Lazarus keeps the tuxedoes on the fourth floor in the back. I wanted to get one in baby blue, just to make it clear I wasn't taking the prom seriously, but Annika would have none of that. "Monroe," she said, "you'll look back at pictures of yourself and wonder what you were thinking. Is that what you want?"
I look at myself in the mirror and cringe as it is. I can't imagine how looking back on photos will be any different.
She insisted on a classic cut. "You'll look like William Powell and Emily will be Myrna Loy . . . or better yet Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire." Annika wants to be a dancer. She watches those old movies all the time.
When I came out of the dressing room, she came right up to me all serious, brushed off my lapels, and asked, "May I have this dance?" I'm telling you, she's going to break some hearts someday, she really will. You'll see.
"Of course, my lady." I know it sounds kind of gay, dancing with your sister like that, especially in public. But we've always danced together. It's the one thing my mother insisted on, dance lessons. "There are a lot of things you can fake in this life and dancing is not one of them," she said. It's right up there with, "People always say dance like no one's watching, but the thing to remember is this: they are watching and you can bet they wish they were dancing, too."
Annika and I used to dance all the time. It didn't matter that I have about a foot and a half on her; she could always keep up. It wasn't cheesy, you know, like at weddings when you see old people dancing with little girls. She really knew what she was doing.
People at school used to call me a faggot because I took dance class, like it was something to be ashamed of. And it worked. I was ashamed. Being called a faggot will do that to you. I wanted to quit and Mom would have let me too. But first she asked me one question: "So what do the boys who call you names do at the school dances?" I told her they all hang around on the edges. They don't dance at all. "That's interesting. You're dancing with girls and they're not, yet you're the faggot." Sometimes the most obvious things go right over your head when you're a kid.
We finished with a big dip and the clerks all clapped. It figures, they sell clothes.
Annika never worried if people laughed at her. She always assumed everyone else was in on the joke and I've always assumed the joke was on me. When I was eleven I was mortified if I wasn't wearing the right shoes to school. But Annika just never cared what other people thought. Maybe if you don't care, other people don't care much either. Maybe it's like how dogs only bite people who are afraid of them.
After they made some alterations, we got milk shakes at the old-fashioned fountain on the fourth floor. There was no one else there. It was just us and Sam, the old black man who works the counter. He's been working at Lazarus forever. Sam's a nice man, but kind of slow. Mom says he's thickjust like his shakes.
"It doesn't look like anyone comes here much anymore," I said.
"They don't, son, they sure don't," Sam said as he continued polishing the counter, not missing a beat. He concentrated his efforts on one spot, gliding his hands over and over it again.
I inhaled my shake, but Annika took her time. She said, "Mr. Sam, you make the best milk shakes in the world."
He just smiled and kept rubbing that one spot, considering the praise. Then he looked up at us and said, "I wish I could make more."
When I was a kid, before they built a new mall next door, Lazurus was packed on Saturdays. But sitting there looking at Sam, it felt like we were at a museum visiting a relic from the past, like the way they have blacksmiths banging out horseshoes and women spinning lamb's wool at the Ohio Historical Society. If they ever close the store, maybe that's where Sam will end up. In a museum. The mall next doorthat was so new and popular just a few years agoquickly filled with ghosts. New, better malls with more things to do popped up on the outskirts, effectively killing the downtown renaissance before they even had a chance to build an IMAX.
Excerpted from Maybe a Miracle by Brian Strause Copyright © 2005 by Brian Strause. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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