Death dance


May 17, 1980


They sat on the far side of the Passaic Park spillway I called the duck pond because of the hundreds of ducks and geese that populated it year around, remaining slice of the old Morris Canal that had not been filled in or taken over by the rail road.

Elderly, but not “old,” the woman wore a gown that had stopped being in fashion about the same period canals gave way to railroads, its wide skirt spread so as to hide most of the blanket she sat upon, her parasol protecting her from the still cool sunlight of mid-spring. He wore a striped suit with a stiff little bow tie and a straw hat. He stood near the edge of the blanket, bent slightly to wind the wind-up Victrola out of which tiny music played – its brass speaker like a large cauliflower ear glinting with the sun.

Both he and she seemed to know the songs well enough to have grown up with them, when it is likely their grandparents had.

I often came here to take in the sights although most days this place is the home of hobos and senior citizens, and the day time refuge of migrating flocks of geese.

I kept thinking these people might be actors, rehearsing some role to some play somewhere nearby, but if they were, they acted out their roles so well, I almost believed I had stepped back in time and that I was out of place in their world instead of they being out of place in mine.

They seemed utterly serious, too serious, even when they laughed or sang, as if they had some purpose other than mere nostalgia, some reason to dress up in their grand parents’ clothing, some meaning behind this moment in time.

She seemed very sad as she looked up at the man, and he looked back with the same desperate sadness, bending down to touch her hand as if inviting her to a dance she refused to or could not take part in.

I didn’t notice the wheel chair until later, chrome bars glinting from behind a bush where they had apparently tried to hide it, an anachronism to the play they put on, for us, for themselves, and for some reason I later made up in my head, but was never able to find the facts to as I moved on, the tinny music still lingering in my head, of another time, another place.

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