by Gerard McKeown

Lifting my fuzzy head from my hot hands, my eyes are lashed by colour. This morning’s aftershave has been sweated away already. My pores sing an ugly song, reminding me of the essence of what I can’t remember from the night before. My throat wants liquid, to be mildly irritated by bubbles, but the rest of my head tells my body not to move.

Not knowing Blackpool and only here for a night and a day, I’ve come to see the famous tower. Now collapsed in a chair in the ballroom, I don’t have the energy to leave, never mind dance.

The Wurlitzer plays a frantic fairground tune that speeds and slows as the dancers twirl in a blaze of imprecise, angry, joyful shades contained within an unbroken stream of movement. Evolution ingrained dancing into us for mating purposes, but as with everything else we overcomplicate it. The floor is packed, from the kids who are showing us how it’s done, too young to know the meaning of some of the moves they’ve already mastered, to the old couple, no longer able to do anything impressive, but who are enjoying themselves all the same. They can still move, still find a rhythm that suits them both. To my foggy head, everyone is moving too fast, but I feel obliged to contribute, put on display the ill-executed moves that saw me going back to the hotel alone last night. Perhaps I could learn something here, but my off-balance contortions would alarm onlookers. They would find me animalistic, almost brutal. Heavy set, leaning forward, leading with the shoulders. Out of step with the excitement and the beauty, unworthy of kisses and cuddles.

My eyes lurch, unwilling to follow the whip of coloured cloth; the intensity of which threatens to slice my eyeballs. If the dancers sped up, these shapes and colours could condense into a white soothing light, resolving this swirl of burnt cheese orange, prawn pink, salty seaside blue, urine yellow, bruised purple and the borderline bluey-green that brings on migraines.

My eyes close, seeking black, or dark, but the Wurlitzer’s chunky grunts chew my balance. My mouth opens. I almost scream. Knowing the dancers aren’t trying to hurt me, I hold back. But my stomach insists. Ripe chunks of breakfast rush up into my mouth. My head turns downward as the vomit falls around my feet. Dangling threads of thick sticky saliva hang over the rancid mess.

The music continues. My ears are unable to separate the taps of the dancers’ feet from the drip of my unpleasant, uninvited, unintended expression, spreading with a slow measured movement, all of its own, across the sprung floor.

Gerard McKeown is an Irish writer living in London. His work has been featured in The Moth, 3:AM, and Litro, among others. In 2017 he was shortlisted for Over The Edge’s New Writer of the Year award, The Willesden Herald Short Story Competition, and The Bridport Prize.