Another short story from a couple of years ago. Many of you might have seen it before, and remember it. So this is for those more recent followers.
Norman pulled his car onto Vera’s drive. He knew she would be ready, she always was. He watched her lock up, placing her house keys into the zipped compartment of her handbag. He liked to look at her, even after all those years. In his opinion, she looked nothing like a woman of seventy-two. To Norman’s eyes, she was loveliness personified. Always beautifully dressed, make-up just right, and hair immaculate. He stepped around the car to open the passenger door for her. The swish of her dress as she sat down sounded like heaven to him. Closing the door, he took a moment to savour her delicate perfume, before walking back to get in and start the car. As he reversed into the lane, she was already checking her appearance in a small compact mirror. “Flawless, as always” he complimented. “Go the back way, Norman” she replied. ” You know how the traffic builds up in the high street at this time of day.”
When Vera’s husband Sidney had died, every man at the club had wanted to become her dancing partner. Few of the others matched her skill, and none her poise and elegance. But she had taken her time, watching and waiting until she found someone with a style to complement her own, without surpassing it. Norman’s main rival had been Phillip. He was known as ‘two els Phillip’, as he always introduced himself that way. Secretly, Norman knew that Phillip was the better dancer, but he had a significant disadvantage. His wife Edna was very much alive. Although she didn’t dance, she would sit in the club as her husband moved around the floor, ever-present, always watching. Unlike Norman, he wasn’t free for the practice sessions in the afternoons either, and Vera was keen to enter the annual competition.
So she chose Norman. Reliable, slightly boring, but unmarried. Everyone at the country club knew Norman, but few claimed to be his friend. He was a ‘good sort’; always around, and someone to count on to attend meetings, or when events needed to be organised. As a retired railway executive, his income was good, his house large and respectable, his politics acceptable, and he had a new car. As well as all that, he could dance, thanks to lessons he had taken as a young man.
For the last six years, Norman and Vera had won the annual ballroom dancing contest every time. This was one of the highlights of the club’s social calendar, held on the Bank Holiday weekend in August. Vera had declined to enter the year that her husband died, but she soon had Norman under her wing, training hard for the following August. The competition had started out as a casual affair, and was never really intended to become anything other than a pleasant diversion. But once Vera paired with Norman, they slowly turned it into something very different. Motions were raised at club meetings, eagerly seconded by a dutiful Norman. Dress codes became established, new rules and regulations implemented, and minimum standards applied. Before too long, this once happy-go-lucky event had taken on the appearance of a professional competition, and few of the members could be bothered to follow the new guidelines. This left less than a dozen couples in serious contention each time. That suited Vera very well. She could judge the others in advance, play on her strengths with Norman, and exploit the weaknesses of the others, by choosing the three dances for the programme.
By year three, she had raised the subject of a trophy. Nothing tacky, she had insisted, that would not be in keeping with the prestige of their club, after all. By a margin of one vote, she got the committee to agree to purchase a grand cup to be awarded to the winners, their names and date engraved on a plate at the base. For the past three years that cup had been raised by Vera, and their names engraved soon after. It had pride of place in the glass case in the entrance to the club, on a shelf above the smaller golf and tennis trophies.
Norman loved it when they won. Inside, he didn’t really care that much, but he wanted it for Vera. On those nights, he felt like they were really a couple. She would hold his hand, sit by him at the table enjoying a celebratory glass of champagne, and once even kissed him on the cheek, in full view of everyone. When he drove her home after winning, she would invite him in for coffee. He would sit in her comfortable living room, imagining himself there every day, instead of just once a year. Drinking her nightcap of malt whisky, she would chat animatedly, recalling the excellence of their dancing, and laughing at the paltry efforts of the other couples. One year he had almost ruined it, by trying to kiss her as he left. She had wagged her finger at him, and said in rebuke, ” Now now, Norman, none of that.” He apologised, and made sure never to try that again. He would bide his time, and take refuge in his fantasies instead. One day she would be his, of that he was certain.
That weekend, Vera was determined to get some dancing in. There was a good band playing at the club that night, and she had been sure to let them know the type of music required. After all, there was less than a month to go before the big night, and she wanted to keep Norman up to peak performance. They took their usual table, just at the edge of the dance floor. Norman bought some drinks, and they waited as the band set up on the stage nearby. The compere announced some club business, and ended by saying that the dancing would begin in less than two minutes. Vera checked her reflection in the mirror, in anticipation of her imminent appearance on the dance floor. Norman surreptitiously wiped his brow with a linen handkerchief. It was a hot night, and even hotter inside. Moments before the music started, a stranger approached the table. He was tall and slim, and his complexion suggested Mediterranean origins. “Good evening Miss Vera”, he said boldly. “My name is Nico, and I am new here. I wondered if I could have the honour of the first dance?” Norman was speechless. He had never seen the man before, and here he was asking Vera to dance. He obviously had no idea of the form at the club. He looked young too, probably not a day over fifty. He wore an immaculate lounge suit, and his teeth were suspiciously white. His sleek black hair was undoubtedly dyed, and the diamond-studded tie clip demonstrated that the man had no taste. And Nico, what sort of a name was that, and in Berkshire of all places.
