HER LAST DANCE
by Evelyn Krieger
Mom is in our hotel bathroom fixing herself up. I smell
her apricot perfume from outside the door. I’m supposed to get
fixed up, too. No idea why Mom uses that expression. I mean, it’s
not like we’re broken or anything. I bend over, let my dark hair
fall forward, start brushing to make it fluffy like in those shampoo
commercials. I check myself in the mirror, dab on bubblegum lip
gloss and a smudge of cherry blush.

Then Mom comes out. “Well?” She spins around in her sleek black
skirt. “What do you think?”

I swallow. Her dark eyes seem bigger, like they’re eager for
something. “You’re taller.”

“Hah! I haven’t worn spiked heels in ages. What about my outfit?”

“You look pretty, Mom. Really.” And she does.

“Thank you, my dear.” Mom squints into the mirror as she puts on
her gold hoop earrings. “You’re never fully dressed with bare ears.”

“Wish Dad could see you. Want me to grab the camera?”

“No, don’t bother.” She steps back to admire herself. “I don’t want
him thinking we had
too much fun."                                      

“How come you don’t get dressed up at home?” I ask.

She looks at me, her perfectly penciled eyebrows raised. “And just
where might I be going? Ballroom dancing?”      

I hate it when she gets snarky. “You could take Dad out. You
guys stay home too much. I don’t need a babysitter anymore, for
your information.”

“For you information,” she says, “once upon a time your father
and I used to go dancing every Saturday night.” A shadow of
sadness passes over Mom’s face. “He was pretty damn good.”

I try to picture my father dancing. Instead, I see him in his
wheelchair spinning around the floor. He’s the one who needs
fixing up. I don’t like to think about Dad being home alone with
just boring old Carol around to dress him and tie his shoes. Mom
says there’s no reason to feel guilty—this is our “well-deserved”
vacation. I guess she’s right. So far we’ve had a decent time
visiting Chicago, but I am not sure I like the idea of meeting
Malcolm.  

Mom picks up her silver handbag. “Come on, Becca, get your
shoes. It’s eight o’clock already.”

I slip on strappy sandals and admire my red toenails.

Mom looks me over. “Your dress is a tad short.”

I shrug. “Guess I grew.” I don’t tell her that I like the way it
shows off my legs.

“I can’t believe I was your age when I met Malcolm.” She shakes
her head. “Better watch out. You blink and you’re forty.”

“Grandma let you date when you were fifteen?”

“Things were different then. Besides, Grandma loved Malcolm.
God, could he charm her. No teenage awkwardness in that young
man. He’d show up at our house with a pink carnation on every
single date!”

Mom says I can’t start dating until I’m seventeen.
Seventeen. She
is so out of touch. I wonder if Malcolm will think I’m pretty.

Mom breathes out. “Ready to roll?”

* * *

As we walk through the hotel lobby, our heels click on the marble
floor. I see my reflection in the mirrored walls. Maybe I should
have worn my Sassoon jeans.

Mom tells me we’re meeting Malcolm in the cocktail lounge.

This excites me. “A bar?”

She waves her hand. “It’s fine. You’ll be drinking Coke.”

“But I’m hungry.”

Mom halts, then whispers, “Oh my God, that’s him.”

I see this big guy in a brown suit standing by the lounge
entrance. He’s looking right at Mom, grinning, and holding a
single pink carnation. He’s like a huge teddy bear.

He sings her name. “Suzy, Suzy.” They smile at each other for like
a year. “You are looking good.” Then he actually whistles. Ugh.

I stand there feeling stupid. Mom takes the carnation and holds it
to her nose. Her cheeks are flushed. “I was just telling Becca
about your carnations.” Mom’s voice is all soft and dreamy. “Takes
me right back.”

Malcolm offers me his hairy paw. “Nice to finally meet you, Becca.
Your mother and I go way back.”

I shake his fleshy hand. “So I’ve heard.”

Malcolm’s eyes take me in, then land back on Mom. “She doesn’t
look anything like you, Suzy. Must have got her Daddy’s genes.”
He winks at me and says, “Your mom was what they call a looker.
And—" He puts his paw on Mom’s back. "She still is.”

I hate him already.  

“I’ve been trying to get your mother to Chicago for years,”
Malcolm continues.

I glance at Mom for a sec, then Malcolm. “It’s hard for us to
leave,” I mutter, “so we don’t get away much.”

Mom spreads her arms out. “Well, here we are!”

“I still can’t believe it,” Malcolm says, shaking his head. “I’m in
heaven. Hey, let me buy you ladies a drink and we’ll toast our
reunion.”

Disco beat pounds from the speakers in the lounge. Totally gross
music. Malcolm picks a booth in the back. He motions for me to
sit. I slide in, scooting over to the middle. Mom moves in next.
Malcolm sits across from her. A red candle glows at the center of
our table. Mom always says a woman looks best by candlelight. I
hope I look good, just for looking good’s sake. I really don’t give
a shit what Malcolm thinks of me.  

