There’s an old man sitting in a wheelchair, alongside other old people in ordinary chairs.
An overweight nurse waddled past and stuffed a hard square of chocolate into his gummy mouth, either as a reward for being quiet or else to keep him that way. She does a regular circuit of the room. The old people are sitting round the perimeter, like at a dance, except there is no music and the lights are too bright. More like when the dance is over. The old man doesn’t understand why he’s in the company of old people. He spends most days riding his Triumph Bonneville down country lanes, his lips and chin forever covered with frothy saliva from the sound of the revving engine.
He keeps quiet about having wet himself. He remembers enough of the recent past to know that if the fat nurse finds out she will lean over him as if whispering endearments before taking hold of his wrist and twisting it viciously. It takes a long time for his wrinkled skin to unravel.
Time must have slipped, because, although I’m in my teens, I know it’s me sitting there because I can taste the chocolate. Is that why I have such pain in my wrists, the fat nurse’s cruelty? Could I, lying here in my youth (in the road?), feel the pain that the old man is suffering in the future?
Voices are telling me not to worry, but I can’t concentrate enough to get a grip on what’s happening. Something is jammed over my eyes, and yet the wetness concerns me more.
The old man is riding his motorbike again, wearing a t-shirt and a grin as he roars down the road, reliving a dream of long ago. Joanne is riding pillion, pressing her young breasts against his back. An old man with half-forgotten memories…
Or is that me remembering? I can’t help being annoyed with him for getting in the way of my memories. There is something cantankerous about him even though he hasn’t opened his mouth other than to accept that chocolate. I can see the old fool has no teeth – hardly surprising considering the bedtime chocolate I sucked as a boy while I soared through the night with Peter Pan.
But then, there was a sudden flying that didn’t belong to childhood. The images and thoughts of past and future continue to blur the present. I’m frightened. I can see a lorry pulling out. Joanne is screaming. The old man covers his ears. It all happened so fast.
I try to concentrate on the here and now and I realise that it’s not urine that is soaking me through. Someone is trying to remove my crash helmet. The pain is increasing but I’m sure it’ll be all right because I live to be an old man – don’t I? But what of Joanne?
Mel Fawcett lives in London. His stories have appeared in various print and online publications, including Stand, Gemini, Smokebox, Roadside Fiction, 34th Parallel and, most recently, The Real Story. You can see him reading one of his stories on Youtube at the launch of a Solid Gold Anthology.
If you enjoyed When the Dance is Over , leave a comment and let Mel know.
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