Michael A. Kozlowski

Author

Dance With Me

                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
                          Dance With Me
                     By Michael A. Kozlowski
1.
     He sits at the desk in his home office and rubs his temples
where the gray is starting to show. The rest of the house is
dark; everyone else is asleep. The desk lamp throws a soft glow
over the papers in front of him, illuminating the letters
seeking contributions to his campaign. Tomorrow, his family will
leave for an extended stay at their summer home on the lake. He
will remain behind; shaking hands, kissing babies, attending
dinners that cost more for a single plate of food than many
people make in a year.
      He wishes he could be with his family, splashing around in
the lake with his daughter, enjoying a glass of wine on the deck
with his wife as the sun slips below the horizon and colors the
sky red. He has a job to do, though; a duty.
     He is signing yet another letter, one of dozens that his
assistant has prepared for him, when he feels the numbness in
his left arm. Leaning on it wrong, he thinks, it’s falling

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
asleep. He shakes it to clear the pins and needles and a sharp
pain causes him to wince and clutch his chest. The pain fades.
     A figure stands in front of his desk. A man, tall and thin;
one might call him gaunt. His complexion is pale, his cheeks
slightly sunken, yet he is not unattractive. He sports a pencil
thin mustache and wears a dark, pinstriped suit with a matching
fedora. The red band on his hat matches the bright carnation
that decorates his lapel.
     The figure glides around the desk to stand next to him and
extends a skeletal hand. “Dance with me,” he says. A question. A
statement. A demand.
     Obeying without willful decision, the man takes the
figure’s hand and stands. He hears music, slow and quiet. It
reminds him of the last dance of his high school prom. One of
the last moments he can remember of pure freedom, when the world
was still wide open ahead of him. He had few concerns about
issues past, present or future then, only optimism and a the
simple joy of having his girlfriend’s head resting softly in the
nook of his shoulder as they moved across the wooden floor of a
rented hall amid a swirl of colored lights.

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
     “I’m not ready,” he says to the dark eyes staring back at
him. “I’m just reaching a point in my career where I can make a
real difference.”
     The words sink into the darkness at the edges of the room.
They echo softly and ring hollow even to his own ears. They are
the words that he used over and over again to explain his
absences at dance recitals and baseball games, family reunions
and weddings, the dinner table on countless nights and the
marital bed on countless more.
     He said them when he was first elected to city council,
when he became mayor, when he was elected to the State Senate
and when he served as Governor. He said them time and again as
he worked for and won election to serve on Capitol Hill and as
he prepared to run for the highest office in the land.
     They sway slowly, like two awkward teenagers who have not
yet learned the finer points of dancing or perhaps an old,
married couple who have lost the ability to do more. The tall,
dapper man stares at him but says nothing.
     “I have my faults, I know,” he says, contemplating his life
and all the ways he feels he has been lacking; sensing suddenly
that he is being judged. “I know that I have sometimes let my

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
family down. Maybe I haven’t been as good of a friend as I
should have been. Maybe I allowed a thirst for power to cloud
some of my decisions, my judgment, but I always intended to make
this country a better place and to serve the people who chose me
to govern or represent them. I’ve always wanted to be a good
man.”
     A smile back at him from the sunken, pale face of his
dancing partner and the man sighs, knowing that his life is
over. If he is to be judged, that life will speak for itself and
there is nothing he can do to change it; nothing now. He rests
his head against the bony shoulder beneath the suit jacket and
lets Death lead him slowly to the music and out of the room.
  2.
      She has her cell phone to her ear, held in place with her
shoulder, and is scrolling through emails on her Blackberry. Her
leather briefcase hangs on a strap, bouncing on her hip and
slightly compressing the shoulder pad of her power suit; dark
blue with light, slimming stripes on the jacket and a skirt of
moderate length, reaching just below her knees. The hustle and
bustle of the city crowds in upon her but she pushes it aside;

