dance on my grave

di Aidan Chambers

“Stay,” Barry said.
“You might as well now.”
I looked at my watch. Two-thirty.
“l can’t,” I said, getting out of bed.
“My mother will worry herself sick. And there’ll be hell to pay for being
out so late.”
“Then stay tomorrow. You can warn them.”
“You mean today! Okay, but you’ll be the death of me, I said. I was reaching
for my clothes. He came to me naked still and serious as the night.
“You’re always talking about death.” He put his arms round my waist,
stopping me from dressing. “Does death bother you so much?”
“Then why keep mentioning it?”
“Because it interests me. Doesn’t it you?”
“Not much.”
“What about your father?”
“What upsets me is not having him around any more. ro be with, I mean. I
loved him. Naturally I miss him.”
“There you are then.”
“You’ve missed the point, stupid.”
He kissed me. What I’m talking about is me. Being alive and not leaving my father
around. That’s all that ever really upsets anybody about death. Not having somebody
they want any more. But what bothers you is the idea of death. Right?” “I
guess so.” I broke away; started dressing. He lay on the bed and watched.
“What about the people who are dead?” I said.
“What about your dad?”
“What about him? If dead means finis-nothing- what does he care? If it means
anything else… Well, I’ll tell you: if it means anything else my father
will be in there organizing himself a part of it.”
I finished dressing, waited for the moment to be right for leaving. Correction:
Waited while I tried to make myself leave. I wanted to stay. Who wants to give
up the can of magic beans when you’ve only just found it, even for a second?
“You know what you should do about death ?” he said.
I shook my head, not thinking about death anyway.
“Laugh at it.”
He raised his eyebrow asking: What do you think of that? All right for us to say
now,” I said. “We aren’t exactly on the point of death, are we?”
“Look,” he said coming to me from the bed and smiling that dangerous
smile. I’ll make a deal with you.” “Okay,” I said. I’ll chance
anything once.” “Whichever of us dies first, the other promises to
dance on his grave.” The raised eyebrows again. I laughed and walked towards
the door. “I’ve told you before,” I said. “You’re crackers.”
“You think I’m joking, don’t you?” he said. I turned to face him.
He was standing in the middle of the room. “No,” I said. “You’re
just crazy.” He carne to me. Flicked at my hair with his fingers. “We’ve
got to do something about that hair.” “Like what?” I said, handing
him my comb. “Not sure. I’ll have ago at it tomorrow.” He finished
sorting me out, stood back a pace and looked me over, head to feet. Smiled. Proprietorial.
Then he suddenly held out his hand to be shaken. I took it, not knowing why. His
grip tightened so that I could not easily pull away. “Promise,” he
said. “You mean -” I said. “If I die first you dance on my grave.”
“Look, Bee,” I said, “don’t be daft, eh?” “I’m
serious. Promise.” “You’ll live to be eighty.” “Don’t
raise difficulties.” We laughed. “But- “ I said when he still
did not let go, instead adding his left hand to the grip of his right. “But
me no buts. Just promise.”
“For me.”
I looked at him, wakened out of the mindlessness of the last two hours.
“I’m tired, love. Let me go.”
“No. Promise. Is it so hard?”
“What then?”
“l don’t know. I don’t understand, that’s all. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe that’s why I want you to promise. Because you don’t understand. Because
you always have to understand. Don’t you? That’s what you always want, isn’t it?
To understand. But some things you can’t. Can you? Never. So promise. For me.”
There seemed no point in arguing any more. This was something he wanted from me;
why say no? He’d just given me something I’d been wanting, hadn’t he? Now he wanted
a ridiculous oath. A promise it was pretty unlikely I’d ever have to keep. So
there he was, the boy with the can of magic beans wanting me to swear an oath.
At that moment there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for him.
“l promise,” I said.
“For you and for no other reason.”
And it was a split lip on a bruised mouth that sealed the oath, not cut hands
in never-never land.