Chapter 3: Hey-Sailor
The next Saturday evening I kept a sharp eye out for when Hey-Sailor would be accessible. He danced a couple of times with Lucinda, but I noticed he also danced with a lot of other women, though none as well as Lucinda. Still, he smiled and laughed and all the women seemed to be having a lot of fun with him. In fact, I noticed women often grabbed his hand and led him out to the floor. Only once did he turn someone down; he did it so vehemently I could smell the bad blood. She, after this most public humiliation, stomped off and sat in a corner and stared at him, nursing her drink. She scowled plenty as he then went out with other women. Though he never looked at her, I could tell he knew where she was because when the dance took them near the woman’s seat, his back was always rigidly toward her.
Seeing an opening, I made my way around the floor and watched until I got within speaking distance of Hey-Sailor.
“You sure can dance,” I said to him as my opening gambit.
“Oh. Thank you. Do you swing dance, too?”
“No, no,” I said, shaking my head. “But I enjoy watching.”
He nodded his head like he understood. “Lots of people like watching. Say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you out here before. What’s your name?”
“Gordon. And your name is…?”
“S—. Where you sitting? Want to come sit with me? I’ll introduce you around.”
That’s how I found myself sitting at Hey-Sailor’s table and meeting a lot of people. Hey-Sailor told me later that, while he knows a lot of men, he has a hard time remembering their names, but he never forgets a woman’s name, no sirree. Hey-Sailor had the sort of job that if he told you what he did, he’d have to kill you, hahaha said to soften the blow of an obvious truth. So he blew off steam by swing dancing in every city he happened to be in. Traveling regularly to certain cities, he got to know people in each town across the nation, and in quite a few unnamed countries.
As the evening wore on and he danced with various women, I asked about each. He pointed and told me a little about them.
This one was widowed and had raised her three children alone. Fine Christian woman, he said. That one was divorced three times. He made the sign of the cross with his index fingers and held it up as if to ward off evil; we laughed. The other one was married, but her husband was in a wheelchair — he pointed a finger their way — so Hey-Sailor was allowed to dance with her since he’s considered safe.
What do you mean by considered safe? I asked. Oh, he explained, he had never married and would never be married and he was a good Christian man now living on the straight and narrow and didn’t drink anymore; men knew their wives were safe with him.
I winked at him and made some comment about how if they only knew, right? Hey-Sailor was deeply offended. I apologized and he accepted the apology, formally almost, but then he got back to telling me about the people he knew. Of course, the one I mostly wanted to know about was Lucinda, and I was about to ask him about her when he said, pointing her way, “You see that woman over there? The one sitting at the corner of the bar talking to the young couple?”
I nodded that I did indeed see her. He shook his head and said, “Sad.”
“Why sad?” I asked him, prodding for more details. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Wrong? Nothing, really…it’s just…she will never ever find a man who can keep up with her…or appreciate her.”
Of course, I knew this already, but wanted to hear more. “And…”
“Let me tell you about Lucinda, that’s her name — Lucinda. Lucinda I could dance with all night long. She’s a lot of fun. She isn’t scared to try new moves and sometimes she throws something at me to keep me sharp, too. I taught her the basic moves of the Swing Dance and…”
Hey-Sailor spent the next twenty minutes telling me all about how he taught her to swing dance and how he’s watched men hit on her for over two years and how she has never gone home with any of them and how she sometimes tells him how disgusted she is with certain idiots who show up on a regular basis and that she will or has cut them off.
He said once she cuts a man off, all the other women cut him off, too. They assume if Lucinda won’t dance with them, then something must be horribly wrong with the guys. Then, after the creeps slink around awhile trying to “get a date” or “hook up” and they get nowhere, they usually stop showing up.
“I guess they go to greener pastures,” I surmised.
“Whatever,” he said dismissively. “At least they’re gone. Anyway, and here’s the thing that’s sad: Lucinda has so much going on in that brain of hers and she is so engaged in life, she’s overpowering. I’ve seen them running scared after one dance with her.”
“What do you think that one dance does to them?”
Hey-Sailor sat back and thought carefully. He finally turned his head, looked hard at me through his glasses. “Does to them? Why, it totally points out to them what her expectations of a man are. Most men are lazy and don’t want to put effort into any relationship. Me? It’s a good thing I know I don’t want to marry. Because otherwise I’d be feeling the weight of expectations missed. I’m a guy who likes to set goals and meet them and even surpass them, but I don’t think I could ever meet her expectations.”
