Mon 18 Nov, 2002 03:17 pm
Right in front of the Happy Luck grocery store, I hear a simultaneous gasp from several throats. Which conjures an instant crowd with a dozen pointing fingers. Then I see it for myself. I see a woman is twisting in the wind, doing her fatal dance.
We look on with fear and fascination, anticipating the sudden splatter. But, a curious thing happens. She is coming down in the slowest motion possible. It's like she's floating and slowly sinking, but her dress is billowed and rising as with a great force of rushing wind. Like she is falling slow to us, but at a normal speed to her. Meaning she must eventually reach the sidewalk and eventually must splatter, even though it's slow motion. Her bones would slowly jar and shatter and meat rend apart by degrees eventually becoming bloody and disgusting. Unless we do something to stop it. We must get a net. A high pile of mattresses. Something!
I single out a guy to tell him my idea, but he's on a cell phone already, calling 911 and suggesting the same thing.
I stand. Nothing to do but wait. The woman has only dropped one story so far. I see her ebony hair, her scarlet dress, scarcely more. I dig for a smoke. Flat package tells me I'm out. Well - There seems to be plenty of time. I press to the store to snag a fresh pack. The Happy Luck clerk refuses to let me in.
"You come back," she says, refusing to take her eyes away from the spectacle in the sky. "You come back."
I look around. I need a smoke. My eye search ends at Mac's Bar. Just when I start to go there I see people being jostled. Two men have emerged from the same building the woman fell out of, humping to get to Mac's. A truck of a man with the largest head I ever saw leads this weasel-like guy, roughing geeks who are not fast enough or who simply won't move. I fall in their wake.
"Take it easy," this fat lady says when the big guy plows her to the side.
Thinking I am with the first two, she attempts to hit me with her hand bag. But there isn't room in the crowd to swing it. The weasel bumps another lady.
"Get out of the way," he says without giving her a glance.
I chase these bums into the bar. I watch them order.
The big one settles on the stool, like a grizzly bear.
The Weasel sits straight, looking at the door.
"Me, too," he says with a slight nasal tone.
I order a beer and smokes.
"Drink up," the weasel says. "I'll buy your next."
I realize he is talking to me. He slaps his glass down, missing the coaster..
"Me and The Ball's celebrating," he says.
"What for?" I ask.
The Weasel smiles. He sees me dig in my pocket for my lighter.
He lights my smoke.
I pull a deep drag.
The weasel takes up his drink.
"Think nothing' of it."
I knew by their demeanors, their cheesy suits, these punks were chiselers. I wondered what they were celebrating. The Weasel sits so straight his spine must be unbendable iron.
His ice-blue eyes come out at me. I see a scar that cuts a line in his forehead, then stops after splitting an eyebrow.
"I didn't push her," he says. "The Ball didn't neither."
My eyes widen.
"You were there? You knew her?"
"She's my sister; also a junkie. She took a leap. That's it, isn't it, Ball?"
The one known as The Ball gulps his beer. He slides his glass across the dull surfaced bar.
"Another," he says.
The Ball hunches his shoulders.
"She stiffed us," he says.
"Yeah. The Ball would a killed her but she jumped."
The Weasel looks darkly into space a moment. He recovers, drinks more beer.
The Ball amiably quaffs his second beer, his beach ball head looming over himself and the bar. His eyes are small, brutal, pig eyes. He could have drained a pitcher as easy.
I jump to my feet.
"What's your hurry. I was about to order you another beer."
"No thanks. I've got to be there. See how they save her."
"They won't. Say good-bye to Marie for me."
I feel slapped.
"Don't say her name. I didn't need to know that!"
"It's Marie M-----," the Weasel says, lifting his glass in a final toast. "Say good-bye for both of us."
The Ball lifts his glass also.
"Don't never stiff the Ninth Avenue boys."
I rush outside, see Marie dangling, like Joan of Arc, her doomed eyes on the crowd. Right now she is almost eye level. There is nothing under her but cold solid concrete. I rush a fireman, grab the front of his yellow jacket. He fends against me, slaps me off.
