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The Last Dance
written by: A Stump
They’re all here. They think I’m going to die now. Blake lay in his bed, his eyes unblinking from the stroke he had suffered earlier that week. If my arms still worked, I’d get myself a drink. They’re all holding hands and crying. Maybe if I could cry, it would show them that I’m still here. Slowly, summoning every ounce of energy left in his spent body, a single tear rolled down his cheek, getting lost in the short, gray whiskers of his unshaven face.
“Oh! He’s crying!” sobbed one of his daughters. “Wipe his cheek.” Blake’s son gently touched a tissue to his father’s face. They saw! They understood! I’m still here! His chest lowered in relief, then rose again, sharply.
“I wonder if he’s sad,” his daughter whispered through her tears.
“If he’s even here,” replied his son, eyes red, searching.
I’m here! I’m here! Blake’s mind was screaming, his own silent voice deafening him.
“I mean,” continued the woman, “If he’s sad for leaving mom—leaving us. I wonder if he’s regretting the booze. He’s too young.” That much was true. At 76 years old, he had lived through a World War and a tough life of farming just to be killed by 80 proof and Marlboros.
“I think,” the son continued, “he knows. I think he’s tired of it. You know everything that went on in the war. We all know about how his girlfriends treated him after he left mom and us. I don’t know…. I think maybe he’s tired of paying the price. Maybe the stroke got him to stop running. Maybe his body was tired of self-medicating and ready to deal with the demons, even if he wasn’t.”
In Blake’s peripheral vision, he could see something moving from the corner of his room. Something dark and shadowy. Was it one of the Nazis from the war come back to finish what they started 50 years ago? His legs ached from the shrapnel still inside them. I haven’t felt my legs in days! His heart raced because his feet couldn’t. His mind darted back to those days, decades ago, still fresh as yesterday. The Allies had committed crimes, too. Following orders, he had done those terrible things. More tears rolled without effort, just as they had night after night for the better part of half a century.
The peripheral wraith came closer and stood directly over Blake’s bed. As it hovered over his face, it no longer appeared menacing—it actually looked sympathetic. It was a very tall man. He didn’t wear the gray uniform of the soldiers from a lifetime ago. He wore modern, plain clothes, but Blake had never seen him before.
Is he a new doctor they’ve brought in?
“I’m not a doctor, Blake.”
He heard me! How can he hear me?
“I can hear everyone, Blake, but they can’t see or hear me.”
Who are you?
“I’m your Transportation.”
“Your Transportation. It’s time to go.”
So, they were right. I really am dying.
“Yes, Blake, but you don’t have to be afraid. Do I scare you?”
No. No, you don’t. In fact, the man’s appearance was so plain and meek, it was doubtful he could’ve scared a child, even if he tried. Blake was brought away from 1945 and those wretched European woods, his mind easing his body into anticipation of a final release from the ghosts of his past. Then, he choked and his chest heaved—What do you mean, “Transportation?” Where are you taking me?
“Where do you think, Blake?”
To the bad place. I’m going down to the bad place, right? People like me don’t make it to heaven. Not after everything that I’ve done.
“Why do you think that it’s about what you’ve done?”
Well, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t the next life about what you did in this life to deserve it? I messed everything up. I did horrible things, in the war and after. There’s no way that I could go to heaven after that.
“Don’t you see, Blake? No one has done anything to deserve heaven. Humanity is rotten to the core and bent toward evil. Do you think that you were the cause of that war that you fought? There were plenty of people who caused that, and even if you hadn’t lived to fight it, there would’ve been another to take your place and do all those things. There has been more war and violence than peace on this earth. The story of this world’s first two children ends in murder. It’s the human way.”
I don’t understand…. Everything after the war…. I still kept choosing wrong.
“Many people in your position do. They thought that they were better people, but when confronted with the choice to stand on principle or to follow orders, they find that their pride and their courage and their desire to be good people isn’t really as strong as they thought. They crumble under the pressure, then they spend the rest of their lives crumbling, until all that’s left is a pile of lifeless rubble. Your current physical condition is just the outworking of what’s been going on inside you for most of your life.”
But I still don’t know how I could possibly go to heaven.
“All those times that you cried out from the bottom of a bottle, God heard. You were never able to forgive yourself, but God forgave you long ago. If you had been able to embrace that fact, your end would be significantly different than it is now. You’ve lived through hell, and now it’s time to go to heaven.”
A stream of tears poured from Blake’s eyes. The hot, burning salt brought back memories from his time on the coast. Years of chasing after women and drowning his remorse in alcohol brought upon him the deep sadness of a whole lifetime wasted. As he began, for the first time, to realize the unfathomable love of God for him, a sob shook his body and caused him to choke and cough, his throat paralyzed by the bleeding in his brain. One of his children turned Blake’s head to the side and another patted his chest, not knowing what to do. His body eventually settled and as his breathing quieted, his children also breathed a sigh of relief.
