on his tobacco-colored arm.

As Trecher joined the line, he felt a gush of affection. “Manny, I love teaching.” The words burst out of him.


Manny’s nostrils flared at the blast of vodka. “Everything okay, kid?” he said as he dropped his salmon in the basket.

“Yeah, perfect,” said Trecher, thinking of the dishes in the sink, the bed unmade, the laundry to be picked up at home.

When Peter came home (to a clean apartment) wearing his El Greco face, Trecher greeted him with smoked salmon, shaved cucumber salad with dill, and warm French potato salad, but Peter didn’t pick up his fork.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m probably moving to Oslo,” Peter said.

“What the fuck?”

“There’s a job. I need space.”

Space. How had he not seen this coming? The Greeks had it right. Fate is ineluctable. Guy kills an annoying old man at a crossroads. Next thing, he marries his mom. He would end up selling appliances.

They lay in bed, rigid, six inches apart, noses pointed to the ceiling, hands on their chests, like effigies on a sarcophagus. Peter fell asleep. Trecher got up but didn’t dress. He turned off the air conditioning and opened the windows, letting the warm breeze in. He walked around the apartment naked, emptying drawers of receipts and buttons and outdated phone chargers and crumbs and rubber bands. Junk drove Peter crazy. When he woke to order, Peter would see how much Trecher loved him.

They lived in the last tenement on the south side of First Street, between First and Second Avenue. One glass building after another had gone up. Through a sliver of unsold air rights, he could see the Empire State Building lit in red, white, and blue from the kitchen window.

He sat and looked down at his penis and testicles, cradled on his thighs. They were in tip-top working order, as were one cannonball calf, his heart, brain, etc. None of that mattered. An ugly, red welt of scar tissue stood for what he couldn’t do and everyone, except his surgeon, seemed to think possible—turning back time.

At seven, Peter rose and showered. He made coffee and toast and set Peter’s place with cloth napkins and silverware. Peter emerged, hair damp. His cheek hollows seemed to have been daubed with grey paint.

He gestured at Trecher’s nakedness. “What are you trying to say, Alex?”

“I want you to see me.”

“I see you perfectly, Alex. That’s the problem.” Peter sat down.

Trecher poured him coffee then rose, walked around the table, and put his arms around his neck and kissed him behind the ear. Peter squeezed his hand but didn’t turn to meet his lips. He bit down on his toast. Trecher sat down.

Peter pulled a dry cleaning ticket from his wallet. “Would you do me a favor?”

“For old time’s sake?” Trecher said.

“Was that necessary?” Peter said, still holding the pink ticket.

“Just leave it,” Trecher said, carrying the dishes to the sink.

Peter put the ticket under the salt cellar, as if a wind might whisk it out the window, and wheeled his bike out of the corner.

Sudsy water splashed on Trecher’s stomach, trickling down among the hairs toward his groin, cruelly arousing him on this least erotic of days. The door slammed, and Trecher listened for the clink-clink of the bike chain going downstairs. He dressed and pocketed the ticket. Then his grief erupted, and he sat and cried.

It was after eight when he felt calm enough to go out. The neighborhood was in full swing. The dog-walkers and the guy at the bodega where he bought a water told him to “have a goo’ one.” At the cleaner’s, the counter lady was her unwittingly insulting self. “You look fat, okay? Gain weight? Good.”

He collected Peter’s four pale blue shirts—hangers, extra starch. Instead of taking them back to the apartment, he walked downtown, past the chandelier and restaurant-supply stores, the basement synagogues and the park where elderly Chinese did tai chi. At the Manhattan Bridge, he took the bike path, ignoring the furious cyclists. On his left subway trains ran through the sooty trestle, shaking the concrete beneath him. To his right, the East River stretched cool and green.

He stopped at a semicircular lookout like a theater box where the fence top, angled in for most of the span to prevent suicides, straightened and a call box hung instead. Hooking the hangers on the links, he hoisted himself up by his fingers and toes. The white caps resembled a baby’s nail shavings.

Reaching down, he unhooked Peter’s shirts and flung them over, one by one. The fence wobbled from his effort. The shirts rippled and swooped like kites. A spandex-clad cyclist screeched to a stop and called up to him. “What the hell ya doing? Talk to me, buddy.” The shirts were tiny twisting blotches.

