by Carol Sanford
“Sir, would you be willing to come on stage during the play?”
The director of Always…Patsy Cline stands over me and my husband, Glenn, where we’re contentedly touching elbows in our front row center seats. A familiar tune lightens the air in the theater as Patsy’s voice slips from my head into my heart. The set waits, curtain open, for two actresses who’ll carry the whole show.
Glenn hardly pauses before answering, “Only if I don’t have to dance.”
“It’s not necessary to know how,” the director says. She nods a thank you and heads backstage.
I wait a few seconds before leaning over to whisper, “She expects you to go up there.”
My husband is no dancer. Picture us, the couple who patiently waits for the band’s slowest number to scurry to the dance floor, where we find ourselves incapable of grace. His shoes graze mine, my back soon aches from his tight embrace so I decide to lead, then we stumble around for a while, and end up in a corner rocking back and forth, laughing. We’ve been doing this for twenty five years.
No way, I can’t believe he plans to go up there, embarrassing himself (and me). When asked if he wants to try something new, he’ll often say, “Why not? Can’t dance.” But he’s never foolhardy. So what’s happening here?
I glance at his profile as the lights and music fade: Shhh, play’s starting.
A lamp in the kitchen quarter of the set signals early morning. Out comes Louise Seger, still sleepy, an ultra brassy and sensuous woman. She turns the knob on her radio and hears Patsy’s rendition of “Back in Baby’s Arms” then phones the DJ to find out who’s singing. Smitten for good, Louise sets out to be Patsy’s number one fan.
Louise’s bawdy Texas drawl and exaggerated behavior disappoint me. Then the two women meet for the first time in a bar where Patsy performs, and Always…Patsy Cline takes off. The actress playing Patsy has Patsy’s voice and mannerisms down. What a heartbreaker when she croons “I Fall to Pieces”! Glenn and I reach for each other’s hand, and finally get caught up in the plot.
As intermission nears, I remember what’s probably coming next. Sure enough, with the sudden first bars of “San Antonio Rose” Louise swings her hips, circumvents a few bar tables, sashays to center stage and descends to grab my husband out of the audience. It happens fast. Without a by-your-leave he’s up and gone to the pounding beat. I feel bare.
On stage my husband and Louise whirl with such abandon my jaw unhinges. Is he grinning? He’s managing some kind of funky box-step, appearing to lead and stomping his feet like a Texan. Dear God! Am I embarrassed or in awe? I think it’s awe.
Then it’s over and he’s sitting at my side. Calm, smiling.
“Wow,” I say to him. “Wow. You were great.”
During intermission we don’t speak about his performance or the fact that this Louise character is way over the top.
“Look,” I say, showing him the playbook as lights dim for Act Two. “ We’re going to hear ‘Crazy’ and ‘She’s Got You’, my favorites.” Ex-favorites?
In the second half of the play, Patsy’s fame skyrockets. We enjoy song after song, big hits. We know how the story ends but don’t want it to happen. When word comes that Patsy’s plane crashed, Louise, face blanching, sits in her kitchen and weeps actual tears. We’re close enough to see them, and I think I like her after all.
Segue to Patsy dressed in an angel-gauzy gown and standing on a platform in order to leave us with a medley of songs we haven’t already heard. Pretty hokey. But when she closes with a rousing “Bill Bailey” we all clap and yelp like crazed teens. Long live Patsy! Always!
As we herd out of the theater, a young man crowding past says “Way to go!” and Glenn thanks him.
“Good job,” a guy Glenn’s age tells him, and another somewhere behind us adds his congratulations. I inch forward in the narrow hallway behind my celeb, pretending no astonishment. My fingers lightly grasp his coat tail. Don’t I know this man, from his balding head to his pre-hammer toes?
“Did you realize what you were in for?” I ask as we drive out of the parking lot. “How did you find the nerve to go up there?”
“Nerve?” he says. “What was there to be nervous about? It was fun.”
Then he tells me, “I wasn’t going to get that chance again.”
And then, circling slow-time through me is the question I don’t want to ask: Darlin’, oh darlin’, why don’t you dance with me like that?
About the author
Retired from teaching, Carol Sanford writes from her home in central Michigan, where she lives with her husband. Carol has been publishing poems since the 1980s. Her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction and Fourth Genre published an excerpt from her memoir manuscript. More recent work can be found online at Ragazine, New Verse News, and The Zodiac Review. In fall 2014, Andrea Badgley’s “American Vignettes” blog project will include an essay by Carol.