The Iron Writer Challenge #147
2016 Winter Solstice Challenge #5
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A Dance Hall
The first line of any song
The sound of the ocean in a Sea Shell
It’s Not Dark Yet
Ellen Howard Attar
“The girl standing under the Norse Dance Hall sign”.
“She looks interesting. Have you met her before?”
“Yeah, I have. I’m going to see if she’ll still talk to me.”
She looked up and her smile slowly spread. “Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day, it’s too hot to sleep, time’s running away”.
“Let me buy you a drink, or something to eat. It’s been far too long”.
She nodded and we took off down the street.
As we neared my place, I suggested we go in. She just smiled and asked if I still had my big brass bed.
I said I do, and I’m sorry she ever left it. I’ve had other women, but no one else ever compared.
The room was hot, but at least it was clean. She sat by the window with the conch shell to her ear. “Listening to the ocean reminds me of our place in the Keys. I thought we’d be there forever, living a perfect dream. You playing in our little shack, me cooking. I’ve never since found happiness or peace quite like that.”
I smiled at the memories she called forth, said I wished she’d never left. Told her I was hard to live with. Too young to understand the transcendent beauty of what we had. I said I believed we could get back there, if she’d just give me another chance.
She didn’t believe it was possible to return to the past. I said “why not”? If she’d just give me a chance, I’d prove her wrong. We placed a bet on it. If we could spend a night as good as our best, capturing the magic of our past, she would stay with me. I even promised we’d move back to the Keys.
She said she hoped there was something I could do or say, because she’d love to stop running away. She’d love me tonight, like she has every other. For her too, there was never another.
The pizza was delivered, we sat on the floor listening to Dylan, and drinking red wine. It was as if the years had never come between us, and I believed it could last forever. I swore I’d never leave her, and knew it was the truth. She just smiled and said her soul had turned to steel. She had scars that the sun had never healed. Then she smiled and said don’t worry, we’ve got some memories to relive.
I woke up with a smile, so happy to have my love by my side. I kissed the back of her neck and rushed out for beignets, ecstatic, believing in second chances and getting it right.
I got home thirty minutes later. She wrote me a letter and wrote it so kind. She put down in writing what was in her mind. We couldn’t go back there, not alone nor together.
I notice that the shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day. It’s too hot to sleep, time’s running away. The empty bottle falls from my hand, rolls under the bed, it’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.
A Little Ditty
Jack slung his rucksack over one shoulder.
‘Come on, we’ll ask this guy.’
Diane followed him down the grassy slope to the harbour. There were two fishing boats tied to the sea wall. Jack was heading towards a small creel-boat. A man was repairing the outboard motor.
‘Nice morning, are you going out?’
The man wiped a greasy hand over his brow and turned.
‘Hoping to, once I’ve fixed this.’
‘What’s the problem?’
‘Oh, she’s been leaking petrol, had to come in to fix her.’
‘Have you room for a couple of passengers down to Mingulay?’
‘I’m not a tourist boat, I’ve got pots to check.’
‘Could you just drop us off for a few hours. We can help. We can pay you.’
Jack held out a twenty.
‘If she’s got one of those as well, you’ve got a deal.’
‘Come back in an hour, I’ll be ready then’, he said, turning back to his task.
By mid-day they were afloat. The sea was choppy, with a swell coming off the Atlantic. The boat stopped frequently. They watched as he hauled creels, checked them, and threw them back, leaving a trail of orange buoys. Diane was mesmerised; she started to sing:
‘I wish I was a fisherman, tumblin’ on the seas.’
‘Do you know any songs, Dave?’
‘Some’, he glanced at the tattoos on his arm, ‘you pull up the next one.’
Diane tugged at the rope. Jack watched. Dave sung:
‘Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys
Heave her head round to the weather
Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.’
Soon, all three were singing while they hauled in the pots, to the rhythm of the shanty – all of them were empty.
After a few hours, steep cliffs loomed above them. They rounded the island, and a horseshoe beach beckoned. Dave dropped them off, agreeing to return in four hours.
‘How do we know he’ll come back?’
Jack held up a twenty-pound-note, ‘I bet you this that he will.’
‘He’ll probably need that to fix that leak.’
