On the Morning Dance Floor by Alex Juffer

Jakey, face pressed to the window and eyes cupped into makeshift binoculars, could see Mrs. Claddagh sitting perched on her couch, speaking to herself.

With Mom in the bathroom, he crept out of his apartment and down the fire escape to street level, rust coloring the soles of his feet a burnt orange. Jakey slipped into her patio, which contained no furniture save the dead houseplants bowing to the sun. An old cane jammed up the bottom track of her sliding door to keep it closed.

Although Jakey could’ve sworn that Mrs. Claddagh was blind, a movie played on the squat television. Mrs. Claddagh, sunglasses sitting high on the bridge of her nose, stared at the corner of the room and mouthed along with the characters on the screen. It was a black and white movie from back when people dressed up and spoke with accents.

The man on the TV was singing, Jakey realized, his jaw quivering between smiles. Mrs.Claddagh sang along with him. The music carried through the thin glass to Jakey—playful strings and horns. His feet itched to move but he focused, read her lips, and caught a repeating phrase: dancing cheek to cheek. Jakey mimicked Mrs. Claddagh’s lips and hummed himself into song, chasing the cadence.

He had Pop-Tarts upstairs, surely toasted by now, but Jakey stayed. He liked watching people live their lives.

Mrs. Claddagh pushed herself up from the couch, hands sinking into the autumnal velour. Jakey worried that she had heard him and stood rigid between two spider plants fertilized with cigarette butts. However, Mrs. Claddagh paid him no mind; she lurched her hips back and forth, arms flapping out in matching rhythm.

Mom hollered from upstairs, but Jakey ignored her.

He watched the dancing on the screen—the sway of the couple, the shine of their hair, the woman’s hooded eyes that stared up at her partner. Toys in a toy house. Jakey raised his hand, an elegant arch in his wrist, and danced along. He practiced spinning, summer soles thick and smooth from use.

He wished everyone could see the grace in his body but was glad to be alone all the same.

Maybe someone would spy him out their window like he’d spied Mrs. Claddagh.

The strings swelled and the actors were high kicking now, the woman’s feathered dress swirling off her ankles. Mrs. Claddagh performed her own small kicks right on time, arms out for balance. Jakey synchronized his kicks to them both on the warm concrete, feet scuffing the ground, the crash of a symbol leaking out of the apartment. He dipped himself, arm thrown for effect, back straining like a taut bow. The sun was a spotlight and Jakey closed his eyes to face it. 

Mom called once again, a quiver of concern in her voice, but Jakey couldn’t hear her. The song in his head had grown too loud.

Alex Juffer lives in a small town in Minnesota with his fiancé, two dogs, and a family of attic squirrels. Recently, he won the 2022 Forge Literary Flash Fiction Competition and his piece “Path of a Bullet” was a Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions for 2023. His work has been previously published in Epoch, Cleaver, Monkey Bicycle, Hobart, The Los Angeles Review and more. 

Vintage photo of a woman in a white dressing dancing

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