Author's Note/Disclaimer: It feels so good to have gone through this story again. I wrote this as part of my "Happy Feet" series about two years ago, but now I feel it's more polished. Mostly I've enjoyed reading through this again since the sequel has brought about a new sense of appreciation for the first film in me. While they made a cameo that had me smiling, I missed Memphis and Norma Jean in "Happy Feet Two," and this was a nice midquel for me to revisit them. Hope you feel the same.
I do not own the "Happy Feet" films or the songs "Heartbreak Hotel," "Kiss," or "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" I quote here. All of these works belong to their respective creators, studios, and record companies. I just write tributes with 'em.
Enjoy, and here's to my (presently) 50th fanfiction!
Just Want to Feel Like Dancing
Tomorrow would be a sad day. It was the start of winter, when the mother Emperor Penguins went out to fish the big blue while the fathers stayed home to do egg time. All of the penguin soul mates would part as the rush of the loving season abruptly ended only to be replaced by a long, harsh freeze.
Memphis, an older penguin, waddled through the colony, glancing every now and then at the couples around him. It was a typical sight this time of the year–pairs nestled closer to each other than they had been all season in a final farewell until spring. He spotted his son Mumble right away. His permanent downy feathers made him stick out like a sore flipper. Mumble's mate Gloria would be one of the many thousands to leave tomorrow and they both were incredibly saddened by the fact, even with their egg resting on Gloria's feet.
Memphis knew from experience that the first winter without a mate around was the hardest to live through, but that did not stop him from thinking of his own mate Norma.
"If your baby leaves ya,
And you've got a tale to tell,
Just take a walk down Lonely Street
To Heartbreak Hotel…"
Soon, Memphis had found Norma in the colony. Even though she was getting older, she was still a beautiful penguin with her dark black feathers and a heart-shaped streak of orange on her breast. A signature black dimple resided next to her orange marking.
"Hey, honey," Norma greeted in her sweetest voice. "How was fishing?"
Memphis shrugged. "Better than it's been for a while anyway." He then turned away and looked to his large penguin feet.
Norma waddled to his side and put her flippers around her mate, knowing exactly what was bothering him. "You'll be fine, Memphis."
"Why do you have to go?" he asked sadly. "We don't have an egg to take care of this time around."
"It's just the way it goes. We've been through this, Memphis."
"Yeah, but it's still not easy. Bein' without you…darlin', it's the worst thing in the world."
Norma frowned and nuzzled her mate's beak. "Aw, Daddy, it doesn't have to be that way. If you just remember the good times we've had, we'll never be apart."
Memphis made a 'humph' noise, but closed his eyes and thought. Soon he was reminiscing all his days with her. Their relationship had been a long one, spanning the fish famine years. Yet, even before their heartsongs had made them one, Memphis remembered her. Norma Jean…
"Well, the bell hops' tears keep flowing
And the desk clerks dress in black,
Well, they've been so long on Lonely Street,
They'll never, ever look back…"
Miss Strauss, a penguin teacher of so many years ago, seemed to stand taller than a glacier to young Memphis.
"All right class, settle down," she said that day, smiling. "I want everyone to start with some basic scales. Ready?"
"Yes, Miss Strauss," came the unanimous reply of baby penguins before they would all take a supportive breath and sing out a scale in 'la-la-las'.
"Very good. Very good," the teacher complemented. "Now, I want all the girls to line up on my right side and all the boys on my left."
The little penguins obeyed their instructor and looked across at their respective partners. Memphis happened to be standing directly across from a girl penguin with a little black dot atop the ring of white feathers on her chest. He certainly recognized her but didn't know her name, so he simply watched her for a while before the teacher proceeded to explain the lesson of the day.
"You boys and girls will both come up in front of the rest of the class and sing from the lowest note to your highest note in your range, comparing them as partners," she explained. "Give it your best try and remember to listen to your partner. You might even find something special in each others' voices."
Many penguin pairs tried their best to sing before Memphis and the spotted girl were called up. They both were a little nervous about performing in front of everyone, and didn't speak to each other once.
"Memphis," Miss Strauss said, "Sing as low as you possibly can."
Memphis opened his beak and sang a low, resounding, 'A-a-a-h!" When instructed, he sang a high 'ah' as well. The other penguins cheered for his effort and smiled.
"Thank ya, thank ya' very much," young Memphis said, smiling.
"And now for you, Miss Norma," the teacher said. "Do the same as Memphis, but feel free to add anything that you please."
"Yes, Miss Strouss," replied shy Norma. She began with a low 'ah', and then switched to a very high note. After that, she tried adding three mid-range 'da-da-das' to the mix. And all the while, Memphis just stared at her. Her voice was so beautiful, even then, that he felt like dancing to it.
