Well, hello there. Back in the day, the Stoics were a bunch of philosophers who believed in suffering in silence. They were, you might say, not big on Emotional Intelligence. Or, you could say, they were idiots.
Either way, Gary Clark is a wise man indeed, because he knows both the value of a good tale well told and the emotional richness of life’s more poignant moments. If I had a hat – and my stylist will tell you it’s badly needed – I’d doff it to him now.
The Last Dance
Cody stood at the altar, holding Jolene’s right hand in his. Her tiny hand felt small and damp and cold. He smiled and winked at her and then raised his left hand and sandwiched the delicate hand between his thick, calloused hands.
“I do,” Jolene whispered, smiling up into his brown eyes.
Cody gently placed his rough hand against Jolene’s face and wiped a tear off her cheek with his thumb. Then he pressed his hands together, tightening his grip on her hand.
“And do you Cody James Dillon take…” Cody fell deaf to what the priest was saying as he jerked his head toward his mother.
She sat in the front pew next to his father, the place of honor he’d ushered them to before the ceremony began. She held a handkerchief over her mouth, muffling the uncontrollable wave of coughing that consumed her and left her struggling for her next breath. She leaned forward and inhaled slowly in a soft crowing sound to get her next breath.
Still holding Jolene’s hand between his, Cody turned and stepped toward his mother. His father frowned shook his head slowly, side to side.
“Cody?” the priest said, touching him on the shoulder.
“I do,” Cody mumbled, still looking toward his mother.
Seeing the shock on his face, his mother quickly gathered the handkerchief and closed her hand around it. She forced a smile as she struggled to stifle another wave of coughing.
The familiar site of fresh blood staining the handkerchief pulled his mind away from what should have been the happiest day of his life. She had assured Cody just weeks before that the radiation treatments were shrinking the cancer in her lungs and she would soon be in full remission. Cody knew that was all a lie but he didn’t question her.
“Cody?” the priest said softly.
Cody turned, took the ring from his best man and looked down into Jolene’s deep blue eyes. He took a deep breath and slid the ring on her finger. “With this ring, I thee wed,” he said. Then he raised her veil, wrapped his strong arms around her and kissed her.
Jolene felt every part of Cody’s body tremble as he held her tightly and dried his eyes on her shoulder.
He raised his head and smiled at her. “I love you,” he whispered.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” the priest said. “You may kiss your bride, again.”
The congregation laughed.
Cody gripped Jolene’s tightly as they walked down the steps from the altar. He stopped and kissed his mother on the cheek and then escorted Jolene to the church’s banquet hall for the reception.
Jolene danced with her father. It was their favorite song since Jolene was a little girl – Daddy’s Hands. She held onto her father until he danced her over to Cody. Cody shook his hand, took Jolene in his arms and danced away. Jolene looked over her shoulder and saw her father standing at the edge of the dance floor. She winked at him and waved. Then she looked up at Cody and smiled, resting the side of her face against his chest.
When the song ended, Cody walked to his parents table and held his hand out to his mother. His father shook his head. “Have another dance with Jolene. Your mother’s too tired.”
Cody reached out to his mother again. She took his hand and stood. “Can I have this dance?” he said.
The DJ changed from DADDY’S HANDS to Anne Murray’s, COULD I HAVE THIS DANCE.
Cody waltzed slowly so his mother wouldn’t become winded and start coughing again. Then she rested her head against his thick chest and began to talk.
“When you were a baby and got restless and fussy, I would put on this record and dance with you. Dancing soothed you, relaxed you and helped you sleep. That’s why I love this song. Even after you went to sleep I would hold you, and dance with you and sing to you. I knew then that you would be my partner for the rest of my life.” She stifled a cough into his coat.
“You ok?” Cody said, leaning back and looking into her face.
“I’m fine, honey. Just keep dancing,” she said.
“I know you’re sick, mom. I heard you and dad talking the other day.”
“You forget what you heard, Cody. No matter what happens, I will always be here. All you have to do is look. You’ll find me.”
Cody leaned his head down and kissed her on top of the head. “There’s other treatments, mom. I swear it’s not too late.”
“Now stop that,” she said. Take me back to my table and get this party started,” she said, hugging him tightly.
Cody walked her back to the table in the corner, pulled out her chair and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks dad,” he said, shaking his father’s hand.
Cody waved at the DJ and called, “Let’s Party!”
The music blasted from the amplifiers and a hundred young couples cheered and ran for the dance floor.
Exhausted from the dance, she crossed her arms on the table, lay her head down and closed her eyes.
He reached and took her hand. “You ok?” he said.
