by Heidi Tassone
“C’mon, Oscar, it’ll be fun.” Stan picked up his black checker piece and jumped Oscar’s king. Grabbing the red tokens and placing them in the pile next to the others, he smiled at his best friend. “You never get out.”
“Whatta you mean? I’m out right now.” Oscar stared at the board, contemplating his next move. He pushed his token across to the corner slot. “We’re in the park, ain’t we?” He raised his head and squinted.
“Yeah, but this ain’t socializing.”
“I’m socializing with you.”
Stan shook his head, studied the black and red squares, and with his arthritic hand moved his token forward. “King me.”
“Ah, jeez.” Oscar placed a black coin on top of Stan’s. “I don’t know why I play with you, you cheat.”
“I don’t cheat, you just stink at checkers.”
“Next time I’ll bring the dominoes.”
“I’ll whip your butt at that too, but if it makes you happy.” Stan removed his glasses, pulled out a hanky and wiped the lenses. “So, why won’t you go to the dance at the Italian Club? I’m thinking a lot of old fogies can’t dance, if that’s why.”
“I can dance.”
“So?” Stan placed his glasses back on his nose.
Oscar reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigar. He placed it in between his thin lips and bit off the tip. Spitting it to the ground, he pulled out a lighter and lit it.
“You know, that’s gonna kill ya.”
Oscar laughed. “Stanley, old man, I’m seventy-eight-years old. Everything is gonna kill me sooner than later.” He took a puff of his stogie and blew out the smoke. “I might as well enjoy what’s left of my life.”
“Exactly my point. Come with me. It’s a Sadie Hawkins’ shindig. You won’t even have to ask anyone to dance. The ladies will come to you.” Stan waved his hand in front of his face, trying to push away the smoke.
“Okay, I’ll go. But I won’t dance.”
“Well, at least that’s a start.”
Oscar stared at the large hall decorated with bright streamers and even brighter tablecloths. At the far end, a band was setting up equipment on the platform stage. Tables with refreshments lined the outer edge of the large space. It reminded him of his first school dance at Lincoln High where he’d met his Gracie. How he missed her.
He glanced across the room at a group of ladies who chatted amongst themselves. No one ever came close to his Gracie. Why was he even here?
A hand grabbed his shoulder. “You alright, old man?” Stan asked.
“I think I’d like to go home.”
“Oh, c’mon, we just got here. Look over there. Isn’t that Alice Moore?” Stan pointed to the group of women. “I always wanted to get me some Moore.” He elbowed Oscar and laughed. “Alright, you just stand here and sulk, or whatever. Maybe get something to eat, but I’m going to get one of those lovelies to ask me to dance.” Stan turned and walked toward the group.
Oscar went over to the makeshift bar in the corner and purchased a Budweiser.
“Check, check, testing, one-two-three,” a voice boomed through the microphone followed by a shrill squeak. The announcer tapped it and the noise subsided.
Oscar turned his attention to the stage and sipped his beer.
“I’m Linda Parson. This may sound cliché, but I haven’t seen you around here before.”
Oscar looked at the petite woman at his side, her soft brown eyes staring up at him. “I don’t usually go to dances.”
“Me neither, but my sister talked me into it.” She played with one of her grey curls, wrapping it around her finger.
The band started.
“Would you like to dance?” Linda asked.
“What?” Oscar leaned closer.
“Would you like to dance?” she shouted over the music.
He shrugged and let her lead him onto the dance floor. As he placed one hand on her hip and held her delicate hand in the other, he felt a sharp pain in his chest. The music faded into the background, but the volume increased again. The words to Once in a Lifetime echoed in his ears. He looked down at the woman in his arms and saw his Gracie staring back at him, her smile radiant.
“I’m here, Oscar.”
“It’s time for our last dance,” Gracie whispered.
Oscar smiled at his beautiful bride, held her tight and swept her around the dance floor of the Lincoln High School gym.