I noticed her the minute she walked through the dance hall door. She was wearing a white dress with matching high heel shoes and light pink lipstick. Her soft brown hair was cut short and it curled just below her jewel studded ears. A string of pearls hung around her neck, shining softly under the dimmed hall lights. A slim leather belt sat neatly on her hips, accentuating her slender frame.
Despite the crowded hall, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I felt my tongue go slack in my mouth, leaving my jaw hanging in mid-air. Her dark skin emanated a soft glow, drawing my attention and funnelling my world into a single frame. The music, conversation, people, all faded into the background until the woman in the white dress was the only thing in focus.
I watched enraptured as she moved from the main doorway and into the room. She strode right out onto the dance floor. Her heels tapped confidently on the wooden floor and her dress swished just below her knees. My eyes widened, thinking she’d barrel into the people dancing, but the jiving couples seemed to sense her approach. Parting gracefully, they allowed her to move between them, as if it were just another step in their routine.
She glided all the way to the centre of the room and, arriving at this vantage point, the woman stood tall. With her hands on her hips, she gazed confidently across the crowd. An expectant smile sat on her lips as she scanned the room left to right, searching with her dark eyes for some mystery companion.
Others in the hall had started to notice her presence now. The men stood staring, almost mesmerized, while the ladies in their own dresses and heels narrowed their eyes and looked at her with competition. The murmur of conversation slowly died away and a hush descended from the ceiling onto the watching congregation. Even the dancing couples slowly became still.
Detecting her newfound audience, the woman looked around the room again, this time with an uncertain urgency. After a full sweep and a turn on her heel, a furrowed look crossed her brow. Her eyes became clouded and her smile slid askew. A giggle escaped from an onlooker’s lips and the woman’s tall stance faltered. Her shoulders slumped and she hugged tightly at her elbows. The bright confidence on show only moments ago drained out of her, shrinking her on the spot.
“Waiting for a date, darlin’?” a faceless man hollered from the crowd.
“I’ll dance with you… for a kiss!” another leered.
The woman’s eyes hastily dropped to the ground and an embarrassed blush crept up and across her cheeks. I could almost feel her squirm under their lecherous stares and, quite without thinking, I suddenly advanced across the floor towards her.
Everyone’s head swivelled in my direction as I pushed my way through the onlookers. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and my heart started to thump heavily in my chest. I ignored their hot stares and kept my eyes focused on the woman in the white dress. After ten quick strides, I was standing directly in front of her, close enough to touch.
The woman looked up at me, her coffee coloured eyes staring widely in surprise. It was at that moment, I realised I hadn’t prepared anything to say, so I did the first thing that sprang to mind. I reached out and took her delicate hand in mine, I brought it up to my lips and gently kissed her fingers, like a gentleman from centuries ago.
The woman giggled and a smile broke out across her face, lighting up her cheeks with a pink glow.
“May I have this dance?” I whispered, trying to keep a straight face.
“I’d love to,” she replied smiling, bending into a low curtsey.
And then, we danced. My arm was wrapped around her waist, holding her frame close to me. I could feel the light touch of her hand on my shoulder and the flutter of her dress against my legs as we moved. I extended my arm and she gave an elegant twirl. As she came back to face me, the smell of fresh flowers lingered in my nose.
After several songs and a little out of breath, I asked the woman for her name. She told me it was Diana and I rolled it around on my tongue, savouring each syllable before continuing our waltz.
Diana followed my every lead without hesitation, as if she knew where I was going even before I did. Our feet kept in perfect step and so I could gaze into her dark eyes and admire the smile on her lips. I was in a dream and once again, the music, conversation and people all faded away.
We danced and danced and danced, one song blurring into the next as the minutes of the night flew by. Our bodies became extensions of one another. When I moved, she countered flawlessly and time slowed to a delicious ethereal flow.
Before I knew it, the clock on the wall read midnight and it was time to go. The music ended and the two of us came to a standstill, neither wanting the night to end. Our fingers intertwined and Diana looked up at me.
“Could I trouble you for a ride home? I was going to get one with my date but…” she trailed off.
“Of course!” I said. “Where do you live?”
“Just down Brookfield Boulevard, near the cemetery,” she replied. “Do you know it?”
“Yes,” I nodded and, taking her hand, we exited out onto the street.
The night air was cool on our flushed skin and the stars twinkled brightly in the sky. The last of the guests were milling around, joking and laughing while they said goodbye. One by one, their car engines sputtered to life and their headlights cast obscure shadows on the ground. With their tires crunching on the gravel, the vehicles pulled out of the parking lot and disappeared down the road.