“Is she that strident about you missing them?”
“Hell, no…pardon my French. I’ll have to ask forgiveness for that one. Heck, no. Sweet as can be. Always smiling and happy to see me. Dance any time I ask. And that’s the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lucinda treats people the way she expects them to treat her. Sincerely. Helpfully. Almost selflessly. Most people aren’t that good. In fact, one time I said as much to her and she got mad. She said she’s tired of being viewed as a saint and would I not mention it again, please? Of course, I didn’t.”
“Saint Lucinda. Huh. I’ll have to give it some thought.”
Hey-Sailor shook a finger at me while he warned, “I’m telling you now…don’t you ever tell her I told you.”
I crossed my fingers under the table and promised I wouldn’t.
He continued, “And, then of course, there are the real creeps.”
“What do you mean?”
“The ones that think they can own her.”
“Yeah. Own her.” A woman came up and grabbed Hey-Sailor’s hand and off he went. Last call came around, Lucinda sent a text with a nine o’clock reminder and a see you later, and I shook Hey-Sailor’s hand as he passed me again with another woman.
Chapter 4: The Road to Hell
“I saw you talking to Hey-Sailor last night,” Lucinda said after her first sip of coffee.
I nodded my head and chuckled. “Yeah. Interesting fella.”
“What did you find out?”
“About him? Oh, he’s got some secret government job, he’s Saved, and doesn’t drink anymore. Has his seagoing captain’s license. Dances with all the women because he’s safe.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“He thinks you are a sad case.” I winked. “His words.”
Lucinda laughed and almost choked on her coffee. “Sad? How?”
“He said he’s been dancing with you almost two years and he’s watched every sort of character there is dance with you…or watch you…or try to own you.”
Lucinda smiled. “True. He’s seen it all.”
But why, Lucinda wanted to know, did Hey-Sailor think she was a sad case. I explained he saw her as more of a woman than most men could handle, and was certain she’d never find a man. Further, he thought she really needed a good man, but she’d be alone the rest of her life. Poor girl.
Lucinda looked up at the ceiling in that way she has when she’s thinking, and then said she had to agree with him. That haunted her, too. Though, she quickly pointed out, she wasn’t looking for a man now because when she thought of a man in her space on even a one-day basis, she had a panic attack. On the other hand, she so wanted a man and knew she was one of those women that felt complete when she had one.
She made a small laugh and shrugged her shoulders as if to say what am I gonna do? To hold close such opposing sentiments was not politically correct, she said, but they were an open secret among womankind. It was why, she explained, when she danced with these men she’d never see again, the dance was so pure, the communication so clear, the moment so free of strategizing because they both knew they had no reason to pretend. She sighed. It was those dances that kept her going in between bouts of hopelessness.
I was surprised she used the word hopelessness, and said so. Of all the people I knew, I’d never have suspected that. She laughed and said a friend of hers told her she was a drama queen, only a quietly internal drama queen.
“And I am a drama queen, I guess. Did Hey-Sailor tell you anything else about me?”
Here I hesitated a second too long and she raised her eyebrows. “Spill.”
“He said he named you Saint Lucinda. I wasn’t to tell you he told me.”
“Ha. Yeah, he did. I’m not a saint, you know. And I don’t want to be one, either.”
Here Lucinda set her cup down hard; all animation left her face. When she looked up I saw the second expression of hers that haunts me to this day. Sad eyes, bright with tears threatening to fall, lips trembling as she pressed them tightly together to stop the tears, her face suddenly pale.
And when she spoke, her voice broke as she said simply, “I just want to dance.”
I wanted to comfort her with all the skills my manhood had acquired. I settled for patting her hand, and ordered another muffin. She sniffled and ate it and smiled at me so thankfully I thought I’d die. We solidified next Saturday night’s schedule and I went to my car and went home.
I sat in front of my computer and made my notes, as I always did; printed them out and put them in a folder. But first I reread them. My heart hurt as I read one section in my notes. This war was getting personal and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through. Notes read:
Lucinda said: I just want to dance.
Observation: I believe she needs to be worshipped and adored.
Monday morning I got a call from my editor. He wanted to know how the research for the series was going. I told him he should have a few stories in a couple of weeks. He asked for a synopsis of upcoming information. I spent the next two hours producing one and sent it in.
