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Dancing in the Dark

As Gutter Books (in conjunction with Zelmer Pulp) readies to release our Trouble in the Heartland: Crimes Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen anthology, we are going to run a few Boss-related pieces over here at the FFO.

This story by Brian Panowich (whose "Wreck on the Highway" will be in the collection) testifies that when you can't get the moves right, you better hold on tight.

Dancing in the Dark by Brian Panowich




Jesus Christ.

I couldn’t believe she was still asleep by the time I made it to our bedroom. I damn near knocked the front door down trying to get in the house. I banged my knee on that stupid antique credenza running past it in the hall, but it didn’t slow me down a bit. My heart was beating so fast and hard, I thought I might go down of a heart attack right there in the hallway.

I laid my gun on the dining room table. It was still warm. If it were human, I’d have spit on it.

My hands were still shaking.

I had to hold the doorknob to our bedroom tightly with both hands to keep it from rattling like a dinner bell. I flung the door open and there she was, wearing one of my old T-shirts, with one leg hiked over the body pillow I bought her for nights like this when I didn’t make it home. I paused just for a moment to take her in, lying there half naked. She always left the bathroom light on when I was gone. Forty years old, and she still needed a night light. I sat down on the edge of the bed and pushed her hair back behind her ear. She was something to look at. She was just as beautiful now, as the day I met her. No. Wait, that’s not true. She was light years beyond that skinny little nineteen-year-old with the fake ID I met all those years ago at the Pony. She just got better and better, each imperfection, scar, or extra pound made her more unique and incredible. What she considered to be flaws, I considered to be secrets just between us. She was custom made just for me.

And I was the dumb-fuck who didn’t deserve her.

She was everything to me. The reason I had to get out of bed in the morning. The reason I stayed out ’til all hours of the night handling business. At least that’s what I told myself. Goddamn, I’m so stupid.

“Baby, wake up.”

She stretched a little and rolled toward me.

“You’re home early,” she said without opening her eyes. I cupped the side of her warm cheek, but it wasn’t my trembling hand on her skin, and tone of voice that scared her. It was the look on my face when she finally opened her eyes.

“Baby, what’s wrong,” she said, and sat up with a start. I pushed the comforter back, and grabbed her hand.

“Come with me, we don’t have much time.”

She said something else. Something about our daughter Bobby calling, but I don’t remember. I led her into the living room and frantically scoured the darkness for the stereo remote.

“Let me turn on a light,” she said.

“No, no don’t. And stay away from the windows.”

“What’s going on, you’re scaring me,” she said, twisting her hands in the length of the long oversized T-shirt.

“Don’t be scared, just give me a second.” I found the remote and clicked on the receiver.

Saxophone bled out of the speakers.

“… And I … would drive all night again, just to buy you some shoes … and to …”

I dropped the remote to the floor, pulled her to me, and held my wife against me like my life depended on it.

It did.

She could smell the whiskey and cigarette stink on me, and normally she’d let me have it, but the smell of fear coming off me must have been more powerful.

“What’s going on?” she asked again, her head on my shoulder, her voice hushed now. The tears were starting to come for both of us.

“It all went wrong,” I told her.

“How wrong?”

“The kinda wrong you don’t get to walk away from.”

She squeezed her arms around me tighter and we danced. We danced like kids on the beach under a canopy of stars. We danced like the last night of summer before life forced its burdens and responsibilities on us. We danced slow and close like we were the last two people on earth. I buried my face in her long chestnut hair and breathed in the cinnamon and burnt sugar. She always smelled like that. She smelled like home. I hoped I’d never forget that smell, but I knew I would.

“Tell Bobby her old man loves her. Tell her I’m sorry. Tell her …”

“Shhhh,” she said, and kissed me quiet. Finally my hands stopped shaking. I drank up every bit of her. Every detail.

We both jumped with the first bang on the front door, but not the second time when they kicked it in.

“Let go of the woman and get down on the floor!”

We danced.

“Last warning! Let the girl go, and get down on the fucking ground now!”

No. I don’t think I will.

The last night of summer.

Cinnamon and burnt sugar.

I’ll never let go of the girl.

Brian is the author of Bull Mountain coming Fall 2015 from Putnam Books. He has several stories available in print and online collections. Two of his stories, "If I Ever Get Off This Mountain" and "Coming Down The Mountain," were nominated for a Spinetingler award in 2013. He is currently a firefighter in East Georgia, living with his wife and four children. Bull Mountain is his first novel.