Seeing Red

By Rita Plush

Mostly, she wore black. Once in a blue moon she’d put on gray. In a fit of wild abandon, she might break out a scarf in olive green. But never would anyone in their wildest imagination picture Lavinia Gaines in anything resembling red. Yet there she was, blasé as you please, stepping down off her porch in the reddest shoes a person ever laid eyes on. To beat that, the toes were open. And her nails! Painted red, they were. And what had she done to her skirt?

Shortened, is what! It fell just to her knees. You could see her legs, for heaven’s sake! Might as well be in a dance hall with a garter up around her thigh. Humph! Is that her waving now? Walking over here? Sauntering is more like it. Dressed like that! The cheek! The gall!

“Good morning, Mrs. Crouch,” Lavinia Gaines said, and had herself a seat on the rocker. Without having been asked, if you please.

“Good morning, Lavinia.”

“You can call me Livvy now. I’m asking all my friends to,” she said, all daffodils and sunshine.

Friend? Neighbor maybe, but friend? Since when? Mrs. Crouch wanted to know but was too polite to ask. What could they possibly have in common? Livvy! The very idea. It would be like Mrs. Crouch asking Lavinia to call her Anna.

Lavinia—Mrs. Crouch could not get her brain around Livvy—crossed one leg over the other and pushed back in the chair as if she expected to sit a spell. Her skirt hiked up. She made no attempt to tug it over her knees. Just sat there rocking in a most luxurious fashion as if she had all the time in the world. Didn’t she have a job to get to? Errands to run?

 So shocked was Mrs. Crouch at Lavinia’s odd behavior, it took her a minute to recall that her neighbor did not have a job. Her car sat idle at the curb for weeks. Why, she rarely left the margins of her front porch. And here she was in her painted toes and shortened skirt— exposing a shapely turn to her legs, Mrs. Crouch could not help but notice—calling her friend. A very unseemly shift of events, if you asked her.

Once, Mrs. Crouch had legs. Had some dance in them too. Long ones, that took Gus to heaven, he liked to say. And didn’t he love to dance. A big, sturdy man, but so light on his feet, he could walk a balance beam with his eyes shut tight. He’d take her in his arms, Gus would. Low and slow the music, dip and bring her back to him, his breath warm in her ear, murmuring words that made the heat rush to her face (and other parts) and turn her cheeks to pink. The corners of her mouth turned up; she quickly pulled them down. Days gone by. Days gone by.

“I heard you’ve been under the weather,” Lavinia said.

“And may I ask where you heard that bit of news?” Mrs. Crouch did take pleasure in discussing her ill weather woes—told anyone who would take the time to listen—but only if she could impart them first hand. Folks tended to skim over important details in the retelling.

“Tom at the auto repair mentioned it,” Lavinia said.

“Should keep his mind on his prices, he should, instead of my health and we’d all be better off for it is all I can say.”

“He is higher priced than others in town, but he did wonders with my car. Flushed out the engine. Running like a dream now,” Lavinia said with a sly little smile and dipped her painted toes back and forth as if she were trying to kick off her shoe.

            All those painted toes rocking in the chair were making Mrs. Crouch uneasy. What was that woman up to? Not right in the head if you asked her. Hadn’t been since her husband ran off and left her to fend for herself. Some women just can’t handle it without a man doing for them, Mrs. Crouch thought with some satisfaction. Not herself, though. She could handle it plenty.

Lavinia sat there as if she might never leave, slowly running her fingers through her hair and down the back of her neck. “He knows his way around a spark plug, I’ll give Tom that point,” she said, and giggled at her little joke.   

Tomcat you mean, thought Mrs. Crouch. One eye on his work, the other on the ladies. She knew the type. Not her Gus though. He only had eyes for her. And he’d sing it too, while they danced. “I only have eyes for yooou …” Her heart beat high in her chest; it was time for her pills. She was lightheaded. The doctor had warned her about another episode.

“You look a little pale. Is something the matter?” Up from her chair, Lavinia reached out her hand but Mrs. Crouch brushed it away. 

“Nothing’s the matter! All I need is a lie-down,” she said sharply. As much as she liked to detail her declining health to anyone who would listen, she did not like for anyone to actually see her in anything less than fine fettle. She moved toward the door.

“Would you like me to stay till you’re settled?” Lavinia said.

You have overstayed as it is, Mrs. Crouch thought. “That won’t be necessary,” she said and made to get out of her chair. Wobbly, she sat back down.

Lavinia took notice. “Please. Let me help you.”

What choice did she have? It was accept the help that was offered or fall on her face like an old fool.

She took hold of Lavinia’s arm. She may have a loose screw but she’s not a bad sort.


Later that day when Lavinia returned to check on Mrs. Crouch, she found the closet door flung open, the shelves empty. Letters, documents, keepsakes littered the floor as if the room had been ransacked. On the bed lay Mrs. Crouch. Her tugged-up housedress exposed legs that, though veined and blotched with age, were still long and shapely. Buckled onto her feet were red patent leather dancing shoes. Cradled in her arms lay a trophy.

Two dancers froze mid-step above a plaque:


                                                First Prize Foxtrot


                                  Anna and Gus Crouch  


Lavinia leaned down toward the woman on the bed, “Mrs. Crouch?” Alarmed, “Mrs. Crouch? Mrs. Crouch?” she called out and gently touched her arm.

The woman fluttered her eyelids, then opened her eyes, a small smile upon her lips.

“You’re smiling, Mrs. Crouch. Were you dreaming?”

Most folks stay clear of me. This one wants to know my dreams. Hmph! “I was dancing with my Gus again. Do you dance?” Why in Sam Hill did you ask her that!

“I do. I love to dance.”

“Well, maybe Tom could take you.” Now whose screw is loose, putting her in his arms? But why shouldn’t she be in his arms? And dance the night away, if she pleases! She’s got life in her. And it looks like that Tom put it there.

“Maybe he could!” Livvy said, fresh excitement in her voice. And in a lower tone, “But first tell me about you and Gus.”

“Well Livvy…” Mrs. Crouch said, propped up against her pillows, making herself comfortable.