I’m going to get some more firewood, is anyone dancing outside. The old woman asked but the man did not respond, he didn’t even glance outside to confirm, fingers interlocked over his lap, absorbed by his own thoughts, which led to another question, Will you please look at me. She was now standing in front of him, the man raised his eyes from the floor but the expression remained the same, It’s been almost four weeks since we were ordered to stay home and you’ve done nothing but sit there contemplating god knows what, the last few nights you didn’t even come to bed, I go up the stairs in the evening and then come back down in the morning and you’re there, exactly as I left you, what’s up with you. The husband’s reply was as cold as his expression, Nothing. She looked through the window, the street was deserted, there were no dancing maniacs, then she continued, These things happen, I’m sure it’s almost over, it can’t be that big of a deal, they said two weeks would be enough and sure, it’s been almost twice that, but it can’t take much longer, I didn’t even see anyone dancing at all, did you. The man once again did not reply, and the woman continued, The last time I went to the market some women said they did but who knows if they were telling the truth, they love to gossip even if they have to make things up. Then she corrected herself, Especially if they have to make things up, but that is neither here nor there, since the whole town is confined to their homes by decree, no one else will catch the disease.

The old man was still stuck in place and had gone back to staring at the floor, and then the wife said, Although, I have to say, maybe it’s because I haven’t been outside in so many days, I’m beginning to feel the urge to dance. The tone could be mistaken for serious, and since the man was not looking at her he could not see the smirk and identify the sentence as a provocation, and so he suddenly awoke from his torpor, looked at her with a grave countenance, the hands were now on his knees, and he leaned slightly forward to ask, Are you serious, when did it start, do you have a fever, but by the time he finished the third question he could see the woman’s smirk and realized the ruse, So you can move after all, is what the woman said. The old man was not happy with the prank but he did not immediately go back to his interlocked fingers and closed mouth, This is nothing to joke about, Well I don’t see what all the fuss is about, so people are dancing, what’s so problematic about that, People are dancing and cannot stop, and then they fall dead from exhaustion, That’s what they’re saying but why should I believe them, Why would the government lie, The question I always ask is why would the government tell the truth.

The man said nothing, although his face twitched a bit and his eyes rolled back slightly, he had heard her diatribes before. The woman continued, If you ask me, I think they just like to order us around, now stay home, now go out, do this, don’t do that, and they chose dancing because it makes people happy, Dancing can’t be all that good if our lord and savior Jesus Christ never danced, How do you know he never danced, Because it’s not written in the gospels, Well there is that strange scene about piping and not dancing, and our lord seems upset about it, I never understood what that was about, If there was something to understand the wisdom of the church would have said something on it, Maybe the texts where our lord dances are buried and haven’t been found yet, Woman it’s the year of our lord fifteen eighteen, What does that have to do with anything, The church has compiled the holy bible for us long ago, if there was something else of note they would have included it, If you trust them, You’re sounding like that maniac who nailed his theses to the church door affronting the oneness of our one holy catholic and apostolic church, That’s if you forget those others to the east that make it not one but two or three, and if you ask me, that makes more sense, What does, That there be at least three churches, Why, Because isn’t god three as well, But he’s also one, Sure, but if the threeness was not more important than the oneness then we’d be mohamedans, Now you’re really getting into trouble, And let’s not forget the holy virgin, which is a hidden fourth, and then all the other saints, including the blessed Vitus who is so fond of dancing, And yet they are saying he is responsible for the plague, So you see maybe the easterners are right to have many different churches, What do you know about the east anyway, Almost nothing of course, I am just an old french woman living in strasbourg, And I’m just an old french man living where you live, but if you ask me, these two things, the maniac and the dancing are related, And I think we are getting away from the point, I was only saying that dancing is fun and that the priests nowadays seem to have something against fun, You’re lucky no priest is around to hear you, they would take you for a heretic, or worse, What could be worse than a heretic, A witch, Well this witch has a potion to finish, Don’t call it that, Why not, what is a soup but a rejuvenating potion.