Vera smiled and stood up. “My pleasure,” she replied. Norman couldn’t believe his ears, but stood anyway, as that was the mannered thing to do when a lady was on her feet. Nico took Vera’s outstretched hand, and led her on to the floor. He hadn’t even bothered to ask permission of her partner, or even to formally introduce himself. The cheek of the man, thought Norman, as he boiled with rage inside. As the music played, the couple effortlessly glided along, seeming to hardly touch the floor. This Nico could dance, Norman had to grudgingly admit that. When the number ended, Norman stood to await Vera’s return to the table. But incredibly, she remained in the other man’s arms, and began to swing around to the next tune. Holding his temper, Norman smiled as they passed, patting his hands together in silent appreciation of their skill. At least I know how to behave, he told himself. When they stayed together for the next dance, and the one after that, he was flummoxed. Unsure what to do, he wandered onto the now crowded dance floor, and tapped this Nico on the shoulder. “Cutting in, old man”, he said with some authority. “Sit down, Norman”, Vera snapped at him. “Don’t embarrass yourself.” Nico gave a knowing smile, and continued to whirl his captivated partner around.
Norman left the floor, but did not return to the table. Aware of the looks and whispers surrounding his departure, he headed straight for the toilets instead. Splashing water on his face, he stared at himself in the mirror. His round face was florid, the clipped moustache holding droplets of water, and a vein on his temple was pulsing uncontrollably. “How could she do this to me, after all I have put up with?” he asked his own reflection. Taking time to calm down, he returned to the table. Vera had asked for a third chair, and Nico was now sat next to her, talking close to her ear. Norman held his composure. “What do you know, Norman. Nico was a ballroom champion in London, before moving here.” Vera said this with some emphasis on the word ‘champion’. Norman got the point. He started to reply, but Vera dismissed him with a wave. “I think we need more drinks here, Nico will join me with a gin and tonic.”
So that was how it was going, Norman grumbled to himself as he approached the bar. He looked back, to see them still deep in conversation, Vera throwing back her head with a girlish laugh over something that had been said. He slipped back into the toilets, pretending to wash his hands until he was alone. Secreting something into his trouser pocket, he went back to the bar and bought the drinks, taking them back to the table on a small tray. Nico was regaling Vera with tales of past successes on the dance floor. Southern Counties champion, London Boroughs champion, even representing England against Scotland and Wales. if you believed what he said, he had done it all. Vera hung on his every word, eyes sparking, constantly giggling and nodding. It made Norman sick, to watch her falling for this oily creep. Reaching down, he pretended to tie a shoelace, sliding the small liquid soap bottle from his pocket as he did so. The main dance floor was still well illuminated, as livelier club members enjoyed a Salsa. However, the surrounding area was dimly lit, so he was able to apply the soap liberally to the edge of the dance floor, a few inches from the feet of their table. He sat up, rolling the small container under the table as he did so. Stretching out his right leg, he spread the soap around with the sole of his shoe, pretending to be moving to the sound of the Latin music. Norman looked across at the two of them, smiling benignly. Let’s see Mr Champion avoid that soap, he thought smugly.
The next dance was also up-tempo, so Vera waited until a Foxtrot was announced. “Come on Nico”, she almost squealed, “Let’s show then how it’s done.” Norman stood up as Vera did, glancing across to Nico’s feet, as he approached the soapy slime. To his horror, the man suddenly twirled Vera around as she approached him, and she walked backwards toward the dance floor. As her dance shoes made contact with the soap, both feet went out from underneath her, and as she fell onto her back, her legs flew up and made contact with the underside of the heavy table. Her piercing screams were heard by all in the club. The band stopped playing, and all the lights came on. Nico was kneeling by her side. “Someone phone for an ambulance”, he shouted. Mrs Carmody claimed to know first aid, and she bustled her way through the gathering crowd. “Don’t move her”, she bellowed, “She might have broken something.” The table was moved, and it didn’t look good. Vera was still crying in pain, her head resting on Nico’s thighs. Norman looked down at the laddered stockings, and the blood on Vera’s legs above her slim ankles. He felt very hot once again, and a little sick too.
When the ambulance arrived, the men put both of Vera’s legs into large red plastic splints, then gave her something for the pain as they lifted her onto the trolley bed. She reached her hand out, and Norman stooped to take it. But she was not looking for Norman, it was Nico’s hand that she grasped. “Don’t worry madam” the ambulanceman said, “Your friend can come with you in the ambulance.” Keen to be seen to be doing something, Norman handed their blanket to the crew. “What do you think?”, he asked the one who seemed to be in charge. “The man turned, speaking as an aside. “Both legs broken I suspect sir. Her dancing days are over.”