A short story

By Geraldine Birch

Oddballs littered the barroom: Old gents in double breasted suits and dames far beyond menopause dressed too fancy for six in the evening, while middle-aged women in business attire sipped cocktails with business associates or lovers.

Younger dudes smelling of fish caught in the bay wore sloppy T-shirts and shorts, here for the cheap early-bird dinners. The fishermen roared dubious stories over their beer mugs, eying the bosomy waitress who only wanted their dinner orders before the kitchen’s deadline. Ennui exuded from her as she cracked her gum, moving from man to man leaning in, giving each a small delight, working her tips.

A few minutes before seven, the band slipped in: a tired-looking keyboard guy, a guitarist who also played the sax and a black singer dressed in a shiny beige silk suit. The guitarist suffered a bad facial tick, but he sang and played joyfully despite his hindrance. After a warmup of Bee Gees’ tunes, the singer in the too-shiny suit saddled up to the mic, crooning vintage love songs—Humperdinck or the Carpenters. When he sang “After the Loving,” the loud men withdrew, not understanding the music of those who hid in the shadows at the edge of the barroom, waiting for the evening to become theirs.

The first on the dance floor was an uncommon couple: She was short, dark-skinned, old; built like a small tank with large breasts crushed inside her pink leotard top. Her short skirt revealed still-shapely legs, but it was her feet that fascinated. They shifted rhythmically, smoothly, doing a little side-step hop while her partner, the one with the death mask for a face and spats on his feet, gave her the space and timing to make that quick undulating move.

A look-alike for Gomez Addams, the “Adams Family” dapper lead, stepped onto the floor with a bottle blond whose tapered skirt flared provocatively showing her fixed assets when he swung her under his arm in a fancy, practiced twirl. Her silver heels glittered, held by a strap; shoes only professional dancers wear, or those who take classes at Fred Astaire Dance Studios.

Another dancer wore a jaunty hat like Gene Kelly. Dressed all in black, he swayed with a bend in his waist and a smile on his face. This was his time, his place. His partners varied, most plucked from the bar—women wearing hearing aids under their expensive wigs or prosthetic boobs from mastectomies—who kept tempo with the remembered rhythms by tapping fake nails against their drink glasses.

The number of dancers ebbed and flowed as the dining area cleared. The only disparity, a fellow in a baseball cap sitting near a window that looked out on the bay, his dark hair slicked back and his shirt expensive. He got up from his table in a sudden move, taking a quick photo with his cell phone of a large blond man sitting across from him at another table. That man was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts with thongs, evidentially some kind of a sports star—maybe ten years retired but the guy in the baseball cap recognized him. They spoke, shook hands and then the admirer reached back to his table for his drink, took a last slug, and left, making tracks through the dancers.

The blond man seemed to be waiting for someone. Finally, a woman appeared. Decidedly younger, with long straight blond hair and a stiff face, she acted nervous, as if she had been forced to meet him. The big man tried to offer her a bite of his hamburger, but she declined, sitting silent within herself while she drank her high ball and he watched the dancers. Finally, after much cajoling, she ate, but an hour had passed before she seemed comfortable enough to do so.

As twilight turned to mood indigo and the bay became invisible against the darkness, the dancers swayed to the last dance before an audience that had dwindled down to a drunken party in the corner and the gals at the bar, all dressed in black—waiting patiently for a last whirl in the spotlight or until death finally parted them from their kind of music.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Nemec on April 3, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    At some point in our lives, we have all drank and danced in that kind of Damon Runyon joint to “our” kind of music. We were cool!

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