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Prom Night

Townsend Walker | Jordan Wester

The band was playing Good Night Sweetheart. The Prom for the Class of ‘54 was winding down. I slipped behind the wall formed by the folded-up bleachers. Through the cracks I could take in the scene: sparkly reflecting lights and bouquets of pink carnations. So this is what it was like, or might have been, if I’d been able to get a date.

Well it’s time to go,
I hate to leave you

The senior year dating scene started with promise. Diane Baker asked me to the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance. I was president of the Student Council—somewhat of a deal then. She was a freshman, hot, blonde and built. And word had gotten around: she was fast. Our bodies had a great conversation on the dance floor. Didn’t go anywhere though. Dad’s avocado green (that color?) Studebaker was in the shop and we went with another couple. Double dates are not conducive to make-out sessions. Every move, every sound broadcast to the front seat in Hi-Fi and televised in the rear view mirror. A kiss at the door was it. Disappointment, then chagrin when the next day my mother said,

“I heard you went out with that Baker girl.”

I nodded and shrugged a so-what.

“Mrs. Duffy says she is not the kind of girl you should be going out with.”

“Why not?”

“Mrs. Duffy says her mother runs around in bars with other men.”

“What’s that got to do with Diane?”

“Have to do.”

“Okay, Have to do.”

“You don’t know how she will turn out with that kind of influence.”

“Geeze, I’m not going to marry her.”

Just wanted to steam up the car windows.

In February, I started going out with Sally. Sally, willowy with a quick tongue. Put a few guys off. We went to see Sabrina. I always made a list of things to talk about before a date: H-bomb test, Nautilus submarine, polio vaccine, Marilyn and Joe. The list usually lasted me ten minutes. I’d get nervous and my mind would go blank. Except with Sally; we talked all night trying to figure out what Gravity’s Rainbow was all about. On our second date, we went to Magnificent Obsession. She let me put my arm around her at the theater and I kept it there through the pins and needles. At the end of our third date, there was a kiss, a shock of lips at the door and then a couple more. But the next time I called she started to talk about French class, stopped, then about algebra homework, stopped, and finally she brought up basketball (she’s interested in sports now?) and how Bill, the star center, had played so well last week.

“I’ve been seeing him a lot and he asked me to go steady. He gave me his ring last night.”

How did I miss that? To think I almost got gangrene in my arm pretending to like Obsession.

I rented a tux for the prom with the truly rational expectation that I’d find a date sometime before May 14. Didn’t have a problem last year, but the summer between junior and senior year the other boys in the class matured, got taller, leaner, carved, became those guys that peak when they’re seniors in high school. Me? Still short at five foot five and husky (my word) at 155, a flat top and glasses. Flipping through pictures, even as a senior I looked fourteen. Not what most high school girls were looking for. Life was not fair.

I’m not sure what was worse: being turned down by three girls who said they had dates or calling from the only phone in the house with my mother and little brother hanging around to find out what they said.

Embarrassing, not being able to get a date for the prom. In a senior class of thirty kids, that stands out. Everybody else had one, even owl faced Fred who worked for a mortician after school. And the nuns made sure the chubby girls were taken care of. How was I going to explain it? Not a situation you can really talk to your buddies about. Infectious disease was the only option for not going. I could already hear the snickers as I walked down the hall.

I moped around the house, stayed in my room, escaped into Mickey Spillane’s alternate world. Dad tried to comfort me.

“Tinsel and paste, son, that’s all it is; not important. In ten years you won’t remember this prom.”

Already been asked, the girls said, and I’d believed them. Until I spied Becky and her pink crinolines crushed against my friend Sam back in the corner of the gym. I knew he didn’t have a date on Tuesday and I’d called Becky two weeks earlier. Then Doris with a bright red rose wrist corsage, cheek-to-cheek with Mike. I’d asked her too and I know it was before Mike did.

The theme for the Prom was the court of Louis XVI at Versailles. One of the guys in the class went to Paris with his folks the summer before and spent a day at Versailles. He had photos and postcards of every inch of the palace, plus a decorating bent. That convinced the class he could make the ratty old gym look like the Hall of Mirrors. Chandeliers were put together in shop class and a mobile crane was hired to hang them in the rafters. The shiny side of tin foil was used to create mirrors.

I really can’t stay
Good night sweetheart, good night.

Becky and Sam, Doris and Mike, Sally and Bill wandered out into the parking lot holding hands. I stayed behind the bleachers until everyone left. Looking up at the chandeliers. Wobbling, about to come loose. Flaking silver paint showing the plywood. Flickering bulbs. Peeling tin foil mirrors. Wilting flowers.

Dad was half right.

About Townsend Walker

Townsend Walker is a writer living in San Francisco. His stories have been published in over fifty literary journals and included in seven anthologies.

Visit the author's page >

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