Barreling in through the middle of Minoa, Art started to pump the brakes of his five window Ford Coupe. He couldn’t chance overheating them at this pace. The alley was quickly approaching but something had to be done to slow this behemoth rolling death trap. Bud’s face contorted and grimaced, as he instinctively slammed his feet into the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side floorboard. Grabbing onto the dashboard for more control, Bud began pulling back his head further back behind his seat.
“Whoa Art. You’re gonna kill us!”, winced Bud. Art paid no attention. He was locked in battle with the natural forces of speed, angular attack and drift. Instantly reassessing the forces of gravity and inertia, he committed his beastly craft with a quick jerk of the wheel. As the wheels squealed for traction, Art made his final calculations on braking force and braced for an awkward landing into the alley with his steel chariot.
Bud started to grab mounds of seat upholstery in his large hands and braced for whatever would come. The tires slid on the gravel stone. In mere seconds, the car bucked to a stop as two trash bin covers went flying into the air. The sound of the crash seemed to echo throughout the alley for several seconds.
As the dust cleared, Bud looked over at Art in a gaze of amazement. Art was still gripping the wheel tightly with a slight smirk brewing on his face. With his eyes wide open, Art turned his head toward Bud with a sense of prideful glee.
“Did you see that Bud? If those cans weren’t there, that would have been perfect.”
Bud grabbed the cap off his head and swatted it at Art. “You nearly killed us you block head.” Art laughed and shrugged it off. He flung open his door and sprang up out of the car seat. A fresh jolt of adrenaline was now coursing through his veins.
Bud shouldn’t be that upset, he thought. There were plenty of times Bud enticed dangerous stunts between the two of them. Just two years ago, Bud thought sledding down the icy half mile descending road going into Minoa and narrowly getting crushed under that train at the bottom of the hill was a great idea. Or the time Bud thought it was a good idea to canoe down the Susquehanna when it was flooding. Or the time Bud wanted to stay out fishing during that lightning storm on Cayuga Lake.
“C’mon Bud. Doc Garner is going to box our ears if we are late.” Bud got out and slowly hobbled toward the front doors.
Oh yeah. Doc Garner’s General Store with its attached soda malt shop. This place was a goldmine. This was the place to go if you had to pick up general items, prescriptions and grab yourself a humdinger of an ice cream soda. The main menu at Doc’s was ice cream sodas, chocolate malts, fountain colas and of course milkshakes.
Before Bud could turn back around to find out where Art was, Art was already blasting past him on the stairs and bounding in through the soda shop doors.
Doc was cleaning up the counter as Art busted through the doors ahead of Bud. “Hey boys! Morning. I think I heard those racoons knock over my garbage bins again. Bud – could you take care of that for me?”
Bud shot a glare over to Art who smiled back in amusement. Before Bud could respond, Art chimed in, “Bud will be more than happy to take a look at that Doc.”
“Good. Good. Art, I need you to start getting everything prepped in here while I get the store open.”
Art was on it in a flash. Within minutes, he had the handles shining, the counters spotless and tested all the spigots to make sure all the flavored soda and carbonations were right. Once he was happy with all the prep work, he donned his white apron, straightened out his bow tie and waited for the first customer to arrive.
Art was pleased with his quick prep work but he had little time to gloat before a hard fist slammed into his shoulder. It was Bud and he seemed a bit sour.
“Boy, you really turned into a crumb. Thanks a lot. Now my hands smell.”
“Ah Bud. Don’t be sore. I promise to make it up to you. Just you wait.”
Sniffing his hands with a tad bit of disgust, Bud made a bee-line for the bathroom. “Yeah well, I’ll be right back. I have to wash my hands.”
Just then the bell at the door began to ring. Art could tell it was a female but he couldn’t exactly tell who it was. Her identity was hidden by the large tan floppy hat waving over her face. She was obviously in no hurry and seemed to occasionally look back toward the front door that had now closed behind her. As she made her way toward the soda counter, Art stood mesmerized. Her neatly tailored dress revealed an hourglass figure that Art surmised could keep any pocket watch perfectly synchronized. Before Art could feel guilty for staring at this lovely petite woman, she startled him by quickly raising the brim of her hat.
“Would you mind giving me a large one in the hay, sir?” The floppy hat now revealed two sparkling and dazzling blue eyes piercing directly into Art’s now larger than life oculars. Art felt his knees buckle as she pursed her newly painted red lips. He tried to make a sound but no voice was coming out of his mouth. “Come now. I don’t have all day.”
“Um, I’m sorry. Yes, one large one in the hay. Coming right up.” Art grabbed for the scooper and tipped open the lid to the strawberry ice cream. “Two scoops, miss?”
“Would that be extra?”, she asked.
“Since you are the first customer and you brought in all this sunshine, I’ll give you the extra scoop for free.” Art was very proud of his quick wit and beamed a large prominent smile back her way.
