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FICTION / And We Danced / Libby King

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- I -

It’s past midnight and Davie is standing under the bedroom doorway watching his wife as she sleeps. She is lying on her side, her face is relaxed, and one hand cradles a cheek. Her short, angular red hair stands out like an expletive against the white linen pillow. Asleep she looks innocent, but actually she is betrayal. Betrayal is lying in Davie’s bed.

#

It’s two in the morning and Davie is standing under the bedroom doorway watching his wife sleep. He wants to know what fuels her. There was a time he was so sure of the contents of her soul that he would have wagered anything on it, now he wonders if he’s spent fourteen years chasing unidentified leaks and gaseous fumes.

He stumbles down the hall to take a piss and when he returns it’s as though an invisible membrane is blocking the bedroom doorway. Instead of getting back into bed, he lingers in the dark, a short man in old pyjama bottoms looking down at his hairy hobbit feet and wiggling his toes to check if he’s dreaming. He’s hoping to god he’s dreaming because it would excuse this appalling vision in which he is walking to the bed, lifting his side of the mattress high in the air, and listening to the thud of Amanda’s body as it falls and hits the floor. 

#

By three in the morning Davie is sitting on the couch in the dark, a square of blue light from the laptop reflected off his wire-framed glasses. He scratches his stubble with one hand and monotonously scrolls Facebook with the other. Amanda’s friend Kitty has made a banal post about how all religions are based on love. He jockeys his position to get his hands on the keyboard to respond. 

 

- II -

The next morning, Davie is woken by the Nolan Sisters singing I’m in the Mood for Dancing and the sound of Amanda fussing in the kitchen. He rolls over and nestles his nose between the tired-out cushions and the faded backrest, but he only dozes for a moment before feeling a child at his back and sloppy lips colliding with his face.

“I see you were up all night monitoring content on the Internet,” Amanda says from behind him, there is a dull clunk as she places a mug on the coffee table and a scuffle of feet accompanies the child’s departure. 

“What?” Davie says as he flips to his back and looks up at her through squinting eyes. She stands backlit by morning sunshine with her arms crossed inside the folds of a yellow kimono; her face is in shadow but he doesn't need to see it to know she's frowning.

“Kitty just sent me a message saying that you called her an ignorant spammer who thinks the world is run by rainbows and rabbits.” She spins, strides towards the kitchen, and speaks over her shoulder. “She’s upset about it.”

#

At eight-twenty in the morning Davie is shuffling out the front door with a child under each arm. He straps them into the back of his truck then runs inside to wipe down the kitchen table before it becomes a congealed mess of milk and cheerios. He gathers the goo into a pile and sweeps it from the table to his hand. When he’s rinsed the cloth and given the table a second wipe, he jogs out to the truck and hauls himself into the cab. 

When he flicks on the radio, the melody of Dancing on the Ceiling fills the cab; it lends a pathetically jovial contrast to the argument coming from the backseat. It feels like he's in a petri dish of society: the world is at war and we get our soma by pretending to dance on ceilings.

He rests an elbow on the open window and turns onto the Old Seaview Road. The last time he heard this song he and Amanda had just moved in together, Deidre and Crab were over for Davie’s famous pizza pie and the four of them spent the night drinking red wine under the low lamp that covered them in a mustard haze. Amanda buzzed around their new house with the same enthusiasm that had Davie filling glasses before they were empty and cleaning up spills before they hit the table.

All night the other three brainstormed songs that used dancing as a euphemism for sex - Dancing with Myself (masturbation), Dancing in the Dark (one-night stands), Private Dancer (sex work), Do you Want to Dance (pick-up line) - and all night Davie fought them, from the moment the pizza pie hit the table until Crab snapped up the last lonely mushroom in his thick fingers.

Davie said it was bullshit, banged his fist on the old fir table, said some songs are just about dancing and presented Dancing on the Ceiling as the definitive blow to their theory.

Deidre shot Davie a messy, disappointed look. Her brown curls seemed to cringe along with her forehead. “That’s not a good example, Davie. It’s not about dancing and it’s not about ceilings.”

