Ghost Dance

By Chip Livingston

I think I’m going crazy when I see my reflection in the camera’s lens.  I’m surrounded by the dead.  Jimi, Marilyn, Joan — face covered in cold cream, hand holding wire hanger high above her head.  The Halloween Parade has paused for television crews in front of The Revolver on Duvall Street in New Orleans.  I duck inside for a drink, take the elevator to the thirteenth floor. 
I walk inside the club without ID.  Tonight I don’t need it.  Tonight I’m invisible.  I pass witches, goblins, boys dressed like ghouls.  Once we were two of them.  Once we both joined the annual masquerade.  But tonight is different.  Tonight I don a plain white sheet with ink.  Circles traced around holes cut out to see through.  Another hole through which I drink, from which I breathe.
I wasn’t coming out tonight.  Didn’t plan or purchase a costume.  Wouldn’t wear one hanging in your closet.  What led me to the linens then, to quickly cut a cotton sheet into a kid’s uniform?  What drove me to this?
Beneath this sheet, your medicine bag hangs around my neck, the tanned leather pouch you made me promise never to open.  This is the first time I’ve worn it.  But no one can see it.  No one can see me.
I finish my drink, scotch neat, with a gulp, sing the invisible song you taught me, set the glass on the black wood rail, and, still singing, step onto the dance floor.
Beneath this sheet, I imitate you dancing.  My feet, awkward at first, soon find your rhythm, and my legs bounce powwow style in the steps we both learned as kids.  The steps that never left you.  I dip and turn between, around the fancy dancers in their sequin shawls and feather boas.  I shake my head like you did when your hair was long, the way you flipped it, black and shining, to the heavy beat of house music.  The music hasn’t changed much in case you’re wondering.  I dance in your footsteps; sing the invisible song; close my eyes.
When I open my eyes, I swear I see Carlo.  Impossible right, but he’s stuffed inside that Nancy Reagan red dress and he’s waving at me, sipping his cocktail and smiling.  He’s talking to Randy, who’s sticking out his tongue that way he always did whenever he caught someone staring at him.  I start to walk over but I bump in to Joan.
She’s glaring at me.  Or it may just be the eyebrows, slanted back with pencil to make it look like she’s glaring at me.  She reaches past me and grabs Marilyn by her skinny wrist and pulls her away, but Carlo and Randy are gone.  Where they stood are faces I don’t recognize.  Faces dancing.  Masks I realize.  Faces behind masks.
The DJ bobs furiously with pursed lips, headphones disguised as fiendish, furry paws, in the booth above the floor.  He introduces a new melody into the same harping beat, and I remember to dance.  I remember you dancing.  My fingers slide across your sweaty chest, and I find your necklace.  The sheet clings to my body in places.  The new song sounds just like the last song but I’m suddenly crowded by strangers.  I can no longer lift my legs as high as I want to, so I sway in place, shuffle with the mortals on the floor.
Behind me someone grabs me, accidentally perhaps, but I turn, violently, jealously.  There are too many people in this equation.  Twos become one again and again, and ones become twos.  All around me real numbers add up to future possibilities.  Imaginary numbers.  It’s why we’re here dancing. 
A cowboy nods his hat in my direction.  But he can’t be nodding at us.  We’re invisible.  I think maybe he is a real ghost; he’s peering intently into the holes cut out for my eyes.  He looks like Randolph Scott, blond and dusty, so I look around for Cary Grant as Jimi lifts the guitar from his lips and wails.  Randolph Scott is coming this way and I turn my back and dance.
I want you back, Elan.  I want you back dancing beside me.  I start chanting this over and over to myself.  I want you back.  I want you back. 
You taught me the power of words.  I believed you.  I can even smell you now.  Sandalwood oil and sweat.  I turn and expect to see you. 
Not you behind me. 
Not you beside me.
Not you in front of me.
Not you anywhere around me. 
I make my way to the bar, but the bar is too crowded.  The barman’s face grimaces over hands holding folded dollars as he tries to keep the glasses filled. The air is thick with smoke.  It’s hard to breathe.  I make my way to the door, notice the cowboy trailing me.  In the elevator, I go down alone.
Into the rain on Duvall Street, we walk out together.  One set of footprints splashes our muddy way home, then, turning, I realize we are not going home, but passing more pagan tricksters decked out as holiday spirits. 
            The bells in the clock tower tell me it is midnight.  Squeaking from its hinges, the door to morning slowly opens and it’s All Saints Day, the Day of the Dead, and I am walking toward Boot Hill, to where you are buried.
We’re alone in the cemetery, and the wind lifts the rain in a mist rising up from the wet earth that is claiming me.  I remove my sheet in front of the cement memorial that holds your body up above the boggy ground.  I remove my shoes.  I strip off everything except your leather pouch around my neck, and I dance for you.  My legs are free and I whirl and sing.
I’m dancing for you now, because you loved to dance.  I want you back dancing.  I want you dancing now. 
I’m dancing for you now, because you loved to dance.  I want you back dancing.  I want you dancing now. 
I’m dancing for you now, because you loved to dance.  I want you back dancing.  I want you dancing now.
I’m dancing for you now, because you loved to dance.  I want you back dancing.  I want you dancing now.

Ghost Dance, was first published in Boulder Planet  and is reprinted from "Museum of False Starts" by Chip Livingston (Copyright 2010). Reprinted by permission of Gival Press.

Chip Livingston is the mixed-blood Creek author of two collections of poetry, CROW-BLUE, CROW-BLACK and MUSEUM OF FALSE STARTS, and a collection of short stories, NAMING CEREMONY, Lethe Press 2014. Chip has received fiction awards from Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Writers and Storytellers, and the AABB Foundation. Chip grew up on the Florida-Alabama border and now lives in Colorado, where he teaches writing online, and is a faculty mentor in the low-rez MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. 

  • Copyright © 2010-2020. Individual writers and photographers retain all rights to their work, unless they have other agreements with previous publishers.