This story by Jeff Taylor of Hamilton won second place in the William Taylor Memorial Heartland Short Story Competition for 2017.
The judge commented: I really liked this story for its honesty and matter-of-fact style of writing. There are only two characters, but they are superbly portrayed: the lovely-legged lawyer and the dancing lollipop man. There’s a healthy dose of self-effacing humour, which every man who has tried to woo a woman can appreciate. Despite the pauper and the princess fairytale theme, I think the author has shown genuine originality in the way they have written it. The prose is precise, the dialogue so realistic we are convinced that this road-worker is dreaming if he thinks he’s got a chance with the high-flying beauty in her green Jaguar. So when he turns up at her house and she pulls him into a tight embrace, well I was as flummoxed as he was. It’s a smashing end to a perfectly told story, but I wonder if the hug was a bit too much. The story might have been better served if he really did do that last tango, not with his stop/go sign, but with her.
Last Tango in Piriaka
Aha, she’s a lawyer, then!
And a stunner too. Slim, honey-coloured hair. Mid-thirties, bluest eyes I’ve seen in a long time. Well, since my ex anyway, which makes me wonder briefly how she’s getting on with the creep she left me for.
She’s rolled up to me just as I turn the signal to Stop. Her window’s down. “Sorry for the delay, we’re replacing a culvert,” I apologise. Then. “Nice car!” It’s a classic 1960s E-type Jaguar, in British Racing Green. Two-seater. Probably no kids then? No rings on the important finger either. Like me!
“Yes, I like it.”
The day is miserably overcast over the power station, but suddenly it seems there’s a sun shining. I’m looking at what are surely legal files on her passenger seat, but also taking in the extra landscape of smart business outfit and long, tanned legs, when she frowns. “Seen enough?”
“Sorry,” I mumble. Shit, that was rude, I chastise myself, as she closes the window. After an embarrassing wait without any eye contact, my radio goes and I signal Go, giving her a friendly wave. She drives off, staring straight ahead.
I don’t blame her. What does she see anyway? Road Sign Guy. I’m not that bad a proposition though, surely? Fit, forty, a decent head of hair, and passably handsome. And this crap job is just until something decent comes up, after all. It’s only the dancing that makes it bearable. Ex and I had been keen ballroom dancers. It’s the only thing of her I miss. It’d all started when I absentmindedly did a few tango steps around my sign one day, and the appreciative reaction of the waiting drivers stunned me. Thumbs up and toots encouraged me to work out a regular, short routine for their entertainment.
From those first embarrassing steps, I’ve gradually got confident enough to extend my repertoire into a short performance, spinning and fast-stepping across the bitumen with my sign, despite the encumbrance of my Hi-Viz vest, hard hat and work boots. My tango around the cones seems to go down pretty well. Plenty of smiles, applause, and some even take videos. I had no idea, however, that I was now on YouTube
Tarmac Tango, the clip was apparently headlined.
She comes through every morning and back late afternoons, but won’t acknowledge me.
Then, luckily, she’s first in the queue again, and I get another chance. “Nice day, eh?”
“Nice to see the sun.” Is she thawing?
“This is just temporary employment,” I blurt.
“Yeah. I’m single, so I like to move around a bit.”
I hesitate, then lie. “Was, but my wife…died.” Shit,shit,shit! Too Late! Can’t take it back now!
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” She sounds sincere, but her eyes bore unsettlingly into mine until I signal Go.
I can’t bring myself to perform if she’s in the queue. I do it other times, though, all inhibitions gone. The road is my pista, my dance floor. I always start fast down the highway with the carminada, the classic crouching stride. Then I stop, and do some kicks, called paladas, throws, which are boleos, followed by a number of giros, that are fast twirls. My finish is always a calecita, or carousel, around my faithful metal partner.
She’s there again. Another chance. “We’ll be finished soon.” I apologise, holding my breath, careful to look only into her eyes and not into the minefield of low- neckline blouse and fantastic legs.
“Anyway, how d’ya like being a lawyer?”
She goes rigid. “How’d you know what I do?” She says it slowly and evenly through tight teeth and lips.
Shit! Now she thinks I’m a stalker? “Oh, I just saw your legal stuff in your car. Sorry.” I say quickly.
“I’m a prosecuting attorney. A good one too. And mind your own business!”
Luckily it’s time for Go and she drops her boot. Now whenever she comes through, she stares at me with an odd sort of probing frown.
Then I find out where she lives, by accident. One day, travelling around the town streets, I see it, the green Jag, in the driveway of a nice wooden villa.
I spend hours each night watching from a distance before I head back to my temporary camping- ground cabin. Now I’m really starting to feel like a stalker. No other cars or people come and go. It seems she lives alone.
Then it’s the last day of the job and she’s in the waiting queue. Again there’s no way I can bring myself to dance. She goes past slowly and there’s that strange, probing look, which disturbs me. My eyes follow her car. Then, suddenly I notice something, and smile to myself. A chance? I’ll have to do it today, though. Tomorrow we’re off to a job a hundred kilometres away.
It’s early evening. With my ute packed with cones and stuff, I head to her house, and pull in behind the Jag.
I’ll tell her how I noticed one of her rear brake lights wasn’t working today. I’m worried about her getting a ticket, and by the way, my name’s Andy, and would she like to go out sometime? I hesitate at first, then stride boldly up wooden steps and knock. The door opens, and there she is, a vision of slim loveliness in a t-shirt, jeans and ponytail.
“Um, ah…” My carefully rehearsed words won’t come.
Then her face transforms into a radiant beacon of welcome and promise as she takes my hand, drawing me in through the doorway. “What took you so long?” she whispers. Then she pulls me into a tight embrace, and fixes me with a withering, courtroom glare enough to make any serial killer plead guilty and give up the bodies.
“First I want the truth about your wife. Then you’d better have a good excuse why you never danced for me.”