The Dances: 1

by Brendan Strong

He tells her: I’m eight years old and that’s big enough to look after myself. She smiles and says, but could you look after the dinner? He protests he’s not allowed to use the oven. She knows, because she made the rule. With a short laugh and a rub of his head, mum runs out to the shop. Finally free, he walks into the Good Room where the Good Stereo System is.

He finds the right CD, and turns the volume up. He has to be in position. He gets up on the arm of the sofa, hits play on the remote control and jumps

landing and tumbling behind the sofa with the crash of the music starting. With the music going and the volume up, he throws himself around the room. The last time, when they saw him, they said it was like he was posessed, in the throes or something. She told him to stop. She said don’t do that again, you could hurt yourself, or break something. Later on, when they were having drinks and he should have been in bed, he heard them laughing about it. Well, not her, not mum. As the others laughed, she said there was somehting about it, about his movements, about his eyes, something she didn’t like. The rest laughed some more, and he hid in the bathroom under the stairs when dad came out to freshen up the drinks.

He moves round the whole room in fits and starts, the room where children should be seen and not heard, and should sit still on the sofa and listen so that the adults could bore him as much as they bored each other. They were strange, adults. They seemed restrained in some way that kids weren’t. He guessed this was why they put so many restraints on kids. They were jealous. They worried about money, they complained to each other, sometimes they even called other grown ups assholes and fucking this and fucking that. He knew when this happened he’d be sent to bed, no matter what the time was. They told him not to use the same words they used so freely, and then he was told not to dance when sometimes they danced so much they fell over laughing and knocking red wine to the floor. Once, a friend of his mum’s even danced on the table, asking whether anyone else remembered the time she danced like that in the college bar. She cried later, with his mum cuddling her. Seeing that, he wanted a cuddle, but he was hiding again, meant to be in bed for hours. He thought of going in and saying he had a bad dream, to get the cuddle. He thought better of it and went to bed.

None of this crosses his mind as the music erupts from inside of him. He moves in a series of spasms and jerks. It’s not about rhythm, it’s about sounds. His elbow doubles and straightens with violence as a guitar jangles; fists fly and fall with banging drums, but not crashing cymbals. For the cymbals he falls to the ground completely, figuring out how to get back up for the next bit. He changes between moving by the lyrics or by the music. There’s no plan. It’s about him and the music. Being each other.

Cast under the spell of the music, nothing so domestic as a front door could disturb him. And it doesn’t. Even if he could hear it, he’s definitely not allowed to open it. As it goes, he doesn’t hear it at all. He’ll hear about it later.

He runs around the table, half considering getting up on it. As he considers, he gets on his hunches, tongue out, arms outstretched, hands waving. Dad sometimes laughs at that, his Haka he calls it. He tried it once in school and another boy, Justin, hit him. Then he said he was a freak. He called Justin an asshole. That afternoon he had to account for all this to his mother, his teacher, and, what’s worse, Justin’s mother. Such injustice. Forcing kids to repeat what was said, even though everyone knows it will make them angrier.

He got up on the table. He lifted one leg then the other, kicking up the air, kicking that boy, the asshole, Justin, right in his asshole. He laughs wildly, then swings his arm in a huge arc. Looking down in front of him is the rug, but in front of his mind is Justin. “Fuck you!” he says, louder than the music. “Fuck you! Fuck you asshole!” he screams. His face feels hot, and he steps off the table, curls into a corner of the sofa. Tears are hot on his hands. He has to stop: mum would be worried about him. And besides, he isn’t even allowed have a drink when he’s on this sofa, let alone pour out all this salty water.

He stays like that for some time, tasting his tears from his cheeks, from his hands. He didn’t want to dance just because his mother was out. He wanted to make sure she wouldn’t see him again. She got so upset. He’d hate to feel like this again, not having a cuddle. He sucks air in a big sniff through his nose, just as the song cuts out. He laughs at it, like a fart or something when no one is talking. Another beat, another crash of sounds and noises. Another song!

He likes this one. He is calmer now, but the music is still loud. He is in his own place now, not at home, with the neighbour banging on the door and his mother coming round the corner of the estate. He is where the music is. He gets up, wiping his eyes, determined to stop crying.

He has to build it up. He starts with his hands, rising and falling with the beat because he can’t yet click his fingers the way older kids and adults do. His arms go next, stretching out and in to the left and the right; first one, then the other then both, and he spins himself around. Looking down, he thinks maybe he’s like Jesus, then takes it back in case God or Granny or Grandad or someone was listening. He turns faster and faster, the whole world stopping around him. He likes the idea, so he starts to laugh again, the tears nearly dry in his hot eyes and stinging cheeks. He has forgotten how it started, and he knows there is no end.

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