“I said ‘no starch,’” Trecher called back.

“Fuckin’ wise ass,” the cyclist said, and pedaled off.

Trecher climbed down. His hands hurt from holding on. The links had left deep, red ridges.

He called Peter’s voicemail ten times. “Don’t go. I’m an idiot.”


It was eleven when he got to the studio. His students stood at the barre. He had nothing planned.

“I’m sorry. There was an incident on the Manhattan Bridge,” he said. “Pliés. Four in each position.” The accompanist played the introduction. They moved their arms forward and to the side in unison, like mechanical dolls.

Across the room stood a tall redheaded boy in grey tights, white leotard, and white slippers. It took a few seconds to place him without his apron. Kevin the bartender. “You made it,” Trecher said.

“Yep.” He smiled, clearly expecting a warm reception.

Trecher circulated, calling out corrections. The boy used his head and shoulders awkwardly. He had apparently studied some variant of Russian style, without understanding that the Russian épaulement is integrated with the whole movement, not tacked on like a flounce or a ruffle.

They were on the third exercise, battements dégagés. Trecher stopped the pianist. He stood behind Kevin and held his head. “Now try.” The boy’s neck muscles gripped under his hands as he tried to do the exercise without his tics. “You can fake it in Midwood, not here,” Trecher said.

“Midland,” the boy said.

“Lesson one, the teacher is always right,” Trecher said archly.

As soon as the barre ended, he rushed into the hall to call Peter while the students stretched. This time, he was sure Peter had shut his phone off when he saw who had called. Out of sheer rage, he gave a very fast petit allegro that ended facing upstage, back to him. Half the class finished looking at Trecher’s scowling face. Kevin managed surprisingly well. At that speed, there was no time for posing.

Immediately after the révérence, Kevin approached. But Trecher was in no mood to mentor. “Your épaulement is impossible,” he said. “Whoever taught you should be shot.”

Kevin crushed a rosin crystal with his slipper. “Appreciate the honesty.”

Trecher felt the queasiness of bad faith. Of course, dancers were supposed to take insults without flinching, but he’d tricked Kevin into thinking he’d be nice by flirting with him in the bar. He didn’t want him to quit—although most people would say so what? If he can’t take the heat, etc. “What do you want?” he said.

“I want to dance in a company.”

“Maybe I can coach you.”

“I can’t afford that.”

“You’ll be able to someday, right?”

“Why are you so nice? You don’t owe me a thing.”

“A little bird tells me we might bring each other luck,” Trecher said.


Stepping onto Broadway, Trecher felt as if a dormant quadrant of his brain had winked on after a long outage and was receiving flickers from faraway galaxies. Houston, can you read me? This is Cosmonaut Alexei Gavrilovich Tretyakov. Cancel my funeral. I’m coming home.

He went to Macy’s and bought four blue dress shirts. Then he stopped at a jewelry store near his apartment. He tried rings on his middle finger (Peter’s hands were bigger), choosing a gold band with the Hebrew word Chai—life—in relief. Peter wasn’t Jewish, but he’d said once if they ever formalized their arrangement, he’d be fine with a rabbi.

The ring cost $600, which he put on his credit card.

“You want it engraved?” the saleswoman asked.

“No, just a box.” What if he had to return it?

He kept his hand on his pocket on the two-block walk home, afraid he’d drop it or someone would steal it.

His hands shook opening the front door of their building, a walk-up with octagonal tiles on the hall floors and a century of paint on the railings. He and Peter had the fifth floor. The stairs killed his tendon. If they broke up, he’d find an elevator building.

While icing his calf, he surveyed their belongings preemptively. The Bose stereo was Peter’s, as was the good furniture. Trecher resisted accumulating, perhaps because he and his father had left everything that didn’t fit in suitcases in Russia. If it worked out, he vowed to care more about furniture.

Trecher lay back on the couch, ring box in hand.

He awoke to thumping.

Peter was kicking two large empty suitcases through the open door. He leaned against a wall, head back, eyes closed. His shirt hung open, showing his collarbones and ribs at the top of his thin chest. He was smashed.

“Where’s your bicycle?” Trecher said.

“At my new place.”