The woman squinted her jeweled eyes as if partially amused at the obvious flirt being floated her way by this obnoxious soda jerk. Sitting herself upon the stool she murmured, “Uh huh. Well, thank you.”
Art threw the scoops into the air and caught them into the mixing tin. Slipping the tin under the spigot he added just the right amount of carbonation and sprinkled in a few extra ice chips. Popping it under the blender blade he turned the tin to ensure he mixed the ingredients to the perfect consistency. With his masterpiece in hand he leaned forward over the counter and slowly slid the malt in front of her, making sure to make full eye contact with this lovely woman in front of him.
“Your drink, Miss”. Before she could utter a word of thanks, Art blindly pulled a napkin from below the counter and held it out in front of her. “And incase you should happen to spill any.” He peered deeply into her blue speckled eyes that were locked onto his smoky grey eyes and continued without a wince. As if dared into a childish staring contest the woman returned her own animated stare. They were bound in an ocular war until Bud came bounding around from the back.
Unaware of the intimate saga going on, Bud shared what he felt was important news to Art. “Holy smokes Art. My hands smelled like pig feet in a pen full of rotten cabbage.” Art turned and rolled his eyes back at Bud.
It was at this time Bud noticed the woman and Art’s miffed displeasure at the interruption. “I apologize ma’am. I did not see you there.” Bud shrugged his shoulders at Art and mouthed a silent apology of sorry.
Art turned back to re-engage but the woman only lowered her gaze and snickered. “Thank you again.”
Disappointed that the sinful battle ended so quickly, Art straightened up and began washing the mixing tin. Art maintained a gaze upon the woman as she enjoyed her order. He felt a bit ashamed that he couldn’t look away but he couldn’t help himself. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
With a knot in his throat, he tried to start a conversation. “My name is Arthur but you can call me Art.”
The woman responded with a terse response. “Excuse me but why do you feel I would call you by your name at all?”
“I thought we could be friends.” Art smiled widely as she pulled the slope of her hat back up above her face.
Pushing her hand toward him, she daintily exposed a prominent diamond ring on her left ring finger. Art held it softly and started to inspect the shape of her hand.
“Nice hand but all I wish for is your name.”, said Art in a deadpan voice.
“Sir. Unless you are blind I am engaged. I am not in need of a friend.”, said the woman.
Art lightly turned her small hand to the side and tried to comically pretend to inspect the diamond further. “You sure you don’t need a friend? That doesn’t seem to be a big sparkler.”
The woman jerked her hand back. “It’s a beautiful ring, thank you very much.”
“If you ask me, I think you are worthy of a diamond that at least matches your eyes.” Art’s flirtation was in full gear but just then the chime rang at the front door.
“I got it.”, said Bud. A tall, dapper man with blond hair appeared and bounded through the entrance and seemed to be looking for someone.
“Oh there you are, Madge.”
Art recognized the man immediately. That was Marty McGillis, the oldest son whose father owned several successful lumber mills. Marty was a nice enough fella but everyone knew him to be large and awkward. Art just couldn’t fathom the thought that Marty was able to sway a woman of this caliber into a marriage proposal. He seemed out of her league.
“What can I get you Marty?”, said Bud.
“Nothing for me. I’m just here to get my girl.”, Marty said with a large smile. He bent down to give the woman named Madge a kiss but it was made awkward by the floppy hat. Finally after several failed attempts he settled on giving the top of the hat a peck. “Let me pay for that, Madge. Are you ready to go?”
Pushing her fountain glass forward and wiping her lips lightly with her napkin, she murmured, “I’m ready.” As she rose, Marty offered his arm and she gladfully took it. As they made their way to the front door, the woman named Madge stopped and turned back. She raised the brim of her hat and locked eyes with Art and said, “Thank you for the wonderful fountain drink.”
Art tipped his head and smiled back at her. “You’re very welcome.” Art didn’t notice Marty leering but as soon as the door closed, Bud shot another pounder into Art’s arm. Art rubbed his arm and smiled back at Bud.
“What was that for, Bud? You still sore about the cabbage hands?”
“Cabbage? No. I’m wondering about you eyeing up Marty’s fiancé.”, Bud mused.
Art was ignoring Bud’s statement and continued staring out the front window for a glimpse of the woman in the flopping hat. Bud muttered something else but Art just turned and grabbed his shoulders.
“Bud. I’m going to marry that woman.”
Bud laughed and scoffed at the preposterous idea. “I’m sure you will, Casanova but if you weren’t paying attention she was hanging on Marty’s arm when they walked out the door. I don’t think that woman cares whether you even exist.”
Art wasn’t about to let Bud sour his dream. “Mark my word, Bud. I’m gonna marry that woman.”
“Mom. Was that really how it went?”, I begged.
“Well, your father swears it was true. And Bud did tell me years later that he said that so I have to believe your Father.”
Dad adjusted himself in his chair as he anticipated my next line of questions. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with all that I was hearing. I couldn’t fathom the image of my Mom ever being in love with any other man other than my father. I needed to hear more of the story in order to bring me some semblance of order and sanity.
