NIGHT TRAIN: PEOPLE * ACTION * CONSEQUENCE (logo)

Clapping Girl

by Scott Doyle



I'm up late and fog-eyed, peering into my computer screen. The empty house strains and groans in the rolling wash of a spring storm, as if it, too, cannot sleep amidst such a restless world. I watch, one more time, and then one more time still, a video clip of a band that once connected me to the beating heart of things perform a song in the mid-seventies. There's this girl. There was then, too.

I saw the band live only once, a few years after this video was filmed. After the show my ears rang and everything around me was both muted and more alive than ever—maybe the way a person going deaf treasures every sound that fights its way through. Deb and I drove home and parked and I put in a cassette of the band and we settled into the back seat. We weren't dating. We weren't friends. We were soul-mates fumbling blind into new terrain, trying to invent what we thought was a new, daring, lasting thing. We were platonic lovers. We groped, pinched, bit; but we didn't kiss, or stare dream-eyed. It couldn't last, not that way.

There are three cameras. Two of them up on stage catch the band from different angles, while one below gets the crowd. Mostly I see the band. Sometimes the third camera pans the crowd, but when it's not panning it comes to rest on this one girl, a blonde girl in her late teens. The blonde girl claps, and claps. Glass-eyed, she is caught in a spell cast by her own clapping. She claps fervently and in rhythm, like at the end of a concert when the audience tries to will the band back onstage for an encore. But this girl, this clapping blonde girl, has captured and sustained that fervor, she has rounded off its rough edges and turned it into a dance that can and will last all night. I watch the video again and again for those brief glimpses of her. To see if in any way she falters. She does not.

When another relationship went off the tracks ten years later I thought about Deb again, thought about her tons. There is a song Tina Turner recorded with Ike, in the rotten good old days of dirty bruised love and dirty lasting blues, called 'Love Gun.' In my mind I fused that song with Clint's iconic Dirty Harry moment and have ever since been certain that we each carry a love gun with only so many bullets and at any point we might find ourselves staring down the barrel of long lonely years, fate asking us, Do we feel lucky today?

She is well into her fifties now, the blonde girl in the video. Her oldest, a boy, is two years out of college and just started his first serious job. He told her about going out to buy three new suits and she thought about that all night and could not sleep. Her youngest, a girl, is about the age she herself was in the video. She is having a tough time of it in school and her mother, the clapping blonde girl, no longer a girl, feels the weight of an expectation it is her job to step forward and save her daughter from something. She worries about them both. She misses them. She and her husband have less to say to one another in a quiet house. She finds herself crying sometimes, wondering whether anything will ever thrill her again.

I was thrilled once in my teens and once again in my twenties. I sense I was granted the one bullet and then the other, but I carry the gun in my holster all the same, because when that long hard stare comes, I'll want to draw an empty rather than nothing at all.

But the point is I didn't draw when I had the chance. In the back seat, after that concert, Deb looked at me, as if she was about to kiss me. As if, had I let my face fall an inch closer to hers, she would have. I held my ground, held that tension that seemed so important at the time. She pinched my upper arm. I pinched her back. This isn't really happening, she said. We aren't really here.

I want to find the blonde girl, no longer a girl, and shake her. Look at all this richness around you, I would tell her. You have laid down roots that hold the soil of your world together. You have brought new life into the world that will continue to surprise and sadden you to the end of your days.

But I cannot go out and find the blonde girl. I wouldn't know where to start. I can only press play again and stare at her on the screen, reach out and ask her: With all this wonderful sadness around you, tugging at you, telling you where in the world you belong and to whom. . . What are you doing up so late, dancing your strange clapping dance, as if the last thirty years had never happened?


Scott Doyle writes in a cabin in the mountains just outside of Los Angeles. Before moving to LA he co-owned an independent bookstore in Boston, Rhythm & Muse, which still hums along under his brother's sure hand. He is at work at a novel-in-stories, one of which won the UCLA Writing Program's Kirkwood Award. Several others will be performed this fall as part of the New Short Fiction Series, LA's 'live literary magazine,' which has in the past featured writers such as Aimee Bender and Tod Goldberg. Info at newshortfictionseries.com. He can be reached at scribbler3@mac.com. Starting in June you can check out his blog at litscribbler.wordpress.com.