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Sport 15: white horse black dog

The Dancing Lesson

page 114

The Dancing Lesson

Lucille is on her tip-toes on the edge of the drawer she has pulled halfway out. She is reaching up with her hands to the wooden box that is at the top of my father’s wardrobe. She is lifting the lid of the box, she is wobbling, the wardrobe moves forward slightly, I think she is going to fall. My parents have gone to the dump with the rubbish and the grass clippings. Each time they go out and leave her in charge, Lucille steals Dad’s spare camera; she has polaroids hidden through the pages of all her Trixie Belden books.

Lucille makes me put on the purple crochet dress I hate and she loves. She puts Mum’s lipstick called rosehip on my lips. We go out to the back garden. She makes me stand in front of a tree with my hands behind my back and my tongue poked out. She takes a photo. We watch it develop. There is a big pink flower right above my head.

‘I’ll show it to Mum, I’ll show your tongue to Mum,’ Lucille says, waving the picture out of my reach.

‘Its not fair. You made me, Lucy.’

‘Daaddy’s baby’ll get a beellt. Haa haa haa …’

I run, I grab the photo. My sister chases me in circles round the lawn until we’re out of breath. We flop onto the grass, she takes the photo from me, sticks it down her trousers.

‘Pooh. Stink. I don’t want it now!’ I say.

Lucille gets up, goes to the house, drags the stereo onto the porch. She puts her only record on, quiet at first, then real loud, so that the sound wobbles when the singer hits the high notes.

‘Mrs Foreman’ll have a spaz!’ Lucille says.

I look over to the Foreman’s house, imagine her already waddling down the steps on her way to tell us off. I run over to a speaker, sit on it to feel the vibration through my bum. On the ground in front of me is page 115 the record cover: its got a picture of a demon on a motorbike riding out from behind a tombstone in a graveyard. The background’s the red of blood. The picture matches the sound of the man’s voice. ‘Like a bat of heeell, I’ll be gone when the morning cooomes …’

‘Dance!’ Lucille says. ‘Dance!’

She is dancing, spinning round and round. Her jeans ride up as she turns, and I can see her brown ankles. I dance, try to imitate her. I fall over and she laughs.

‘Close your eyes,’ she says.

She walks over to me, stands very close, touches my eyelids with the tips of her fingers. She holds my hips, grips one firmly in each hand.

Listen. Find the drums in the music. Keep time with that.’

I listen, hear the music slowing itself down.

‘Move. With me.’

She begins to sway. My hips follow her hands: they move from side to side. I can feel her breath in my hair; sometimes from the left, sometimes from the right.

I open my eyes so they’re slits, and Lucille can’t tell I’m looking. Her nipples are sticking up through her t-shirt, which is towelling. This close, I can see the loops of the fabric, I can see how her breasts make hills. I sneak my hands up her back, feel the texture of her t-shirt against my skin.

The next song begins. It is faster than the last one. ‘STOP RIGHT NOW, before you go any further. Do you love me? Will you love me forever?…’ Lucille’s hands tap hard on my sides. I shake them off. I jump up and down. I watch the grass beneath my feet get further away as I go high in the air, then come close again as I land. I watch Lucille. She has her hands wrapped around herself. Her hips move, bang bang. I can smell her sweat, I can see it when she lifts her arms to clap to the beat. I stop and look under my own arm. There is nothing there, no dark ring.

I lie down, I can feel a stone beneath my left shoulder. The sky is still. The clouds are road signs, stationary objects I use to measure how fast a ride page 116 the earth’s taking me on. Again I close my eyes, lean my cheek against the ground. When I open them, my sister has gone, the house has gone. All that is in front of me is the tree where Lucille took my photo. It is bigger than my father; bigger than my car; bigger than the freezing works in the distance. I have a hut underneath the branches.

A shadow falls across my face. It is my sister.

‘Oh you, you’ll never learn, Mary. You’re just a baby. Got no rhythm, got no rhythm.’ She chants this as she swings one leg over my body and sits astride. The man singing slows his voice so he is nearly talking ‘Will you offer your mouth to the wolf with the red roses?’ ‘Yes. Yes. YES,’ a woman says, her voice becoming louder with each reply. Lucille throws her head back, yells ‘yes’ as loud as she can, in time with the woman. She gets my hands in one of hers and holds my arms over my head. With the other hand she tickles me, then pinches me hard just underneath the short sleeve of my dress.

‘You can be my boyfriend. Do you want a bruise? I’ve got one on my stomach, where no one can see. Except Bruce. He gave it to me. Do you want one?’

She twists her fingers sharply round. I cry out, I hear a car door open.

Lucille hears it too and stops her pinching. It is Mum and Dad home. She jumps up, takes my hands again, heaves me to my feet, swings me round in an arc for our parents to see.

‘Let me down. Let me down!’

I want to show Mum my pinch-marks. From the corner of my eye, I see my father lifting the camera he always carries to his face. I hear the click. Lucille drops me mid-swing.

My father and I are on the porch. He kisses my knee, which is bleeding. I go and stand behind him, look over his shoulder to where he is holding the photograph he just took. We are waiting for the colours to come, for the image to make itself clear. Lucille is with Mum in the kitchen. I am hoping Lucille won’t show her the other photo, of my tongue. I put my arms tight around my father’s neck, just in case. He won’t mind that I’ve page 117 been cheeky; he’s in love with polaroids, he doesn’t care what they’re of. The photos he takes are bright spots all over the house: hung on the walls, on the fridge. There are pictures of my mother and father naked tucked into the frame of their bedroom mirror: Mum closes the door when visitors come.

‘Move your head, Dad,’ I say

And there I am, caught stretched out above the ground. My dress is up round my waist, my knickers with their polka dots are showing. My bare feet are splayed wide apart. My head is dropped down between my shoulders. Lucille’s hands are there, holding mine. The rest of her is gone. Our skin is pale, it stands out bright from the background of green grass, green leaves.

‘Good shot, eh poppet?’ My father says.

‘Yeah,’ I say, watching the way his fingers are careful only to touch the white parts surrounding the photo.

I kiss him behind his ear where the wrinkles are. I go round in front of him, pull at his hands.

‘Dance, Daddy?’

He puts the photo down on the step, holds me by the armpits. I put my feet on his feet. He hums a tune.

‘Hey! You’re getting good,’ he says.

One and two and three and … right. We waltz across the lawn.