Trecher held the ring box out like a lump of sugar. “Look, please.”

“I’m hallucinating,” Peter said, covering his face.

It took a week before he pressed his forehead to Trecher’s and said, “Yes. I think so. Yes.”

Peter got out of the sublet he’d taken. He forgave Trecher for chucking his shirts into the East River. In return, Trecher promised never to order General Tso’s chicken again and to apply to college, something he’d been talking about since they met.

The Oslo job had never been a sure thing, it turned out. They planned the wedding for the following summer.


Trecher still didn’t tell Peter about Kevin. He told himself the lift he got coaching Kevin cost less than therapy and, unlike antidepressants, boosted his libido. Plus it kept him out of bars. Manny gave him studio space in exchange for teaching Postpartum Dance-a-Size-Down classes. But Trecher felt as if he were having an affair and cheating on his taxes at the same time. The combination gave him terrible headaches.

Kevin made steady progress. Trecher scrubbed him of affectations. His teacher, it turned out, was a Cuban émigré who had trained in the fossilized Soviet style in Havana. He had seen the National Ballet of Cuba in New York and had split his sides at the dancers’ heavy legs, grotesque makeup, and comically dramatic expressions. “Another year, and she’d have ruined you. No one dances like that, except maybe in Ulan Bator or Vladivostok,” Trecher said.

Kevin’s legs got stronger and more flexible. His hip joints opened. They were working on his feet, when the real estate market took a downturn, and Peter started to look again.

Trecher’s old company, XYZ Ballet, began its City Center season with Petrouchka. He went, of course, and told his colleagues they looked fabulous.

Trecher grieved his career all over again. He could have done it so much better. He rejoiced when the Times called the production “a meticulous but brittle period piece.”

Petrouchka was the favorite role of the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, who went mad at twenty-eight and lived out his life in institutions. Nijinsky danced many erotic roles, a male odalisque draped in pearls, an aroused faun, the specter of the rose. Yet as Petrouchka—pigeon-toed, knock-kneed, in chalky whiteface, black mittens, and a stocking cap—he felt truest to who he was.

“Petrouchka is Nijinsky. The idiots missed this completely,” he told Peter.

“So make your own Petrouchka,” Peter said.


On Trecher’s thirty-ninth birthday, he and Peter stayed home, drank an eighty-dollar Château d’Yquem and ate pâté de foie gras.

Trecher applied a slab of pâté to some toast and handed it to Peter. “I have a private student,” he said. There.

Peter swallowed a mouthful of the golden liquor. “What does he do when he’s not dancing with you?”

“He bartends.”

“Does he pay?”

“He can’t.”

“How do you know?”

“I asked many times, of course.”

They made love that night, as they always did on birthdays, and were still holding each other when Peter said, “How long have you known him?”

“Since last summer.”

“Are you having an affair?” Peter said.

“I’m making a dancer out of him.”

“That’s called teaching, and people normally pay for it.”


Still Trecher put off confronting Kevin, and the headaches worsened. Finally, he invited Kevin for a beer after rehearsal. They rode the train downtown and went to a bar/tea room near New York University called Constant Comment, where everything was painted matte black inside, and customers expressed themselves by writing on every available surface. Cups of chalk and erasers sat on the tables. Obscenities, sayings, commentary, and cartoons covered the walls.

Kevin drew a kindergarten-style house on the table between them. “I bought an apartment on Fourth Avenue.” He pointed east.

“Really?” Trecher said. He drew an exploding star and wrote “WOW!”

“I can’t wait. And there’s a dog run on Union Square.”

Trecher drew a poodle and a question mark.

“No. A rescue.”

Trecher drew a three-legged dog. “I thought you were poor.”

Kevin colored the house pink. “My parents are helping out.”

“What do they do?”

“My dad’s a banker. My mom’s a housewife.”

“Interesting. My father sells appliances.”

“Does he like that?” Kevin said.

“Very much, but he wishes he could buy me an apartment.”

The waiter set their beers down, sparing the pictures.

“I bet,” Kevin said.

“I’m sorry to ask you now after so long, but I need you to pay me something. Peter and I are trying to buy as well.”

Kevin shook his head like a dog emerging from a pond. “Jesus, Alex. Why didn’t you say so before?”

“Can your parents—?”

