We had only just arrived at the dance hall when I noticed him. Tall, with dark, closely cropped hair and a stature that suggested authority. All of the men were in uniform, it was after all a dance to celebrate the efforts of our forces. There was some indefinable difference that made him stand out.
My friends were giggling. We’d all tried to dress up as best we could given the restrictions of the war. Our well used frocks were embellished with ribbons, bows and flowers. Mary had dabbed cheap perfume behind our ears and it wafted around us like a group identity.
I was suddenly aware of how I might look to that man at the other side of the room. My cream dress with brown polka dots was borrowed and consequently it didn’t fit well. I’d added a red belt to pull in the waist and a red rose, which was already threatening to lose its petals. I didn’t possess stockings, so my legs were long and white. My shoes were practical and it pained me to see the high heels of others.
A group of men at the other side of the room were eying us up. The dance band struck up a tune and one by one my friends disappeared into the press on the dance floor. I started to feel self-conscious and analysed why I hadn’t been chosen. Tears sprang to my eyes and I blinked them away, praying that they would not dissolve the mascara applied from her precious black block earlier by my friend Marjorie.
I was just debating whether to leave or to hide in the ladies powder room when the tall man appeared at my side. He stood observing the dancers next to me.
‘We seem to be the only ones not dancing.’
It was a comment rather than a question. I felt I must reply, but all rational thought had deserted me. I managed a feeble, ‘Do you like dancing?’
‘I love it, but I rarely get the chance.’ I gazed at the dancers wistfully and then blushed as I realised he might think I was asking him to dance.
‘Do you live here?’
‘Yes, I was born in the village. Lived here all my life.’
‘So you know everyone and everything here?’
‘Painfully. I often dream of escape.’
‘Pastures new?’ He looked at me at last. His face was pale and his eyes dark.
‘I suppose so.’ I began to sway to a favourite tune.
‘Let me tell you something, er…’
‘Well Susie. I’m David by the way. Never underestimate belonging somewhere.’ He sighed.
‘That sounded heartfelt.’
‘I’ve never belonged anywhere. My father was in the army too. We never stayed in one place longer than six months. Now this war has meant I move even more. When it is over, I’m going to find myself a nice village like this and take root.’
The room had filled with cigarette smoke. I was thankful that I had never smoked as my eyes smarted. Pairs of dancers disappeared to the darkness. The band’s limited repertoire repeated often. We talked on. We never did dance. By the end of the evening, I had agreed to write to David and had his regimental address written on a matchbook.
I dutifully wrote, even though memories of his face blurred and I was writing to his upright image. I had letters from all over Britain and Europe in the next few years. They weren’t exciting letters, but it felt good to get them. I knew he kept most of the pain and gore from me.
One day they stopped. I mourned their loss. I never found out what happened to him, but in my heart of hearts I knew.