“So you knew you would marry Mom?”, I said inquisitively.
“I knew I needed to marry your Mom. Her eyes spoke to me that day.”, said my father.
“Spoke to you? What did they say?”
Dad lightly chuckled. “They told me she really wanted me and that I was the one.”
Mom snorted out a laugh. “Oh dear, they did not. Don’t be telling fibs. I thought your father was being bold.”
My mind wandered in so many directions. When I came to understand how life was created, it caused me to stress over the fragility of my own existence. The uniqueness of my life and who I was was based on a singular, fragile, biological moment of time. If that moment was skewed ever so slightly, I may not have been born. Some other lifeform would have taken my place. It is a topic I discussed with my parents many times before and Dad saw the familiar stress lines growing across my forehead. Dad placed his large calloused but reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“Let me tell you the rest of the story.”
The Purple Ticket
Art couldn’t get this woman out of his mind. All day long he kept replaying the image of her swaggering into the soda shop and reintroducing himself. He wondered how he could have made a better impression.
“Bud, I have to find out who this woman is.”
“You would be better off leaving it alone.” said Bud. “That won’t be anything but trouble for you.”
Bud didn’t see what he saw. Art saw a spark in her eyes that he couldn’t even put into words but he knew they were destined only for him. Somehow, some way, he would find this girl and make her change her mind about marrying Marty McGillis.
Minoa was a sleepy little town but it exploded with life when the Sun went down. Ever popular places were the two movie theatres and the several dance halls that ringed the outside of the town limits. If you were a young adult, being at one of these venues was the place to be. Dancing was hot and it allowed everyone to show off the newest dance moves coming out of Chicago and New York. Every young man wanted to be Fred Astaire and every young man wanted to find his Ginger Rodgers.
Bud finished up cleaning off the counter and threw the washrag at Art. “What you plan to do tonight?”, said Bud.
Art shook his head and rolled his eyes as if annoyed that Bud didn’t already know. “You know where I’ll be. You want to go?”
“Nah. I have to help my Dad at the dealership early tomorrow morning, so I have get some sleep.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll be on the prowl.” Art threw the remaining rags on the rack to dry and yelled back into the store where Doc Garner was cashing out. “Doc. Me and Bud are going now. Bud has the cash drawer.”
Doc waved back from behind the register. He was busy counting up the daily and weekly totals. “You boys did good this week. Your envelopes are in the bin.” Art swiped his up from the bin and threw Bud’s envelope into his waiting hands.
“Thank you Doc. We appreciate you very much.”, said Art.
A large smile formed on Doc Garner’s face. He was always taken back by Art’s sincerity and he knew that this weekly gesture was a testament to his parent’s upbringing. “You’re a good boy, Art. You boys keep yourself safe and I will be expecting you both here bright and early Monday morning.”
“Yes sir.” barked Bud.
As they were bounding out the store and steps away from the beginning of their weekend, Doc yelled out to both of them, “.. and Art. Go a bit slower and try not to smash into my garbage cans with that tank of yours.”
“Dang”, thought Art. He peeked back at Doc. He noticed how he stared back above his glasses that were precariously perched at the end of his nose. Doc almost looked like a judge sitting there ready to cast sentencing upon a guilty party.
Art felt his face blushing and bashfully uttered back, “Yes sir.”
“Ok. You boys scat now. Keep yourself out of trouble.”
Jumping into the coupe, Bud couldn’t contain his laughter. “Oh he caught you! And don’t look at me. I wasn’t a stoolie.”
Art was already past the whole Doc incident. He was busy ripping open his envelope. Thirty five dollars and fifty cents. That along with the tips he got, gave him a cool forty-one dollars for the week. Art felt like a millionaire.
Turning the key and pressing the start button, Art’s coupe came alive. “C’mon Bud. I have to get ready. I plan to burn up the floors and fill up a few dance cards tonight.”
Art stared back at himself in the mirror. Freshly showered and shaved with a healthy amount of George Foster’s oil based pomade in his hair, Art knew he looked and smelled dapper. The cut of his new suit accentuated his slender physique and he did everything he could to look as much like Fred Astaire as possible. But looking like his idle was not enough. Dad knew that to be a good dancer, he had to practice this physically demanding craft and be on top of all the latest dance crazes.
During the Depression people turned to movies and dance for all their entertainment. It was their outlet to express themselves and escape. Dance marathons were a popular entertainment and Art looked for all of them. It was the age of ballroom and swing dances, blaring jazz music and Art wanted to be party to all of it. If there was a dance, Art would be there.
Art was most talented at a number of swing dances. All these swing dances came out of the ultra jazzy areas of Harlem Savoy and the black culture. He couldn’t wait to grab a lassie and coax her into a jitterbug or the jive. But if he had to he was more than capable of doing a waltz. He saved those for very special ladies.
