Shall We Dance | Verso.ink

Shall We Dance

By Sandra Walls

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The tenement flat was on the first floor. It was a room and kitchen with a separate toilet. Not one in the middle stairwell of the close like some tenements in Glasgow.
Me and my three older cousins were in the bed recess, they were sleeping already, but I was in the middle, with elbows and chins annoying me. I pondered what to do. I sat up and looked out the back kitchen window. It looked onto the canal that strung its way through Glasgow, I always wanted to walk it. Never did. The yellow night lights were shining on the water making it look cosy in the dark.
I heard the old gramophone scratch the start of a record. Mum and dad must still be up.
We had a bed settee in the living room that they slept in but sometimes dad would be in the recess and me and mum would be in the bed settee. I didn’t care where I slept.
I slunk over the bodies and legs and stepped onto the linoleum floor, it was cold. I put on some odd socks that had been thrown onto the floor. That’s better.
I padded my way through the small hall, where mum had two double walnut wardrobes. It made the hall skinny, as I got to the door I could see mum and dad standing in the middle of the floor, on the circular red rug he brung her back from the Navy. She loved that carpet. They were dancing.
The old gramophone was tinny but it still played the melody of some slow song they both knew.
I crouched down behind the door in the hall. By luck or bad workmanship, there had been a wooden knot in the door frame which had been notched out, leaving a perfect little spyhole, I looked at the spyhole and could see dad had tried to fill it with gloss, but he’d only managed to cause runs, who cares no-one will ever see behind that door, he’d said.
I chuckled at my little secret, I could see it and I could see them. I didn’t want to disturb them in their moment but I was wide awake and too intrigued to go back to that crowded bed.
I continued to watch them dance, I hunched right down and got comfy on a pair of slippers.
They were oblivious to my presence, he held her hand, but was caressing her fingers and wedding rings, she was smiling and mouthing silent words as she looked up at her man. They were in love, I could see. As they swayed lazily to the tune he continued to sing with his eyes closed but facing up.
My dad was a professional singer, a base baritone, he could sing Howard Keel, musicals, operatic numbers and Matt Monroe, among others. I remember him singing Born Free by Matt Monroe a’capella. He built it up into its pinnacle and never wavered on a single note, he also had an Al Jolson showcase. I used to think when his songs were played on the radio that it was my daddy.
He was the light that brightened up every room he walked into, he had a presence, he was the one that everybody looked forward to seeing arrive at a party. My handsome dad was like a leading man, he looked like a cross between Clark Gable and Marlon Brando.
My mum was beige blonde with quiffs and curls like a 40s film starlet, she was curvy and wore fur collars and coats and sparkly dresses and shoes and bags to match, she was classy in her own sassy way and also sang her repertoire of songs at parties, but not as a profession, just for fun. She was always laughing and telling funny stories. She also had a wee showcase of Scottish songs mainly by Harry Lauder and the like. She would march up and down with a broom handle under her arm, singing about Scottish kilted men and soldiers and Mary my Scotch bluebell.
I watched them dance in their happy wee living room with its olive gold shiny wallpaper and shell wall lights and red uncut moquette suite, and the beautiful red rug. After the song was finished, mum took out a compact and brass lipstick, she swept the smooth red over her cupids bow and bottom lip, checked and powdered her nose looking left to right in the tiny mirror. She clicked it shut and poured them another drink. They had a makeshift bar on top of the walnut side board that sat in front of the old sash windows.
On a silver salver tray there was whisky in a square decanter, crystal cut whisky glasses where the dark gold liquid glinted through the facets from the dim lights. Crystal flutes and Champagne on ice, mixers and McEwan’s export, the one with the smiling cavalier.
Mum sat down and crossed her legs very ladylike and lit a tipped cigarette, the living room turned sepia in the curl up of the bluish grey hanging smoke with only the yellowy toned wall lights on, it was very romantic. Smoking was glamourous back then.
Dad had been out singing and mum had accompanied him tonight, my older cousins came and watched me to let her go.
She had a beautiful glow to her fresh face that showed through the light dusting of powder. She was stunning tonight.
I wanted to be like her one day.
Dad was still wearing his tux, with the bowtie untied and lying casually around the collar, his white shirt still crisp with his black diamond cuff links. Mum had saved up in a Glasgow jewellers for ages. He loved them. As the music needle screeched into another song, he approached her and held out his left hand to her, she put down her cigarette and uncrossed her legs and was up in his arms again, this time they were cheek to cheek. This was there song, Love’s Been Good To Me. He was singing softly again into her ear and she was smiling quietly. His lips brushing her forehead, her pale blue eyes secured to his and that natural little smile, they danced to their heart’s content and in that moment no-one else existed, not even me. I know now it was true love.
I was tired again and tiptoed back to my bed. I squeezed in the front, and with a few moans and murmurs of the others, as they settled my eyes started closing, with the yellow cosy canal lights to illuminate the kitchen recess.
My sleepy eyes looked around the room, there was a French style mirror secured to the wall with a metal chain, the wallpaper was grey with subtle red tulips, a lemon dresser with all her baking sugars and the perfect sweet silver balls that we ate sneakily, then the Belling cooker where she boiled dumpling in pillow cases, I can still smell the spices. The old Belfast sink, where I got washed every day, and where dad covered his face in lather and shaved, his Brylcream was on the windowsill with his shaving soap block, brush and mirror. His old spice finished off the collection. I smiled as I recall him standing in front of that mirror soaping his face, and asking, “Hey, whose the best looking daddy in the world” and I would point at him and shout “You daddy”, then he’d run over and swing me around rubbing all the white foam into my face. We laughed hard with excited screams.
I also used to dance with him, he would put me on his polished shoes and sing; and my involuntary little legs would move with his, I thought this was like being at the fair and would shout, faster daddy, faster, and we would be waltzing double time around the room. Mum always spoiled it by saying, “Oh, not too fast George.”

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