OK, this isn’t working…
Fry sat on the sidewalk, rubbing his head and staring ruefully at the brick wall in front of him. He had had a horrible feeling that maybe he was stuck in a bad dream, or even in a coma, and if that was the case, he needed to wake up. Leela had been pretty tight-lipped about what had happened in her coma, so Fry had no idea how to wake up from this one, if that was what it was. Pinching himself had hurt, but the world still seemed unchanged. He had finally built up the nerve to bang his head against the wall, and the pain was unbelievable. But when he opened his eyes, he was still sitting in the street, surrounded by pedestrians as indifferent to his presence as the wall was. In disappointment he decided that all of this had to be real, after all.
Head throbbing, he wandered through the streets. He was too scared to go back to Planet Express, and he was locked out of his apartment, assuming any of his stuff was even there anymore. He thought for a moment about the mutants, but Leela’s warning still haunted him, so he walked by all sewer lids without hesitation.
The bright colors of the outside world became muted as large cumulus clouds crowded out the bright clue sky. The darkening skies mirrored Fry’s mood, as he went by the Applied Cryogenics building and found it locked as well. A sign read:
CLOSED FOR FREEDOM DAY WEEKEND. PLEASE PUSH RELATIVES THROUGH SLOT. BE SURE TO INCLUDE ENOUGH DRY ICE TO LAST UNTIL TUESDAY.
He had never thought how much comfort his own apartment had given him in this strange world, but as he turned his back to the Cryogenics entrance he felt just like he had felt the first day he had arrived in the future. Lost, confused, and alone. He also felt that he had been in this spot recently, though he knew that couldn’t be true. He walked down the street in a random direction that he somehow knew wasn’t random.
The skies were now gray and a breeze had started to blow through the streets. The crowds thinned out, and for a moment Fry thought he sensed a presence behind him, but when he turned to look he was alone. Grimly, he marched on.
He saw the Planet Express building next to the river, and realized that he had come full circle during his long walk through New New York. He looked around, for some strange reason he was expecting to find his holophoner. He wished he had it now. He had been playing it a lot recently (or a year ago, he guessed) and it had always been a great comfort to him.
For a few moments the setting sun shone through the small gap between the cloud line and horizon, casting a rosy hue on the world before it was suddenly extinguished. And the rain fell along with the darkness.
Fry was getting wet, but he felt numb, both in flesh and spirit. He saw the dumpster across the street and huddled next to it, trying to work up the nerve to go back to the PE office and ask Hermes to spend the night. But Leela might still be working there, and he couldn’t summon the courage to be near her. In fact he knew he couldn’t face anyone right now.
Huddling by the dumpster wasn’t working. Streams of water were pouring down his back.
Well, back to the beginning. He lifted the dumpster lid and almost gagged on the smell. But it was dry enough if he gingerly positioned himself on the garbage bags, and even a little warm, although he didn’t dare think about what was decaying in there to release the heat. There was even a little gap in the lid for air. He hummed a few bars of “Walking on sunshine” as he lay in the darkness and tried to remember the most recent events he could clearly recall…
They walked out of the dance hall, the strains of some traditional Earthican tune following them down the steps.
“That was fun,” Amy said. “Although that’s the first time I’ve ever paid to have a man touch me.”
“You were paying for a dance lesson, not a grope session,” Leela lectured. Yet there was a lightness in both her tone and step that gave him a lot of pleasure to watch. He had waited a long time for this night.
“I had a great time,” Bender said, “crowded room, low lights, distracted and nervous dancers—I think I cleared $2000 tonight. A dance lesson is a pickpocket’s paradise. It’s like stealing candy from babies. Actually, even easier than that. Some of those babies are pretty stubborn.”
He was only half-listening, for he was frustrated and upset with himself. Even with some secret practicing before tonight, he couldn’t seem to pick up the simplest dance steps. He had danced with two left feet the entire lesson. Actually, that wasn’t being fair to the aliens that actually had had two left feet, and who had ended up doing fairly well tonight.
“Speaking of groping, Gary was sure interested in you tonight,” Amy teased.
“Oh, he was just being polite with a novice dancer,” Leela said unconvincingly.
There had been a lot of polite dancers around Leela tonight. She had told him that she had always wanted to learn the ancient ballroom dances, and after the opera and their recent near-death experience she had promised him they would learn together. At the last moment she also asked Bender and Amy to tag along, which annoyed him a little, but that feeling evaporated as soon as he saw his captain walk onto the floor. Leela had absorbed the classical dancing steps with the ease and grace that she had always displayed when mastering any athletic challenge. And by the end of the evening she had been so busy being used as a model by the teachers that Fry had hardly seen her. In the meantime, Fry had had to spend a lot of time trying to convince a Horrible Gelatinous Blob not to eat him after one particularly bad stumble. I mean, how was he to know that that part of an HGB ‘s anatomy was so sensitive?
“Fry? Come on, we need to get back. It’s an early day tomorrow.”
He looked up. Bender and Amy were already halfway down the street, but Leela had turned to look back at him. The music came to an end inside the building. She walked back up to him, her yellow dress swirling around her ankles, and raised her eyebrow.
