Chapter Eleven

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Eli presents his arm to Mayme. She rests her hand on his forearm as they start to head for the table. “You have been exceeding expectations though. You certainly have nothing to be embarrassed about. You are an exceptional student. I have never had this much fun before and I love dancing. We will have plenty of time to practice when the war is over. You can start ‘throwing me around’ then,” Mayme quips with a laugh as she repeats Eli’s words. They reach the table at which they were seated earlier. There are a couple of half empty glasses on it but no Geraldine in sight. Eli pulls out the chair in which Mayme was seated earlier. He slides it under her as she sits down. Eli sits in the same chair he was in earlier but pulls it closer to her so he is also facing the band. “I saw Geraldine sitting here a couple minutes ago,” Mayme mentions as she is looking around the ballroom floor. “Oh, there she is with Roger.”

Eli turns around to look where Mayme is pointing. He watches them dance. Roger is one of the guys that can fling his partner. “That guy is really good,” he observes.

“That is the same guy she was with when we left,” Mayme comments while they are both watching Geraldine and Roger. “He is a

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pretty good dancer and Geraldine usually hooks up with him on the nights he is here. They never date though. I think maybe he has the same affliction you have Eli - shyness. We know very little of him except that he can dance and he works somewhere at Ventnor Boat. I have seen him there but he never talks to us. He doesn’t talk much, even when we are here. He seems nice though. Geraldine just can’t get him to open up.”

Eli turns back toward Mayme as he wonders aloud, “Does Geraldine like him? I mean would she like to date him?”

“Yes. Well, she thinks she would. What she would really like is if he would open up while we are here so she could get to know him better. Oh, here they come,” Mayme announces as she nods in the direction behind Eli giving him a clue to stop talking about Roger.

“Wow, you two were gone long enough,” Geraldine complains as she seats herself adjacent to Mayme. “Eli this is Roger. Roger, Eli.”

“Hi, Eli,” Roger says as he holds out his hand.

“Nice to meet you Roger,” Eli stands as he gives and receives a firm handshake.

“What was going on at Kessler’s anyway?” Geraldine pries with a suspicious demeanor.

“Eli and I took time to get acquainted,” Mayme retorts without acknowledging Geraldine’s subtle accusation of possible impropriety. “He told me a story that was so funny my side was killing me from laughter.”

This intrigued Geraldine. “Tell me! I love funny stories.”

“I will have to tell you tomorrow. It was really long. I know I can’t relate it as well as Eli but I don’t want to share him for as long as it would take to tell.”

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“Well, you must be pretty well acquainted by now. “You missed half the dance.” Geraldine’s disbelieving innuendo returns. “I also noticed you were all of a sudden were able to dance, Eli. I thought you said you couldn’t dance.”

Eli responds proudly, “I couldn’t. Mayme taught me.”

“Oh, I guess that explains why you were gone so long.” Geraldine accepts this as a valid reason for being gone so long. “You do better than okay for a beginner, Eli.”

“Thank you, Geraldine.” She had made Eli feel quite good about himself. All his life he never danced and now because of Mayme a whole new world has opened up to him. “Mayme is a very good teacher.”

“She should have been a teacher,” Geraldine agrees. “She is so smart. Mayme, will you go to the powder room with me?” With that said off they go and leave Eli and Roger at the table.

Eli watches them talk to each other as they walk away. He suspects they are talking about him. “You are a very good dancer Roger.” Roger smiles and nods but doesn’t say anything. A silence ensues. Sitting with someone but not interacting makes Eli feel uncomfortable. In an effort to break the impasse Eli inquires, “So what do you do Roger?”

“I am a tool & die maker. I work at the same factory where Geraldine works.”

“Oh, you must have a deferment from the draft with a job like that.” Eli realizes that somewhere in the back of his mind he must have been wondering why Roger, who he guessed at late 20’s or early 30’s, was not in the service. Eli realized this thoughtless statement was inspired by the same thinking that the people giving strange looks on

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the streets of West Union must have had. Now he had regretted saying it because it was just hanging out there but it couldn’t be withdrawn.

