North Jersey Feis*, Sussex County Fairgrounds, Augusta, New Jersey…
Cameron Davison marched across the between the stage and the bleachers under the large steel-roofed pavilion; his family in tow. Nancy struggled to keep up with her husband’s quick long strides. Glynnis had paused and stood in the middle of their walk; her eyes squinting from the bright sun that peered into the pavilion as she looked for her friends. Maggie trudged behind with a large garment bag and a small drag-along case. It was already a very long day even before eight in the morning and it promised to get longer and more arduous for everyone; albeit for different reasons.
“Can’t you keep up?” Cameron snapped. His comment was for all of them, but elder daughter Glynnis winced from the rebuke. He had only told her once about how worthless she was, but that was enough for ten lifetimes even if she had yet to reach her fifteenth birthday. Maggie was the Golden Child; far out distancing both her mother and her sister in her father’s eyes. Still, Maggie hated the attention; mostly because of all the expectations put upon her thirteen-year-old back. But also because she hated how much more she was loved than her mother and her sister. How many times had her attempts at praise fallen on deaf ears?
“Look at the lovely sweater Glynnis made for me, Daddy!”
“This is the best lamb I ever ate, Mommy! Daddy? Don’t you like dinner?”
“I’m trying hard, Daddy. Really hard.”
Cameron placed a lot of hope on his daughter’s performance. While the circles he moved in were small, the influence he wielded from being connected through the association grew almost exponentially with every victory that Maggie earned. Perhaps almost unimportant in the eyes of most people, but very important to those for whom the dance competition meant that longed-for connection to the old country. Cameron was born in Nova Scotia; only one generation removed from his parent’s homeland. Nancy was an interloper; half-Irish on her father’s side with him having the misfortune of marrying a girl from Palermo. And that made it all the more important for Maggie to succeed; maybe for all of their sakes.
On the far side of the pavilion in one of the smaller buildings, two figures stood. One with head bowed and one almost towering over the other.
“But I don’t want to dance with the boys, Dad!” Kev O’Meara, Jr. sighed. Kevin Sr. stared at his son and echoed the boy’s sigh, but for entirely different reasons.
“It’s just the once, son. Just until the Dugan boy gets back on his feet.” Kev winced; words however well intended seemed to assault him on a daily basis.
“But Dad. You promised. I can’t wait much longer. Mom said…”
“I know what your Mom said, but that was then…” The boy winced. It was still painful after four years past his mother’s passing.
“It’s just the once,” Kevin Sr. repeated.
The boy looked away, trying desperately not to disappoint. The immediacy of the moment threatened to move forward into a lifetime of concessions. At fifteen, no doctor would say it was too late, given the boy’s slight stature. But it was more than what the doctor’s said and did. Dancing almost immediately before school started and beyond would mean another year of living in the wrong skin, so to speak, unless they lost the competition or he just went to school the way he wanted, no matter what. Going back and forth was ill-advised for what he had hoped and sent too many mixed signals to his peers; some of whom were already not as open-minded as his friends and pre-disposed to making his life miserable.
“This is the last time. Denny has to dance in the next competition, right?”
“Right.” The voice was firm, but hardly convincing. A promise was a promise, even if Kevin O’Meara made that choice without consulting his son. But after all, it was just a dance; time enough for Junior to move along. It really should never have been Senior’s decision, but there they were anyway.
The boys stepped lively, as they used to say, as the music filled the pavilion and beyond into the pathways and shelters in the surrounding area. The park was filled with Irishmen and women, so to speak, as well as all the folks who thought they were Irish and those that wanted to be Irish as well. As the boys finished dancing, Kevin smiled at the other boys in his group before looking over at the grandstand, searching for some friendly faces.
As the music waned, the applause grew until it was hard to hear the announcer usher the group out of the pavilion to await the judging. Just as his group passed the concession stand he noticed a sober looking girl leaning against the bleachers. She almost missed his wave and would have but for the rude bump by one of the many children milling around the pavilion. As she turned to face the boy she saw Kev and stepped forward, grabbing him by the arm.
“He told you it was the last time, right?” Glynnis shook her head. Kev squinted at her; mostly from the glare of the sunlight streaming through a hole in the pavilion room, but with some surprise and a bit of dread.
“My Dad says Denny is off to a football camp for the summer and won’t be competing at all. You, my dear, are stuck.” She hadn’t meant to tease, but her words made the boy wince. Too much responsibility at fifteen to ensure that the dreams of others might be fulfilled; and whose dream was it for his participation in the first place? He hated the whole affair, but it had been his father’s hope and his father wasn’t about to see that hope denied.
Two girls stood in the midst of a rapidly waning crowd of other teenage girls in the ladies room. The taller of the two had finished changing clothes and sighed. Her friend shook her head at the sigh and spoke
“Gina? Have you talked to Kev lately?” The very pretty if very petite girl said as she pulled on a Sparta Cheerleader sweatshirt. The other girl shook her head no and frowned.
“I’m so worried. Glynnis says his dad promised him to the boys group again without even asking. And you know what that means. The other girl nodded once but followed with another head shake; her face was a mask of anger mixed with sadness. Gina had known both Glynnis and Kevin since fifth grade, and their friendship was almost a camaraderie built of common if odd interests.
