Peter Kowalski had been a doctor before he was shot. And he was drafted because he was a doctor and the night he met Sylvia was a summer night at a dance hall.
She was ten years younger than Peter and looked even younger than her age and she wore a yellow dress that Peter thought looked like a daisy petal.
There was a band with a singer who sang songs about love and leaving, about marriage and being easy with life. And though bombs dropped across water, and pandemonium covered the front pages of every newspaper in the country, Sylvia smiled at Peter when he lit her cigarette. She liked his hands. They were smooth and soft looking and seemed steady and smart. He told her he worked at the hospital and she said that made sense because of his clean hands. And then he asked her if she wanted to dance and they walked together to the dance floor. The band was playing a slow song, but not too slow for a first dance, and the singer sang about a place called home. Peter stared at Sylvia and he put his hand in hers and she looked around at the other dancers and then at Peter and she laughed and asked if he was giving her an examination with his eyes. And he asked her if he was making her nervous and she laughed again and tried to lie that he wasn’t but her face turned away and her newly curled hair swayed with the drums and moved across her cheek when she looked down.
They had a few more drinks, ice cold drinks by the bar. He offered to drive her back to her parent’s house and she said that her mother night not approve of a strange man driving her little girl around town at night. He laughed and sipped at his glass. Peter said that most of the mother’s he had met tended to like him and that maybe Sylvia’s mother was no exception. Sylvia stirred the few remaining ice cubes in her drink with a thin green straw and asked Peter just how many mother’s he had met after going to a dance hall. Peter said he was a doctor and most of the mother’s in his life were the mother’s of the little patients who came in with chicken pox or skinned elbows are twisted ankles from falling out of trees. Sylvia released the breath she hadn’t even realized she had been holding and replaced her drink on the drink coaster. She asked him question after question about his work and life, about his family and hobbies, about his car and favorite movies while the band played on into the night. At times the dance floor was full and at other times only a few braver couples danced to the slower rhythms. And at times people sat quietly for a patriotic song that seemed both happy and sad. And the front door opened and closed as people came and went, some stumbling, some holding hands, some alone. And Peter never let the ice in her drink melt too much without ordering more for both of them. And he drove her home and walked her to the door where the front porch light was waiting.
She said it would be nice to see him again. He said he could be available for lunch tomorrow. Sylvia said she would search her recipe books for something special. And he smiled and asked if it would be alright if her mother joined them for lunch also, just to test his theory on mothers liking him. And for the first time in her life she kissed a man on the cheek, a man who wasn’t her father or bother or uncle; and this man, Peter the Doctor, Peter the Swell, Peter the Gentleman, smelled of clean linen and familiar smoke.
He waited for the porch light to turn off before he drove away.