SHUT UP AND DANCE
By John Thomas Tuft
The train departs Lynchburg at 12:14 in the dead of night. He slowly climbs the stairs and enters the car, seeking his seat among the soul-weary travelers. He sags into the seat with the ache of a thousand sleepless nights and the tiredness felt in his bones of wondering if everything in his life has really added up to this. A midnight train to Philadelphia, another leg in the journey from “now I lay me down to sleep” to “how in the hell did I sell my soul so cheap?” His eyes begin to close then snap wide open again with nothing to see but the strangers huddled over their filtered talismans or the shadows slipping past beyond the windows. But it’s better than the scenes that play out on the back of his eyelids every time they sag low with his sighs.
If life is defined by what we value the most, the lines on his face matching the scars on his heart speak of treasures befitting royal beggars. As the Virginia countryside slips by in the moonlight, he takes a travel magazine from the seat pocket and begins to leaf through the glossy pages filled with colors and smiles, temptations and treats, beaches and hotels. He knows that chasing a dream becomes mostly about the chase because the dream never quite lives up to the anticipation. And when you are not there for a loved one, it does not matter why, all that is remembered is that you were not there.
His daughter married six months ago. He missed it. Just like he missed so many of the important events in her life. He snaps his eyes open to stop the unreeling of the things he has missed. Too many pictures of pain. The man reaches into the pocket of his jacket and pulls out a pocket knife that includes a small pair of scissors. He carefully selects a page and begins to snip away, slowly, methodically. When he finishes one page, he moves on to the next, his tongue jutting a bit out of the side of his mouth as he concentrates. When the train reaches Washington, DC there is a layover while the engines are switched.
The traveler looks out at the people at the other windows of other trains. Can he handle one more dream? He climbs down to the platform and scurries from one trash receptacle to the next, taking out plastic straws and discarded popsicle sticks. At the “All aboard,” he gets back in, cradling his treasures in one arm as he asks the conductor for some tape. For the rest of the journey he is absorbed in the anticipation and the labor. Before he knows it, he is climbing the long stairs in the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. He searches among the rows of old wooden benches beneath the neoclassical arches, offering being empty, except for the one gift he has to offer.
She is waiting at the counter in the center of the vast room, talking to a police officer who handles a large black dog. He approaches them, waiting until the dog decides he offers no threat. He speaks her name, holding out his gift in one hand. “I brought you this,” he smiles. She turns, sees him, sees the gift he brings. “Oh Daddy, how could you? Can’t you get anything right?” and she grabs the travel magazine that he offers and throws it on the shiny countertop. Then she spins around and walks away.
She is in such a disgusted hurry that she never sees the magazine slide across the counter, teeter on the edge and drop to the floor. And the police dog who sniffs at it, then touches it with a paw. Or the little girl who runs over to rescue the gift and picks it up with great excitement. Which turns to wondrous delight when she opens it, and a bouquet of hope and dreams emerges. Daffodils, daisies, tulips and even an iris pop up from the pages. She shrieks with delight and turns to share it with the traveler, but he is gone, onto the next train.
And it came to pass, that after a boys’ night out, as grown men are wont to do, and Jesus being nowhere to be seen, his BFFs, decided to sail across the lake in the dark. It was an impetuous decision but making impetuous decisions had hooked them up with this guy in the first place. They get out onto the lake and a storm blows up, a big one. They are afraid, of the storm, and of the realization that when they get home their wives may knock some sense into them… When out of nowhere, they see the Big Guy, walking toward them in the storm. Peter says, “Hey, I want to try that.” Jesus says, “Go for it. Watch me to see how its done.” Peter jumps out and makes a few steps before reality sets in and he starts to sink. “Now what do I do?” he screams at Jesus. Who looks at him, sinking lower and lower, shrugs, and says those words that echo through to this day: “Shut up and dance.”
Words are magic and writers are wizards.