The old man went back to his mute stare of the floor and the woman opened the door to the basement to get some firewood, fed the fire and then said, Come, the soup is almost ready, let’s eat, No, I’m not hungry, You have to eat, if you don’t you’ll get sick even if you don’t dance, It doesn’t matter, Oh come on, stop it, I don’t understand what’s up with you lately, the first week you were fine, in fact, you were happy to get a break from your work, but then you got gloomy and I don’t understand it, Fine, woman, I’ll tell you what’s been on my mind. The man’s stance remained the same, but he was now looking at his wife with great intensity, At first I was glad to get a break because my hands are as old as I am, and they get sore quite easily now, I can copy maybe a couple of pages before my fingers start to hurt, but then I started to think that soon my job will disappear completely, You knew that would happen eventually, Yes, but there are many things we know will happen and we’re still caught off guard when they do, So your boss is finally buying that new machine and you won’t have to copy documents anymore, I don’t see why that should make you so somber, It’s because it led me to think that whether I exist or not it doesn’t matter, but that’s not all of it, the problem is what this machine means, What does it mean, It means that soon humans won’t be of any use, for now it’s just a machine doing the copying, but soon it will be a machine doing the reading too.

The woman put her hand over the husband’s interlocked fingers and said, Don’t think of such things, the future will be what it will be, and only god knows it, That’s part of the problem, How do you mean, What they told us about this disease, it is related, the people who get it cannot help themselves, they just can’t stop dancing, they will go on dancing until they are dead, as if someone was controlling them, as if they had no free will, just like the machines that make copies which are all the same, That’s why they are calling it diabolic possession, for the disease, not the machine, But it does not stop there, when the government decreed that everyone should stay inside for two weeks so as not to catch nor spread the disease, since as you know it is possible to be afflicted and not even know it, to be dancing inside before you are dancing outside, so to speak, and so everybody went home and stayed there, no questions asked, Yes, but what were we supposed to do, we would have been confined somewhere worse if we had defied the decree, That’s true, but it all goes towards the same conclusion, Which is, Don’t you see woman, nothing we do matters, whether we copy or not copy, whether we dance or not dance, whether we stay inside or go out, it all ends up being the same, That’s no reason to not eat, come on.

The man relented. They said grace and ate by the fire. The soup seemed to lift the old man’s spirits, at least enough to start talking unprompted, There’s something else, What is it dear husband, Usually you’re the one with heretical thoughts, but I confess these last few weeks I have been having my own, And what are they, They are of course related to all that’s happening, to the plague, to the confinement, to the machines, to the maniac with the theses nailed to the church door, all of that. The man raised his eyes from the soup and looked to the woman beside him before proceeding, I’ve been thinking about all this and I have reached the conclusion that it’s all determined, and even though the holy church doesn’t quite come out and say it, it is the logical conclusion that if god made everything from nothing, including our very selves, and if he is outside of time and already knows all that will happen, every choice that we will make, then it means it’s all already determined, even this very conversation we’re having, god knew it would happen before it did, it is foreordained, if you will, which is a curious expression to use now since all of this means there is no will, not a free one anyway.

The old man was not finished, There is one other worry, a few days ago I had a vision, or was it a dream, Of what my dear husband, Of us, And is that so bad, In the dream I could see us from the outside, and it was as if we were frozen in place, me siting with fingers interlocked over my lap by the window as the light slowly disappears outside, you perpetually cooking soup by the fire and rearranging the embers with your iron tongues, it was like a painting, and it occurred to me, we will be here forever, and if we’re not, we’ll be somewhere else, equally frozen, unable to change our fate, You’re wrong, You always say that, And I always mean it, So what do you think, I don’t think it’s a painting at all, What is it then, A story, And what is the difference, The difference is a painting is fixed, and a story has to go somewhere, the characters have to do something, and everyone knows that characters acquire a life of their own, the author may know where the story begins but he never knows where it will end, even god, he made Jacob and Jacob made himself Israel by wrestling with the author, so I think god is more of a story teller than a painter, and here I am being almost orthodox, after all it is said that it was the word that was with god, not the paint, So if Jacob was painted he would have kept the old name, Yes, You’ve given me a lot to ponder, Don’t I always, Yet I am still at a loss as to what we ought to do, That is easy my dear mister Calvin, we will wait for this plague to be over, then we’ll go visit our son and nine year old grandson and when we’re back we’ll be rid of this cabin fever, And until then, Until then we dance, of course, the author will never see it coming.

More work by Laeth can be found here:

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