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The Anniversary Waltz

by Barb Dukeman 20 days ago in immediate family · updated 20 days ago

Could it come true?

The morning haze of June 10, 1994, was particularly tiring for Shelley. Two months of pregnancy have started taking its toll, from the dreaded morning sickness to the backache that no Advil could kill. Bumming around the house, a restless Shelley figured today was just going to be another typical hot summer day. Mark, who started work earlier in the day, came home early, catching her off guard.

“Oh! You’re home early today,” she chirped while she emptied the dishwasher. “So what do you know? What happened today at work?”

Mark mechanically replied, “Same crud, different day. I’m beat.” He plopped his strong frame down on the sofa and cracked open a Michelob Light. “So what’s for dinner?”

Stuttering, Shelley tried to make up an excuse. “I didn’t cook. You never come home this early, so I didn’t make anything. . . special. I’m hungry, too.” She walked over to her husband stretched out on the plaid sofa. “So what do you want to do? How about a movie?”

“Nah, I don’t want to go to a movie. How about going out for dinner?” Mark suggested.

“Oooh, that sounds good,” replied Shelley, eyes gleaming. “Where?”

“How about Shells? I could go for some seafood.” Mark put his beer down and riffled through his checkbook, a nervous habit he had whenever he tried to do a good deed.

Shelley approved of the suggestion. “Sounds good to me. I can always tell when you get paid. We eat better on that day.”

“And wear a nice dress-how about that new one you bought when we attended last year’s office party.”

Shelley was confused and surprised that Mark would remember, much less recommend, an article of her clothing. This statement came from a man who still depended on his family to provide him underwear.

“Oh, all right. Give me half an hour to get ready then, OK? If I wear that dress, I have to curl my hair too, you know,” she replied defensively.

Mark got up from the couch, turned off the tube and mumbled, “Whatever.”

Half an hour passed by; kingdoms fell, supernovas formed. Mark emerged from the bedroom dressed up and ready to go and opened the sliding glass door to let the dog out. Then he nonchalantly ambled out the front door, glancing over his shoulder as he went.

Shelley walked down the hallway and announced, “I’m almost done here. Just a few more curls.” Looking around the living room, she couldn’t find Mark. “Hey! Where’d you go? Mark?”

The door opened up as Mark brought in the rest of his stuff from his truck. In his left hand he carried something wrapped up in thin green paper. He cleared his throat and said, “Here. I got this. . . and this for you.” He gingerly handed Shelley the bundle in green paper and watched as she unwrapped it to reveal three roses. “One is you, one is me, one is us.” He then presented her with a rose and baby’s breath corsage. “I know you like flowers and all. I found it in the dumpster.”

“ You did not! They’re absolutely beautiful,” Shelley coos, giving him a kiss. “Oh, I haven’t had a corsage in eight forevers. You want to put it on me?”

Mark shook his head. “Nah, I’ll just stab our future baby’s food supply.”

“Oh, never mind.” She put on her corsage, and then placed the roses in a vase on the dining room table. Beaming with pride, she countered, “I thought you’d forgotten. Remember last year? We had just gotten back from that miserable trip to Key West, and by the time Sunday came around, we were getting on each other’s nerves. Remember?”

Mark smirked, “No, not really. How the heck do you remember such things?”

Laughing, Shelley answered, “Oh, I remember. A girl remembers things like that. Dorothy Parker said it best: ‘Women and elephants never forget.’ Our first anniversary, and we spent it fussing.” She picked up her purse. “OK, I’m ready.”

“Let’s go,” Mark said, fumbling with his keys.

They got in the car and drive over to the Shells near the city. On the way over they rehashed general topics of the day. And Mark pulled in the parking lot, he looked over at his wife and said, “Here we are.”

Inside the restaurant, the hostess addressed the couple. “Two for tonight? Smoking or non-smoking?”

Looking at Shelley’s concave yet pregnant belly Mark casually replied, “Non-smoking, please.”

“Right this way.” The hostess led them to a table in the lower section, out overlooking the water. “Manny will be your waiter tonight. Enjoy your dinner.”

Almost immediately Manny sidled up to the table. “Would you care to order some drinks first?” as if Mark would consider water.

Mark looked up and asked the usual question, “What do you have on draft?” Manny rattles off a long list. “I’ll have the Killian’s Red.”

“And I’ll have a diet Coke” added Shelley. The waiter leaves with their order. “Gotta live life in the fast lane sometime, right?” She looked out over the water. “After all those thunderstorms last week, do you think it’ll rain tonight?”

“I seriously hope not,” Mark replied.

Looking at Mark sideways, and smiling, Shelley queried, “Why? Since when are you interested in the weather?”

Mark unfolded his napkin and rearranged the silverware. “Because I left some tent equipment outside and I forgot to bring it in.”

A disappointed look crossed her face. The waiter returned. “Here are your drinks. Are you ready to order?” After scribbling gibberish on a note pad, Manny disappeared into the kitchen.

Shelley commented, “He certainly is quick. Oh, look-there’s Angie. And she’s with her husband. He works all the time, and they rarely get time away from the kids. I wonder if that’s the way we’ll be.” She waved at Angie and received a nod in return. They make a cute couple, don’t they?” Shelley sipped her soda. “So here we are-our second anniversary. I wonder how we made it this far.”

Mark cracked open a table-top peanut. “Mmmm-hmmm.”

Undaunted, Shelley continued. “I mean, I’ve become quite a nag, haven’t I? This is supposedly the HCG talking.”

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

“You used to ignore me when I irritated you. Now you get all insulted and mad at me. Why don’t you ignore me anymore?”

Mark stared at her in mock disbelief. “You get all huffy when I ignore you. Now you’re saying you want me to ignore you?”