I looked at the clock and suddenly got a caffeine itch, and drove to the coffee shop. There she sat, Lucinda, reading quietly. I walked to the window and knocked. She glanced up and smiled. Then her head bent; she went back to reading. Coffee in hand, I stepped over to her table.
“Mind if I sit?” I asked her.
She waved a hand at the seat but kept reading. Finally coming to a good stopping point, she put a place marker in the book, slammed it shut, and put it in her bag. “Wow. This is a good story.” Ah! A woman who loved the written word.
She sighed deeply and smiled at me. “How are you?” she asked.
She stared a moment, cocked her head, and said, “Why are you lying to me?”
“Lying? I wasn’t aware I was lying.”
“Something’s not right.”
“Okay. I talked with my editor this morning and he’s pushing for me to get some materials to him, and I have a big feeling this story I’m working on will take a lot longer to do right.”
“Oh. Work stuff, then. Got it.”
“Yeah. Totally work stuff. Nothing horrible.”
She attempted to stifle a small harrumph, but said nothing more. What did she see that I didn’t? Rather, what did she see that I refused to acknowledge? We quietly sipped our coffees; hers cold by now but still shippable, mine burning my tongue no matter how much I blew on it.
We quietly passed the time until she said it was time to go and I walked her to her car. I gave her a hug goodbye and she hugged me back and I kissed her on the cheek and she kissed me on the cheek and I slowly backed away and went to my car and watched her drive off without so much as a backward glance.
At that moment I realized I was going to have a hard time pressing my case with her, that is, I wanted to make love to her, but I laughed, gave myself a good mental shake, and told myself to get my mind back on work. I went home and wrote Hey-Sailor’s story and sent it to my editor.
Editor pleased at the quantity of product I was feeding him, I could now think about anything and everything else except Lucinda. Except it was Lucinda I couldn’t stop thinking about. She was the face of this war. It was she who should be on the banners and the planes and in the commercials and radio spots. It was she who, if anyone could, would…
Oh, who was I kidding? This war will never end. I reminded myself I was a jaded reporter, seen everything and didn’t care. I reminded myself that come next Saturday evening, I was to have my game face on. And when I make up my mind to do something, I do it.
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Saturday couldn’t get here soon enough. I avoided the coffee shop the rest of the week.
Chapter 5: Dancing Queen, Cincinnati, and Mr. It’s In The Bag
I purposefully got to the club early and found a seat close to where I knew Lucinda usually sat. Mike greeted me with the usual? I sipped Stella and ate a burger and fries. The place pretty much empty, Mike and I chanced to chat. I said I bet he has seen a lot of weird shit in a place like this, and fun shit, too.
He said that was surely an understatement. People never ceased to surprise him. For example, there’s this guy who comes out on a regular basis and does nothing but complain about his wife. How she’s this horrible harpy, ugly as sin, doesn’t care about nothing but his money, how he can’t wait to divorce her sorry ass, and so on and so forth. Then one night, out she comes with him. He introduces her around like a proud peacock. Smiling as he talks her up to all his friends. She shakes hands and says things like Oh, yes, B— mentions you often. What a wonderful friend you are! and so forth. She is a sweet woman and cute as a button. Kind to everyone and they dance together every slow dance there is on this the night of their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. B— is googley-eyed and makes a big show of giving her a new ring and she cries when she gets it and gives him the biggest hug.
Mike said he had to wonder who in the hell he’d been talking about all those years. The next time he came in he asked B— about it. B— got mad and said she’s a bitch and he had to do stuff like that or his life was a living hell. Mike told him not to wait another thirty-five years before he brought her in again because she lit up his corner of the bar. B— told him to go to hell.
By the time he got through with the story of B—, a couple of other guys arrived. Within a few minutes we were shooting the bull like guys do and generally having ourselves a fine old time with no women within earshot. Forty minutes or so passed during which time we freely spoke our minds, when one of the guys looked out the window and said, “Oh. Hell. Here she comes.”
I thought something bad was happening, but I saw him grinning as were the other men. I, being a good reporter, inquired. “Who is she?”
“Dancing Queen,” one fella said.
I looked at Mike for clarification. “Her name is Lucinda.”
The fella winked at me. “What I said. Dancing Queen.”
“Why do you call her Dancing Queen?” I asked.
“You ever watch her dance?” another asked. “Because we all sure have, that’s for damn sure.”
