LOVES MUSIC, LOVES TO DANCE
The room was dark. He sat in the chair, his arms hugging his legs. It was happening again. Charley wouldn't stay locked in the secret place. Charley insisted on thinking about Erin. Only two more, Charley whispered. Then I'll stop.
He knew there was no use protesting. But it was becoming more and more dangerous. Charley was becoming reckless. Charley wanted to show off. Go away, Charley, leave me alone, he begged. Charley's mocking laugh roared through the room.
If only Nan had liked him, he thought. If only she'd invited him to her birthday party 15 years ago...He'd loved her so much! He'd followed her to Darien with the present he'd bought her at a discount house, a pair of dancing slippers. The cardboard shoebox had been plain and cheap, and he'd taken such trouble to decorate it, drawing a sketch of the slippers on the lid.
Her birthday was on March twelfth, during spring break. He'd driven down to Darien to surprise her with the present. He'd arrived to find her house ablaze with lights. Cars were being parked by valets. He'd driven slowly past, shocked and stunned to recognize students from Brown there.
It still embarrassed him to remember that he'd cried like a baby as he turned around to drive back. Then the thought of the birthday gift made him change his mind. Nan had told him that every morning at seven o'clock, rain or shine, she jogged in the wooded area near her home. The next morning he was there, waiting for her.
He remembered, still vividly today, her surprise at seeing him. Surprise, not pleasure. She'd stopped, her breath coming in gasps, a stocking cap hiding her silky blond hair, a school sweater over her running suit, her feet in Nikes.
He'd wished her a happy birthday, watched her open the box, listened to her insincere thanks. He'd put his arms around her. "Nan, I love you so much. Let me see how pretty your feet look in the slippers. I'll fasten them for you. We can dance together right here."
"Get lost!" She pushed him away, threw the box at him, started to jog past him.
It was Charley who had run after her, grabbed her, thrown her to the ground. Charley's hands squeezed her throat until her arms stopped flailing. Charley fastened the slippers on her feet and danced with Nan, her head lolling on his shoulder. Charley lay her on the ground, one of the dancing slippers on her right foot, replacing the Nike on her left.
A long time had passed. Charley had become a blurred memory, a shadowy figure lurking somewhere in the recesses of his mind, until two years ago. Then Charley had started reminding him about Nan, about her slender, high-arched feet, her narrow ankles, her beauty and grace when she danced with him...
Eeney-meeney-miney-mo. Catch a dancer by the toe. Ten piggy toes. The game his mother used to play when he was small. This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home.
"Play it 10 times," he used to beg when she stopped. "One for each piggy toe."
His mother had loved him so much! Then she changed. He could still hear her voice. "What are these magazines doing in your room? Why did you take those pumps from my closet. After all we've done for you! You're such a disappointment to us."
When he reappeared two years ago, Charley ordered him to place ads in the personal columns. So many ads. Charley dictated what he had to say in the special one.
Now seven girls were buried on the property, each with a dancing slipper on the right foot, her shoe or sneaker or boot on the left...
He'd begged Charley to let him stop for a while. He didn't want to do it anymore. He'd told Charley that the ground was still frozen -- he couldn't bury them, and it was dangerous to keep their bodies in the freezer...
But Charley shouted, "I want these last two to be found. I want them found just the way I let Nan be found."
Charley had chosen these last two the same way he had chosen the others after Nan. They were named Erin Kelley and Darcy Scott. They had each answered two different personal ads he'd placed. More important, they had each answered his special ad.
In all the replies he'd received, it was their letters and pictures that had jumped out at Charley. The letters were amusing, the cadence of the language attractive, almost like hearing Nan's voice, that self-deprecating wit, that dry, intelligent humor. And there were the pictures. Both were inviting in different ways...
Erin Kelley had sent a snapshot of herself perched on the corner of a desk. She'd been leaning forward a bit as though speaking, her eyes shining, her long, slim body poised as though she were waiting to be asked to dance.
Darcy Scott's picture showed her standing by a cushioned windowseat, her hand on the drapery. She was half-turned toward the camera. Clearly, she'd been surprised when her picture was taken. There were swatches of material over her arm, an absorbed, but amused, expression on her face. She had high cheekbones, a slender frame, and long legs accentuated by narrow ankles, her slim feet encased in Gucci loafers.
How much more attractive they would be in dancing slippers! he told himself.
He got up and stretched. The dark shadows falling across the room no longer disturbed him. Charley's presence was complete and welcome. No more nagging voice begged him to resist.
As Charley willingly receded into the dark cave from which he had emerged, he reread Erin's letter and ran his fingertips over her picture.
He laughed aloud as he thought of the beguiling ad that had summoned Erin to him.
It began: "Loves Music, Loves to Dance."
Copyright © 1991 by Mary Higgins Clark