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
to her, it is nothing more than annoying fly to be swatted away
with a wave of her hand.
     She has worked her way up to the top of the food chain; the
CEO of a large, powerful company. She makes a million dollar
deal on her phone and another worth three or four times that
amount through an email on her Blackberry. Acquisitions,
mergers, buyouts; she strides across the street towards the
coffee shop feeling every bit as rich and powerful as the
company she heads.
     She hears the screech of the braking tires and looks up in
time to see the dinner plate-sized, dark chocolate eyes of the
taxi driver. She has a moment in which to wonder if she had
checked the light at the crosswalk, and to note that the taxi
driver is wearing a red turban, before the car hits her and she
is propelled up and over the cab. Her briefcase, cell phone and
Blackberry arc through the air. Her body thuds as it careens off
the windshield, spider webbing the glass so the cab driver’s
view is as if he is looking through a kaleidoscope and it makes
another thud when it hits the pavement. Her belongings go
clattering around the scene.

5

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
     She sits on the curb while a crowd gathers in the street. A
shadow falls over her and she looks up to see a tall man in a
dark, pin stripped suit extending his thin, bony hand to her.
     She thinks about the fact that she is unmarried; has not
yet started a family; has been a slave to her career. She rarely
stopped to enjoy life. Even on the rare vacation that she
permitted herself, she would be anxious when she was in a cell
phone dead zone or had spent more than an hour or two away from
the hotel; away from her computer and emails.
     She wishes now that she had taken more time to enjoy life.
Maybe she pushed herself too hard to succeed; a full load of
classes each semester to finish college early, internships along
with those classes that robbed her of a social life, a hard-
nosed, determined, singularly focused drive to advance. Always,
she thought, there would be time. A tear trickles down her cheek.
     She takes the skeletal hand and rises, letting the figure
lead her in a waltz along the busy sidewalk. They turn and spin
in and out of the people, some who have stopped to see the
carnage on the street, others who walk hurriedly past at if
nothing unusual has happened.
                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
     “I’ve saved companies,” she says to her dancing partner,
craning her neck to look into his face. “I’ve created jobs; made
people’s lives better.”
     He leads her back up the street. Everyone is oblivious to
their dance except one man who is leaning against a building,
next to a window display of the season’s newest fashions. He is
dressed sharply. He is well groomed and the gray creeping into
his hair at the temples gives him a distinguished look.  As they
near him, he steps forward and cuts in. Death steps aside.
     “My family is proud of me,” she tells him, her eyes wet.
     “Mine too,” he smiles back.
     They continue their waltz away from the street, away from
the sirens that are closing in on the scene. Death follows along
behind them, his head softly rolling back and forth to the sound
of the music.
3.
     He leans against a wall of dirt and sand bags. His heart
thuds heavily in his chest; the adrenaline makes him forget how
tired he really is. The sound of machine gun fire fills the
night. He hears it from the left and right of him, down the
trench. He hears it popping in the distance across a non-

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
descript, unimportant chunk of land that two, opposing
ideologies have decided to use as a line drawn in the sand.
Bullets whiz over his head, plunking into the sand bags and dirt
that serve as his barricade. Mortars fall and shower him with
earth.
     He takes a deep breath and swings his rifle up and over the
top of the barricade, firing blindly into the darkness, trusting
the bullets to find a target. Something punches him in the neck
and he swings back down for cover.
     A tall man in a dark suit stands in the middle of the
trench, smiling at him. The red band on the man’s hat and the
red carnation on his lapel provide the only color in a world
washed in gray. He eyes drop to the man’s feet and he sees the
body of a soldier with an alarmingly large portion of his neck
missing.
     “Damn it,” he says.
     He thinks of his wife, an ocean away, and the baby, a
little girl, that is due in only a few weeks; a daughter that he
will never see. His eyes water and his throat burns as he holds
back the sobs. He pictures the porcelain faced doll that is
tucked away in his foot locker, the gift he was to give his

