Everyone to Dance
Manny was always the one to get everyone together, to make the phone calls, to arrange a meeting place, to get the car. He was the driver, too. He loved to drive. Anything, anytime.
During our last semester of college, Manny talked a bunch of us into skipping classes and driving from Ithaca to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Jimmy Carter had just been sworn in as the President, and he immediately pardoned Vietnam War draft evaders, signaling a new beginning.
Manny said that things would be different after graduation, no matter what the rest of us thought, and he wanted us to do this last trip together. We piled into Manny's car: a white, four-door, three-speed, '68 Chevy Impala. The car Manny’s parents let him have as long as he didn’t take it on any long trips.
When we left New York it was snowing, but Manny wasn't wearing a coat. He got into the car wearing a sky-blue t-shirt with Kelly-green Bermuda shorts and announced that he wasn't getting out of the car until it was warm.
Eleven cups of coffee, nine states, six gallons of pee, four bayous, eleven bridges and twenty-seven hours later, we entered the city of New Orleans. We stayed in the living room of a friend of a friend of Manny's. We slept where we landed. During the day, we watched the parades go by and caught trinkets thrown to the crowd by the masked gentry of the city while we drank can after can of warm beer that seemed to evaporate through our pores into the heat. At night, at the bars, when we drank bourbon without beers and feasted on dirty rice, Manny asked everyone to dance and all the waitresses to marry him.
No one took Manny up on his marriage proposals—which I’m pretty sure were genuine—but many of the women took him up on his offer to dance. Because Manny could dance. Not just make the right steps at the right time, but he could float. He could defy gravity.
The rest of our group had gone off to another bar when Lisa, one of the waitresses, invited Manny and me to a party after closing. Lisa was going to graduate school in New York the following year and Manny was eager to tell her all about Manhattan, where he was returning to after we graduated.
Manny and I stayed at the party all night until it was time to join our friends and begin the drive back to school. As we walked along the empty streets, Manny told me that we had to give up something for Lent, for the next forty days. I was going to protest that I was Jewish, but Manny was too.
He said that we had come to New Orleans and feasted and that her women had been kind to us. We were given the gift of Mardi Gras, Manny said and he said that we should observe the 40 days of abstaining from.
I offered to give up sex since it really wasn’t something I had very often. We settled on alcohol.
It must have worked because when Lisa came to New York in the fall, she looked up Manny and it wasn’t long till they moved in together.
That next year, the Lent thing must have worn off because Manny spent a lot of time in hospitals. The rest of the time he spent waiting. Waiting for tests, waiting for results, waiting for remission, waiting for someone to come up with a miracle.
Lisa took a leave from graduate school in the fall and the three of us went back and forth with Manny to his appointments. Manny’s doctor wanted him to see a surgeon who had had some success with a new procedure.
That was during Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness tour and I got us tickets to see the band at the Palladium. Manny wore his Kelly-green Bermuda shorts and his Born To Run t-shirts from when we saw Bruce in college. I listened as the E-Street band lit up the night and thought about all the promises that had been broken—though they were never made, never spoken. I tried to believe in the promised land and, for a few hours, I did.
Two days later, Manny checked into the hospital. That night when the nurses were ready to send us home, Manny said that he needed to dance with Lisa before he let her go. They tried to talk him out of it, but he said he wouldn’t sign the surgery consent form unless they let him.
Seemed to me that they were happy to oblige and one unhooked his IV and tied his gown from the back while another found a radio. I don’t think Manny even needed music as he leaned on Lisa and moved her across the floor.
One of the nurses came over to me and whispered that we should dance to make it a party. I think she did that for Lisa.
After the surgery, I went back to work. I tried to see Manny over the next few weeks, but he said that he was too tired for visitors. Lisa took the phone and promised we’d get together soon.
And then there came the call from Lisa with details about the funeral.
Manny was bringing us together one last time.
After the service, I gave Lisa a ride to the cemetery.
When all the earth had been replaced and everyone had left, and after the grave diggers and fillers had gotten into their truck and driven off, Lisa knelt down and began to smooth the earth that lay above Manny’s body. Her tears were turning small parts of the earth to mud.
Elan Barnehama is an author, and a freelance writer/editor, and ghostwriter. His first novel, Finding Bluefield, explores what happens when society’s invisible become visible. His short fiction has been published in numerous journals, and his many interviews and essays have appeared in Huffington Post and elsewhere. Find more of his writing at ElanBarnehama.com. Follow Elan on twitter @elanbarnehama.