On the main building steps, Diana shivered and rubbed her arms. Unzipping my jacket, I quickly wrapped it around her shoulders and guided her towards my car. Unlocking it, we both slid into the front seats and we set off, leaving the dance hall behind us.
I drove slowly, below the speed limit, deliberately, drawing out the moment until we had to say goodbye. I kept my eyes focused on the road ahead, playing over in my mind how I was going to ask for her number. My seatbelt clutched unusually tight across my chest and for the first time all evening I felt nervous.
I glanced over at Diana sitting in the passenger seat. My jacket was still hung loosely around her shoulders and she was looking silently out the window. Each time we passed a street lamp, her face was momentarily illuminated and my eyes traced over the soft curve of her nose down to her supple lips. I wondered what it would be like to kiss those lips.
At the intersection, I stopped for the red light. The car engine murmured and hummed between us. Diana’s hands were clasped neatly in her lap when she turned towards me.
“Thanks for coming to my rescue tonight. I had a great time,” she said.
“No problem,” I smiled, “I’m glad you got stood up.”
She tilted her head, giving me a questioning look.
“I mean I’m not glad you got stood up but if you hadn’t been we wouldn’t have met, y’know?” I laughed nervously.
She smiled but didn’t say anything. I ran my hand through my hair and exhaled, silently telling myself to get a grip.
“I had a really great time tonight too,” I recovered. “Maybe we can do it again sometime?”
“I’d like that,” Diana replied, looking out the window again.
A grin spread across my face and my heart thumped in my chest at the thought of seeing her again.
The light flicked to green and I turned onto Brookfield Boulevard. The boulevard was wide and stretched out far in front of us. Every few yards, a halo of light was dotted on the ground, marking the street lamps. In the daytime, there would be a constant flow of traffic but in the moonlight, we were the only vehicle around.
I’d only travelled down the boulevard a handful of times. It’s in the old part of town where the buildings take on a stately Victorian posture. Each house is fenced with a tall wrought-iron gate and the towering windows yawned at us as we drove past. Mostly only rich people live here, or families who’ve had the house passed down from generation to generation. I wondered which category Diana is in.
The cemetery is right towards the end of the road and a single street lamp lights up the entrance. I slowed down as we approached the iron gate. It stands two-storeys high and is embellished with spikes along the top. A creeping vine has slowly conquered the bottom half of the gate, covering it with star shaped leaves. A faded sign hangs from the gate, embossed with the words “Brookfield Cemetery” in pointy gothic script. It swings and creaks in the late night breeze.
“You can drop me off here,” Diana said unexpectedly.
“Are you sure?” I asked, glancing up again at the spooky looking gate. “I’m happy to drive you all the way home.”
“No, it’s okay. Here will do just fine,” she replied.
I tried to hide my disappointment, banishing from my mind the playful vision of kissing her goodnight outside her front door. Reluctantly, I pulled the car over to the side of the road. Diana unclipped her seatbelt and started to take off my jacket.
“Keep it,” I said, “How about I get it back from you at the next dance night?”
Diana flashed me a bright smile, “Okay. Next time.”
Then, she leaned over and gave me a soft kiss on my cheek. Her lips brushed against my skin for just a moment and then sadly, she was getting out of the car. She gave me a small wave as I pulled away from the curb, sending me on my way.
My mind was at once jubilated and discouraged. Diana wanted to see me again but I hadn’t gotten her number. We’d made plans to dance again but hadn’t set a date. She’d kept my jacket but given me nothing in return.
I drummed my fingers across the steering wheel and was just wondering what to make of it all, when I glanced up and saw Diana in my rearview mirror. She hadn’t moved from the sidewalk and was standing stock still, looking up at the cemetery gate. I slowed the car to watch her.
What happened next was so strange that I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Diana, the beautiful woman in the white dress, the woman I’d spent the last few hours dancing the night away with, the woman who’d just kissed my cheek, simply walked through the iron bars to the cemetery and vanished.
I swung the car around and drove back to the spot where I’d seen her walk through the gate. Fumbling, I undid my seatbelt and stumbled out of the car. Approaching the gate, I called out her name but was met only with silence. For several minutes I walked to and fro along the fencing, yelling for her to come back but she never reappeared.
Finally giving up and about to leave, I noticed my jacket crumpled in a pile on the stony ground. It was the only proof I had that Diana was real… and it was lying on the other side of the locked iron gate.
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