Dance Movement by Wendy Erskine

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We are delighted to present an excerpt from Gloria and Maxfeatured in Wendy Erskine’s collection of short stories dance movepublished by The Stinging Fly Press

In Wendy Erskine’s new collection of stories, we meet characters who seek to take control of their lives, only to find themselves defined by the moment in their past that marked them…


Gloria and Max

Max Haynes had been in Northern Ireland for just under two months: long enough to know the limits. These presented themselves in two days, such as the cultural district of Belfast which consisted of a single street. He was there as a visiting professor of cinema. And now he was in his car, driving somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

There was supposed to be a film festival in a remote place and he had been called in to attend a planning meeting. Yes, of course, he could appreciate the importance of an awareness dimension in the work of the faculty. He had indeed already programmed a short Unknown Pleasures series for university cinema based on Slavic mythology. And as far as he was concerned, it had been a huge success. Yet the prospect of this little local festival did not excite him. Indeed, it presented important ideological and aesthetic issues because, as a festival of so-called Christian cinema, it was monocultural and reductive. But nevertheless Max had agreed to go. And he also said he would drive another participant, a woman called Gloria, who would wait outside the Spar in one of the unfortunate little places he had to pass through.

However, it was very pleasant to drive in the car, through red and yellow trees. In London or the other towns where he had lived, Max had rarely driven. But when they arrived for the new temporary job, they offered car leasing. He had laughed at first and reluctantly walked to the showroom, but when he went for the test drive in the sleek, stately machine, that was it. He joked about it with Janika when he sent her a picture of it. So not me! he said. But still, he had opted for the impressive car.

Max arrived at the appointed place at the agreed time. It wasn’t a particularly attractive place. Although it looked rural, the huge smokestack of a nearby power plant towered through the trees. On this main street, he wondered if people were waiting for some kind of drug depot, so many people were hanging around. Three teenagers took turns jumping on the silver inflatable from inside a wine box. Behind them was a sign advertising hot food. A burrito wore a sombrero and had a mustache. It was pretty typical of the place. He would hesitate to brand everyone in the country as rednecks because so many weren’t. Max had met several people at the university with whom he would certainly keep in touch after his departure at the end of the year. And there was the guy and his partner doing film music. But no doubt, there were also a lot of rednecks.

At the bus stop in front of the store, a crowd of girls were waiting. Two women were talking together like a dog on a leash whirled around. One of the boys kicked the burrito board. Across the street was an undertaker with an oversized drum clock above the window, its slow hand performing its sweep. Max flinched at his clumsiness. And then, turning around, he saw a portly middle-aged woman in jeans, white sneakers and a pale pink anorak. She had short, choppy blonde hair and looked totally unfazed as she stood against the storefront.

Max wondered how this woman would feel about being in a car, an enclosed space, with a man she didn’t know. It might make her less uncomfortable if he talked a bit about Janika. This would establish that he was not a threat and that Janika was someone who, while not there in physical manifestation, was constantly there in thought.

Max rolled down the window.

Gloria! he said, not loud enough. Gloria! He shouted. It seemed ridiculous, like some kind of horrible act of tribute to Van Morrison. Gloria!

The woman looked over, carefree, then walked to the car.

Hi, he said, once she settles down next to him, I’m Max, and even though I have no idea how to get to this place, I have the satnav to help us.

It’s a straight road, said Gloria. To succeed.

Good to know, Max said. But he kept the satnav on.

So, said Max, here we are on our way to this planning meeting. Are you very interested in cinema?

Gloria thought about that, then said, Well, I’m watching some stuff on TV. Now and again.

Well, filmmaking is actually what I’m involved in, Max said. Do you make movies? Gloria asked. No, I teach cinema at university. Oh, she said.

I am an academic in cinema. Oh. Film university. Teach people about cinema.

Yes. How to make movies? No. How to watch them. First lesson. How do I turn on the TV, she said, looking out the car window.

dance move by Wendy Erskine, published by The Stinging Fly Press, is now available.

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