In McDowell, West Virginia, birthplace to the King of Taps, the company houses built by U.S. Coal and Coke held an inch of breath between them. One street divided two squares of identical homes, the sidewalks were made out of plywood, and salt sat in huge piles on the edge of town, drying. The children ran along the roofs in a crosshatched network, so that the primary streets rose above the mud-caked road down below.

Red Jordan’s lungs kept him out of the mines, up above ground. Exempt because he never passed his initiation into manhood, what was by then largely liturgical, a night of theatre in which the men wore greasy masks painted black with coal and frightened the initiate before allowing a reversal for the boy to pin his fathers and, in so doing, inherit his own mask. For Jordan, the reversal never came. Dodd Phillips, a jealous man with a grudge, took the whole scene too seriously. He put the out-of-breath Jordan boy on the ground and split his nose in two. Still, with time, Jordan managed to prove his virility in other ways.

On the day in question, he woke up to the sound of heavy whispers and frantic feet. He’d only just married and had not grown accustomed to sharing his life with another. Coffee in hand, looking out the window, he heard his wife behind his back and asked, “Why all the noise?” A hum preceded the cast-iron bar (one meant for the fence out front he’d yet to mend) over his head. From the ground, eyes up, Jordan attempted to make sense of his wife over top of him, her face obscured by a carousel of birds. She said, “That Thompson girl isn’t even fifteen.”

“Thompson girl?”

“And she’s uglier than sin, not to mention.”

“Now, now.”

“Bear sized and just as hairy, I’d imagine.”

He sat up in one quick motion so that his back was perpendicular to the ground then immediately went flat from the heat in his skull. “I want you out,” she said, cast-iron held in the direction of the door. From the hardwood he explained, okay, I understand, but I at least need my shoes. He righted himself as he said this, back to perpendicular. Two thuds, one right after the other, straight to the back of the head put him supine once again. “Wear those,” she said, “the shoes you came home in.” Next to his head he found a pair of tap shoes with THOMPSON sharpied on the heels.

“Looks like Cinderella wears the same size shoe as her little prince.”

Out on the roofs, he took ponderous steps that sent shivers into the homes below. A chorus of mothers and daughters poked their heads out of windows to chastise his racket. Through a series of spiraling makeshift ladders he lowered himself down onto the concrete steps in front of the bar.

“Hair of the dog?” asked Marshall the bartender. Jordan chupsed. In the back of the bar, buried in the fog of lowlight, a voice said, “Face of the dog more like it.” Jordan squinted into the corner of the room and asked, “Who goes there?” Out of the shadow and into the light, Phyllis Whitehead emerged. One of Jordan’s first cuckolds, Whitehead experienced a level of dishonor too deep for reconciliation. Two years back, his wife moved into young Red’s room. With horns already sprouted, Whitehead called out to her window each night, begging her to come back, invoking the memory of their more passionate times. Jordan resented his disturbed sleep and threatened to throw the man’s wife out if she couldn’t stop her husband’s nightly reminiscing. So the wife cooked up a plan sure to exhaust Whitehead’s patience. One night, as the familiar rattle of pebbles on the window announced Whitehead’s presence, the wife got into position. She opened the window and asked her husband for a kiss. “Kiss me like you used to,” she said. “Give me the tongue and everything.” Hat in hand, Whitehead rushed up to the window. “But my love,” he began, “at this time of night, with moon covered, I cannot see you.” But she encouraged him, and beckoned him closer. “I’m right here, my love, just through the window. Give us a kiss.” On tiptoes, he leaned in through the distressed frame and kissed his wife just like she asked. He probed deeply, with passion, and the wife couldn’t help but giggle as his tongue tickled the inside of her ass. She released a pent-up fart straight down the back of Whitehead’s throat, sending him sprawling into the street, choking on the fetid air.

The rattle in his cough brought the whole scene back to Jordan. He recalled the way he and the wife howled at Whitehead’s expense, and the town over. “Let me buy you a drink, Phyllis.”

‘No need,” he replied, holding up a bottle of whiskey still half-full.

Meanwhile, down at the mines, the elevator rose up out of the shaft in a flaky cloud of dust. Out of the soot marched Sunny Thompson, father of the Thompson girl, pickaxe in hand, big as a bear. Gossip spread in the mine faster than any telephone wire could handle. As such, Mr. Thompson heard all about the previous night, in lurid detail.

Back at the bar, in a display of bravado, Whitehead downed the bottle of whiskey. For a moment, he lurched back, receding into the shadows. Jordan leaned in to see if the man was still there. He didn’t see the whiskey bottle until it was halfway to destination and by then it was too late. Red spun to the floor in an arc of broken glass. “Face of the dog more like it,” he heard behind him, the voice getting louder. Adrenaline kicked in enough for him to get to his feet and stumble out through the swinging doors.

He started down the plywood sidewalk, his taps giving him away. Before he could round the corner, Thompson appeared, blotting out the sun. “Mr. Jordan,” he cried, “I’d like a word.” Red spun on his taps and sprinted back in the other direction only to find Whitehead waiting. Jordan’s brain was half-baked; he couldn’t hold a thought in his head for more than a second. He turned to escape one threat only to find the other, then turned again. As the two men closed in on either side, he became pinned in the middle, his feet tapping harder than his heart. It was there, on that imitation sidewalk, punch-drunk and scared for his life, that Red Jordan created a new genre. Between the swung pickaxe, the broken bottles, and his feet somehow synced with the rhythm, Jordan brought the town of McDowell to a standstill. Everyone came out, from mine and home alike, to watch Red Jordan dance, to witness the birth of a tap legend.