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Story by Peter Grandbois (Read author interview) September 30, 2010

art by The Clayton Brothers

She steps forward, her bare feet cut by the light from the street lamp. Her big toe curls in toward the others. Cigarette butts and bottle caps litter the tar of the alley behind her apartment. Let’s hope there’s no broken glass.

She stands motionless in the half-light, and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, begins to sway. The blue hem of her skirt shifts in the light.

A hand slips about her waist. Holds her close. We strain to make out the rough shape of it, the thick fingers, the wide palm. She stiffens at first, then tilts her head back, as if resting on an invisible shoulder.

She raises her own hand in invitation. Please, take it, we think. And then he does. A strong hand. A sure hand. A hand with battered knuckles and rough hair along the back. He pulls her into the darkness.

The night surrounds us like an attic.

Come back, we beg. Back into the light. And so they do. Her bare leg appears, bends, flashing in the lamplight. Her blue dress falls about her knee, creeps slowly to mid-thigh.

We yearn to see him, his black, square-toed oxfords, his pants hemmed to touch below the laces, as you’d expect. We can almost make out his powerful arms by the way she presses in to him. She twirls once, twice, then arches her back as he dips her. Such fun.

The street lamp buzzes then flickers. It takes a moment to find them again in the darkness. The man still holds her, we’re almost sure. She smiles, though we can’t make out her face. The smile you’d expect on a young lover.
The street lamp buzzes again, an angry insect. It flickers off, then on. She’s gone, then back again, crying in the lamplight.

No, that can’t be.

She steps forward, her black-shoed feet cut by the light from the street lamp. She is wearing the man’s shoes. Oh, how he cares for her! A hand wraps about her waist. Thank God. They will dance again.

The street lamp flickers. A hand. It is her hand. Frail. Tenuous as a dream. Look how she holds herself, one hand around her waist, the other on the back of her neck, her head leaning into it, as if it’s a lover.

The street lamp goes out. We peer into the darkness. She is not alone. She is dancing with the man. See her spinning, the way she tilts her head when he holds her, the way she gazes into his eyes, as if she belonged nowhere else.

She is not crying. She is not. That’s the buzzing of the street lamp. The incessant buzzing of the lamp that won’t give light. She stands at the edge, shaded in darkness. Step forward, we tell her. Dance for us.

About the Author

Peter Grandbois is the author of the novel The Gravedigger, a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” and Borders’ “Original Voices” selection and The Arsenic Lobster: A Hybrid Memoir, chosen as one of the top five memoirs of 2009 by the Sacramento News and Review, as well as the forthcoming novel, Nahoonkara (Etruscan Press 2010). His short stories have appeared in many journals, including Boulevard, The Mississippi Review, Post Road, New Orleans Review, and Gargoyle. He is a professor of creative writing and contemporary literature at Denison University in Ohio.

About the Artist

The Clayton Brothers teach at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. For more information about their work, please visit www.claytonbrothers.com.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Nine

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