The Dance of the Dust
You remember playing in the attic, searching through the dusty old boxes for lost
treasures, dressing up in funny hats and delicately flipping through yellowed pages of
family lore. In one of these boxes, near the bottom, you discovered, wrapped in tissue
paper that crumbled at your touch, an old snow globe. The scene depicted was that of a
Parisian street corner during the 20th century. The little street is filled with cabs and a
crowd of jovial, young people smoking around a red marquee in the centre of the street.
One of the young men stands with his arms outstretched toward a woman stepping out of
a cab. Her head is tilted to the side, facing directly at you. Of all the figures in the scene
you know she is the one you are meant to be looking at. Her miniscule eyes radiate from
under the veil of a violet-coloured cloche hat. She has one hand on the brim, holding it
down, ever so delicately, with a tiny gloved hand. You were mesmerized by her mystery,
her exoticness. You spent hours, staring intently at each figure, creating their lives and
stories, not for your own amusement, but to give them, and her, context and identity.
You clench your eyes, shut tight, to preserve this memory, to remain in that place, but
slowly the image of the snow globe and your childhood wonder disintegrates, blurred by
a snowstorm somewhere in your mind, and is replaced by the drone of airplane engines.
You slowly, reluctantly open your eyes and adjust to your surroundings by focusing on
the little white airplane on the screen in front of you. It hasn’t moved. The airline may as
well have placed a digital clock counting down from ten hours by the second in front of
you. Beside you, the snores of an older woman in a black sleeping mask echo with the
low hum of the engines. You are on your fourth or fifth brandy. Sleep will not come.
Mercifully, the plane finally arrives in Vancouver. The aisles are crammed long before
the fasten seatbelt sign is switched off. You help your neighbour with her bag, walk with
her through the terminal and point her in the right direction. She smiles and waves
goodbye. You sit on your bag at the bus stop and, for the first time, realize that you are
The bus isn’t crowded, so you stretch out and stare at the strip malls as they pass by.
Everyone here speaks English, so you can’t help but eavesdrop on conversations. Here
English is not just background noise. The bus arrives at a stop in the middle of nowhere
and you transfer to the train and then to another bus.
Clutching a crumpled piece of paper with an address out like a map you navigate your
way to a red-brick townhouse. You find a key in the mailbox. There is a note; he will be
back after work, around six. He has left some grass for you on the desk. You smoke a
bit and have a shower before walking outside. The air is clean. You don’t have
sunglasses, but wish you did.
At six you are sitting on a curb waiting. He walks by and you give each other a hug.
You haven’t seen him for a long time. You are jet-lagged and high and everything feels a
bit strange. He says there is a party and that you’d probably enjoy being back among
people you can talk at length to. You nod in agreement.
You walk to the party in silence. It is pleasant; the air is cool. People shout down from
a balcony above. You look over at your friend and he smiles. “We’re here man.”
You are buzzed in and walk up a carpeted staircase enclosed by beige walls that make
you feel nauseous. Your friend gives the door a hard shove to get past the shoes. You
step around the mound and lean precariously against a wall to take yours off.
You find an empty seat by the sliding doors that lead to the balcony and enjoy the breeze
that wafts in every time someone ducks out for a smoke. The people around you are
talking and you are included in the circle of their conversation. They occasionally look at
you and you say things that you hope are appropriate. Then they smile and continue with
their conversation and you smile and wait for someone to go out for a smoke.
Your eyes wander around the room and you make contact with a girl standing near the
entrance to the kitchen. You were introduced to her by your friend earlier as you made
your way to the couch. You like her because she has a real smile, but as she makes her
way toward you, you begin to feel nervous. She sits down on the couch beside you and
the air sharpens, as though you have splashed cold water on your face. The party around
you fades to the background. “You must be jet-lagged!” she says. You smile and tell her
what you think about Air Canada. She laughs. You smile when she laughs because the
glint of her eyes is matched by that of her teeth. You are both smiling, but not at the same
thing. You feel good.
Someone ducks out for a smoke; she shivers and says she is going to grab a drink. You
don’t know if that is an invitation to join her or not. Someone asks you to pass the rolling
papers. You had forgotten other people were there. You pass the papers on the table
beside you. You step onto the balcony and tell your friend you are going to take a quick
walk. It takes awhile to find your shoes in the massive pile. They are new and you can’t
remember what they look like.
The sidewalk is empty. You look up and down the road and impulsively choose left.
Around the bend in the road, apartment buildings become houses. You stare at the night
windows. They remind you of evenings spent building impenetrable forts under your
sheets as a child. You listen to music and feel as though you are watching the night
through a hole in the air.
There is a park on your right. You sit on a swing and look down the hill at different
lights from a different neighbourhood. You create memories of the park as you swing
slowly back and forth. You imagine all the treasures you found in the bushes as a child,
all the important talks that took place on the bench beneath the tree and the feeling of
running home at dusk, arriving breathlessly for dinner. You decide to write this all down,
but when you try to form words they come out all wrong and everything vanishes. You
crumple up the paper and put it back in your pocket.
“What were you writing?”
You turn around startled. She has the bottle of wine she’d gone to the kitchen for. You
tell her you were writing everything that was on your mind. She asks to see it. You
show her the crumpled, blank piece of paper. She laughs, passes you the wine and says,
“Maybe you need this.”
She tells you about the park. She used to come here with her sister. You smile and
watch a leaf sway in perfect silence to the ground. She asks how long you are staying.
You tell her that you are leaving tomorrow afternoon. She smiles and says, “Isn’t that
always the way.” You smile. She smiles. You kiss her. She kisses you.