8

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
precious child upon his return. He hopes it still finds its way
to her. He mourns the kisses and hugs from his wife welcoming
him home that he will never receive.
      He looks at the soldier – himself – lying in the mud at
the bottom of the trench, at the feet of the tall, thin man in
the dark suit. He wonders, for only a moment, how the man’s
shoes are able to stay clean and shiny, highly polished, even as
he stands in the filth of this war. Because he’s not a man, he
thinks.
     The body – his body – is dressed in army fatigues. There
are stripes on one of his sleeves. Dirty and worn but still
proud and inspiring, he sees the flag that adorns the shoulder.
It is a flag that nurtures dreams, promises freedom and is a
beacon of hope, help and protection. His chest swells with pride.
     He may not see his wife and new child in this life, perhaps
he’ll never see them again; he searches the tall man’s drawn,
yet handsome face for some indication of what awaits him and
finds nothing. He knows, however, that he has done all in his
power to ensure that others will have the opportunities,
freedoms and precious moments that have been taken away from him
by an unknown enemy’s bullet. He knows that others like him will

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
sacrifice themselves to ensure the safety and freedom of his own
wife and child.
     The sounds of the fire fight around him fade as music fills
his ears. The sounds remind him, somehow, of South America; of
flowing skirts, and dark skinned women and lusty, sweaty
movements. They are sounds that are full of life and hope and
pleasure.
     The tall man opens his arms; smiling, inviting. “Dance with
me,” he says.
     The two clasp hands, place their free hands on the other’s
hips and shoot determined stares down the length of the trench
as their cheeks come together, the tall man hunching slightly to
bring their faces level. Their feet slap through the mud and the
blood and the filth of war as their tango leads them past the
others of his company that continue the fight and over those for
whom, like him, the fight has ended.
     They approach a man and a woman. The man has a certain
distinguished air about him; he is dressed in a conservative but
stylish suit. The woman, dressed sharply as well, steps forward
and the tall, thin man steps aside to allow her his place.

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
     The soldier and the woman continue the dance in the other
direction, turn sharply, smiling, and return to the men. The man
with the graying hair cuts in for the soldier and he and the
woman dance on. They think how fortunate they have been to have
lived in a place that allowed them so many freedoms, so many
luxuries, so many opportunities.
     The three of them continue the exchange of partners;
continue the dance as the music enlivens them. The tall, thin,
skeletal man leads them through the trench, past the soldiers
continuing their fight, around and over the fallen and into the
darkness.
4.
     He sits down heavily on the couch, a plate of cold chicken
on his lap. His feet, his legs, his back and his mind are all
sore and exhausted from yet another swing shift.  He flips on
the television to catch the score of today’s game and spies the
picture that rests above it on the entertainment center.
     It’s a picture they took last Christmas; a family portrait.
He is seated in the picture, next to but slightly behind his
wife. His daughter stands behind him, her hand on his shoulder
and her husband to her side with an arm around her waist. Their

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
son – his grandson – sits on grandpa’s lap. Behind his wife, his
son, fresh out of medical school, stands proud and handsome. His
fiancé, a nurse that he met while interning, smiles the type of
smile that says she knows the whole world is laid out before
them.
     It’s a beautiful picture of a beautiful family and a smile
of his own spreads across his face. Some things, he thinks, make
everything else worthwhile.
     He takes a bite of chicken, feels the small bone crunch
between his teeth, tries to work it free of the meat and
inadvertently swallows it. It lodges in his throat and he tries
to cough it back up. He struggles to breathe, flails his way off
of the couch and makes it halfway down the hall before he
collapses.
     He feels hands slip under his armpits. They are bony and
they dig into his flesh as they lift him from the carpet. A
tall, thin, sharply dressed man in a hat smiles at him and leads
him back to the couch. He glances at the family portrait as he
sits. His feet, legs and back make no protests of pain. For a
moment, a shadow of remorse flickers over him.
     “It’s been a pretty good life, hasn’t it?” he asks.