He made a spiral on the table. “I’m embarrassed to ask them for more right now. They’ve been so generous. How long can you wait?”

When the waiter brought the check, Trecher laid down a twenty.

“Let me—” Kevin said.

“Next time.” Trecher avoided his eyes. “What an asshole,” he thought, meaning himself.

“He gets it,” Trecher said, when he got home. “As soon as he can, he’ll start paying.”


The wedding planning seemed increasingly onerous, though they’d cut the list to one hundred. Nothing had momentum in his life. He felt as if the wheel hadn’t been invented yet, and everything had to be dragged or carried.


One evening, Trecher passed a man spitting on his street. Trecher narrowly missed getting a blob of yellow-green saliva on him. It landed on a woman’s nice coat instead. She screamed. A passerby shoved the man to the ground. He and another passerby held the spitter until the police cars arrived, turning the street into a carnival of whirling red lights and sirens. The police handcuffed the man and took him away. Until that moment, Trecher had never fully appreciated how vindictive people in nice coats could be.

When he got home, Trecher sat in the dark kitchen watching the traffic and the lights. His Petrouchka would be a homeless man; the magician, a policeman; the ballerina doll, the woman; the Moor, the man who called 911. Kevin would dance Petrouchka; the others would be life-size puppets. They would dance through holograms and projections of buildings, the inverse of ghosts, who were immaterial but could pass through solids.


He explained his idea to Peter, who embraced him as if he’d returned from a long journey. “You have to make that dance.”

Trecher told Kevin the next day while he warmed up. “I want you as Petrouchka.”

“Tell me more,” Kevin said.

“You have a chance to dance Swan Lake?”


“Then why not say yes?”

“I didn’t say no. I wanted to know more.”

After some back and forth, Kevin agreed to work on the piece, and their coaching sessions became rehearsals.

The work was hard. In the company, choreographers marked a phrase, counted the rhythm, and the dancers threw themselves into it. Kevin needed to see the steps over and over.

Kevin often asked where they would get the projections and the holograms, and if Trecher had progressed on finding a venue and a date. Behind these reasonable questions, Trecher detected the search for an out.

“Something’s wrong,” he told Peter.

“Let’s have him over to dinner.”

“I hope you’re not going to squeeze him for money.”

“Of course not. I’ll find out his intentions. I’m very good at that.”

They decided on ribs, Kevin being Texan.

On the appointed day, they drank whiskey and made love while the smell of meat cooking filled the apartment.

At seven, Peter cut and arranged peonies while Trecher went down for ice. Passing the movie theater, he briefly considered buying a ticket, leaving Kevin to Peter’s mercies. He met Kevin, carrying a brown paper bag, on the sidewalk. He had slicked his hair back into glossy waves and wore a buttery maroon leather jacket, which Trecher recognized from a GQ spread.

Peter opened the door. Kevin handed him the bag. “I sure hope y’all like bourbon,” he said, spackling on the accent, which had faded from living in New York.

Peter kissed Kevin’s cheek. “Love it.”

Peter had deployed his decorative skills. Candles set the magenta peony petals aglow. Tapenade—green and black—sat next to a basket of rusks on the coffee table.

“When did you start dancing?” Peter said, his bony face in inquisitorial mode in the candlelight. Trecher served drinks.

“I joined the cheerleading squad in tenth grade because football is all people care about in Texas. Then our coach said, ‘Take ballet, it improves your splits,’ and this Russian lady came up to me at halftime during the state championship and says, ‘I was a ballerina, and I know talent. You must go to New York.’ I met Alex, and here I am.”

“You plan to stay in New York?” Peter asked.

Trecher laid a warning hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Dinner’s ready.”

They talked real estate. Trecher talked about his training in Russia.

“I envy you,” Kevin said. “My father made me play pee-wee football until even he had to admit I was getting creamed.”

Peter cleared. “Dessert? Espressos?”

They adjourned to the living room while Peter ground coffee, leaving them alone for the first time that evening.

“I’m not doing Petrouchka justice,” Kevin said. “I’m having trouble feeling a puppet’s pain.”

“Think of him as pure,” Trecher said.

“Who are we talking about? Petrouchka, Nijinsky, or Christ?” Peter asked, coming in with the coffee.

