By Chris Wilson
“So all you lads and lassies, we now have the final record of the evening. It’s the best, it’s the tops, it’s Abba, and it’s the one and only Dancing Queen! No excuses now and no exceptions! Up on the dance floor everybody! Even you wallflowers, you timid underground creepers and you gnarled, crusty old bachelors. Remember folks, it may be a Saturday night, this may have been a vicars and tarts party, but it’s all in the aid of Comic Relief and charity. So come on everybody dig deep, dig long and fill up the buckets that will be coming shortly. It’s D.J Danny boy saying thank you for your time, your company, and your generosity. It’s been a pleasure being here with you, and may next year’s comic relief party come again all too soon! “
What a load of old tat thought Daniel, as the music played, and as everybody, dodgy hips allowing, gyrated on the dance floor. It was the same this year as it had been for the last 20 years. Now aged 45, a reluctant bachelor of many years standing, he was tired of the hopping and the bopping, and bored stiff with all the sexual games and dalliances that the self named “village folk”, with various degrees of discretion, vigorously enacted after the party was done.
Once upon a time, the area had been a real village. It had been bordered by fields and greenery, and many years ago, when he had been a youngster, there had been a real community. Then the character of the area had changed. Greater London and upper middle class pretentiousness and snobbery had swallowed the area.
Now it was all coffee mornings, reading groups, writers groups, literary, art, and music societies, and that was fine for those who had money, and who embraced such values. It was of no value to the older folk of the village though, as it was still so named, who had stayed behind. They were the trades people, the people that worked behind the counter, and even certain professionals within the community that were to be seen and to be utilised, but never heard.
It was weird really as he alone, or nearly he alone, seemed to sense the chasm that lay in front of him.
D.J Danny Boy, the slightly pot bellied, red headed, short Little leprechaun with his blarney stone, pot of gold, and multi-coloured rainbow; that is how the village thought of him
Yet what was the use of a D.J after a party, and why bother getting to know a bog trotting simple little record spinner, when he was only an accepted part of the village for one night of the year. It was sad really, as though their opinion as regards his appearance were all too accurate, he wasn’t even Irish, and he had no Celtic ancestry in him.
Flattery as regards their dental hygiene, and a painless injection, that’s what the village wanted from him, so once a year he indulged them and put on his very best smile.
It was all an act though, just an act, exactly like the false smile and the caring compassion that he had cultivated in his community medical centre dental surgery. He was a social misfit and loner since early childhood, so it at least allowed him to be a temporarily part of the community, although he still securely tucked himself behind his self engineered screen.
The good thing was that such a screen allowed him to study Verity, or Miss “always in the shadows” Verity, as the community viewed her. Another used and abused long term village resident who worked in the centre, yet for Daniel, a silent yet keen observer of human nature, she was a person whose company Daniel wanted to enjoy.
There she was now, petite in frame but perfectly proportioned ; sitting in splendid isolation by the church hall newsletter stand, with its sadly limp, lettuce leaf style, dog eared, slightly mildewed, and please take pity on me charity leaflet collection.
Ensconced within a far distant world, that she alone inhabited, a neat, tidy, passionless world as Daniel often imagined it, she was a quiet almost enigmatic woman, who, if she spoke, only seemed to speak softly. Yet in Daniel’s eyes she was just the kind of Lady that he’d always dreamed of having by his side.
A woman with a potentially strong personality and rich auburn hair, Daniel had often thought to himself; and a woman with a fine pair of thoughtful, penetrating intelligent, and arresting hazel coloured eyes.
Back at the Centre a joint waiting room, and his surgery door separated him from Verity as she sat behind the reception counter, and such a barrier seemed almost insurmountable. At least there was a glass panel in the door that separated them, and glass panels that allowed him to, very discreetly, observe her from afar.
The roles of Romeo and Juliet, he often thought to himself, were now well beyond the pair of them, but might he not become Pyramus, and ; contrary to Roman Mythology, might he not actually have a well fated, rather than an ill fated Thisbe close by his side?
That was back it the the centre though, now they were at the party, and, as the music carried on playing on, he caught her eye, smiled, and then he motioned her towards the dance floor, but, as ever, she didn’t move. She wouldn’t dance, as she never danced, and all he got was a polite shake of her head in return. She gave him a smile though, a much warmer and more lingering smile than usual, and as the music carried on playing Daniel first glanced at and then fingered a record that, as ever on these occasions, lay hidden from everybody’s gaze.
This was his record, his music, and his moment of sanity after the maelstrom had departed from in front of him, and wearing headphones for privacy, nobody else heard his music; but maybe, with that smile, it might be was time for sharing. Sharing, as he was once told by his mum, meant participation, and hopefully grateful participation, of at least one other person, so, if he was lucky, and the Gods were listening, he might, just possibly, have a little bit of welcome company by his side.
