“What’s the plan for today, Margery?” Herb asked his wife. She smiled, the same smile he’d loved for forty-nine years, the same smile he looked at every day. Same smile, same hat, same green, floral sundress. Not the last photo of his beautiful soulmate, but his favorite. He kept it here, in the kitchen where he spent most of his time. It was taken on what would be their final overseas trip, but neither of them knew that at the time. They still had so many plans. It had been six nights, seven days in tropical Fiji. They got sunburnt, eaten alive by mosquitoes, a touch of food poisoning. But all he could remember was her laughter.
“Oh, Margery. It’s been too long since I heard your laugh. I miss it.”
“Let’s check out the newspaper. Maybe there’s a suggestion in there on what I can fill the hours with today.” Herb picked up the local rag and flicked to the classifieds. It contained less and less information on these pages. It used to be five, even six pages of ads for local businesses. Now there was only one.
“Bloody internet,” Herb muttered to himself, because he knew Margery didn’t like it when he swore.
“Herb! Language, please. We’re not on the wharves,” she’d say each time.
“Let’s see, Love. There’s a psychic who can solve all my problems, a plumber who can unblock my pipes, and an escort service who wants to give me a ‘massage.’ Hang on, here’s something — Pole Dancing. Learn a new skill. Great for fitness. Call now.’” Herb looked to Margery to see what she thought.
“You know, I really do enjoy dancing. I loved that Morris dancing when we were in England. I wonder if it’s anything like that? Maybe the Pole’s have something similar. I mean, it’s all Europe, isn’t it. It can’t be wildly different from England to Poland. Or perhaps it’s that bamboo pole dancing they do in the Philippines. I hope it’s not that I’d end up with two broken ankles for sure. I’ll call them after breakfast.”
After his usual breakfast of oatmeal, toast, and coffee, Herb felt fortified enough to make the call.
“Mindy’s Pole Dancing Studio. Can I help you?” The youthful voice answered after the fourth ring.
“I hope so. I saw your advertisement in the local paper and wanted to have some lessons if I may.” There was silence at the other end.
“Oh, sorry, Sir. You caught me off-guard. Can I ask how old you are?”
“Well, I guess so, but is that really necessary? I mean, I’m fit and healthy. The doc says I’m good to go for exercise. I’m 78, by the way. Is that a problem? There was no age restriction mentioned in the ad,” Herb said, worried his day’s plans would be scuttled.
“Uh, no, there’s no age restriction. Why don’t you come down and check out a class, see if it’s… suitable for you? I have a beginner’s class at eleven this morning.”
“Thank you, Miss Mindy. What should I wear?” Herb thought he heard her snort, but maybe she was just holding in a sneeze.
“Just something comfortable.”
Herb left ‘Fiji Margery’ in the kitchen and went to talk to ‘Wedding Margery’ in the bedroom.
“So, ‘something comfortable,’ she said, Margery.” A much more youthful Margery smiled at Herb. Her lace veil framed her beautiful face. A bouquet of white orchids, her favorite, clenched tightly in her hands. Herb sighed, remembering how soft and delicate they used to feel in his large, work-worn hands. ‘Like an angel’s,’ Herb thought.
He opened the wardrobe. The scent of her lingered still. He had yet to find the fortitude to ‘clear out’ her side. The kids kept at him to do it. They’d offered many times to take the chore off his hands.
“No rush,” he kept telling them. “They’re not in my way.”
“Can’t they see they’re a comfort to me, Love? I remember you wearing each and every outfit. They make me happy, those memories. What’s the harm in that? They think I can’t ‘move on’ till everything in this house that was yours is gone. And where the hell do they think I should be ‘moving on’ too? Sorry, Love, language I know.”
“See? I knew you’d understand. Bloody kids.” He muttered the last bit under his breath.
“Now, should I wear my tracksuit? That’s the most comfortable thing I own, or is that too casual?” He considered his other options. “It’s quite warm. Perhaps my cargo shorts and a polo would be better.” Everyone had laughed when he bought cargo shorts years ago.
“Whoa, Dad! Look at you all up with the young kid’s fashion.”
“Don’t tease your father. I think he looks smashing,” his wife had said, with a wink and a kiss.
Nowadays the kids had moved on to skinny shorts and shirts. The old codgers kept the comfy cargo shorts and loose polos.
Herb had never been great with color matching his clothes. Margery had always helped him. He tried now to remember her advice.
“Grey is safe to wear with most colors, as is beige. Try to always buy shorts and trousers in those colors, then you can wear any top with them,” she’d told him one day, when he came home with red shorts and a purple top. The shorts exchanged for light grey ones, and the purple top stayed. He pulled it out now with the grey shorts.
