“You will absolutely love it. It’s spectacular,” her sister Martha had promised when she had first confided in her about the plan.
So, here she was, at the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Feeling extremely awkward walking alone into this elegant hall, she tried hard not to look how she felt. The magic scenery opening up in front of her would have stunned any normal person, but Anna’s full attention was shamefully claimed by the clusters of frightful strangers occupying the rows of tables and chairs placed along the walls in the enormous ballroom.
“People don’t bite, Anna. Don’t be such a namby-pamby,” Martha had chided her yet again, getting fed up with her countless misgivings about coming here, about her constant lamentations over getting old. She just couldn’t help who she was.
With relief, she noticed that everybody was far too busy chatting to take any notice of the fossilized creature standing by the door. She could feel her feet rebelling against her tight new heels.
She forced herself to focus on her surroundings: the grand architecture, the impeccably polished parquet dance floor and regal stage at the back of the hall. A small sweeping staircase led up to the stage platform, where an organist was sitting on a baroque stool, ostensibly dwarfed by his enormous instrument and a vividly painted Italian seaside mural towering over him. He was swaying back and forth as his fingers raised wonderful dance music from the three tiers of keyboards.
The whole scene was flanked by two rows of grandiose, ornate balconies that stretched across the full length of the hall, adding an air of theatre to the room. The music was beguiling and if she hadn’t been so tense she could have hummed to it. About a dozen dancers, all clad in fine evening wear, were either happily chatting or gazing dreamily into space whilst gliding elegantly across the whole width of the dance floor. They glowed with youthful energy.
She sighed and felt her heart drop. Oh, why had she agreed to meet Harry here, squeezed into this dress and feeling so utterly foolish and out of place? She had never in her life turned up at an event on her own – crazy to start now, at the age of 79. Her nagging siblings, Martha and George, were to blame; they had forced her into this at the end. “This is a brilliant idea, Anna. You are going. ”
Returning to the Lancashire seaside town was actually nice; it brought back so many memories – of their family holidays near the beach. Mum, Dad, George, Martha and her. She could almost taste again the crispy saltiness of the sea on her tongue.
The Pleasure Beach in 1955: she had hardly been able to breathe with anxiety on coming face to face with the amusements; the Reel, the Mirror Maze, and the Big Dipper. Hearing the screams of the daring riders and the music coming from each ride merging into one big chaotic cacophony. Feeling the wind blowing through her hair and her eyes watering on rushing down the roller coaster. By the end of the day she had felt intoxicated by it all.
And she had met Harry there.
Standing here alone more than half a century later was anything but intoxicating.
Someone was looking at her. A man, sitting alone at one of the tables close to the dance floor – small and portly, about her age with a full head of white hair, not particularly handsome, yet somewhat distinctive. He had a very pleasant, round face.
While she scrutinized him from a safe distance, he stood up on slightly bent knees, straightened himself up in a matter-of-fact manner and started to make his way along the rows of tables and chairs in her direction. She watched him come closer. Her heart started to jump.
“Hello,” he said, familiar brown eyes smiling at her, “Anna.” He had to raise his voice slightly above the music. She just about managed a shaky “Hello, Harry.”
“Thank you for coming, Anna. I know it was a lot to ask of you,” he said with a gentlemanly bow of his head. Should she really carry on with this? It just felt so absurd. “It’s nice to see you again…,” she replied lamely.
He took her hand, bent over, and kissed it the old-fashioned way. She felt an overwhelming urge to giggle childishly. His lips tickled the back of her hand and his grip was gentle but firm – not one of those wet-fish handshakes she so hated. She could feel the warmth of his big hand enveloping hers rather pleasantly. As he came up and looked at her so expectantly, she tried hard not to laugh at him.
“It’s a beautiful hall, isn’t it?” She blushed and made a kind of sweeping gesture towards the dance floor. “Yes it is, but it has become even more stunning since you arrived.” She could see the corners of his mouth twitching and nearly blurted out, ‘Oh, you old smoothie,’ but decided not to spoil the moment and just inclined her head graciously.
The music, which had accompanied their introduction, now changed into a steady, compelling waltz. “Would you care to dance, Anna?” It had been years since she had danced. Would she still be able to do it? It had been so much fun then. And didn’t she still deserve some fun? She nodded.