Malcolm orders a bottle of wine for the two of them, and a Shirley
Temple for me, which turns out to be a kiddie drink with a cherry
and a tiny paper umbrella on top. I smile secretly thinking of all
the wine coolers I’ve guzzled this past year. That delicious secret
bubbles inside me.

Malcolm lifts his glass. “To old times.”

Mom clinks his glass. “To old times.”

“Speaking of old times,” Malcolm says, “when I heard you were
coming to town, I dug through my stash in the basement and
found our Bedford High yearbook.”

Mom throws her head back. “No! You still have that?”

“Do you remember what they wrote about you?”

“Remind me,” Mom says.

Malcolm takes a gulp of his wine, then leans forward like he’s
telling a secret. “Future Radio City Rockette.”

“Oh, God. Well, that one didn’t come true,” Mom says.

“It sure could have!” Malcolm turns to me. “Your mom was a heck
of a dancer. Wowzer! A sensation on the dance floor.” He shakes
his head. “What a shame she couldn’t keep it up.” Malcolm’s
words hang in the air like a bad smell. Mom stares at the candle.
I fiddle with the drink straw. “How’s James doing?” the moron
finally asks.

Mom brightens. “James has an amazing spirit. He’s gained some
movement in his arms and toes, which is kind of exciting when
you consider what he’s been through.” She swirls the wine in her
glass. “And . . . he has hopes of dancing with me again. Some
day.”  

Malcolm taps his stubby fingers on the table. “There’s certainly
something to be said for hope. Then again, I suppose one has to
be realistic.”

I defend my father’s optimism. “Who knows what medical
research will come up with in the future?” My voice shakes a little.

Malcolm looks at me with a sorry expression. Then he asks Mom
what the doctors think. She tells him they’re less optimistic.

I tell him Dad’s come a long way.

“Well, he is darn lucky to have such devoted women by his side.”
Malcolm lifts his glass again. “To medical miracles!”

His jolliness is really bugging me. He tries to steer the
conversation away from the depressing topic of Dad and back to
Mom’s dancing days. Malcolm starts telling a story about one of
her ballroom competitions. “Boy, did I wish I was on the floor
with her. Hey, Suzy, do you still have the trophy?”

Mom waves her hand. “I’ve no idea. Probably in my parents’
basement.”

“How about that spectacular dress?”

“You remember my dress?”

“Black and red, Spanish style with lots of sequins.” Malcolm
points his finger.” Am I right?”

“You’re right,” Mom says softly. “Amazing.”

Mom’s eyes are watery. What is the matter with her?

You were amazing,” Malcolm gushes. “I wouldn’t forget that sight
as long as I live.”

He is really going too far. I am embarrassed for Mom. I try to
think of something to say to change the subject, but Malcolm
starts up again. “Before we divorced, Nancy and I used to take
disco dance lessons. We got pretty good. That was about the only
time we weren’t trying to kill each other.” He laughs too loud.

“Becca doesn’t like disco,” Mom says. “She’s a rock-n-roll girl. “

Thanks, Mom.

“Well, disco seems to be the rage.” Malcolm looks at me. “My
niece Cassandra is fifteen and she’s kicking up her heels at all the
dances.”

I fake a smile.

Malcolm snaps his fingers. “Hey, listen to what’s playing. Name
that tune, Becca.”

I roll my eyes. “
’Stayin' Alive.’ The Bee Gees. It’s only on the
radio like fifty times a day.”

Mom gives me one of her watch-your-mouth looks. Malcolm starts
twisting in his seat. “What do you say, Suzy?”

“I don’t know how to disco,” Mom says, touching her pearly
necklace.

Malcolm stands up and reaches out his hand. “Come on. You’re a
natural.”

“It’s been so long—"

“One dance, Suzy Q. One last dance.”

Mom takes his hand. I can’t believe what happens next. I watch
him pull her onto the dance floor. Malcolm gets right into it with
the arm motions and all. Mom hesitates, then lets him spin her
around. She laughs in a way I haven’t seen before. The next
minute Mom is twisting and turning in her high heels, like she
knows what she’s doing while that awful song kills my ears.
Stayin' alive, stayin' alive. The other people in the lounge are
watching. I’m about to die. I think about Dad and his numb legs.
How could she do this to him?

When the music ends, Malcolm dances Mom over to our table. He
wipes a napkin on his sweaty forehead.

I feel like puking.

Mom is breathless. “That was fun!” I want her to see my furious
face, but she doesn’t look at me. Malcolm refills their wine
glasses. They start talking about old times again, laughing at
dumb jokes as if I’m not even here.

After a while, Mom finally notices my silence. “Are you okay,
honey?”

“I’m not feeling so well,” I say.

“Oh. That’s too bad.” She puts her hand to my cheek. “You don’t
feel warm.”

“My head hurts. Stomach, too. I think I need to lie down.”

Mom stares at me. I wait for her to say so long to Malcolm.
Instead she says, “Why don’t you go back to the room and get
comfy? Watch TV in bed. I’ll be up in a bit.” She hands me the
room key.

Malcolm stands up as I slide out of the booth. “I’m sorry you
couldn’t hang around longer, Becca. Hope you feel better. Great
meeting you.”

“Ditto.”

