She could not stop dancing
I don’t need an alarm clock to wake me up. On Monday morning, grey morning, I woke up at 5h25, like every day. I drank the rest of the tea that had got cold in my mug, cold green tea is not bad at all. One of my socks was missing. This always happens to this specific pair, it’s old and loose and it always get lost in my bedsheets. I rescued the missing sock, restored my frozen foot back to life by rubbing it, and made my first brave move of the day. I got out of bed. The next big thing would be getting dressed and then eating breakfast. Everything is big and hard and difficult these days.
Dad was already eating his own breakfast when I got downstairs. When Momma lived with us, she would prepare a complete breakfast every morning, but me and Dad, we don’t know the concept of making breakfast. It has the word “fast” in it, it’s a meal that’s supposed to not involve too much time. So Dad always eats any fruit we have and I drink store-bought orange juice while eating whatever cake or cookie I can find in the cupboard. There is always some, Dad is very careful with our food supply. He hates cooking, but he also hates empty cupboards.
When I get to work, I drink coffee. I work on a café, so I can have as much coffee as I want for free. My boss is really nice. She also allows us to eat anything we want, but I prefer to leave home with something already in my stomach. I’m very, very thin, and Momma used to say that if I had my stomach completely empty, I could be so light that the wind would carry me. It’s just an expression, I know, but I really don’t feel comfortable leaving home without eating.
Athos was taking the shift with me today. It’s not his usual shift, he works in the afternoon because he can’t wake up early. But Liz got sick and he’s replacing her. Athos is obsessed with me and this is boring. He knows I don’t care about him but he won’t give up. He’s not a bad guy, he doesn’t harass me, but I’m not a kind and tolerant person and he looking at me all the fucking time and sighing is simply annoying. I feel like covering his head with a paper bag for cakes.
We were both finishing our free coffees and about to start arranging the menus on the tables when I started hearing it. Very low and faint, I could barely distinguish from the sound of the wind outside. But it was there.
“What’s that song?”
“Song?” Athos frowned.
“Yeah, it’s some flute or whatever. Can’t you hear it?”
“No. I just hear the wind”
I thought it was strange, the sound wasn’t loud but it could be perfectly heard. Athos has very good ears, he plays the harp. Yes, harp. His mother named him after one of the three musketeers and he plays the harp. Poor Athos, he is naturally boring.
Then it got louder. Now I could tell it was some kind of Celtic song, I don’t know much about music but it made me think of leprechauns. I felt my feet get hot and then my whole body and the next minute I was dancing like a crazy to the sound of the song that apparently only I was hearing.
Athos was staring at me with eyes wide open, still holding a pile of menus. His passionate look had completely gone.
“Stella? Stop this, you’re shaking the table! Stop grabbing it!”
“I can’t! It’s this stupid song, can’t you see it?”
No, he couldn’t, he didn’t know what I was talking about. I was grabbing the edge of one of the tables desperately, because my feet couldn’t stop moving in a frantic way, my whole body was shaking on the same rhythm and I thought I was driving crazy. I put all my strength in making my feet stop and it just made them move faster. I never, ever, danced anything, I’m the one who moves the shoulders and head in a silly way when the rest of the room is actually dancing, I had no idea how my feet had learnt to do that.
Athos realised the situation was serious, walked to the café’s front door and hanged on the sign “sorry, we’re closed” that we had just took off. Our boss usually arrives one hour after me and we would be dealing with the first customers in minutes. I mean, we should, but I wasn’t in the best state to sell anyone coffee.
“Help…me…please” — I was getting out of breath and sweating. My fingers were getting purple because I was grabbing the table so hard and the seriousness of the situation can be summarised by the fact that I asked Athos for help. All my pride was gone.
He grabbed my shoulders and tried to step on my feet, to make them still, but they had also acquired extra strength alongside with the dancing abilities and what happened was that Athos almost fell to the ground. He recovered his balance and looked at me, still puzzled, while I started crying. I knew I was ridiculous, I could see he was about to laugh at me if he hadn’t just nearly been pushed to the floor by my dancing feet. At the same time, my body was aching and I was getting really, really tired. Ta da da da da daaaa ta da da da daaa. The song wouldn’t stop.
