The Longest Battle – Ch 43 – Taking the First Step


Like the millions of people around her, Kelly couldn’t stop dancing. Rhythm gripped her soul and ecstasy flowed through her tireless body like a river. By all rights, she should have stopped long ago. No human body was meant to withstand four weeks of continuous dance. Muscles need to rest, the mind needs to sleep, a body needs a chance to recharge, to consume food and water.

But Kelly didn’t. As day turned to night and night turned to day, she danced on, spinning and jumping and with each step broadening the reach of the music that surged within her.

She knew that the experience should have left her horrified or at least disturbed. She could stop dancing whenever she chose, but those breaks became no more than pauses to transition between styles of dance. Whatever was in her, she found that her inner self and it were in solid agreement. She could stop dancing, she just didn’t want to.

Each new person that she stepped or twirled past seemed to be affected too. Many of them danced in different styles than she did. Some of them danced with no more than their hands or their eyes. Some of them danced with her and some danced in counterpoint to her. But they all danced, and the world danced too.

In the skies above, formations of birds joined wing to wing to whirl in incredible formations that accentuated the motions of the dancers below them. Cats and dogs performed coordinated “tricks” the likes of which no owner could have taught them. Even the trees and flowers joined the unbridled celebration of life, swaying in a phantom wind and blooming on cue to show a painter’s palette of vibrant hues.

That it had all started with a rejection seemed like the most impossible aspect of the entire situation to Kelly.

She’d never planned to be a dancer. Not professionally at any rate. She’d studied various forms of dance as a girl, but she’d never had a ballerina’s body. ‘Too heavy’, her teachers had said, and that was when she was just entering puberty. She’d put on more pounds as she’d aged and had struggled with that in a lot of senses. By the time she was an adult, her dreams of dance had long since crumbled under the ‘weight’ of reality.

But her love for it had remained.

She always had the sense of something endless and free just beyond her fingertips when she spun across the dance floor. When she wasn’t dancing she felt heavy and tired but when the music caught her all that faded away and she was able to float like a feather or stomp like an avalanche as the tune demanded.

George had understood that. Or he’d pretended to. He was the one who’d invited her to go to the dance club with him. He was the one who’d insisted on calling it a ‘date’ despite how careful she’d been to hide the crush she had on him.

Kelly had been surprised by the invitation and more surprised by the club when she’d arrived. It was a small place that looked like it normally got a dozen patrons or so a night if that. The only other businesses that were open around it were a pair of motels that advertised “reasonable hourly rates”. George had been waiting there though with some of his friends and plenty of alcohol, so the night had gotten off to a good enough start.

Sadly the good start hadn’t last much beyond the first few minutes. George had pawned Kelly off on one of his friends who “liked girls like her” and vanished to “have a smoke while the band setup”. His friend had been happy to talk to her, just not about anything that was remotely comfortable to talk about.

When the band had started to tune their instruments, Kelly had felt a measure of relief. Even their warm up pieces brought more people into the club. A lot more people. That gave her the chance to excuse herself to go to the restroom and then get lost in the growing crowd when she got out.

She bumped into George just before the band began their first set and was relieved to see him. Relieved until she saw the look in his eyes when he noticed she’d found him.

“Do you want to get some space on the dance floor?” she asked. “It’s getting crowded in here already.”

“No, I don’t feel like dancing,” he said. He didn’t have to add “with you” given how he was looking at half a dozen pretty girls instead of the woman who was standing five inches in front of him.

“I think Dennis wanted to talk with you, Have you had the drinks he got? They’re really good,” George said and the scheme for the whole evening fell into place.

Kelly wasn’t supposed to leave the club with George, and she wasn’t supposed to leave the club entirely conscious. Each of those facts opened a sour pit of fear inside her.

“No, I think I’m going to go dance.” Kelly said.

“I don’t know if you should,” George said. “I think the dancers are going to need all the space they can get. You should go talk to Dennis. He’ll take care of you good.”

His words hit her so hard so couldn’t feel the pain at first.

“What do you mean?” she asked, despite knowing exactly what he meant to say.

“It’s gonna be tight out there, you know. You try to dance, you’re going to crush one the normal girls,” George said.

“I am a normal girl,” Kelly said, desperately not wanting to believe her ears.

George laughed.

“More like two, two and half normal girls I’d say.”

Kelly turned away from him, blinking back tears and struggling to keep herself from falling apart as the band begin to play.

Their first chord was loud. Disorientingly loud. To Kelly it sounded like a scream, a primal “No” spoken by drums, saxophone and electric guitar. It went on so long and resonated so deeply in her that it reached into her heart and blasted apart her tears, blew away her shame and woken up a slumbering beast of rage that had dozed for far too long.