I could tell Roger was reflecting on it and after a moment Roger did finally respond. “Yes I do. In fact I went down signed up for the Navy ’cause I knew they needed machinist’s mates but as soon as I told my boss I was quitting he went down and had them reject me. Before the war we were just a pleasure and racing boat building company. In fact we made the fastest boats in the world. Now we make boats for the Navy. I started there as toolmaker apprentice right out of high school. That was nine years ago. Now I am a journeyman and the owner says he couldn’t replace me if I left. Now with the war the boss said he can’t get anyone experienced so the Navy agreed with him. Being a journeyman tool & die maker at a factory for the Navy is more than a deferment. They just won’t allow you to join if they find out. I have been working really long hours because I have had so many dies, molds and other tools to build. I also have to be the tool and cutter grinder. And I have to train all the women that start there. I don’t like being a civilian though. A month ago this woman came up to me while I was walking down the sidewalk. A complete stranger! She said ‘why are you still here? I lost my husband and son and here you are walking around here happy as can be.’ She made me feel terrible. I get looks all the time when I am out.”

Eli thought how unfair that was and questions, “Didn’t you tell her you make boats for the Navy?”

“I don’t talk about what I do with people on the street. ‘Loose lips sink ships’ you know. I don’t know why I’m talking to you. Normally I generally just keep to myself. I guess the only reason I told you is

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’cause I’m sitting here with you. You’re in uniform and I didn’t want you thinking I was a slacker I guess.”

Now Eli really felt bad. He had, in a way, made a remark like the cruel lady had said to him. In an effort to undo his own unkind statement he admits, “I didn’t think badly of you Roger. I don’t meddle in other people’s lives. In fact until just a few months ago for reasons of my own I was just waiting for the draft to get me. Everyone has things going on in their lives Roger. Don’t ever put any guilt on yourself. Ignore those people that give you those looks. You seem like a real nice guy. Talented too, in your work and dancing. Geraldine likes to dance with you, right?”

“Geraldine is very nice. We have a great time dancing. I have trouble talking to anyone but especially girls. I always have. I can hide behind my dancing ability to be with Geraldine. I wouldn’t even have that if it wasn’t for my sisters. They taught me. I am amazed I am talking to you about girls. I guess it’s the fact that you don’t condemn me for not being in the service.”

Eli feels he has mended his error. He sees an opportunity to possibly help Roger. “Well, to begin with, you are in the service of our country so stop thinking that way. Look Roger, on a different subject, you and I have something in common so I want to help you out.” He wants Roger to know he is willing to go out on a limb for him as he continues, “I am going to tell you something Mayme may not want me to say. Mayme and I have fallen in love with each other. Because of my own shyness I could not have that relationship were it not for a little push by a twist of fate. I am going to repay fate by offering you that same little push. Mayme told me that Geraldine thinks you are a nice guy but she knows so little about you. She wants you to willingly

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engage her in conversation. When they get back I am going to tell them the little story you just told me about the Navy refusing to take you. That will let Geraldine in on a side of you she doesn’t know. Mayme and I will leave the table. Then all you have to do is respond to whatever she might ask or say. You have to overcome the shyness and start talking to her. Knowing that she likes you should help you do that. Is this an agreeable plan?”

Roger hesitates, “It will embarrass me to have you talk about me in front of me. Can I leave while you talk about me?”

“No, Roger, it has to be in front of you so Geraldine will continue the conversation when we leave.” Eli remembers another proverb from his father although he suspects he is not the author. “If you don’t do something different today then tomorrow will be just like yesterday. Can you force yourself past the embarrassment?”

“You are right. Okay, go ahead.” Then he gives Eli a heads up, “Here they come.”

“Okay, we’re back,” Geraldine announces as they approached the table from behind Eli. “Miss us?”

“Yes, we did miss you,” Eli affirms. “But we also had a nice conversation while you were gone.”

“Oh yeah? About what? I can’t ever get two words out of him,” Geraldine remarks with astonishment.

Eli begins his story with, “Roger tells me he works with you two.”

But Geraldine interrupts, “Well, he trained us on our first day but we haven’t seen him since. I don’t even know what he does there.”

Eli continues, “He is a tool and die maker there. A pretty prestigious job. He didn’t say that, but I know it is. In fact, he enlisted in the Navy and was declined because his job is too important to the

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war effort. Now, because of that, he gets nasty looks from people while he is in public because they think he is a slacker. In fact he had one woman come up to him on the street and insult him to his face. Simply because he was not in uniform.”

