Miranda never told her stories of paradise, never told her stories of death and fire and bombs. By day she worked, she riveted, she felt the muscles grow in her biceps and shoulders. At night she Dime-Danced, danced with precision to Benny Goodman and Glen Miller and the Andrew Sisters. She listened to soldiers tell their stories of missing home, of being at war; some fought Germany, others fought Japan-it was all the same to her. But Miranda never told anyone her stories of paradise or Hell. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from eight until midnight, she worked, danced, listened and smiled through a mist of gin and loneliness. She could not see through that veil of grief, the men she danced with were ghosts, they were nothing but a blur and a murmer; one dime at a time.
For three years she lived like this: work, build arm and leg muscle, try to get so exhausted that the nightmares weren’t as bad, drink gin, don’t think. don’t dream, don’t remember Pearl Harbor.
Miranda paused to rest between dances towards the end of her shift one Saturday night. She looked up as a new ghost stood before her.
“Shall we?” he asked.
Miranda smiled, the men tipped better when you smiled, but she could not see him through the mist. He did not grab her hand or hold her too close.
“Where’re you from soldier?” she asked as he handed her a quarter.
“Pasadena” he replied calmly and shook his head at the change she offered him.
Miranda glided him out to the dance floor. She smiled at her ghost and waited for his story, there was always a story.
“Miranda, don’t you know me?” he asked.
“Strange that he knows my real name,” she thought, but she replied:
“Why, yes, hello there. Good to see…” Miranda always pretended to recognize return clients. it made them tip better. but he cut her off.
“Miranda, I’m Echart, Bernard Echart; you work with Paula on my production team, We’ve met several times!”
Unlike the others, his voice broke through the gin and swing music. She felt her face grow hot, she never paid attention to anyone at work but Paula, they were riveting partners, they relied on each other. Manners, a longtime ago she had good manners. Echart, she remembered now, one of the designers…
“Mr Echart,” She stammered, I apologize sir…”
“Understandable,” he said, “we’re both out of context here.”
For some reason his wry humor made her laugh slightly, she hadn’t laughed in three years. They danced quietly, he didn’t talk about himself he just hummed quietly to “Moonlight Serenade”. Then the lights went up and the Chaperons began to herd the men out of the dance hall.
“Thank you,” he said. “Perhaps you’ll have room on your dance card next Saturday, hmm?” He turned and left. She watched him go; a tall quiet man who made her laugh, ever so slightly.
Sunday morning found Miranda on the Santa Monica Beach. She hadn’t been to the beach once since she moved back to Los Angeles from Honolulu. She took her sketch book out of her purse, it was unused, she hadn’t drawn or painted since she lost her husband Alec. Miranda was one of the first American widows of WWII and she sat in the sand and remembered Lieutenant Alec Colten, her soul mate, she remembered selling her still-life paintings of tropical flowers in Honolulu, she remembered bombs and fire and death, and yet she did not die to do so, A shadow memory of drinking herself into oblivion, her parents bringing her back to L.A. But then she remembered love and paradise and her life with Alec. Then she also remembered her best friend Taiko: whose entire family was sent to an internment camp. Taiko, clever with her hands, once showed Miranda how to do origami. Miranda tore a page from her sketch book and folded and remembered friends and love and paradise. She got up and placed a small white paper crane into the surf and watched it float away:
“Alec,” she whispered, “I remember you” and she turned to go home.
That night, for the first time in three years, Miranda did not drink a tall glass of gin. And yet as the world become more clear, she did not die of grief.
Saturday night again, the men were as usual, despite her new sobriety, ghosts. But as before a man walked up to her to claim the last dance:
“Hello Miranda” said Bernard Echart, “Remember me?”
Something in his voice broke through, his face, she remembered…
“Yes, I remember now,” she did not smile or pretend as she glided them both out to the dance floor. Bernard moved closer to whisper in her ear. Miranda was used to it, the men did that all the time, she had her elusive replies at the ready but what Bernard said caught her off guard:
“What’s your story Miranda?” he asked.
She looked up at him. She had his full attention, she saw him; it was as if he was listening with his eyes.
“It’s OK,” he said simply, “you can tell me.”
The mist and muffle cleared. He was no longer a ghost and neither was she.
Miranda looked into Bernard Echart’s listening eyes and told him her story of paradise and hell.
*Miranda is the mother of one of the main characters in the CharMan Chronicles series. Traveling back in time we see how the young people of the 1960s were impacted by the experience their parents had during WWII.