Friday’s Passing Fancies/Poem: Sledding

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

With such action the day became
what it was only meant to be,
careless of strife and competing,
far gone from remove,
crash landings of happiness
splayed across the white canvas.
Father with sons created a pact,
unearthed and sealed it in good snow.

It was all of this once for us and ours,
five with their ten legs and ten arms,
voices warbling, wrapping up air.
Soon, petty border disputes forgotten,
jealousies waylaid, hurts vanished,
that madcap gang spilled into
cold sweet banks and each other.
Laughter was life heat, grasping
the game with each other.

This was the way it was. I was there.
That was what we meant it to be,
love masquerading as riotous fun.
Their overlapping echoes boomerang
through thinness of memory,
fluid and crisp as a five part harmony,
those feathery humming arrows
that fly to target
in the center of me.

Tango for Sale

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She said they didn’t have any great skills but that’s why people enrolled in dance lessons, right? So they saw their new ad and here they were.

Sadie was a talker but they both shared a lot, how they liked to do things that required far less sweat–watching movies, enjoying six course meals, mastering the art of checkers. Carlos was a factory worker so when he was off, he was done. Sadie was manager of a tapas café until the owner’s daughter took her job. Now she worked at her aunt’s collection business.

“Collection stinks. How can I harass people who don’t have the money to meet basic needs? It’s indecent.”

Janelle tried to not listen as she showed a student how to stretch, but how could you avoid such a voice? She couldn’t imagine what it was like getting Sadie’s phone calls or living with that decibel. But the way he patted her shoulder, brushed her bangs from her eyes and bent down to kiss her long nose–some might say large–said it all. He was handsome in a beat-up way, Janelle thought. Must be newlyweds.

They wanted to live better, lower stress, they said. Janelle and Baron had an ad in the neighborhood weekly but this month they’d run a special. First three classes for ten bucks each, then after that the regular rate of twenty an hour. Or ten for one-forty, a real savings. Not so many people wanted dance lessons when they had trouble paying bills. It netted them a half-dozen newbie so far.

“I gotta keep myself in shape,” Sadie said, rolling her eyes. “I’m edging toward thirty-seven and you know where that leads.”

Janelle smiled and handed her a schedule.

Carlos watched the group learning the tango.  He seemed restless; Janelle assumed Sadie had dragged him there. He didn’t ask questions, shrugged with hands in pockets. But in ten minutes it became apparent the guy had a sense of rhythm. He tapped his foot, bounced a little as he paced, and studied the moves.

“Sign us up for this one. I can tell he likes it.” Sadie beamed at her man and he shot her a hundred-watt smile.

Janelle took her check for three lessons and talked over attire and rules of the dance floor. Just to be clear. Sadie had worn a long brown sweater, tight jeans and heavy boots.

Baron whisked by, then paused. “You like tango?” He was the expert on this dance.

Sadie shrugged. “We like games, checkers or dominoes, t.v. shows after work. I don’t watch football like him but I used to play volleyball awhile back. I had a bike, rode it every day. Got ripped off. Tango, yeah, well, I used to dance a long time ago. I’m game to try anything and I love Latin music. And Carlos.” Her laugh boomed in the small space and a few people looked her way.

The couple hustled out the door, Sadie waving like they were old friends, saying they’d be back.

Baron chuckled as he stepped back on the floor. “He might be a natural.What a couple of characters!”

Janelle threw him a sideways glance. Her husband: six feet three, a balding redhead, brown eyes that could scald or light her up depending on his mood. He never took off the long necklace with crystal and jade pendants. He denied being superstitious but she knew better.

Of course, she was not a flawless fifty. A bit soft, okay rounder than she’d planned. But she had thick, long, silvery hair; it saved Janelle from despair some days. Ridiculous. But every morning after the mirror check she said aloud, “I’m still a dancer and a better teacher.”

“I bet the woman can dance,” Janelle confided in Baron that night as they closed up. “And that Carlos may be a natural.”

