W-a-l-t-z in the street.
In first grade I won the Spelling Bee at my elementary school. A classmate of mine, Ben, misspelled the word “waltz.” The rules dictated that if I could correctly spell the word that Ben erred on, I would advance and Ben would be disqualified. I remember stepping to the edge of the makeshift stage in the gymnasium in my little blue and white plaid school uniform. I hesitated in front of the microphone before I began speaking, even though I knew the answer. “W-A-L-T-Z,” I said.
The Spelling Bee became a running joke between Ben and I, who I danced with at Homecoming dances in high school and graduated with before heading off to college. With so many words in the human language to love, especially as a writer, waltz remained one of my very favorites.
“Good night,” he called from the landing at the top of the stairs.
I turned around, the flood lights outside the building cast my shadows on the concrete. “Yes, time to go home finally.”
The air was always best in fall – pregnant with promise and crisp, quiet – and I stood there, wrapped in evening, waiting for him to walk toward me. “Did you have a good day?” he inquired.
“It was fine,” I said. “Uneventful. How was yours?”
“It was good. I made soup.”
He considered me for a moment and then wrapped his arms around my waist, underneath my leather jacket. He lifted me off the ground a few inches and then placed me back down. He kept one arm around my waist and took my hand in his other one. We waltzed silently in the middle of the parking lot.
“Mmmm,” I said.
He said, “This is nice.”
We stayed like that, swaying, for a minute longer. Maybe it was two minutes. At the sound of footsteps at the top of stairs where he had come from, we broke apart.
“Goodnight,” he said.