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Dances

By Timothy Gager

It was 6:00 and I was sitting with my friend Donnie. We had a metal tub of iced beer and I’d built a pit in order to steam some clams and crabs the way you would at a beach party. I’d kicked off early from my job in order to drink and talk with my best friend of twenty years. I needed his input, but he was pretty quiet.

Our party started earlier this afternoon and we were beginning to feel pretty good. Not drunk, but pretty good. It was the perfect thing to do on this Indian summer day with so much on my mind that I needed to forget. The leaves had just begun to turn. It’s the most beautiful of deaths that nature had to offer. Perfection in a nutshell: a crystal clear day, the coldest of beer, and the near erotic smell of steamed shellfish. I was almost ready to have the conversation about my marriage with him but with guys it takes awhile to get warmed up to something of this magnitude.

It was unusual for her to not be home at this time. She’d usually be here precisely at 5:45. I don’t know how she did it each and every evening but I guess she’s some sort of time-managing genius. Tonight there was something different going on. I wondered if there was an accident on the Beltway or if she was just planning to avoid me. The worst thoughts imaginable began to filter through my head. I was just about to turn to Donnie and say, “You know,” when I got a call from Mrs. Meyers from my daughter’s daycare. Jennifer hadn’t been picked up. Could I come and get her?

The place was close to Sil’s job and she usually picked up Jennifer by 5:30. It was 6:05. This made me suspicious. I remembered that last night we had argued loudly about my drinking and she threatened to leave me. We had argued before but she had never said anything about leaving. Another thing that popped into my head was that if she really was going to leave me it wouldn’t be in this manner. She was much more calculated about when and how she’d do things. It was more likely that she would have served me a certified letter notifying me that she had filed for divorce. The letter would have arrived at 5:45.

Mrs. Meyers was still on the other end of the phone and wanted to know what time I could get Jennifer. It was a fairly decent ride to the place but after hanging out all afternoon, I wasn’t in the mood to drive. I had had a few beers, not enough to inhibit my skills, but just enough for me to want to stay home and reach into the ice filled tub a few more times.

“Hang on, I’ll be right with you,” I said to her.

“You do realize that there is a late fee of a dollar a minute for each minute after six,” she informed me. It didn’t seem to matter to her that we never got a refund for all the 5:30 pick-ups in the past year.

It was hard to concentrate on this extra cost calculation because my mind kept going back to the possibility that Silvie was leaving me. We never planned for Jennifer and she never wanted children so could this be a her attempt at symbolic irony? Shit, I was becoming irrational. I mean, sure we argued, lacked basic trust, but in reality, the marriage started going downhill after she began attending AA. In my opinion, the main culprit of our current conflicts would be the AA meetings that I refused to attend. They gave her the strength to stop the nightly drinking we had always shared with each other. Even with this difference in our situation, I thought Sil was a “till death do us part kind of gal.”

We’d also survived a two-month affair on my part that happened last year. We couldn’t survive the marriage counseling we attended immediately after. We both agreed it to be a waste of time. After we finally ditched Dr. Empathetic Dink we could tolerate being with each other again.

A side note: the residual spirituality that comes with AA had encouraged my wife to become very zealous. She’d even began to attend church regularly with another AA member. Immediately after my affair she had blamed her own drinking for my infidelity. Now that AA had given her the proper support she was now able to blame me unequivocally for all of our problems. She said I was a spiritual wasteland.

I will concede the point that she was correct regarding my part and responsibility in the affair and I honestly believe it was a stupid thing that I did. I think that I wanted to get caught so that I could have my tail between my legs and have an excuse to be a changed man. Her mother had always stated that people don’t change, especially men. In the past six months I’ve reviewed and calculated all the facts. She was the one who had changed and her mother had made that comment because she dislikes me mucho. Her mom was constantly raving about Sil’s ex-fiancé, Fuzzy, what a great guy he was and how Sil never should have left him. I hated her mom.

My mind raced through all these scenarios past and present until it settled on something else. Maybe Sil had met someone else completely.

“What are you going to do Mr. Peters?” Mrs. Meyers asked.

I couldn’t deal with talking to her. I needed to think. Maybe Sil had an accident or perhaps had gone back off the wagon? Or on the wagon? Which is it?

“I don’t know,” I answered Mrs. Meyers. “It’s been a tough year. I’ll call you back in a minute.”

Before our wedding Sil and I had signed up for a ballroom dance class because I was a terrible dancer and she’d be embarrassed when we stumbled around in front of all our guests during the reception. She, on the other hand, was a terrific dancer. This was obvious to me during the times that she had tried to teach me some moves before finally realizing that I needed professional help in this area. My job always kept me busy but, now that I was anticipating being out of work for a few weeks, combined with the timely pre-marriage planning, I never made it to any of the dance classes. This all led up to the first disappointment in our marriage. At the reception I stepped on her gown during our dance, causing her to lose her balance but, thankfully, not to fall completely. She would save face effortlessly and gracefully. Situations like this made me so proud of her, happy to have her, even if I’d proven to be a chump with my dancing fiasco.