She is lying asleep and you are watching her. Gusts of wind lazily blow the blinds back
and expose the night sky. Out of the corner of your eye you can see a wisp of hair; its
tips arching and falling like fountain water with her every breath. At every fountain burst
you catch a brief glimpse of a star framed by tree branches and strands of auburn hair.
You daren’t move.
She doesn’t look back. You do. You watch her walk away down the street until her head
merges with the brilliant, rising sun.
* * *
Seth slowly, reluctantly opens his eyes and the memory vanishes, replaced by a black,
imposing sky stippled with stars. The park is deserted. Seth lights a cigarette and slowly
continues to swing, digging trenches in the sand with his dragging feet. Aside from the
gentle breeze, and the slow, grinding creak of the swing-set, it is still and silent. Not
much has changed at home. He spent the day with his folks, catching up and then, after
supper, he had slipped out for a walk that had led him to this park. There is a bench
facing the swing and behind it, a narrow path that borders the steep decline into the
valley. A leaf on the tree to his right masks the moon. The tree stands alone against the
night sky—brown construction paper on black. A car slowly meanders along the curve
of the road, bathing the park in light for a fleeting moment.
Seth has spent the evening trying to create something tangible out of the overpowering
emotion that has been dogging him since his return. The thought of going back to work
on Monday depresses him immensely. There is nothing intangible in that, but something
else is nagging at him, something that he desperately wishes he could extract from his
subconscious, but can’t. Not yet. Slowly he reclines back in the swing, his head almost
touching the ground. The ash from the end of the cigarette, caught in a gust, floats above
his eyes before dropping onto his forehead and disappearing into his hair. Ashes to
ashes. He smiles to himself.
Restlessness kicks in and Seth ponders what to do next. The Choose Your Own
Adventure life strategy has always appealed to Seth. To continue walking turn to page
37, to head home turn to page 48 and to go to the pub turn to page 17.
The pub is unspectacular in every respect: the waitress is plain, a poker tournament is on
the muted TV’s, posters of dated musicians and hockey players adorn the walls and
generic rock music crackles out of the speakers. One group of people is loud and drunk,
another quiet and drunk. Finding a suitable table Seth settles in with his book. After two
pints, two chapters and one last call, the waitress comes over and asks him to settle up.
Grudgingly Seth takes the hint, pays and heads out into the night.
It is Wednesday. For the first time Seth realizes that although he has to go back to work
on Monday, he doesn’t have to go back until Monday. He smiles as he weaves his way
down the sidewalk. He passes the park and his swing-set, waving hello and goodbye. He
pulls his money out of his pocket and counts it. Reassured that the three twenties are still
there, he feels even better, quickens his pace and starts talking nonsensically to the stars.
Feeling no particular desire to be home yet, he lies down in a field near his parent’s
house. It is past midnight and the grass is already dew-covered. Stretched out on his
back, he digs his hands into the grass, tears out big chunks and throws the blades into the
air. Most end up on his face. On his second effort he adjusts his aim and watches the
blades drift to the ground against the backdrop of the night sky.
On his front step, Seth pauses to bid farewell to the night. He tries to capture everything
as best he can, so he can recall it when he needs to in the future, then puts his key in the
door and leaves.
* * *
Seth spent most of the next morning in the library. Every once in awhile he’d look up
from reading, his mind still a bit foggy from the pints the night before, and breath in the
book’s fragrant pages. Smells easily trigger memories, but this smell triggers an
emotion—one that he has trouble identifying. He usually feels it on long bus rides spent
looking out the window or in certain beautiful, forlorn songs with no words. It isn’t
forced, or searched for, this feeling. It just appears sometimes. It might last a few
moments or for days, but never much more than that. And then as inauspiciously as it
comes, it leaves and Seth finds that he’s arrived in a different place.
In the library Seth has just settled into a particularly comfortable spot when this feeling
washes over him. The shelves, the books and the dust dancing lazily through a square
patch of sunlight on the wall all sharpen. They seem more defined, but alien. He
perceives them differently somehow. It is the exact opposite of the feeling he’d had in a
dream last night.
He’d known he was dreaming, but it all felt incredibly real, as though his surroundings
were rooted within him, and he within them. He is in a booth at a restaurant. The
cushions are made of cheap, maroon leather. Seth is on the outside edge of the booth,
which is elevated about a foot from the floor. The carpet at his feet is bordered by small
lights underneath plastic, common to these kinds of restaurants. Stained glass separates
the booths. A stainless steel base with a tray on top holds the remnants of a pizza. Seth
is positive that he has been in this restaurant before, but has no idea where it is or when
he was there. Beyond the tray is a reddy-brown, curly haired guy with glasses who has
been talking at length. There is someone beside Seth, he is certain of that, but he doesn’t
know who it is. He understood all of this information, where he was and what was going
on, instantaneously, as if the information came with the booth and the pizza. It is clear to
Seth that the climax of the conversation has been reached, and that the curly-haired guy is
speaking specifically and purposefully to him.
“Pffffftttttt……there’s a moment.” “Pfffftttttt……there’s a moment.” The P is strongly
aspirated, followed by an F that slowly fades out to a T. Every time he makes the noise
he makes a gesture, like his hand is a slowly-exploding firework, his fingers the falling
stars. Each aspirated noise signifying a passing moment. Then he woke up.
In the library, Seth’s book is open to a photo of a young soldier from World War I. He
stares at him intently, until his eyes begin to look out past the page and at the life and
stories beyond them. And for a fleeting moment Seth feels the soldier and he exist at
once, frozen in time, like one small scene in a snow globe hidden away in an attic.