FIRST
PLACE
GeminiMAGAZINE
2014
Flash Fiction
Contest
$1,000 PRIZE
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NOVEMBER 2014
THE NIGHT MY FATHER
DANCED LIKE
FRED ASTAIRE
DAPPER in a top coat and tails, feet moving fast
and graceful as birds skimming still waters, he whirled
and swooped, catching my mother, still young and
slim, by the waist, bending her backward. She
laughed, lips parted, mouth open, teeth even and
gleaming. Light tangoed down her black curls.

He woke, his limbs lifeless. He could no more have
moved them than stopped the sun in its arc across
the sky. He could not even raise his hand to wipe the
sleep from his eyes.

My mother sat by his side, watching, waiting. Her hair
was grey, her face lined as a skinned week-old
apple. In her hand was an envelope.

“They want to publish your story,” she said. “Lost
Dreams Quarterly wants to publish ‘The Night I
Danced Like Fred Astaire.’”

Daddy smiled. It was a good story, his story. The
story of a man who danced all night, moving without
thought or effort, fluid as water, unfettered as
imagination, only to awake locked in a frozen body, a
body in which only his mind could dance.

The life of the mind is a fine thing, but not the only
thing, he thought.

He’d never danced like Fred Astaire, never danced at
all. He’d been plagued his whole life by illness and
injury like a tree infested with heart rot. It might lie
dormant for a while, but it was entwined in his bones
and blossomed forth with the depressing regularity of
winter. Disease had hardened the liquid in his joints,
leaving him with a spine of solid bone. His spine had
been ridge since he was twenty. He’d survived, even
joyfully, but never danced. At forty, he’d fallen from a
bike and snapped his spine like a dried wishbone.
He’d enjoyed gliding along smooth pavement with
minimal effort and only a little pain.

“What are they paying?”

“No pay . . . and one other thing; they want to cut the
end.”

“What?”

“They want to cut the end where you wake up and
find yourself paralyzed.”

“But that’s the whole point of the story.”

She looked at the envelope in her hand.

“I won’t do it,” he said. “There’s no point in a story
about a man dreaming he’s dancing. What makes it a
story is that it’s the dream of a cripple . . . a man who
can’t even . . . .” He blinked.

She wiped away the hard yellow crystals in the
corners of his sleep encrusted eyes.

“I know. But you should do it, just to publish again.”
She held up a paper. “This is the contract. It gives
them editorial and publication rights.”

“No” he said. “Without the end it’s nothing."

She cleared a space on the narrow bedside table,
pushing aside tissue boxes, a green plastic water
pitcher, Q-tips, gauze, Vaseline. She laid the paper
on the table and rummaged in her purse. She pulled
out a pen.

“What are you doing?”

She pressed the end of the pen and began to sign the
paper. “One last publication.”

“It’s not the last. I still have stories in me.”

She shrugged, raising bent shoulders. The pen wasn't
working.

“I don’t want to die.”

She sighed.

“I won’t have my story butchered. My story is all I
have.”

She shook the pen and tried again. This time it
worked. She bent down and kissed his dry cheek. “I’ll
come visit you tomorrow,” she said, rising with effort.
She left, closing the door softly behind her.


E.E. King is an award winning performer, writer, biologist, and painter. Ray
Bradbury, her mentor, called her stories “marvelously inventive, wildly funny
and deeply thought provoking.” Her book The Feathernail and Other Gifts
(the first in a series of three children’s fantasies) is coming out this year
from Eldritch Press. Her previous books are Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the
Afterlife, Real Conversations with Imaginary Friends (a collection of shorts
available on audible) and the anthology Another Happy Ending.

King’s stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, most
recently in Darke Phantastique, Vignettes from the End of the World,
Phobos Magazine, and Best New Writing 2015.

In 2015 she will be resident artist at Bermuda’s Museum of Master Artists.
When not writing or painting she rescues small animals, gardens, and
cruises the South Seas lecturing on botany and biology.

www.elizabetheveking.com
by E.E. King