"Where's the net?" I scream. " Why didn't you save her?"
"Hey, we tried. There's a pile of life saving equipment here if you just look. But it was, like, somehow against nature to be able to put one there, I guess because it ain't possible to go get one in the time it takes to fall off a building."
I look in her eyes as her head slowly sinks lower than mine. These eyes have the ice, just like her brother's, only more human. Her red lipstick is a mess. Her eyes have dark rings. Her nose is slightly hooked. I look back to see the Weasel standing just behind me. He walks up to his sister, nodding his head up and down.
"Nice dance," he says.
If there must be ticks,
There must be tocks,
Say all the straight-laced clocks;
And they tick,
And they tock,
And they tock tick,
Whew! I came back to edit it. Somehow I always misuse the spellcheck feature.
I have always gotten mixed reactions with this piece. About 50% tell me they like it. The other 50% evades the question.
I would like to have had more feedback on this forum because there are so many well read, intelligent, members.
I liked the piece a lot. I'm not sure about the "Ants" beginning unless to later refers to a feeling of alienation of many to metropolis. The fact that life and death are almost synonymous in character, at times, comes to mind as the crowd looks on and the owner of the Happy Luck club pauses to view the conclusion of the dance. The viewer (I) in one instance is captivated yet lets his personal desires take the forefront as he moves to the bar for a drink and Winstons. He is recoiled by the conversation of Weasel and the other man but continues to drink until the woman's name is mentioned. At that point, it becomes personal and he recoils at the fact that now he has a name to attach to the dancer. Knowing this he rushes out and attempts to engage others to help but to no avail. It concludes with the impersonal "Nice Dance" and one is left to feel that activity continues as people once again move on oblivious to the fact that a horror has been played out before them. Numb to the condition of man on the street.
I read it as a statement of man's impassionate concern for others when cramped together in huge metropolitan areas. A loss of identity, millions of ants to be stepped on as the flow of an impassionate society moves forward toward some personal destination.
That's what I see.
Morganwood, can I borrow your tractor?
Seriously, thanks for the evaluation. I gave up asking family and friends for opinions. Half avoid me and the other half give answers I don't often trust.
Here is my sister from Oregon pronouncing judgement:
"Still a bit morbid and the ending is slightly twisted in its humor but, some people like that sort of thing. Your loving sister, etc."
Well Edgar,I´m a Winston man myself.
I do so love "dark" writing. Love the way you have suspended time to allow for this expanded moment. Nice device you use to good effect in this piece. Clever. Well crafted. You set up the end nicely with the concerned "fatal dance" contrasting with the cynical "Nice dance" at the end.
I like the way the narrator acts as witness to the event, taking the reader into various responses: morbid curiosity, active involvment with the attempted rescue, celebrating her demise, total unconcern, business suspended, business as usual. We get a snapshot of a whole city's worth of responses in just a few people.
Nice imagery with the too tall buildings and the contrast to a peasant life.
Effective contrast between the ice and dark rings in her eyes as a victim of the lifestyle, and the ice in her brother's as the cause of the lifestyle.
Very well done!
Thanks for the responses. dupre I can see we are going to be good buddies.
edgar, I don't know where I've been all this time, but I've only just come across your piece. I must tell you, I enjoyed the read very much; the writing flows smoothly and word choice is excellent.
I love short stories for their thrift, whereby words are freighted, much as in good lyric poetry. Each word or phrase is crucial in setting forth the crisis, the catalyst by which one ... a character, the reader, perhaps even the writer ... is impacted and changed to an extent. One who produces a story as well written as yours already understands this, so please forget I mentioned it.
I don't suppose you sense anything of a "having said that" coming along here, do you? I hope not because actually I don't have much of one. I merely wonder whether you detect any changes which result from the events your narrator describes? An attitude or personality change in anyone? Any growth? Or are prior convictions basically upheld?
All in all, I like your piece a great deal. It reminds me of those in Sam Shepard's collection Great Dream of Heaven, newly published this Fall by Knopf; they're excellent, and I recommend the book.
