Short Fiction — Second Place
Don’t You Dance?
BY CONNOR PIERCE
It was the start of June that I drove over to Annie’s house without telling her I was coming with blankets and pillows in the back seat with the intent of taking her to the drive-in in Millersville. For her part, she decided to come without telling me she was going to die that night and something else I’ll get around to eventually.
I don’t think she wanted to go at first but finally I was able to convince her by enticing her with a back rub. I told her parents we’d be back by midnight and we got on in and drove until we hit the river. I didn’t and still don’t know how to get to Millersville from Clydestown and neither did she nor would she ever, so we rode awhile before we found the proper bridge and made our merry way across. I bought mosquito repellant at a gas station and sprayed it in my palm and rubbed it on her back in the lot while she smoked a cigarette and when I was done with that she passed the cigarette and did the same for me.
When we got to the drive-in it was right around sundown and we paid a bespectacled woman the size of God, head domed with milky hair, at the front booth. She ogled us a moment before letting us on through. We made our way across the glittering sea of catty-cornered cars and parked.
It was after we finished the popcorn and the sun had glowered off beyond the horizon where the cowboys go that she wiggled over into the crook of my shoulder and put her head on my chest. The movie went on but I wasn’t watching it anymore, not really; I was too busy being hypnotized by her head gently rocking on my breast and I started running my hand through her hair. After a little while she leaned up and kissed me for forever on the mouth before pulling back into my arm and sticking her tongue out and even in the dim echoed light off the screen I could tell she was blanching. I asked her what was wrong.
“You taste like mosquito spray.”
“Are you eating it or something?”
“Sure I am.”
It was another minute of this sort of talk before she excused herself to go find a napkin and I leaned back into the car seat and tried to watch the movie, but I couldn’t focus so I rolled the window up and turned the air conditioner on and had one of her cigarettes from where the pack had landed on the dashboard and let the movie go on. I remember thinking about the way the smoke was moving and something to do with lavender.
Anyway, she was gone two cigarettes before I figured something was wrong and got on out. The moon glittered overhead from its tower, holding sway over the starry seas. The pressure had dropped more than I’d thought and the wind was blowing crossways now, not too much but enough that there was this whistle coming off the screen as it cut through the aerial tides.
The way up to where the bathroom was took me diagonal through four or five rows of pikes cradling speakers and around the cars parked tribal at every one of them. I was three or four cars out of the restrooms when I heard somebody start yelling and then I was running. When I got to the fulcrum between the stalls there was a woman standing against the wall on the women’s side with a bloody hand to her face and crying a mess. I pushed past her, not feeling much of anything, until I got in and saw Annie kneeling at the sink, all broken and wan. She was bleeding and saying something or trying to but her lips weren’t moving and when I got her down on the floor and got my belt around her arms and my legs under her feet she quit trying to talk and cried.
I don’t remember telling the woman in the corner to call an ambulance. I don’t remember anything else until the next day when I was sitting in a chair on the fourth floor of Clydestown General with her blood all up and down my shirt and there was piped music somewhere overhead and the only thing that really went through my head was, She’s dead and there’s nothing you can do about it and She’s dead.
They didn’t have the box open and the house smelled like petunias. She never did like petunias. The only flowers she really liked were lilacs and roses, neither of which she really wanted more than every now and then.
Anyhow, it went smooth as it could I guess.
It wasn’t until towards the end of July that I finally got enough together to go do anything again and then it was just to go to one of Ronnie Altgeld’s famous socials. Bobby Wilson’s parents were in London for the week and Ronnie’d gone out with Bobby on a goodish amount of liquor.
I only ended up going because Izzy Black from next door came over and told me to get my ass in gear and quit feeling sorry for myself and go do something and Ronnie’s got a party tonight, come out.
I was never much good at parties but I went anyway. By the time I got there it was after nine and everybody was already on their way to being out of their minds and when Izzy saw me she was standing with Jack McVries and she got me a rum and told me to go on down to the basement and play some beer pong. I told her it really wasn’t much my thing but went on down anyway.
I was sitting on a couch midway through my second rum and I almost didn’t see her until she was right up by me. She had this wavy strawberry blonde hair to about the base over her skull and bangs swept to the left and she was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and she smelled like mint shampoo.
“I’m Carolyn,” she said, a little smile on her face. “You must be Chris.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Izzy said you used to go with Annie Carpenter,” she said, a little hiccup in her voice before she got the last word out. “I’m so sorry.”
“You guys go out long?”
“Year and a month.”
She made a “mmmm” sound at that and took a swig off a bottle of vodka in her right hand and wiped her mouth with the back of her arm.
We talked awhile before she said, Listen, there’s something I gotta talk with you about. It’s about Annie. Can you come upstairs a minute?
I looked around for Izzy but I couldn’t find her so I said sure and then she was leading me upstairs and soon enough we were in Bobby’s bedroom and Carolyn had closed the door and produced glasses out of nowhere and she was pouring us drinks from her vodka. There was music coming through the floor and the room smelled like smoke.
