short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
“You all right, Nard?” Jerry poured Old Granddad over sweet vermouth, adding ice with his free hand.
Maynard had stopped in mid-glove-pull, his pea coat open, wet with melting snow, wool scarf dangling. Maynard, a statue, ready for a pigeon to land on his head, didn’t respond.
“Nard? Nard?” Jerry snapped his fingers in front of Maynard’s stare.
The glove slipped off, joined by the other, stowed under the bar. “Sorry.” The pea coat and scarf joined the gloves. “Busy afternoon.”
“It’s the weather.”
Maynard resumed his stance, his mouth open, mesmerized like mouse in a snake’s stare. He tried to swallow and couldn’t. He tried to draw a breath and couldn’t. He tried to break free and couldn’t.
“You all right, Nard?” Jerry repeated.
Maynard’s lips didn’t move, air barely escaping his lungs. “She’s beautiful.”
Jerry glanced the thirty feet, not needing to. He was well aware of the lone dancer. With a chuckle, he said: “Yeah, she is. That’s the snow princess.”
“That’s what we call her. Shows up once a year. First major snowfall. Comes early.” He nodded across the floor. “Dances to the jukebox until the Rick gets here. Sips bourbon Manhattans all night, has the prime rib, rare, baked potato with sour cream and chives, sautéed mushrooms, coffee with light cream, no sugar, after dinner, a Manhattan for dessert. She’ll close the place.”
Defiant of Sir Isaac Newton’s discoveries, raw sienna hair with veins of burnt auburn waved around her head with a life of its own. In rare moments when her three-inch heeled black leather sandals came flat to the floor in rest, her hair draped around her shoulders, halfway down her back. Her flared cotton heavy-cream skirt mirrored the dance of her hair in a perfect choreography, her long, slim arms moving in counterbalance as she slipped from ballet to tango to samba to waltz, lost in a parallel existence.
Her white, ribbed tank top, as white as the snow falling outside, at particular angles and when the light was just right, allowed glimpses of the lace bra beneath, her breasts apparent, not overly abundant, the tank top dropping effortlessly into the skirt’s band at her slim waist.
Her face was China doll flawless, the texture and tone of raw butter-cookie dough, soft, malleable. Her lips, rosé wine pink, glistening, maintained a I-know-the-secrets-of-the-universe slight smile. Eyes, brown-green, like evergreen in deep shadow, large, like a child’s. Eyes, knowing, of indeterminable age, primal. Eyes that could see for a thousand years.
“I’m not a pillar of salt, am I?” Maynard finally asked.
“The trick is not to look directly at her.” Jerry chuckled again. “Many a good and strong man has gone to dust over this one.”
Maynard squinted. “She looks like she’s fourteen.”
“Yeah. Did you card her?”
Jerry slid the Manhattan on the bar. “Go ahead. Take it over. She’s about due for her next one.”
Any of the five waitresses on duty could have done the service. On a usual Wednesday, at four in the afternoon, Jerry went light on staff. With the forecast of an approaching storm, Jerry asked who might want extra hours.
Jerry and Maynard shared an appreciation of women, Jerry granting Maynard the opportunity for a closer look at the snow princess.
Skirting the dance floor to not draw attention, at the woman’s booth along the far wall, he collected the napkin and spent drink, replaced with new, then straightened, thinking to turn back, not looking, that his stare could be misunderstood.
The music stopped, the song ending.
“Hi. You’re new.” The voice, deep, rich and moist like double chocolate cake, surprising. He expected a high alto, like an eight-year-old.
“Eh, uh, yeah.” He turned toward the voice. “You were done with this?” Offering a nod, he presented the mostly half-melted ice-filled glass.
“Yes, I was.” She retrieved the new drink, returning to stand under him, inappropriately close, working the swizzle stick in the glass just under her chin, her blue sapphire ring catching candlelight from the table. Even in her heels, she had to look up to meet his eyes. “Thanks.”
The smell of Ivory soap on a spring morning filled his head. Maynard wished he had sea blue eyes and crisp blond hair, a square chin under a strong mouth and biceps fighting to break from his shirt like a butterfly from its cocoon. I’m not a mutt, just average, mediocre. Her eyes cut through him like a tornado through a trailer park. Words would not form.
She giggled, somewhere six angels fell to their knees crying. “Like it?” The rim of the glass touched her lips as she drew off the golden fluid.
“Huh? What?” he managed to articulate with great effort.
She curled the I-know-the-secrets-of-the-universe slight smile. “Working here. Do you like working here?”
“It’s okay,” he said, then words flooded from his mouth like water from a broken main. “I’m going to college!”
Irritation pulled at the corners of her eyes, her heavy cream shoulders rising in a little shrug that could move mountains and stop traffic. “Come around later. Dance with me.”
“Eh, huh? I’m working.” With all his will, he squelched his shock and excitement.
She sipped ever-so-slowly. “Jerry won’t mind one dance.”
“Later. Much later.”
“Good crowd tonight,” Maynard said again, hands in his pockets under the canopy watching out over the parking lot and the highway beyond.
“Great crowd tonight,” Jerry answered, lighting a cigarette.
Maynard sighed, lost in the wind, carried by the snow. “Couple of inches.”
“Heard the worst is going to come in after midnight. They say we could have as much as a foot by morning.”
“I liked snow a lot better when I was a kid.”
“I love it. Good for business, but not so good for my back.”