“In the end it doesn’t matter, darling girl. Two more students! We’ll make a decent profit this session.”

He rapped the scarred wooden desk top three times.

The next week the couple turned up. Carlos seemed embarrassed and Sadie did not when they bungled their first steps.  They took a sail around the room to loosen up more despite Janelle and Baron’s frowns. The group appeared more relaxed with the breezy twosome there. Baron noted it felt less like pulling teeth to get them to commit to the steps.

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“Look,” Sadie told everyone, “just act like you know what you’re doing and mirror our teachers’ movements–they’re perfect!”

Carlos held her tightly. They were stiff in each other’s arms. Then tango music crescendoed, intense rhythms shaking up melody, Sadie’s laugh punctuating their goofs.

The room felt good, the atmosphere livelier.

“See?” Janelle whispered. “Though they could be a little more serious.”

He nodded slowly, eyes on the new couple.

There were twelve total on the floor. The ones who improved were those who let down their guard a bit. It wasn’t just feet, arms and head placements. The tango was a passionate dance, a lover’s dance, and relayed what words couldn’t begin to say. Some people were too scared to welcome that sort of power. Others would find their way. And some, like Carlos and Sadie, got in the thick of it because they wanted to be right there.

The second class was a success; everyone learned what they were supposed to, on time. The group began to jell. The third class demanded more, putting  more complicated steps together quickly. Confidence was required.

Sadie leaned into Carlos as they veered away to the group’s edge. She’d worn a floral skirt and scuffed red dance shoes and when he guided her she responded with the trust needed to move in concert. They executed more difficult moves, moved instinctively. They were engrossed, enchanted–by the music’s heat, the challenge of the dance, each other.

Baron and Janelle watched in surprise. They’d been practicing. They had, it seemed, real promise. Everyone stole admiring glances at them. Sadie and Carlos were beautiful to behold; their electric presence brought back Janelle’s and Baron’s past, when they were young, fresh, excited by the grand emotion of it all.

“I love those kids,” Baron told her as they watched the floor and the students. “Carlos and Sadie have the spirit. How can you teach the essence of tango? I know we didn’t teach that in three classes.”

“No, but we still get to show them the way. Look at them glow.”

She said it with such reverence that Baron slipped an arm around her waist. He absently touched the necklace. He wondered over  the new couple.

“They’ve got something besides talent, Janelle. They know something, a secret that makes them good so fast.”

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She shook her head but the way he said it, his hand on those darned pendants–she knew what he meant. She shivered a little and followed their moves. Turning in the light and shadow, their bodies in sync, their profound silence infused with something Janelle couldn’t name. When the song drew to a close, all the students clapped for each other. They were so pleased to have taken this class. And they had two stars in the making right before them. They were drawn to Sadie and Carlos–the first pink-faced and panting, the second animated and shiny with sweat–like bees to clover. They lingered awhile, chatting until Janelle and her husband had to lock up.

When the students trailed out, the two teachers sat and looked at each other. They were having success. Happiness coursed through them like a veritable transfusion. Janelle got up and settled on her husband’s knees. He closed his arms around her.

The fourth week came and they waited and waited for Sadie and Carlos to come through the door. The students took their places. The tango music swelled; work got underway. Janelle looked at the clock, at the door. Baron called the commands, adjusted a few couples’ positions and threw her a glance, fingering the pendants. Everyone seemed stiffer than usual, not quite on task. They missed their inspiration, waited for the golden couple.

“It has to be another appointment or the flu. Or maybe they ran out of money and just didn’t want to tell us.”

“No,” Baron said. “Tango meant too much already. They should be here.”

The fifth week, no show, no call. Janelle tried Sadie’s number but  no answer. The sixth week everyone took their places without a word; if the other two showed, good and if not, well, a mystery. Janelle was on the phone–there had been so much interest lately–when Carlos walked in. The room erupted in cheerful greetings until they saw he was unshaven, hair a mess, and eyes dull. The group gathered around him, hands to chests.

“What, Carlos?” Janelle put her hand on his arm.