Geraldine is obviously upset by Eli’s comments. Looking at Roger she protests, “Roger that is terrible! No one should treat you like that. What right did that woman have? She has no idea what your personal situation is.”

The band has been playing At Last already for a few moments. Eli, holding true to his word to Roger, stands and requests, “Would you two please excuse us? Mayme, will you dance with me?” Geraldine and Roger are glued eye to eye and completely ignore Eli’s request. Mayme arises, takes Eli’s outstretched hand and as they walk away Geraldine is continuing her tirade about rude people.

Eli hopes Mayme doesn’t mind as he states, “Do you care that this is a slow song? I like dancing slow also Mayme. You are right about the swing though. It is a really fun dance but it is also so great to hold you against me.” He is holding her much closer than in the first dancing session they had.

“I really enjoy being close to you too, Eli. I have to admit it is much easier to talk during slow dances. What did you say to Roger? He and Geraldine are talking up a storm. Look at them,” Mayme marvels as she gently turns them around on the dance floor so Eli is facing their table.

“I was unable to talk to you at the beginning of this evening,” Eli admits. “I was much like Roger was toward Geraldine. All I needed was a little nudge from a falling hat. Now I gave that little nudge to him. He is a very nice but shy guy. I told him he had to get past the

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shyness or he would never have anyone. I hope it works out for Geraldine and him. It has certainly worked out for you and me.”

“We have known him for months and I’ve never seen anything like this. You amaze me Eli.”

“It’s him that is amazing. He is a very talented person. And I liked him.”

A few moments pass with no conversation while they dance then Mayme asks, “I have never asked. What are you going to be doing when you get where you are going?”

“I am going to be lugging around a field radio,” he replies.

“That sounds very dangerous, Eli. You won’t be able to protect yourself.”

“Well I don’t think anyone is safe over there. But you won’t be safe either until we finish our job.” The tempo of Chattanooga Choo Choo is faster and they automatically open up into the East Coast Swing. “I am looking forward to starting our life together,” Eli proclaims as he swings past Mayme. “We are going to have such a great time. I love being with you!” he exclaims on the next pass.

“I have always loved dancing but you make it even better,” Mayme affirms. Eli is much more comfortable dancing and it is obvious to Mayme. “You are much looser now. Your knees are more relaxed. That makes for a smooth, quicker step.” Mayme falls silent for a couple minutes while she continues dancing. It has gotten quite mobbed on the dance floor. Eli sees nothing but empty chairs as everyone is now on the dance floor. Eli realizes the evening may be nearing the conclusion. Mayme stops dancing and she pulls Eli to the only uncontested corner of the ballroom near the exit to the lobby. “We are almost out of time, Eli. Any one of the next songs could be the last

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one. There is so much I want to talk about. I don’t want to return to the table because I can’t share one more moment of our time with Geraldine. Eli I need you to write to me whenever possible. Can you do that?”

“If there is a second available to me I will use it to write to you, I promise.”

“In these final minutes I will lay out what I want in your letters. I want to know everything about your sisters, your mother and your father. I have heard that they censor mail. Don’t write anything that might cause them to edit your letters. I don’t want your mail hacked up. I want you to write to your parents and sisters to tell them about me. I need their addresses. After I know you have told them about me I will start correspondence with them. Tell me anything that pops into your head about you. About when you were a little boy. About when you were a teenager. About Big Rock. About Upper Iowa University. About Fayette, West Union, Oelwein. Anything about you. I can’t get enough. Eli, I don’t know how this can be but I love you so dearly. You have captured my heart.” She stops talking and is visibly choking up. Her eyes are pools of water as she continues, “You… must… I… I am beginning to ache to the core… I’m feeling….”

