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Danger of Dancing

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently based in Madrid. Links to his recent and collected fiction can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

"It's 'mother' with the stress on the 'moth,'" Percina's own mother had told her. "Playing host to something that'll eat through clothes, is restless all night, and makes grown men flap their hands about in panic all the time."
Martin wasn't showing any concern for her pregnancy, his enhanced face not wearing worry lines and his enhanced mental capabilities processing Percina's changing physique as if she sat in a petri dish.
Captain Percina Saunders had only accepted the humiliating position of captaining the cruise ship because pregnancy was proving less plain sailing than painful swelling.
She stayed up on the bridge whilst Martin paraded the decks looking gorgeous for all the holidaymaking passengers, wearing a suit with so much bright white cloth and gold braid it resembled Caesar's favorite sofa.
"We have a problem," Martin told her when he'd finished his tour.
"I don't want to hear it."
Martin did it in mime. Smartarse.
"What do you mean the crew's gone on strike?" she asked.
The ship's engines, cleaning, maintenance, and cooking were all automated and so all Percina really had to do was watch out for space-bergs.
The "crew" therefore consisted of those on hand to entertain the passengers during their fortnight in Space. Keeping the passengers otherwise engaged distracted them from realizing they'd paid for the cramped living conditions and limited menu and exercise space of a prison ship.
"The entertainers claim they're being exploited," Martin said.
In the past, menial jobs had been done by exploitable immigrants. Space turned the status of "immigrant" into a difficult one for anyone to adjudge.
"And are they?"
Martin shrugged. "Acting has always been viewed as little better than prostitution. They both involve faking emotions and end with the clap, but one is generally considerably more lucrative."
"I'll talk to the owners," Percina said. "In the meantime..."
Martin's first night as ballroom dancer, crooner, magician, trumpeter, and comedian was a revelation.
Percina could hear the applause and wolf-whistles from the bridge.
Unfortunately, the passengers had mailed the tour operators, mentioning how happy they were, and if there were any complaints at all, it was that they'd had to endure the lackluster performances that had preceded Martin's arrival.
Martin was in his element. In fact, the top of the periodic table had shuffled aside to allow him an entirely new tier.
"I'm thinking of adding a Tango to the repertoire tonight. I was split between Argentine and French and so am going for a fusion. Frargentine."
Percina looked at his tight trousers and wondered at the irony of the dance being called ballroom.
"This is only temporary, Martin."
"I think I've found my calling, Captain."
"Then hang up."
She needed the entertainers back working before she traded in a husband for a house band.
"We all started out like your husband," the leader of the onboard entertainers told her miserably. "But when you've had decades of passengers mangle your toes, sing along off-key to your songs, clap out of time, their kids shout out that they can see where the cards are up your sleeve.... Longevity in this business isn't down to depth of skill but thickness of skin."
Percina knew Martin could endure the downsides longer than most, but she didn't want a husband plagued by frustrated, unfilled longings. It was her job to provide those.
"I'll speak with the owners again," Percina said. "But what about getting my husband back?"
The entertainer looked her up and down. "The entertainment business is littered with ill-conceived double acts."
That evening, Percina came down dressed in her captain's uniform--apart from where she'd left the buttons open to reveal her swollen belly. She leaned on Martin, burping freely, and flapping a hand at her perspiring neck and cheeks.
She couldn't fit in the magician's cabinet, danced so Martin resembled someone trying to turn a wardrobe round singlehandedly, interrupted his jokes with the punch lines, and sat on a chair right in front of him so every song and trumpet solo was played to her.
The besotted passengers' barrage of complaints to the owners got the regular entertainers reinstated, and with most of the crew's demands met.
"Hey, it's called the 'limelight' precisely because it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth," Percina told Martin as he wallowed in his disappointment.
He should have thanked her. The one thing no one ever wished on a falling star was that the star might rise again.
Percina stroked her belly, lifted her chin.
The show over, it was time for the fat lady to sing.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Author Comments

I had an idea for a sketch featuring two people stuck, and bickering, in quicksand. Percina and Martin were created on the spur of the moment, merely to give the characters names and a reason for being there. I really didn't expect to see or hear from them again. When I was submitting the story to DSF, I was reminded that they also considered series of stories and was drawn to the challenge. All the ideas I came up with, however, either called for stories that would be too long or off-genre. Sheepishly, I went back to Percina to enquire if, by any chance, she'd experienced any other "incidents" she might care to relate. I was surprised, but delighted, to find she had more to say, and honored that DSF accepted them for publication. Thank you.

- Jez Patterson
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