Toes on black, heels land on white. Me alone, six years old and seemingly alone in the rented space that my mother and I shared, the place where even then I wasn’t much for touching and would settle my little frame just beside her on the couch. No snuggling, no sitting on the lap, just close enough for me to feel like I could touch her should I need to, never sure that feeling would ever really take me over. But I sat there, just in case.
Not sure where she was that night. Likely on the phone or curled up next to the nightstand in the room we shared. Nightgown on, knees tucked under her, abalone shell ashtray cradling her Virginia Slims between puffs, sweating glass of sun tea nestled into its water marked spot….book creased and folded over in her palms as she lived someone else's life. “Up on my toes on black, heels land on white”….
Giant puffy headphones plugged into the stereo, the thick plastic resting hard against my skull as the gigantic pads dangled far below my ears and rested somewhere near my chin. I was just beginning to find my peace, the kind my mother found in her beloved books. Mine was to be found spinning, counting my steps and landing my heels in the right spot with the time of the music..feeling my face go hot and my make-fun-of-yourself snicker erupt inside me when my socks would make me slip and send me running to the tape deck to rewind and try it again.
My obsession with music started that night. I had, more than once, had my breath taken away by a deep base that rocked deep in the bit of my tummy. Been captivated by a voice that seemed to lift me right out of my head and chest, carried me off to some romantic and love saturated space where everything was tingly and everyone dripped with that thing, that thing that was absent in my home. Lyrics telling me a story, my tiny ears eagerly awaiting the next chapter. John Denver and his grandma’s feather bed, (not so much the best for the whole dancing deal by the way) Stevie, Ray, Kenny Loggins, Patsy Cline. Listened and swayed to them all, figured out a way to place my steps, shift my shoulders and find my time within their perfectly measured and powerful snippets of poetry. I could be there and a part of something beautiful, eyes closed, toes on black, heels landing on white before slipping my sweaty little body into my jammies, taking the glass of sun tea to the kitchen, snuffing out the still smoldering embers of her cigarette and crawling into bed, close but not touching.
Began finding my inner rawr with music and those powerful voices at my side. I remember strapping myself into the backseat of our V.W. Bug, my mother’s best friend at the time in the front seat, me and her hateful, mean kids on either side of me. Those two boys bickering and being, what even then I knew, were bitter assholes and I would just sit. Quiet and being the sweet girl that didn’t want to upset anyone……until I really wanted to. A forty minute drive for some stupid smoked fish that my mother thought was the height of refinery. I just sat, listened to the 8 track, let the words lift me, the better place and the desire to feel what those voices inspired act like tiny pricks in the small of my back.
Forty minute drive back and I was still wedged between the whining and barking fuck wads I stuck my hand in the still warm bag of pungent smelling fish. Made my sweetest face at the one brother I knew was a little pervy and would do as any girl wished. Squished the oily meat between my fingers and slipped a shredded by my fingers chunk in his mouth. His gaze dropped and his grin flipped up on the sides, he knew he was in on bad behavior and was all for it. Fed that asshole my mother’s smoked fish all the way home, “Walking, after midnight” spurning me on. “You ate all of it?!” my mother’s voice in decibels of astounding magnitude. “I didn’t….he did” my shitty reply as I crossed my oily, smoky fingers behind my back, feeling “touched” in a way that would separate my mother and I for years to come. I was angry that she let me slip around on my socks alone in the living room while she slipped into fanciful stories pressed between thin, bent cardboard covers. Toes on black, heels on white, the beginning of a Tango that didn’t always have me landing on my feet….
“Did you just spit out Montrachet??!!’ an importer’s voice echoing so loudly through the cavernous cellar containing six of us that I feared the damp and musty rafters might crumble down upon us. We had only been in Burgundy for two days but already my notebook contained scribbles on over one hundred and fifty wines. I was still in disbelief that I was there, unsure why I was there, afraid each and every second that I was going to make as asshole out of myself, expose my complete lack of knowledge about anything outside of Champagne and have the others rolling their eyes….also in disbelief that I was there. I stood there, my lips still shimmering with the expelled liquid, pen hovering over my notebook, eyes wide and feeling the “Oh you just so fucked up” knot tying itself up in my gut. I had no smoky fish, oily partner this time, I needed to try and come off suave and together as I stood in a cellar that most would kill to be in, pretending that I didn’t just expectorate a mouthful of thousand dollar a bottle, only a barrel made nectar. My panic was gurgling away so fiercely that I nearly missed the upturned grin of the winemaker. His sweeping grasp of my glass, grabbing of my hand and pulling me back to the sacred cask, this time his slow steps reminding me of, “toes on black and heels landing on white” as dipped the narrow thieve into the cask, placed his worn thumb over the tiny air hole and drew me yet another glass of his most praised elixir. This time I let those fingers that interlaced with mine, let those callouses rest upon my tender palms, let him lead as my heart thumped away in my chest to the beat of his music.
Eyes locked he lifted his chin, a motion urging me to take another sip. My face was no longer burning and I wasn’t even sure there was anyone else in the room. My heart the base in my ears, his eyes directing my steps as we both brought a glass of deeply golden liquid, the tropical and deeply roasted sound of his voice to our lips. I tipped my glass and slowly pulled the oily textured liquid onto my tongue, marveled in the way it moved. It didn’t splash around or simply land upon my tongue, no, this wine seemed to slip between my lips and spread its firm young frame, the temperature and softness on my mouth causing it to expand and reveal itself with each roll as it moved towards the back of my throat. A pair of dark brown eyes and the sun weathered skin gathered around them, like a palm in the small of my back, leading me as my palate, mind and body were swallowed up and seduced by what was in my glass.
He watched as my eyelids began to close, watched as my chest expanded…my nose greedily, and quickly pulling in air as I held on to the weighty, silky, young but regal wine that was pulling off a layer of my armor with each viscous drop that made its way past my wildly stimulated palate, deep into the back of my throat. This dance between winemaker, victim and magically seductive elixir leaving me breathless, naked and wanting more. “Oh I don’t believe this!” the huffy voice of one of the far more knowledgeable than I fellow travelers. Not sure what he found so offensive about a winemaker making love to me, nearly literally, as he showed me how to dance to his Montrachet.
The composer of my new lover brought his own glass to his lips, this time eyes locked on the snippy bastard that had disturbed our dance lesson, took a deep sip, let the wine roll around in his mouth and then proceeded to spit it on the floor. My face was once again flush but this time, this time it was from landing my heels on white. The understanding that that wine wasn’t music until I took the time, rewound the tape and truly let it move me. That night at dinner I wore the swagger of the newly anointed, the puffy chest of someone that got it just a little more. “Should we start with Chablis” the importer proposed, again and once again I offered, “Well we could start with a little Champagne” to once again, as per our pattern for the past few days, was met with, “Oh. Champagne, kinda heady stuff don’t you think” but this time rather than sit sweetly I crossed my hands in front of me, looked deep into another set of beautiful brown eyes, took a deep breath and said, “You just watched me have my clothes torn off by a glass of wine….don’t think a glass of Champagne is too much at this point” the arm went up, the bottle was ordered and there we sat as I, finally got to be the one who knew more about what we were drinking….
“Toes on black, heels on white” Me grinning as I stuck that landing.