Sunday, 13 January 2019

Polka and Petit Fours

by Mary Ellen Gambutti

On a July, 1964 Saturday afternoon, my nana and I sit side in summer dresses on brown folding chairs at the edge of a dance floor in Jersey City. I ask her, “How much does Aunt Marie weigh?” “Oh, I don’t know, 500 pounds?” she guesses in a stage whisper under accordion music. “She’s six foot tall.” Nana smiles, claps, and bobs. Her slight frame has found polka tempo without dancing. My grandfather’s ruddy face glows as he sips a brown drink with ice from a tall glass.

We celebrate Marie and Joe’s twentieth anniversary. Joe, my grandfather’s younger brother, is shorter than his wife by a half-foot. He reaches toward her for a dance. His left hand clasps Marie’s right at the level of her voluminous chest, and his right hand reaches across her back to rest on her substantial right shoulder.

Off from a standstill, they glide and swoop with impossible grace. Joe leads Marie around the floor, and guests allow them all the space they require. The couple steps, turns, switches to face each other. Marie’s laughter booms as she throws back her head.

Flowers imprinted on her rayon dress swell to its ample fit, as it clings over her strong, full body. Its hem sways and swirls on her wide, sturdy legs, supported by solid, sensible black lace-ups. Four tall, oscillating fans do little more than mess up hair-do’s and blow stifling air around the crowded room. Drops collect on Marie’s forehead. Joe’s white dress shirt is moist. 

The accordion player dips, knees bent. Music bellows, quickens; pace enlivens. Horns blare and many feet thump the floorboards to his excited polka. I brace myself to the intensity in the room. I’m the only kid here, and at twelve, it’s my first large adult party. Will she lose her balance and fall, this powerful, giant woman? Will someone get hurt, Uncle Joe, Nana…or me? Vigilant, I press my back to the chair’s cool metal, and wait out the romping accordion. As it fades, and adult voices chime, I help myself to petit fours and punch from a tray that stops in front of me.

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Mary Ellen's work is published or forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, Remembered Arts Journal, Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, NatureWriting, PostCard Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, CarpeArte, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, StoryLand, mac(ro)mic, SoftCartel, Drabble, FewerThan500, BellaMused and Contemporary Haibun Online. Her book is Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back. She and her husband reside in Sarasota, FL.

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