Do You Remember How I Used to Dance?

Do You Remember How I Used to Dance?

After a while the doctor came out and motioned Wade to follow her. He looked at her looking at her papers and not at him, breathed deeply and stood and went. She led him through a series of halls back to the examination room. She was shorter than Wade, but she walked faster than him and she had to stop every few feet to let him catch up. This slouching old man limping through her office.

Ruby sat on the padded table with her swollen blue-veined legs dangling over the side. She held her hands in her lap and looked at them. She still wore the paper gown.

Would you like to sit, the doctor said and motioned Wade to a chair against the white wall. He sat. There were different posters and charts on the walls. Explanations of diabetes, DVT, clogged arteries.

Well, the doctor said. We got the CT and MRI back. We can see a little loss of brain mass, but no signs of a tumor.

What does that mean, Wade said.

Well, the doctor said. She said that a lot. Well. Like she was buying herself time, like maybe she could just wait and the appointment would end without her having to deliver bad news. And then she explained what the test results meant and what would come next. What supplements they might try. A low-fat diet might work. There’s some research there. And it might even help with your knee, Wade. She spoke to Wade but would occasionally look to Ruby who had her eyes squinted and her mouth pursed as if she were in deep contemplation. When she was finished she told Ruby she could put her clothes back on and they could schedule a follow-up with the front desk. Then she left.

Wade stood and collected Ruby’s clothes from the counter in the corner and brought them to her. He undid the knot on the back of the gown, and then together in a kind of graceless dance they slowly worked her into her pants, Ruby leaning on her husband’s shoulder while he squatted and turned and moved the denim over her swollen knees. She sat back down to put on her shirt but she did not need his help. Then she gathered her purse and they left the room without speaking.

When they got in the car she said, Take me by Middleway.

Where, Wade said.

The school.

Now why would you want to go there.

I want to remember it, she said. I don’t think I’ll see it again.

There won’t be anyone there.

That’s fine, she said. That’s better.

He left the parking lot and turned down by the highway. When they passed over Winchester she said, Turn around. I want to take Winchester.

He did not reply. He turned the car around and they went back and stopped at the light.

This is how I used to go, every morning, she said.

This intersection wasn’t here though, Wade said. You had to go up Poplar a ways and cut back.

At the train tracks.

Yes. At the train tracks.

The light changed and they turned and started down the road. They went past the new construction apartment complexes and shopping strips, unfamiliar places. After a while the old city started to come up around them, old buildings and decayed storefronts. They were mostly silent but occasionally Ruby would speak up and point at stores she liked or restaurants she wanted to go back to.

When they got to the school Wade pulled into the front parking lot and parked facing the building.

This isn’t how I remember it, Ruby said.

It’s how I remember it, Wade said. They might’ve touched up the paint. Replaced the windows. The sign in the front is new.

Go over there, Ruby said and pointed to the side lot.

Wade rolled the car over. She pointed at a door on the side of the building. That’s where I would go in, she said. I would park over here. This is where the teachers parked. Park right over there, like it was a normal day.

He turned and rolled in between a pair of white lines at the front of the building. The lot was empty and the school was dark, and he wondered what someone looking from the road might think they were doing.

Without speaking Ruby opened the door.

Here, Wade said. Let me help you. He unbuckled his belt and opened his door and began to negotiate his way out of the car. But his knee did not cooperate, and she was out of the car and walking up to the set of double blue doors before Wade could stand.

She leaned on her toes and cupped her hands to her eyes and peered into the darkened windows. Wade noticed not for the first time how unsteady she looked, how frail. She used to have the fluted arms and legs of a bird, dancer’s legs, and he remembered how it had seemed like she could take flight at any moment, not just through her body but through her will, her reflex and poise conspiring with that hardened inner part of her. Now he saw that innermost part of her struggling against her body as if it were caged.

After a moment Ruby lowered herself down and walked around the back of the building. Wade followed.

There was a playground in the back and then a large field beyond that stretched to the highway. The playground equipment, although apparently still in use, was leaning and rusted and to Wade looked like the protruding skeleton of some prehistoric creature. There was a dilapidated swingset and one of the swings had snapped and fallen to the ground.

Looks about as old as I am, Wade said and laughed at himself.

I used to hate coming out here, Ruby said. The sounds of the kids screeching. Just. She shuddered dramatically.

Wade smiled. You sure did dislike children didn’t you, he said.

Ruby sighed. I still do, she said. Then she started back to the car.

When they were buckled in Wade said, Why did we come out here.

Ruby looked out the window toward the field. I complained but it was important, she said. Working here.