‘Still quite a smell of petrol.’
Jack pinched his nose.
She picked up a shell, and cradled it to her ear.
‘I can hear the ocean.’
‘That’s the sea’, Jack said, dryly.
‘Let’s go up to the cliffs, I want to see the ocean.’
The cliffs were over 1000 feet high. Jack crawled to the edge and looked out. Diane strolled up beside him, and spread her arms, imitating the fulmars flying – hovering in the up-draughts.
‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’, she shouted down at the world.
‘I can see Norway.’
‘It must be St. Kilda.’
‘200 miles that way’, Jack pointed.
‘How do you know?’
‘I’ve been there: I went clubbing, all night, at a place called “The Norse Hall”, traditional danc…’
An explosion echoed around the cliffs; the fulmars scattered. Diane squeezed his hand as they watched the tiny boat flare up, then sink, leaving only a puff of smoke. In seconds there was nothing. Orange buoys bobbed up to the surface; they hoped one would be Dave.
Lurleen – A Scene from Marie Clem
D. Lee. Cox
William “Bill” Rogers Murray looked to his left to see nowhere, to his right to see nowhere in particular. There was nothing outside his window but dirt and there was never going to be anything but dirt. He’d bet against the odds and lost. The land was dead, his marriage was dead, and his will to still his spirit from spirits was gone. He had a single dollar, a can of peas, and a pig.
He spent the dollar on a bottle of whiskey. Listening to the wind whistle through the long gone chinking in the walls like an ocean from a seashell he gave up his sobriety and half the can of peas to the pig. He sang sea shanties to the pig. He cussed the pig. He went to kick the pig at one point then slipped on what was left of the peas, landing on the floor on his back looking up at the rafters. He watched as the light of the full moon cast on one particular rafter, flickering as a bit of the tin roof waved in the cool night’s dusty wind. He decided he’d sell the pig and buy a ticket to somewhere. Somewhere else.
In town Bill Murray sat in the shade of the general store porch. He desperately wanted a soda, and had the money to buy one, but his fear of not being able to leave this one horse town – the rest were sold at auction or died of thirst in cracked pastures, eyes caked with the only kind of mud to be found for thousands of miles – blood and dirt – the fear of not being able to leave got the better of him.
Tin music floated down the porch from The Norse Hall – a two-bit whore house posing as a dance hall.
“Heaven, I’m in heaven
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek”
Out the door tripped a thin bald man, buckling the belt over his slacks. Black suspenders on a black shirt, pastors collar flailing about in the man’s quick jesters to get his pants straight in a moot effort to save dignity.
“Melissa, please, you must listen to me,” the man implored, “there’s a place called Lurleen, we can go there! There’s honest work there. You won’t have to be a whore any more…”
She pushed him to the ground.
“Listen here, PASTOR Goodhope, you been comin’ here for two years and aint paid but a handful of times. I caint pay my debts with SALVATION…” – she said the word “salvation” with a combination growl and a powerful sarcasm – “… and I’m certain what you’ve paid me with is what we all threw in the hat on the occasional Sunday we attended, you little rat bastard weasel of a no-good…”
But her diatribe trailed off behind Bill Murray as he made his way to the train station.
Lurleen. What would it cost for him to make it to Lurleen?
Dave parked his car along the beach, turned off the engine, and sat looking out over the sand toward the sound of waves washing over the beach. It was another Saturday night, and he didn’t have nobody. Oh, he had some money ’cause he’d just got paid, but oh, how he wished he had someone to talk to. He was in an awful way. It had been five years since Maggie left. She wanted to live in the city and he preferred the country. He could still remember the argument they had that night on the beach. He poured his heart out describing how green acres was the place to be, and that farm living was the life for him. He loved to see the land spreading out so far and wide. Then he said it, “Maggie, “keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.” She had taken a step back and adopted this look of horror as she retorted, “New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay. I just adore a penthouse view.” Then she drew her line in the sand, “Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue.” Then she turned and walked away.
