Stepping Out

by | Feb 4, 2020 | Fiction, Issue Thirteen

My second first steps are like a walrus in stilettos. Quick, slow, quick, quick, slow. Jelly legs buckling at the knees. There’s a picture on the wall of a Caribbean sunset as if I might just waltz off into it. Slow, quick, quick. Phantom sand between my toes. No scratch can cure that itch.

Fireworks went boom in the night. Quick, quicker, quickest. Heartbeat to match. Eyes blinking to keep out the sand. The light seared onto our retinas but we watched all the same. A chasm of silence before the second round.

Mother says, Good boy. She smiles as I toddle forwards. Then the buckling, jelly legs outcome of before. I can crawl out the room if I want to. I could crawl across the Registan desert if it weren’t for the sand.

The lads called me twinkle toes. Quick, quick, slow in a YouTube salsa from 2004. Give us a dance, they said. Under the light of the stars without a partner. No thanks. The stars blinked out when the fireworks began.

Jimmy’s in the corner stacking Lego bricks. Connor’s doing potato prints. Tom’s playing pairs. And I’m at the parallel bars taking my second first steps. Slow, slow, slow, slow. Clank of metal from behind where Pete’s lifting weights. Like a delinquent in a nursery.

Don’t run before you can walk. I remember a teacher telling me that at school. They meant – you’re not cut out for maths or chemistry. Just sport, where I was quick not slow. Anything they threw at me. Table tennis, cross country, martial arts. I walked past an after-school dance class and took part as a lark.

Up. Slow. Straighten. Slow. Lift. Slow. Step. Slow. Get into the rhythm of it with a side step and a rumba walk. Feel the action in my hips, the mechanics of my knee. All heel leads. The carbon fibre springs inside my foot.

No good being twinkle toes when a firework’s homing in. I woke with blood in my mouth. And there was sand in the blood. And blood in the sand. A patch of it that Connor was staring at like he’d never seen blood before. Jimmy and Pete got me in the truck quick, quick, quick.

You did great, says Mother, the corona of a Caribbean sunset round her disappointed face. My first first steps were a joyous cha cha across the living room. Today, I’ve barely gone six yards. You’ll get better, says Mother. She told me I’d get picked on if I took up dancing. She told me I’d get myself into trouble if I went off to war.

My second second steps are like a dromedary en pointe. Slow, slow, quick, quick, quick. We used to see camels in the desert. Ugly, cantankerous brutes that would kick out in all directions. We dared each other to foxtrot in close. I remember how much it hurt when one of them stepped on my foot.

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