excerpt : Frances Johnson
"Look!" Ray shrieked with the frightened enthusiasm of a boy, startling them all. He pointed to a cramped, dusty staircase in the wall beside the gateway, which seemed to lead to a cellar or basement. "That little door! I remember it! My father showed it to me when I was a boy—it leads to an area below the dance floor, I'm almost sure of it. It's like a secret room." He beckoned Frances, Kenny, and the mother.
"A space beneath the dance floor, like a rathskeller? But why, Ray?" It made little sense to Frances.
His brow furrowed. "Not sure. I say we go look, just for fun. My father took me down there once . . . It's always an adventure to go underneath a floor, isn't it? If I remember correctly, the ceiling is transparent. You can look overhead and see right through the dance floor above!"
"I'll go," Kenny agreed.
"Is there a waterfall?" Frances asked nervously, and the others laughed. "Yes, let's go there, please! Can't we, everyone?"
Smiling, eyes glowing, the mother spun around. "A little room beneath the Hutchinson dance floor? What a very nice idea! Is it a beautiful place? Oh, I hope so!"
The stiff door gave way under Ray's purplish fingers.
Descending a curving interior staircase, the four passed into a tile tunnel with a very low ceiling, such that they crawled through in a single line, with the mother first, Frances last, and the men in between. Then they entered a wide, echoing cellar room full of brilliant green light and vibrating with the organ's jumpy pulsations from above. The room's ceiling was low enough to bar standing comfortably upright, and the party lay down quietly to stare up through the ceiling into the room above, rich green light swarming over their faces, the room's corners jumbled with shadows, aglow.
"The ceiling's not transparent at all." Ray frowned. "It's frosted. Darn."
"The dance floor was built before any of you were born," said the mother.
"You can see the shapes of their bodies," Kenny reached excitedly, as if to touch the figures above the ceiling. "Look, folks are walking onto the dance floor right above us!"
The mother adjusted a disclike earring. "That's because they're beginning to mingle and have a marvelous time."
The cellar's echo of organ notes widened their voices, slurring and stretching sounds, making words difficult to track.
"This ceiling is costly and strong, you know," Ray observed, "because it's also a floor."
"Their faces aren't visible, but look, you can make out some details. I see a hand! It's so pretty!" Kenny's voice trembled.
"Calm down," Ray said.
Minutes passed as they watched the dark, blobbish figures above shift, meld, and separate with the rhythms of the organ music. "It is strange," Kenny went on. "Like being under the sea."
Frances turned to Ray, rolling, whispering: "What is a dance, anyhow? Lots of expectations and excitement, yes, but what else? What is it really for? I can't think, Ray."
"The people of today seek happiness and avoid pain—I guess that's about it," Ray said softly, evenly, close to her ear.
"What about soldiers? They don't seek to avoid pain."
"Sure they do."
The room indeed was like a viewing-station into an ocean, she thought, gazing upward again, detecting, she noticed, a scent of water, and she thought of terns and the tiny, unnamed, speckish creatures that floated in giant waves and quivered.
She sensed movement at her side.
"Palmer! How did you get here!?"
The physician was lying face-up beside them, his pale smile awash in the delicate green light.
"I simply followed," the man said, glancing up to the ceiling. "I'm a bit of a follower, Frances, you know. The whole town is empty now. It's kind of odd! Everyone's at the dance."
"They have to be," the mother explained.
"Such rich music!" Palmer cried, turning his head aside in pleasure, gaze soft.
"Hellooo!" Kenny called, trying to capture the attention of the dancers above, waving.
Palmer turned to his side. "You were right, Frances, you son of a gun. Munson folks have their dances after all."
Her eyes glistened toward him. "Palmer . . . are you angry?"
is the author of four books: My Horse and
, published by Sun & Moon Press
, 1994; Dra—
, published by Sun & Moon Press
, published originally by Clear Cut Press
in 2005 and recently
re-released in June, 2010 by Verse Chorus Press
; and The Girl with Brown Fur
forthcoming spring 2011 from Starcherone /Dzanc
Gone Lawn thanks Verse Chorus Press
for their kind permission to reprint this excerpt.