That was the strange part. They already had a connection, but Memphis did not want to sing with her, he just wanted to dance with her.
"I'm in a spin you know,
Shaking on a string you know.
You make me feel like dancing…"
As the years went by, Norma never had the chance to get to know Memphis as she had in that Penguin Elementary class. They both shrunk into their respective groups and made their respective friends as well. Norma had Clara and Michelle as her friends while Memphis found a loyal friend in Maurice.
Once they graduated, Memphis and Maurice took to a bachelors' circle of the Emperor colony. Life there was spent between contented fishing and pining for romance the young males didn't have. Although every penguin's song match was random, Memphis was convinced that Norma was somehow the one. It was true love, but Memphis doubted that he would ever catch her eye come mating season.
"What makes you think you can't get her attention?" Maurice asked his friend when he told him about his affections for Norma.
"I don't know, Maurice. She's such a good singer and… I'm average at best."
Maurice laughed. "I know that many girls would die to sing with you."
"-But Norma Jean?"
Maurice shrugged. "Well, she's a hard one, but you never know."
"They rule my world, mama,
I said they rule my world,
Maybe we could do the twirl…"
The day finally came when Norma Jean was seeking a mate from the bachelors' circle. Memphis spent his time warming up his voice in the back of the crowd. It would be tough to beat some of the other guys' auditions. When he heard one male sing out, "Take These Broken Wings," he was sure it was too late.
Yet surprisingly, Norma showed no interest in any of the other bachelors. Perhaps there was still hope!
Gathering all of his courage, Memphis broke free of the crowd and sang out his heartsong to her. He turned his head to the side and shut his eyes, both for his performance's sake and to look away from her should she reject him.
Little did he know that his was the song she truly wanted.
"Feeling so lonely I could die-
Don't have to be rich to be my girl,
Don't have to be cool to rule my world,
You're the particular song I'm compatible with…"
Memphis and Norma Jean were bonded for life. The song became love, which would last them forever. Love became the egg, which was their future. Yet fatherhood remained a dark stain on Memphis' mind. He remembered how throughout their son's upbringing, he had felt ashamed of his winter mistake. During that endless Antarctic night, Memphis thought of Norma and immediately began to dance, since she always made him feel like dancing. The consequences were accidentally dropping their egg and knowing that everything "wrong" with Mumble was his fault.
And yet Norma was always there for her boys. She supported Mumble's dancing even if it was different, and she stood by Memphis, even if she didn't know the half of why he was always so upset with Mumble.
One night while a very young Mumble gazed up at the stars by a nearby ice ledge, Norma asked Memphis an important question.
"-Baby, what's wrong?" she asked. "You aren't the same since I left in the fishing season."
"It's just-it's Mumble. I'm worried about 'im and this dancing business."
"I don't see what's so bad about dancing. I like to dance and you do too."
"Then why doesn't he sing like us? How's he ever gonna' be a normal penguin?" Memphis huffed.
Norma paused. "I don't know why it makes you so angry though. What Mumble wants to do or if he'll find a mate isn't our decision. You take it too personally, Memphis."
Memphis sighed, anguished. "It is personal. It's all my-" He stopped, unable to tell her the truth. "-he's my son."
Norma smiled. "Aw, Daddy, our son'll be just fine. You'll see."
"Yeah…" he said and glanced from the corner of his eye. "You wanna' dance?"
Norma gave him a quizzical look, but smiled. "Sure, baby."
And the family of penguins, especially the enthusiastic Mumble, danced the night away under the stars. Memphis remembered how, even in those hard times, Norma's eyes sparkled and told him that somehow everything was going to be all right.
"You make me feel like dancing,
I'm gonna dance the night away…"
Now with the hard times long gone, everything should have been better. The fish had returned to Emperorland, mostly thanks to their son. Mumble had forgiven Memphis for how he had been raised and lifted the guilt from his heart. And best of all, he would always have Norma Jean to remind him that things wouldn't so bad if he could just take time to listen the music. She had always been there for that, even when she was only there in memories.
"Norma Jean?" Memphis asked his mate quietly.
Norma was just dozing off but opened one eye slowly. "Yes?"
He cleared his throat and extended a flipper. "May I have this goodbye dance?"
Norma looked at Memphis, confused, but happy. "Sometimes I swear you're crazy, Memphis."
"But do you like it?" he asked.
She grinned and reached a flipper to him as well. "Sugar, I'll always like that about you. Let's dance!"
So the two Emperor Penguins danced in the moonlight. They laughed and sang to themselves as they did so, entirely in love. Finally, when they stopped spinning and tapping and strutting around, they put their beaks together in a penguin kiss–a last, simple goodbye.
"I just want your extra time
And your kiss."