THE LAST DANCE

 

 

THE LAST DANCE

The dance floor is thinning. It’s better now. It was “excuse me” and “sorry”, as you bumped your hands and elbows into someone’s back, though you were hugging them close to your body. But somehow, there was room for that one couple to show off their expertise and you were a bit jealous. It’s a big crowd here, this college re-union covering several graduating years.  It’s a nice hotel, but the dance floor is quite small, and too many people at each table, there are eight around your table.  There aren’t many of your classmates left to attend these functions.  Age takes its toll.

It’s has been very noisy, with all the talking and the music, but now, many are leaving.  You old folk tire easily.  You’ve said good-by to your classmates, they are leaving, and you are dancing again, on a near empty floor.  You work your way around to the band stand as the piece ends.  You compliment the musicians, and the leader asks if you have a request – it is the last dance, one last dance 

A few years ago you and your wife watched a television movie on the life of Glen Miller, and it brought to mind the song “Moonlight Serenade”.  You didn’t know the words at the time, but you remembered how smooth a dance piece it is, how nice for slow dancing, for close dancing, so you looked up the words – romantic words that fit the music so perfectly.

You ask the band to play “Moonlight Serenade”.

I STAND AT YOUR GATE, AND THE SONG THAT I SING IS OF MOONLIGH

Do you remember your first dance?  Not much.  Vaguely it comes to you: just one little episode – not the dance, but before the dance.  You and your classmate are standing on the gravel driveway behind your house discussing the upcoming high school dance.  You were probably sophomores. You have never danced with a girl before, except your sisters, and, of course, they always led, and belittled you for your ineptitude. You are green, and confused by this exciting new feeling, the first commandment of nature– the hush, hush and no, no of becoming a man.

The question was – what is it like to hold a girl in your arms, especially one you secretly like?  Should you wear a jock strap, in case you get a hard-on, and embarrass yourselves?   You decided to bring them home from your gym lockers and wash them.  Best to wear them and be on the safe side. The dance?  You don’t remember.  Was it in the gym?  Did all the girls sit on one side and the boys on the other?  You’ll never know.  The memory was just a dim light.

Memory is like a train ride across the prairie at night, riding in a dark sleeping compartment. You lie there on your side staring out the window.  You force yourself to stay awake; there might be something interesting out there.  But, for now, it is pitch black.  And then, in the distance, the dim, flickering light of a farmhouse, where some worried mother is comforting a sick child.  That light is your ancient memory flickering for just a moment – the first dance.

 The train runs on, clickity clack, clickity clack, and then you vaguely hear the sound of a road crossing bell clanging, the pitch of the bell increasing higher and higher as you approach the crossing, clang, clang, clang. And then, when you see the flash of a signal light swinging back and forth, the sound goes down the scale, clang, clang, clang.  Not enough of the signal light to bring back a memory. Close, but it evades you.

But, now, you pull into a station – lights all around, people scurrying.  You begin to remember another dance, but you didn’t dance.  You worked in the controller’s office when you were a junior classman, and for a while you were responsible for providing phonograph music for noon dances. You remember them as “Hops”.  You would go down town to Sherman Clay, the great music store, and select several records by the big bands, with vocals you would remember forever.  You would take these 78’s; records that played for three minutes on each side, go into a sound-proof booth and see what you liked.  Then, to school where you played them while you watched your schoolmates spin around the floor.  You didn’t dance but you learned a bit by watching.

I STAND AND I WAIT FOR THE TOUCH OF YOUR HAND IN THE JUNE NIGHT.

 They called it a “barn dancebut it was a pretty nice dance hall just outside Georgetown, where, in the summer, every Saturday night was dance night.  Several of you had come down from the logging camp to taste a bit of the “big life”.  Lots of beer being consumed, couples disappearing out to the parking lot for a while, and lots of whirling on the floor.  And then, when the floor got a bit gritty, all dancers were ordered off the floor, it was carelessly swept and then sprinkled with Spangles, a wax that looked like soap flakes.  You were improving as a dancer, and the beer helped quite a bit.

 Spangles!  That brings back the memory of your mother standing in the kitchen, with a bar of laundry soap in her hand, paring off thin slices, putting them in a pan of water, heating the solution, and then, pouring it into the Maytag washing machine – the electric washing machine, with the wringer that could be swung in several positions – a great invention – it sure beat the wash board.

Spangles!  Another train stop!  You are having a masked ball on Halloween.  You and you wife clear the furniture from your office room, roll up the carpet, and sprinkle Spangles on the floor.  What a party – you discuss the costumes for months, but who was that one fellow who never unmasked, and whom you could never identify?

