A man stands shrouded in twilight on the boardwalk that runs along the edge of the beach. He flicks cigar ashes toward crumbling slabs of overturned concrete, broken and covered in graffiti. The battered remains of stone walkways and fountains rest in gravelly sand, and the eroding pier juts into the waves like a finger pointing the way out.
A woman emerges from the forest path, walking in his direction. She pauses, unsure of herself, and of him. “This used to be a dance hall,” he tells her, but she knows that already. “I waited for you,” he adds, and though she doesn’t recognize him, she isn’t afraid.
He is young and dressed in an outdated suit, hair slicked to one side, a wilting carnation on his lapel. He smells like cherries. She looks out to the mouth of the lake, where the water flows to merge with the river that divides Canada and the United States. Scans the shoreline where the ruins of the past century reside. She knows this was once a casino with a grand pavilion for dancing. A bandstand that attracted tourists from all over. There is a plaque on a stone podium listing the facts, the dates. The glory days, the war, the Great Depression.
When the man turns to speak to her again, his body flickers, vanishes and then reappears in a flash, like an image on a television screen with poor reception. She does not move away.
“There,” he says, gesturing with the cigar, “that was where the ferry docked to drop off the Americans. They loved it here. Couldn’t keep ‘em away.” She nods and surveys the wreckage, overgrown in places with weeds and littered with debris.
“Hundreds of people could fit on that dance floor,” he says. His arm sweeps across the view as if he’s pulling back a curtain, and like a photographer focusing a lens, she sees it all. Women in beaded dresses, hair smoothed into finger waves. Long legs in sheer stockings, feet poised in strappy heels. Whispering into the ears of men in pinstripes and fedoras, moving through humid summer air thick with cigarette smoke. Strains of trumpets blare, and a clarinet spirals notes like fireworks into the night sky.
He drops his cigar, stubs it out with the toe of his polished shoe. Offers his hand to the woman. “I don’t know how to dance,” she says, and he laughs. “Like this,” he tells her, waving his hands palms up, left foot stepping forward, then the right, then back. The Charleston. She looks down to concentrate on mimicking his movements and sees her body draped in filmy fabric, touches the cloche on her head, runs her hands over the pearls at her throat. Voices all around her laughing and calling out to each other, cocktail waitresses smiling with trays of martinis.
They dance until beads of sweat form on her brow. They sip drinks, gin and vermouth sliding down her throat like fire. She is breathless as he takes her hand and leads her to the pier. He lifts up her arm and twirls her around slowly, but he is flickering again. She wants to ask him who he is, but his face is blinking in and out, open mouthed.
He is handsome, he is bleeding, he is smiling, he is dying. Her mind is infiltrated with sounds of battle, of airplanes and gunshots, of sirens and screaming. Her hands fly to cover her ears and she is bent over in pain. The noise rises to a great crescendo to explode inside her head, and she falls to the ground.
She opens her eyes, and he is gone. A full moon glows bright above the lake. Black waves lap against the pier, and she stretches her legs inside the familiar pair of jeans, pulls her hoodie tight around herself. Alone, she hurries through the ruins of the dancehall, her Converse wet and covered in sand.
On the boardwalk she hesitates, confused and drenched in disbelief. A couple strolls by hand in hand. A loon cries from the edge of the horizon and a cyclist glides past. She stoops to inspect the planks at her feet, runs her fingertip over the fat stub of a cigar. Squints her eyes and strains to see something out on the beach, but there is nothing. Only stars watching over a world obliterated by time, the scent of cherry cigar smoke drifting from the shore.
SARA DOBBIE — Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her work has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Maudlin House, The Lumiere Review, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. Look for stories forthcoming from Flash Fiction Magazine and Emerge Literary Journal. Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie, and on Instagram @sbdobwrites.
Art by LAURIE MARSHALL — Laurie is a writer and analog collage artist from Northwest Arkansas. Her words can be found in some cool places but Flash Frog tucked into a special place in her heart when they asked her to illustrate their amazing July stories. She believes in the power of Militant Optimism, prefers her chocolate dark, and is currently raising gray tree frog tadpoles on her back patio. Find her on Twitter @LaurieMMarshall.