Fiction: Dancing in Lines
By James Jenkins
Her death had been widely reported in all the local rags and their online extensions. The news had reached me through one of these tendrils slowly intwining itself around my heart. Twenty years had ebbed away between our once was. Sure, I’d seen her from afar as the globe completed it’s never ending spiral. That was the thing with small towns. Close knit societies crossing over one another and so on until we might as well all be related somewhere down the line – the gene pool had to start somewhere. Still even now there were those who saw it as their civic duty to update me on her progress.
Dance stole her away from me as it was always destined to do. Back then, before our last Waltz I’d pictured the soles of her shoes pounding down on the stage. Each thud a kick to my gut. I suppose it was the child lost in me who privately smiled with glee when I heard it hadn’t worked out. Jettisoned from the cut-throat profession and the clicky schools without the privilege of a back up plan. It was inevitable that the wrong crowd waited for her with open arms. I still loved her then even after half a decade without a word between us. That sticky type of love that could never truly be chipped away when you share the loss of innocence together. I’d humoured myself at the time to reach out, but the fear of those grime ridden faces and the reputations that followed them kept me at bay. I remember driving past their group a few years ago. Our eyes had connected through that car window and despite the filth, grease of her body and sunken orbs, I could still see the beauty in them. She’d looked away first. Uninterested or unknowing.
My life and object of my desire had long moved on by the time I learned of her death. Yet still, I harboured a resonance of what once was. Perhaps it was guilt for not doing something before this happened. Fuck. I hadn’t altogether disregarded the suspicion that this visit was an unhealthy taste of gloating on my part. For whatever reason, I carried on to her final living destination. Metal guard rails rusted to near nonexistence guided me down to the river’s path. I descended the pigeon shit encrusted steps and gagged at the water’s sulphur scent, grateful for the petrichor fighting to mask it. Graffiti walls hemmed me between the two contradicting borders of my path. Towering office buildings leered over me. The local council’s way of hiding this natural disgrace. A heavily neglected canal of water that once prospered. A former beauty spot that now harnessed the forgotten. Those high-flying cunts hiding away from this reality in their breezeblock towers. They’d failed her and the town. And me, I’d done the same I suppose. Locking her down in the forgotten paths of my memory.
I do my best to avoid any eye contact with the hooded natives coming the opposite way along the path. One spits into the river adding to the soup of disease. My hand clutches the cheap, shit and wilting garage flowers in my hand. They won’t make much of a weapon if these two get lively. I’m spared even a second glance as they float straight by, a swell of guilt bubbles for my narrow mindedness – is that how she was made to feel? Still, it pleases me to be rid of them before I reach the underpass. They say it was here where they found her decomposing body. A local walker had been too free with his dog’s leash. Putting too much trust in the mutt who had at least a couple of minutes to gnaw on the corpse before they discovered the pets new object of interest.
It saddened me to see a lack of tribute. My own offering sat alone as I laid them under the bridge on the path. Cars passed above with a deafening roar, ignorant to the horror sat beneath them. I hadn’t been lost for words on the way up here, but now as I stood between the piss eroded brick wall and the fetid water, they failed me. I decided to just sit for a while until I remembered what had made me come down here.
I was wondering how long was long enough to pay my respects when the sight of a man entering the opposite side of the bridge disturbed me. A faded carrier bag bulged by his side held by one grimy fist. His pissed daytime shuffle gave his social status away before I could see the soles flapping from his shoes. The blue parka jacket expelled stuffing from several places and only then did I realise how long I’d been frozen to the spot. He was feet away before I could snatch back my senses.
“You bring dem?” he slurred looking down at the lone flowers.
My embarrassment in the shit offering almost had me disowning them.
“Yes,” I said.
“Nice. Real classy ones those. Christine woulda loved em,” he responded before letting the dirty wall guide his back down to the floor.
“You knew Christine?” I asked dumbly.
“Yeah man. She was my girl weren’t she.”
Tears wash a clean trail down his face as he rids the warble in his throat with a budget bottle of booze.
“Who are you?” he asks.
“Erm, we used to be good friends, me and Christine. Long time ago now. I’m sorry for your loss,” I hastily add.
“Sorry?” I ask defensively.
“Why you only coming to see her now?”
I don’t have the answers he deserves. I wish I did, but I couldn’t even answer them myself. I turn to leave muttering a piss poor apology his way.
“Wait,” he calls, and I pause. “Will you come back?”
I stop to consider the question.
“I don’t know,” I say honestly.
“Done your bit have ya? It’s fine. I wouldn’t want you to find me anyway. She wouldn’t want that for one of her friends.”
His words hand me a new dilemma. An unwanted stain to add to my already battered conscience.
“Fancy a pint?” my attempt of buying off the guilt.
His name is Mike. He couldn’t be there at her time of need either. The moment was stolen by some pissed up cunts from the local nightclub, leaving empty handed they took out their coked-up sexual frustration on the homeless man in the street instead. Six days he enjoyed a warm bed tainted by guilt as they wired his jaw back together. And all the while she was left alone to choke on some bad gear. We blame ourselves for not being there.
Mike has his own place and a job now. He mourns her without slowly killing himself and we share the guilt between our unlikely friendship. We go together to leave our tributes. I couldn’t save her – but I could help him.
James Jenkins is a Suffolk based writer of gritty realism. He has work published in Bristol Noir, Punch-Riot Mag, Bullshit Lit, A Thin Slice of Anxiety and Punk Noir Magazine. One of his short stories appears in Grinning Skull Press Anthology – Deathlehem. His debut novel Parochial Pigs is available on Amazon and published by Alien Buddha Press.