He gently took her arm by the elbow and guided her purposefully onto the shiny dance floor. “Allow me.” She felt his right arm around her ample waist, at first steadying her, then pulling her towards him with unexpected firmness. The warmth of his hand now travelled in all directions on her back sending small shivers up, down and all around her spine. His fragrance was delicious: a spicy, masculine, rich scent.
Being at eye-level with each other, they began to move and she was astonished at how nimbly his short stout legs immediately caught on with the dynamic rhythm of the waltz. “How wonderful to hold you in my arms like this again.” His soft dark voice tickled her ear. She felt giddy and lightheaded now, like a teenager on her first dance. She had absolutely no idea whether she was treading on his toes, but as he looked unruffled, she relaxed in his strong arms and started to feel as though she could enjoy herself after all.
Surrendering to the music and his charge like to a powerful spell, her self-consciousness began to disappear. Above them, she could see the heavy crystal chandeliers steadfastly keeping up with their turns. Her footwork was rather messy, but he rescued her with his unshakeable efforts to make her feel special.
“You are still as beautiful as you were then, Anna.” He said this with such honest admiration that she felt deeply touched. Maybe she did have it in her after all? He was still the same loveable man he had been all those years ago when they had met for the first time. How could she have forgotten? And how wonderful to be made to feel special once again.
“Being with you brings out the best in me, Harry,” she said. He laughed and rewarded her with a particularly vigorous twirl that made her catch her breath.
They whirled, swayed and twirled away, taking turns at laughing and smiling at each other, banishing bothersome feet and stiff knees to the edge of the dance floor.
At last, the organist performed the evening’s finale and the hall exploded in applause. Anna and Harry stood in the middle of the dance floor surrounded by other happy and tired couples. “Oh, Harry, that was wonderful!” she burst out, clapping vigorously as the organist bowed in front of the instrument and then left towards the back of the stage.
Harry took her hand in his again. He looked straight into her beaming face, lingering over her flushed cheeks and gleaming blue eyes. She could see the corners of his mouth twitching mischievously. He bent forward and whispered, “May I escort you to your hotel, madam?” She giggled, squeezed his hand and kissed him on the cheek. He rested his hand lightly on her lower back as they left the dance floor.
She nestled her arm into his and they walked through the building into the mild June air where they were greeted by the clean sea breeze. “Look how busy it still is at this time of night. And I’m not even tired yet.” The joy in her voice made Harry smile. “Well, let’s join all these night owls then. The night is still young and so are we.” He winked at her as they turned towards the North Promenade.
The moon was out in full and cast a wide path of bright light across the smooth waves towards the infinite horizon. The beach was filled with couples strolling barefoot along the wet sand. Anna released her feet from her shoes and cheerfully squeezed Harry’s arm as they continued to walk slowly along the promenade. How wonderful it was to feel the unevenness of the ground beneath her. Her feet tickled with every little stone they encountered along the way. She giggled with pleasure.
Just before they reached the hotel, Harry stopped and turned towards her. He stroked her cheek gently and said, “The wonderful girl I met all those years ago is still here, Anna. She just had to be brought back to life.” Anna’s heart leapt up and she hugged him tightly, never wanting to let go of him.
They held hands as they walked up the steps of the large red brick hotel into the elegant lobby. As they arrived at the elevators, the girl from reception suddenly appeared behind them. She smiled and handed Anna a large bouquet of flowers.
“Happy Diamond Wedding Anniversary, Mr and Mrs Townsend.”
Caren is a qualified and experienced digital copy & content writer with both a corporate and small business owner background. She runs KreativeInc Agency, a web design, development and content creation agency with her autistic son Callum Gamble.
She specialises in creating Inbound Marketing content for business websites and blogs. Using her expert knowledge, skills and personal experience in business development, personal improvement and autism, she crafts content that makes people take action. Her work is found in retail publications, professional websites, on her writer’s platform StoryBlog and more.
She is also an active advocate of neurodiversity in the workplace and co-founder of the NeuroPool network, neuropool.co.uk. Here, she is organising free educational workshops for employers on how to utilise the extraordinary talent found in people with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia within their business.
When she isn’t typing away on her keyboard or spreading her mission, you can see her having her nose buried in a book or hiking up and down the steep hills of the Yorkshire countryside with her husband, son and daughter.
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