“I’m just tired,” she said. Then she took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
For the first time in two years, she felt like she could take in as deep a breath as she wanted. She sighed deeply and felt the cool air lift her out of her diseased body. Her soul floated above the chair and then, arms outstretched, she sailed slowly toward the center of the dance floor. She watched Cody and Jolene dancing and laughing with their friends. She felt warm and comfortable in all the love and friendship that moved around the dance floor.
Then the ceiling opened and a bright light shined down from heaven.
26 thoughts on “The Last Dance”
Your story in my opinion Gary was a waving field of God’s smiling tears flowing out upon a bluebell, Texas sunrise with that fragrant grace filling my soul as this love story wedding danced among the words of tender loving between son and mother. There is a rare gentleman quality to your sensitvies which opens our heart to the best part of masculinity. The dance with her son completes a mother’s circle of life from her son’s cradle to his marriage with heaven being her reward from the humble, country class handled suffering inside. I wept softly, smiling from start to finish with tears remaining in my eyes from the beauty of life and God’s redemption from suffering that your story brings. In my heart you won the last contest and I would vote you into the finals if it were my decision to make for this story alone.
Thank you, Parisianne. You ‘got’ everything I tried to build into this story. And, knowing the story moved you as it did tells me that I hit my mark with this one. I’m glad it moved you.
Sorry about using “bluebells” when “when “blue bonnets” are the truer Texas charm in wild fields. I am envious in a way of Jolene, because there is nothing better than a Texan cowboy with his hat on Strait by George…I mean straight. I like the song, “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Dixie Chicks. There is a trust and honoring to such notions much like there is to the bond between mother and son and wife and husband in your story which is far too rare these days. You honour both marriage and trust of vows with your words. After all most wedding vows include the phrase, “Until death do us part.” I am kind when vows break down, but it is reassuring when you know they will last with heart felt intentions rather than going through only the motions.
There’s a bond between a cowboy and his mama that just can’t be explained. It’s just the way we grow up. Wives understand that if there’s a situation where either the mama’s life or the wife’s life can be saved – it’s gonna be mama or at least that’s what we say. I’ve never seen that situation put to the test.
There’s a similar bond between the cowgirl and her daddy. Check out the song Daddy’s Hands – that’s the best description of that bond that I’ve ever heard.
And – Thanks for your comments. You make my day.
I do not pity Thorn the job of deciphering the top five in all these talented posts. You presented such beautiful tension, and believable characters. You gave a happy ending, and a sad one too. I knew when they were dancing that she knew she was down to her very last moment or two, and what a beautifully happy way to see her son off. A wonderful read.
Outstanding. Marvelous story. Simply beautiful.
But now the rest of us don’t have a prayer of winning…
Awwwwww – come on, Casper. It ain’t over ’til it’s over and you already brought us a great story.
Simply beautiful is right. So tender. We worried about his mother from the beginning and felt the deep love between mother and son. Really great story!
Thank you, Sheri. This was one of those stories that just needed to be written. I’m glad you liked it.
I can’t think of anyone better than you to share this tale of life and death. Gary, you got a knack for expressing the soul. As if the writing hung of feathers. Time and time again you are the best.
Ha Ha – Stang ol’ buddy – you ain’t seen SOUL ’til you’ve seen me do the Cupid Shuffle!
Too much information but I would not, could not, look away. Maybe in Moscow.
Thanks, Miryam. I appreciate that.
Gary, what I especially like about your flash and your writing in general is your ability to provide readers with vivid description and emotional impact. One allows your story to be played out in one’s mind; the other elicits an emotional response to give personal value to that mental story play. You’re good, Gary, very good!
Thanks, Sal. Coming from the Champion Flasher that means a lot.
Just because some of us are stupid enough to climb on a huge animal and sometimes end up getting busted up don’t mean we still don’t have a heart and feelings.
Jolene is very lucky to be getting a man who has learned so much of love. Nice read.
She is for sure, Ken, and thank you.
I’m about to freakin’ cry. And that’s one of the highest compliments you can get from me <3
It’s like my kids tell me when they read some of my stories, “Dad, you can make me laugh and cry all at the same time.” I tell ’em that’s what a writer is supposed to do. I know some of my Grandma, Sparky and Me stories have made a lot of people laugh, so with this one, please feel to cry…….
What I have learned over the past several years of being a part of this site, no, community, is that much can be said with very little. There has to be enough, of course, and that is what you always include. Enough. No words are wasted and nothing comes up short. This story is just another example of your talent.
Thanks, Mac. I appreciate that.
You nailed it. That is all I can say. Perfect. Your heart is showing through in this on my friend and it too is perfect. I think I covered it. Just wiping tears from y eyes and so is Miss Peggy.
Thanx, Diane. The bones of this story have been rattling around in my head for a while and I decided it was time to put some skin on it. Glad you liked it.
Re-read this with a sip of coffee just now… good stuff. I hope Thorn does an anthology of submissions this year. Man this stuff is so good!