“What's it about then?”

“Nothing,” Deidre said. Amanda and Crab laughed their agreement and at some point Davie held up his hands in mock defeat.

When the table was cleared and the stereo turned up a line, Deidre pushed the furniture against the wall and Amanda set up her two-dollar disco light that flashed multi-coloured beams into the room and turned the kitchen into a cheap suburban discotheque. Deidre stood on a flaky kitchen chair and lip-synched I Wanna Dance with Somebody into a wooden spoon. Amanda and Davie swayed real close to Dancing in the Darkand then she pulled him outside and kissed him behind the apple tree, her back against the old trunk and her mouth dreamy and open. He put his arms on each side of her, pressed his knee to her crotch, and kissed her slower than he knew how.

They were barefoot in the middle of the grass looking up at the big moon in the sky when Crab put on Let’s Dance and they ran back inside. They danced to them all; back then they used to dance all night.

A yelp from the backseat pulls Davie back to the truck. In the rear-vision mirror he sees that Echinacea has pulled out her lunch. Poppy is crying.

#

By two in the afternoon, Davie is pulling traps from his truck on the main road out of town where the sky is painted with power lines and the street decorated with gravelled parking lots and cracked curbs. He’s thinking about a disturbing new phenomenon in which people digitally doctor images of supermoons, as if supermoons aren’t cool enough as they are, when he sees Crab, khaki-arsed and long-limbed, sauntering towards him, his wild bird’s nest hair shaking in the breeze. They find a quiet spot behind the building Davie is evicting of cockroaches and Crab lights up a joint.

Davie looks at the ground, his old boots scuffing up the dirty gravel. He doesn’t even realise he’s considering saying it until the words stammer from his mouth.

“I get into trouble with people on the Internet,” he says, then he smiles a little because maybe trouble don’t sound so bad from a little guy with a comely smile. 

“Oh yeah, what sort of trouble?” Crab asks.

“I call people out on their bullshit.” 

“Oh yeah, like who?”

“People who share mis-information and then cry when they get called on it.”

Crab exhales, nods, and hands Davie the joint. “There’s a lot of bullshit on the Internet.”

“Amanda says I’m too direct, but stupid people are so infuriating that I actually find diplomacy impossible.”

Crab nods, but not in a way that seems sympathetic, so Davie strengthens his case a little. “It’s like skins have become a little thinner recently, you know?”

Crab nods again, still not necessarily sympathetically. He watches Davie take a long pull on the joint and then finally speaks. “The Internet is like a bar late at night,” he says as though he’s delivering a lecture and not smoking a joint in his work clothes on the main road out of a small town. “On the internet pickup artists are out looking for sparring partners.”

Davie hands over the joint. He wants to tell Crab he’s full of shit, instead he says: “Huh?”

“Some pickup artists go out looking for someone to dance with in the bedroom, some go looking for someone to dance with in the parking lot - you know, someone who will step outside with them and settle it like ‘men,’” Crab says, bringing his hands up beside his head, the lethargic joint dangling between two fingers, to make inverted commas. “Same thing on the net. That’s what a troll is, a pickup artist looking for a partner.”

“You’re cracked Crab,” Davie says and shakes his head.

Crab takes a toke and passes the joint to Davie with a long arm and chuckles. Davie tries to laugh too, but when he bends his lips his mouth becomes more like a snarl than a smile. He kills the joint on a garbage can.

“See you man,” Crab says as he ambles back down the way he came from.

For the rest of the day Davie is numb. It’s true; he’s started to pick up. On the Internet you can pickup without the body blow. He earned his stripes on anonymous sites where he could pick up incognito, but the switch was so fast he didn’t even notice it. One day he was talking about how stupid Facebook was and the next he was hooked on monitoring the bad opinions of his acquaintances. He became particularly drawn to calling his wife’s friends idiots. Somewhere in the fog of seething yesterdays, Davie started tripping on fighting.

