The International Writers Magazine
Soon they were
spinning under the dazzling chandelier, gyrating with easeful steps
and pure spirals
could feel that the interview was not going well. Mr. Johnson asked
for references, and Alfred's voice vanished. As Mr. Johnson reached
over and took the job application from Alfred's hands, Alfred's heart
pounded, and his legs ached to run like the boy in his nightmares who
flailed in choking corridors of office buildings.
"You mean you have no letters of recommendations?"
Mr. Johnson's probing words pumped stress and doubt into Alfred's veins
as he walked past his old high school. Teenagers were lingering in the
schoolyard, heads cocked with a feigned confidence. He was thirty years
old and he still lived in the old neighborhood. It was discouraging
to think that his two years in the Peace Corps in Africa hadn't made
much difference in his life.
Where were the letters of recommendations he wondered and searched his
suit pockets. The inside pocket contained two curious postcards sent
to him from a friend who had remained working in Sierra Leone. The vest
pockets were bulging with debris and tangles of string, dental floss
and a tiny tin box of Sensens to freshen his breath. His inside vest
pocket bulged with everything you might look for in the pockets of thoughtless
schoolboys. He thought that perhaps it was his untidy appearance that
had turned the job interview so sour. His hands explored all his pockets
as he thought about the job he really never wanted. There ought to be
some connection, he thought, between the things he never wanted, the
objects he had shoplifted or randomly found and those things he lost.
Was it just coincidental? Pocket knives and key chains, rings and cigarette
cases were examples of those superfluous, faintly wanted things that
seemed to have a way of their own of disappearing. Fumbling fingers
probed his pockets for the Pez dispenser he found in Thompson Park last
week. Yes, he mused, you see, it's gone.
Often he'd find in his pockets little shreds of memories of moments
he had wanted to embrace but never quite could-telephone numbers he
never called, a plane ticket to Morocco he never used, Museum tickets
and lecture passes, debris of evidence of missed opportunities. For
twelve years now he had kept in his wallet next to the unused credit
cards a ticket stub from the Bijou Ballroom where he had wanted but
never found the confidence to ask Mary McDonnel for a dance. Years ago
Alfred had stumbled across the ballroom floor under musical chandeliers,
and just inches away from Mary, he had lost his nerve, frozen clumsily
and exited the dance hall, ashamed and dejected.
It was Friday night and the weekend lay ahead before his Monday interview
as editor for the Scranton News Service, a job he knew he wanted. Peering
at the old ballroom ticket stub, he boarded a trolley downtown to the
Bijou. Much to his surprise the ballroom was still operating, in fact,
this night there was a dance featuring Ray Delrosa and his five-piece
band. Alfred furtively climbed the stairs and gazed across the unpopulated
ballroom. Nothing had really changed. The floors were still waxed slippery,
the stage with its gaudy décor still looked like an unsteady
boat on stilts. Across the ballroom Alfred saw a gathering of men and
women, more or less his age. Ray Delrosa stepped up on the stage with
his saxophone, and the orchestra joined in a romantic slow number. He
watched the figures fidgeting, hesitating on the verge of the dance.
Alfred walked alongside the few couples dancing. And there standing
against the far wall were two women and one of them was Mary McDonnel.
The song was Nat King Cole's "Answer Me", a melody that had
haunted Alfred all his life. Mary hadn't changed really, except for
a face more sharply angled and a few more pounds around the waist. She
still had that radiant smiling face. Once again he was caught in the
nervous spell, and he stumbled on hesitant feet across the ballroom.
The chandelier sparkled and dazzled his squinting eyes. He inched his
way towards Mary; clumsily his feet froze, but his mouth managed the
words that he had so long repressed, "Mary, it's Alfred. Alfred
Morris. Would you like to dance? With me, I mean?"
Mary McDonnel consented. The two walked out under the lights onto the
dance floor. Stumbling at first, he could not remember which foot to
lead with. Mary pulled him in closer and guided him with the angling
of her hips. Moments later he was finding his way back into the memory
of rhythms. Soon they were spinning under the dazzling chandelier, gyrating
with easeful steps and pure spirals. He felt so tender towards the whole
world and both Alfred and Mary were caught in that circle of earthly
delight, understanding each other perfectly without the use of words.
Old gestures of awkward and forgetful character seemed to flake off.
Warm and human, he lost himself in the music of Ray Delrosa's Orchestra.
For the final number of the evening, the musicians chose another Nat
King Cole favorite, "Unforgettable." Dancing delightfully
the ballroom floor, Alfred imagined that the chandelier was a shower
of meteors twirling and piercing through the black amnesias of his past
life. Alfred found on the dance floor with Mary lost moments retrieved.
On Monday morning he awoke eager for the interview for the Scranton
News editorial position. He dressed carefully, putting on his navy blue
corduroy suit, and he looked approvingly at himself in the mirror. On
his way out the door, he reached into the jacket pocket and found four
envelopes containing the letters of recommendations. The morning went
smoothly and after being hired and filling out the papers, he thought
to himself, "The letters. They were here all the time." Alfred
examined the letters with some curious delight. Returning the letters
to his pocket, he found a crumbled scrap of paper with a phone number
scribbled on it. He searched his memory and discovered that the number
was Mary McDonnel's telephone number. She had given it to him years
ago; he had had it all the time.
Richard Meyers March 2004
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