When the curtain raised, only two were on the stage, but the spotlight illuminated them brightly and you forgot how small they looked. She was wearing a golden dress, really a gown. It was strapless, exposing her delicate neck and shoulders, and a slender but magnificent figure, until the folds of the dress expanded at the waist and cascaded to the floor.
Her long, auburn hair was mostly tied atop her head, but a number of wavy ringlets had escaped and beautifully framed her face. Elbow-length white gloves perfected the ensemble. She was, without question, resplendent. In the spotlight her hair, her dress, and even her eyes sparkled. She was smiling at her dance partner, whose hand she held – a tall man in a military dress uniform.
His dress blouse was festooned in ribbons and badges, indicating he was neither new to the military, nor to deployments, stress, and combat. An expert rifle badge hanging beneath his ribbons caught the spotlight and glinted fiercely into darkened auditorium. His belt buckle and each polished brass button – and there were plenty of them – also caught the light. The black of the blouse magnified the color of his ribbons, and his blue trousers complemented his partner’s dress. He wore a half smile. Confident, but tempered. Dancing is serious business. By all standards, they were a beautiful couple.
And the music started – a lilting waltz with full orchestral accompaniment. He placed one gloved hand in hers, and perched the other on her waist, and they began to dance. Few displays are more elegant than a waltz, and few dancers can make it look easy. But they did.
They stepped back, then forward, then one way and the other, and he led her with ease across the floor. The spotlight caught their faces. He was smiling now, and she was grinning widely. The music played and they danced, their steps and their moves illustrating a perfectly choreographed romance. On stage, before an audience, they were falling in love. And the audience, watching silently and attentively, was falling in love with them. They harmonized each other’s movements, complemented each other’s youthful smiles, and continually moved about the stage. It was an exhibition of romance set to music and movement. And they were flawless.
The music began its crescendo and the couple lithely waltzed back to center stage, the last note coinciding with them stepping back and bowing to each other, still holding hands. Perfect. In seconds, the audience is roaring their approval. The dancers lift from their bows, still smiling but clearly flushed, and he leans close and gently kisses her cheek. Turning quickly, he walks off the stage, leaving her standing in the spotlight.
At the realization that the number is not yet complete, the applause dies sharply and returns to rapt silence. She still stands center stage, alone, smile fading, and slowly replaced with a look of profound sadness. She misses him.
Two more uniformed men walk to her in the light. They are not wearing dress blues, but service greens – less showy, more solemn, and they do not speak. Drawing up in front of her, one hands her a note and she opens it, reading silently. She begins to crumble, and the two men reach out to support her. Had they not, she would have fallen. From somewhere, and ever so faintly, Taps plays – a lone bugler playing his mournful dirge, and the two men escort her off the stage. Her partner will not be returning. There will be no other dance.
While it is often remembered, quite accurately, that well over 620,000 United States service men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country since the beginning of the 20th century, it is quickly forgotten that this news has always been delivered, in person, to their surviving loved ones. Truly millions lost family members. While they may have paid the ultimate sacrifice, their loved ones pay a similar one, only slightly less painful, on a daily basis – for the remainder of their lives. This is dedicated to their perpetual sacrifice… May we remember them well.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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