#

After dinner Davie is telling the children to stop pulling on the living room curtain. They ignore him. He sighs, leans further into the sofa and scrolls down Facebook. As soon as he sees the picture of a CCTV camera outside of George Orwell’s house that someone called ‘Ursula’ posted on Deidre’s page, he feels the heat rising. It is a fake photo-shopped picture that was debunked months ago.

Poppy is swinging like a mini-tarzan on the wisps of forest green curtain that Amanda's mum sewed three falls ago.

“I’ve already told you to stop pulling on the curtain,” Davie says with more force than he intended, as his fingertips punch the keyboard.

#

Amanda says he left before Poppy arrived, which is complete crap because he was right freaking here, giving baths and making dinners when she found somewhere else to be until deciding to come home. 

“I like the gym, I like having a drink, and I like hanging out with my friends,” she says as she climbs into bed past midnight. 

Davie turns on the bedside lamp. The room is stark and dreadful to his sleepy eyes. “But I never get to see you.”

“I need to get out sometimes, Davie. You never seem to understand that.”

It was after Poppy that everything Amanda needed was suddenly out, out in the world. Everything was away, away from home. It didn’t seem serious at first, especially as she didn’t go elsewhere for sex - she’d always been explicit about that and they were both committed to honesty and monogamy. But there were crushes and dreams for a life free of obligations, all of which Amanda disclosed in precise detail. The intimacy of these confessions both fulfilled a romantic craving in him but also fostered a sense of betrayal. It didn’t feel right, but he felt he had only two possible responses: (a) listen a bit, talk a bit, tickle a bit, laugh a bit, and pretend it was all a healthy part of a healthy relationship, or (b) cry. Davie chose option (a) every time.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to get away from me,” he says as he rearranges his pillow.

“Don’t be crazy, Davie. Turn off the light, would you?”

#

It’s two in the morning and Davie is standing in the doorway watching his wife sleep. He rubs his bare feet on the floor hoping to find a sliver of wood or a stone, something to press his foot into, something that will bring him back to himself. The image of her tumbling to the floor goes around his head; he can hear the pulsing whoosh of it in his ears. He’s imagining the gasp she would let out upon impact. He’s imagining slipping quickly back into bed before she’s found her bearings and pretending that he’s fast asleep. Maybe he’ll pretend to wake up and soothe her. Maybe he’ll pretend to stay asleep and let her deal with the shock on her own.

 

- III -

Davie is woken, too early, by Dancing Queen screeching from the kitchen speakers.

“Turn it off,” he mumbles from the couch.

He rolls over and rubs his eyes. The three of them are dancing in the kitchen, dressed head to toe in pink and taking turns being the dancing queen in the middle. Echinacea looks like a superhero with a sparkling headband across her forehead and a towel around her neck that flares out like a cape, Poppy is wearing a pair of Amanda’s high heels and a tiara, and Amanda is in her dressing gown. Every time the chorus starts they sing as loudly as they can. 

He takes another look at the three flashy figures framed by boxes of cereal and dirty dishes to make sure he saw it right, then rubs his eyes again. They wave at him and laugh and tell him to come dance with them. He raises a hand to show he’s heard, then scoots back on the couch, grabs the laptop off the coffee table, and is greeted with a series of wretched private messages from Deidre.

“I can’t believe you called Ursula an ‘annoying spammer peddling in click bait.’ We walked past Orwell’s house in London last year. If you think that’s spam then you’re kind of a jerk. You don’t even know her.”

The heat in Davie rises fast. She called him a jerk. How dare she call him a jerk? 

He writes back: “I can’t believe you called me a jerk. How was I supposed to know it was some reference to a holiday and not the actual freaking post?”

He thinks for a moment and then writes again: “The only thing I did was misread a stupid Facebook post, which doesn’t give you an excuse to call me a jerk.”

Immediately a reply from Deidre pops up: “If you’re so precious about not being called a jerk, then don’t act like one.”