“All of the above,” Trecher said, and all three laughed.

Kevin finished his coffee and reached for his buttery jacket. “Well, I don’t want to keep you folks up.”

The closing door resonated up the stairwell. Trecher turned to Peter. “Well?”

“He doesn’t believe in the piece.”

“He made a commitment.”

“You trust him?”

“What choice do I have?”


Over Easter, while Kevin visited his parents, Trecher choreographed a new section, a duet between Petrouchka and the woman on the street. He had originally planned to use a puppet but had his eye on a girl in his class. He was attracting real dancers now. Word had gotten around that he was a good teacher. Some of his new students had better technique and more performing experience than Kevin. The more he thought of it, the more sense it made to use dancers. They were cheaper than special effects. And he knew how they operated.

When Kevin returned, he looked different, more substantial, as if he’d enlisted in the Army or gotten engaged. They greeted each other with a wary kiss on the cheek. Kevin stripped down to his leotards. But instead of warming up, he stood by the window, apparently fascinated by the produce business below.

“What’s going on?” Trecher called from his stool. Kevin wandered back and sat down on the floor in front of Trecher, holding his knees. The air was heavy with pollen, and the light outside the studio had the chartreuse tint of an impending electrical storm.

“I was invited to audition for a company tomorrow afternoon,” Kevin said.

How long had Trecher felt this betrayal coming? Yet it felt like a blow from behind, a mugging. “What about Petrouchka? All that work?” he said.

“I asked if we had a performance date. You kept saying, ‘I’m working on it.’ I got tired of waiting.”

“I should have trusted my first impression,” Trecher said.

“Which was?”

“That you’re a little prick.”

Kevin collected his things and left. Trecher waited until he was confident that he wouldn’t encounter him in the corridor, the elevator, or on the sidewalk below. His brain spewed invective in English and Russian; he invented terrible vengeances. By the time his train reached Times Square, Trecher wanted only to win him back. Losing Kevin would destroy the ballet. He had videos and notes but couldn’t stand the thought of starting over with someone else. The dance had grown inside Kevin. Kevin was its host. Not only in the studio but as he tended bar, walked his dog. He carried Petrouchka everywhere.


Trecher poured himself a juice glass of Kevin’s gift bourbon, unopened since the dinner, and typed an email:

My dear Kevin:
I am sorry for my rudeness. I only want the BEST for you. You have star potential. I believe that no one can do Petrouchka justice the way you can.

Your friend,
Alexei Gavrilovich Tretyakov

He drank down the bourbon and hit “send.” Then he poured another glass and drank it, clicking his email every few seconds, like a lab rat conditioned to expect opiates in his water bottle. After a while, he only did it as a sort of mortification.

At some point, Peter dragged him to bed.

Overnight, a storm moved in. The shade tree in front of their building split, exposing an unsuspected black and wormy core. Four ibuprofens barely dented Trecher’s headache. His train was packed. People wielded umbrellas like rapiers. His tendon hurt, but there were no seats. He’d gotten in the habit of choreographing phrases based on people he saw on the subway. What would he do with all that material now?

Manny greeted him at the studio with a smile. “Such a mensch. You’re the only teacher who made it.”

If it hadn’t been for wanting to see Kevin, he would have cancelled.

Ten students stood at the barre. Nothing short of a Red-Cross-level disaster kept real dancers from class. Trecher draped his raincoat and wet jeans on the radiator. A Chinese girl from the international program hurried in. She wore a yellow leotard on this grey day. “How lovely you look, Mingxia. Like a daffodil,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr. Trecher. Sorry to be late.”

“I’m only glad you made it.”

The Romanian pianist took her music from a plastic grocery bag and plopped on the piano bench, breathing resentfully.

Merci, Madame,” he said. “Je suis heureux de vous voir.” She spoke Russian and English but preferred French, which Trecher had only studied in high school. He needed every bit of good karma today.

“My job,” she said. “No class, no money.”

The students set up the barres. Trecher walked to the window. People huddled under grocery awnings, waiting for a break in the silvery sheets. No Kevin.

At quarter past the hour, Trecher called: “Pliés.”