“Sadie has a weak heart. Can you imagine her with a bum ticker? Yeah, I knew. And she had more and more trouble breathing.” His eyes filled. “Had to have surgery. She’s not so great.”

It was clear he didn’t know when or even if she’d get back. But she was home. Their shock and sympathy were a soft murmur.

“We’ll go see her, okay, Carlos?” Baron spoke with firmness. He grabbed the tango CD from the player and got his jacket.

Janelle got her coat and one by one they all prepared to follow.  When they trooped upstairs and the neighbor who’d been staying with her left, they squeezed into the bedroom where she lay, eyes suddenly wide. It was a little strange, being in this intimate space with someone who had seemed far different. Her presence had been so big at the studio. Now, she looked very small.

The new friends shared encouragement in near-whispers. Sadie listened and an easy smile usurped her frailness, while her eyes tried to hide fear, pain, grief. She seemed nearly transparent. So young to be lying there. Such an ill-begotten and terribly unwanted thing possessed her. But she held out her hands to them in thanks.

And then the music started. She heard the tango boldly wending its way into her room with its smooth, sly beauty, sensual and bittersweet, wrapping her in vivid life. She closed her eyes and she was dancing, feet strong and body lithe as she pulled it into her faulty heart. Carlos was there showing her the way. Her spirit leapt. There were lights like stars and a broad swath of velvety blue and she danced right to the moon. It was what she’d needed.

Carlos sat on her bed to make certain her chest rose up and down and he felt the music seep into her marrow and his. The crowd filed out of the bedroom like a collective sigh.

Baron and Janelle called out to the two left behind.

“See you both sooner than you think!”

“We’ll pray for speedy healing and more dance!”

The music played on. Carlos lay beside her and stroked her face. She breathed his tenderness and they fell asleep, tango taking them away._wsb_410x262_CornerT

Friday Nights at Bumble’s

photo by Tony Brock

(Photo credit: Tony Brock; Source: spitafieldslife.com)

It’s been Maggie, Carny, Irv and me, Livia, every Friday night from almost the start, but maybe that’s the problem. Going on twenty years, believe it or not, meeting at Bumble’s Bar and Grill. Maybe it’s the rain that’s helped drive us there. But back then Irv could still hear and see great. Maggie was barely into her twenties. She had a spirit that could knock you off your feet, lively and smart, a joke readied for any occasion. Now she listens more and fusses over her miniature dog like it’s–pardon me–she’s royal, feeding it chopped liver and boiled potatoes or whatever it is now. Miss Molly’s her name. Would that I were Miss Molly; I’d  never want for anything. Don’t get me wrong, I like pets well enough and have had a few. But now I have “late-onset allergies” the doc said. It seems the specter of aging is trying to hunt and hog-tie me. So far I’ve run faster. But a shaggy dog or cat might do me in right now.

Carny was the only one new to town. He was the sort of man who might bring you lunch and a rose at work because it was Monday. He smoked a pipe and was more quiet than I expected. He said there was too much talking when he was a travelling salesman. And he had a complicated name when he arrived: Sebastian Leonard Pettingrove. He went by Lenny but we already had two of those at Bumble’s so that had to change.

So when I noticed he started complaints with, “I tell you, life–what a circus!”, I nicknamed him Carny.

“What? Why carnivals? I don’t like carnivals, never have. A circus is another thing but too much going on in too many rings. Carnivals are for kids, aren’t they.” He had a habit of making firm statements.

I was embarrassed. He was a well-made man, barrel chest and square shoulders. He had the brightest eyes, a graying head of hair. His cap was perfect; it rarely came off. Well, sometimes  it did but that came much later. Right then it was all I could handle to  look him straight in the face for more than a second or two.

“Well, I don’t much, either, but I can’t very well call you ‘Circ’, now, can I? Would you rather Sebastian, then?”

His wide brow wrinkled as his eyebrows shot up. I thought I’d made a mess of it but Irv and Maggie backed me up, saying it suited him, lightened things up.

