by Jim Toal
I’m up a stepladder, putting new roofing felt on the garden shed when I look across my neighbour’s garden through his kitchen window, and there’s Josie hanging up a pair of marigolds over the tap, staring out into the afternoon.
As I lean for a better view, the stepladder wobbles, and I grasp the shed roof, knocking over a pot of nails, scattering them on the ground.
When I look up, Josie’s still there, unperturbed.
I climb down, go round, and knock on the door. My neighbour, a retired dance teacher about my age, answers. His body is lean and muscular under a clean, white T-shirt.
‘Can I help you?’ he says.
‘My wife. I saw her at your kitchen window.’
‘Yes, I saw her just now washing the dishes.’
‘Washing the dishes?’
I look down. A nail glints in a trouser turn-up. I bend, pick it out, and worry it against a thumbpad.
‘Yes. Washing the dishes. With marigolds.’
He looks at me, perplexed. ‘I can assure you that your wife is not in my house.’
I plant a foot over the threshold.
‘Hey, just a damned minute.’ He holds out an arm.
He has an arty soul patch under his lower lip, which juts out like an evolutionary warning system: Proceed at your peril.
‘Or?’ I say. ‘What’re you going to do about it?’
‘Suppose I could call the police.’
That night, I go outside and pace the length of the fence separating my garden from next door’s. I hear music. Brassy salsa. I climb the fence and drop with a soft thud onto my neighbour’s lawn. I crouch under a window. The curtains are open, so I peek inside. In the brightly lit room, my neighbour is dancing.
He sways, stepping forward and back, fluid, lost to the rhythm. I could perform a gavotte in the garden and still go unnoticed. He’s so unencumbered and unselfconscious that I begin to warm to him. But then Josie reappears. He slides a hand down her back to cup an arse-cheek. I swallow hard as he thrusts his hips, grinding into her.
Next day my neighbour emerges from his front door in jogging gear. He does a few lunges and leans against the gatepost to perform quad curls.
I open the door and glare at him. ‘Hey.’
He glances at me mid-stretch. ‘Hi, there.’
‘I saw you last night.’
He straightens and puts his hands on his hips. ‘What?’
‘Saw you dancing with my wife.’
He laughs. ‘Please. Not that again.’
‘What are you laughing at?’
‘I’ve told you,’ he says, backing away. ‘Leave me alone or I’ll call the cops.’
‘Don’t worry, mate,’ I shout after him as he runs up the street. ‘It’ll be me who rings the police.’
I slip outside, climb over the fence into his garden, and rattle the back door. A small, frosted window is ajar, only secured on a flimsy catch. I push a terracotta pot under the window, stand on it, and squeeze through into a downstairs toilet. With my head dangling over the bowl, I wriggle my legs free by bracing my arms against the porcelain and twisting at the hip. I crash inside and walk my hands up the wall till I’m upright.
I search the bedrooms first—inside wardrobes lined with flowery paper, under beds stacked with dance magazines and bundles of yellowed correspondence bound with string like cured meat. I pull out drawers looking for a sign—jewellery, underwear, cosmetics—but all I find are antacid tablets, balled up socks, a Spanish prayer book. Downstairs, in the stair cupboard, there’s a rack of dancing shoes. I take a pair, unlace my shoes, and try them on. Soft grey nubuck, very pliable, with black suede toecaps and a raised heel. Snug but comfortable. Extremely light. When I walk across the hall into the living room, I’m not only taller with the heels, but also lighter on my feet.
Pictures of my neighbour as a young man dancing with a beautiful woman cover the walls. They make a glamorous couple, eyes focussed exclusively on each other. One photograph shows the woman blowing a kiss to the camera, with J, 1982 xx written in the bottom-right corner. J for Josie. We met the same year, ’82, in Blackpool Tower ballroom. Married the year after.
I go over to the CD player and turn it on. The salsa music I heard the previous night fills the room. ‘Soy feliz,’ the singer sings. I’m happy.
With the dancing shoes lifting my feet, I move to the rhythm. Hips loose like in my prime, head rocking side to side. As the music draws me in, Josie pulls me close. Her breath caresses my neck. I drink in her laughter, inhale her scent. Dancing together brings the careless joy of life expanding rather than contracting.
We dance on, oblivious.
Oblivious to a car pulling up outside, doors opening and closing, police officers entering the room.
Soy feliz. I’m happy. May it stay this way, Josie, always xx.
Jim Toal lives in south Shropshire. His fiction has featured in Litro, The Nottingham Review, Fictive Dream, The Mechanics Institute Review, and Reflex Fiction, and is forthcoming in The Forge Literary Magazine and The Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology. He can be contacted on Twitter @Jtstories.