Stepping on the gas, Art made a beeline for Tony’s. He knew Tony’s would be the most popular place tonight. They had a new band showing up from out of town. Possibly from Chicago. Anyone and everyone loved any new band bringing in a new brash sound. If they had a strong beat, a blaring horn section and a strong percussion, Art knew he had a chance to fill up any woman’s dance card.
As expected, Tony’s was hopping. The line to get in was around the corner but Art knew the door keeper. With a wink of his eye, he knew the back entrance would be opened for him to enter. Everyone knew Art and owners encouraged him to come to their place because he made the ladies feel special. Art was a crowd pleaser on the dance floor, that’s for sure.
Instead of parking right away, Art cruised along the line and just noted all the people standing and waiting their turn. For some reason he didn’t want to stop and found himself back on the road and heading back out toward the edge of town. Within minutes he was at Jay’s Jamboree. They had the Ed Piper Band blaring their own style of music and tonight was a dance marathon. The line was ridiculous but nobody complained. It was a hip place to be.
Again, Art found himself slowly driving by the cordial line of women in their pretty dresses and the men in their equally handsome suits. He stopped momentarily near the entrance and noted the tickets being handed over to the doorman. You had to buy your tickets either in advance or at the door. Buying them in advance was a gamble because you didn’t always know who was playing since some of the acts were booked at the last minute. It cost you less if you paid in advance and if you did, you could enter right away. They would rip the ticket and hand you back the other half as a receipt. You didn’t lose this or you would not be able to re-enter if you went outside to get some fresh air. After driving around for several minutes, Art found himself back out on the road with no clear destination in mind.
All night long, Art drove around to the different dance clubs but he couldn’t decide which one he wanted to go to. He just didn’t feel like himself. He normally knew exactly where he would end up even before he left his house. For some reason he just couldn’t make a decision. Something was gnawing at his brain.
Rolling into the parking lot, the full brunt of dejection and disappointment washed over him. Art didn’t expect to be here of all places. This was the last place that everyone ended up at. Trudey’s.
Trudey’s was a small, less refined place and usually the last spot people would go to. The band was decent but it had a small dance floor with a humongous bar. Art always felt they should have made the bar half the size and made the dance floor bigger. It was also the cheapest place to get into as it had no cover charge. Most would wind up at Trudey’s if they couldn’t afford the bar tab at the more expensive dance clubs.
Art knew that whatever he was looking for would not likely end up at Trudey’s. This was where all the late nighter’s went to get drunk. Not many came to dance.
He walked in and began negotiating through the mod of standing bar patrons. Once he was bellied up to the bar he quickly ordered himself a beer from a passing bartender. Within seconds, a hand was tapping on his shoulder from behind.
“Arthur! Where have you been?” said the attractive woman.
Art peeked over his shoulder and smiled kindly at the small petite lady. “Oh, hi Bea. What’s going on?” Art turned around and perched his elbows on the bar while giving his beer a swig.
“Arthur, did you not see me waving frantically at you at Tony’s?”, said the woman as she over expressed herself with a pouty face of disappointment. “It was if I was invisible to you!”
Art took another sip of his beer and eye balled Bea from head to toe. She was not a woman that any man could easily ignore. Although her parents were not prominent, you would not have guessed by the sexy dresses she wore. Bea was always dressed to the hilt. Her swagger was legendary. Rumor had it she could make car brakes squeal and her shapely legs were nearly a mile long. She had a movie starlets face that was destined for the big screen, and she made you know it.
“I’m sorry Bea. I did not notice you.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Art grimaced and wished he could have sucked them back in.
The pause was expected as Bea absorbed what she had just heard. “Excuse me, Arthur. You did not notice me?” Her animated reaction was nearly comical but Art knew better than to add fuel to the fire.
“My sincere apologies, Bea. What I meant to say was that I was distracted by the crowd and the lights. Tony’s was really hopping and the traffic was busy and…”
Bea forced her hand up to Arthur’s lips and turned her head in feigned disgust. “Fine. Make it up to me by having your way with me on the dance floor.” Art placed his beer on a small table near the dance floor. Before long, Art had her twirling like a porcelain doll on a music box. Bea was in heaven.
Bea laughed when the band stopped playing. With hands draped over Art’s shoulders and gazing lovingly up at his strong stern chin, Bea tried her best to catch her breath. “Dear Lord, Arthur. You nearly wore my shoes off. You are truly the best dancer in Minoa. Did you know that?”
Art looked around at the other men who were looking on upon Bea. He knew with confidence that she was right. He practiced all the time and he was very light on his feet. He made any dance partner feel like Ginger Rodgers and women loved him for that. Every woman wanted to dance with him. Art reckoned he danced with every girl in Minoa at some point. Well, nearly every woman.
Bea pulled herself up to Art’s face and planted a warm kiss on his cheek. “I can tell your mind is someplace else, Arthur. Whoever she is, I hope she has some good sturdy shoes.” Art smiled back down at Bea but within seconds, Bea was whisked away by a man wishing to butt in for a jive. Art didn’t resist the intrusion and made his way back to his beer and sat down.