“I thought I was special.”
“I’m not your mother, Nard. If you need someone to tell you that you’re special, give her a call.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He glanced over his shoulder. “She’ll dance with anyone.”
“Oh, the snow princess? Sure, she’ll dance with anyone and everyone. That’s what she does.” Jerry squinted into a gust of wind. “Every year I’m amazed how malleable she is, able to dance any dance. I bet she teaches it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Rick plays to her, not his usual music.”
“Her jive was amazing.”
“Technically a jitterbug, but yeah. That old guy looks for her, you know.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“When she asked me, I thought I was special, or something.”
“Asked you what?”
“You mean you asked her.”
Maynard cocked an ear to the storm. “No. I mean she asked me.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“Well, she did.”
Jerry blew a whistle into the wind. “I’ve never known her to ask anyone.”
“Just how well do you know her?”
“Not at all.”
“We should be getting back.”
“The girls have it covered.” Jerry eyed his lit cigarette.
“I’m not a mutt –”
“Again, your mother, Nard.”
“I mean: I don’t have any trouble with women.”
“You mean you can swoop in on lonely women at 2AM, say something nice and get a little?”
“Well, I –”
“Some people might think you a man’s man. Others, well, a predator.”
Jerry shrugged against the storm. “In the six months you’ve been working here, how many flat tires did you find at 2AM? How many women yelled at you across the bar?”
“People make assumptions. It’s not like I make promises.”
“I see you as a stick man, a man’s man. An alpha male. But, Nard, if you ever did that to my sister, a hump and dump, I’d kick the crap out of you.”
If anyone did it to my sister, I’d kick the crap out of him. “Good crowd tonight.”
“Great crowd tonight.”
Jerry, setting a draft on the bar, nodded across the room to Rick, Rick behind his gear.
Rick instinctively checked his watch, turned to the microphone and said: “Thanks for coming out tonight. Everyone take special care on the drive home, come back and see us soon. I’m available for parties, love doing wedding. If you don’t get the hint, this is last call.”
Coats wrapped up many, stupor-tired. Drinks were ordered. Slow, bluesy brass filled the room.
“Go,” Jerry said with a nod.
“Where?” Maynard asked.
Jerry repeated the nod.
A lone figured stood motionless in the center of the dance floor, dark eyes fixed on Maynard.
He gulped, whispering: “After what you said, I thought she was kidding.”
“I hope you can dance standing up.” Jerry chuckled.
“Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” He dried his hands.
“Maybe a dance is just a dance.”
Her eyes tethered his, Maynard came around the bar, plunging into the gulf between them. He shook like a schoolgirl called to read her diary in front of her class. It’s just a girl, he reminded himself. With a Herculean effort, air entered his lungs, his feet defying the flight response.
As he approached, her left hand rose, her right hand flowing out, opening to accept him.
He entered her hold, her right hand to his shoulder, her left hand meeting his right. She forced him into motion.
The touch of her hand completed him, his soul on fire. He drank her, his eyes dancing around her face: her eyes looking through him, her lips, sweet, pink, smirking the I-know-the-secrets-of-the-universe smirk. Ivory soap, cinnamon and soft, decaying leaves filled his head.
– as he looked down on her.
The roll of the cosmic dice, a happenstance of the gene pool placed him over her.
“I like horns.”
“Do you, now?” she asked.
“John Coltrane, Stardust. Saxophone.” Her tone, dismissive, superior, defying the obvious hierarchy.
“Not like I’m a music expert –”
With a little shrug and cock of her head, she cut him off, dismissing him again.
He took a breath. “You’re beautiful.”
The smirk drained his confidence like lancing a boil. “How many woman have you danced with on this floor that you have not said that to?”
None. “I mean, well, you’re breath-taking.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with loving women.”
“I do. Yes. Love women. That’s a great way to put it.”
“Yes. I’ve been sick in love with women since I was a little kid.”
“Love comes in many clines and colors, the term overused and over applied, often having no meaning beyond the understanding of the person using the term.”
His eyebrows scrunched down like a threatened caterpillar. “I can tell you exactly what love is!”
Again, the smirk. “Don’t tell me. Show me. Tell me exactly how you expressed your love with the last woman you loved.”
He gulped. Hump and dump. The phrase that filled him with pride coming from Jerry, filled him with guilt at the mere thought of uttering the words to the snow princess.
The music ended. He could feel her slipping from his grasp.
“The past doesn’t matter,” he pleaded. “You, a woman like you, your love, could make me a better man.”
Her fingers released his, her hands cradling his face. Rising, her lips met his for an instant, like a mother kissing her child, sending him off to school.
“Maynard, become the man you would want to love, if you were a woman. Then, maybe a woman like me can love a man like you.”
“But, I –”
“Princess,” Jerry called from across the room. “Your cab’s here.”
Maynard grabbed her arm.
Her eyes dropped to the hand. He released her.
“Maybe I’ll see you again.” She retrieved her coat and bag from the booth.
Turning once more to Maynard, she said: “Upon the first snow, of course.”
He thought to grab her arm again, her moving past him, the exit forty feet away threatening to consume her. His throat and soul wanted to scream wait. He wanted to race after her, to touch her again, to hold her next to the taxi, looking in her eyes, snow dancing in the air.
He had nothing. He couldn’t suffer rejection again.
Even as the swinging door closed on the vision, Maynard clocked the room to see who remained.