A Generational Jig

Submitted into Contest #35 in response to: Write a story that takes place at a spring dance.... view prompt



What had begun as a pot-luck out on the field behind the church had rapidly deteriorated. It was a Sunday afternoon in mid-April, when the sun was really warm for the first time, and the after-church potluck containers lay scattered across the picnic blankets. Despite feeling sleepy after far too many sandwiches, the inevitable dancing had begun. The accordian player - for you’ll find one in every church, if you look hard enough - had of course brought his instrument along with him for this very occasion, and when he struck up a jig what could anyone do, but join in! Drowsy fathers were pulled up by their children, spinning in circles.Young couples danced and skipped, laughing as they tumbled into each other or the nearby foliage. Gales of laughter rose across the hills, and the air thrummed with that kind of vibrant immortality that can only truly occur when it’s spring and everything seems to bloom without end.  Reclining in deck chairs brought after years of experience at events like this, the elder folk dotted around the yard, chatting and chuckling at the events that played out in front of them.

They’d had their chance at dancing. Years ago, back when the rugs on the lawn were wool and not polyester, when the lunch was wrapped in napkins and tins instead of tupperware. Back then the skirts were longer, the hair was bigger, and the world had certainly felt smaller, But the jig was just the same. The same steps done by generations both before and after them. One couple in particular watched the dance with interest. The same old woolen rug spread out over the two deck chairs, Marty and Elliott sat gazing at the spinning figures, arthritis-ridden fingers intertwined. It seemed only yesterday that it had been them out there on that lush dance floor together. Marty turned to Elliott with a smile, speaking softly. “Do you remember…”

“Of course, my love, you remind me every year.” her husband rolled his eyes fondly.

“We met at a dance in this very yard. 1963. Did you know that, dear?” Marty turned to the couple that had collapsed to catch their breath on the blanket beside them. “58 years ago today. I was in my prime  - a carefree twenty-one year old, coming home after college for spring break. My husband had just begun a season in the fields that have long since disappeared, at 23. Why he stumbled into church that morning, we’ll never know. But thank God he did…”

It’s also a good job Marty Larsson was dressed in her Sunday best that fateful day in 1963, though it was a miracle she got it all on in time for church. Flying down the lane in her father’s truck, she barely made it into the service before the minister began. As luck, or God, would have it, that day was the best day of all to be late, for about ten minutes later a quiet-looking young man wandered in, hat in hand, and sat beside her on the edge of the pew. He seemed out of place; he certainly wasn’t from around here, Marty could tell that much immediately. She wasn’t to know he hadn’t crossed the threshold of the church for a good ten years or so. It’s probably a good thing she didn’t; Marty wasn’t the most forgiving of characters, and being a good church-going Christian her whole life, she’d been brought up to have little respect for those “good-for-nothins” who couldn’t commit to at least one Sunday service. But as has been said, Marty wasn’t to know, and this lad caught her eye in a way he probably shouldn’t have in the middle of a gospel reading. Marty caught herself quickly, looked back at her bible and resolved to talk to him, if only he would stay for the potluck afterwards. Thankfully, as she helped hand out sandwiches and spread rugs on the grass, she caught him talking to Pastor Martin about his address that day. “You just about blew me away there, Sir,” she heard his voice drift across the yard, “I’ve never met a pastor who can make the word of God quite as interesting as you seemed to make it just then - I was enthralled!” She smiled in approval and turned back to setting up. When she looked up, he had moved further away, and she could no longer hear him. The rest of the afternoon flew by in chatter and feasts of finger-food, until the accordion was brought out and the jig began. The children began to spin, and Marty plucked up the little courage she’d mustered from staring at this absurdly beautiful boy for all day. She ran across the grass, and grabbed his arm. “Come on! I’ll show you how we dance out here in the country!” Ignoring his polite concerns that “I’ll embarrass myself,” she whirled him out onto the downtrodden lawn.

And so they danced. 

Names and origin stories flitted across the gap between them as the dances went on. She learnt that he was a field hand, here for the summer, and feeling out of his depth in the great expanse of the South. He learnt that she was an english major, planned to teach afterwards, and had a boyfriend back at college that she wasn’t all that keen on anymore. He smiled at that, and continued to dance until the sun was set low on the horizon and the rugs began to be rolled up. The accordion played its last note, and applause ran out over the hills, mingled with groans and complaints from the children whose energy was seemingly insatiable. Marty turned away, she claimed, to help pack up the leftovers, but found her hand reluctant to leave the clasp of Elliott Bhilmyre’s. Instead they collapsed onto one of the few remaining blankets, out of breath and giggling at the children attempting to continue the dance despite the lack of music. “I love how determined they are. Even the silence can’t stop them.” She gazed out at the kids and turned to see him watching too. “They look completely crazy.”

That made him chuckle. “You know how the saying goes. Those who are dancing are always thought to be mad by those who can’t hear the music. Maybe they have their own music. Just because we can’t hear it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” 

Marty glanced across at this young man, who she’d thought about all morning and danced with all afternoon. In the fading light the shadows brought out the harsh structure of his face, but even against a darkening sky, he looked kind. As he watched the children with a smile playing about the corners of his mouth, she thanked God that he was here all summer. She couldn’t wait to know more about this Elliott. 


The sky was streaked with purple by the time the dances had finished and everyone began to go home. Marty had barely finished her story, but the couple on the blanket beside them made very polite excuses and ran off to their car, murmuring to each other as they went. They seemed to take the last of that glorious immortality with them. As the sun began to dip below the hills, and the last few church goers packed blankets and tupperware into their cars, Marty and Elliott picked up their deck chairs and began to stroll back towards the parking lot. As they walked, Elliott’s hand found his way again to Marty’s, and he surprised them both by whispering, “How would you like to dance?” 

She turned to him and laughed. “We had our chance. 58 years ago and almost every year since then. You know as well as I do that we’re too old to dance anymore. Plus, we don’t have any music.”

Elliott put down the deck chairs, and placed a wrinkled hand on her cheek. The dying rays of sunshine highlighted the cavities in his face and hers, the lines and scars from decades spent together, stretching back years to the young fool who’d wandered into a church and a girl who’d forced him to learn a jig. 

“Don’t you remember? We have our own music.”

April 03, 2020 22:57

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