I don’t think I understand you.

The work. I spent a lot of hours here. A lot of days. Even if I didn’t like it, it’s part of who I was. Who I am. It’s my little contribution to the world. She turned to her husband and smiled. Maybe I’ll haunt it when I die.

He smiled back. Then they were quiet.

Where do you want to go now, he said.

I guess home. I’m hungry. And I’m fading.

Wade put the car in gear and pulled up to the street. Want to take Winchester, he said.

No, she said. Let’s take the highway.

He studied her. She was looking at her hands again, inspecting them, flipping them over. Her skin was pale and thin and it hung from her face as if set to pull her to the earth sooner than she intended. She looked very tired. Then he said, Do you remember Hope’s Place. We used to go down there and eat bar-b-que. Before the girls were born.

I think, she said. Vaguely.

You’ll remember, he said. He turned the car and drove, the school dwindling behind them until it was gone, only in their minds now, and not for long.

They drove downtown and then turned on Concourse, and when they got to Hope’s Place they parked in front and Wade put the handicap placard in the windshield, got out slowly and went inside and the waitress greeted them and led them to a booth in the back but Wade said, Can we sit up front, so she led them to a small table by the front windows, and they sat and she gave them laminated menus and took their drink orders and left. Harsh afternoon light hammered off the table into their eyes. The seats and the table were hot. Ruby studied both sides of the menu. Wade left his on the table and squinted out the window.

What are you gonna have, Ruby said.

The pork sandwich, Wade said. And I think I’ll get some cornbread. And some slaw.

Is that your favorite.

Always was.

Ruby looked back at the menu. She had that pinched concentrated look on her face again.

That’s what you got too, Wade said.

I know that, she snapped. She dropped the menu. Wade did not speak, and they listened to the chatter of forks on plates and glasses and the sizzling of something cooking in the kitchen.

The waitress returned with their drinks and when she asked what they wanted Wade told her his order and Ruby said she would have the salad.

You sure, Wade said.

Yes, Ruby said and she handed the menu over to the waitress who took them and hurried off. Wade looked at Ruby and Ruby looked out the window. Wade could see that she was upset and that made him uncomfortable, but he did not know what to say, so he thought he would just ask her.

Is there something wrong.

No, she said. She did not look at him.

You didn’t get the bar-b-que.

She worked her mouth, considering what to say. He could see her temperature rising. I don’t like being told what I like, she said.

Now Wade felt his own heat, out of embarrassment and shame. I’m sorry, he said. He meant it sincerely but he knew it did not sound that way. That’s what you always got. So I thought it was your favorite.

It might have been but it’s not now. I don’t even remember the bar-b-que here.

Well, we won’t be coming back.

She turned to him. Her eyes were shiny and clear. Her skin seemed to catch the sunlight and glow with it. You might, she said.

Not without you.

They did not speak again. The waitress brought the food, and they ate quickly and left with their plates still half full and without waiting for change.

Back in the car they did not speak but it was understood that they were going home. They drove down to the highway but from the overpass they could see the cars stacked up for a mile so Wade kept going and turned on Poplar. They cruised like this in silence for a few minutes and then Wade turned in on a side street.

Where are you going, Ruby said.

To the old house.

I know that, Ruby said. But I’m asking why.

Do you remember that second summer there. I planted those three pecan trees right there at the fence line. Do you remember that. Tom Hopper gave them to me.

Yes. I remember him.

Do you remember the trees.

Yes. At the corner there. Where our property met the Landon’s. I think it was the Landons.

Lindon, Wade said. Margery and Kent were their names. And they had the little boy, but I don’t remember his name.

I do. Phillip. He was just a hair younger than the girls. I wonder where he is now.

Wade smiled. They turned down vaguely familiar streets. The trees had grown and the houses had decayed, but he still remembered the street names. They turned down the little cul-de-sac where they had bought their first house. A squat grey thing with a collapsing car port.

Look, Ruby said. They redid the steps.

They had. Where there once was a set of brick steps leading horizontally down from the door there was now an easing gentle slope.

Probably for a wheelchair, Wade said. He parked the car and looked a moment. Over the house in the backyard he could see the two great oaks and the maple that had been there when he bought the house, but nothing else. No pecan trees he had expected to see so large now. He got out of the car and started limping up the driveway, Ruby just behind hissing, Wade what the hell are you doing.

I just want to peek in the backyard, he said. Maybe the trees aren’t tall enough to see over the house yet.

Why do you care so much about the trees, she said, but he was too far ahead of her and she spoke softly and he did not hear her.