“Come on, you’re just standing there. Let’s go.”
She looked at him.
“Nothing. Just thinking. Let’s go.”
“Just thinking, huh?” He was expecting a sarcastic comment to follow, but instead she said, “You were having trouble with the steps, weren’t you?”
“Oh a little, but I guess there’s always next week.”
A new song began in the hall, and the strains of an ancient cowboy ballad floated over the dirty street.
“As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out on Laredo one day,”
The melody was very gentle, and it had a 1-2-3 feel to it that meant it was-it was—come on Fry—
“Oh, I love the waltz. Come on, let’s take a look at you. I’ll lead.”
Of course she would. She grabbed his left hand with her right, and tucked his right hand under her left shoulder. That simple contact so unnerved him that he forgot to move his feet.
"’I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy’,
These words he did say as I boldly strolled by.”
“Come on, Fry, move your feet. Left, two, three, one, two, three—no, right foot to the side, ouch!”
“Sorry, Leela. I’m trying. I really am. But let’s just go.”
She smiled suddenly, and to his astonishment she laughed.
“Sorry, but I never thought I’d hear myself saying this to you, Fry. You’re trying too hard. Here.”
They came together again.
"Come an' sit down beside me an' hear my sad story,
I'm shot in the breast an' I know I must die.
“Forget trying to count. Don’t look at my feet. Just listen to the music and move with me.”
“You mean, be impulsive?”
She started, and gave him an appraising look. Then she smiled again.
“Yes, I guess I’m saying that, huh? Now let’s just dance and not worry.”
“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
Six dance-hall maidens to bear up my pall,”
Not the most romantic song in the world, thought Fry. What was the least romantic song ever? Maybe the Oscar Meier Wiener song? And why aren’t there any cowmen? He was so preoccupied with this thought that he forgot to pay attention.
“Yes, that’s it.”
And then he realized the streetlight was moving around them, and they were dancing a very simple step around a garbage can.
“Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Roses to deaden the clods as they fall,”
And then a strange thing happened. He relaxed, and then felt her relax underneath his hands. Now he could not tell where his hands ended and she began. Instead of two separate people dancing, there was now only one couple, locked together in one rhythm, moving with one motion. No collisions, no distractions, no leading, no following. Like a leaf floating on a gentle stream, they drifted across the cracked sidewalk, underneath the streetlamp.
“When thus he had spoken, the hot sun was setting,
The streets of Laredo grew cold as the clay,”
And then the music was ending, and without planning to he raised one arm, and she spun underneath. They broke apart, their eyes met, and he bowed, and she curtsied, and then there was silence for a few moments, as both of them still breathed in unison.
“Yes. Yes, see, that’s all it takes,” she said. “It's not the feet, but the heart, the heart that matters. Remember?”
“Hey, are you guys coming or what?” Bender said. “Or do I have to keep watching this crap?”
“Let’s go to O'Zorgnax's Pub!” Amy chirped in. “Tonight is ladies’ and smizmar’snight! I’ve got double rounds coming! You might even get a round, Leela!”
“Tomorrow is an early day—“ Leela began, but then stopped, shrugged, and grabbed Bender’s arm. “Oh what the hell. Hermes can’t pay us any less, can he? Sometimes you just have to be impulsive once in a while.” Did she just flick a smile toward him?
She seemed carefree, almost giddy. He was glad she had liked the dance class so much.
Amy was looking closely at Leela, as if she was trying to spot a brain slug. Then she shrugged, and grabbed Leela’s other arm. Now Leela was definitely looking at him. “Coming?”
“In a bit. I’m not done thinking yet. It takes me a while, you know.”
Funny, he almost never joked about his slowness. In fact, he hadn’t even known he was slow until a few years ago, when he ate a bad sandwich at a fuel station and unexpected things had happened.
Bender laughed immediately, and after a glancing askance at each other, Amy and Leela grinned as well. Then his three friends started down the street.
He stood there and stared at the flies circling the lamppost, at the building’s cracked façade, at the crumbling steps, at the rusting trash cans, and at his friends walking away arm in arm. He listened to something rustling behind the cans in the alley, to Bender singing, to the music still drifting out the doorway, and to the beating of his heart. And he remembered holding Leela in his arms, and how she had been happy. He concentrated to remember it all, every small detail, because this was a day he desperately wanted to remember for the rest of his life-
He couldn’t recall what had happened next. What had happened? Why was Bender now ignoring him, Amy avoiding him, and Leela hating him? What was he going to do?
But the memory was like a lullaby, lulling him to sleep as he remembered the loyalty of his friends and the Leela that he loved, and not the woman who had looked at him with such revulsion today. What he remembered had been real once, and maybe it would be again. He had to have faith. He hummed the first few bars of “Walking on Sunshine” to himself over and over again, but finally fell asleep humming the lament of an ancient cowboy ballad, dreaming of playing it on his holophoner. The holophoner again…
Too bad Laredo was now the brand name of a really effective laxative.