My full name is Jerome Douglas Marshal but everyone calls me JD. Several years ago Carla and I and Walt Trumaine and a Babara Milton went dancing. An orchestra provided the music. It was the kind of music to dress up for and to dance close. The place was crowded and most of the women wore evening gowns. Carla and Barbara’s gowns had slits way up the left side which gave constant thigh-high glimpses of their sheer pantyhose clad legs while the neckline of Carla’s gown was cut so low it seemed any movement would pop her breasts free. She and I had been through some rough times together but I was hoping the worst of the rough times were behind us and on that particular night she was happy and confident and she looked radiant. Life had given me a second chance. I hadn’t had a drink in over two years. She and I were looking for a place to rent together in Pittsburgh. I hoped that maybe one day we’d get married. The four of us were dancing on the crowded dance floor. It was ballroom dancing.
“Who is she?” Carla asked.
“Beats me,” I said. “Walt said she’s taking one of his night classes.”
I looked over at Walt and Barbara. Walt was a big man but he moved lightly on his feet. He and Barbara twirled smoothly across the floor while looking into each other’s eyes.
“Oh, my goodness.”
“Carla, don’t stare.”
“Is she married? Divorced? Any children?”
“I don’t know anything about her.”
Carla looked up at me and smiled as we moved smoothly across the floor. Not once that night did I step on her feet.
She said, “Yes you smug bastard you’re getting better.”
“I have a good teacher.”
“Happy?” I asked.
“Why can’t we always be like this?” she said.
I leaned back and looked her over. “That certainly is a very nice dress.”
“Do you really, really like it?”
“Tonight I’m going to rip it off you.”
“JD don’t get crazy on me. You’ll be paying for a whole new outfit. Handbag, shoes, undies, the works.”
“How much did it cost?”
“More than you can afford.”
When the four of us sat back down the waiter came over and the others ordered another round of drinks. “Sir,” the waiter said to me, “you’re entitled to as many refills as you like.”
Later that evening we found out that Barbara Milton was three years divorced with a six-year-old son and that she taught high school math while taking a night class at Pitt to further her ambition of some day being a high school principal. She enjoyed swimming and dancing and bike riding and silent films from the nineteen twenties.
Barbara had to leave at midnight because of her baby sitter so we all left together. Walt and I followed the women out into the warm night of the parking lot; and as Walt and I talked I watched Carla and Barbara strolling on ahead in their chic long gowns and heels. Walt and I stopped as he pulled out a pack of small cigars, offered me one which I didn’t take, lit his and blew out a couple of satisfying puffs.
I heard the car before I saw it. It came squealing around several parked cars. Carla and Barbara were just beyond the cars that formed the lane we’d all been walking in and as the two women turned toward the rushing sound I shouted and started sprinting. As the car swerved toward them Barb grabbed Carla’s left arm and the two women went sprawling to the pavement. I caught a flash of young faces and heard loud, atonal music full of crashing percussion and a bone crushing bass line. Behind it all was unhinged laughter. Then the car was gone. I got to the women. Carla was trying to sit up. Barb crouched over her. Carla had lost a shoe. There was blood on her face.
Carla said, “I think I hurt my ankle.”
Crouched down beside her I said, “Did they hit you?”
“No, but I hit my head.” She patted her face and looked at the palm of her hand in the dim lighting of the overhead lamps. “I’m bleeding.”
I held my clean hanky to her forehead. Walt finally came up. He was breathing hard. Barb stood up and they embraced.
Carla said, “Help me up.”
I helped her but when she tried to put weight on her right foot she flinched. I held her up taking her weight against me.
“My purse,” she said.
“Punks,” Walt said. “Lousy stinking punks.”
Walt gave me Carla’s shoe and I put it in the pocket of my jacket. Barb gave me the purse and I put that in the other pocket. After I got Carla in the car, I drove concentrating on the road. Carla held my bloody hanky to her forehead. She looked over at me and patted my thigh.
She said, “I’ll be all right.”
“People don’t die from sprained ankles.”
I knew the ankle was swollen. “I know that.” I was all jittery inside. I needed something to drink. I needed it bad.
She said, “Or from little cuts on the forehead.”
My hanky she held to her forehead was soaked with blood. “I know that, too. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“It easily could have.”
“But it didn’t.”
I did not relax until the lights of the windows of the hospital came into view.
Fall came and then winter and spring then summer again. One Friday afternoon the cloudless sky was a very bright blue. I sat with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a tall glass of lemonade at a table at the sidewalk cafe of the Union Grill on South Craig and watched the crowd walk by. There were lots of students from Pitt in the crowd. From where I sat I could see the top floors of the Cathedral of Learning. The sun made everything sharp and clear and from habit I opened my newspaper to the classifieds to check out the for rent ads. A shadow passed over me and I looked up.
“Why, JD,” the woman said. “JD Marshal.”
“And what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
“It’s where the wind blew me.”
She sat down. It was a table for two.
“What’s the matter?” she said. “Aren’t you going to buy me a drink? Is that what I think it is?”
“Since when did you start drinking lemonade? I’ll buy us a real drink.”
“Cynthia, to tell you the truth I’m waiting for someone.”
“I’ll keep you company.”
“No, that wouldn’t be such a good idea.”
She sat there; and as she sat there I saw her face change. We sat in silence until she said, “You know you’re only one drink away. I can see it in your eyes.”
“You always were very supportive.”
“I hope you drown in it.”
I watched her walking away for as long as she stayed in sight. I read the paper. I checked my watch. I drank the lemonade. There she is! Carla waved and crossed the street making her way confidently through the slowly moving motor traffic. She came over and sat down. The waitress came up and Carla and I ordered lunch. The waitress left. Carla sat across from me smiling, making me wait. She wore a sleeveless, flower printed short sun dress with strappy, flat sandals. She seemed athletic and very comfortable in her skin. The waitress brought Carla a lemonade and then left.
After taking a drink Carla said, “It’s very good.”
“Yes it is.”
She leaned forward and covered my hand with both of hers. “It’s ours,” she said. “We can start moving in Monday.”