The door opened, and his heart almost burst through his chest. A woman entered. She looked to be in her seventies, wraith-thin, with parchment skin, rouged cheeks, and black eye-makeup. She wore a pink chiffon skirt and tilted to one side to counterbalance her bulging leather bag. A crazy. Not today, please.

“Quickly,” he said. She went to the barre and began to paw through her bag, which, he could see, held shoes, tights, old leotards. She pulled out pointe shoes.

They were not doing pointe work but Trecher let her put them on. She tied them properly, tucking the ends in. No bows.

She changed the exercise, arms in fifth, not second, effacé, not écarté. The rain continued to pound. He might have kicked her out if the weather had been better. The studio was everyone’s ark.

They went through the barre. Tendus, dégagés, ronds de jambes, frappés, petits battements, fondus, développés, grands ronds de jambes, grands battements.

Where was Kevin? In a subway tunnel? Struck by lightening or a falling tree? Had the audition been cancelled? Had he been called back? Trecher wished for him to fail. Then he unwished it. Grand port de bras. Équilibre.

The woman laid her head on the barre.

“Are you sick?” he said.

“Some water, please.” She was Russian. Who else would be so pigheaded as to keep dancing at her age? He was almost glad to have the choice taken away from him.

Trecher went out into the hallway to get her a paper cone of water. He saw her leave class and turn toward the dressing room. He drank the water himself and called Kevin, but got only his voice mail.

Returning, he noticed the woman had left her bag and asked a student to move it aside.

The storm made everyone edgy, Trecher saw this in the preoccupied expressions and mistakes.

“Do you know Petrouchka, Madame Florescu? The Shrovetide Fair Theme?”

“I know, of course,” she said.

Instead of an allegro, he taught them a Russian character variation from the original Fokine choreography, with stamping, flexed feet, and hands on hips. Instead of two by two, he had them dance in lines and circles, swooping around the studio.

The students loved it. They did it over and over, panting and bright-eyed. The sun broke through, like in a musical. Kevin was coming.

“A big waltz, madame.” Step, step, leap. Step, step, leap. Trecher demonstrated.

“I’ve never seen him jump,” someone said.

“From the corner, ladies,” called Trecher. Off they went.

“Now, boys. Slow the music. Spend the extra time in the air. Now backward. Ba-lan-cé, ba-lan-cé. You bounce like basketballs. Waltz. Think Vienna. Not Madison Square Garden.”

Two boys went, then two more. Step, step, leap.

“Uh-oh. She’s back,” someone said.

The woman darted out like someone crossing a busy road against a light. Old bone met young muscle. The boy rolled away and was on his feet in a second. The woman lay on her side like a frozen sparrow, eyes closed, elbows folded in.

“Go get Manny,” Trecher said to a student.

Manny came running, his toupee flapping. “Oh, Lord, that must be Olga.” He touched her arm. “Olga, honey. Can you move?”

“No,” she said.

“Okay, everyone, you’d better leave.”

The students filed out. The pianist packed her shopping bag.

“What’s her story?” asked Trecher. They talked over her as if she were unconscious. Her eyes followed along.

“She danced in a company over there. Supposedly, she was gorgeous, but she was too old when she came here. She lives upstairs. We’ve been trying to figure out how to get rid of her nicely. It looks like she did it to herself this time.”

Three EMS people entered, two men and a woman, clumping across the no-shoes floor in their black boots, walkie-talkies squawking. The men put her on a stretcher and carried it to the elevator.

“Wait,” Trecher said. He ran back with the bag. The woman grabbed it, and the elevator closed.

“Alex?” Kevin stood there in street clothes, his hair damp, bag over his shoulder. “Are you all right?”

“Me?” said Trecher. “Of course.”

Traffic had backed up along Broadway behind the ambulance. They watched from the studio window as it pulled away, red lights flashing. The cars dispersed like fish released from a net.

“So?” Trecher said.

“They took me.”


“They couldn’t believe I’d only been working with you a year.”

“Thank you,” Trecher said. He was crying.

Kevin reached over and massaged his shoulder. “I killed Petrouchka, didn’t I?”

“Yes.” Trecher thumped his chest, as if to dislodge something.

“Will you forgive me?”

“I’m not sure,” he said.

Kevin opened his arms. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“True,” said Trecher. He rested his head on Kevin’s damp chest and allowed himself to be consoled.  

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