Matthew and his wife stop for coffee on the way to see his doctor. As they leave, Julie curves her arms over her head, stands on her tiptoes and ballets to the door. A few days ago, the ghost of Martha Graham came to Matthew’s wife in a dream and said she could cure her husband by dancing. “Anywhere, anytime, any style,” Julie says the ghost told her. Matthew doesn’t believe in that sort of thing, but what can it hurt? He joins in when he has the strength.
Dr. Schock removes a small yew and a mallet from behind his desk and, as he speaks, strikes the mallet on all sides of the plant. Figuratively, of course. He says that sometimes the disease is more resilient and faster-spreading in younger people like Matthew.
“Stop beating around the bush, Doc. Have these hellish treatments helped me at all?”
Dr. Schock gives Matthew and Julie business cards with the names of end-of-life and grief counselors and says there’s nothing left to try.
Julie whispers in her husband’s ear. “We know better than that, don’t we, Matthew?”
As they’re walking in the parking lot, Julie tears the cards in half and begins swiveling her hips and singing. Come on baby, let’s do the twist. Matthew turns side to side then, out of breath, continues to the car.
When they get home, Matthew calls his parents to give them the bad news. His dad says they’ll stop by if they get a chance. Matthew’s folks can’t forgive him for marrying Julie. His family and hers have hated each other for generations. Neither Julie nor Matthew know why. They try not to let whatever’s going on bring them down. They joke about going on Family Feud, call themselves Romeo and Juliet.
Matthew’s condition skateboards downhill over the next few weeks. Julie works harder than ever to save him. One day he musters enough strength to go to the grocery store with her. He sits on a bench at the entrance. When his wife comes out, she’s krumping behind the shopping cart. On the way home, she gets a ticket for tap dancing on the hood of their car at a stop light.
Julie does an interpretive contemporary dance as she puts the groceries away. Matthew thinks the movements mesh well.
He goes into the study to watch TV. A few minutes later, Julie comes in to show him her fusion of hip hop and Irish dance. He thinks it looks like someone fighting for balance on ice, but doesn’t have the heart to tell her.
When they go to bed, Julie lies on her back and makes jazz hands.
Despite all of Julie’s efforts, Matthew doesn’t get better. One day he’s in and out of it so much from painkillers he loses track of time. It seems like Julie’s been ballrooming through the house for hours. Then, a miracle. He starts feeling stronger. He’s able to get out of bed for the first time in a week, can stand and even walk a few steps. He hears his wife in the kitchen. “Martha was right,” he says. “Your dancing is curing me.”
Julie tangos into the bedroom holding a head of lettuce to her cheek. Panting and drenched in sweat, she smiles then collapses.
Matthew kneels and puts his thumb to her neck, his ear to her chest. He detects no pulse or heartbeat. She’s danced herself to death to save him. He can’t bear it. He opens a bottle of pain pills, chokes half of them down and lies beside his wife.
After a few minutes, he’s unable to move, open his eyes ... or even speak when he feels Julie stir beside him.
“Oh, Matthew, what have you done?” She pries the pill bottle from his hand. “I’m coming with you, Honey. I won’t live without you.”
Hearing the pills rattle out of the bottle, Matthew tries to scream for her to stop, but can make only a gurgling sound.
He feels Julie’s head on his shoulder, and her body against his. Soon they both begin to kick and jerk. Matthew senses a rhythm in their movements and, in his mind, sings in his wife’s ear. Oh, Darlin, save the last dance for me.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net and has appeared in numerous print and online journals including Fictive Dream, Pithead Chapel, Moonpark Review, and Literally Stories. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.