Art knew he didn’t feel like himself and something was gnawing at him. He had a hint of what it was but thinking about it just made him more anxious. After finishing his beer, he waved at Bea and left nearly as quickly as he got there.
He contemplated going straight home but soon found himself back in front of Tony’s. He parked his car in such a way that he had a clear view of everyone wanting to get in. He pulled a Camel out of his pocket and took a few puffs. He just sat there watching the crowd crawl ahead slowly. He could hear the music from the road and he knew the place was packed. He could have easily had fifteen dances by now but he just didn’t want to go in.
“I had heard that he danced with every girl in town before me. Probably ten times each.”, said Mom.
Dad chuckled. “Yea, your Dad was quite the Don Juan of the dance floor back then, but I was on a mission that night.”
“Dad. You were basically stalking her!” Even without him coming out and saying it, I knew he was thinking about Mom.
Dad snorted out a laugh. “No, no son. I was more curious if she could dance.” Dad gave Mom a big wink.
“Since Marty moved like he had cement shoes, I had to wonder if his other half could even wiggle. It was very possible she danced like she was smashing grapes.”
Mom gave Dad an evil eye with a squinty smirk. “Very funny. Marty was an okay dancer. Not as good as you but he could dance.” Then Mom gave a theatrical pause before adding, “Sort of.”
‘Okay, so did you see her? Mom? Were you there at the dance?” I couldn’t contain my excitement and I was darting looks back and forth between my parents seeking answers.
“Well, let your father tell you the rest of the story. It gets better.” said Mom in her reassuring voice.
“It gets better than this?”, I thought. I looked at Dad with pleading eyes. I was so engrossed in what he was telling me, that not even an announcement of chocolate cake or ice cream could have peeled me away from that kitchen chair. I had to know everything.
After several minutes, Art realized why he had not gotten out the car. He finally admitted to himself that he was searching for that woman earlier from this morning. All day he had thought about her and for unearthly reasons, he felt anxiousness building up inside him. He didn’t expect her to be wearing the same outfit or even look the same as she did in that tight fitting dress from this morning but he felt he could recognize her face and her eyes.
Frustration mounted within Art. His mind was having an internal battle with itself. What if he did find her? What exactly would he do at that point?
It was maddening and just at the moment Art put his key back into the ignition, he saw a smile from a woman who was twenty feet away from the entrance. She was talking to a woman who was standing next to a tall and awkward man with blond hair. Art couldn’t believe it. It was Marty McGillis!
Art squinted and trained his eyes to not move or twitch. It was her. It was that woman named Madge and she was in line to get into Tony’s.
Art’s heart jumped nearly out of his chest. She darted her eyes around and seemed to be so excited by the crowd. She was laughing and talking with another girl, who seemed to be standing strangely closer to Marty than she was. Was Marty with that other girl? Before Art could get too excited, another fella turned around and hugged that other girl. Now Marty was reaching out and holding Madge’s hand.
“Now what, you big buffoon.”, Art muttered to himself. “Now you found her. What are you gonna do?”
Art’s eyes darted back at the doorman. As he let people in, he ripped and gave them back half of the purple raffle tickets.
“Purple tickets, huh?”. Art got out of his car and took one last puff of his Camel before throwing it down and mashing the butt under his shoe. He went back to the trunk and opened it up. Carefully, Art unfurled the blanket that seemed to be draped over something that was suspended over a long gas pipe that was the width of his trunk. Once unfurled, the long tails of all the raffle style tickets revealed themselves.
Art knew he had to be quick. Every dance hall used different colored raffle tickets each week and they would purchase a different color that would correspond to that weeks event. One week it could be yellow. The next week it could be red. All of the dance halls used a different color each week and this was managed by the only supplier of raffle tickets in town, which just so happened to be Doc Garner’s General Store.
Art ripped off two purple tickets from the roll and slammed his trunk closed. He wasn’t sure of his game plan but Art found himself walking straight toward them in line.
“Hi Marty. Hi Madge. I see you’re going into the dance.” Art seemed to have a spring in his step.
Before Madge could utter a word, Marty stepped in front of her. “Hi Art. How can I help you?”
“Well hi, Marty. I was just wondering if your lady would like a spare ticket.”
Marty shot a confusing look back at Madge and then looked back at Art. “Why would you give her a ticket?”
Art tried to sound very dignified. “Well Marty. I don’t need it and I figure she could go in and get you all a table. This way she is not standing out here in the chilly evening.”
Marty seemed a tad miffed at Art but Madge placed her hand on his arm before he could get too aggressive. “Marty. That’s four dollars we don’t have to spend.” Art smiled and nodded in approval of Madge’s sense of financial responsibility and concern.
“Right Marty. It’s already paid for and she can have it for free.”, said Art.
