The dancer and the gun, TiltMN

A Short Story About Violence

The Dancer

I go to work like normal at papa’s store. It’s a store that keeps the roof over our heads. Work hard, papa says, so you can go to college. I go to work like normal, because whenever I don’t have class he wants me to work. Papa doesn’t appreciate free time, he says. There’s no time for free time.

These two boys come into the store a lot.

I stand at the top of the stairs in a beautiful dress and curtsy like they do in the movies. I took dance lessons when I was young because mama wanted me to. This is the one thing she wanted for me. So I stand at the top of the stairs and gracefully descend. The moonlight shining through the window. My date in his tuxedo standing at the base with his arm outstretched. Waiting for me to take it like, You look beautiful, Marnie. Would you care to dance?

Yes, I say all cool. I would like to dance.

Then he says all suave, Well, would you care to dance with me? and I finally take his arm and we dance all night beneath the crystal chandelier that sparkles and shines bright like diamonds.

Missus Corcoran was a strict dance teacher and she would always tell me to focus. She was always yelling at me more than anyone else.

Ligne! Marnie, are you paying attention?

I mostly read while I work. Not very many people come in at once. It’s not that I love chemistry, I can just hear papa’s voice telling me, Why would you stand around when you could be getting ahead? There is no time for free time.

I know these boys are not old enough. I don’t care. Papa doesn’t care. One of them smiles nice every time and he has nice eyes. He drives a black car that I think looks silly. But I can tell how much he likes his car and how proud he is of it. That makes me like it too.

Jeté entrelacé. No, Marnie, spin and then drop.

It’s almost Halloween and the leaves are starting to change. Red and orange and yellow. I’ve always liked Halloween, ever since I was young. Not for the reasons most people say, like. To dress up as someone new or to be someone you’re not. I like Halloween for the weather. Sweatshirt weather. Nice for walking outside weather. And all the decorations on people’s houses. Like jack o’ lanterns on windowsills and families made out of raked leaves stuffed into old clothes.

The boys come in and they’re joking around, pushing each other and laughing. I read my book and I don’t make eye contact. Not like he could tell through my glasses. They’ll come and I’ll ring them up and I won’t ask for identification. His black car is sitting in the parking lot. Red and orange leaves lying all around on the sidewalk.

The Gun

A man comes in. He’s overweight with a sweatshirt on. He looks strange. But it’s a strange neighborhood. He’s talking about cigarettes or cigars and what do I have behind the counter. He’s looking behind the counter and getting too close and I tell him we only have cigarettes.

He asks for a small bottle of whiskey. He hands me money. Okay.

Chassé, Marnie. Pay attention.

Is this the right amount?

En Face.

I open the register.

He pulls out a gun and all of a sudden his face is covered by a mask and his voice is like a hiss and my breath goes out of my chest and I think not all cool this is not the beau I would curtsy for, and this is not what was supposed to happen today, I have a test tomorrow, I have to study, I have to rake leaves, I have to…

Pas Jeté.

But I can’t move. There’s a gun pointed at me and he is telling me he wants what is in the register. Cash and receipts. Cash and receipts now! Now!

Chassé, Marnie. Are you paying attention?

My hands are sweating. The gun is shaking. Shiny and black. I know there is a button underneath the counter for calling the police. Papa showed me where it was. I can’t find it now.

Missus Corcoran says, Focus, Marnie! You’re not paying attention.

My fingers are fumbling. Not as graceful as my curtsy. Why didn’t I pay attention when papa showed me where the button was? I can hear papa’s voice too and he says,

If you want to make it in this world, you can’t fool around. You’re my oldest daughter. You have to work hard. Do you hear me? I’m only going to show you this one time. Are you paying attention?

Yes, papa.

Missus Corcoran says, Allegro, Marnie, allegro! You’re not quick enough.

Yes, Missus Corcoran.


What was that, Missus Corcoran?

Fouetté, Marnie.


It’s like thunder all around me and I think, but wait, it isn’t raining? My sister, she is three years younger than I am, used to get scared by storms. She would jump. We would hide beneath the blankets and talk about the chandelier we would both someday dance beneath with handsome boys in tuxedos.

Thunder goes BOOM BOOM BOOM and I can see the guy’s face mask fall off when his head explodes into red mush and blood and I think, but wait, it isn’t Halloween yet? Not for a few days still. I need a costume. I need a dress in which to curtsy.



The world freezes around me.

And then another BOOM and something blows through my chest where I don’t have any breath anymore. And I can feel my face and it’s hot, hotter than anything I’ve ever felt before and I need to

Petit jeté.

Like my whole body shakes and I don’t know what it means

Chassé, Marnie, are you listening?

I think it hurts but I can’t feel anything because my whole body shatters into three million pieces

Spin and then drop, Marnie.

I see the chandelier sparkling like diamonds above me,

Brisé, Marnie. Very good.

And I descend, gracefully.

Finale, Missus Corcoran says. Finale, bravo.

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A Short Story About Violence