Dale’s Last Dance
Dale’s Last Dance
When Dale took an honest look around, he couldn’t help noticing that he lived with a bunch of old farts who were done with life. There was Anne across the corridor. Emphysema. She’d had about as much as she could take of breathing. Two doors down there was Leo Stein. He complained about everything but mostly about how Death went knocking on anyone’s door but his. At ninety-eight, Leo sat by the door a lot.
Dale, on the other hand, wasn’t done with life just yet. At eighty-three he was one of the youngest residents of the retirement village. He had the sort of face that grows more refined with age—at least that’s what people told him. What they meant was, Dale was ugly. Some people are so ugly they’re cute. Not Dale. Dale’s brand of ugly trotted right up to the fence between extremely ugly and cute and dug its hooves in. That fence was high.
His nose ran in the family (an inside joke). It was a broad, bulbous cushion—a miraculously unfortunate genetic curse, some people said—in the middle of his reptilian gob. To make matters worse, it was bright red despite the fact that Dale hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in his eight and one-third decades.
“You want these, Dale?” Degbert from across the hall was holding up a bright orange pair of Bermuda shorts.
“Why?” Dale put on his glasses to take a better look at the garment in question. “They’re bright all right.”
“I’m shucking,” Degbert said and threw the shorts on Dale’s bed. Degbert was getting rid of everything so that his niece, Susan, would have less fuss when he passed. He figured he’d be gone before Bermuda shorts season; and even if he could hold on that long, he figured he wouldn’t be in the mood for shorts.
“Sure, I’ll take them!” Dale took everything. Recently he’d inherited a perfectly usable, brunette toupee. Maybe his looks would improve with age after all.
“Henry kicked it this morning,” said Degbert.
“You don’t say.” Dale straightened his new hair in the mirror.
“You gonna give her a go?”
“It’s now or never, I suppose,” said Dale.
With the competition passing peacefully in their sleep all around him, Dale was ready to take his chances with Rose, the fair maiden on the second floor. What did he have to lose? Fortunately for Dale (but also for Rose), she was purported to be legally blind. “As long as he smells right, he could have the face of a lizard.” These were Rose’s exact words that Dale had overheard once in the TV room on the fourth floor. He perked up when he thought of how well he might fit Rose’s bill. All he needed was a pleasant scent.
“I need the newest thing,” he told the clerk at Walgreen’s.
“Sylvan.” The clerk sprayed the cologne on Dale’s wrist. “It’s woodsy.”
“It’s very woodsy,” Dale said and put two bottles in his basket, hoping that Rose had never had a bad experience in the woods.
“You gotta get a rose,” said Degbert later. “Get it? Rose . . . a rose?” Degbert’s way with words was famous at the retirement village. He also had a way with men, which was almost the same thing as having a way with women. Dale always followed Degbert’s advice.
“Sage,” Dale said. “Sage advice.”
With a full head of gorgeous brunette hair, a single red rose and a bit too much Sylvan, Dale headed downstairs to Rose’s apartment.
“Who fell in a bucket of perfume out there?” Rose opened the door an inch. “You smell like a pine forest. Who is that?”
“It’s me: Dale. You never had any bad experiences in the woods, did you?”
“No, I reckon not. Why?”
“I brought you a rose. Get it?”
“Get what?” Rose shouted.
Dale didn’t want to insult her intelligence right off the bat, so he avoided the question: “I’ll put it in a vase for you if I can come in.”
“You ain’t selling Amway again, are you?”
“Not actively,” Dale said and put the catalogue on the table in the corridor.
“Because I’ve got enough washing powder to last me, if you know what I mean.” She was still blocking the door.
“May I come in, fair maiden?”
“Well, I reckon I can open a window.” Rose opened the door and crossed the apartment to the windows. “If I had known you were coming, I would have put in my teeth.”
“I like a natural woman,” Dale said.
Rose got the cards. “Rummy or go fish?”
When Dale was ten, he had played go fish with a little carrot-top girl at summer camp. Her name was also Dale, so a friendship was unavoidable. One evening Dale’s modest cow was poking ever so slightly out of the barn, as Dale (the girl) put it. After this, Dale (the boy) couldn’t concentrate, and Dale (the girl) usually won.
“Rummy,” said Dale.
“Coffee’s in the pot on the stove,” said Rose, shuffling. “Help yourself.”
Playing hand after hand, they gossiped about the silly people in the retirement village, the silly rules and the silly food. Rose commented more than once on Dale’s eloquent way of talking. No, he wasn’t homosexual, but he thanked her for the compliment. By the sixth hand Rose’s room smelled less like a forest and more like Rose. As Dale started to shuffle the seventh hand, she sighed.
“I’m tired.” Her hand was resting on Dale’s.
“Can I call on you tomorrow?”
“That’d be fine,” she said and walked Dale to the door where Dale was suddenly standing under the bright light of the corridor. “My word, Mister! You sure ain’t the handsomest of the lot.”
“You can see?” Dale touched his face and blushed. His red nose darkened.
“Well, of course I can see, you numb nut! I just beat you six times at rummy.”
“Oh, so you did.” Dale hung his head. His hopes for this last dance with his fair maiden were dashed.
“Tomorrow,” Rose said, closing the door. “Rummy. Same time!”
Dale smiled and retrieved his Amway catalogue. He knocked on the door next to Rose’s—he might as well make a few calls while he had his hair on—and thanked his lucky stars that Rose could see his inner beauty.
“Sure is an ugly so-and-so,” Rose said to herself as she started to make another pot of coffee.
“But he’s the worst rummy player I ever met. Sure does feel good to win.”
-refers from the words ‘nursing home’ in Felicia Mitchell’s poem My Turn Out of the Box