I glare at my mother as I start to leave. She reminds me to lock
the door to our hotel room.

* * *

In the lobby I plop myself down on a leather couch. I can see
Lake Shore Drive lit up through the huge window. I want to be out
there, doing something fun, not stuck in a disco lounge with my
mom’s pathetic old boyfriend. As I watch people walk through the
lobby entrance, I make a game of guessing their names and jobs.
Eleanor Carmichael, secretary. Kyle Winston, lawyer. When I get
bored of that, I stare out the window at the city lights and think
about all the zillions of people and all the stories they carry
inside them. Wherever you travel, you pack your stories with you,
whether you mean to or not. Just like Mom. Maybe she’d like to
forget about Dad’s tragic accident, but the truth is still jam-
packed inside her, weighing her down.

Mom is taking forever to finish her stupid little date. What’s her
problem? Isn’t she even remotely concerned about me? I wait
some more. I cross my legs and admire my tanned skin. This
reminds me of Dad’s useless legs. My memory of him walking tall
and strong is blurry. What I do remember is sitting on Dad’s lap
and getting wheelchair rides. He called them “wheelie dances.”
I’m too old for that now.

In the lobby window I see a man’s reflection. I turn my head.

“Enjoying the view?” he asks. He has a trim dark beard and
mysterious eyes. He’s dressed in dark jeans and a black button-
down shirt.

“It’s pretty,” I say.

“Cities look better at night. You can’t see the grime.” He looks
around like he’s expecting someone. “You a local?”

I shake my head. “I’m on a little summer vacation.” I try to sound
calm, even though I feel that dangerous excitement growing
inside me. “I live in Ohio.”

“Hey, small world. I’m from Dayton.”

Really? That’s a coincidence.”

“Maybe not.” God, his smile is sweet. “I’m here on business. A
photo shoot.”

“Cool. What do you photograph?”

“Beautiful faces.”

“Like models?” I try not to sound overly impressed.

“That’s right. I look for newcomers. And, tell you the truth, I
noticed you from across the lobby. I thought you’d make quite a
picture.”

I can feel his eyes looking right through me, which makes the
back of my neck get all warm. He tells me how he scouts teenage
models and how much money they can make. He’s even gotten a
few girls into movies. Would I ever love that.

“You alone?” he asks.

“Sort of.”

“Your date hasn’t stood you up?”

I smile. “No, nothing like that.”

“Good.”

I look out the window, see my reflection in the dark glass. I feel
him studying me. I don’t know what to say.

“I’m Richard Smith.”  

“Becca.” I don’t tell him my last name, just to be on the safe side.

“And what brings you to the Windy City, Becca?”

I try to think of a good story. “Birthday present from my dad.”

“Nice.”  He rubs his beard. “Is your dad here?”

I look toward the bar entrance. “No. I wish he was, but . . . he
doesn’t travel well.”

Richard Smith steps closer. “I can tell you miss him.”

I wonder if Richard can sense the ache behind my ribcage. “Yeah.
I do.”

“Let me guess. You must be . . .” He looks me up and down.
“Seventeen?”

“Good guess.”  Guys always think I’m older.

“Well, happy birthday, Becca.”

I like the way he says my name, like he knows me. “Thanks, but
it hasn’t been so happy.”

“An
unhappy birthday? That won’t do.” His voice is like warm
water. “Maybe I can make it better.”           

I cross my legs and lean back in the couch. “Actually . . . having
company would be nice.”  
Did I really say that?

“So . . . where’s your chaperone?” he asks.

She is preoccupied at the moment. Taking forever.”  I’m dying for
Mom to come out right now and see me talking to a stranger.
That would teach her a lesson.

Richard asks if he can sit down. I smile, and move over. I can feel
his body heat. He looks me smack in the eyes. I could melt. “Any
chance you’d like to pass the time with me? We could drive down
Lake Shore. It’s really beautiful at night.”

I glance at the lounge again. What’s taking her so long? I wonder
if she’ll let Malcolm kiss her goodnight. I try on a flirty voice for
Richard Smith. “Sounds tempting.”

“You can tell me all about your unhappy birthday.” He waits for
me to answer. “I promise to have you back before the clock
strikes twelve.”

My mind says no, but my heart pounds yes. “Okay.”

As I walk with Richard Smith toward the hotel entrance, I look
back once more for my mother. I hear the faint beat of the music.
I’ll bet she's still dancing. I’ll bet I’m the last thing on her mind.
Richard Smith holds the glass door open.

Come get me, Mom.  

I wait three more seconds, then step into the summer night.



Evelyn Krieger is the author of the award-winning YA novel, One
Is Not A Lonely Number. Her fiction and essays have appeared in
Hippocampus, Sunlight Press, Grown & Flown, Tablet Magazine,
Lilith, Teachers & Writers, Lessons from My Parents, Writer’s
Digest, Family Circle, Winning Writers, Gemini Magazine, and
other publications. She was recently awarded a four-week
residency scholarship to the Vermont Studio Center. Evelyn lives
in the Boston area. Visit her at
www.EvelynKrieger.net.
AUGUST 2018