PDF Night Dancer [a short story]

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A small, timid woman, with a lovely smile and the voice of an angel, because she sang in the local choir and everybody liked her for her quiet nature, never saying a bad word about anybody. But Seamus was a different kettle of fish. He had domineered Sarah since their marriage. He had put a stop to her dancing, because she used to go every month to the parish hall for the church dance, and she had been in much demand as a dancing partner.

Gradually she had stopped going, had distanced herself from her friends in the village, and with her parents dead since before she had married Seamus, she felt isolated in the small cottage at the foot of the mountain overlooking the small village community. The clock ticked away the seconds, and she knew he would be in soon for his tea.

It was their anniversary on the Friday night, the night of the dance, and she hoped she could convince him to go with her, for the night that was in it, ten years married, surely it merited some recognition, a little dance for the two of them, sure what harm was in it? She bent down and pulled out the box from beneath the bed. Her hands shook as she lifted the lid carefully, unfolding the tissue paper slowly, to reveal the shoes, dancing shoes, in all their glory, red velvet with a tiny crystal jewel glistening on the front of each, little narrow straps dotted with sequins.

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She had saved her housekeeping money for weeks for those shoes. She had gone into the city on the bus when she had enough saved, and almost ran to the shoe shop on the bridge where she had seen the shoes holding a place of supremacy in the window. The assistant had looked at the woman standing in front of her, small and an anxious look on her thin face.

Sarah backed away, the shoes falling to the floor, the dance notice crumpled in her hands behind her back. She had made a mistake in marrying him, had been taken in by his courting ways, and his roguish smile, and the silly words of love that had never been uttered since then.

He turned from her then, walking out into the night, whistling for the dog to follow him. It was more like a recovery hallway. There was no privacy, not even a thin curtain. I supposed this made it easier for the nurses to monitor the post-surgical patients, but, still, my father was exposed—his decades of poor health and worse decisions were illuminated—on white sheets in a white hallway under white lights. It was a stupid question. Who could be O. Yesterday, my father had walked into the hospital.

A few hours ago, my father still had both of his feet. They were black with rot and disease, but they were still, technically speaking, feet and toes.

And, most important, those feet had belonged to my father. Now they were gone, sliced off. Where were they? What had the hospital done with the right foot and the toes from the left foot? Had they been thrown into the incinerator? Were their ashes already floating over the city? Of course, he wanted another blanket. He probably wanted me to build a fucking campfire or drag in one of those giant heat blasters that N. There were three women nurses there, two white and one black. The nurse glanced up from her paperwork and regarded me.

Her expression was neither compassionate nor callous. She looked back down at her paperwork. She made a few notes.

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Not knowing what else to do, I stood there and waited. She was irritated. I understood. After all, how many thousands of times had she been asked for an extra blanket? She was a nurse, an educated woman, not a damn housekeeper. And it was never really about an extra blanket, was it? No, when people asked for an extra blanket they were asking for a time machine. My father, an alcoholic, diabetic Indian with terminally damaged kidneys, had just endured an incredibly expensive surgery for what? So that he could ride his motorized wheelchair to the bar and win bets by showing off his disfigured foot?

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She got up and walked back to a linen closet, grabbed a white blanket, and handed it to me. With the blanket in hand, I walked back to my father. It was a thin blanket, laundered and sterilized a hundred times. In fact, it was too thin. It was more like a large beach towel.

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Jesus, had health care finally come to this? Everybody was uninsured and unblanketed. He looked so small and pale lying in that hospital bed. How had this happened?

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For the first sixty-seven years of his life, my father had been a large and dark man. Now he was just another pale, sick drone in a hallway of pale, sick drones. A hive, I thought. This place is like a beehive with colony-collapse disorder.

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As I draped it over my father and tucked it around his body, I felt the first sting of grief. There would come a time when roles would reverse and the adult child would become the caretaker of the ill parent. The circle of life. Such poetic bullshit.

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My father needed a real blanket, a good blanket. I walked out of the recovery hallway and made my way through various doorways and other hallways, peering into rooms, looking at the patients and their families, searching for a particular kind of patient and family. I walked through the E. Nobody stopped me. My expression and posture were those of a man with a sick father, and so I belonged. And then I saw him, another Native man, leaning against a wall near the gift shop. Well, maybe he was Asian—lots of those in Seattle. He was a small man, pale brown, with muscular arms and a soft belly.

Maybe he was Mexican, which is really a kind of Indian, too, but not the kind that I needed. Even brown people guess at the identity of other brown people. He just made it up to impress himself. Like hospitals are the big problem. You know how many babies died before we had good hospitals? The Indian world is filled with charlatans, men and women who pretend—hell, who might have come to believe—that they are holy.

The year before, I went to a lecture at the University of Washington.

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