The first dance was like none she’d ever performed before. The whole crowd was gripped by it. By the furious, staccato release of energy. As one being, two hundred bodies stamped out an anthem of defiance. Two hundred bodies who were on the dance floor and crammed into the club and waiting outside the door to get in. Two hundred bodies, of which neither George nor Dennis were part of their number.

Kelly didn’t see George, she was screaming with the music, her pain turned into wordless accompaniment to the song. She didn’t think of George or the feelings she’d harbored for him that were burning to ash. And she certainly didn’t see another of the dancers, one of the “normal girls”, slug him and send him sprawling into another group of dancers who decided to carry out the face punching game.

The first song was a riot of passion and as it came to a crescendo, Kelly felt herself reach a moment of decision. The dance had been long, almost a half hour on one song. They’d danced so hard the small club had literally been torn to pieces and for the last ten minutes she’d been dancing under the clear night sky. With the end of the song, she had the chance to walk away and leave the terrible evening behind her. The ruins of her crush on George would take time to sort out but she knew she’d be able to with the catharsis the song had offered. She could go back home, sleep and wake up to a new day with a fresh start.

All she had to do was let go of the music.

Days later she was still dancing and the band was still playing. That’s when she understood that letting go of the music wasn’t an option. At least not one that she would ever choose. None of the dancers would. It didn’t control them. It didn’t demand that they dance. It didn’t take anything from them. All it did was let them speak with their bodies to say things that their words never could.

In dancing through the streets of the city, Kelly found herself connecting with everyone she encountered. Silent strangers spoke so clearly in how they shifted and moved. Together they surged down alleys and over bridges, blazing with life, drinking in each moment and feeling the long connection of their steps from the past, through the present and into the unwritten future before them.

Kelly didn’t think to question the impossibility of the magic that the song carried. She was too busy being and doing and connecting to think about the moment when the song would end.

Nothing lasts forever though. Everything must change.

“This is a beautiful gift you’ve brought to the world,” a short young woman with black hair and white and pink dress said as she danced around Kelly.

For the first time in weeks Kelly felt something other than exaltation at being alive. On some level she knew the final verse of the song was winding down and that her days of endless dancing were coming to a close.

“Don’t take this from me,” Kelly said. “Please, I don’t want to go back to being who I was.”

“You can never go back to who you were,” a tall young woman with blonde hair and a yellow and silver dress said as she joined the dance.

“But I don’t want to lose this,” Kelly said.

“What makes you think you’ll lose this?” the dark haired girl asked.

“You’re going to stop the music,” Kelly said without knowing why she was certain it was true.

“We’re going to give the band a rest,” the golden hair girl said.

“They’ve played as long as they can,” the dark haired girl said. “If they play any further they’ll fade away and this world will fade with them.”

Kelly’s steps slowed to a gradual halt. In all the weeks she’d danced, she hadn’t thought about how the band had managed to keep playing, or what cost there might be to them for doing so.

“It’s going to be agonizing without the music,” she said. “What will we do when they stop playing?”

“What do you want to do?” the blonde asked.

“I want to keep dancing,” Kelly said.

“Is that all that you want to do?” the dark haired girl asked.

Kelly thought about that. It was a simple question but she couldn’t find a simple answer for it. The dancing of the past weeks had been transcendent, but it had given her its gift long since. She still wanted to dance, but there were other things she wanted to do too. Places she wanted to go, changes that she wanted to make. For as important as dance was, there was more to her than any one activity could ever fill.

“Is it that simple?” she asked.

“Oh not in the slightest,” the dark haired girl said. “Life is many things but it is only very rarely simple.”

“But you’ll manage it,” the golden haired girl said. “You’ve got more talents and strength than you can possibly imagine yet.”

“How do I stop then?” Kelly asked.

“You already have,” the dark haired girl said.

Kelly paused and looked down. She wasn’t dancing anymore, and the song had ended. For a brief moment she imagined the weight of the weeks of dancing descending on her all at once, but that didn’t happen. She felt fine one moment and fine the next moment afterwards. The long dance had been magical from start to finish and had nurtured the dancers the whole time.

“I can’t believe that happened,” Kelly said feeling grateful and transformed. “Can I thank you?”

“We should be thanking you,” the golden haired girl said.

“We needed a band to play for our wedding and I don’t think we could dreamed of finding a better one,” the dark haired girl said.

“Will they be okay?” Kelly asked.

“They’ll be better than ok,” the blonde haired girl said. “They’ll be great!”

“Will I ever hear them again?” Kelly asked.

“Of course,” the dark haired girl said. “You haven’t lost the music or the dancing you know. It’s still inside of you.”

“So I can still dance?” Kelly asked.

“Whenever and wherever you like,” the blonde said.

“Just, maybe not for a month at a time, ok?” the dark hair girl suggested.

Kelly smiled and nodded. She had a life to get back to, and if she did a little Tap or Contemporary in place of walking, well that was just how this lady moved.


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