Tears are streaming down her cheeks and her breath is gone so she is unable to finish her last sentence. Eli is feeling her heartbreak and finds it difficult to speak but with a big swallow forces the emotions back down his throat. Her knees are buckling and he puts his arm around her to keep her from falling as he grabs a chair from the nearby table. She falls into the chair still weeping. Eli takes two steps to get another chair and pulls up next to her but facing as if they were in a love seat. In Eli’s mind they are alone in this big ballroom. It is empty

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except for the two of them. Even the sound of the band has just become a faint background noise as he whispers, “I will tell you all those things, Mayme. I will tell my family about you. In fact that is the first letter I will write.” This is proving very difficult for him so he tries to lighten the mood as he chuckles, “I know my sisters will be absolutely nuts about you.” This has made Mayme look up with a slight smile. He knows that the prospect of having sisters is a very bright spot on her horizon. “I will come straight here when I get back. I will get the official blessing from your father for your hand in marriage.” Her face is slowly brightening the more he talks about their life together. “After your family has learned to like me we will jump on the first train to Iowa. When your new sisters meet you they will be all over you like pigs at the trough.” That metaphor brings a slight giggle from Mayme. “Have you ever heard of the song The Little Brown Church in the Vale?”

She is almost glowing again as she replies between gasps of crying, “I have heard… that song, Eli... Is that song from Iowa?”

Eli is satisfied with himself as he brings her back to that excited little girl she had revealed to him before. “More than that, Mayme, the church described in that song is real. It is in Nashua, not that far from Fayette. If you like, we can get married there. We will get it all arranged so your parents can come. Geraldine too. Her parents and even your ‘other uncle’,” he says with a genuine laugh and now Mayme is laughing too.

“Oh, Eli,” Mayme gushes as Eli wipes the last of her tears with the back of a finger. “You have made me excited again. It will be so fun. I will look in the mail every day for your letters.” Her exuberance returns. She and Eli rise together. As she takes him in her arms the

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people in the ballroom slowly reappear to Eli and now he can hear the band leader as he thanks everyone for coming and announces this is the last song for the evening.

They start playing I’ll Be Seeing You. Eli and Mayme separate a few inches and stare into each other’s eyes as the realization that their time is about to end. Eli grasps Mayme’s upper arms to pull her close then wraps his arms around her at chest level. She puts her face into Eli’s neck and rests her ear on his shoulder as she encloses her arms around his neck. They both tighten their hold. I must never forget this moment. Lock the feeling of her bubble in my soul, Eli instructs himself. They are barely moving their feet making the slightest pretense of dancing. They are silent throughout the dance. Eli is experiencing intense pain in his heart but he knows he can’t reveal that to Mayme. At the final few bars of the song they have stopped all movement and are now in a very tight embrace with Eli’s back to the doorway to the hotel lobby.

The last lines the vocalist sings are “I’ll be looking at the moon, But I’ll be seeing you.”

Without lifting her head Mayme whispers into Eli’s ear, “You look at the moon every evening and I will be seeing you.”

For a moment Eli’s analytical mind starts to calculate exactly when each of them should be looking at the moon. He immediately represses the impulse. “Yes I will,” Eli whispers back into her ear. The lump in his throat prevents any further vocalization. There is a lot of commotion about the dance floor. Occasionally they are lightly bumped by passing people but they remain silently frozen in each other’s arms as minutes pass.

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Parker has approached from Eli’s right side and taps Eli on his shoulder. “We have to get going, Bailey. Come on.”

“Give me just a few more minutes, Parker. Go wait by the door please.”

“I have already waited a few minutes and we are by the door,” Parker explains. “We have to go.”

Eli ignores Parker. This was their last dance and even though the music has ended he doesn’t want it to end. They cling to each other in a last desperate embrace. Eli proclaims, “I love you Mayme.” Eli thinks, Such a trite phrase and yet it absolutely expresses what is in my aching heart.

Mayme raises her chin enough to put her lips to his ear. She softly whispers, “I love you Eli.”

Eli and Mayme release simultaneously. Eli grabs her upper arms and holds her inches away to look deeply into her eyes. They both look into each other’s souls. He releases his grip and steps backwards slowly as his hands slide down her arms to one final clutch of her hands. Then their hands slip slowly away until just their fingertips are touching. Mayme drops her right hand, reaching out with her left to maintain contact with her left fingertips. Eli withdraws his fingers from hers as he backs toward the doors to the lobby. He has passed through the now blocked open doors as he stares at her. She is frozen with her hand held out palm up just as it was when their fingers parted. Just before he has to make the turn around the corner he pauses and tries to burn her image into his mind. Parker, at Eli’s left side, places his hand on Eli’s shoulder.

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