The space was immaculate. Each table had been adorned with a cream white linen tablecloth and a floral centerpiece consisting of three cylindrical vases of different sizes with submerged orchids and floating candles at the top. There was special lighting for the dance floor that took up half of the space; at the back of the small stage there was a curtain of fairy lights that gave the stage a certain level of refinement.
The event had already been going on for at least an hour, so everyone was on the dance floor, but at that moment, the music came to a stop. The master of ceremonies came on stage and all attention was on him.
“It’s an honor to be here before you on this very special night. Welcome to the class of 2014!” The host waited for the applause to die down and continued. “Graduation represents closure. It also represents achievement and the opportunity to meet new challenges as they come. But today is a day of celebration, and to get this night off on the right foot, without further ado, let’s announce the prom king and queen on this very special night!” The host paused briefly while two assistants came up on stage, each carrying a throw pillow with a sash and a crown. They positioned themselves beside the master of ceremonies. “Welcome Alberto Andrade and Ana Rodrigues, prom king and queen of the class of 2014! Please give them a round of applause.”
Two paths quickly formed in the crowd leading to the steps up to the stage. The king and queen began down them, stepping confidently; by the applause and smiles that followed the announcement, it was clear that the decision had been unanimous. Alberto didn’t seem surprised by the nomination and was the first to reach the side of the stage, but he paused to wait for Ana so they could go up together.
Ana needed a few seconds to understand what had just happened. Those beside her congratulated her and, as soon as the pathway formed, she began to walk down it. She tried to keep her focus just on each of her next steps, but she was having a hard time focusing. Her mind insisted on taking her to different moments of her childhood, and with each step, the past became more present.
She closed her eyes slowly, and when she opened them, she found herself in the living room of the house where she had grown up. She could hear the dog barking in the backyard and her mother calling her family to dinner. It was one of her favorite times of the day. She was always the first to sit down and she loved watching her mother smiling and humming as she set the table. It didn’t take long for dinner to be served; as her father used to say, “The smell of the food is too inviting to wait”.
The little one with her bright green eyes was still finishing her food when her mother had begun to clean up; her father shared some details about his day and made sure that each of the four children shared something about theirs. He always set aside a few minutes to show his appreciation for his wife, who was still at the sink waiting for the children’s dishes. He never said anything, but just watched. Ana sometimes liked to try to guess what her father was thinking. She always ended up coming to the conclusion that he was grateful for having someone who cooked and danced so well by his side.
Every day the routine was the same. Her father arose, collected the empty dishes, took them to the sink, kissed his wife’s face, thanked her for the meal, and, if the radio was playing a song he liked, they would start to dance. It didn’t take long for the children to imitate their parents. The kitchen became a dance floor and their parents took turns dancing with each of them.
Ana had opened her eyes again and was a few steps away from Alberto. She had reached the side of the stage, but she didn’t know how. There was a mixture of feelings taking over her entire body. She felt nostalgic and homesick for the time of family dinners in the old house on the cul-de-sac, and, at the same time, apprehensive that memories took the place of the present so vividly .
The party was formal attire, but even so, Alberto was impressively elegant. Clad in a navy blue suit and tie, the jacket was unbuttoned, which showed off the same color vest and white shirt underneath. He wore brown shoes, which Ana considered a bold choice, but one that completely matched his personality. Alberto had brown eyes and thick eyebrows that made his gaze even more intense and he knew it.
Alberto watched Ana making her way down the aisle with the same expression of those who see a movie star walk the red carpet. She was effortlessly charming; her green dress was long-sleeved and cotton with a scoop neck collar, without much detailing except near the top of the abdomen, where the dress had a beautiful collection of folds. Her handbag was gold to match her teardrop earrings of gold and diamond that paired perfectly the gold bracelet on her left wrist. Short ear-length hair and classic bangs completed the look that would make any Hollywood actress envious.
For the first time that night, the king and queen were reunited, and together, they were stunning. There was no questioning the title they were about to receive. Alberto held out his hand when he saw Ana approaching. However, in that instant, she had seen her father’s hand and suddenly remembered the effort she had used to make to try to keep her balance while leaning on her father’s feet and trying to follow his movements, who now held both of her daughter’s hands firmly so they could dance.
She felt Alberto’s touch and came back to the present. Her breathing had become a little ragged and before the first step onto the stage, he whispered close to her ear, “Calm down, it’s okay. I’m here if you need it.” She nodded, took a deep breath, and started up the steps ahead of him.
The coronation was simple and quick. Professor Roberta joined them on stage, putting the sash and crown on Alberto. She was ready to crown Anna when she was interrupted by the now-king who asked her if he could do so. The audience went crazy. There was a mixture of laughter, applause, and screams. Ana felt every muscle in her body tense. It had been a long time since the last time she felt so special and she wanted to make sure she didn’t forget this moment.
