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The Courtship of Joe the Wrench

by Rudi Dornemann

(Being a sequel to Neostalgia.)

Joe's association with the Ballet Mechanique brought him steadily closer to respectability.

The first hint came soon after he began helping out with dancer maintenance, when his name appeared in the program. Since "Joe the Wrench" was deemed unsuitable for the opera-and-ballet crowd, it was his full name, Josephus Wren, that appeared.

Then he had to wear a hat whenever entering or exiting the building. Not the soot-stained, crumple-rimmed bowler he wore around his own shop, but a crisp top hat. This he doffed as soon as he entered the ballet’s backstage workroom -- after asking permission of Miss Linn, who sat in the corner, snipping choreography into long rolls of player-paper.

But the biggest impetus toward respectability was Eona Bellinghew, the mechaninque's human prima. Joe watched from the wings, entranced by the grace in her every motion, so sinuous, so smooth compared to the lines of automatons who mimicked and accompanied her. He began leaving his crisp hat on, started wearing white shirts, and even managed to keep one or two free of axle-grease. He rebuilt the gears of half the troupe and there was talk of his becoming a partner in the theater. He created a bouquet of mechanical roses and -- with Miss Linn’s help -- made them bud and bloom in their own miniature dance.

Of her many suitors, Joe was the one Eona selected to accompany her to the Grand Duke's ball. At first, he was dazzled by his proximity to her, and she shone more brightly even than she did on stage. Soon, however, he saw that the curve of her arm, the turning of her head, even her smile, all these were not the originals the automatons followed, but echoes of their mechanical movements.

In the workroom the next day, peevish and dispirited in his battered hat, he fidgeted with an en pointe ratchet that wouldn't lock and his muttered "grind it!" came out louder than he'd expected. Miss Linn's embarrassed turn of the head Joe recognized at once. This was the genuine, original gesture. His heart bloomed like a mechanical rose.

The opera-and-ballet crowd still prefers the Mechanique, but, over the last few months, many of the more discerning aficionados of the dance have come to prefer the Theater Linn-Wren. No, the shows aren't as lavish, but there's a passionate imagination at work that's been missing from the Mechanique for some time.

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