A Dance by the Lake
by Ed Kyatt
Clayton sat on a bench clasping his cane. He breathed deep and watched the falling leaves morosely, then glanced down at his wristwatch. The hands were stuck at about 7:50, twitching in place. He cursed and tapped the watch.
A young woman, with a jacket over her patterned scrubs, approached the bench and sat beside him. She yelled jokingly. “A little too windy,” she said.
Clayton continued to tap his watch. “When did we change the battery on this thing? Two days ago?”
“Yeah, about two days ago,” said Katie.
Clayton shook his head and cursed again.
“Don’t be mad, Georgie. It happens. Maybe it’s the watch.”
“It’s not the watch,” said Clayton defensively. “I’ve had this thing for years and it never once acted up like this. And I can’t go on with a twitchy watch, it’ll drive me insane.”
After several minutes of Clayton’s complaining, Katie took him by the arm and led him at an easy pace down the path. Trees arched into a canopy of red, yellow and brown, all of which was dancing to the whim of the wind. The surrounding grass could barely be discerned underneath the leaves.
Eventually, the path curved into an open field with a lake ahead. Ducks and geese occupied the water.
“She loved to dance here,” said Clayton.
“My wife, Karen,” he said. “Soon after the war, we danced here. And I proposed to her.”
“You never told me,” said Katie.
“We all danced back then. Let me show you.” He wiggled in Katie’s arms. “Will you let go of me?”
“I believe you,” said Katie. “You really don’t have to show me.”
“Don’t be a sissy,” said Clayton. “Let’s go.” He clasped her hand and wiggled again.
“What about your watch?”
“We’ll go right after.” He swayed and sang loudly.
Katie chuckled. “Okay,” she said. “But, please, take it easy. I don’t want you hurting yourself.” She faced him, cautiously placed an arm around the small of his back and held his hand.
They shuffled slowly, and Clayton hummed a soft tune. The lake reflected the soft afternoon light, filtering delicately through the grey clouds overhead. When Clayton looked up, a youthful strength returned to him. Both time and the landscape had changed.
Flowers bloomed in many places around the lake, dotting the scenery with red, white and pink. The pedestrians, now in post-World War II attire, returned with vigor. A poster endorsing Harry Truman for the presidency hung on a nearby signpost.
Karen laughed. “I’m glad all the fighting in the Navy didn’t spoil your manners.”
A much younger Clayton released her and dropped to one knee, fishing out a tiny box from his pocket.
“What are you doing?” said Karen, giggling.
“Karen,” he said and swallowed. He opened the box, revealing a ring. “I promise I’ll get you something nicer when I can. But for now, I’m afraid this’ll have to do. And this,” he faltered. “Give me a minute.”
He produced a folded piece of paper from another pocket. “Hold this for a minute, please.” He handed her the ring in its box, unfolded the yellow sheet of paper and cleared his throat. “I love you, Karen,” he said, his eyes squinting at the paper. “I can’t even read my own handwriting. I love you so much it makes my head spin. All the fighting in the ocean was like a cold, harsh winter. But knowing I’d someday come back to you was like the anticipation of spring. You’re my springtime, darling. Will you marry me?”
He folded the paper and placed it back in his pocket. Reaching forward, he grabbed the ring back and held it out for her to see, grinning sheepishly. “This is how they do it in the pictures, right? I don’t know. I’m just a sailor.”
Karen stood flabbergasted, staring at Clayton with a furrowed brow, then crossed her arms and shook her head. “You are the silliest romantic I’ve ever met, Georgie.”
She nodded awkwardly and flashed a bright smile. “Yes, Georgie, I’ll marry you.”
Clayton ecstatically clasped her by the waist and twirled her in the air. He then ran his fingers tenderly over her cheek. “I love you, Karen.”
“I love you, too, Georgie,” she said. A loose, white rose petal danced in the air and landed on her head. It quickly got caught in her hair.
“You got something there,” said Clayton, plucking the petal off of her head.
They kissed by the shimmering lake underneath the blue sky.
Clayton’s fingers shriveled and he pulled his face away from Karen. Tears ran down from his eyes. The red, orange and brown of fall, and the overcast day, were back.
“Are you okay?” said Katie, cupping his face with her hands. “Why are you crying, Georgie?”
Clayton pursed his lips and he struggled for breath. “Take me home,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” said Katie, alarmed.
He stooped in her arms and sobbed. His shoulders heaved.
“Let’s go sit down, honey,” she said urgently, and led him to a bench nearby. “What happened?” she said.
“I miss her so much,” he said. “I’ve been alone ever since she passed.” He stammered.
Katie threw an arm around him and drew him closer. “You’re not alone, Georgie. You know I’m here for you.”
“You have your life to live,” he said.
“Look at me,” she said, turning his head slightly toward hers. “Any time you need me, I’ll be here.”
A soft breeze blew as Clayton wiped his tears. A lone white petal flitted in the air and was caught in Katie’s beanie. He gazed at it, plucked it off and held it in his hands.
“Where did that come from?” said Katie, running her hand over her beanie.
At length, he smiled. “Thank you, Katie,” he said.
Katie smiled back. “Anyway, let’s go get that battery changed,” she said.
He flicked his wrist to look at his watch. The hands were moving again.
Copyright © 2017 by Ed Kyatt