Dancing at Twilight

David Spielberg

David Spielberg

I'm sitting on a bench facing the Downtown central courtyard. It's Sunday, almost 5 o'clock on a Chamber of Commerce day in South Florida. Seventy-eight degrees, clear sky, low humidity. No excuse to stay inside. There are numerous benches, tables, and chairs providing seating for a surprising number of festive onlookers.

A lone musician at an electric keyboard fills the air with melody, enhanced with electronic accompaniment that cleverly makes him sound like an entire band. 

Now he switches instruments to a tenor saxophone, with its dramatic and spacious wavering notes, somehow more engaging to me than the piano. A middle-aged couple moves to the space in front of the performance platform and begins slow and practiced steps, to one song, at least, that I recognize, "Stardust." They're lost for the moment performing their comfortable and tutored steps. 

A gray-haired woman, bent with the weight of many years, walks by me leading a mostly beagle mutt by a leather leash. I nod "Hello" and she says to me, "Legends Radio, 100.3. That's my station." I'm not sure why she says that until I notice the nearby publicity tent with "Legends Radio" boldly printed on it. The station is sponsoring the event.

The woman sits down on the bench beside me while her dog jumps up to snuggle from habit next to her. We both listen quietly as the music fills the courtyard with a kind of vintage energy in keeping with the moment. I turn to look at the woman more carefully now that she is seated beside me. She is short and encumbered with the usual ensemble of symptoms of time running out: gray hair, wrinkled skin, and a certain frailty. Yet once she was young and full of dreams—perhaps fulfilled, her body ripe and alluring to someone, surely. 

I watch her gently sway reminiscently in a way that seems to me not like the appreciative reactions of those around us, but rather like a gathering in to herself of a sort of quiet power, in my imagination, too long diffused.

Impulsively, leaning to her, "Would you like to dance?" I ask her as the band begins to play "Moon River." Without a pause, she turns to her dog and says commandingly, "Stay." Then she stands unbent beside me, assuming the dance position, a slight and impish smirk on her face that betrays a former power over men. Without another word from me, I rise and engage with her. We quickly slide into the rhythm of the music, and her years unexpectedly slough off her like the soil pushed aside by an emerging storm. She follows my lead effortlessly.

We dance for two more dances, the last one a Lindy hop. I'm concerned it might be too fast for her, but she is undaunted, keeps pace with the music and me, performs the breaks and twirls. I hope she doesn't die in my arms, but her smile belies my concern. 

Finally, I ask her, "Would you like to sit down?"
"Probably a good idea," she answers, winded but laughing. 

I hold her hand as I lead her back to her dog. She gives me a long, sexy hug before she sits down, once again an old woman on a bench. Her dog wags its tail excitedly beside her. Leaning down I take her hand and kiss it in the best European tradition.

"Thank you," I say, nodding amiably. "That was wonderful. Do you and your husband go dancing often?"

She gives me a coquettish look. "No husband, dear. Not for many years. Are you checking me out, young man?" We both laugh. A brash and saucy wench, I decide, whose memory of girlish ways is still intact.

I hold up my finger with my wedding band. "If only!" 

Remembering my manners, I ask if I can get her something to drink. She declines and we both rest back into the bench and listen quietly to the music. I am just entering and she is well into the time of life when silence between strangers is no longer uncomfortable, but instead a time for ingathering. 

She smiles, leans over to her dog, and pets it lovingly. 

Dr. David Spielberg was a commentator for NPR affiliate radio station WHQR, Wilmington and a columnist for the New Haven Register. He has published seven books and was invited by the Cream Literary Alliance to read at the Norton Museum.

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