We’re in a small, neat one-bedroom flat. The curtains are drawn. We hear a key being inserted into the door. It opens and George enters. He is in his late seventies, dressed in a rather shabby but neatly pressed dark suit and a heavy overcoat. There is a black band around the sleeve of his coat.
He removes the coat, takes a hanger from the line of pegs in the hallway and hangs it up. Below the pegs is a crocheted draught excluder in the shape of a caterpillar. He picks it up and places it along the bottom of the door.
In the living room he draws the curtains, switches on the television then sits down to take off his shoes and put on his slippers. After putting his shoes in the hallway, he switches off the television and turns on the radio. It is an old model with a dark brown plastic case and an illuminated fan-shaped dial. It takes a few moments to warm up. An orchestral version of ‘Isle of Capri’ replaces the silence. As if he needed the silence to be broken before he could speak, George begins to talk to himself.
She always used to switch the television on as soon as she got in. Don’t know why. She hardly ever used to watch it.
He goes into the kitchen, fills an electric kettle and plugs it in. He returns to the living room and sits down. The same record is still playing.
She wouldn’t go abroad. We usually went to Morecambe. Same guest house. Mind you, last time we went she said we’d never go again. Never did. Never shall now. Four months after, she was in hospital.
The place never changed much all the years we went there. But she saw differences every time. Last year they’d stopped bringing your tea in bed in the mornings. There was a little tray in the corner under the window with a kettle, two cups and a bowl with packets of tea, dried milk and sugar. “I’ve come on holiday to get away from that sort of thing,” she said. Didn’t make sense; I always made the tea in the mornings anyway. Brought it up to her while she sat up in bed with one of those shawls on she used to crochet.
He gets up, goes to the kitchen and makes a pot of tea. He returns with it on a tray with a sugar bowl, a jug of milk taken from the ‘fridge and a cup and saucer. By his armchair is a nest of three tables. On the top is a lace-fringed square, a photograph of a middle-aged couple (George and his wife when younger), and a small bowl containing a single orange. He pulls out the smallest of the three tables and places the tea tray on it. He sits down and pours himself a cup. He adds milk, one lump of sugar, hesitates as if about to add another, then stirs the tea.
I suppose she would have been upset if she knew I haven’t asked anyone back. Don’t see the point. I’d hate it. They’d hate it. Might have been different if we’d had children. And I never did get on with her sister.
The record on the radio has ended and another starts — Bing Crosby singing, “Dancing in the Dark”.
She loved dancing. We used to go every week. Funny, when she was in hospital she’d try to persuade me to go on my own. So I could describe it to her. She missed it. I couldn’t have gone on my own. Never liked dancing much anyway. Except…
He pauses and listens to the radio for a moment…
Dancing in the Dark. That was one of Laura’s favourites.
He listens to a few more bars, then gets up and switches off the radio. With his hand still on the switch he stands looking down at the radio for several moments before returning to his chair.
It’s funny, that day at the hospital when they told me she’d gone. I didn’t know what to do. I’d sat with her all night, holding her hand, listening to her breathing a slow, ragged rhythm. It stopped a little after six o’clock. I looked at my watch before calling a nurse. By the time the nurse arrived she’d started breathing again. Apparently that often happens.
A few minutes later, “She’s gone,” the nurse said.
I stood up, then waited for someone to tell me what to do.
On the bus on the way home I kept thinking of Laura. As if part of me was saying, you’re free now, perhaps somewhere Laura is still waiting for you.
And then I felt guilty. Mary had died and my thoughts immediately went to woman I’d danced with a few times all those years ago. She’s probably dead too.
Funny how these things stay with you. Mary never knew. She wouldn’t have wanted to. Things like that didn’t happen to people like us.
Not that anything did happen. We just danced. But something did happen in those moments over the weeks before she stopped coming to the dances. Something I can’t explain, between the two of us… a deep, overwhelming connection realised and acknowledged. Nothing was said.
I was sure others must have noticed. Nobody commented. And after that first time… well, at home later I put it down to imagination.
He takes a last sip from his cup of tea and replaces it on the table. As he does so he catches sight of the photograph. Although it has been there for many years, it is as if he is seeing it for the first time. After a few moments he whispers.
Dancing in the dark…
We leave him sitting in the chair. Perhaps he goes to close the curtains. Perhaps he takes the tea tray to the kitchen. Perhaps he turns on the radio again and waits for the music.