Tea Dance

In support of a good cause –
The scarlet splash of poppies everywhere in the concert room –
Tea, cake, dancing.
People from a bygone era
Stepping confident, careful
To the music of their time
Well before mine.

Then a voice from the next table,
Still soft-edged with a scots lilt,
Though that land had not been home
For a lifetime long.
“Come on and do the St. Bernard’s Waltz with me!”

Mary on her feet, hand outstretched,
An imperative deafness to my protests
That the St. Bernard’s Waltz or any other
Was a barely retrievable childhood memory
From Junior School Christmas parties,
Partnering Kevin Connole –
My godbrother and classmate –
Taught the steps by our parents and teachers
In a time well before the national curriculum
Decreed no more dancing lessons,
No more cakes and ale, or potted beef or Dandelion and Burdock.

This was shaky terrain for me,
Home ground for Mary.
We took to the floor.
Cast in the even more unfamiliar role of
‘The Man’,
Obeying her sotto voce instructions,
Surreptitiously glancing down and around
To match my steps and keep in time.
We circled round in measured measure.

Getting the hang of it,
I looked up at her face.
Her eyes were dancing nimbly
Over the hills and far away,
Leaving me and the years behind.
Smiling to herself,

Shiny as a gold locket.

Tea cups chinked the beat.
“Ah,” she said, smiling widely,
“I haven’t been in here since Michael died.
I used to come looking for him for his dinner
And they’s say,
‘He’s in playing snooker, Mary love’”.

“And did you ever dance the St. Bernard’s waltz with Michael?”
I asked
“Aha!” she nodded, with a girlish giggle,
I thought, Why look how pretty she is still!

And in the lens of my mind’s eye,
I could see her and Michael
Young once more.
He dark and handsome – party piece
The Gypsy Rover
She elfin mischevious lovely –
Singing Marie’s Wedding with her sisters.

She and Michael dancing together,
Learning to be partners in life.

The music stopped.
A soft sigh as she squeezed my arm.
“You’ve helped me lay a ghost.”
But to me, the ghosts were there still
Dancing in her eyes.

copyright Tina Towey 2018


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