Dancing Alone and Other Lessons

by Digby Beaumont

I wish I could see my father dance again—waltz, paso doble, rumba, tango. With our old brown dog, Lucy Lou, sitting shotgun by the collection plate at their regular Trafalgar Square pitch. In his act, Dad only ever danced alone. But the tender way he moved, you would swear he held someone precious in his arms.

*

My parents sat in a hole at the beach—side by side, a tight squeeze. Dad had dug in the sand with his bare hands. Now he nuzzled Mum’s neck and grinned, arm draped over her shoulders, hand closed on her purple, heart-shaped pendant. The shadow cast by the brim of Mum’s sun hat hid whatever look she wore.

*

I was eating scrambled eggs for breakfast. In the hallway, Aunt Sophie giggled and yelled my father’s name. Dad held her from behind. When he saw me watching, he let go and strolled into the kitchen, smoothing back his dark wavy hair. “Eat up your Coco Pops,” he said. A sweet buttery smell clung to the air.

*

Two faces look down from my mother’s bedroom window towards me as I turn into her street. Up closer, I see the faces belong to marble busts.

I let myself into the house. In a kitchen drawer, I find a dog-eared photo of Mum and my dad sitting in the back of their big wedding car. She, in her diamond-white pillbox hat with the birdcage veil. He, with a half-smoked joint smouldering between his fingers. He’s laughing. She has turned her face away and seems to be searching for something through the rear window.

In the living room, a ginger cat lies in the tiny space behind the sofa. Body gaunt and stiff-looking. I kneel to stroke the poor cat’s head. It opens its eyes and leaps to the door.

*

I come across my father in the park, sitting alone on a grassy slope, bald head bowed. He’s dressed in a blue pinstripe suit—the kind he wore when I was a kid—knees bent, trouser legs riding high. His elbows rest on his knees with his fingers locked in front of him and palms turned outward, as if he’s trying to keep something from getting too close.

It’s autumn. The earth smells of ancient blood and stone. I approach, sit beside him, feel the closeness of our bodies.

“What?” I say.

Digby Beaumont’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Literary Orphans Journal, Blue Five Notebook, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, RKVRY Journal, Bartleby Snopes, KYSO Flash, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review, 100-Word Story and other journals and anthologies. His fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology. He worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications, and lives in Hove, England.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Dancing Alone and Other Lessons”?

    I work a lot with images. ‘Dancing Alone and Other Lessons’ came about when I was in the Brighton Jubilee Library studying the wonderful photo collection, The Family of Man. Three or four photos drew my interest in a big way and I started to write, simply describing what I saw at first. At this stage, I didn’t know where this might lead or if it would lead anywhere much. But then, connections between the images started to occur to me. This, in turn, prompted further connections—memories from my childhood and dream fragments—and a story was underway. Many revisions later, it took this form.
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