New Moves

From that first evening when Muriel and Fay urged him to join the Senior Citizens ballroom dance class David watched the distinguished grey­haired man with envy.Tall and upright,the man’s bearing suggested a life spent in the Services.He was always beautifully turned out in a grey suit or sports jacket and invariably wore a silk tie and matching pocket­ handkerchief.David even wondered if he might be gay,and made a mental note to jettison his own beige cardigan and corduroy trousers for something a little smarter at future classes.

The man’s partnering was effortless,and all the matrons of uncertain age at the Kings Cross Community Centre classes made little secret of their desire to dance with him.David,on the other hand,although reasonably trim and agile,felt he possessed two left feet.Whether dancing a Foxtrot or a Quickstep he seemed to be constantly apologizing as he crushed insteps and bruised bunions.

A year ago he would never have thought of joining such an evening class.His thirty­five years withTony had been loving and totally fulfilling.The two men had lived only for each other.Their early years had been difficult,withTony having only recently emerged from the closet,a disastrous early marriage,and unsuccessful attempts to be a loving father to two unsympathetic children.But from the moment he and David were introduced they had become inseparable throughout the years that followed.Until their eventual retirement they had even spent daily lunch hours together.David would leave his post as a senior salesman in Gowings Menswear Department and joinTony at their table in the 2nd floor café of David Jones where his lover headed the Window Dressing Department.They holidayed together,spent every evening in each other’s company,and certainly felt no need to Foxtrot or Quickstep with others through life.

But thenTony had been diagnosed with dementia,and as his memory and mind deteriorated he had retreated into a private world where David found he could no longer follow him.The speed with which the debilitating illness developed surprised even the doctors at St Vincent’s.Soon David’s loving partner had become a silent husk of his former self,and David now found himself truly alone.The end was mercifully swift,but those final weeks beforeTony eventually slipped away were agony...for both of them.David’s subsequent ostracism byTony’s children at the funeral,and their eventual demand that he relinquish the little Paddington house the two had shared for so many years left him devastated.He knew that the house, whichTony had owned,would eventually have to be sold,but having to cope with this upheaval so hard on the heels ofTony’s death,was almost insurmountable.For some months he felt simply numb with grief and unable to come to terms with his solitary life.

Muriel and her girlfriend Fay had eventually suggested the evening classes.

“David,darling,you really must get out more,” they urged him.“You have to move on,make new friends.It’ll help you cope,it really will.You’re such an old ‘square’.Lots of spunky oldies attend these classes,and who knows,they can’t all be straight!” And so,although his heart wasn’t really in it,he allowed himself to be persuaded.

The session had drawn to a close,and David became aware that the object of his envy was courteously escorting the Misses Cartwright toward the adjoining kitchen servery for tea and biscuits.

“Have you met Commander James Carmody?” fluted Isobel Cartwright,as they approached.“This is David Bethnall,by the way,Commander.He’s quite a recent addition to our little classes.” James Carmody extended a lean brown hand and David was surprised at the firmness of his grasp.

“Hi,” said David quietly.“I’m an addition,but not much of an asset as yet I’m afraid.” He caught a fleeting look of pained recollection on Amy Cartwright’s face,and remembered a recent heavy­ footed manoeuvre in the waltz.

“Oh,our Commander is such a joy to dance with,” said Isobel Cartwright,rather too swiftly.

“However,I’ve no doubt you’ll eventually be moving just as gracefully,David.With a little more practice,of course... But,you know,Amy and I are always surprised you two eligible bachelors haven’t got wives to go home to ...” The sisters exchanged roguish glances.

“Well Isobel,I’m afraid all those years spent at sea meant that I rather missed the boat,as it were.” said Carmody,grey eyes twinkling at David.“Now, had you ladies been around when I came ashore things might have been very different...” The sisters simpered archly.

“Oh,you naval men are all the same,” said Amy Cartwright,wagging a finger.“Isobel,darling,if we don’t hurry,that Daisy Ablett will have eaten all the sweet tea biscuits...” And with fluting “Goodbyes” the women made a beeline for the servery.

“God,I could really do with something stronger,” Carmody murmured quietly to David,as they watched the Cartwrights scuttle away.“Let’s give the sweet tea biscuits a miss eh? What about a beer at my place?”The lean hand rested lightly on David’s shoulder.“I’m just across Fitzroy Gardens in Macleay Street.How about it?” Muriel raised a whimsical eyebrow and Fay gave David a not very subtle naval salute as the two men left the hall.James Carmody set a crisp pace as they set off across Fitzroy Gardens and David fell into step beside him.He felt surprisingly at ease with his silent companion.There seemed no need for conversation.Shouts of laughter and the clinking of glasses drifted through the night from the Gazebo Wine Bar to their left,and there was occasional croaking and scuffling from the roosting ibises in the palm trees,but otherwise the Gardens were deserted.

Carmody’s flat proved to be as discreet and masculine as its owner.Glass­fronted bookcases lined the walls,and a remarkably detailed model of the ‘Titanic’ stood on an impressive side­table.The sleek kitchen was fitted out like a ship’s galley and above a deep leather sofa a long wooden oar from a racing scull added to the maritime aspect.

“Make yourself at home while I fix us some drinks,” said Carmody as he fiddled with the hi­tech sound system.The unmistakable voice of Barbra Streisand singing “The Way We Were” filled the room In due course both men were sitting,slightly awkwardly,on the sofa.

“I’m afraid I’m not much good at that ballroom stuff,” said David eventually.He took a swig of his beer.“Bit of a loner nowadays,I’m afraid ...I seem to have got out of the habit of making conversation.

And as far as the dancing is concerned I never quite know when to lead...” James Carmody’s eyes softened.

“I suspect that’s a problem in most of our lives,” he said gently.“Mind you,when you’re partnering either of those Cartwright sisters they have no difficulty in leading both the conversation and the dance moves.” David snuffled with amusement into his beer.

“I don’t know whether you’d like to talk about it,but your two friends tell me that you’ve recently lost your partner.” David’s beer glass wobbled and his lower lip threatened to follow suit.

“Muriel and Fay have been great,” he said quietly, after a moment.“It was they who suggested I join the dance classes.They’re always telling me I’m an ‘old square’ and that I need to get out more.But they don’t really understand just how pointless everything seems these days.Tony and I were together for a lifetime.He took charge of so much...and now...well my life seems so empty...I just feel completely rudderless...” David cleared his throat and took another sip of his beer “Sorry,” he said gruffly.“Didn’t mean to go on.

Good to have someone to talk to though.” “Well,I’m a pretty good listener,and in naval terms I’m quite good at navigating choppy waters too,” said James Carmody,and he put down his glass.“Perhaps you’d like me to lead for a while?” As a firm hand placed David’s beer on the table he found himself being guided to the middle of the room.Barbara Streisand continued to sing discreetly in the background as the two men began to move hesitantly together,but when their lips eventually met the question of who should lead seemed suddenly unimportant.

Jonathon Elsom