“Okay, I’ll take that. Sort of silly but…maybe that’s good!”

He ordered me a fancy drink. I felt redeemed.

“You should set a wedding date right away.” That was Irv for you.

“Why would you say that?” Maggie chimed in. “You’re going to scare him away when he needs good friends. Right, Livia?” She had a fresh-faced guy at her side then and he rolled his eyes at us. He didn’t get Irv at all, which was a fatal flaw. “But Irv is a professional so he might have a point.”

Carny was puffing on his pipe and glanced the other way, as if he wished there was another table but it was crowded. We didn’t know then that this was the last thing he’d want to hear. He turned back to us, blew a couple soft puffs of smoke up to the rafters.

“If you can take a teasing at the start about name like that, you’re likely suited.” He sipped his steaming coffee with eyes closed, as though it was the best cup ever. Later, before I took him home, he’d have one beer. He was a man of moderation except for sharing good will.

Irv was the unofficial matchmaker of the town. Everyone said he made a better plumber by far but he had called thirteen marriages in nearly twenty years so he had the right to weigh in. Ten held so far. He loved doing it. He had never married, though. Said he’d gotten close enough to it through matchmaking.

Love from a distance, I thought, has its points.

“But when you see two people who are good for each other and it all works it feels like you’ve done right, you did a good deed. But when it doesn’t work out, that’s a sad day for all. Nobody wants a wounded heart.” He spit into his glass discreetly. “Besides, never knew a woman who liked chewing tobacco. I use it to focus sometimes, like when I’m caught way under a sink, trying to not think about when it was last cleaned.” He shrugged. “But you know, fixing a bad pipe is good. I like making things better for others.”

True. You could count on him to warm up a room just by saying hello. He stopped to talk to strangers, never left a person unnoticed. Carny saw right off that he didn’t let the night end on a sour note.

“It’s a talent to be so optimistic. The man is generous with kind words, Livia.”

We were finishing dinner at my place. I thought Carny was a smart man but I had other things on my mind. He’d been around for two or three months by then.

“Irv was a friend of my pop’s before he passed, and after that he came by and asked if he could join my group. ‘What group?’ I said. ‘Whoever finds a chair fits in here. Besides’, I told him, ‘it’d  be our honor.’ Irv took the place he liked, his back to the wall so he could see the action.”

Carny helped me with the dishes and gave me a hug when he left.  Irv’s magic was working. But it turned out that Carny still had to get his divorce papers. It all worked itself out like Irv predicted, two years later.

Much is different now. Can’t help but be, I guess. Time does things to people. Maggie got sick with a painful nerve problem and had to quit waitressing. Irv is going deaf and doesn’t match make often–it’s an old art, fading fast. And Carny’s touchy lately, daily. Turns out he’s got wanderlust. He can’t decide if he wants to travel around a bit on his own or wait until I retire. I have my factory job supervising a bunch of people. Work and I were made for each other. Maybe Carny is just restless. A change of pace, new scenery might do him good.

But will he really come back? I miss him thinking of even a small trip. I get a tug when he walks by, and a shiver when he stares out the window.

I do know what he’s feeling. I feel it, too. The shortening of time, like I’m accordioned by it, squeezed by each minute and can’t shake loose. I want to stretch life out, make it all last longer. I want more surprises than the usual.

These Friday nights, see, are so alike. Same people stopping by to join us, rotating weekly specials that cost too much. Same ole talk. The various kinds of rain. What the neighbors are up to. What the cost of even chicken is these days. And was I still thinking of putting that incompetent (and nameless) employee on notice? Too, the crowds are getting rowdier at Bumble’s since several houses were made into rentals for college kids. Sometimes I like the bustle. Others, it goes against my grain.

But Maggie called me last night. Irv is turning seventy-seven this Friday, four days before I turn fifty-six. We celebrate it every year together at Bumble’s.

“Do you think he’s up for a party?” she asked.

“Of course he is.”

“He’s seemed distant lately; spacy is a better word. He’s more forgetful. It worries me. Maybe all the people and activity are getting to be too much.”

