Roger had always been a cardigan-and-slippers kind of man. During his working life colleagues had regularly commented that he seemed ill-at-ease in what they – only half humorously – described as his businessman’s “ uniform ” of dark suit, white shirt, matching tie and well-polished shoes. None were surprised that Roger slipped into retirement like a weary labourer soaking in a hot bath. The sole impediment to his contentment was his wife’s firm refusal to accept his repeated assurances that he was perfectly happy “ doing nothing ”, as she insisted on calling his pottering around his garden, or spending time with friends. Instead, she decided that it was her duty to organise activities to keep Roger occupied. For his part, and although he loved her dearly, he wished that she would leave him to his own devices.
One Autumn afternoon, out in his garden, absorbed in tidying up ready for Winter, Roger felt contented with life. Later, he realised that this had lulled him into a false sense of security. The signs that something was brewing were clearly there. His wife had obviously gone to extra trouble to prepare one of his favourite teas. Still mentally out in his beloved garden, he also failed to notice another clue : she was being unusually considerate as he ate it. It was too good to last, of course : sadly, he knew that now. Relaxing, feet up, with the evening paper, he heard a request he had come to dread. Even if it were phrased in the most reasonable of voices. “ Roger dear, put the paper down. I want to talk to you. ” Knowing the futility of resistance, he reluctantly did as he was told as slowly as he dared, and was not surprised to recognise the look he saw in her eyes.
The look expected – nay, demanded – one response from him. It said “ I’ve decided that we should do something … ” The reply required : “ Yes, dear, I agree … ” The only question was : “ What has she decided this time ? ” He did not have long to wait. “ I think we should learn to dance. ” Roger’s heart sank. Aware that it was a waste of time, he nonetheless felt obliged to ask “ Why ? ” “ Because everyone’s doing it. ” Experience taught him not to ask who “ everyone ” might be. He ventured to do so, early in their marriage, and been treated to a look of such total disdain at his foolishness that he never did so again. He quickly grasped that his wife considered such trivia to be beneath her, and still did not know this mysterious, and evidently very busy, “ everyone’s ” identity. As usual, Roger surrendered. “ All right, dear, if it’s what you want. ” “ Good ! The classes commence tomorrow afternoon. ”
That night, as his victorious wife smugly snored beside him, Roger’s sleep was disturbed. He drifted in and out of dreams. Back at a school he left more than forty years earlier, he again felt his teenaged wrong-footed embarrassment as a formidable lady teacher used her cut-crystal voice gleefully, and loudly, to broadcast his inability to connect foot movement to musical rhythm. Trying to block out her shaming tirade, red-faced Roger turned for sympathy to the partner thrust unwillingly into his perspiring arms. He was not surprised to discover that she had somehow been transformed into a native dancer, naked to the waist. Ignoring him, she was stomping gleefully to music now produced by a sweating group of dark-skinned musicians. Roger was taking guilty pleasure watching her exposed assets keep time to the drumbeats when he became aware of David Attenborough’s mellifluous voice explaining that this was a rain dance typical of this part of Africa. Roger awoke, glad that, despite his doubts, dancing actually had some purpose. Drowsily, he hoped that his dancing would not lead to more rain. The garden was already wet enough.
Any faint hope that his wife might have changed he mind was quickly dashed next morning. Bleary eyed from lack of sleep, Roger’s breakfast was accompanied by her excited enthusiasm for her new venture. “ What shall we wear ? ” she asked gaily. Conscious that she already knew the answer, Roger grunted a non-committal reply.“ Oh, for goodness sake, show a bit more enthusiasm. You’d almost think that you weren’t looking forward to this afternoon. ” Roger sensed a trap, and declined to answer. He recalled their attempt to take up indoor bowls. She had assured him that that, too, would be “ fun ” : an assurance proved to be wrong on his first, inept, attempt to propel a recalcitrant bowl anywhere near the jack. His fellow-bowlers who, a few moments earlier, had welcomed them into their midst, now subjected Roger’s stance and style to a detailed, and critical, analysis. It dawned on him that winning was of more importance to them than anything as frivolous as enjoying themselves. And then, there was the Walking Group, another of his persistent wife’s “ improving ideas ”. Roger still felt the occasional twinge in his left ankle that that had brought on. Lost in mournful reminiscence, he was startled by his wife’s voice. “ I think we’ll wear those matching fair-isle sweaters my mother gave us last Christmas. ” she continued, unaware that, since receiving it, he had not worn what he called “ this multicoloured monstrosity ”. Of course, he had been careful that she knew nothing of these rebellious thoughts. “ I shall wear that pale blue pleated skirt I used to go bowling, and you can wear your blue slacks. ” Roger, visualising them as Teedledum and Tweedledee, merely said “ Yes, dear. ”
Having donned the clothes his wife had ordained, and untruthfully agreed that “ We do look nice, don’t we ? ”, a short, one-sided, discussion followed about shoes. “ We must be able to glide around the floor. ” – something Roger could not picture. When agreement was reached on what she considered to be suitable foot-wear, they set off.
The class was to take place in the Community Hall, a rather run-down building which needed a lick of paint. Roger’s faint hope, that insufficient people would turn up, causing the class’s cancellation, was dashed. When they arrived, a queue of couples anxiously eyeing each other was forming. Just when it seemed that it could not get any worse, it did. A deeply tanned apparition, dressed in what seemed, to Roger, to be a frilly, bright yellow silk lady’s blouse and skin-tight black leather pants flounced into view. “ Hello, people ! ” he screamed “ My name’s Winston da Silva, and I’m going to teach you all to dance ! ” “ I’ll bet that’s not his real name. ” muttered Roger, sourly, having taken an instant dislike to this exotic, gold-toothed individual. “ Shush. Listen to what he’s saying ! ” was his wife’s irritated rebuke. For the next ten minutes Winston’s dancing skill was flamboyantly displayed in snake-hipped dexterity. Aware of arthritic knees, and that this was likely to irritate his dodgy ankle, Roger’s heart sank still further.
The next hour passed in a daze of irritated instructions. “ No. Don’t hold me like that, Roger ! ” “ Watch Winston. See how he does it ! ” “ Move your left foot forward ! ” “ Oh, why are you so clumsy ? ” Winston’s interventions did not help. “ Look, Sir, it’s so simple. Slow –Slow-Quick-Quick-Slow. Follow my steps. ” Roger realised that his teenaged awkwardness had not diminished with age. By the lesson’s end he was still unable to persuade his feet to obey his brain. As the class progressed, he was relegated to partner those who, like himself, were unable to reproduce the silky smoothness demanded by an increasingly frustrated Winston. He felt miserable and humiliated. His wife, meantime, was having a wonderful time. She possessed natural rhythm, and seemed able to follow Winston’s most complicated directions.
“ Before you go home “ shrieked Winston, who seemed unable to speak in a normal voice, “ have one last dance with the person you came with. It’s a simple waltz. Everyone should be able to manage that. ” Roger tried to ignore the meaningful look he thought Winston threw in his direction. The music started. Roger took his wife in his arms. He had, at least, learned to do that correctly. “ This has been fun, hasn’t it, dear ? ”she asked cheerfully. Roger trod on her foot. Hard. Deliberately. “ Yes, dear. ” he replied innocently.