Flash Fiction: We Are Janet Jackson by Nicole Hart

Olivia Bauso photo

Photo by Olivia Bauso

When Mina and me dance, magical things happen. Lining up against the grimy grey wall behind the gas station, we are Janet Jackson. My little sister and I roll up the sleeves of our matching black sweaters and get to work. Gimme a beat, Mina commands. We step to the stage as the music begins. Our voices fill the stadium and all the fans go breathless chanting our names.

If our big brother Ruben were here, he’d cup a hand on each side of his mouth, hoot hoot for us, and pump his fist like Arsenio. Then he’d critique something stupid, we’d tell him he’s crazy and we’d all burst with laughter. But Ruben’s been gone seven months, so Mina and me dance home alone.

The sidewalk is lined with backup dancers. Our moves are effortlessly synchronized, our muscular bodies twisting sharply around street corners and through overgrown front yards. Our hot pink smiles bounce among the beat up Oldsmobiles and through the late summer sprinklers. One by one, interested heads peak out of windows. Momentary silence as confusion turns to awe. Cheers erupt.

We’ve been rehearsing for months. Our Driveway Show is about to go live, and all the neighborhood kids will experience the magic. Dad even promises he’ll take a break to watch. Ever since the crash, Dad barely leaves the garage after work. Every night he comes home from the gas station and works on the van until bedtime. We fall asleep each night to the zip zip vroom of his lug wrench as he checks and double checks the brakes. Mina jokes that it’s Dad’s lullaby.

Mina is like Ruben in that way. She can make dark things funny. Ruben was always making us giggle about the worst possible things: Mom leaving Dad, Dad’s drinking, my lazy eye. World tragedies weren’t even off limits. He had so many Chernobyl jokes, we could barely keep count. Dad hated it but Mina and me, we were always begging Ruben to tell us more jokes. Come on, just one more Ruben, we’d plead.

Kids of various ages start lining up near our house before the street lights even turn on. The sun is beginning to set behind the two giant oak trees in our yard. Mina brings out the radio and we get into position with our backs to the audience, arms pin straight at our sides, palms facing forward. Dad doesn’t look like he’s leaving the garage anytime soon. But it’s getting late, so Mina instructs one of the smaller kids to turn on the cassette player and hit PLAY. The music pulses through our bodies and around the streets. With each passing beat, the crowd at the bottom of the driveway grows bigger.

The kids are pumping their fists and clapping their hands. They’re jiving along with us. Mina and me are dancing and our moves are flawless. We are Janet Jackson. We cannot hear Dad’s familiar grunting or his lug wrench clanging against the van’s brake pads as we sway and spin. We cannot hear Ruben’s last joke or the grinding of metal on metal as the van’s brakes fail and Dad grips the wheel before shouting Ruben’s name over and over. The screeching of tires on a dark, snowy highway disappears.

We only hear applause.

Nicole Hart is a lawyer living in Westchester, New York with her husband and two children. Forthcoming publications include flash in BULL and poetry in Whale Road Review. You can find her on Twitter @nicolehart_blog.

One response to “Flash Fiction: We Are Janet Jackson by Nicole Hart

  1. Pingback: Short Story Sunday – Coffee and Paneer·

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