Welcome, young sapling, to the second week of Dog Versus Sandwich. This week’s story was vat-grown by eccentric scientists weak from hunger after a gruelling sack race. I think the results were wonderful!
Why Do They Dance?
by Patricia Russo
They are little men, no more than a foot and a half tall. Maybe a bit more. Knee-high, depending on how tall you are. Knee-high to me, anyway. They have stern gray faces and no ears, and they dance. They dance in circles on the street corners, holding hands, whirling in carousel circles, or weaving in and out of fractal patterns, their arms held up stiff to the sky, like the bare branches of winter trees. They all wear brown, always, and they are always dancing.
Frank’s friend Bobby was found dead the other day; Frank let me know by email. Twenty years in recovery together, holding each other up, holding each other together, taking the geographic cure from coast to coast, going to meetings, gripping each other’s hands in the sweaty times. Bobby found dead on a Monday, having died over the weekend in his empty apartment, overdosed. Frank so angry he can’t even speak. He emails that he went out into the street and started kicking walls of buildings, silently, not yelling, not flailing his arms, just kicking. He’s bruised all ten toes; he’s going to limp for a month. No one said a word to him. There will be two people at the memorial service, Frank and Bobby’s father. Frank hasn’t decided if he can bear to go yet.
I have to make it to the bank today, and I have to go to the post office to mail a parcel, a present I promised a friend I’ve never met, promised more than a year ago. Time passes. Dylan Thomas, Neil would have responded immediately, with a grin, and I would have nodded and completed the exchange: Under Milk Wood. But Neil has gone to Japan. We emailed a few times, and then he stopped.
The old people swear the little men are real. They’ve seen them before; used to see them all the time when they were kids. Hard-faced, butterfly-quick, dancing on the corners, dancing on the paths, dancing in the empty lots that are all built up now. This is nothing new to the old folks. The woman as withered as an ancient rose who sits at the window above the liquor store, she smiles now, when before all she did was scowl at the passersby. The kids, the dogs, on leashes and off leashes, the slinky cats. She’d scowl and spit down at them, at us all. Now she smiles, and her cheeks have a faint bloom to them.
An old friend from college, older than me….she dropped out and I didn’t, or I didn’t until later, and then after a while I went back, and she never did…we haven’t seen each other since she left the city for upstate, but we talk on the phone, and write letters. She doesn’t like computers. We write real letters, with paper and envelopes and stamps. Three years ago the man she has loved for twenty years was diagnosed with colon cancer; advanced. They’d had an off-and-on relationship, breaking up and making up, living together and living apart, fighting and loving and driving each other crazy, but when Maurice got the news he asked her to move in with him again, to take care of him. She did. More than two years of it, Maurice in denial the whole time, refusing to marry her, controlling her from his sickbed. The lock on their apartment broke, and he wouldn’t let her get it replaced. He wouldn’t put her name on the lease. She couldn’t work a job, of course, he needed full-time care. He told her he would put her in his will. When the doctors informed him that there were no more treatment options available for him, that he was end-stage, in liver failure, she tried to get him into hospice care. He blew up, lashed out, screamed that he couldn’t take her any more, and went to his sister’s place for the weekend. The weekend stretched out, and he died in his sister’s guestroom, alone. And now Georgia is alone as well.
I have to pay the phone bill; I have to pay down my credit cards. Mustn’t forget to stop by the store on the way back from the bank; it’s ridiculous how little food I have in the house, considering how much I eat. The sun is hot today, and I’m dressed in black. I’m sweating, and people are looking at me, but I don’t look at them. Perhaps I am talking to myself. I hope I am not singing to myself, because my voice is terrible, can’t carry a tune to save the world. But I did teach Georgia how to play the recorder once, half our lifetimes ago, when we were still in college.
My brother has had a baby and its mother has named it Hope. The mother is married to someone else, and has two older sons. I have not seen this baby, this niece that has been forced on me, and I hope that I never will. And yesterday Katy told me that she told Charlie, after three years together, that he has twenty-four hours to decide whether to marry her or not, and he’s still thinking.
The sun is hot today. The old guy who sells ices from a cart names his wares to the little girl standing hopefully with her mother: I got red, I got green, I got blue. Blue, the girl says, glancing up at her mother, who has bags under her eyes and bags from the dollar stores weighing down both hands. The old guy is grinning.
The old people swear the little men are real. They’ve seen them before. Some say they never really went away. I see some now, a group of them, circling slowly hand-in-hand around the only tree left alive on Denby Avenue. Their faces are hard; they show no emotion. Their eyes glitter, and their mouths are thin lines. They have no ears. I’ve said that before. But they dance to some music I can’t hear, some rhythm I can’t feel. They don’t bother me, it’s nothing like that. Live and let live. But why do they dance, that’s what I’d like to know. Why do they dance?
Patricia Russo has been published in the anthologies Corpse Blossoms, Zencore, Read by Dawn Volume Two, and The Best of Not One of Us. Recent work has appeared in Talebones and Tales of the Unanticipated; other stories will soon appear in Coyote Wild, Lone Star Stories, and Electric Velocipede.