“Stay back with me!”He whispered towards her, as the final song, now on its second loop, ran on mercilessly. “Dance with me, talk to me, and maybe even whisper my name!”
It was of no use though, and he inwardly laughed at himself for his stupidity. Even if he had shouted she couldn’t have heard him, so he just smiled towards her as the music roared on and, for the first time in ages, felt a little excited as, most unusually for Verity, she once more smiled in return.
Two ships, set aside by time tide, and an ever swirling sea of vacuously noisy humanity, that’s how he viewed the pair of them.
Two battered old ships, commanded by two lonely captains without a crew or a passenger to serve or talk to. Yet they still sailed, they still passed, and as they passed, they still blinked out their messages across the churning waves.
Maybe, one day, they might both install a ship’s radio, they might tune into each other’s wavelength, and actually hear and then talk to each other. That was for another time, and another year, as now the vicar was approaching.
That meant the national anthem, the end of the party, and for some concerned, the end of the evening activities, but not for Daniel, who had to stay behind to back away his equipment. Not for Verity who always cleared and stacked the chairs and tables, and, on this occasion, not for record deck. Now, turned on for the first time that evening, the record deck discreetly hummed by his side.
Soon the record would spin, soon the turntable needle would slip across its grooves, and then he could relax, as he always relaxed, when the music of Aaron Copland flooded through his mind
Verity sat back in her chair and watched, with some enjoyment the various antics and relationships that were being played out before her. She could have danced, if she ever wanted to, as the Vicar, God bless him would have always danced with her, but there was still a problem.
Seeing the same faces every day in community centre, which still housed her father’s doctor’s surgery, she knew them all too well. Too well, and much better than anyone of them would ever realise; and she had grown tired of all their, whining, whingeing, vague symptoms, imagined illnesses, groans and grumblings.
All she really wanted to do now, was to stop churning out her well meant platitudes and melt down her ever present plastic smile.
The doctor’s daughter and the medical centre receptionist, that’s who she had become in the local community. The nice lass who sits behind the counter and who always smiles at us,
Nobody ever wanted to know her as a real person or as an individual, and nobody was interested in her passion for orchestral music, a passion which had enveloped her over so many years.
There was the counter between her and the village, as well as her dismissive indifference towards local snobbery and pretentiousness. A smooth polished and perfectly sanitised counter, with an ever present pot of spiky cactus plants, leaflets about cancer and diabetes, and a glaring notice about the perils of missing an appointment.
A bit of furniture really yet, though visited by all within the local and extended community, it was, to in her mind akin to the going to the Grand Canyon.
Everybody knew about it, everybody came to visit it, yet nobody thought about her, or about her feelings, as, with unending patience, she demurely, and very occasionally warmly, smiled back at them from the other side.
At least she had her once a year outing or holiday. A poor excuse for a holiday by anyone’s admission, but once a year though she escaped from behind the counter, and that was to go to this party.
Yet even here, when she should have been able to let her hair down, a barrier, admittedly a partially self built barrier, remained.
On such an occasion she was the unofficial table layer and party organiser, and after the party, out of sight and mind of all the villagers, she was the one who always cleared everything away.
Over the years some of the villagers had, in a peculiarly vague if charitable kind of a way, offered to help her, but she had her system. She hated mess and interference, and living a life surrounded by confidential files, order, and a strict code of personal discipline, she rarely wanted to have it any other way.
She still wondered about Daniel though as he operated his C.D’s, tapes, and, very occasionally, his turntable.
They were like two kindred souls in many respects, for though he never sat behind a counter his drills and his dentistry acted like a barrier all the same.
Nobody in the village really saw them, within their respective workplaces, as, akin to a comfy but battered old armchair, they had become part of the centre’s furniture. On many occasions, lying back in the dental chair like a mesmerized rabbit caught in a searchlight, she had often sensed the weariness behind the smile that he always gave her, and the deep loneliness that all too often radiated from his eyes
She was, as ever, puzzled though. Why was the record deck turned on so late in the evening, what was with the headphones, and why when there was always the two of them left after the party, had they never exchanged a word?
Then she began to smile as Daniel gestured her towards the dance floor. A shake of her head indicated her reluctance, but then, secretly chastising herself for her own obdurate nature, she still retained her smile.
She was as much at fault as he was in this absurd long distance relationship. Any bridge needed to have two secure sets of foundations. If she, like Daniel, had failed to build any such structures, then what hope was there that the bridge could be built? If the bridge wasn’t built then how could either of them meet in the middle, or even better, cross over to the other side.
She wanted that bridge though, and she wanted his company.
Sadly though, she was no bridge builder, and his “leave me alone “ headphones were, in her mind, an insurmountable stumbling block that would forever stop her realising her dreams.
