One Thousand Words – At The High School Dance

I went to another workshop at the Writer’s Center tonight and had a great time. I feel creative again!

It was a small group, all with very different styles including a couple of poets. Writing poetry is something I have no desire to try. I’m too literal. I enjoy the rhythm and flow of poetry, but I don’t have that rhythm in me.

The prompt tonight was “dancing” and this is the story that emerged from that. I added just a bit based on the suggestions I received from my fellow workshop participants, but a majority of the story was written during the workshop.

Nancy stood on the edge of the gym, watching the dancers moving slowly across the shiny, wooden floor.

Above their heads a mirrored ball circled lazily, sending dots of white across their faces, dresses and suit jackets.

When she tired of watching teenagers clutching and swaying, she walked along the sidelines to the punch bowl sitting on a table covered in purple crepe paper.

Although leery of germs or anything else the punch might be laced with, the gym was hot and she was thirsty so she dipped up a cup and took a sip.

“Good stuff?”

Nancy turned. An elderly man in a plaid jacket stood next to her. He was grinning and the mirror ball dots reflected off his glasses so she couldn’t see his eyes.

“It’s fine.” She stepped around him to return back to her place beside the bleachers but the man continued the conversation.

“I am truly surprised they still have punch bowls at school dances. Even back in my day they got spiked.”

Nancy nodded noncommittally and inched further away.

She had decided to become a high school teacher for a reason. She didn’t like old people. She knew that they had wisdom, history, blah, blah, blah, but they smelled funny and you had to yell in order for them to hear you.

The old man stood next to her with a punch cup in one hand. He placed his other lightly on her elbow.

What might have been a gentlemanly gesture when he was young was creepy now. She leaned down and pretended to fix the strap her shoe to get away from his grip.

When she stood back up, he held out his hand. “I’m Elmer. Nice to meet you.”

His hand felt soft and warm in hers. “I’m Nancy.”

“So Miss Nancy, you’re too young to have a child out on that dance floor. You must be a teacher.”

Nancy sighed to herself but answered him. “Yes. I’m the band teacher.”

“Ah… music. How lovely. I played the trumpet during the war.” Elmer held his free hand up to his mouth and mimed playing a few notes.

Nancy wondered which war. He looked old enough to have fought in World War I, but she thought it would be rude to ask.

Instead she smiled and gestured to where she had been standing earlier. “Well, I should get back to my post. It was nice talking to you.”

“Or we could go behind the bleachers and make out. That’s what we did at school dances. Do they still do that sort of thing?”

Nancy stared at Elmer. She couldn’t have heard him right. Did he just suggest that they go snog in a dark corner of the gym?

Elmer just smiled back at her. After a moment he pointed to the bleachers, like that was the confusing part of what he had said.

“Elmer, do you have a grandchild here tonight?”

Elmer set his cup down on the table. “No ma’am. I don’t have any grandchildren. Never been married. I’m foot loose and fancy free.” He shuffled his feet a bit in time to the hip hop music.

“I haven’t seen you here before. Are you a teacher?”

“Nope. I’m not a teacher. I was a salesman for forty years. Started with encyclopedias. Remember those? I carted them around for five years. Almost broke my back.”

“So why are you here, Elmer?”

“To meet ladies.”

He must have noticed the horror on her face because he quickly continued. “Not the students. I don’t like them that young. The teachers. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for teachers. My first love was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kennedy. She was a beauty.” Elmer eyes grew distant.

A boy in a suit jacket two sizes too large for him and a girl wearing a dress the color of blood oranges staggered off the dance floor and over to the punch bowl.

They didn’t speak as the boy filled cups for them both. The girl gave him a gentle hip check as he poured and they both dissolved in sweaty giggles.

After a few sips they threw their cups away and wandered back out onto dance floor, holding hands.

Elmer picked up his own cup and held it in the air. “To young love,” he announced solemnly.

He was so sincere in his pronouncement that Nancy decided he couldn’t possibly be dangerous. Elmer must have wondered away from a local old folks home.

In spite of her disgust of old people, she wanted to help him. She took his hand. “Where do you live? Can I help you get home?”

Elmer stroked the back of her hand with his thumb and leaned forward to whisper in her ear. “You, my dear, are even lovelier than my Mrs. Kennedy.”

His blue eyes sparkled behind his giant lenses and Nancy found herself being drawn in. “Does this kind of thing work for you often, Elmer?”

His hand ran lightly up her arm and she shivered. “I have been known to have a way with the ladies.”

The lights from the mirrored ball looked like a gentle snow falling on Elmer’s white hair and narrow shoulders.

He touched her elbow again and guided her toward the bleachers. For reasons not entirely clear even to her, she let him lead her away.


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