by Bayveen O’Connell
So what if there’s no-one to take me dancing? I’ll take myself. Tomorrow’s a pot roast, which I’ll prepare for the boys and their families coming to munch at every possible surface in my little apartment, while my daughters-in-law water down my wine, presenting me with store-bought cakes that they swear on their first-borns are homemade. That’s not what I call a birthday. So, despite knowing they’d hoof me up to Shady Lawns nursing home before I could blink, I’m headed for Gino’s Jazz Emporium on the eve of my seventy-fifth in a silver sequined dress I acquired from my eldest granddaughter’s closet. My lips are poppy red, and my feet fit snugly into my patent-leather, two-inch Marks and Spencer’s heels. At half past ten, I slip out the door, my curls bouncing.
The balding doorman raises an eyebrow. I’m the birthday girl, I say. Of course, he replies, twenty-one again. And again, and then some, I say, blushing. He winks and gestures me through. I cross the room, past the stage and dance floor to the bar, hop-hoisting myself up onto a stool. I order a Margarita, my namesake, after the first drink daddy bought my mother. Ogling the fine young bartender as he salts my glass with his fingers, shakes the concoction, pours it from on high, and pushes it gently towards me on a paper doily, I think of my Harry in the early days. How we were all hands.
Taking a sip, I gasp at the liquid gold running down my throat: feeling the tequila snake along my veins, awakening my nerves. Muscles warmed up, I float towards the band as the piano player plinks the opening bars of “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” Although I’m all alone, tapping my feet, shimmying my hips, and shuffling my shoulders, I’m with all the ghosts who hide in my heart’s shadows: Harry, my sweetheart; Jack Valentine, the first fella who ever asked me to dance; Neddy Johnson, the grocer’s son, taken by polio at sixteen. My past loves dance with me now in the artificial smoke, taking turns to spin me in their transparent arms, kissing my cheeks in tingling puffs, princessing me. I laugh until I cry, not caring that all the room sees is a crone, shedding sequins and smiling into empty space.
When my feet begin to smart and sweat trickles down my temples, my suitors disperse, mouthing happy birthday as the smoke clears. I weave my way back to the bar to have one more cocktail for the road. I’ll be home, Cinderella-style, at twelve, in case Mrs. Willis from No. 5 comes by to check on me. Toasting to myself, to old age and new traditions, I stop mid-sip, and think: I don’t have to wait another year to do this, do I?