“Let me hear that record you are always hiding!”She thought to herself, more in hope than expectation. “And for God’s sake take of those wretched headphones !”
But it was time to stop dreaming though, even if such dreams were so much more pleasant than everyday reality. The vicar had spoken to Daniel. A drum roll from the speakers announced the traditional playing of the national anthem, and already the younger folk at the party were grabbing their coats so as to grab a taxi from the sparsely serviced taxi rank outside.
Another year gone, she thought to herself, and another lonely year to follow; as was always the case after the party.
All she had to show for it was the evening’s detritus on the table tops and the vicars’ kind but hopelessly inept thank you and tired bunch of flowers, for her services.
She still had one pleasure though.
She could still watch her headphone wearing dentist. He was bending down to fiddle with, what she hoped, was only his electronic equipment, but his backside- a very well shaped backside- was rather attractively gracing the air.
Some life, and some pointless existence. So unlike her whirlwind social gadding about when she was a teenager, and then in her early twenties, she thought to herself, as she began to clear the tables; and yet another dull, grey, sterile year to come.
She wanted to be on a man’s arm, as many years ago she had done as a student, she wanted to go to a party, and she wanted to wake up in the morning to once more feel that arm cradling her, before more, so much more of that body, pressed all hot and loving up against her side.
It was of no use though, for her year to come, and her life, as ever lay on the table before her. Lipstick stained wine glasses, half eaten food, greasy napkins, party poppers, part finished glasses of flat thin lager and bitter. Lazily stubbed our cigarette stubs, and; as normal; indiscreet and ineptly phrased little Billy Doo’s on crumpled scraps of paper, with tell tale open packets of French letters lying indiscreetly by their side.
They were a hopeless bunch, especially the youngsters within the village.
Despite the deluge of free NHS leaflets on safe sex and contraception, available at all times from her father’s surgery, they would soon, all too soon, come knocking, more in hope than in expectation, at her father’s door. The annual comic relief pudding club and STD drop in clinic, as he always called it, but at least it meant new blood within the community, she thought to herself, and of course, assuming the lass knew who the father was, a potential series of weddings, and then probable divorces, on the side.
Slowly, yet methodically, she turned her back on the stage and Daniel, and began to strip and then fold down the tables.
As she did so, the dance floor opened up before her.
Her heart though wasn’t in it this year though.
Her back was sore, and, without warning, wave after wave of depression, desperation, loneliness and frustration swept through her.
Why did no one court and woo her? Why had no armour clad knight or tall dark handsome stranger hammered on her door.
She was still fertile, and although she had turned forty, she was still in good condition, and most certainly available. So where was her Billy Doo, and where was her red blooded sexy suitor. Why did no-one, anyone, want to hold her, or even just be by her side.
The waves turned into a tide, and then the tide into a mini Tsunami.
So much so that, as she carried on filling yet more black sacks before her , she didn’t see Daniel select his special record, and then pick up, then put down, his headphones.
She didn’t hear the click of the needle on the record, and then the opening chords of the softly playing music, and for one brief, mercifully brief moment, she didn’t recognise the smell of aftershave as Daniel now came down from the stage to stand by her side.
It was Daniels aftershave, a subtle fragrance that she had often secretly enjoyed in the surgery, and as she turned though to face him, she saw his outstretched welcoming arms. She also saw his smile, and she heard his quiet yet insistent invitation, an invitation which she had always wanted to hear, yet never thought would ever come her way.
“Dance with me”
That’s all he said, just dance with me.
Three small words, very quietly spoken, and in the background Aeron Copland’s Saturday night waltz from his composition Rodeo. After a dizzyingly discordant start the main tune crept in almost apologetically.
It was a waltz, a sad, reflective yet beautiful waltz. Within its soft pulsating lilt and tumble, she could hear echoes of times of great hardship of an emerging nation, and both community and personal pain and loneliness. She had never been to America, to see the land that had inspired such wonderful music, and in her heart she doubted whether she would ever have the money or the opportunity to do so, but the music still called to her, as it had always called to her, ever since her early childhood, and right up until this present da.y
After a moment’s hesitation, she took his hands, and allowed herself to be drawn in closer, before, as now a new couple, they gracefully danced across the floor.
The music played on, and they carried on dancing.
Knowing very little about love, and both very rusty as regards warmth and intimacy, they initially hesitated when they began dancing, but not for long, as then an older dance took them by the hand. As they danced they instinctively enjoyed the warmth and touch of their hands and bodies, and, using an age old language of attraction that needed no words, and no explanation, they both knew that a new chapter, a wonderful new chapter in both of their lives had just begun.
“Play it again Dan”
She murmured softly, as she rested her head on his neck and shoulder, and Daniel, silently and gently guiding her towards the turntable, was only too happy to oblige.