The Eerie Engagement Dance
The violent, swirling cloud gave way to a silent void of darkness. Again the Pastor heard the faint sounds of music. But it was not the disco music of the cocktail lounge. It was older music—a big band sound. The music grew louder and new surroundings came into focus. In a matter of seconds the transition was complete.
The Pastor and Jonathan were standing beside a polished wood dance floor in a posh nightclub. It was packed with formally dressed couples who were swinging to the orchestra’s peppy version of “In the Mood.”
The Pastor was fascinated. It was a scene from long ago. He knew the place, the night, and the occasion. It was a “high class joint” in the vernacular of those days. More than that, it was, without equal, the place to go night clubbing in Denver during the war years. One of the city’s better examples of Art Deco, it had a coved ceiling and indirect colored lighting. Here and there were wavy glass brick windows. Bright neon lights emblazoned the walls with colorful messages that touted the likes of Lucky Strikes and a beer brewed locally by the Coors family.
The bandstand was an elaborate affair—a stage, complete with footlights and a proscenium. The orchestra’s twenty or so musicians wore white dinner jackets with black bow ties and black trousers. The band leader had a toothy grin and a thin Clark Gable mustache. His raven black hair was brilliantine shiny and slicked back.
“Where is she?” asked the Pastor, wistfully.
It had been the biggest night of his life: April 2, 1944, only weeks before he was drafted into the Army.
Jonathan leaned over to the Pastor and nodded toward the side of the stage.
The Pastor turned his eyes to see an attractive young couple. Standing before him were himself and Amanda as they were back then. He was wearing a black tux and she looked stunningly beautiful in a floor-length formal of champagne lace that bared her milky shoulders.
“Oh, my,” whispered the Pastor. “She was so young, so beautiful.”
“The two or you were very much in love,” added Jonathan.
“That we were,” agreed the Pastor. “She was the first woman I ever knew—knew in the biblical sense.” Then he blushed. “Actually, she was the only woman I ever knew...that way.”
“No one’s questioning that.”
The Pastor turned his eyes back to the dance floor. He saw himself lead Amanda by the hand up onto the stage. The band leader stopped the music. The couples on the dance floor turned to face the bandstand.
“May I have your attention, please,” young Desmond shouted into the microphone. He wrapped an arm around Amanda’s shoulders and drew her to him. “Last evening, I had the honor of dining with Amanda and her parents at their home. I, uh, asked her father for her hand in marriage.”
The crowd applauded.
“And,” continued Desmond, as the crowd quieted, “he gave his consent!”
The theatrical amazement in his voice drew chuckles from around the ballroom.
A man carrying a magnum of champagne and three long stemmed glasses bounded onto the stage.
“Look!” exclaimed the Pastor, pointing. “It’s Willie Booth!” He turned to Jonathan. “He was my best man! Oh, how young he looks! He lost his life at Iwo Jima, you know.”
Willie popped the cork and the crowd cheered. He poured bubbly champagne for Desmond and Amanda and himself, then raised his glass and said, “A toast! To Desmond and Amanda!”
“Hear! Hear!” came toasts from around the ballroom, as people raised their drinks to honor the engaged couple. Young Desmond and Amanda entwined their arms for an engagement toast and sipped the bubbly champagne. They were smiling and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes.
“And now, the engagement dance,” announced Willie, enthusiastically raising both arms into the air. He turned to the band leader and asked, “What’s appropriate?”
“‘Don’t Fence Me In,”’ came a suggestion from the floor.
The crowd laughed.
The band started playing a slow number. After only a few measures, the Pastor recognized the melody. “‘The Girl That I Marry,”’ he whispered. “How long it’s been since I’ve heard it.”
He watched the crowd step back as his younger self led Amanda onto the dance floor. They began to dance slowly, gazing dreamily into each other’s eyes, caught up in a blissful world of their own. After an appropriate wait, Willie and his date, along with some other couples, walked onto the floor and started to dance.
The Pastor was overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment. His lips moved slightly as he mouthed the words of the old love song. He turned to Jonathan. “She was so beautiful—and such a graceful dancer. We were a happy couple. We had so many friends.”
“You certainly were an attractive couple, Pastor. “And you enjoyed dancing.”
“Yes—especially Amanda. Of course, we didn’t dare let my grandfather know we went to night clubs. And, after the war, when I attended seminary, we quit dancing altogether. Our church had strong sentiments against dancing and worldly music.”
