#12 The Unbearable Light (3/3)
It’s the last episode in The Unbearable Light triptych: if you’ve missed the story so far, go back and catch up here.
If you haven’t read any of Story Press, check out the archives here.
For those who need reminding, we first heard from a man who is staying with his dying father by the coast, and walking his dog, Barney, every afternoon down to the beach. There, struggling with coming to terms with his father’s condition, he meets a strange old woman who tells him the story of the Rodricks and the Selzers, the confusion over a rumoured affair, and miscommunication between all parties involved.
We left the story last time around just as a coin toss was about to decide who dances first among the pairs, as they all battle it out for a little more than a dancing contest.
A quick shoutout to another excellent Substack newsletter this week. With Deepculture, you can get 20 interesting things sent to your inbox every week. It makes great reading on the way to work or over a coffee. The commentary is on point and I especially love the book recommendations. A lot of my short stories are based on ideas from smart people like those quoted and referenced here, so it’s great to engage with these ideas. If you like culture, philosophy, and generally interesting and curious things in the world - go check it out.
The Unbearable Light, Part III
‘During the coin toss, Mrs Rodrick and Paul Selzer were drawn to dance first. They spoke to each other for a short moment. Mrs Rodrick caught her husband’s eye across the floor. Paul held her, ‘Stop worrying about it. It’s just a rumour.’
‘‘It’s not just a rumour,’ she said. The dance started. They swayed side by side as the music faded in.
‘‘What do you mean?’ Paul asked. ‘He admitted it to you, that it was true?’
‘Mrs Rodrick nodded. She felt his actions were as much as an admission. ‘Jesus Christ,’ Paul Selzer said. ‘Why would he do that?’ He held her and they danced and danced, they were perfect. But in the moment, as the music increased in tempo, as the dynamics grew louder and the dance more intense, Paul had this electric feeling running through him. Like something had to happen; like he had to do something.
‘‘Do you trust me?’ he asked, as he twirled her around in his hand. She nodded. She did not know why she nodded. She didn’t really trust him, she didn’t even know him. But she felt as though in that moment he was the most reliable person in her life. He was the partner who danced to her tune, who guided her.
‘‘Follow my lead. We’re going outside,’ he exclaimed.
‘And she replied, ‘What?’ He pulled her arm towards him and jumped down from the stage to the floor. She spun and jumped into his arms too. They danced among the tables where the guests sat, shocked at the move no other couple had made. They whispered and leaned in to get a better view, intrigued by the dance’s new location. Mostly they applauded the audacity.
‘Next thing, however, he guided her through one table and the next, poured her over one table and spun her between two others. It was a great spectacle and, until that moment, in my whole life, I had never seen dancing like it.
‘Before I knew it they were by the doors. Mrs Rodrick shouted to me, ‘Grab Summers and bring your brollies!’ It was the most energy I had ever seen her demonstrate. She looked so happy, so effervescent, like a shook-up fizzy drink. Summers was the valet who worked with me at the Rodrick house. We were there to support the logistics, and to look after Mr and Mrs Rodrick. I had sat at the back the whole afternoon and evening, watching events unfold, unaware of the drama taking place behind the scenes.
‘Anyway, no time for observations! Paul Selzer booted the double doors open and flung Mrs Rodrick out into the early evening. I heard him scream with joy as the doors came to slowly and the hall was plunged into silence. The band stopped at that moment. The guests either mumbled curiously to one another or gazed dumbly at the doors. Summers and I looked at each other, grabbed our brollies and made to leave!
‘Outside, we ran into spitting rain. It wasn’t too heavy, but a peppy wind pushed it slantwise to slap you in the face. We saw Paul and Mrs Rodrick running across the road like school children and onto the beach. She in her red dress with long, velvet gloves, and he in his prim black suit.
‘‘Come on,’ I ordered Summers, who looked as though he’d much rather stay inside. We made our way down the steps as a few of the guests had come out to watch from under the pavilion. We waited for a car to pass, crossed the road and skipped across the sand until we met Paul and Mrs Rodrick.
‘They were dancing still and laughing intensely. Paul was loudly humming the bass to the music to track their steps to: dum, dum-dum; dum, dum-dum; dum, dum-dum…
‘‘Can you keep us dry?’ Mrs Rodrick shouted through the wind.
‘‘We’ll try!’ I replied. I held the umbrella out, as did Summers, but the strength of the wind forced me to grab my hat with my other hand. Despite the wind, the sun had not receded, indeed, it shimmered into the residual water at low-tide. They danced and danced along the beach, and Summers and I kept up for a while. In the end, they moved too quickly and we grew tired. They were uninterested in our presence after a while, and we put the umbrellas down and walked back.
‘Mrs Rodrick and Paul Selzer continued, dancing and laughing, skipping, turning and flourishing all the way into the horizon.’
The woman pauses, lets out a great sigh, and watches Barney skip through a light puddle. ‘Did she go back to the party afterwards?’ I ask.
‘No, no, of course not.’
‘Well, what happened to her?’
‘Truth be told, I haven’t seen her since.’
‘And Mr Rodrick?’
‘He’s a mess, so Summers tells me. He spends all day inside, miserable and depressed, waiting for her to come home. I wouldn’t know, though. He fired me the next day.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Oh, it’s no bother. I was thinking of retiring, anyway. My husband was recently diagnosed with dementia and I wonder if he didn’t see enough of me before.’
‘Are you local?’
‘Yes. I’ve lived here all my life.’
A seagull squawks in the distance and an eerie feeling forces me to check my watch. It has been a long time now since I left my father’s home. ‘I really apologise,’ I say. ‘I must go to the pharmacy. I only just noticed the time.’
‘Oh no. Who am I but a stranger taking up all of your time?’
‘Not at all. I am sorry to have to leave so abruptly.’ I put Barney back on his leash. ‘Thank you very much for your company. It was much needed after a lonely few weeks.’
‘Perhaps I’ll see you here again some time,’ she nods, ‘and there might be another chapter in the saga of the Rodricks and Selzers.’
‘Perhaps there will. I very much look forward to it.’
And at that, I turn away and towards the pharmacy. I turn back to see the lady still sitting on the bench looking out to sea. The sun peels out from the cliff up ahead, and in one block mirrors in a hazy orange in the water. The sun is much as I imagine it might have been that evening when Mrs Rodrick and Paul Selzer danced their way across the sands.
And I wonder if that isn’t their silhouettes in the distance, a black smudge rollicking into the crest of sunlight.
Thank you all for reading The Unbearable Light. Do get in touch and let me know your thoughts about it, the events that unfurled and the characters involved!
If you like what you’re reading, I’ve joined a couple of Group Promos to help reach a wider audience! If you’re interested in downloading free books to find new writers, click here, here and here. Some of them include really quality Substack writers, so do check it out if that’s your thing.
More to come in a couple weeks, keep those readerly eyes of yours peeled…