Friday, May 16, 2008

Entry #7: Keywords - A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance
By Maxine Thomas

It was at times like these that she missed Charlie the most. The times when siblings and cousins got together to celebrate a new birth, a graduation or a birthday; the occasions when family willingly set aside the challenges of building careers and raising children and chose, instead, to relax in each others’ company. Today’s celebration was extra special, for she, Lily Richards, matriarch of the Richards clan, was the guest of honor. Scattered around the fireside room of the Blue Dolphin Inn, four generations of the Richards family had gathered to celebrate her birthday. But their presence only emphasized Charlie’s absence. How she wished he could be here with her, his chair next to hers, her hand snuggled within his warm fingers. But it had been nearly twenty years since Charlie had gone home to Glory, and she was left to celebrate her 90th birthday without him.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice from behind her interrupted her introspection. . Lily tried to turn her wheelchair in the direction of the voice, but someone at her shoulder beat her to it. Her grandson, Chuck, she guessed. He hadn’t left her side all evening. He really was a dear child though, according to his mother, he’d dropped out of college and in an attempt to find himself.

“A toast to our beloved Lily,” the voice continued. Someone stuck a glass in her hand. She sniffed at it and quickly set it aside with great disdain.

“Charles,” Lily waved a gnarled hand in Chuck’s direction. She refused to call him by the nickname. “I shall have a proper drink, if you please.”

“But Gram, your heart…your pills?”

Lily gave him her sternest stare over the top of her glasses. She would not drink a toast with apple juice. Not today. “Young man, I’ll have you know that my doctor authorized a drug holiday for the weekend”

“A vacation from your medication?”

“Precisely, and since it is my birthday, I shall have a glass of wine, please.”

The twinkle in her eye belied the sternness of her voice, and Chuck gave her a cheeky salute before going off to fulfill her wish. As Lily watched his retreating figure she wondered if this grandson of hers would ever overcome his gangly gait. He reminded her so much of Charlie. Same lanky arms, same loping stride. No wonder she felt a special affinity for the lad.

In a small platform in the corner, a jazz quartet began to play. In his day, Charlie would have been first on the floor, twirling her around two or three times before pulling her close. He loved jazz; loved to sing it, dance to it and play it on his old clarinet, and though he’d never had formal lessons, it was that love of jazz that provided the extra income when he found himself unemployed after leaving the army. Those had been lean times. They were married less than a year when she became pregnant with their first child. And he had no job. But Charlie was never one to give up hope. ‘Where’s your faith?’ he’d chide, his forehead warm against hers, his eyes burning deep into her soul. ‘Where’s your faith?’ Then he’d fold her into his arms and gently stroke her back.

Lily’s chin quivered at the memory. If she closed her eyes she could feel his lips brush her hair; relive the scent of his aftershave. I miss you Charlie.

“Dance, Gram?” Chuck asked, returning with a glass of champagne. Lily took the drink from his hand but shook her head. Dance? Of course not. She was in a wheelchair. What was the boy thinking?

Like a cloud, sadness began a slow descent upon Lily. Valiantly, she tried to shrug the feeling away, but it persisted. Her body curled against the back of her chair and her chin fell closer to her chest.

She must not be sad. She must not spoil the party.

“You’re missing Grampa.” Chuck’s words called her back. How did he know? It was uncanny how this grandson of hers was so tuned in to her feelings that he sensed the slightest change in her mood.

“I wonder what he’s doing up there?” Lily didn’t think she’d spoken out loud, but Chuck quickly knelt beside her and took her free hand in his.

“Well, Gram, I guess by now he’s all through walking those streets of gold. I bet he’s singing, playing some jazz, probably chatting with Peter or asking Paul to clarify something he wrote in one of his epistles.”

“Think he’s watching us celebrate?” Lily drained her glass and handed it to Chuck.

“I bet he is.” Chuck set the glass aside.

Lily’s eyes swept the across the sea of faces, loving each one. She and Charlie had done well. Of the people here at this party she was mother of six, aunt of seven, grandmother of eleven, great-grandmother of three with two expected to arrive at any time. She was blessed.

Charlie had gone home. Her own home-going was probably not far off. In the meantime she would enjoy the pleasures of family. She was truly blessed.

“Charles,” she squeezed the fingers linked with hers, “about that dance…”

Submitted by
Maxine Thomas

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