She tapped her nails on the table. “Well, I mean ignore me when I annoy you. Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, don’t get so bent out of shape when I get crabby.”

“Mmmm-hmmm. Where’s that waiter? I need another beer.”

“OK, Honey? You let me know when I’m getting crabby, and then you can ignore me. OK?” She sipped her diet Coke again.

“Mmmm-hmmm” was the reply.

Dinner was set down before them, and both dug in with great abandon. They were obviously quite hungry when no words were spoken during the meal. Finishing his crab legs, Mark leaned back and finished of the last swig of beer. “Boy, I’m stuffed.”

“So am I. That was good. They always have good stuff. I wish I had enough room for dessert. I’m just afraid that the baby won’t let me keep it.”

“Well, since you can’t eat dessert, you can have this instead.” Mark handed her a small, square box, wrapped neatly in colored paper. “Go ahead, open it.”

Shelley acted like a schoolgirl. “What is it? Oh, you’re so sweet!” She opened the box, carefully took out an amethyst ring, and put it on her finger. Ecstatic almost to the point of speechlessness, she managed to stutter, “I ... didn’t think you’d ... actually buy it for me. This is so beautiful. Thank you! thank you! thank you!”

Mark was satisfied with this response. “Mmmm-hmmm. Happy Anniversary. I figured you’d been feeling pretty crummy. I hope you like it.”

“I absolutely love it!”

“Don’t worry some much about what you look like. After the baby, you can go back on your diet, and pick up where you left off.”

Shelley bit her lip and said, “I can’t diet when I’m breast-feeding.”

He retorted, “Why would you be feeding a breast? What about the baby?”

"Oh, you know what I mean. But thanks for your vote of confidence. It means a lot to me.”

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

With dinner done, Mark paid the bill, and they return to the car. Once on their way, instead of driving homeward, Mark was heading southwest.

“Hey, where are we going? Don’t tell me you’re lost.”

“I thought we’d drive around the area before going home.”

After driving around for twenty minutes, and flash of recognition hits Shelley. “We’re going to the beach, aren’t we?”

“Yep,” was the terse reply from the driver’s seat.

She gushed, “Oh, you’re such a romantic! I can’t believe it.”

Mark parked the car in the valet parking area of the Mark IV Caribbean Hotel. Mark and Shelley walked out to the beach, hand in hand, like veteran married couples walk, laughing and talking along the way.

Kicking up the foam along the shore, Shelley asked, “How’d you know to get me this particular ring?”

“I saw how beautiful it was, and I thought of you.”

Shelley could have sworn that someone switched husbands on her.

He continued, “It reminded me of how lucky I was to have a gem like you, and how precious you are to me, even though I don’t always show it. I loved you when I met you, I loved you when I married you, and I’ll always love you.”

In tears, Shelley cried, “Oh, Mark! I love you!” and rewarded his efforts with a kiss.

“Yuck. Shrimp.”

“Sorry,” mumbled Shelley, “beer breath.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing!” laughed Shelley.

“Beer breath?”

“Well. . . Hey, quit splashing water on me!” she squealed.

As they ran down the beach, an elderly couple sat on their back porch, watching all the interesting characters on the beach. The old lady turned to her husband and said, “Look at those two running down the beach.

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

“I hope they last as long as we’ve been together. How long has it been?”

The old man replied, “Too long.”

“What was that?”

“I said 48 years!” shouted the old man.

“That is a long time, isn’t it? Seems like forever.”

“Mmmm-hmmm.”

Mark caught up to Shelley along the beach. “Let’s dance.”

“You can’t dance. Remember? You have four left feet.”

“So? What’s your point?”

Shelley conceded. “OK, OK.”

They danced. Awkwardly at first, but then they become more graceful. “Since when can you dance?” Shelley inquired.

“A girl at work taught me a simple waltz. Just for tonight.”

“So you’re going to forget how to waltz after tonight?”

“No, But I know how much you like to dance. This is our anniversary waltz.” He starts to hum “The Anniversary Waltz,” which was the tune that Shelley’s garter played on her wedding day. Unexpectedly.

“Oh, Mark. You’re such a romantic. I never would’ve believed you had this in you. You’ve kept this such a secret.”

“Secret?” asked Mark. “Just wait until we get home. You unleash the animal in me. Woof!”

“Just what ... are you planning to do?

Mark lowered his voice. “Well, I figure I’d kiss your mouth, then whisper and blow in your ear. Just when I feel you breathe faster, then I’d ... lick your face...”

Shelley suddenly woke up from the dream to find Howler, the family dog, licking her face. She looked over across the bed and saw Mark, snoring up a storm. Shelley came to the sad realization that she had been dreaming. A solitary tear welled up in her eye.

“I knew this was too good to be true. I knew it-I just knew it. Dang.”

Mark turned over, facing Shelley and Howler, “What are you mumbling about?”

“Oh, nothing. I just had the best dream in the world, and I thought it ... it was real.” She paused in her thoughts. Wait a minute - what’s today?”

Mark blinked sleepily and said, “Monday. The ninth. Tenth, maybe, I think.”

Shelley lowered her head. “Oh, never mind. I was just wondering.” She gently nudged the dog off the bed and wiped her face with a tissue. “Do you think that dreams can ever come true?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Now let me go back to sleep. I have to go in to work early today.” As he turned back over, pulling the cover away, he was humming a familiar tune. Shelley’s ears perked up.

It was “The Anniversary Waltz.”

immediate family
Barb Dukeman
Barb Dukeman
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Barb Dukeman

Ready for a new direction after 32 years of teaching high school English. I wrote my first poem about green socks in 1977; I hope I've improved since then.

See all posts by Barb Dukeman

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