The dance ended, then the orchestra began playing another slow number. Desmond and Amanda embraced closely, hardly moving their feet to the music.
Amanda made a lot of sacrifices for you, Pastor—gave up dancing, having fun with friends....”
“We were ministers of God’s Word. And that called for personal sacrifice.”
“Why bring that up?”
“Amanda wanted children of her own, didn’t she?”
“The time was never right. The pressure of seminary, then a growing pastorate.... We were both so busy. And then we lost Michael and Shirley. Curtis had no one else. So, from that day on, I loved Curtis as though he were my own son.”
“Really?” asked Jonathan. He raised an index finger and his arm began to sparkle and glow.
The Pastor raised a fist to his mouth and bit on a clinched finger, as apprehension might cause a child to do. But there was no cloud this time. Instead, the music and all movement in the room came to a halt; the people were transformed into frozen mannequins.
The Pastor looked questioningly at Jonathan.
“Don’t look at me,” said Jonathan. “Look at her.” He nodded in the direction of Amanda.
The Pastor looked back at Amanda’s frozen figure. A beam of blue-white energy slowly moved from the tip of Jonathan’s finger through space toward Amanda. It reached her immobile figure and surrounded it with a glowing aura. A translucent image formed over her—like a double exposure. Then the image stepped out of Amanda’s frozen body.
The Pastor gasped and took a step backwards. The energy-enshrouded image of Amanda began walking toward him. He took another step backwards, but this time Jonathan grasped him by the elbow.
“Whoa, there, Pastor. Nothing to be afraid of.”
Amanda’s image walked up to them. Surrounded by the aura of blue light, her image was angelically radiant, though not as youthful in appearance as the body from which it had emerged. Nor was it middle aged, as Amanda was when she passed away. Instead, the image reflected an ageless beauty—a composite of her youthful as well as mature physical beauty. It was a wonderfully visible manifestation of her innermost beauty, the hidden person of her heart.
“You look older,” Amanda said. Her voice sounded hollow and distant.
“Amanda? Is it really you? Is this really happening?” Tears swelled in his eyes. “Oh, Amanda, you look so beautiful. And oh, how I’ve missed you!”
“Missed me? Ha!”
The Pastor was taken aback.
“When we were young there was romance. We were so much in love—so close. We could communicate. But the war changed you. You came home with a hardened heart. And as the years went by and your ministry grew, you drifted away.”
“People grow older,” said the Pastor. “Romantic love evolves into—”
“Romantic love has no age, Desmond. It doesn’t have to grow old and fade away. I always loved you and I always will. But you had a mistress.”
“Yes! You had a mistress—your ministry. You poured all your passion into your ministry, and I was shut out of your life.”
“That’s absurd!” countered the Pastor. Then, in a soft, pleading tone he said, “Amanda, this is me, your loving husband, Desmond. Remember? Look, I haven’t changed a bit except for a few more gray hairs.”
“Oh, but you have changed, and for the worse, I fear.”
“Things were so stressful then—and more so now.”
“You create much of your stress,” said Amanda. “I first saw it in you when you returned from France after the war.”
The Pastor stiffened.
“You had this—this barrier, some emotional wound. I knew it had something to do with the war. Your leg, I guessed. But you never talked about it and I never pried. Your leg healed, but there were other wounds that did not. They gave you a darkened, cold, and embittered heart. Just look at the shambles you’ve made of your relationship with Curtis—and with everyone else.”
“Now, wait just one minute,” said the Pastor, his face flushed. He wondered how much she knew about that night. “It isn’t I who have changed, it’s Curtis who has changed. It was bad enough that he made a poor choice in his first marriage, and now he intends to marry a divorced woman!”
“I understand your concern,” said Amanda, “but under the circumstances, Curtis is biblically free to remarry. Robbie and her former husband were very young and were not Christians. He abandoned her and left no trace of his whereabouts. All her attempts to locate him were futile. In time she divorced him on the grounds of desertion. After that she came to know God’s love and forgiveness, and she gave her heart to Jesus. She’s a beautiful Christian woman, Desmond, and she’ll be a loving wife to Curtis. The Lord has forgiven her and I wish you would find it in your heart to forgive her, too.”
“I don’t hold divorce against her, personally,” said the Pastor. “It’s just that Curtis is in the ministry. Don’t you remember how precarious those days were when I had to keep his divorce from becoming a scandal?”
“Yes, I remember—only too well. You paid her hush money and shipped her off to California, never to be heard from again. And you spent a bundle of money on attorneys to get the marriage annulled.”