Davie slams the laptop closed and stumbles past the pink chaos to the coffee grinder. Deidre is Amanda's friend, not his anyway, she's not even worth his energy. 

“Really?” Amanda says when he finally pulls her off the dance floor to explain what happened. "Deidre called you a jerk?"

“I know, she thinks I’m a jerk because her friend posted a fabricated photo.”

“That’s pretty childish.”

Davie is thrilled with this response. “That’s what I said!”

If there’s anything that will get Amanda self-righteous it’s name-calling. He is ecstatic. She is on his side at last.

#

All day at work Davie tries to not think about the thing with Deidre. He’s on his knees examining pest traps in the greasy underside of a long series of deep fat fryers while listening to talk radio and trying not to think about the thing with Deidre. He sits outside at a broken picnic table, pulls out his sandwich, and tries not to think about the thing with Deidre. One-by-one he pulls out empty traps and puts then on the rack and tries not to think about the thing with Deidre. People are so freaking soft. 

#

At seven-thirty in the evening Davie is herding the children through the front door. He’s feeling pretty good; they had dinner at Amanda’s parents and the lack of dishes feels good. He’s managing not to think too much about the thing with Deidre. He’s back in control.

He holds the door open and Amanda shuffles by. Actually, she kind of flutters by and as she flutters and she hits him with a big red smile that’s like a flash light shining right on him. 

“I’ll put them down,” she says.

Davie smiles and drops to the couch, but when he picks up the laptop he is greeted by a gruelling message from Crab that brings him down.

“You should apologise, man,” Crab writes. “If the Internet’s exciting because it’s an opportunity to be rude to people, then you’ve got a problem.”

It puts Davie in a frothing outrage: “It’s not ‘an opportunity to be rude to people,’” he types. “It’s actually about having basic fucking standards. I can’t respect people who call other people jerks. Even my children have moved beyond that stage.”

He half closes the laptop, wonders what’s taking Amanda so long, then re-opens it.

“I can’t believe you’d risk our friendship over a stupid Facebook post,” he writes.

Crab immediately writes back. “I’m risking our friendship? Listen to yourself man ...” 

Davie moves the cursor to unfriend Crab and he doesn’t pause before he clicks; it’s only fucking Facebook. He slams down the lid of the laptop as Amanda’s kimono-clad silhouette appears at the living room doorway.

 “Can you believe that Crab is still on about that fucking Ursula thing?” Davie says. 

“Jesus Davie. I can’t believe that you’re still on about that,” Amanda says. “Why don’t you just apologise and move on?”

It’s even more unpleasant, more of a betrayal, to hear this coming from his wife than it was coming from his friend. 

He raises his hands in defeat. “Are you fucking kidding?”

Amanda flicks on the light and it turns the living room from warm yellow to harsh white. “No, I’m not kidding. Why are you making this such a big deal?”

“Because they’re being idiots.”

“It’s not your job to police idiocy, Davie.”

“If you expect me to be the kind of person who puts up with being called a jerk for pointing out reason, then you picked the wrong guy.”

“It’s me and the girls who miss out when you’re on an obsession-bender, you know?”

#

At ten-thirty in the evening Amanda leans over and turns out the light.“You used to say there’s no point in trying to influence another person’s behaviour,” she says. “You lived by that.”

“It’s true, like you bugging me to stop smoking pot.” Davie drops his head hard to the pillow. “What’s the point when I just go to the back of the shed when I want a toke?”

“Live and let live, you used to say.”

“It’s true.”

“You changed your opinion on that, you know. You’re like a dragon roosting on an egg of hatred,” Amanda says as she rolls over. “You don’t realise how unapproachable a dragon is, how much easier it is to run than to tame it.”

“It’s not Game of Thrones, Amanda.”

“Really?”

#

It’s four in the morning and even though Davie has promised himself a thousand times to stop thinking like this, his fingers have slipped under the mattress. He lifts it an inch and bounces it a little, testing its weight. He lifts the mattress a little higher before a flick of Amanda’s hair falls over her face and he realises what he’s doing. He lowers the mattress to the frame and leaves his fingers between them until it pinches. He wishes the mattress was heavier, he wishes it was a slab of concrete that crushed every bone in his hand; pain would help erase the image of wanting to hurt his wife from his mind.