If what you say is true, and if I can be forgiven, is there time to make something—anything—right?
“Perhaps. My boss is very lenient and has been known to grant last requests. However, it may be that you can only make it right for you, and not for another.”
There’s someone that I hurt badly. At one time, I loved her very much. I broke my promise to her and I never made it right. I hurt so bad for so long that I left her. She didn’t have anything except me, and I left her. She wouldn’t go to the coast with me. She knew that it was a dead end and that the life I lived down there wasn’t right. She knew it and she tried to stop me, but I went anyway. I left her, and I had other women, and she was never right again.
I’d like to see her again. Can you make that happen?
“I can allow you to see her.”
Her name is Dot.
“I know your wife’s name. She’s not in the room, but I can allow you to see her. Whether she sees you is up to her.”
Please, please, just let me see her.
Blake’s son had already turned his head to the doorway to stop his choking, and as Blake’s eyes focused on the darkened portal, a woman walked in. She was short, heavy, and wore her hair up in a messy bun. She had cotton in her ears and looked around the room, nervously. She carried her abandonment in her body, which was ravaged by uncontrolled diabetes. Her mind, though, had taken the brunt of the depression and loneliness, producing a quick pattern of speech and a nervousness of personality that disallowed her from significant emotional response. Her entire body and life had become a defensive weapon against the pain of the one man she loved leaving her and the farm for the pursuit of loose women and alcohol.
As she cautiously stepped forward, Blake slowly lifted himself off of the bed and swung his skinny, scarred legs around, dropping his feet to the floor. He pushed himself up with his arms and took one nervous step towards the woman standing before him. At one time, she had encompassed everything good in his life, everything pure and right. This was the woman who would mother his children, look after the farm, and give him a future. He looked back at the tall man and said, “Can I talk to her? I can talk! I can talk!” Blake nearly jumped with excitement.
“Yes,” said the man, “But only to her and to me. To the rest, you’re still back there.” He nodded his head toward the bed. Haltingly, Blake looked back at his resting place and saw himself lying in bed, eyes staring blankly toward the door. Revulsion and horror crept up his spine as he looked at the pale scarecrow lying in the bed.
“Am I still back there?”
“You’re sort of in between, but don’t worry about it. You can leave the driving to me. Now, don’t you have something to say to her?”
Blake returned his gaze to his wife. Her eyes darted to the left and the right before finally meeting his. When they did, they were locked, and Blake thought that the lines in her forehead softened. In that moment, there was no estrangement, and the deep feelings of suspicion lessened. A light smile played on her lips and her eyes sparkled at him with anticipation.
“Dot—“ he choked and didn’t know where to begin.
“Yes, Blake?” Her voice was soft. No longer anxious or hurried, her response was slow and deliberate and her eyes pleaded with him. As she spoke, her face looked thinner, more youthful.
“Dot…” his voice trembled, “Dot, I can’t make things right, but I’m sorry.”
“Blake,” her body straightening and slimmed as she spoke, “those are the words I longed to hear all these years. I would pray that you’d call on the phone and tell me that.”
“I’m so sorry….”
“I waited, but the phone call never came.” There was sternness, but no accusation in her voice.
“I can’t tell you how many times I picked up that phone, but I put it down every time.”
“Blake,” she looked off to the side, past Blake, focusing on something a million miles away. “Blake, I was in my chair, and I heard a call. Not a phone call, but it was your voice calling for me. I heard it as if you were just outside the room, like when you’d call for me back at the farm house. I got up to look, and when I walked out of my living room door, I walked into this room.” As she spoke these last words, her eyes drifted back to meet Blake’s eyes, and as they met, he could see that there was only love in her sparkling eyes. A smile—the type of warm, real smile that comes from meeting a long-lost friend—beamed on her face, and her hair fell down from the messy bun to the light wave of her youth, down to her shoulders. Her nose upturned slightly, like when she was eighteen, and her sloppy top and polyester slacks transformed into a flower print sun dress that she used to wear in the summer.
“Dot—” Blake couldn’t believe the beautiful vision standing before him, “Dot, will you dance with me?”
“Oh, Blake,” there was no chiding in her voice, just playfulness and warmth. “I never stopped dancing with you!” She stepped forward, and his hand touched hers, fingers intertwining like vernal roots and his arm slid around her waist, feeling the familiar curve of her back. His silver hair turned dark and the years of pain and guilt melted from him. He stood taller and straighter, his legs thickened and the scars faded, and he could’ve sworn that he heard the Beach Boys sing as they stepped and twirled.
Well do you wanna dance under the moonlight?
Squeeze me, baby, all through the night
Oh baby, do you wanna dance?
The couple spun and laughed until the room faded into a blur, the bed blending into the wall and the faces of the children disappearing into the background. Their focus was on one another, and for that moment in time, there was only this eternity. The tall man smiled and walked out of the room, closing the door. As Blake lay in his bed, the glimmer of life twinkled in his eye for the last time, and he smiled.