“I avoided a scandal, didn’t I? Thank God I got Curtis out of that mess without disgracing the ministry and tarnishing the name of Christ!”
“Or your name and reputation,” Amanda added.
“Humph!” grunted the Pastor. “What’s at issue here is that Curtis is about to make the same mistake all over again.”
“Robbie is no mistake. You should be happy for them.”
“But a divorced woman!”
“Oh, Desmond, you are so idealistic! Sometimes I think it’s because you’re trying to compensate for your own inadequacies. You’ve never been able to accept yourself. And because of that you’ve never been able to accept others for who they are. It’s caused you to retreat into a legalistic world of perfectionism. It’s made you and those around you miserable.”
“You never before talked to me like this.”
“I should have. But only since I—since I left, have things became clearer to me. I came to realize you never wanted to know me better—just as you don’t want to know Curtis better.”
“That’s absurd! We talk everyday,” insisted the Pastor.
“About the ministry, not about him! Oh, Desmond, can’t you see? Curtis has tried so hard to live up to your expectations. He says what he thinks you want him to say. He’s afraid to be open and honest with you. He thinks you will be critical of him. Besides, you have to do more than talk to really get to know someone. You have to be involved in their life. Think back, Desmond: Who taught Curtis to ride a bicycle? I did, not you. Just like I taught him to play baseball because you weren’t around. I went sledding with him and taught him to ice skate. And where were you the nights I helped him with homework and listened to his bedtime prayers? Oh, his prayers! They were so sweet, so honest, so innocent, so from the heart! But you were never there to hear them. You were never there to share in his joys and his sorrows, his dreams and his fears. He has always loved you and looked up to you. You were the only father he ever knew. Oh, how he longed for your love and attention. He wanted to be close to you and know you better, but you had this barrier that—”
“You’re right about one thing,” interrupted the Pastor, hoping to divert the conversation away from that dreaded night. “Curtis has a heart for people.”
“Do you know any of his friends, Desmond? Probably not. And I doubt that you can remember the name of even one of his boyhood pals. But it wasn’t only Curtis. As the years went by you had fewer and fewer real friends of your own. Oh, you had associates in the ministry, but they weren’t your friends—not the kind who could confide in you and you in them. You had all sorts of opportunities to make friends. Why, you could have gone with me to visit people in the nursing homes and hospitals.”
“You always invited me,” the Pastor admitted. “But that was your ministry. And I had mine—my church, my flock. Confound it, Amanda! My purpose in life isn’t to gratify my ego by making a lot of friends. The ministry isn’t a popularity contest. God has called me to preach the gospel and to defend the faith.”
“And to love others.”
“I do what I do because it’s my calling. And a certain amount of detachment comes with the territory. Don’t you understand?”
“Desmond, Desmond,” relented Amanda. “Now your time is running out.” Then her image took a step backwards. “And so has my time with you run out. Remember what you have seen and heard.”
“Don’t leave, Amanda! Don’t go—not yet. Please, can’t we talk some more?” He looked at Jonathan with pleading eyes.
Jonathan shook his head.
The Pastor looked back at Amanda’s glowing image. It was slowly stepping backwards and looking at him with loving but sad eyes. Then it stepped back inside Amanda’s frozen body and began to dissolve. The blue aura that surrounded her still figure receded into the area of her heart. It took on the form of a beam of light and returned to the tip of Jonathan’s finger. The night club instantly burst back to life, with the band playing and young Desmond and Amanda continuing their engagement dance. It was as if nothing had happened.
“Amanda was a people person,” the Pastor said to Jonathan. “To her, life was always being involved with other people. But had I been the same kind of person, my ministry would never have grown into what it has become today. We were two different people with two different callings. Even now she can’t understand that.”
Jonathan sighed with resignation. He swung his guitar around and began to sing:
His ears could hear,
But deaf was his mind.
His eyes could see,
But his heart was blind.
As Jonathan sang, he raised his right hand from the guitar and pointed his index finger upward. It glowed and sparkled, and fog began to form as before. The white vapor swirled across the dance floor, thickening and rising higher and higher.
The Pastor looked longingly at his younger self and Amanda as they danced. And then the dense, swirling cloud closed in around him. He braced himself for what he knew was to come. A moment later he was carried away in the cloud, spinning off into a world of oblivion.
Continue to Chapter 11 >
© Frank Allnutt. All rights reserved.