I Remember the Dancing Dust – A Writing Prompt

This week’s memoir prompt asked you to dig deep to find what, from your childhood, you still know from heart.

I still remember all those rhymes you did while slapping hands with a friend, like Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack all dressed in black black black.

What do YOU remember? 600 word limit

The parking lot’s gravel crunched beneath my feet as I followed my father toward the door. The mid-day sun threw a glare off the rear windows of the handful of cars parked outside the quiet building. I wondered why this place was always our secret. He’d slapped my knee in the car and given it a light, tickling squeeze. “Remember…don’t tell mommy that we came here, K-Belle.” he instructed. Why wasn’t I supposed to tell Mommy? Through the screen of trees I could hear the cars on Route 6, but we were hidden from view in the parking lot of this dead end road, cloaked by the trees that seemed eager to help keep our secret. I would do anything for him, anything to stay with him forever even if it meant lying to my mother.

He pulled the door open onto a darkened room. From the outside, I could vaguely make out the tables and empty red vinyl chairs. The familiar smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer wafting into the daylight reminded me that this was a tavern. My sneakered foot crossed over the threshold and entered the cool, darkened cave of a room. To the right I saw the long bar with its rows of bottles lining the wall. A yellow-haired woman stood behind the bar, tending to a handful of men, each sitting alone and hunched over a glass. I knew who they were. They were the nice old men who suddenly talked to me in the voice of Donald Duck after they’d gone to the bathroom two or three times. Their faces bore silvering whiskers and deeply lined creases. Their good humor seemed forced and unreal. There was nearly always one who would speak to me through reddened eyes full of water. He’d lean in too close, too eager to ask me questions that didn’t make sense and I would wonder why his eyes were so filled with tears that never fell. Was it my fault? Was it my presence that reminded him that he was lonely? Was he sad because his little girl wasn’t sitting at the bar next to him?

Those men bothered me with the way that they waited until my father left for the bathroom to approach me. I’m sure that their intent was to care for the little girl sitting at the bar alone under the temporary care of the barmaid, but they left me unsettled. When I spotted a man who had the potential to become too interested in me, I always chose the barstool on the other side of my father, creating a barrier against men with rheumy eyes. Why was it that I was always the only one who noticed them? Everyone else seemed to look through the watery ghost men.

I knew one of them would keep me rich with maraschino cherries and orange wedges while I sat with my daddy. Sometimes, they’d buy me a Shirley Temple and tip their hats in my direction. I learned to hold my drink up and say thank you, like all the ladies in the bars did. I didn’t want to stand out.

When I was a little girl, I spent a considerable amount of time in bars learning to play pinball and read the words in the jukebox. This piece is an excerpt from the memoir I am working on in my MFA program. It is only a portion of what I so vividly remember.

Comments

  1. Instantly, I found myself distrusting those men. I know that’s unfair, but I’m wondering what their intentions were, why they would wait until your father had gone to the bathroom to approach you. Guess just those protective instincts coming out.

    I find it heartbreaking and sweet how you tried to blend in…and also, how everyone in the bar seems oblivious to one another. Except you. They’re not oblivious to you, nor were you oblivious to them. But you try to be. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Spirited Away or not, but something about this memory reminded me of that movie. It’s about a little girl who finds herself “spirited away” into a spirit world that is unseen by anyone but her. She infiltrates this world, but she never quite fits in. She’s just a child, lost in a world she doesn’t understand.

    Beautiful job, as always, Kelli. I can’t wait for you to finish your MFA and get your memoirs published, so I can read them all…again and again.

    • Thank you, Katie. Your encouragement means a lot. I only hope there are millions of others who will feel the same way 😉
      I haven’t seen Spirited Away, but I’m interested. I’ll have to Netflix it when I have some free time.

  2. Your images are incredibly powerful while being subtle as well. The parking lot eager to keep our secret, the men becoming increasingly loose in their speech and thoughts clearly becoming more drunk but as seen through a child’s eyes they began to do things like come in too close or use a Donald Duck voice. Odd things a child would note and not understand, yet know they meant all was not well.

    I am such a huge believer in intuition and it is ever present in your piece. I was so tense for the little girl here because of her vulnerability. Yet, your wisdom comes through so strongly too. I am a moth to the flame with this piece. Though I didn’t want the men to come any closer and certainly did not want any harm to come to you, I hung on every word.

    Thanks for the words of encouragement you left me earlier today!

    • Thank you so much, May! It’s great to hear your perspective on this piece and know that what I was trying to convey worked.

      *If you all haven’t visited May’s blog, you should. She’s an incredible writer!

  3. Wow…beautifully written from your perspective at that age. So hard not to let our adult interpretations seep in. You’re amazing!

    And also, this story makes me sick to my stomach…

    • …and it’s just the beginning. Thank for the perspective compliment. I am most definitely recalling what I saw from my child perspective.

  4. I can smell that bar, feel the cracked vinyl seats, see the eyes you saw. Your writing takes me there, every time, but each time is a little better than the last.

  5. Vivid and moving. I can feel your apprehension, your nervousness, the deep desire to “make everything all right.”

  6. Everyone has already said basically what I would want to say, to tell you how beautifully you wrote this and stayed true to your child’s perspective. I found myself looking down at my “sneakered shoes” as they “crossed the threshold,” and feeling the wave of dank, smokey air wash over me.

    I am deeply saddened that you dealt with things like this as a child (no one can sympathize quite like someone who’s been there herself… not at that bar, but you know what I mean.) However, I am even more thrilled that you have chosen to surpass the proverbial lemonade, and turn lemons into …a gripping, enlightening, awe-inspiring set of stories ABOUT lemons. You are now a personal heroine. Thank you Kelli!!!!

  7. There are some great phrases in here: “cloaked by the trees,” and “rheumy eyes” are just a few. You’ve definitely captured the wariness a child would feel in a room of strange men. I like how you manage to convey the idea that you feel uncomfortable around them, yet, at the same time, they arouse a touch of sympathy in you. In other words, you’ve gone beyond the expected into the realm of the possible. You were in over your head but your perceptions were sharp enough that you moved to another bar stool. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I think, moving from a sad soul or a possible predator to a safe spot, which, as it happens, isn’t usually associated with being safe at all. Thank you for remembering, and for telling it so.

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