Dance to the Whisperer
Steven H. Short
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Helen Rose watches the tall blonde man turn and walk out the front door. He’s a very handsome and strong looking man, she thinks as she opens the door to the back room. She looks down at the list of goods the man requested, she knows where most of it is stocked, so it shouldn’t take her very long to complete the order. She walks out the back door of the building, looks at pile of wooden crates, grabs two and returns to the front of the store. She lays them on top of the counter and starts filling them.
At twenty years old, Helen has known no other life than that of a daughter of a strict and alcoholic father who owns the store. Her mother died when she was twelve and she’s been working the store and taking care of her two younger sisters ever since. She has had no time for socializing with other men or women her age. Until now she hasn’t even wanted to.
But she’s been feeling something different since looking into the eyes of the tall blonde Nelson Turner a few moments ago. A strong warm feeling of passion ran through her body, and that feeling hasn’t left her. She’s somewhat confused by what she’s it all about, having never felt this way before, her mind continually flashing back to the moment the two’s eyes locked. The picture remains vivid; his neatly combed wavy long blonde hair, the deep blue eyes, the mouth that curls up on the ends, showing an always-present smile.
She turns, reaches and pulls two cans of green beans from off the shelf behind her and puts them into the crate, she looks at the old Clock Company grandfather clock located near the front entrance, one hour and thirty minutes until he returns, time is going very slow, she thinks.
The front door opens and her father enters the store.
“Good morning Daddy” says Helen, knowing she would not get a response from the man.
He continues on, head down, until he reaches the door at the back room and exits out of sight. This is his usually ritual at this time of morning. He awakens with the usual hangover, drinks his coffee, grooms himself and heads off to the store to sit in the back room until time to go buy enough liquor for him to drink himself to sleep at night.
Her father started drinking after her mother died giving birth of her younger sister Annette. He remains bitter and angry for the loss of his wife and stays out of site of most of people. His only exposure to the outside world is when he walks the three blocks from their home to the store and back again or when he walks over the liquor store for a pint of vodka at two o’clock. Most of the time he sits in the back room listening to the radio, monitoring the events of the war. He starts drinking upon his return from the liquor store until he goes home at five o’clock. Leaving Helen to open, operate and close the store each day. She knows that if she were to leave her father, he would lose the store, his daughters, and his home and more than likely, he would die. She couldn’t do that to him.
She continues packing the wood creates with the goods the man requested.
The door opens again and her eight-year-old sister Annette and her friend Olivia enter the store running, “Hi, Helen,” yells Annette.
“Quit you two, daddy’s in the back room, and you know he doesn’t like it when you two come stomping in scream at the top you your lungs!” Helen demands.
The two little girls run directly to the jelly bean jar, remove the lid and each grabs a hand full of the candies, dropping some onto the floor as they the pull their arms out. The two giggly girls start to run back out the door when Helen steps in front of them, “go back there and put that lid back on that candy jar right now Annette!” commands Helen. Annette does a quick return to the jar, replaces the lid, and runs past Helen out the door with her friend. Helen sees her sixteen-year-old sister Beverly outside the door talking to a young black boy, Dexter Man and yelling at Annette and Olivia to behave themselves. It’s Beverly’s job to care for Annette while Helen tends the store. Beverly sees Helen in the doorway, smiles, and waves while continuing to talk to Dexter who is standing next to her.
Dexter follows Beverly’s head turn toward the front door of the store and see’s Helen motioning with her hand for Beverly to come into the store. Dexter smiles at Helen, his white teeth contrasting against his brown skin, Helen returns the gesture.
Beverly excuses herself and enters the store. “What are you doing?” whispers Helen, “you know that if Daddy caught you talking to that black boy he’d paddle your behind raw!”
“I’m a grown woman Helen, incase you haven’t noticed,” Beverly explains putting a hands under each breast and gently lifting them.
Helen slaps her sister arm “you don’t need to tell me, I think every boy in town has noticed you’re a ‘grown woman’” replies Helen. “But you can’t be going flaunting it around, especially in front of the store when Daddy’s here.”
“I don’t care Helen; I’m not going to grow up like you having to take care of that old drunken fool in there.” says Beverly, pointing towards the back room. “I’m going to grow up, have friends and someday a husband like every other woman in this world and neither you or Daddy are going to stop me!” she says, in a muffled angered voice as she turns and walks out slamming the front screen door.
Furious, Helen retreats to the back room to see if her father had been listening. She’s relieved to see the silhouette of the thin man standing at the back screen door looking out over the alleyway.
Helen walks up to her father and puts her arm around his shoulder.
“Hi Daddy. What are you doing?” She asks.
“Just heard over the radio that Donald McNabs son Robert was killed in a training mission off the California coast.”
“Oh no, I went to school with Robert.” She responds the sad news. “I’ll bake an apple pie for his Precilla and take it over to her tonight.”
“Yea, but you be home before dark. I don’t want you out with all these new construction people coming into town. You never know what kind of people they are.” He says.
“I won’t daddy,” she leans over and kisses him on the cheek and returns back to the front of the store.
Helen grabs the straw broom standing in the corner and begins to sweep the floor, with the vision of Turner still in her mind. She hears the radio in the back room playing Benny Goodman’s “Whispering”. She closes her eyes holding the broom as she visions herself dancing with the handsome Nelson Turner. She twirls around and around down the middle isle stopping occasionally to do a passionate dip, suddenly she bumps into someone standing in the aisle. She opens her eyes and sees herself pressed up against the chest of Nelson Turner.
“I’m so sorry Mr. Turner, again I didn’t hear you come in.” she says, backing away from the man.
“No need to apologize, Miss? I don’t believe I got your name when I was in here earlier” he asks.
“Helen Rose, my father owns the store” she tells him while walking towards the boxed goods at the end of the counter. “I believe you’ll find everything here that was on your list Mr. Turner.” Helen steps behind the counter and moves towards the cash register.
“Can I get you anything else Mr. Turner,” she asked the man standing at the end of the counter, rummaging through the box of groceries. She hoped he couldn’t see how nervous she was.
“Ah, yes, there is one more thing,” he says as he walks toward her, his heart pounding harder and faster with every step. What if she says no, he thinks. “Um,” he looks around to make sure no one was watching, “would you care to join me for dinner tonight?” there, he asked, it was out.
Helen looks up at the man, totally shocked by what she just heard.
“Oh, Mr. Turner, I’m so flatter that you asked me, but I possibly couldn’t go.” She lies to him.
“Are you married?” he asked.
“Oh, no.” she replies, somewhat surprised by his question.
“Boyfriend?” he continues.
“No, no boyfriend Mr. Turner.” She’s amused by his persistence, but loving every minute of it.
“The truth is Mr. Turner,”
“Nelson, please call me Nelson,” he interrupts
“OK, Nelson, I have to bake a pie and take it over to a neighbor friend who’s husband was killed in a training accident earlier this week.” She finished saying.
“I see, well, maybe another night then?” he asks, trying to get sign of her interest in him.
“Maybe,” she answers, “maybe.”
Nelson takes that as a yes and a big smile fills his face. He walks back to his wood boxes of groceries, loads them into the car, and heads back to the base.
Helen quickly walks out from behind the counter breaking into a fast skip to the front door to watch the man who has captured her heart drive off.