By Coleman Bigelow
Dan and Susan sat in silence at their corner table by the window. The food had been good but the place too formal, and Dan regretted this choice for their last vacation meal. He half-heartedly contemplated a dessert menu before looking up to see Susan’s profile backlit by the setting sun. She smiled open mouthed—animated in a way he hadn’t seen for months—and he turned to find what had captured her attention.
Just outside, on the lawn leading down to the harbor, two children, a tall thin girl who looked about ten and a husky red-cheeked boy, maybe two years her junior, were in the middle of a spontaneous dance-off. Both children danced to imagined beats, but it was clear they grooved to different tunes.
One bopped, and the other bounced, one spun and the other jumped and gyrated. The girl more studied, while the boy shifted from wild hip thrusting to rowdy butt shaking, his arms flying up and down to accentuate each move. The boy reminded Dan of one of his students from the previous year. A boy he was constantly disciplining but secretly found amusing. A boy whose exploits he had enjoyed sharing with Susan, when she was still excited to hear such stories.
Inside the restaurant, the dancers attracted a growing audience. A man two tables away slapped his leg with laughter as he watched the boy execute a dance move that involved riding an imaginary pony. Susan giggled and, listening to her, Dan thought of how the shock of her convulsive laughter had first attracted him. He loved the progression of her laugh from quiet snicker to full throated guffaw. The magical surprise of this otherwise-graceful person letting go. A laugh that had faded from Dan’s world like a close school friend you don’t realize you miss until you run into them again on the street years later. A friend with whom you are instantly able to reconnect. A friend to whom you would confide about the baby.
It was growing dark, but the children gravitated to a pool of fading sunlight. The girl appeared to explain some rules to the boy and then, after a dramatic pause, began her own elaborate routine. She clapped her hands and did a kind of grapevine back and forth. Then she stopped, put her hands to her sides and jumped to cross one leg in front of the other. Once in position, she spun herself around while pivoting on crossed feet in a perfect Michael Jackson imitation. She finished by dropping into a split.
With a satisfied smile, she motioned to the boy to take his turn. The boy appeared stumped, but then clapped his hands over his head and rotated his hips. He did a running in place routine that made his stomach jiggle inside his t-shirt. Dan noticed the girl purse her lips as the boy shot fake guns from his fingertips. The boy laughed and spun around the girl, eluding her grasp. Mid-rotation, he froze and pointed at the restaurant.
The children, eyes widening, registered all the faces looking down. The girl gasped. She pulled the boy in the direction of the guest cabins. Halfway up the hill, the boy broke free to sneak one more peak at the diners. He took an impromptu bow and grinned, his broad smile stretching his chubby cheeks. Dan put one hand on the glass and watched as the boy caught up with the girl and disappeared into the shadows.
After the children’s departure, chairs were rotated back into tables and the steady buzz of conversation resumed. Dan missed the distraction of the children – the escape from the unspoken. He was tired. Tired of waiting for her. He’d begun to wonder if she’d ever be ready again. Susan continued to stare into the fading light. She sipped her tea. The same tea she had nursed throughout dinner, frequently lifting the little white pot to refill her cup even as the water grew cold. Susan had taken to drinking tea after their baby died.
“Good dinner?” Dan asked, reaching for her hand.
“Those kids were the highlight,” she replied, and moved her hands to her lap.
A final splash of pink retreated across the harbor lawn.
“Free entertainment,” Dan said, finishing his last drop of bourbon.
Susan twisted the napkin in her lap. “You forget how uninhibited kids are at that age.”
“Or how much joy they can bring.” Dan said. Her eyes locked onto his. The blacks of her pupils first expanding and then shrinking as if absorbing the subtext. Dan smoothed the tablecloth in front of him.
“Isn’t it time?”
Susan’s full lips squeezed tighter. She nodded. “I didn’t think I’d ever be ready, but…” She paused and pushed herself up.
“Can you pay the check while I run to the ladies’?” Midway across the floor, she glanced over her shoulder, and Dan wondered if she was happy he was still watching her or wishing he would look away.
Coleman Bigelow studied creative writing as an undergraduate at The University of Virginia and went on to study playwriting and screenwriting at The Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and the New School. His short stories and flash have appeared recently in Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Free Flash Fiction, The Under Review, Ink and Sword and The Dead Mule School. He’s currently at work on his first novel. http://www.colemanbigelow.com