“He’s almost eighty! If Irv forgets occasionally, he deserves that much. Hopefully he recalls the best of things. Does he seem bothered by forgetting? Has it caused him trouble yet? No.”

There was a long pause. “You don’t have to get snappy, Livia. I want to do what’s right for you both. I’ve been your friends a long, long while.”

I could hear the hurt. And I felt that feeling again, as though time was catching up to us and making life harder for all. “Please, let’s plan it as always. You get the balloons or cupcakes and I’ll get flowers. Carny will do something, not sure what.”

We assembled at seven, just as wind-driven rain slammed the place. The owner and all the regulars pulled up chairs. There were German chocolate, red velvet and plain white cupcakes with single candles on Irv’s and mine, all courtesy of Maggie. Balloons were bouncing off the ceilings, green and gold ones. My orange and yellow mums and zinnias were festive.

Irv stood up and got his speech out of the way.

“I’ve said it every year: being this age isn’t much different from being twenty or thirty except I’ve lived a lot longer and have the good and bad stories to prove it. Stick around for the stories later.” He enjoyed the cheers and applause, then sat.

I raised my glass. “I’m going to quit celebrating birthdays the year I retire. But one more time, thanks for hanging out with me the last twelve months!”

Someone said that would be the day I’d need a funeral since I was a workaholic. That wasn’t news. Everyone grabbed a cupcake before they remembered to sing “Happy Birthday”. Irv’s candle sputtered a little, then went out before he blew on it.

Then Carny stood up. He took off his cap–that made me nervous.  He stood up tall. He cut a figure even in his old blue sweater and baggy jeans.

“I could think of nothing to get you two, sorry, and I ran out of time.” He made a sad face. “Life–what a circus it can be…”

There were groans and a few chortles.

“Instead, I thought how I hated being a salesman, even making great money. Then after I left a failed marriage and that job and moved here for some peace you all welcomed me right away. And how you, Irv, helped me get a decent office position that lasted until I retired last year. You had faith in me when you didn’t even know me long. You’ve been a true friend.” He cleared his throat. “And you’ve all shared your good company every Friday with me. Maggie, how often have you taken us to fabulous church potlucks or, even better, trusted me to walk Miss Molly? We’ve had good morning phone chats since you’ve been at home. You remember all the little things in life.”

“Okay, okay, get on with it, Carny,” someone called out, but was shushed.

I sat riveted to my seat, heart all revved up. Was he going to announce he was heading out on an adventure? Was he going to forget it was my birthday as well as Irv’s?

“And Livia.” His grin reached right inside me. “How you changed my life. Not just my routines. Not just things like making me get exercise or buying me good music or saying the right things when I’m a bit low. No, with you I just want to be a much  better person.”

I thought I’d faint. It was pretty personal. I knew he loved me. But what was he was going to do?

He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and looked at Irv, Maggie and me. He waved it around like a thing for all to admire, then handed it to me. No one said a word.

I opened the envelope with trembling hands, pulled out the contents and laid them on the table. My mouth fell open. There was a collective gasp when I held them up.

I stood up. “What have you done, Carny?” I could barely see him through the flood of tears. “Four plane tickets to Hawaii! Are you nuts? You’re blowing your wad on us all?”

“Yeah, so much for travel on a shoestring. I want to have a good adventure with my friends and girl at least once.”

He scooped me up in an embrace. The pub was buzzing and a few pounded the tables to draw more attention.

Irv’s eyes were round as the mums. He kept shaking his head, a funny smile overtaking his wrinkled face. I knew he’d heard it all. And I knew he’d always wanted to go to the islands.

Maggie? She said she’d have to think it over, but unless Miss Molly could come, too, maybe her aunt could take her for a week. And then, shocking the whole place even more she let out a small but deliriously happy scream.

What a gift, that my Carny knows just how to relieve a little boredom, shake up the fates. And when we get back Bumble’s will be here, same as ever.

(This photo prompt was shared on www.particiaannmcnair.com.)