While Marty stood there contemplating his choices, Madge took the ticket from Art’s outstretched hand and thanked Art for his generosity. Art lifted the rope and Madge slipped underneath it. Art motioned to Madge toward the direction of the doorman and they started walking that way.
Just when Art thought he was in the clear he heard Marty’s barky voice. “Wait a second buster. Do you have a ticket for yourself?”
Art stopped dead in his tracks and turned around. He looked Marty straight in the eyes. “Marty. That is my ticket. I’m not feeling well but no worries Marty. I’ll make sure she gets in.” Art turned and motioned Madge toward the direction of the doorman.
On the way there, Art asked Madge if she had ever been in Tony’s before. She indicated that she had not and that this was her first time. Art told her that as soon as she entered, she should stand to the right side. If she did, a waiter would come and help her find a suitable table.
“Tickets please” said the doorman. As Art handed the ticket to the doorman, Madge looked back at Art with a quizzical look.
“Why did you do this?”, she said.
“I did it for a dance.”, responded Art. Before she could respond, she was being asked by the doorman to enter. As she became swallowed up by the scene inside Tony’s, Art slowly backed away. Art then went up the line a little ways until he could see Marty and his friends. He waved and motioned with a thumbs up and then continued walking past them down the road.
As soon as Art passed the corner, he set off running for the back entrance. No matter who you were sometimes you couldn’t get back into Tony’s unless you had a ripped off portion of a ticket. Art’s fame wasn’t a guarantee he could get in and he wasn’t about to take any chances. Based on where Marty was in line, he guessed he had a good fifteen minutes before they made their way inside. All he could hope for is that Madge would still be waiting for the imaginary waiter he told her about.
Busting through the crowd, Art found Madge exactly where he told her to stand. She was looking toward the main doors and didn’t see him sneaking up behind her. He felt bad she was waiting there under false pretenses.
“As I said, all I want is one dance.” Madge turned around startled but then gave Art a stern look.
“I thought you had left. How did you get back in here without a ticket.”
“I don’t have time to explain but if you dance with me one time, I promise I will leave.”
“Just a dance? Nothing more?”, said Madge emphatically.
“My word. Nothing more.”, said Art.
Madge didn’t want to seem rude as he did provide her free entry into the dance. One dance was a small price to pay for such an expensive cover charge. Cautiously, Madge held out her hand. “Okay. One dance but nothing more.”
Art smiled and took her hand gently. Off like a shot, he gleefully sashayed her onto the dance floor. As everyone started into their versions of the jitterbug, Art wanted to start out slow just in case his new dance partner was uncomfortable. She seemed perturbed by his careful nature and whispered into his ear, “Should I lead?”
Art gave Madge a large grin and rolled her into a twirling cuddle position. “Well, hang on little lady. I hope your shoes are buckled tight.” Many who were there that night would say that Art danced that jitterbug as if his life depended on it. Much to his surprise, Art was equally impressed by the quickness of her feet and her ability to always be in the right position. A few more dance moves later, Art twirled her into another cuddle.
Before he could say anything, Madge blurted out, “Come on boy. Are your laces too loose?” Art now knew this woman was not afraid of a little competition and acrobatics. For the rest of the dance, he lifted, swirled and floated her around the floor as if she was on a cloud but she ended up to be very much his equal. Their blind grabs were effortless and their turns were perfect and harmoniously in sync. It was as if they had danced together for years.
As the song came to an end both felt themselves extremely winded. An applause erupted amongst fellow dancers who were awe struck by their performance. Little did Art and Madge know but everyone else had moved away to allow them as much room as possible. Their performance commanded the dance floor. They laughed at each other, thanked the crowd and cheerfully made their way to the side to catch their breath.
Madge was flabbergasted by Art’s dancing. “You’re a wonderful dancer!” For the first time, Art actually seemed a tad bashful by the claim.
Art glanced back at the front door. “Thank you, Madge. I want to thank you very much for the dance.”
Madge hesitated then blurted out, “Did you want to dance one more? He won’t be in here for ten more minutes”, she said. Art wanted to very badly but he also wanted to keep his word to her more than anything else.
“I want you to know that I so very much wish I could. But I requested only one dance and promised you nothing more. I want you to know that I will always keep my word to you.” Madge was touched by the sincerity in Art’s eyes and how that echoed in his voice. “I bid you goodnight, Madge. I hope to see you again.”
Like a tendril mist, Art backed away and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Madge alone and very confused. She had never danced like that in her life and she felt more alive than ever before.
“And that was it? You danced one dance and you left her there with that Marty guy?”
I was absolutely confused by my fathers tactics. Surely this wasn’t one of his best techniques to catch a girl. “There has to be more to this.”
Dad was very unapologetic. “Yes, I left her there. As I promised her, all I wanted was one dance and I would leave her without asking for more.”
“But she asked you for another dance. Why didn’t you dance with her again? Were you afraid that Marty fella would see you dancing with Mom?”
“No son. I gave your Mom my word and that was more important. You see, I was not afraid of Marty seeing me dancing with your Mom. I was afraid of Marty seeing your Mom dancing with me. I did not want to put her in that embarrassing position.”
