staff feature: kimberly duffy
The third R in Roller Rink blinked and flashed before turning dark. Frank stared at the sign, gripping the steering wheel. He couldn’t help but make parallels between the fading neon letters and his wife’s declining brain.
They’d met at this roller rink over fifty years ago. He worked the concession stand, selling ten-cent milkshakes and flirting with girls.
Enid was a star. The opening act. A roller skating dance girl, sporting a short, polka dot skirt and legs that made him forget every other girl at the rink. He’d known her since fourth grade. He didn’t notice her, though, until that night she asked him to dance.
The car beside them chugged to life and Frank glanced at her, sitting in the passenger seat and squinting through the windshield.
“It’s dark,” she said.
“Am I sleeping in here?” She looked around the car, her brows knitted.
“No. We’re going on a date.”
He sighed and got out of the car, his knees creaking their protest in the November chill. When he opened her door and held his hand toward Enid, she looked at him with that scared-rabbit expression and drew back into the seat, her puffy parka swallowing her up.
“Come on, Sweetheart.”
“I don’t know…” She bit her bottom lip beneath the two front teeth that had always tilted toward each other. The gesture was so thoroughly Enid that his breath caught in his throat and tears pricked his eyes.
He ducked into the car. “We’re going dancing.”
Her eyes lit, dispelling the shadow of confusion, and she wiggled out of her seat. He took her papery hand and ran his thumb over the bumpy tangle of veins as they crossed the parking lot, her gait unsteady on the pebbly and cracked pavement. He held her arm against his, not wanting her to fall, because then she would cry. Then she would shriek and rail at him. Hit him and curse at him. His Enid would burrow so deep beneath the disease that he wouldn’t be able to find her, and she’d scare the children jumping out of the conversion van near them.
Tonight—the last night before their roller rink closed for good—would be a good night. Tonight they would dance. And maybe she would laugh. Maybe she’d remember.
At any rate…he’d remember.
The scent of stale popcorn and cigarette smoke made Frank sneeze as soon as they walked through the doors. The carpet beneath his feet felt spongy, and he clenched Enid’s arm even tighter, tucking it beneath his bicep.
Music—if it could be called that—crackled through the speakers, and Frank wondered if he could request an oldie. Perry Como or the MacGuire Sisters. Something with heart and soul. Something that would jog Enid’s memory.
Her fingertips brushed his arm before settling into a rat-a-tat-tat, keeping time with the beat. Her head bobbed and a smile lifted her used-to-be-round cheeks.
He leaned down and whispered, “Do you like this song.”
Her eyes shone. “It’s catching.”
And he no longer saw the old, fading woman he held onto. He no longer smelled the decades of sweat, no longer heard the obnoxious trill of an auto-tuned twenty year old.
There used to be life in this roller rink. Every weekend night, students and families poured through its doors, looking for friends and fun. And Enid danced, twirling in her shiny costume, her white skates flashing. Drawing his attention so that he left his register and walked out onto the rink in his black All-Stars.
“Be a friend and dance with me,” Enid had called.
He swept his hair back from his eyes, hoping he looked hip. Knowing he didn’t.
She smiled and the dimple on her left cheek flashed, causing his mouth to go dry. She took his hands. “Don’t you think the music is catching?”
Enid’s fingers clawed his arm, drawing him back to the present. “What are we doing here?”
The terror in her voice wrapped threads of anxiety around his chest. “We’re dancing.”
Her fingers relaxed, and she tipped her head. “Can we dance?”
When Alzheimer’s first attacked, it took away her memory of little things—her phone number, his birthday, where she left her wallet. Then it drew her more tightly into its grasp, taking away her ability to dress. To maintain control of her emotions. It tore through their lives when she woke up one morning and couldn’t remember him. Oh, she cried and screamed. The neighbors called the police. Then he cried and screamed.
But she never forgot to dance.
He took her hand and led her onto the rink. The leather soles of their orthopedic shoes clicked against the coated concrete floor. Enid took his hands and shuffled, a shadow of the Lindy. But her eyes sparkled. The dimple appeared.
“Who are you?” she asked.
For once, Frank didn’t feel swirling hopelessness at the question.
He drew her to him and kissed her fuzzy crown of hair. “I’m your friend, Sweetheart. Dance with me.”
Kimberly’s debut novel, A Mosaic of Wings, released May 5, 2020 (Bethany House Publishers).