Something white floated past the window and moments later it flew by again on a return trip. It danced a little on its second pass, caught on an upward draft. Lily did a double-take, blinking, staring, concentrating, willing the strange apparition to return a third time. The sunlight coming through the window strained her eyes, and she finally closed them.
Lily knew this much – her view out the window of a tenth-floor hospital room made it unlikely that the flying apparition was a child’s kite. She then ruled out the possibility that it was a bird because although she was riddled with pain medication that made her dizzy, the ‘flying thing’ had no wings.
Lily’s days and nights felt endless and she got mixed up lying in her hospital bed, unable to move about. Her whole life had been about movement, about dance, about the freedom she felt being swept off her feet on a ballroom floor.
She heard someone nearby.
“She smiles when she sleeps.”
Lily knew she wasn’t sleeping. Just dreaming. A cool hand touched her wrist.
Edward’s right hand held her tightly about the waist and they spun around the dance floor. The orchestra played Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade and Lily smiled, truly happy in his embrace. Her feet floated off the floor and her heart beat in four-four time. The long train of her white gown wafted behind her as they effortlessly covered the floor, in a world of their own when Edward would whisper, reminding her, “You are motion, you are music, you are motion, you are music.”
“Does she have anyone with her? Family?”
The young men she had danced with had been like family. Granted, Edward had been her favourite. Gene, and Albert, Billy and George – sweethearts, all of them. Wonderful men who she called the boys. Her dance partners. Strong, with hard, compact bodies. Edward had been her perfect match, the perfect partner, with hands almost as small as hers.
“No. No family.”
The second bout of diphtheria had been Mother’s final fight. She couldn’t remember the name of the Alberta town where Mother had taken her last breath, where the government had moved them in the summer of 1942 to harvest sugar beets. Mother had given up, too tired to fight any more, too tired and used up. Lily took over mother’s job in the laundry after her death. It was backbreaking work, no different really than field work.
“She came in by ambulance.”
Lily was tired too. But she didn’t want to give up. Not yet.
She’d been revered for her stamina. She had been able to dance non-stop for an entire evening.
Heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek
“Is she humming? What is that?”
Lily smiled. That was Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Ella the Queen.
Billy had once called Lily a queen – said she carried herself in a regal manner. She knew how to hold her head high, posture rigid. It was a trick. Stay rigid, feel less pain.
“Okay, Miss Lily. Sorry if this hurts.”
Strong hands lifted her, gently. Bed sheets were rearranged. Lily opened her eyes.
“Look at that. She’s awake. We’re just changing the bed, honey.”
Sunlight poured through the window, hurting her eyes.
Laundry, clean and blindingly white in the hot, summer sunlight, hung limply, until a blessed breeze came along.
A white kite blew past the window.
She was a queen at the start of the evening, swept off her feet by the boys in their impeccably tailored tuxedos. Other partners had damp hands, two left feet, whiskey breath or worse. Backbreaking work pulling sugar beets, washing sheets, dancing ten-cent waltzes for a nickel, holding your head high.
She ran after the kite, laughing.
“She’s feeling no pain.”
I wanna go and bounce the moon
Just like a big toy balloon
You make me feel so young
Was it a balloon? Yes! A balloon would float like that.
“I can’t wait for my shift to end.”
Rehearsals had gone on for never-ending days. Throbbing feet, muscle-spasm cramps, perpetual, permanent smiles, impatient choreographers. She had tried not to complain. Held her head high. Stayed rigid.
You’ve got to ac-cent-uate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
“My feet are killing me, and I still have Christmas shopping to do.”
White Christmas. When the magic became real. Standing at the side of the enormous sound stage, Lily was mesmerized by the footwork, waiting for her cue. The music was loud. John and Vera had made the complicated dance seem effortless. Edward’s hand tightened on her waist and the chorus dancers filled the stage. They moved together and in four-four time, Edward whispered, “You are motion, you are music, you are motion, you are music.”
“We’re done, Miss Lily. You can sleep now.”
The voices were gone.
She had been over the moon when Edward was cast as part of the chorus and partnered with her.
Darkness soothed her eyelids. Moonbeams danced on the wall and shadows swayed to the music.
Dance with me
Make me sway
Like the lazy ocean hugs the shore|
Hold me close
Sway me more
Edward had known. He knew the magic that put her in motion, made her sway to the music. You are motion. You are music. You are motion. You are music.
“She’s sleeping all the time now.”
The voices were back.
She opened her eyes and something white floated by the window, dancing, swaying, catching an upward draft, silhouetted against the night sky, gleaming in the moonlight.
He serenaded her and she sighed. Reached for his hand. Closed her eyes.
I stand at your gate and the song that I sing is of moonlight
I stand and I wait for the touch of your hand in the June night
The roses are sighing a Moonlight Serenade
A love song, my darling, a moonlight serenade
Lily floated now, her billowing, white ball gown lifting her.
Song lyrics quoted in the story
Moonlight Serenade – Songwriters: Glenn Miller / Mitchell Parish, Moonlight Serenade lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Sung by Frank Sinatra
Cheek to Cheek – Songwriters: Irving Berlin, Cheek To Cheek lyrics © Imagem Music Inc., Sung By Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald
You Make Me Feel So Young – Songwriters: Josef Myrow, Mack Gordon, You Make Me Feel So Young lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sung by Frank Sinatra
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive – Songwriters: Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Sung by Bing Crosby
Sway – Songwriters: Vanessa Carlton, Sway lyrics © Peermusic Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Sung by Rosemary Clooney