“I think I need to look bright and cheerful today, Margery. That young lassie at the dance studio probably thinks I’m some old stick in the mud who shouldn’t be out of the nursing home without a carer.”
Dressed in his ‘comfortable outfit,’ non-slip sandshoes, short socks — because long socks are apparently so last century and daggy — hair brushed and slicked back, Herb was ready for his new experience. He hoped some people his own age would be there too. He limbered up a little before he walked out the door. Wouldn’t do to pull a muscle during a dance. Miss Mindy might say, “I told you so,” and offer to drive him back to the ‘home’ he’d obviously escaped from.
Herb said ‘goodbye’ to Birthday Margery in the hallway. A particularly gorgeous photo of his wife on her sixtieth birthday. She was sitting behind a cake almost on fire from sixty candles. Their kids thought it would be funny. Unfortunately, the smoke detector thought it was a fire. Everyone in the restaurant ended up drenched from the sprinklers. The restaurant demanded compensation, and the whole family was banned from ever eating there again.
The local bus stopped only two doors down from his house, so his car was gathering dust in the garage. He’d seen too many reports of elderly people getting the accelerator and the brake pedal confused and ramming some innocent bystander out of existence. He probably should sell it, or give it to a grandkid. He’d ask Margery when he got home.
He took his wallet off the hall stand with Passport Margery tucked inside. You weren’t allowed to smile in passport photos anymore, but Margery managed to smile with her eyes anyway.
The bus dropped him a block from the studio. Herb was excited and nervous in equal measure. He had tried out lots of new things since Margery’s passing. Most though held little joy for him. He hoped Miss Mindy wasn’t right, and he was too old for Polish dancing. Maybe he should have researched it a bit. He had a computer, but it too was gathering dust. Margery had been the ‘tech-head’ of the two of them. He was a bit of a Luddite. She had tried to teach him, but he couldn’t tell his ROMs from his RAMs, or his Bits from his Bytes. He was quite happy with good old newspapers and his transistor radio.
Herb saw the pink neon sign advertising ‘Mindy’s Pole Dancing Studio’ from the corner. The storefront windows had been blacked out, but he could hear music. It didn’t sound like Polish music. It sounded more like his grandkid’s tunes. He squared his shoulders and muttered Margery’s motto —
“What’s the worst that can happen.”
He opened the door.
Six scantily clad women spun around six poles in a room that was definitely a dance studio, but not like any Herb had seen before. Poles, the word struck him like a freight train. How could he have been so dense? He turned to leave, but Mindy — he assumed it was Mindy — caught his arm before he could reach the door.
“Herb, I assume? Please don’t leave.”
“I’m sorry Miss Mindy, it seems I’ve been an old fool. I thought this was a class to learn traditional dancing from Poland. Sorry to have bothered you.”
“You’re no bother at all. I’d like you to stay for today’s beginner lesson. It’ll be on the house. I’ve been wanting to see if we can’t tempt the mature population to try it. Would you be my guinea pig?”
Herb looked at the spinning, lithe bodies.
“These are my advanced girls. Don’t worry, your class will be a lot gentler,” Mindy said.
“Well, I’ve no place else to be. Let’s do it. I hope you have the hospital on speed dial.”
“We even have a defib machine handy,” Mindy said, winking. “Wait over here while I finish up this class. The other beginners should arrive soon. Can you make them feel at ease? Everyone is nervous for their first lesson.”
Herb lasted through his first lesson and actually enjoyed it. Four women joined him, with varying degrees of fitness but all with the same level of enthusiasm. They learnt how to grip the pole, with your thumb pointing toward the ceiling, and to always have your arm straight so your face doesn’t connect with the pole. They learnt a spin called The Fireman, and one called The Pinwheel. The women and Miss Mindy got a real kick out of him being there. He felt wanted and appreciated. They even invited him out for coffee at the end of the class.
“So, is there a Mrs. Herb?” One of his classmates asked him over a vanilla latte.
Herb pulled out his wallet to show them Passport Margery.
“She’s beautiful, such warm eyes.” They ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ and then ‘awwed’ when he told them she was no longer with him. They got Herb’s confirmation that he would continue with the classes. They all swapped phone numbers and even encouraged Herb to set up a Facebook profile. Miss Mindy had given them exercises to do during the week to strengthen their arms, legs and core.
Herb couldn’t wait to get home to tell Fiji Margery all about his new hobby over a cup of tea.
He could see her smile now.
Like your story Kim, sat here over coffee whilst the car was being washed and read it.