Dave got out of his car and walked out onto the beach. It was getting dark and the wind had a chill to it, but this was where he would come when he missed her. Staring out into the ocean he spoke, “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again.” Then he reached down and picked up a seashell. Pretending it was a phone he dialed Maggie’s number. “Wake up, Maggie, I think I got something to say to you.” He paused for a second then started again, “I heard you’re settled down; that you found a man, and you’re married now.” but the only response he heard was the vacant mimicking of the ocean waves. He turned and walked down the beach to the Norse Hall, where there was a dance tonight. In his pitiful loneliness, Dave knew he should be dancing, but the energy in him was drained. He sat on a bench outside the hall enjoying the party vicariously when a young woman approached him, “Once I was a boogie singer playing in a rock-n-roll band. I never had no problems running down the one-night-stands.” She touched his shoulder, “If you got a problem I don’t care what it is. If you need a hand I can assure you this, I can help.” Dave replied, “Have I a hope or half a chance to even ask if I could dance with you?” She smiled, “Any way you want it that’s the way you get it. Anyway you want it that’s the way you need it.” He smiled, “You make me feel like dancing.” She smiled, “I bet you want to dance the night away.”
Then she took his hand and they went into the hall and danced through the night as they held each other tight, and Dave didn’t think about Maggie once during all that time.
Love is a Burning Thing
I heard Johnny Cash’s voice echoing down the street before I set foot inside the Norse Hall. Tonight it felt more like a curse than a blessing, despite the upbeat tempo. The kind of baptism you might receive from a demon, right before he plunged you headfirst into the River Styx.
My ears were ringing with the sound of the ocean hissing in the background, like pressing a seashell against my aching head. I paused on the threshold, watching the neon sign blinking in rhythm with the tune. Was I really going to do this?
I closed my eyes and breathed deep.
“Nervous?” came a female voice, just to my right.
“I always get a little jittery before I go into one of these dances, myself,” she said. “I’m a big ‘fraidy-cat.”
The gorgeous creature confessing her fears to me was poetry in motion. Green eyes, softly curling red hair, and a body that I could easily picture on the dance floor… or somewhere a little more private.
“All you’ve got to do is move to the music, though, right?” she followed up.
I smiled and nodded.
“What’s your name, cowboy?” She’d noticed my scuffed boots.
“Fitting,” she said, her face slipping into a crooked grin.
“Mind if I buy you a drink?” I asked, recovering my voice.
“Kate. I’d be much obliged,” she replied, tipping an imaginary hat.
I offered her my arm, and when she looped her thin limb around my elbow I had to suppress a shiver. It was the damndest thing. Whoever really believed in love at first sight, anyway?
We beelined for the bar, where a mustachioed bartender was flipping bottles like an extra from Cocktail.
“What’ll it be?”
I looked toward my companion, who bit her red lip, pondering for a moment, then announced “Whiskey. Neat.”
“I hadn’t pegged you for a whiskey gal,” I said, as the bartender poured the drink. I signaled for him to make it a double.
“I like to guess what the people I’m with would order,” she says with another crooked grin. “How’d I do?”
I hold up my glass and clink it against hers. “Skål.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I thought this was the Norse Hall?”
“It’s Irish dancing tonight, cowboy.” She gave me a wink.
So much for my plan.
“Keep your hands to yourself, and try to keep up.” She threw back the whiskey, slammed the glass onto the bar, and disappeared into the crowd.
I drank my own shot of liquid courage, thinking.
“You know this bet don’t count unless you make physical contact, cowboy,” a male voice mocked from my left.
I dove into the crowd, ready to make the devil on my shoulder eat his words. Technically she’d already touched my arm. But I wasn’t one for technicalities.
I spotted her bouncing in time with a older man in a kilt, and immediately cut in on them. The older man looked surprised, but took in stride, grabbing the next young girl in the lineup.
She placed my hand on her waist as we turned to face one another. “It’s the Military Two Step, cowboy, not Riverdance.”
I followed her lead and did my best not to step on her toes. Her hand on my shoulder was lighter than a hummingbird, but still I knew I had this one in the bag. Even my clumsy dancing couldn’t stop me now.
When the music finally wound down and the dancing line of couples broke into applause, she leaned in and whispered “See you outside in five minutes.”
She exited the dance floor, and I headed to the bar for one last shot.
“Pay up,” I whispered to the shadow on my left.
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