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
     The thin, dark man continues to smile.
     “I mean, I’ve been married to a great woman for a good,
long while; I’ve helped to raise two great kids who have both
gone through college and started their own lives, lives that
promise to be more successful than mine.”
     He looks at the portrait and smiles. He hopes they won’t be
too sad for too long.
     “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of long shifts, but there
were a whole lot of good times in there; vacations, trips to the
lake, football games and Daddy-daughter dances. Some give and
take, work hard to play hard, but a good life, all in all.”
     The tall man takes his hand and lifts him from the couch.
“Dance with me,” the man says.
     He hears music; a quick beat, horns. He’s never danced a
jig before, but he dances one now. As he spins and jumps around
the living room two men, one in a suit and one in army fatigues,
and a women dressed in a sharp business suit join him.
     They move through the living room like guests at a wedding
reception forming a conga line. They dance through the kitchen,
each remembering the best of times with family and friends. Some
have more to recall than others but they all find moments of

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
love and happiness to reflect on. They pass into the dining
room, circle the table and dance out through the front door,
down the street and into the night.
5.
     She’s lying in her bed, staring out the window at the
sunshine, trying not to dwell on the sounds of the other kids
playing. It seems to her like she’s been sick for a long time,
at least according to the doctors and her parents and all the
hospital visits and tests that they’ve done.
     But it’s only in the last few weeks has she felt sick. Only
since the headaches got real bad and since it got hard to walk
because her legs just wouldn’t do what she wanted them to do
anymore.
     It’s hard to eat and it’s hard to drink and sometimes it’s
even hard to breathe but, most of all, it’s hard to look at her
mother and father as they sit at her bedside trying not to cry
and pretending that their eyes aren’t rimmed red.
     Her father is at work and her mother is downstairs in the
kitchen making her a bowl of soup that she won’t be able to eat.
The sun is shining brightly through her window, beaming across
the patchwork comforter that she lies under. She watches the

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
dust motes dance in the sunbeam for a few moments and then
closes her eyes. She is so very, very tired.
     When she opens her eyes again, there is a tall man standing
by her bed. He is much taller than her father and very thin. He
reminds her of something between a scarecrow and a skeleton but
she feels no fear of him. His is holding his hat in his hands.
He smiles at her and she thinks his smile is a little sad.
     “It’s okay,” she says, as she swings her legs out from
under the covers and stands, barefooted, on her bedroom floor.
“You’ve made my headache go away. I feel much better.”
     The tall, thin man’s eyes look watery. He replaces his hat
as she takes his hand. She’s knows that look. It’s a look she
has seen it many times. He is trying not to cry.
     There are four grown-ups standing off in the corner of her
room. They look like they might cry, as well.
     “Are you dead too?” she asks them. They all nod silently.
     “Are you sad that you’re dead?” she asks.  They look at
each other. They seem confused.
     “I’m not sad,” she says, looking back at the tall man’s
bony face. “I’m not sad because I can hear the music. Can’t you
hear it?”

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                    Kozlowski / Dance With Me
     The tall man cocks his head, listening. The others do the
same. They can hear it. It’s music full of nursery rhymes and
fairy tales, tinny xylophones and great, bellowing tubas,
clapping hands and stomping feet and the trumpeting of
elephants. It’s a child’s music and it is the happiest most
delightful music they’ve ever heard.
     The little girl spins around the tall man, she jumps on her
bed and bounces to touch the ceiling. She jumps to the floor,
rolls in a somersault and skips through the room waving her arms
in the air. Hesitantly, at first, the others join in.
     The girl stops and looks up into the tall man’s eyes.
“Dance with me,” she smiles and he does, moving like a
marionette as he swings his lanky arms and legs about.
     They dance a dance of pure joy and unrepentant, unrelenting
fun. They dance a dance that celebrates all that is right in the
world, all which is joyful in living no matter how long or short
that life may be. They dance the dance of innocence out of the
bedroom, down the stairs and into the sunshine.
     They dance towards whatever awaits them, celebrating all
that they leave behind.

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Kozlowski / Dance With Me
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