Dad was going to let that sink in for a second but Mom wanted to add something to the conversation. “Your Dad has always protected me even when I didn’t know he was.” At that moment I knew Dad was the greatest man alive.
“Okay. Okay. So what happened next?” Surely something epic was about to be shared. I asked Mom for a cream soda because I was getting parched from having my mouth agape during all this time. Mom cheerfully got up and got me one.
Surely this story was coming to an epic ending. This was by far the greatest love story I had ever heard. This was love at first sight. This was the kind of story that wrenched at your heart. It brought out anguish, agony and suspense, yet it was peppered with intimate romanticism. Although there was a small hint of deviance, there was also a ton of empathy, protection and unselfishness. I imagined that what was to follow, could only be another nugget of romance worthy of a Hollywood movie. This was Katherine Hepburn falling in love with Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. This was Bogart in Casablanca anguishing his heart for Ingrid Bergman.
After a few gulps of that cold cream soda, I pleaded for my Dad to finish the story. I could only imagine what happened next. He likely sent her flowers or brought her to a movie.
“Okay Dad. What happened next. Did you ask her out?”
Dad laughed. “No, of course not. She was engaged.”
I pursed my lips and stared up at the ceiling. I had forgotten about the ring on her finger but this was my Dad. He had something romantic in mind. I motioned for him to continue.
“Okay. So I felt the only course of action I could take was… to follow her around every night.”
“Wait. What? Now your admitting to stalking Mom?”
The Right Moment At The Right Time
Bud came running back to the car huffing and puffing and quickly got in to get warm. He surely wasn’t a track star. It probably didn’t help that he ran with a cigarette in his mouth either. “Man, I have to give these up.”
“So what did you find out?” Art seemed to be a tad anxious.
“Alright. So they are about three-quarters down the line. It’s going to take them at least 30 minutes to get into the dance.”
“And? What about the tickets?”, Art scowled back.
“Oh hell. I forgot to go look. Be right back.” Bud scrambled out the door and made a straight line for the front entrance.
This was the culmination of several nights of getting Madge to accept a free ticket. Each night was the same. He dropped her off at the entrance and snuck back in to have one dance with her.
Tonight though, Art was taking a different tactic. This time he was going to approach them when they were further back in the line. This time, on this evening, on this dance floor, he convinced himself that it was going to be different. This time if she asked him for another dance, he wasn’t going to graciously leave.
By now, Madge knew exactly what Arthur’s scheme was. She wasn’t shocked to see him appear when they were outside in line. She wasn’t surprised to see him inside after leaving her at the dance hall entrance. In fact, she looked for him to appear. It nearly became a game of sorts of whether she would see him before he was able to sneak up behind her. She didn’t jump any more when he tapped her shoulder; instead she would smile warmly and turn around.
Marty didn’t like the whole situation but Madge assured him this made perfect financial sense. Of course, she never told him about the dances. Although she harbored some guilt, Art was always a gentleman. She felt there was no need to tell Marty and justified it as a repayment for the free ticket.
Bud rushed up to the car window still huffing and puffing. “They’re the green ones.”
Art opened his door and made his way back to the trunk. “Are they the light or the dark green ones?”
Bud poked his head into the open trunk. “Dang! I forgot just how many of these you have. They are the dark green ones.”
Art ripped off four tickets and handed two to Bud. “These are for you and Betty. Go enjoy yourself.”
“Thanks buddy! I’ll see you inside.” Bud started jogging to get Betty who was sitting in Bud’s new car that was parked a few spots away. It was an unexpected present from his father.
With his tickets firmly in hand, Art made his way around the corner of the building and into the parking lot. The night was cold and brisk and it made your breath stall in front of your face. It didn’t take long to find them. As soon as they came into view, Art saw how Madge was staring at him. Just like the weeks before, Art was going to offer Madge a ticket. The only uncertainty was how Marty would take it.
“How can you afford all these tickets on a soda jerk pay check?” said Marty.
It’s true. Art knew his salary wasn’t enough to prevent suspicion but he had a quick retort nonetheless. “My father is the station master of the yard in Syracuse. He helps me out.”
Being a station master was a highly coveted job in the railroad and it paid very well. Although this was true, Art’s father never gave him a dime. Not out of spite or evilness, but because he valued and instilled hard honest work in his boy over accepting charity. If his son needed money he would have to earn it on his own. But as far as Marty was concerned, he didn’t need to know that detail.
Marty shrugged and likely murmured to himself. Madge stepped forward while Marty held the rope up for her to duck under. “I’ll see you inside, Marty.”, she whispered.
“I’ll make sure she gets in okay, Marty.”
As they walked toward the entrance, Madge wondered in silence as to why Art approached them so far away from the entrance. Normally he approached when they were only twenty to thirty feet away. She peered over at Art and wondered what he was thinking. He was normally very talkative and she was surprised by his silence. Maybe it was the cold that took away his banter. She certainly couldn’t wait to get inside the warm dance hall.
