& Mary Jane Moonlight
Stiff-legged Albert loved to dance, but he took time to warm up, ’bout seven pints usually. To see him stand and walk towards the pub door you woulden think he had it in him, all bow-legged and crooked-backed like he was; but once he hit the square he was like a man possessed. Kicking up his heels, tappin’, pointing his toes … he threw a shapely leg did Albert; twisting and turning, faster and faster. His step dancing was the pride of St. Just. Struttin! He was a fightin’ cock! Hands on hips, straight-backed, rattling the cobbles like a gatlin’ gun … Sparks flew from his heels. You never saw the like … but he woulden caper, he woulden perform, not for no one but hisself.
One time this big American film director got cut down to size by Albert. He’d watched Albert dance one night and he offered him £500 to dance again for his camera. Albert woulden do it. “I dance when it’s dancing time,” he said. “So when is dancing time?” asks the director. “When the time’s right,” says Albert. And that was that. He turned his back on that director and he walked on up home.
Strangers’d come up St. Just to challenge Albert, challenge his dancing. No one who had’n seen him with their own eyes could believe that a man who stood so stiff and bent, and drank so much bitter beer as Albert could dance so well. Everyone thought he’d have to topple some time. The challengers were allus so cock-sure of success when they saw Stiff-Legged Albert hunched crooked over the bar that they got drunk on confidence. But at the end of the evening, out in the square under the stars, Albert transformed from a rigid crooked man to a dancing whirling dervish.
No one coulden understand it. No one that is ’cept Mary Jane Moonlight with her secret smile; and no one gave her a second thought, poor maid, ‘cos she was a bit simple. Poor soul took to roaming about at night after she was struck dumb one chapel feast. Touched by madness she was. No one ever noticed Mary Jane Moonlight. The thin pale waif was overlooked. But not by Albert. It was Mary Jane who had unlocked Albert’s stiff joints one moonlit night with such a violent passion that both of them had retreated inside themselves to treasure and nurse their secret knowledge for ever.
But every so often, when the time is right, Mary Jane Moonlight’s soft breath sings a silent song, and Stiff-Legged Albert comes into the square and dances …
… Then again. Some say that Mary Jane Moonlight, barmaid, used to water
down every pint of Albert’s beer,while the challengers drank full pints to keep up
with him. Those who believe this also say that it was Mary Jane who took the bets
and hid the cash in a tin box out the back, ready for when she and Albert divvied
up the takings: but I knaw what I prefer to think.
(c) 2008 Pauline Sheppard