She passed me one of the glasses and said go ahead and I downed it fast as I could and bit back the burn and felt it squirm through my nose. She lit a cigarette and took a drag off it and passed it to me. I could taste her lipstick and gave it back. She’d by now poured another shot out and I was asking her if she didn’t think she’d had enough since I don’t know if we’ll have to drive and she handed it over to me and said she’d drive. I looked her in the eyes and tried to figure out what she was up to but there wasn’t anything in there to find out. She kept this up four more rounds and then she lied down on the bed and told me to lie down too and I don’t know why but I did. We lay there awhile, breathing heavy, not saying anything, before she stood up.
I watched her, half-aware of what she was doing and half-aware of the air conditioner kicking in, as she made her way over to the turntable. She looked through the albums for awhile while I shut my eyes tried to put her face together in my mind before she came up with a record and turned back to me.
I couldn’t see her face clearly nor could I negotiate her tone when she asked if I liked Annie Lennox.
“A little. She always liked her more.”
She said something I didn’t hear and then there was sound echoing about the chambers of the world entire and through my ears.
“Don’t you dance?” she was saying, taking my hand and leaning in on me before I knew what she was doing and she pulled me close in on her shoulder standing.
“Of course I do,” I mumbled into the nape of her neck.
“I thought so,” she said, swaying me back and forth now, stirring the room up into a daze of neon and Christmas lights. “I knew you would. I knew because I dance, too.”
“What’s wrong?” she said in my ear, and the stylus on the record was scratching Lennox’s voice into the air now. I kept my hands on her hips and we were so close now that when we started swaying it was like running your hand through a tub of water with your fingers wide.
I started to tell her what it was but she shushed me with her thumb to my lips and told me that she knew. She took her hand away and grabbed mine off her shoulder and brought it to her mouth and nibbled on my thumb.
“Did you dance like this?”
She had her fingers in my hair now and she was making fists, letting loose, making fists again. Her heart was in her throat and I could feel it through my button-down, pounding away like a diesel engine.
“What did you want to talk with me about?” I asked her.
“Come on,” she said. “Talk to me. Talk to me the way you did to Annie. Tell me the kinda things you told her.”
Her breath was hot and sticky in my ear and I could smell her mint shampoo and she was pulling my hair now so hard I thought she might take a patch of it out but I didn’t care and I was so damn warm and my hands were under her shirt and she wasn’t wearing a bra and she wasn’t stopping me and one of her hands had disappeared.
“Good,” she was whispering and her missing hand reappeared and she put her middle finger in my mouth and I could taste her. “Now do for me like you did for her.”
The record skipped or maybe my heart did but out of the blue there just wasn’t air in the room. All the sudden the room was impossible and a chill rolled up the sweat on my legs all the way to my forehead and it stuck there. I wished I could quit but I couldn’t make my mouth work to tell her to stop, couldn’t work my mouth that way to say no.
“Come on, kiddo,” she said, biting the tip of my nose quietly, unobtrusively, before kissing her way on her tippy-toes up to my forehead and then tugging me down by my shoulders. Her breath smelled like strawberry and alcohol.
“Year and a month,” she said. “I got three goddamn months. I want to know just what you’ve got that made you so goddamn special, too. I want to know just what you are that I wasn’t enough,” she said, and then she pushed home and kissed me hard and with her other hand she snuck past my waistband.
Serpentine we started to lower to the floor and a darkness came over the Earth and for a moment I saw brimstone, smelled the sulfur burning acidic in my nostrils, before I was back in myself, tangled up inside this dangerous little flower. I tried moving but there was something coming up over my head about to drown me.
I pulled myself away from her without knowing I was doing it and looked her in the eye for a minute or two and I thought something terrible before I hissed in her ear that she didn’t tell me either, neither of us were enough and we’re not the whole damn world. She said fuck you in my ear all hushed and warm and kissed it and then I was lost and I slapped her. We kneeled there a moment before I broke and lost my balance. I ended up on my ass and before I knew it Carolyn was there too and she was holding my head and stroking her fingers through my hair and telling me she was so sorry, I’m so sorry I did that, I don’t know what I was thinking.
I don’t think she broke until later when she tried to light me a cigarette with those trembling little hands of hers, only just a little wider than a Coke can, color of the moon. I told her I couldn’t and she said neither could she before trying to light her own, but her hands was shaking too badly and eventually she got mad enough that she threw her lighter at the wall. She looked at me finally and something seemed to wash over her face and then she was on the floor like she’d been hit by a truck.
I got down and held her while she cried. We slept on the floor.
I can’t listen to Annie Lennox anymore, and there hasn’t been anyone since, not really. After college started I thought about it for a while but I just never got around to it. I’m going to fail out at the end of the semester and then I guess I’ll work until I find something.
I still saw Carolyn sometimes at those socials of Ronnie’s up until last year when her and Bobby died in the fire. I saw Izzy until Jack killed himself and now she’s in some place down in Boston. Carolyn died in a car crash a few months back.
Sometimes we used to look at each other like there was something to say, but neither of us ever figured out what it was and eventually it didn’t seem to matter anymore. I don’t know what we could have said that’d make it better.
I haven’t seen that girl in a long time.