Slow Dance in Purgatory
Author:Amy Harmon

Since Maggie had come to live with Aunt Irene, life had gotten a lot better. Irene showered her with love and was so genuinely happy to have her young niece with her at last that Maggie couldn't doubt her affection. Maggie's mother, Janice, had been close to her Aunt Irene all through her growing up years; her own mother, Irene's younger sister and Maggie's grandma, had lived right next door to Irene until she passed away from cervical cancer a couple years after Maggie's mother had gone back East for college. Aunt Irene had mourned her sister terribly and begged Janice to come home to stay. But Maggie's mother had met Mickey O'Bannon by that time, and the young Irishman had swept her off her feet. She hadn't wanted to leave him, even for her Aunt Irene.

 

Maggie smiled mournfully at the thoughts of her parents. They had been wonderful. Her dad could dance without ever seeming to tire. He had jigged and spun her around, feet flying to the music he loved. Janice, her mother, had been less talented but equally exuberant, and the three of them had heartily enjoyed dancing together. Surprised at her melancholy musings, Maggie wiped a stray tear off her cheek and laughed a little to herself. It must be the music that was making her weepy. “Great Balls of Fire” had been followed by “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and Maggie abandoned the mop altogether as she let the music lift her up and out of herself.

 

Maggie hadn't had any formal training. No one paid for foster kids to have dance lessons. But she had watched and learned and practiced and no one would ever guess she had never had a single lesson. She loved to dance more than anything else in the world, and she really hoped Gus didn't come around the corner and see her dancing her heart out instead of mopping. If Shad saw her she would never hear the end of it.

 

Maggie spun and swayed down the long corridor; dancing always made her feel like her parents were watching, and so she performed for them. The song rose to its climactic finish, and Maggie, extending her leg high behind her, arched her back and caught it, holding it with her head flung back and her eyes closed. As she released her leg and opened her eyes, she caught a glimpse of someone leaning against the lockers about halfway down the swiftly darkening hallway. Maggie cried out and fell to the glossy floor, all grace abandoning her. She crab-walked frantically back and promptly banged her head on the lockers behind her.

 

"Crap!" Maggie said, rubbing the spot, her heart pounding in concert to the throbbing of her head.

 

"Gus? Is that you? I'll get back to work, I promise. You know I can't resist dancing to a good song. It's all your fault, you know." Maggie laughed nervously and rose to her feet. "Gus?"

 

There was no answer from the hallway where Maggie KNEW she had seen someone. Squinting and cursing herself for not having her glasses, Maggie rose to her feet and slowly moved toward the blackest part of the hallway. It was probably Shad, waiting to jump out at her and scare her to death.

 

"Shad? You know you wish you could dance as good as me. Come on! Come out, and I'll teach you a few moves." Maggie and Shad were always arguing about who was the best dancer. Shad was terrible, but what he lacked in talent he made up for in personality.

 

"Are you spying on me? Trying to learn something, huh?" No answer. It was not like Shad to remain quiet. In fact, Maggie thought it was probably physically impossible for him to be still for ten seconds. Maggie's heart started to pound double time.

 

Evening had suddenly descended on the school, and the high windows above her offered little light to aid her search. But even without her glasses, Maggie could see that someone was definitely there.

 

"Dumb! Dumb Girl!" she screamed at herself silently. "Danger ahead!" But she kept walking. The figure moved.

 

"You shouldn't be in the school! I'll have to tell Gus, uh, Mr. Jasper that you're here!" Maggie's voice came out scared and sharp, and she jumped as it echoed off the now silent hallway. Maggie stopped, suddenly very afraid and unwilling to proceed further.

 

"'Cause we'll be reelin' and a’ rockin’, rockin’ and a’reelin' all night!!" The music blasted out of the intercom above her, blaring and wailing, several decibels louder than it had been just seconds before. Maggie's hair lifted as if a strong wind had just swept down the hallway and wrapped around her. A flash of color and motion caught the corner of her eye, and she whirled, her legs leaden with fright, and fled down the corridor, skidding and sliding on the section of floor she had recently mopped. Without slowing at all, she raced to the emergency exit and flew down the two long flights of stairs. Bursting out the door and into the hallway below, Maggie didn't stop until she reached the gymnasium where Gus was laboring with a floor stripper. He was deaf to the world, or so it seemed, because he didn't turn until Maggie grabbed his arm.

 

` "Gus! Gus!" Maggie was breathless and gasping, and she had the almost irresistible urge to burst into tears. Gathering herself, she bit down on the tears and tried again. She had learned the hard way that crying got her nowhere.

 

"Gus. There’s someone in the upstairs hallway. I called out to him...I think it was a man...and he didn't answer. It scared me, and I thought I better come get you."

 

"What?" Gus switched his hearing aid back on, and Maggie heard a high pitched squeal. Gus winced in response.

 

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