THE ROSES ARE SIGHING A MOONLIGHT SERENADE

Before the dinner you had all met in a courtyard for cocktails, and chatting.  The noise level was low and you compared notes with your classmates, some who were comfortable old friends.  In the dining room, it was noisy – you could only talk to the person sitting next to you.  So you clink your spoon against a glass, and loudly demand attention.  You pose the question to your dinner mates – “What is the definition of a dance?”  You get the appropriate reply by someone – “We don’t know, what is the definition of a dance?”

Your answer –“A dance is a navel engagement without loss of semen”.  You get a couple of appreciative guffaws, someone says “Hey, that’s a good one”, but you fear it was lost on some, as you hear the mention of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. Your wife gives you a disgusted look, but you don’t care – you still like it – “a navel engagement without loss of semen”.

The stars are aglow, and tonight, how their light sets me dreaming.

She pulls you onto the dance floor, though you would rather sit longer.  And it’s the style of dancing you never liked   You face each other with your fists held high, feinting punches as if you are waiting for an opening to really slug your partner.  And keep those feet dancing – a good boxer keeps them moving.  You wave your hands, hop up and down, and have a stupid smile on your face.  Fortunately, no one notices you – they are  too busy having a good time.

You had taken dance lessons several times, and you forgot them quickly, but she didn’t.  She would say let’s do the West Coast Swing, and you would do a couple of the maneuvers, but then, you couldn’t think of what to do next, while she would look at you expectantly, and you would solve it by going back into a Fox Trot

MY LOVE, DO YOU KNOW THA T YOUR EYES ARE LIKE STARS BRIGHTLY BEAMING?

Another train stop.  The towns are getting bigger, more activity, more passengers, and fuller memories.  You’re at the Officer’s Club on the Marine Corps post at Quantico,Virginia.  It’s the Saturday night dance and you’re kept busy on the floor, mainly with the civilian women who work on the post.  Now the band has left, and a few of you gather around the piano where Bobby Troup expertly plays the current  popular songs, including his “ Daddy”, the composition that has already brought him fame.  He and you are in the same Base Defense class, and you won’t meet again until you are on a troop ship waiting in Eniwetok Atoll until space opens up for your debarkation at Guam. 

Your next station stop is Camp Lejeune, New River, North Carolina, a new installation with beautiful brick buildings. The Base Defense School, where you are now an instructor, has been moved fromQuantico. The Officer’s Club here, is surrounded by the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters and has a dock out on the river.  On Saturday nights, if you don’t have a date with a Navy nurse, or a Woman Marine, you twirl the wives of fellows who don’t dance.  You are all wearing your whites, and the ladies look gorgeous. It reminds you of a scene out of a movie, set at some glamorous Southern country club on a hot summer’s night.

I BRING YOU AND I SING YOU A MOONLIGHT SERENADE.

You travel west across the country and board a ship. There were other ports, but now you are anchored in the coral island of Eniwetok.  The hospital ship, Hope, all white and beaming, is a beautiful site as it stands in contrast to the grey transports and destroyers waiting in the harbor.  Nurses, those beautiful nurses, come ashore, and you dance to the music of Bobby Troup’s orchestra.  He, the orchestra leader, and recreation officer with this all black Defense Battalion defending the atoll with its anti-aircraft artillery guns:  the first Negro troops in the Marine Corps.

LET US STRAY ‘TILL BREAK OF DAY IN LOVE’S VALLEY OF DREAMS.

JUST YOU AND I,  A SUMMER SKY,  A HEAVENLY BREEZE CARESSING THE TREES.

Peace has come, and after the many stops in your life, the train has reached your present station, and you have debarked.  You’re back on this dance floor – with only two other couples now.  You look back at your table, the only one not cleared.  Two glasses, half full of red wine.  It was good wine, but you probably won’t finish it.  Your coat is hanging over the back of a chair, and her jacket on the next chair – you removed them earlier when you were getting too warm.  And, though you can’t see it, there is her beautiful, small beaded, purse on the seat of her chair.  You remember suggesting, as you were getting dressed, that you could put her lipstick and comb in your pocket.  Oh, No!  The purse is as much of the dress as the shoes.

SO DON’T LET ME WAIT, COME TO ME TENDERLY IN THE JUNE NIGHT.

You are no longer singing the words to her. You are both very tired, you haven’t danced this much in years, and now your feet are barely moving, mostly just swaying your hips.  And then, not even that.  You hold each other tightly, standing still, your head against her neck as you savor the sweet fragrance of her perspiration, sweeter than the Chanel No. 5 she dabbed on earlier.

I STAND AT YOUR GATE AND I SING YOU A SONG IN THE MOONLIGHT.

A LOVE SONG, MY DARLING, A MOONLIGHT SERENADE.

 

The last dance.

 George Parker

  © June, 2009



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