Heads nodded in solemn amen as they moved around the bar to make way for Lucinda to sit at her favorite spot. I moved, too, to fit in with the boys and all.
“I think I’ve seen her out here,” I said. “Tell me about her.”
“No time,” said Mike. “Here she comes.”
And sure enough, through the door and around the corner of the bar stepped Lucinda. Nobody looked at her; likewise, myself. Mike said, “The usual, Lucinda?”
“Yes, that’d be lovely, Mike. And a menu, if you don’t mind, I think I’m hungry a bit, too.”
“Sure.” Mike slid a menu over to her and prepared her wine and diet coke with limes and set them down in front of her.
Lucinda took her time reading the menu. She had to know what was on it because the menu had not changed in fourteen years. Finally she said, “Mike, I think I’ll have a salad. Extra bacon. Extra dressing on the side.”
“You got it, Lucinda.”
She pulled out a book and began to read. I could tell she had made some headway because it was the same one she had Monday but the place-marker was further along. I watched the men in the mirror. They watched the game on the television, but every now and then a glance from one would linger on her. Again, I was surprised at my level of jealousy. These good buddies were now lechers who thought she was good for a pole dance or two. Honestly. I brought my attention back to the job at hand. I had a series to write and, dammit, if I kept on in this fashion, I was going to be too close to the story.
Lucinda’s salad came; she slowly ate it between the turning of pages, and thus an hour and a half passed and the music cranked up as more and more people came in. I was already able to pick out the regulars; tonight they would be few and far between. Tonight would be a night for a lot of travelers. Tonight would be a night of a lot of meaningful slow dances for Lucinda.
Lucinda put her book in a bag hanging below the bar, pushed back her plate, nodded yes when Mike pointed to her empty wine glass, changed her shoes — I’d have to ask her about that later — and turned herself around toward the dance floor. She was ready to go. Men, strangers to the bar, noticed as she crossed her legs and wrapped her hands around one knee and leaned back. I could see them weighing their chances of getting a yes for a dance — or more.
Lucinda never said no to a dance until she cut someone off, and they were then good and cut off. Only after being properly warned, though. Still, these men were always surprised to find she wouldn’t dance with them again. But once Lucinda said no, it was no from then on out, unless they were contrite and apologetic. I’d have to ask about that, too.
Had any man ever apologized after making a complete ass of himself? I added it to my list of other stories ideas to investigate.
I watched as five men, scattered to the four corners of the room, weighed their chances with Lucinda. I saw her perk up when a favorite tune of hers came on. No one was on the dance floor, but tonight she didn’t care. She walked out, nodded hello to the DJ who nodded a hello back, told him to turn the volume up a touch, and he did, and she began her dance.
Every man in the place watched whether they admitted it or not. The married men from behind their wives’ backs. Lucinda closed her eyes and, knowing the dimensions of the floor by heart, she proceeded to move unlike anybody I had seen. It was a total fusion of disparate dance styles and she matched the music’s emotion perfectly. When the song ended, she casually walked off the floor, sat in her chair, and sipped her Diet Coke with lime.
I took this opportunity to look at the reactions of the solitary men. One’s expression said Oh, yeah, I’m getting some of that tonight. How little he knew. Another’s said I’m dead in the water. Can’t keep up with that. If he only knew he didn’t have to. Two simply stared with expressions: Now, how ’bout dat, huh? They just might give it a go.
Then a man walked in, tall and thin like a reed, held his hand out to her and out they went. They danced through three sings. A waltz. A swing. And a free style. He could match her in the free styling and she looked like she was having fun. As did he. It was only the two of them on the floor for a bit, but then three other couples joined them. When The Reed and she finished dancing, they laughed, hugged, and he went looking for other women. Ah, he must be a regular. I made note to ask her about him.
In the meantime, I’d find a way to get next to him and chat him up this evening, as well as these contenders in the four corners. I picked up my beer, told Mike I’d be back around, and slowly meandered my way over to the man who thought he was gonna take Lucinda home. We watched the dancers for a bit and then, as men do, made general comments until such time as one was comfortable enough to ask a question.
The question came from me. “Traveling through?”
“Yeah. Heading back to Washington tomorrow.”
“That where you from?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Here on business. Last night in town. Somebody told me this was a nice place to come to. You know anything about it?”
I said I’d been around a couple of times. “What do you think about it so far?” I asked him.