He pulls his fingers out and slips his body carefully under the covers so he doesn’t wake her. He settles his head on the pillow and closes his eyes. He matches his breathing to Amanda’s and it helps him drift to sleep.

 

- VI -

The next morning Davie wakes to Dancing in the Moonlightand it puts him in a slightly emotional mood. It makes him think about the dance-off in the kitchen all those years ago in a different light. He never dances in the moonlight anymore.

He walks into the living room and finds Echinacea sitting on the couch reading a book and Poppy sitting at the kitchen table counting stains with awkward fingers as she waits for breakfast. He pulls a box of cereal from the cupboard.

#

By three in the afternoon Davie is packing up his traps and hauling them out to the truck in the rain. All day Amanda’s defence of systemic idiocy builds a profound infuriation in him that feels like a physical presence; he feels her delusion and betrayal all day. He pulls the door of the truck and shakes the damp off his raincoat as he jumps into the cab. When he closes the door the windows fill immediately with thick, white steam. He turns on the de-mister and sits for an age while the damn thing does absolutely nothing at all. 

#

Just after five in the afternoon Davie is telling Echinacea to stop putting gum in Poppy’s hair while writing to Crab at the kitchen table.

“Look, it’s bizarre for you and Deidre to call me a jerk based on a Facebook comment. It looked like every other piece of shit that plagues the Internet. You of all people should know that feelings about misinformation are strong in me.”

Davie is trying not to think about the conflict as he puts a pot of water on to boil. He’s trying not to think about it as he pulls the broccoli from the fridge. He’s trying not to think about it as he opens the jar of pasta sauce.

“Fuck,” he hisses fifteen minutes later as he ladles red spaghetti into two monkey-face bowls, while the broccoli looks at him from the cutting board, mocking him with cold, uncooked scorn.

 

- V -

It’s before eight in the morning and Amanda is distracted by a smear of butter on the floor and a message on her phone and Poppy putting peanut butter on Echinacea’s chair. Finally Davie switches off the radio to get her attention.

“What did Crab say?”

“That it’s my fault and that I should apologise for his girlfriend’s friend spreading bullshit on the Internet.”

 “Jesus Davie, if you don’t want to deal with the fallout from the fights then don’t start them,” she says over her shoulder while shuffling Echinacea to the bathroom. 

Davie is gutted. He thought Amanda would finally start realising the problem was with the merchants of bullshit not him.

“We all might as well be living in the Middle Ages for all you people seem to care about accuracy and truth,” Davie yells into the empty hallway.

#

Under the flashing light of an electronic billboard alternately advertising lawyers and schnitzels, Davie runs his finger along the door handle of his truck. He just needs to pop the door and take out his traps. Instead he turns around, leans his back against the vehicle and looks up at the dense, overcast sky. It’s as though winter is sending out advanced scouts, as though the atmosphere is falling on him. He slides down the side of the truck until he is crouched on the curb, pulls his ear buds from the pocket of his jeans, and turns the radio up loud. The conversation wired into his head doesn’t do shit to distract him from the fact he loitered under the bedroom doorway again last night. 

#

An hour later he sees Crab swaggering down the sidewalk towards him and it adds a heavy layer to his depression. He stands, his legs stiff and tingling with pins and needles, opens his truck, and pretends to fuss with his traps. He tells his heart to stop beating so hard but the useless shit of a thing only thumps harder.

“Hey,” Crab says when he’s a couple of meters away.

 Davie keeps his focus on the inside of the truck and doesn’t respond. Crab just stands there. Davie takes out his earphones, opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out.

“Whatcha trying to say, Davie?” 

There is no screen, no filter, and instead of imagining the attacks he could write Davie is imagining Crab’s fist hitting jaw and his teeth scraping along the bloodied roof of his mouth. 

