Someone must have taught you well
to beguile and to entrance,
for that night you cast your spell
and you taught me how to dance
Artie’s frizzy hair and over sized eyes scared me from the day he began following me, wanting to be my friend.
Some years afterwards, I learned the skinny kid in leather shorts befriended me because I was good in English.
His father was a suave gangster from a film noir and his wraith of a mother seemed perpetually shuttling between buses on her way to market.
But I befriended Artie for one thing—to be close to Eva, his enchanting sister.She had blonde hair and a dark smile that froze and melted the dreams inside me.
I burned candles in the darkness of Saint James Church, begging Christ on the altar to pity me and let me have her.
I was conflicted, adults would say—passionate, dark and brooding, yet, between sleep and waking, my heart cried out in longing, wanting to possess her.
I was shy—intimidated by adults I presumed gods and terrified of girls I knew were angels.
Being sensitive made me awkward and I envied boys with skin so thick they never blushed.
That summer between grades seven and eight I spent daily at Artie’s house.
Sometimes, I’d pedal my bike to a nearby store to buy soft drinks for the three of us. Eva drank Orange Crush, and I confess, I’d uncap her bottle and steal a sip hoping her lips would shiver at the cold dark kiss.
She’d give a knowing smile as if she knew—and I hoped she did, but was terrified as well. She wore navy shorts and a white blouse, her long legs tanned and bronzed from being outdoors.
When I came into the cool house from the heat outside, she was a ray of moonlight and my heart ached, gazing at her beauty.
I can’t recall we ever said much—not that I could converse with her, if ever the occasion presented itself.
The other boys at school went out on dates. Even Ricky Rutledge, the dentist’s son. He pulled me aside one day in the hall and with gleaming smile asked, “How are the bras in your class?”
I was definitely arrested, unable to reply, and he smirked the knowing smile of a confirmed roué, already worldly—and only twelve.
That was a horrible year, and more terrible the longer it went on.
I had chosen Hilda Salah’s name for Secret Santa—Hilda, the well endowed, and all the boys were jealous.
“I’d buy her a negligee,” said Billie Preston, and the rest agreed, nodding in unison.
Not knowing what to buy, I asked my mother, who suggested Black Magic Chocolates.
When the gifts were opened, the boys howled, Hilda blushed, and my fate was sealed. I was confined to the ranks of the incompetent.
I went home in the winter twilight, desolate and in despair.
Artie witnessed my humiliation, and while not exactly dating himself, he attended a club at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church.
The club’s purpose was to inculcate culture, but Artie saw it as an opportunity to dance with girls.
“C’mon, John—you’ll love it. I meet girls all the time, and sometimes go over to their houses.”
My eyes widened. This side of Artie I hadn’t seen.
I was afraid to send girls Valentines, but Artie went and visited them at their houses. I was definitely delayed in my development.
As I look back now, I can’t believe I agreed to go, but I did.
That Saturday evening, Artie’s father, dressed in a dark blue suit, drove the three of us to downtown Toronto where we ended up in a church hall with fifty other young people of similar age and background—except for me.
The proceedings began with a prayer in Hungarian, followed by what seemed to be a sermon in the same. The priest was very nice and smiled a lot—everyone was nice and smiled encouragingly at me—and that only made me feel even more awkward and out of place.
Then, the lights in the hall dimmed, and music played. The boys lined up against one wall, the girls at the opposite side.
I had seen a Civil War film and the scene was reminiscent in many ways, except for rifles and bayonets.
Ironically, the priest broke the ice, taking one boy over to a dark-haired girl on the opposing side, making introductions, and insisting they dance.
One by one, the impasse was solved—I was paired with a brown-haired girl who was very plain, but somehow sexy as well. She moved like a statue and I followed her around the floor. I could barely breathe, never being this close to an angel before.
We danced several wooden dances this way, until the music suddenly stopped. Artie came over and hissed in my ear, “Oh good! Musical chairs.”
As soon as he uttered the words, a circle of wooden chairs appeared in the middle of the floor and we all moved about them until the music stopped, and we scrambled to sit down.
At last, something I could do!
The game went on and on, until finally, only my dance partner and I remained.
“Well, it looks like the boys have won,” I heard the priest whisper.
The music began again, amid much laughter and shouting. I timed my movements to hers, and when the music stopped, I let her sit down.
A groan went up from the boys. Artie came over and glared, “Why did you do that?”
“I wanted her to win,” I said, as if that explained it all.
The chairs were cleared from the dance floor and a waltz began. I looked for my partner, but felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned and looked into Eva’s lovely face.
She was smiling that inscrutable smile. “Do you want to dance?”
I nodded, unable to speak. She took my hand in hers and led me out to the floor.
I turned to stone—my heart beating so loudly I was certain all could hear.
A look of compassion crossed her face—lovely as a cloud softly veiling the Moon.
Forget about your feet—gaze into my eyes and go where the music takes you.
I had never heard a voice, so soft and so caring. My heart melted and I wanted to weep, but something inside me stirred. I wanted to dance… with her.
We began and soon we were dancing on clouds, stars beneath us, and Moon above.
Her hand, a willow moving upon my own rough hand, her eyes silent midnight rain falling in the woods.
We went places I’ve never been—my right hand grasped hers, my left held her waist. She leaned in and I inhaled perfumed hair. Her soft cheek brushed my mine.
I was deaf to the music, entranced by her eyes.
As we drove home that night, she sat in the back seat between Artie and me. In the darkness, her hand found mine.
This time a sob began inside me—my throat tightened and my eyes burned.
I can still see the blurry halo of streetlights—hear the muffled noises of passing cars out in the cold.
As we pulled into her driveway, she leaned over and whispered, “I had a good time.”
And for only a second, her lips brushed mine.
She went away to private school for next semester, being a year ahead, in grade nine.
After that, it was Europe and Parisian culture—and then, staying with relatives on the Rhine.
By the time we finished high school, she was a debutante and married the Baron Drogas from the Romanian line.
We never met again, but Artie and I stayed friends, until one night, in a drunken tirade, he accused me of lusting after his sister. We scuffled, and some friends broke up the fight.
He tried to throw me out a third floor window, and I wish he had, because then, Artie was gone, and with him, another page of my life.
But sometimes at night, when I drift off to sleep, I picture her face, and feel her close.
We are dancing again with stars beneath us. She leans in and whispers. Her lips softly brush mine.
And I’m deaf, deaf to the music, but dancing with her and stars that shine.
© 2016, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.