He went around the back of the house. The yard was deeper than he remembered and it was overgrown with clover and dandelions and the fence was dilapidated. There were no trees in the far corner, only bluegrass and foxtails waist high. On the concrete patio there was a man sitting in a rusted chrome wheelchair with a tilted glass-top table in front of him. He was facing away from them.

Wade said, Hello there.

The man twitched in his chair, had to work at shifting himself around.

Hope I didn’t scare you, Wade said.

We’re sorry, Ruby said from behind him.

Can I help you, the man said.

Oh, Wade said. Maybe you can.

He walked over slowly and stood in front of the man who seemed relieved to not have to twist his back any further. Wade stuck out his hand and said his name, and the man took it and introduced himself as Edgar Olson.

Well, Mister Olson, Wade said. I used to live here. Bought the house back in nineteen-sixty-eight. That’s my wife over yonder and my two girls lived here too.

Is that right, Olson said.

Yessir. And in the summer of sixty-nine I planted three papershell pecan trees right back there in the corner of the fence.

They both looked out to where Wade was pointing. Two brittle old men like wayward and weary sailors, chancing upon some mist-covered shore.

I guess they died sometime, Wade said.

Sure did, Mister Olson said. I killed them. Oh I’d say about twenty years back. Didn’t mean to, of course.

Wade did not speak but Mister Olson continued with his confession. See I’d been told that if you pour some old motor oil around the fence line the the grass would die off, and then you wouldn’t have to worry about an edger. So I went and got me some oil and spread it out. It worked, at least for a while. But your trees died.

Wade sighed and looked back out at the yard.

I was real sorry about it, Mister Olson said. I liked those trees. Big pecans like this.

Oh it’s alright, Wade said. And then he thanked Mister Olson for his time, and Mister Olson said it was no trouble and he turned back and waved to Ruby, and then she and Wade went back to the car.

When they got the car started she turned to him.

That was embarrassing, she said.

Wade was surprised. What do you mean.

This man having to explain how he came to kill his trees. They were his trees, you know. He bought them with the house. Explain himself like that to two total strangers.

I don’t think he minded. Seemed like a lonely guy, just sitting out there.

And how would you know that.

I guess I don’t.

She took a moment. Then she said, You don’t. You didn’t care. I asked you to take me one place, and you make it into a little field trip. A tour. Like we’re at the zoo. Just showing it all off. This is my life.

Wait a minute, Wade said. I’m not sure what we’re talking about here.

All these things. This isn’t fun for me. It might be for you but it isn’t for me. This isn’t some nostalgia trip. I’m gonna forget these things and then I’m gonna die without knowing what I had lost.

She put her face in her hands and Wade thought she might cry, but she did not. She ran her fingers through her wiry grey hair.

I don’t know what to say, Wade said. But I’m truly sorry I hurt your feelings.

It’s just too much for one day. To think it’ll all be gone soon. I’m feeling very upset and overwhelmed and I want to go home. I said I was tired and I wanted to go home, so will you take me home now, please.

Yes, he said. And he did.


Sometime in the night she turned to him.

Do you remember how I used to dance.

Sure I do.

Tell me.

OK. I remember seeing you at your final recital your senior year. That was the first time I ever saw you. I came with Fenton Dawes to see his sister, who I think was younger than you. He was going to set me up with her.

I didn’t know that.

Yes. You were all on the stage but it was like a light was shining on you alone. Like when you go to the jewelry store and they’ve got the big expensive fancy diamonds up under a lamp or on a pedestal so that you see them over the cheaper ones.

What did you think.

I’m not sure I thought anything right then. Not sure I could’ve.

What else do you remember.

That was in Kansas. I remember the flatness of everything. How it all seemed to stretch forever. How those little pools came up after it rained. It seemed impossible that they could hold their shape in all that flatness, but they did. And how we used to take your daddy’s car out in the country after it rained, looking for one of those pools. And when we found one we’d both get naked and swim. We were both virgins then. It felt so dangerous. It probably was but not for the reasons we thought it was. And when we were finished it would be so cold you felt you could die. We’d have to grab up our clothes and run back to the car, clear moonlight slick on our bodies, across a distance that seemed impossibly great. I remember thinking: This will take forever! Thinking, I’ll be an old man and I’ll still be running.


About the Author

HW Walker is a writer and teacher based out of Oakland, FL. His work has appeared online and in print at Flock Lit, Five:2:One, Lou Lit, and elsewhere. He is currently working toward his PhD in English at the University of Mississippi.


Image by Pam Simon from Pixabay