After the honeymoon I told her I was working late to catch up and took a few lessons with the dance instructor. One night, I surprised her by taking her to the Marble Ballroom in the middle of downtown Baltimore. Perhaps I was as calculated as she. During that first dance at the Marble she held me tight and cried tears of happiness I could feel through my shirt. They soaked through until my skin too was wet.

Before calling Mrs. Meyers back, I dialed Sil’s cell but she had turned it off. I called back Mrs. Meyers and told her that I’d get there as soon as I could. I’d had enough experience in drinking and driving that I knew I could make this trip without any worries. I was in decent shape after just four beers. I told Donnie that I was OK and he didn’t question me. He never did. When I’m drunk I make a conscious effort to drive the speed limit. Also during those times I leave the proper distance between myself and the back bumper of the car in front of me, the formula being one car length for every ten miles per hour. This was a tough thing to do because on the Beltway, at 60 mph, you would need six car lengths to be safe distance, which, in reality, would allow two other cars to slide in on your six-car cushion. Sil used to see me driving this way and knew that it was time to take over. She knew more about me than anyone in the entire world.

“What’s going on?” Donnie asked me.

“Got to pick up Jenn,” I said and left it at that.

The drive went better than I expected and I owed Mrs. Meyers thirty dollars. Mrs. Meyers looked like an NFL helmet decal of herself. Angry. Fierce. Attacking. She was the living emblem of The Baltimore Furrowed Madwomen. I handed her my credit card and she told me there would be an additional fee to use the card. It was quite a racket.

“Where’s Mommy?” Jennifer asked when she saw me. I didn’t ‘t know what to say. It was almost like I had to deliver the bad news right now. I held off.

“Something came up at work,” I told her. She was four, almost five years old, and my quick answer was good enough for her. I smiled as she began to hum to herself as we walked to the car. She had a way, a certain grace that would suck the venom out of my blood and save a poor wretch like me. Being left there for the extra time probably caused stress to her tiny lily-white soul, but she could forget all of that at the sight of her dad. I would rely on this if I had to deliver more bad news in the morning.

At home, I fed Jennifer some crabs in butter and had a few more beers with Donnie before he had to go. We never had a chance to have that talk, the one that would put all this in perspective. We also never had a chance to sit and do social nothing. It’s what men do; they drink while avoiding emotions. I’m sure he didn’t have a great time, but it was nice to see him nevertheless.

After Jennifer went to bed, I considered calling Silvie’s mother to see if Sil was there. I knew I’d get an earful either way so I decided to listen to music and read the paper instead. I turned on the CD player and one of Silvie’s big band discs spun to life. I was wondering whether to leave it or switch to something else when the headlights of Sil’s SUV bathed the living room. I sat on the sofa and closed my eyes, just listening to her enter the house, putting down her things. I listened in a way I’d never done before, though her routine in arriving home was etched deep into my subconscious.

“Ben?” she said.

I opened my eyes trying to see her the same way I had when I first set eyes on her. She looked old.

“Ben?” she repeated.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call. I went to the hospital. Shit! I forgot Jenn! Did you?”

“Got her. Are you OK? Did you have an accident?”

“No, neither of those. I decided to call Fuzzy today and he told me his father was in the hospital. He had cancer but this was more like meningitis from the cancer. He looked to be in a lot of pain.” I let her go on. “I’d never seen him this way before. He was always so strong and tonight was so different. I guess it was really a shock.”

“Can I get you something?” I asked, thinking immediately of a strong drink, but then realizing that I’d made an error. I stood up, ready in case she wanted something anyway.

“When Fuzzy and I used to date we’d all go dancing almost every Saturday night. It was Fuzzy and his mom and dad. His dad was such a great dancer. He taught me everything, all the moves, the swing steps, everything. It was a great time. Fuzzy used to say that I danced too X-rated at times, but his mom would just laugh at him.”

“Are you sure you don’t want some water or something?”

“No. I’m OK. It’s just the weird feeling I got when I saw him. It was the same that came over me before my grandmother died. She’d had a stroke and one time after we visited her I just knew I’d never see her again. We were visiting and I got this sense that she wasn’t going to make it.”

I looked into Sil’s eyes. They were clouding over.

“It’s the same way I feel right now. I’m sorry Ben that I didn’t call, but feeling that feeling and knowing that somehow he was dying and things that are supposed to always be there really aren’t, Oh God. It’s just so clear to me when things are coming to an end.”

I was still standing listening as I walked over and took her in my arms. We swayed, slowly, comfortably back and forth until the shoulder of my shirt was completely soaked once more. I knew I had prepared for this and she was completely letting go.

Timothy Gager is the author of Short Street and Twenty-Six Pack, both collections of short fiction, and the e-book The Damned Middle. He is the founding co-editor of The Heat City Literary Review. His short stories have appeared in Word Riot, Midnight Mind Magazine, Scene Boston, Theive's Jargon, The Insights Anthology and Write This Magazine. Timothy's poetry has been published in The Ibbetson Street Journal, Poems for All, Erato, Poetry Life and Times, Generation X National Journal,High Horse, Third Lung Review, Whispers of Inspiration Anthology and Poesy XXIV. His poetry has been nominated for two Cambridge Poetry Awards.

 

Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.


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Short Street
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