Approaching the velvet ropes, Art removed two dark green tickets from his pocket and handed them to the doorman. Madge seemed shocked and stared at Art inquisitively. As the doorman unclicked the velvet rope, Art kept leading her inside the dance hall while they were locked arm in arm. It happened so quickly, she didn’t have time to react.
Once inside, Art began taking Madge’s coat off and looked around for Bud. Madge kept trying to ask Art why he came in with her rather than going through the side door like before, but Art was on a mission. “Come on Madge. Let’s find our table.”
“Our table?” Before Madge could contemplate the meaning of this statement, Art was already tugging at her hand and tossing her coat toward Bud.
“Come on, Madge. Our jive is on!” Art wasn’t about to waste precious moments discussing what just transpired at the front door. The music was blaring and feet were moving. It was time to dance. Once again, they owned the dance floor.
Stepping away from the dance floor, each of them tried to get their breath. Madge took Art by the hand and motioned him toward her. Her blue eyes riveted to Art’s face. “Arthur. I don’t want to ask you for another dance because I know you’ll just turn and leave me. But before you do, tell me why you came in with me? Why did you have us come in together?”
Art bowed his head then brought Madge in a bit closer to his chest. “Because this time Madge, if you ask me for one more dance, I won’t turn and walk away. In fact, I never want to walk away again.”
“What are you saying to me, Arthur?”, pleaded Madge.
“I’m saying I love you, Madge. I did from the first moment I laid eyes on you.”
Tears welled up in Madge’s face. Her eyes remained transfixed and riveted to his; never once looking away to seek answers that she didn’t have. She knew that all the answers she would ever need would be in Arthur’s eyes.
“I have to go, Art. You have to let me go now.”. she pushed him away and grabbed her coat.
Art felt his world become smaller. His heart began breaking into a million pieces. He tried to grip her waist and hold her at bay, but she backed away slowly and turned toward the door. In a moment she was swallowed up by the crowd. Only when she reached the door did he see her walk out past the doorman into the cold frigid evening. She never once looked back. In an instant she was gone.
Art slumped down into the chair as if the wind had been knocked out of him. Oblivious to everything going on around him he even ignored Bud and Betty who were trying to be empathetic. Art couldn’t even hear the music. Everything seemed muffled and moving in slow motion. The only sound he could hear was the crashing of his pounding heart against his chest.
Then all of a sudden, Art sensed Bud yelling out his name. “Art? Art? ART?”, screamed Bud. He had a firm hold on his suit and was shaking him. “Art? Snap out of it.”
Bud’s voice began to shrill in his ear to a point Art could no longer ignore it. Art gave him a slight but solemn acknowledgement.
Bud pointed toward the front door. “Art? She’s coming back!”
“Coming back?” Art perked up in his chair and immediately cast a gaze toward the front door. There, standing alone, Madge stood breathing heavy and staring right back at Art. He sprang up and ran toward her. She flung herself into his chest and he held her tight for a moment. They embraced but then held her back to look at her face. She was crying but she was smiling at the same time.
“Why did you leave, Madge?” Art’s voice pleaded for an answer.
Madge showed off her now bare left ring finger that now only had a light tan line. “I had to tell Marty that I couldn’t marry him and I gave him back the ring.”
Art felt his heart jump out of his chest. Choking back his own emotions he asked her, “Why did you come back, Madge?”
She cupped Art’s face with her frigid hands. Art didn’t care. Instead of jumping back he allowed them to be warmed by the heat he was generating. All he knew was that he wanted to hear the words flow from her beautiful lips.
“Because I never again want to fill my dance card with any other mans name, for the rest of my life.”
“I always hate the ending to that story.” said my older sister who mysteriously walked into the conversation unannounced. I was so enthralled into the story, I didn’t even see her come into the kitchen.
Mom laughed and asked her why. She didn’t seem to have an answer.
“I don’t know. It’s too damn perfect and so utterly romantic. Why can’t I find a guy like that?” Dad reached up and gave her a kiss on her forehead.
“You will.”, he said encouragingly. I could tell my sister was about to bolt because she didn’t like it when people witnessed her emotions. As soon as she did, Mom instinctively followed her to likely tell her it’s okay to have a “happy cry”.
I looked back at Dad. He seemed very pleased and very much at peace with how he shared the story and gave it justice. You could tell he was still reminiscing a bit in his mind.
“Did you dance with Mom for the rest of the night?”
Dad reached over and playfully tugged and rocked my shoulder. With a look of wisdom building on his face, he made sure to lean in close to me so that I could hear every word.
“Son. Since that night, I haven’t stopped dancing with your mother.”
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Most of us remember our first love and that strong connection we had with them. This story makes us think of what could have been and gives us a fresh look at the meaning of true love. I love how you affectionately write about your parents.I give this story an 11.
Thank you Deborah. My father shared this story many times.
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