Alberto approached and fit her with the sash and then the crown. All his movements were cautious and precise, as if he were used to this type of ceremony. He took Ana’s hand once more, guided it to the height of his shoulder, bent slightly, and gently kissed her fingers.
Not even the master of ceremonies was able to contain himself in the face of such a scene and proclaimed, “I present to you the prom king and queen! Please prepare for the first dance of our monarchs.” On the dance floor, a large empty area appeared for Alberto and Ana to make their statement to the world. Everyone seemed eager to watch them perform their first dance.
Alberto led Ana to the center of the dance floor and placed his right hand on her back. She could feel his closed fingers touching her shoulder blade. She, in turn, placed her hand on his upper right arm. Their bodies were in close contact from her right thigh to the middle of her torso. Alberto had his left hand raised close to his shoulder, waiting expectantly for Ana’s right hand. She quickly placed her palm against his and could feel his fingers closing around hers.
Their eyes met. The king smiled once more at his queen and his intense gaze with his deep brown eyes made Ana feel a deep sense of embarrassment. She looked away for a few seconds, unable to stand it, and when she tried to turn her attention back to her dance partner, she found herself facing a different man.
To the sound of a traditional waltz, the couple moved slowly. It felt like someone was pushing a heavy appliance around the room. The movements were choreographed, but still rigid. Their facial expressions were uncomfortable and no one seemed to be enjoying themselves, not even the guests who were just watching. Ana’s father interrupted the couple to ask Antônio if he could have one last dance with his daughter and took her from his future son-in-law’s arms.
He saw his youngest daughter’s eyes light up. She had just turned 22 and, after a year of dating, she was getting married. She was the last one out of the house, and those green eyes that were always so curious during dinner wouldn’t be there as often as he would have liked. He was not ready for her departure. His paternal instincts tormented him; even on his daughter’s wedding day, something told him that this was not the right person for his Ana.
They kept dancing. Despite not having practiced, they knew exactly what to do. The naturalness with which Ana was led by her father left everyone in the hall awestruck, and when the music ended, her father looked tenderly at his daughter, kissed her forehead like he always used to do, and looked up to see the future groom approaching.
Antonio Junior, Isadora and Pedro were the only dance partners Ana had in the 40 years that followed after her wedding night. Antônio proved to be extremely possessive and did not accept the idea of Ana dancing with anyone. He had two left feet. His wife tried to teach him in the first few months of marriage, but he had no interest and after a while, every time she expressed the desire to dance was the start of another argument.
Arguments were not lacking in apartment 204. The clothes were too tight, the makeup was too much, the laughter was too loud, the family visits were too often, the children were too disobedient, little Pedro’s grades were too low, Isadora’s classes were too expensive: it was all her fault or her responsibility.
In the beginning, Ana still tried to convince her husband that times were different and to convince herself that he could change, but she lost hope the day her father said he would not interfere, that now, she belonged to her husband. She never wanted to be an object of possession, but no one seemed to care about her opinion. She gave up. She exchanged her dreams for her children’s.
She never regretted her decision, and even having a complicated marriage had happy moments. Antônio showed capable of loving at times and she believed that the children needed to grow up with both parents in the house.
“Ana”… “Ana.” She heard someone call her name, but she wasn’t sure where the voice was coming from. Antônio Rodrigues was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer six months before he died. Pedro, the youngest, had just graduated from law school. Isadora was studying abroad and Antônio Junior was expecting his first child. The news surprised everyone, but Antônio III replaced the tears of sadness as soon as he arrived in the world.
“Ana”… “Ana.” She heard the voice again and felt someone grasping her right hand. “Ana, are you okay?” She nodded. She faced her dance partner once more. His face was wrinkled with worry. The marks of old age could not disguise his pained expression.
The music started and he led her impeccably. Ana was still a little apprehensive at first–his steps were precise, but not as confident as Alberto’s. She looked to her right and saw the curious green eyes of Antônio. Her grandson had just turned 7 years old and was his grandmother’s biggest fan.
When her son came to visit her (as he did every Sunday) with the flyer for dance classes for seniors, Ana immediately started laughing. She had told her grandson how much she liked to dance, but she never imagined that Antônio would take it so seriously. Junior said that his son had insisted that his father help him on his mission, and there was nothing in the world that could change his mind: his grandmother had to go back to dancing. “It’s our way of saying thanks for the delicious food every Sunday”.
She winked at his grandson as she always did, who, in turn, had both thumbs up and was grinning wildly. Because of him, she had returned to having her own dreams. Alberto had noticed the communication between grandmother and grandson and said wryly, “He has the same curious green eyes.”
Ana smiled, looked around, and tried to take in and remember every moment of that night. The past would never bother her again at the ball. Accompanied by friends made over a year of classes, she would laugh, have fun, and celebrate life, and tomorrow, she would be ready for the next challenge.
Proofreader/Translator Evelyn Jamila