Hello, edgar. I was wondering if there is any intentional irony in your narrator's reaching for a smoke, while being concerned over the suicide victim (or was it a suicide?). I'm a smoker, so I don't mean to condemn the behavior, but it has been called "slow suicide."
Why the Joan of Ark reference? It went by me, I'm afraid.
Oooh, it's so much fun to "Ask the Author"!
I conceived this tale to be the subject of a complete novel, but had no real time to develope it as such. The original title, NICE DANCE, CHELSEA GREYSTAR, was altered for two reasons. First, my writing instructor jumped to the conclusion it was somehow a knock at Bill Clinton through his daughter. In fact it was to establish geographic location, in that I strongly associate the name with the cities of the east. Second, it did not really fit the "ethnicity" of the woman. The piece has undergone several major revisions since I learned my daughter did not like it, my writer neighbor ripped into it, and my writing instructor informed me that it had potential to be a strong story, "but..." The reference to Joan of Arc is a bit of flotsam from an early incarnation of the tale and I have no explanation for why I did not let it go.
Oh dear. It does take a thick skin to throw your writing out there for us would-be critics, doesn't it?
After 20 thousand dollars in student loans for a degree in English, I have one--ONE!--poem. Lousy, I must say. Isn't deep, but . . . it was expensive.
Your writing is amazing, it must be your audience who's off. The right readers for the right genre make all the difference.
For example, I just proofread a collection of essays by a 5'2", Catholic, Jewish, New York, lesbian comedian. A hard-sell in this Bible belt, to be sure, but nevertheless expertly written, clever, witty, insightful, self-deprecating at times--perfect!
This is certainly dark, but would you believe that with your suspension of time and social commentary, it might qualify as Science Fiction, which often makes biting comments on our social condition.
Science Fiction and Horror are often grouped together because of the dark possibilities to explore.
Not the most popular genre, but it has a dedicated readership.
I'll look in my books to see if I can find a Little magazine of Science Fiction. Bet your submission would be accepted in a heartbeat--which hopefully, wouldn't be an expanded moment.
OK. Here's what I've come up with, excluding those publishers looking for hard science fiction and longer works. These are from the 2000 Writer's Market and often things do change such as guidelines and area codes and web site addresses, so you'll need to check each of these out to be sure things are current. In parantheses, I'll put why I chose them for your story. Always check out the guidelines for submission.
Asimov's Science Fiction
Dell Magazine Fiction Group
475 Park Avenue S., 11th Floor
New York NY 10016
(length 750+ words; character-oriented stories--those in which the character, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader, science fiction primarily, no "sword and sorcery")
Flesh and Blood
121 Joseph St.
Bayville NJ 08721
(Length 500-4000 words; "We like horror over gore. Don't let the title deceive you. Surreal, bizarre, eccentric tales have a good chance. We especially like dark fantasy pieces or vignettes.")
Outside, Spectulative [sic] and Dark Fiction Magazine
C&C Clocktower Fiction
6549 Mission George Rd.
San Diego, CA 92120
(no phone # listed in The Writer's Market))
(length 1500-5000 words, well-plotted; character-driven fiction which is tightly plotted)
The Silver Web, A Magazine of the Surreal
P.O. Box 38190
Tallahassee, FL 32315
(length 500-8000; specifically works of the surreal; "Surprise of with something unique.")
The Urbanite, Surreal & Lively & Bizarre
(I really like this one for you!)
Urban Legend Press
P.O. Box 4737
Davenport IA 52808
(no phone # listed in The Writer's Market)
(length 500-3000; Character-driven stories; "We look for quality fiction with a surrealistic tone"; science fiction but not high-tech; surrealism of all sorts)
Wicked Mystic Magazine
532 La Guardia Place #371
New York NY 10012
(no phone #)
(length 500-4000; "We're not mainstream, not traditional. We need shock, twists and extremes.")
It certainly wouldn't hurt to give them a try. I will submit it around and see. Thank you for your interest.
I glanced at your profile and see that you are already an accomplished author. I shoulda known by the quality of your writing. Sorry, I didn't mean to lecture the expert!