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.”
“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.”
“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.