They were showing Top Hat on TV when he got home from work. When had he seen it in the theater? 1935? Yes, it had been 1935, when he was 20. Had 40 years really passed? He took a few gulps of his cold Bud and tried to remember who he saw it with.
Wasn’t it that girl his aunt set him up with? What was her name? Ellen? No, that was the theater where they saw it. The Ellenay. He noticed once again how Ginger was playing so hard to get. Did she play hard to get? No, not really, she just sat there on the bus and just nodded when he tried to think up something to say.
“How did you like it?” he remembered asking as they walked out with the crowd. But he still couldn’t remember her name.
Here was the part where Dale Tremont says, “That sounds like Gertrude Stein.”
That got him curious about Gertrude Stein and he tried to find something she wrote at the bookstore near his grandparents. The girl at the counter had never heard of Gertrude Stein.
Who was that girl? Suddenly her first name came to him. Her last followed slowly just like his tagalong sister. She wanted to go with them to Top Hat. He should have let her.
Would her name be in the phone book? She had an unusual name. If it was he’d know it was her. But surely she would have married in the forty years since he took her to Top Hat for their one and only date.
He had to see and went to the phone book on the table by the phone. He opened it and found her name, just as he remembered it. Could it really be her? It had to be. Who else had such an unusual name? But he couldn’t bring himself to dial.
He sat down and got back to Top Hat. Was he liking it as much as he did forty years before? How did Fred and Ginger hold up in the 1970s? Who could be watching it now but him… and maybe her?
The phone rang. Who could that be? No one called him, especially not now at dinnertime, even though he never had a dinner that could interrupted.
Maybe it was her. Maybe she was watching and she remembered going on the date with him to see it in 1935, forty years before, and she remembered his name. He let it ring three times. It couldn’t be her. But then stranger things had happened. He rushed to the phone.
“Is Ed there?”
It was a young man’s voice, the young voice of a man born long after 1935, a young man who was not watching Top Hat and if he did could not have appreciated the beautiful footwork of Fred and Ginger.
“You have the wrong number, son.”
He sat back down and found that he couldn’t watch Fred and Ginger anymore. He turned it to Walter Cronkite.
JOHN MacAYEAL has a Master’s in English from the University of Texas at El Paso and now works at the IT help desk for a major North American retailer. He has had a few short stories published in small publications. One of his short stories was included in an anthology about the US-Mexico border.