Bill Vernon

Patricia Somebody
On a blah day, practicing for this evening’s teaching, a minute into a song, I make a full turn in three steps, look out the garage doorway, and there’s Patricia Something, a girl who lives the next block over, standing just a few feet away, staring blank-faced in at me.

Is there a problem? What could she want?

I’ve seen her around the neighborhood for years, an awkward-looking kid who’s taller than I remember, a teenager now, still oddly dressed, not quite as fashionable as her peers. With hands on her hips, she’s watching me. Weird! We’ve never interacted anymore than a wave.

Which I do now and smile. “Hi!”

She waves back. No smile, though, no words, her lips don’t move.

But of course not. She doesn’t answer because she can’t hear. Remembering that, I feel silly dancing a two-step across the smooth concrete floor. The ceiling light glares down on me, dancing to music that blares from farther inside. I stop moving and, happily, the song ends too.

I try to think of what to say, then, “I’m dancing.” I say it loudly as if that might allow her to hear. I say it stupidly, and the word bounces off the close garage walls. I shake my head and shrug. I feel helpless.

But Patricia suddenly nods and grins. She steps closer, raises her hands, and kind of brushes her ears with her fingertips.

I point behind me at the speaker, and she nods, reaching out toward them and pulling her hands back to her chest several times.

I mouth, “Turn it on? More music?” No actual sound from me, but she nods.

So I trigger the remote in my pocket, and the next song blasts out. The girl grins and points at my feet, presumably urging me to dance. So, I do the steps but with no pep just to show her. I’m kind of embarrassed for some reason and stop.

The girl, though, shakes her head and points at the speaker from which the music’s still playing. She faces the way I’m facing and copies the grapevine I did, and she does it pretty well. True, it’s not a hard move, but I doubt the dancers I’ll be teaching this evening will learn it as quickly as Patricia did.

I reach for her hand, she takes mine, we do the grapevine again, and she copies it perfectly. We do the cha-cha step and the turn, the two times into the center of the assumed circle and back out, then start the whole dance again. She makes a few mistakes, but I’m amazed. Okay, it’s a simple dance with three little parts, but after one time through she pretty well has it. She copies my steps as fast as I make them. We dance hand in hand, an open circle of just two human beings, and though I can’t explain anything to her, although I don’t think she realizes that there’s a circle involved, by the end after five repetitions, she’s dancing almost flawlessly. All this without a word of instruction.

At song’s end, I laugh and face her. She laughs and smiles at me. I raise my hands and we high-five. What is she hearing? No, that’s the wrong question. What is she sensing? She can’t hear a thing from what I remember a neighbor saying about her.

She makes some strange sounds that clearly express pleasure, so I laugh again. Her feelings are contagious. She points behind me, at the speaker I think, and again makes that beseeching motion with her hands, so I trigger the same song again, and we dance. Soon I notice the overhead light reflecting off the oil stains on the floor like a rainbow.

We do the three dances I’m scheduled to teach. We do them competently, and she motions to play more so we go through all the dances again. She ends up doing the dances better than I expect my dancers will do them this evening, and they will get oral directions. Even more amazing, even more important, there is a joy in Patricia, the exact joie de danser I used to have. I remember once saying that a day without dancing was wasted. That’s how she seems to think.

I follow her outside onto the driveway and watch her skip away over a block up the street to her house, her pigtail flopping up and down. Just a kid! But damn! The day I’d been hiding from in the garage is no longer dismal. The overcast skies are brighter. The breeze touching my arms is soft and caressing. I decide to visit her home and ask if she’d like to try our dance group sometime. She might like it, her parents would have to approve, but I’m sure our folk dancers would learn a lot from having her among us.

First, I have more preparing to do for this evening’s teaching. Back inside with the music, I run through today’s dances imitating her, feeling vibrations in the air, sensing patterns, matching my movements to an impulse that seems to rise from the pumping of my heart and a thrumming inside my ears. The music and the moving air are like warm water rushing over my skin as if I’m floating on top of a wave.

***

Bill Vernon studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town, and his poems, stories, and nonfiction have appeared in many magazines and anthologies.

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