Have you ever been married? I heard myself say, trying to restart the conversation, which felt like trying to get a steam engine back on the rails. His eyes moved across my general vicinity as though they were lazily and haphazardly rummaging around, and casually assigning relevance to whatever he saw. Eventually his chapped lips parted, and a whisper snuck out. It sounded something like
There was something different about his eyes. It was not a sparkle that one would liken to excitement, no. This was dimmer, like a flame, or glowing ember. There was a hint of warmth to his shifting stare. Somewhere, somewhere deep, a few memories were dancing around each other, coming into focus as they neared on whatever distant dance floor they were held. This was enjoyment of a different kind, like he’d rediscovered an old bottle of whisky, and had proceeded to study the label, despite knowing it by heart. He was now taking a sip of the memory, gently, letting the aroma meet him before the taste. It was a lesson in savouring. Whatever sadness lurked there, on the edge of that distant dance floor, waiting to cut in, seemed diminished by time. This dream of a memory was a quiet, melancholic enjoyment, the kind that seemed to never fail to inspire rekindling in this man, adding shades of life affirming color to the sketch of his face. It seemed to have greatest effect when coaxed out from wherever he’d tucked it, those many years ago. I watched him now.
It always started with the glide. The sound. Hard rubber soles over dusty wooden floor boards. A rare and unforgettable richness in timbre. The heel would come down with a dull clap. And then the glide again. Her leg jutting out, followed or led by her hip… Her head arched back. Her eyes were closed. Her neckline flowed in the dim light, over her chest beneath the cotton dress, to her belly. Her arms unfurled, wafting slowly above her head, ending in a cock of the wrists, and stiff straight fingers.
A moment of stillness.
Her fingers moved. Then her wrists straightened, and slowly the movements began to pour over the rest of her body. Before it reached her feet, the sound of gliding was at my ears. And then the clap of the heel again.
It was the only way she knew. This was her story, and how she told it. One of grace, of sound, of stillness, and of sway. The rhythmical claps of the heels were reminders of bygone hitches, stifling the flap of her wings. This was a song of defiance and graft, a dance that continued well after the possessive smiles and reverent cheers of old crowds had faded. But her message was written in movement.
I remember her movements more than her face, which always came in glimpses. Time does this. Faces change and fade in the memory, but her melody can never fail me, her story remains. That wind may be stifled, but it’s enough to keep these sails true.
Her hushed movements, in the back of memories, lingers immortal.
I watched him in his thoughts. Before he took another sip, of the drink on the table I thought he’d forgotten about. With wet lips he whispered her name. Or at least I think it was her name. As he said it, a bus rolled by bellow the café window, muffling whatever his raspy voice had offered. I thought of asking him to repeat it, but hesitated. Perhaps it was a sign that I was not meant to hear it after all. And with that, the sounds of the day filtered back to my ears, brought back to the present after being taken by the brief old wind which quietened my thoughts for a few minutes, whisking me off to another time. I don’t know what I expected from this old man. But what I got was a few notes, a broken melody perhaps, like hearing someone attempt a tune on an old piano a few rooms away.
I would let it be. Perhaps one day, without prompting, the melody, hidden from me, owing to time, dust and fog, ebbing even in the best of times, would once flow to visit me, in a dream perhaps.
Sometime later I walked away from that old sailor, hoping perchance to stumble my way to that shore. And that the elusive tide would flow to meet my toes and dance before for me, just once.
A faint whispered hope.
But perhaps my own depths await, to one day earn the wash of tide through a half remembered dream.
Flash Fiction by Steven Benjamin.
"For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.' - Fyodor Dostoyevsky