“Well, for my last night in town, I think I’m gonna get lucky.” He rubbed his hands together, rocked from toes to heels, and smacked his lips juicily.
“Oh, yeah? How come you think that? Do you spy a little morsel?”
Ah, and stupid, too. “You see something you like?”
“Hell, yeah. Little filly right over there. You see her dancing?”
I nodded in the affirmative.
He said, “Man, what a hot babe. If she can move like that in the bed, then, whew…it’s gonna be fun. She’s in the bag.” His overconfidence amused me. Pride goes before a fall. The bigger they are the harder they fall. He was going to fall and it was going to hurt.
“Well,” said I. “Good luck.” And I walked away. He was right. This was going to be fun.
I sauntered over to the next guy who thought he didn’t have a chance. Proceeded to strike up a conversation there.
“Yeah, I’m from Cincinnati. Going back on Tuesday. Somebody told me about this place. Said good dancing here. But I didn’t realize how good.”
“What do you mean?” I asked helpfully.
“Well, damn. Look at all that waltzing shit. And I swear I saw somebody doing the tango. And then that woman over there —” he pointed at Lucinda “— she’s doing everything. She must be a professional dancer or something. She won’t want to dance with a two-left-footer like me when she can dance with the likes of him.” At him he pointed to The Reed. As he pointed, I saw Hey-Sailor come through the door. He made a beeline for me.
I said to Cincinnati, “Listen, what’s the worst that can happen? She’ll say no, right? You’ve been turned down before, right? What man hasn’t? You’ll live. But I bet—” Hey-Sailor arrived “—she’ll say yes.”
Hey-Sailor piped up. “You talking about Lucinda?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
Hey-Sailor turned to Cincinnati and said, “Oh, heck yeah. She’ll dance with ya. But you better be respectful. Bad dancers she don’t have a problem with, but creeps she’ll shut down in a second. Go ask her. Never mind.” Hey-Sailor waved Lucinda over. “I’ll introduce ya. Hey, Lucinda. This guy wants to dance with you. Tell her your name.”
And off went Hey-Sailor to find himself a table as Cincinnati stumbled out his name and Lucinda asked, “You want to dance?” and he nodded his head and stood up and took her hand and fumbled his way to the floor, at which point a slow dance came on. I heard him ask, “What do I do to this?”
Lucinda put one of his hands around her waist, held his other hand, put her arm around his shoulders, gentled him into a nice rhythm, and said, “Where are you from and what are you doing in my fair city?”
Less than four minutes later, Cincinnati shook hands on the dance floor as Lucinda thanked him for a lovely dance. He walked to his seat standing straight and tall. He also attempted not to grin like a fool. Hey-Sailor came by and said Told ya, then proceeded to the dance floor with another woman.
I managed to find myself near Cincinnati again and asked him about his dance. He said he might get the courage to ask her again. I patted him on the shoulder and said that’s the spirit. You know, the old rally-the-troops routine.
I could see Mister It’s In The Bag had not yet made his move; he was slugging down liquid courage hot and heavy. In the meantime, while he perused the merch, Lucinda danced alone, or with The Reed and Hey-Sailor and several other men. And here he came. Mister IITB, cock walking across the floor. Lucinda did not smile when he approached, but he asked her to dance and she said yes. She spent the better part of the first minute of the song, rearranging his hands. He put his hands in her hair and roughly began to kiss her. I say began because she saw his nasty mouth gearing up for the attack, leaned back, and slapped him in the mouth. Only a little pop against his teeth. Enough to get his attention.
I looked around the room and saw quite a few people laughing. Her actions set off a flurry of discussions as everybody had something to say about it. I turned my attention back to the stupid guy. Lucinda looked over his shoulder at a corner of the ceiling, nicely explained something to him while he licked his smarting lips. She paused and leaned back and looked at him with arched brow and did not turn her gaze from him until he nodded yes. Then she continued with whatever it was she was saying.
Speech finished, they continued dancing. He then said something and I heard her laugh loud. She laughed so hard she stopped dancing and, still holding onto his hands, bent over double and stamped her feet in a fast little cadence.
Mister It’s In The Bag didn’t understand what he said that was so funny. Lucinda pulled herself straight and said something else to him at which point the song ended and she walked away. What? No thank-you handshake? Oh, the boy must have really blown it big time.
Lucinda and I were going to have a lot to talk about at breakfast in the morning.
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