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“The Plonkswald Floor”

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Theres a come-hither quality to the start of the dance:  a wave moves through you—you  lean back from the waist and your arms drift and flail like seaweed,  and the masks make their buzzing sounds as they attach and adapt to each face.  It is electric-seductive.  The masks are booting up:  the yellow veins sputter and pulse,  my masks tongue flicks,  all expression drains from old rock-face.  Each dancer goes into position:  arms extended, hands pointing straight down at the wrist,  fingers pressed together.  One foot slides sideways,  rises and stomps,  the other slides the same way over and rises and stomps. 

Were moving in unison.  At the beginning of the dance,  while there are still only three of us,  we are circling one another—as we stomp and slide,  stomp and slide,  the invisible circumference between us is rotating.  Then the circumference starts to materialize—hovering,  it looks like toy railroad tracks,  but the pieces cant be touched;  shimmy as you will,  they slip and elude your bodys contact.  STOMP! 

The closet door flew open and there was the papier-mâché fire,  with those blue,  orange and red flames that so resemble real leaping and licking,  except that they are not moving.  (The fire is a Plonkswald,  of course). 

The reveal of the papier-mâché fire marks the end of the opening of the ceremony.  We heard the door to the third floor creak open and footsteps come down the stairs.  Mom  appeared on the landing,  wearing a smock  (the third story is moms painting studio).  Her hair was in a bun and in her eyes were burning expectation and wild gratification.  She put her hands on the railing and looked at us with that mad glint of hers.

What are you boys doing?, mom teased. 

The fires ready,  mom, we said. 

The fire??!?!,”  mom said and clapped her hands.  Ooooohh, I love a fire.

Mom stepped from the landing onto the half-floors green rug,  and we heard a banging on the door at the landing leading up from the floor below. BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  


Why who could that be!,”  mom said.  I think it must be your father!


Is there anybody up there?,”  dad called from the landing below. 

Come in!,  we yelled.

Dad came up the stairs doing his bow-legged walk and swinging his poky elbows back and forth like a cartoon cowboy – he was even wearing his cowboy boots!  When he got up to the half-floor,  he put his hand to his brow and squinted,  as though to see clear down the horizon,  and said,  Well flip the dern griddle and drench the flapjacks in mollassey!  Pardners?  Pardners?!   Eric, John, Tom?  June?  Is that really all of yall?

Mom jumped and clapped her hands with delight and called out,  Yes, sweetheart,  it is us!  It is!  Yoo-hoo!

Dad swaggered on in with that bow-legged gait and continued,  with his silly cowboy twang,  I reckon it is that time again,  yall!  Time for a good old-fashioned hootenanny!  And yall know what we're gonna need,  now dontcha?— 

—A FIRE!,”  we three said. 

That's right,”  Dad said,  jist what I was gonna say,  in fact.  A fire!  Who wants to help me start a fire?...  John.

So it was my turn.  Eric and Tom and I were all standing abreast,  hands at our sides;  I was in the middle.  My brothers each took a step back,  and I walked forward to dad.  He and I fish-hooked to the closet,  with our eyes ceremonially lowered.  We hoisted the papier-mâché fire up and brought it over to the green throw-rug.  Then we returned to our places—dad opposite mom,  me between Eric and Tom. 

Mom and dad have the masks with the long pointy noses and the big yellow dots in the  foreheads centers.  These were set out for them on the engraved mahogany table.  They joined hands and raised their clasped one-hand up above and between them,  and each held their out-facing hand at hip level and pointing straight away at the wrist,  as though to do the Egyptian dance;  and,  sweeping their feet across the carpet,  they walked forward,  making high kicks,  to the mahogany table.  They each picked up their own mask and brought it to their own face.  The masks stuck on and started booting up,  the yellow dots set in the foreheads pulsing from dim to searchlight-yellow and back to dim.  Mom and dad were the old pointy-noses again. 

We all were facing inward from our random,  scattered spots around the room,  with the papier-mâché fire on the green throw-rug at the rooms center.

The Fire Dance begins with everyone doing synchronized claps.  Then the participants draw nearer to the papier-mâché fire until we’re all evenly spaced in a ring around it.  And you  stick your arms out straight in front of you,  and bend your hands at the wrist with your fingers pressed together and pointing down,  and you STOMP!—slide,  and you STOMP!—slide,  and you STOMP!—slide,  and— 

—And at a certain point as the circle-dance keeps getting faster,  the fire sculpture ripples,  and heat courses across it visibly,  and there’s a sound of tearing paper,  and the sculpture blooms alive and becomes a real roaring fire! 

And we all stomp clap slide shout!,  stomp clap slide shout!,  and our ring revolves faster still until the room is spinning,  and then when it is spinning,  the entire half-floor becomes a participant in the Fire Rite. 

It’s a real sea-floor party!  I don't know what all was happening in the rooms of the half-floor other than the one that we were in,  but in there the grand piano started playing itself—old-timey saloon songs and Joplin rags—and wheeling forwards and backwards all over the place,  its lid opening and shutting like some sea-creature blindly gobbling drifting morsels;  and out of the corner of my eye,  I saw a carpet dragging itself across the ground—bunching in the middle and flattening back out,  stretching and contracting,  like a slithering sea-slug or an amoeba.

The Fire Rite


When we were finished with the Fire Rite,  we all had floppy sweaty hair and achy limbs,  and it was time for bed. 

Dad and I picked the fire up and put it back in the closet.

And then we all went and found our places of rest for the evening.  We did not take off our masks.  But dad laid down beside mom and wrapped his arm around her waist.  And me and Tom  and Eric crawled across the floor until we got to the fluffy carpet,  and then we settled in like a litter of puppies—sprawled all out,  with our heads on one another’s legs and shoulders. 


And then we slept. 

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