Our Last Dance
Some months ago I was granted the extraordinary privilege of participating in an unfolding love story. Martha was more acquaintance than friend. Seventy five years young and an inconspicuous neighbor from down the street. Passing her house on an early morning, I offered a respectful smile and a soft hello without any pause in step. She called after me and I discovered upon my return she simply needed help retrieving a kitten which had lodged itself, forever, absent our intervention, behind a substantial chest of drawers.
Having spared the kitten such an end, Martha and I began the cordial exchange of pleasantries. As we sipped from smiles and coffee, I noticed an old, portable, tape deck and a carefully folded, however, much handled, letter sitting next to the recorder.
“I haven’t seen one of those in years, does it still work? I asked”
She met the question with half a smile and words so soft, I strained to hear her. Her answer haunts me still today and so I've returned after begging from Martha, the honor of retelling this story, to tell of the letter and the recorder.
Martha and George met in 1954 and their friendship quickly moved from high school sweethearts to a glorious fifty two years of marriage. George died in 2006 after some years of an incurable illness. I should allow the letter to tell this part of the story and I should also note, I could not read much of what was written from the scribbled hand or from the ink washed and blotted by tears upon the many line. No matter, Martha closed her eyes and read the letter as though repeating a whisper only she could hear. She did so through an apparition that resided in her smile and she did so without pause or lapse of any kind. I have rewritten the letter in my words as true and as best as I can remember.
Before the sharing of this letter. let me tell you how it came to be. Martha rose in the morning and quickly sought her George who had not ever come to bed. She found him peacefully sitting in the old chair, the folded letter clutched in old fingers, a contented smile frozen by love and a recorder in his lap. The tape had run its course and Martha had to rewind to hear the music. Every night since then, Martha recites the letter as she goes to bed, as though it were an old familiar prayer. The recorder plays and I suspect, she and George dance somewhere that is reserved for love that refuses any end.
"Good morning my love. Forgive my remaining in the old chair. I've no doubt that I will not move from here this night and I should like to spend what I’m allowed, remembering. I am listening to a song and remembering our last dance at a prom so many years ago. I don’t remember any other song and it seems so utterly appropriate this night that I have want of it one last time. I have it for you here. As I sit here tonight Martha, I know that today was our last dance together and though this note holds my final words, they are not written from the sadness of going. No Martha; They are written in the gladness of having spent my life with you.You Martha, have always been home to me and there is no greater place at the end of day than home. Thank you and good night my love.
As I write of Martha and George's love I find tears of my own. I can not tell if they are born of sadness or of gladness, but, it doesn't matter, I am glad that the story sought from me, something more than words. I think love should do such things.
The old tape deck had seen many days and the tape skipped, although I'm sure Martha would sing along to prevent the loss of a single word. Martha shared that the original rendition of the song was sung by someone other than Bobby Vinton, but, that is what George left her and nothing else will ever do.
The old tape recorder has been replaced. Last week someone left a new cd player with Bobby's "Good Night My Love" included on Martha's porch. The accompanying note said simply, "May I have another dance. George."
I thought it appropriate to insert an overdue update on George and Martha. About six months ago upon my usual morning departure I found the CD player at my door. The scribbled note taped to the cover revealed the passing of Martha with instructions to return the CD player to the kind gentleman in the yellow house. The note informed me that Martha was found early in the morning sitting in an old chair with the recorder laying in her lap. There was no CD inside nor any further information. I like to think that there are stories where the endings belong only to the heart which gave them birth. That there are songs and dances which belong only to the heart which gives them birth.