Then, suddenly, the look in Athos eyes changed. He grabbed his phone.
“I have an idea!” he said.
I couldn’t answer anything, I wasn’t even thinking straight to try to understand what he was thinking about. He turned on the café’s sound system, to which we connected our phones every day to play Spotify playlists (usually classical music) and in minutes I started hearing the beats of some electro music.
“Can you still hear your song?” he asked.
My feet were still doing the happy Irish step dance they had just learnt.
Athos widened his eyes again. I never swear out loud.
Then he turned the volume up, and I started thinking about the people on the street, would they think we were turning the café onto a day club? Tum tum tum tum the now super loud beats made my brain shake. And then, peace. My feet stumbled onto each other two or three times before stopping completely. Athos was looking at them, smiling. He had won. I owned him one, now.
I was afraid it would all start over again if he turned the music down, but we couldn’t work in that way. I was sure the windows were about to break. I searched my pocket for my earphones, but I had left them in the bag I had used in the weekend. Athos seemed to have guessed my idea and quickly fetched his own earphones in his pocket and offered me. I have to say I was furious that he was being so helpful. I’m a bad person.
“Here, try it”, he shouted, so I could hear him over the brain shaking beats. “If Martha asks, you say you’re trying music therapy to calm you down and you need to listen to it all the time”
Martha is our boss. And I’m famous for being nervous. I plugged his earphones on my phone, put it in my ears, chose a random playlist and gave Athos a thumbs up, showing him that he could turn off the sound system. He looked relieved. Silence dominated the café again. I could see two of our everyday clients stopped in front of the café, peeking through the front door glass.
Some annoying American pop was playing in Athos earphones and I felt no urge to start dancing. Good. Smiling again, he went to the front door and welcomed the customers in. I could see he gave them some excuse, to which they replied smiling, so I guess they weren’t angry. Martha is a nice boss but she would be furious if she found out that we had kept clients waiting outside on a windy day. I stayed behind the counter, adjusting the earphones (trying not to think about Athos’ earwax) and proceeded to prepare the two lattes that I knew the men would ask for. They ask the same thing every day.
I worked all morning listening to one playlist after the other, and Martha didn’t say anything. At the end of my shift, I was grabbing my stuff to leave, having completely forgotten that I wasn’t using my own earphones.
“You can take them home, if you want. If you think the stepping thing can come back”, Athos said, pointing to my ears.
“Oh. Sorry, I forgot. Yeah, I think it’s safer to keep listening while I walk home. I’ll try taking them off when I’m in my bedroom. And I’ll close the windows”
“How privileged I am! I’m the only person on Earth who has ever seen Stella doing the step dance.” And he laughed. I got red. Of shame and anger.
“Shut up. Bye.”
Dad doesn’t have lunch at home, his work is too far away. I prepared a sandwich and ate it while searching on Google about “dancing syndrome”. There was a Wikipedia article about “dancing mania”, the website of a UK dance company and another Wikipedia article named “Dancing plague of 1518”, which I opened. “The outbreak began in July 1518 when a woman began to dance fervently in a street in Strasbourg”, it said. I stopped reading when I read “Controversy exists over whether people ultimately danced to their deaths”.
I swallowed the rest of my sandwich, grabbed a mug of tea and went upstairs. I closed my bedroom door and stood in front of the mirror, Athos’ earphones playing Purple haze. I remembered the first time I plucked my eyebrows, in front of the same mirror. I was afraid it was going to hurt too much and needed to gather all my inexistent bravery. Now I was doing it again for a similarly stupid reason: taking the earphones off.
I swore to myself I would never wear the loose socks again. Actually, I would throw off that pair and only wear socks that never get lost in the bedsheet. Encouraged by this firm decision, I silenced Jimmy Hendrix, looking at my feet.