The three loved gaming and the occasional foray into Cosplay, but things were getting more difficult as Kevin Sr. seemed to intruding on the boy’s life as he bent Kev’s future to suit his own dreams. Oddly enough, if he had sought to understand his child, he might have been thrilled to know just how much Kev loved to dance. It was the manner in which he wished to express himself that had his father frustrated, and that was sad, since the only thing the boy ever wanted to do from the time he was little was to please his father.
“It sucks….it makes me so fucking mad,” the other girl replied. A new addition to the trio, Moira O’Conner was what your grandmother might have called a spitfire; very volatile if in such a small package, the girl might have been only five foot nothing, but stood in a way higher than her peers. As pretty goes, she was as pretty as they come, but the real attraction lay below the surface. The girl was about as loyal a friend as you’d hope to have, and she wasn’t shy when it came to speaking up for her friends. Gina was loyal and true, but her timid side showed all too frequently when she really wanted to speak up as well.
“Maybe Senior will listen to reason?” Gina shook her head at the improbability of her own statement.
“Yeah….and maybe Sparta wins the states this year.” Moira laughed. A powerhouse of sorts in football at one time; their school wasn’t what it used to be and even struggled to compete against the smaller Catholic High School just down the road.
“We’ve got to make him understand.” The quadrangle of friends was almost an inseparable if very odd mixture, but they had one huge thing in common. Moira, Gina, Glynnis and Kev were all girls. It was sad that Kev’s father refused to accept that fact. Sadder still when they realized that he already knew about Kev’s desire, as Senior put it, to be a girl. He dismissed the boy’s need to satisfy his own hopes, failing to realize that in his own child, every hope and dream could be fulfilled if he’d only understand that it had to be on Kev’s terms and not his.
“We?” Moira practically snapped at Gina and the girl shook her head; her face grew red with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry….” Gina turned away and sighed. A second later she found herself in the warm embrace of Moira’s arms. She’d be much taller at any other time, in a way; heels and hose were de rigeur outside of school. But with flat-heeled Sketchers, she was forced to stand tip-toe to kiss her girlfriend.
“No…I’m sorry. You’re okay.” Moira had almost every foolish reason to be stuck up; a fact for which she continually needed to remind herself.
“WE will do what we can to help Senior understand that one of the best dancers lives in his own home. It’s just that her name is Kelly instead of Kevin.”
An hour later…
“Daddy…My legs hurt!”
“Everyone’s legs hurt, Maggie.” Cameron’s tone wasn’t as dismissive as the words would indicate, but neither did it express concern.
“Cam? The girl is hurting.”
“Now don’t you go getting soft on me,” he said. Nancy lowered her head; the chief of the Davison claign overruled her once again. She turned to Maggie and shook her head in an embarrassed apology.
“Where’s your other daughter off to?” He scanned the pavilion. A moment later he spotted Glynnis talking with the O’Meara boy. He turned and used his head to indicate the duo standing by the concession stand.
“Maggie’s about to dance and there she is with that….” He withheld the invective. The odd thing is that even in being a bigot and a bully, Cameron Davison’s perception, while skewed, was closer to the truth than the boy’s own father. He finished his thought.
“That…girl!” It was about as insulting as anyone would hope never to hear and about as accurate as Kev would have dreamed to hear from his own father; albeit in a completely different tone. Since they were divided by nearly ten yards of the pavilion floor filled with families and dancers and fans milling about, Kev didn’t hear a word. Cameron strode over to the pair.
“Get your ass over and help your sister get ready for the next dance.” He pointed to Nancy and Maggie on the far side of the pavilion. She turned to Kev to speak but Cam pointed once again and snapped.
“What are you waiting for, you lazy cow. Get over and help your sister.” Glynnis looked into her father’s eyes and felt nothing; the saddest thing almost that any child can feel. She shrugged in apology to Kev before walking away.
“And you…you….” He resisted to urge to raise his voice and leaned closer.
“If I catch your fucking ass near my daughter again….you fucking queer!” He turned and stormed off without waiting for any reply.
Kevin watched Cameron walk away and turned to go, but ran right into a very short, angry girl. She grabbed his hand and pulled him into a alcove of sorts under the bleachers; out of the way and much quieter.
“Fuck him! He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s saying.” The truth of her statement failed to lessen the very painful sting the boy felt. He shrugged his shoulders; almost an apology for being too weak to speak on his own behalf. He felt a hand on his back. Gina stepped around and handed the boy a cup of cold lemonade; oddly ironic in too many ways.
“Today, Kelly. After today it’s gonna end. I promise.” Gina was never one for promises, but between her and Moira and hopefully with the help of the girl across the pavilion, Kev would dance his last dance in forty-seven minutes.
“WE promise, okay?” The boy nodded, but his heart wasn’t in it at all.
“Today!” Moira stood on tip-toe once again and kissed her cousin and smiled. It was good that the alcove was out of the way, since it gave everyone privacy as Kelly O’Meara put her head on Moira’s shoulder and wept.
To be continued…
*A Feis or Fá¨is is a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival. The plural forms are feiseanna
and fá¨isean. The term "feis" is commonly used referring to Irish dance competitions.
Three Traditional Jigs
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