“You trying to tell me that you wanna dance with me, Davie?”

An empty sound puffs from Davie’s mouth.

“Jesus,” Crab says. He looks out to the traffic, then crouches on the curb. His socks are covered with wood chips and his knees are up to his chin. He shakes his head. “After all these years.”

Davie looks down at his old boots and curses his stupid mouth that won’t speak.

“I haven’t been in a fight since I was a kid,” Crab says twisting his torso to look at Davie behind him. “But I feel like you’re trying to pick me up and for some stupid reason I feel like playing along. I feel like smacking you with the hardest fucking kiss you’ve ever felt.”

Crab turns back to the road and holds his head in his hands.

“Look, I wasn’t the one who fucking started this, it was your fucking girlfriend ...”

“Are you seriously gonna tell me I picked you up?” Crab says as he leaps back to his feet. “Are you gonna tell me you’re not a snivelling little troll looking for someone to take your frustrations out on? You’re empty Davie. Empty. You think you want to fight with me or Deidre or whoever else happens to pass your way, but what you really need is to feel. Find a better way to fucking feel.”

Before the last words have left his mouth, Crab spins around and storms down the sidewalk. Davie watches him walk away and rubs his jaw which aches from the absence. He wishes Crab had hit him because there’s nothing worse than this ache. 

#

Five minutes later Davie looks up at the white, unpromising sky. He crouches down in the curb, his butt on the cold concrete, and his boots in the gutter. Endless wheels of traffic roll by meters from his toes: red sedan, brown BMW convertible, bus pasted with insurance ads. 

He squeezes his hands into tight fists until he feels the bite of nails in his palms. He brings a fist to his lips to try to stop the words escaping and with the other fist he punches his thigh. 

“Fuck,” he squeezes his eyes closed as the hiss enters the curl of his fingers and then punches again. “Fuuck!”

#

An hour later Davie is sitting in the curb at the rear of his truck watching the traffic pass by. Yellow cab, silver hatchback, black truck. He doesn’t care for cars, doesn’t know what he cares for. At his feet a row of ants are harvesting a single discarded French fry, pulling it apart, taking it home to feed their larvae and hatchlings. 

He rocks forward, balancing on his toes, as the wheels of a blue station wagon, a green bus, a red pickup truck pass by. 

#

It’s late afternoon and Davie is driving down the Old Seaview Road. He imagines taking Amanda’s hand in his, whispering in her ear, letting his breath touch her neck. He imagines taking the little ones in his arms and whirling them around the kitchen until they squeal. 

When he enters the house the air feels cool and woody. He pulls his phone from his jacket and promises himself he won’t let her hear the resentment that he can’t shake. She doesn’t pick up and it goes to voicemail.

The laptop sits like a flat silver stone on the coffee table. He knows he has to get off line, knows he should throw it in the trash; instead he steps outside and walks to the end of the driveway, looks down the long tunnel of houses on the Old Seaview Road, and hopes to spot Amanda coming home.

#

It’s eight-thirty in the evening and Davie has his head in the linen closet looking for a single fitted sheet. He has stripped all the beds, flipped all the mattresses, and put clean sheets on two of them. He finds the last sheet he needs, shakes it over the naked mattress, and tucks in the sides. He smooths down the fairy-print with a flat hand, throws over a duvet and places a matching pillow at the top.

He walks through the silent house to the living room window, pulls the curtain aside, and looks out to the driveway. Behind him, the light of the laptop screen colours the coffee table a shade of royal blue. He turns suddenly from the window, slaps down the lid as he passes and walks out the front door until he's standing at the Old Seaview Road. He sits on the split-rail fence and waits for the little white car that will signal just down the road and turn into the driveway. 

#

It’s eleven at night and Davie is sitting on the split-rail fence at the Old Seaview Road, his elbows on his knees and his chin on his knuckles. Vehicles rush by, expansive white beams flood the road ahead replaced when they pass by two red pricks that pierce the darkness like a series of heartless expletives in the night.