Loud music filled the room. Tom’s stick-like legs bounced to the rhythms of Patti Smith, Richard Hell, and the Ramones. Like fingers on a keyboard, they hit every note via convulsive inward twitches. Though unable to move, he had danced his homebound days away in his mind, and flared up the walls between himself and his neighbours.
His paralysis subsided upon the sound of silence. Tom straightened and strained each of his legs, as if they were made of crumbling wood. He stood up and floated out the door in a dreamlike state.
As he went outside the trees swayed to his rhythm, encouraging him to take one fresh footprint after another. He hasn’t walked in years, and every step felt exotic and transgressive. He felt himself doubling like a tom-tom drum at the climax of an upward-hill solo. His legs withered under the strain of sensory excess, so he reached for his fellow strollers for support.
The first figure he spotted was a teenage girl. She walked carefully, pliéing her way forward like a ballerina. Her long legs, winding and ashamed, didn’t seem to fit the rest of the body or the malevolent expression on her face. She had headphones on; Tom imagined ballet poses smashing an electric guitar seamlessly, its crumbs falling over the girl’s dark hair. He tried to mimic her walk, but it was too fast, too used up.
He heard the tap-tapping of the rain as he followed another silhouette across the street. She had a brisk walk and a concentrated style, like a first-rate dance teacher, relinquishing talent for authority. What would happen if she found a partner good enough for her? He wondered. Would she spread her wings and fly above the crowd to the rhythm of a ballroom’s starlight chandelier? He tried to keep up with her, but the bustling sound of her footsteps put him in need of a crutch to lean on. He dropped her trail and fell on a bench.
Tom used to slurp on movement like it was mother’s milk. He inhaled every rhythm and key change, and moved his body accordingly: he pogoing to punk, gesticulating to hip hop, swaying to jazz—and skinning his partners alive at slow-dancing.
There was one art he had never been able to grasp, and that was walking itself. The way people moved forward, never looking back or up or down – except for those more socially anxious, that is – the path leading them exactly where they needed to go. As natural as he was on the dance floor, he grew hopeless on the street.
Until the paralysis struck him.
He’d been kissed by a siren at the most elemental dance of all. The curves of his partner’s flesh suffocated his bones and blew substance out of them. Unlike birds, he did not learn to fly. He took to bed instead, watching the birds flocking and mocking him outside the window.
He would never love anymore. He could not dare to invite even a possibility of the tiniest tinge of attraction. He had loved once, and the woman broke his legs. They could have remained broken, he didn’t care about that anymore, but he would never let anyone break his heart ever again.
Pumped up by the air in his lungs, Tom situated himself firmly on the bench and watched people walk by. The street began to overflow with couples: tangoing their way out of fights, cha-cha-ing into each other’s business, or waltzing into a shared space of their own. One heart might have been a lonely hunter, but two constructed the most elaborate frameworks and patterns imaginable.
Tired of looking outside himself, Tom joined the fingers of his two hands together and took them on circling walks up the air’s stairs. He mixed and matched grungy rhythms and twirled until his cheeks turned flamenco red.
When he looked at the world around him, he noticed a woman leaning on the wall on the other side of the street. When she spotted his eyes set on her, she waved at him. He waved back.
Without walking over, the woman began to move her hips. She must have been about Tom’s age, with short red hair and a sickly pale complexion. He couldn’t see the features of her face from afar, but he saw a smile sifting through her body. He stood up and walked up to the edge of the pavement. He couldn’t feel his legs anymore. He began to mimic her, and sway his hips left to right. Without thinking twice, he raised his hand, as if pressing it on an imaginary wall; then he locked the air in an embrace with his other hand. The woman, in turn, reflected him.
Tom remembered the waltz lessons his parents had forced him to take in elementary school. Right foot forward, left foot to the left, right foot follows; left foot backwards, right to the right, left follows; and so it goes. The woman moved correspondingly. Each passerby stared and every other car honked, but no one stopped them. Everyone kept a safe distance, as if the pair was surrounded by an electric field of their own.
Tom felt a teardrop on his cheek. When he looked up, he noticed a bruise-coloured cloud staring at him and sending him cold droplets, one by one, like a cold shoulder. When he looked back down, the woman was gone. The trees turned motionless. People did, too. Their pace was slow and their movements mechanical, blurry, anonymous.
Tom felt the pronounced stickiness of his legs crawling back into the bones. He barely made it back home. As he did, he heard the trees’ whispers, their promise branches broken like the wind and swallowed by the rain.
He couldn’t tell if the drop on his cheek was a tear, or a bit of sky falling upon him.
Alex has been experimenting with various forms of writing for the past few years. She’s a Culture Editor and Writer for Roar News, her work has also appeared in publications such as HuffPost UK, Bad Pony Mag, Breath & Shadow, and Litbreak Magazine. She’s a creator of the YouTube channel, Alex Blank, where she explores the illusions and inconsistencies of the human psyche.