John marked the day on the calendar with a black x. The day after his 83rd birthday. Weary old hands, he thought. His hands were of note because they were marked with wrinkles and age spots. In fact, his whole body bore the marks, but he always promised himself not to regret days spent, even if spent idly. He climbed out of bed and counted his extremities to make sure he still had everything he was born with. The aches were bad in the morning for him, but he took his Aleve and wandered to the bathroom. He had only been up twice in the night to pee anyhow. He climbed in the shower careful to hold the handrails. John summoned his will and forced his hands to scrub soap all over his body, careful to only brush against the few open sores he had.
He dressed, not in completely fresh clothes, but only worn once or twice since being washed. He grabbed his four-legged cane in his good hand, and began the brisk walk to the dining hall. Years ago, they offered to deliver his food directly to his room, but he said, no. Oatmeal, toast, and a single turkey sausage link waited on him in the eatery. They allowed him a quarter teaspoon of brown sugar in his oatmeal since he never acquired any form of diabetes. He eyed the room as he ate.
Miss Taylor, the recreations officer, walked briskly into the room and stapled a pink piece of paper to the bulletin board. Only John called her the recreations officer. Years ago, he reverted to the mentality he possessed as a young man serving the world in World War II. John returned his empty tray to the bins unlike so many of his aged mates, and he rubbed his chin as he walked up to the bulletin board.
The pink flyer quite simply advertised an evening of camaraderie. It said there would be live music and dancing. Three different old folks’ homes were chipping in and renting a hall. Miss Taylor noticed his interest and smiled at him. He glanced at her. She stood up and approached him.
“Will there be liquor?” John asked.
Miss Taylor tilted her head to the side. “What?”
“If there’s going to be live music and dancing, there should be liquor.”
“John, there will be beer from America, and ale from Ireland. I expect they will have whiskey and vodka and every manner of mixable concoction you could imagine.”
John sighed. “No booze?”
Miss Taylor shook her head. “You don’t need booze to have a good time, and didn’t you quit drinking twenty years ago?”
“I drink on and off. Sure, I haven’t touched the stuff in 23 years, but sometimes I get the urge.”
Miss Taylor smiled. “Are you going to dance?”
John winked. “With you? Certainly.”
Miss Taylor glared with wicked pinheads for eyes. “We’re shipping women in from all over town to keep you company, and you want to dance with somebody half your age.”
“Once you reach thirty,” John said, “the goal is always to dance with a girl half your age.”
“So, you’ll attend?”
“What kind of band is it going to be?”
“We got a metal thrasher band. They call themselves Cyclops.”
John glared in turn. “If I wanted to hear lies, I’d watch the television!”
Miss Taylor nodded and smiled. “We got a good band. We spent thousands to rent a hall and have special food prepared. We’re paying them. You’re going to attend. The buses leave at 3pm on the Saturday before Easter.”
* * *
Marianne climbed out of the tub. She almost slipped on the cold floor, but she caught herself with her arm. She put on a fresh clean dress and fixed her strands of grey hair into a bow. She asked herself, makeup? Then her stomach growled and she whispered, “Breakfast.” She walked down the hallway. She grabbed her tray of food and sat at a table with her friends. They had given her half an orange, and she savored every last juicy bite of the fruit.
Jessica, the only black-haired woman in the room, and why she dyed it nobody knew, opened her mouth and whispered, “You know Bill Jenkins had another stroke.”
Samantha nodded. “That man has a stroke every week.”
Marianne simply finished off her cereal. She stared off in the distance wondering if her son would visit her soon. Her son seemed content to visit at random and wait patiently for her to die. Well, in her mind, at 84, she wasn’t due to be dying anytime soon.
Jen spoke very slowly and with a slight stutter, “I had a stroke.”
Marianne patted her on the hand and whispered the Lord’s Prayer.
“You know the fools who run this place plan a dance, on the day before Easter, no less,” Jessica said.
“Dance?” Marianne asked.
“They’re renting a hall and getting a live band. The idiots.”
“I look around this place, and I don’t see any men worth dancing with,” Samantha said.
“No,” Marianne said, “there aren’t any good ones here.”
Jessica pointed towards the outside. “They’re shipping people in from Northbrook Assisted Care and Willow Hospice.”
Samantha shrugged. “There aren’t going to be any good men from those places either. They need to go to the local college and round up some young men for us.”
Marianne smiled. “I wouldn’t know what to do with a college student. I might hurt the poor thing.”
“I know exactly what I’d do with a college student,” Jessica said. “I’ve got handcuffs that I’ve been saving for years.”
* * *
Easter weekend quickly approached. John’s arthritis kept doing a number on his legs, but Miss Taylor convinced him to go out to socialize. He climbed with a grimace into the bus. His hands shook, and he had to remind himself all the women at the dance would be ancient and haggard. They arrived at the hall, and John leaned heavily on his crutch as he wandered the course of the buffet line. A woman caught his eyes for a fleeting moment. She had grey hair and spiderweb wrinkles around her eyes. John’s eyes wandered down to her torso, and she still had breasts. He sat down to eat while the musicians began hauling instruments to the stage.
John ate his roast beef and smiled. The horseradish sauce tasted nearly perfect. He looked over the crowd of aged and infirm. His eyes stopped on the ancient woman with spiderwebs around her eyes. Her eyes were green and shined with vigor darting about from person to person and place to place. They fell on John’s eyes and stayed there. Out of nowhere, she winked at him, and he looked away.
The band finished their setup, and the singer tapped his microphone, “Evening ladies and gents! We’re here to entertain you. I hope at least a few of you have the get up and go to dance! We’ll start with something nice and slow.”
The piano began to play a slow dark tune. The drums whispered along with the melody. A guitar chimed as if from far away. John looked around. For the third time, his eyes fell on the ancient hag with the bright eyes and tangible breasts. She met his eyes, and after a few moments, her eyes narrowed into a grimace, and she frowned.
John sighed. The band played its dire tune. The singer didn’t sing. He simply stood their tapping his feet. The tune’s melody picked up a little bit, and the singer began to slowly chant, “Dance. Dance. Dance.”
No one danced. John remembered the woman’s wink and forgot her frown. He leaned his cane against the table and pushed himself to his feet. He walked over to her table. The women all stared wide eyed.
John held out his hand. “May I have this dance, my lady?”
“Do you fancy yourself a gentleman?” Marianne asked.
“I’d rather be a horny teen.” John smiled. “But alas, I think perhaps I am a gentleman.”
John reached his hand closer to her. “Will you dance?”
“I have an artificial hip.”
“I promise I won’t drop you.”
The woman next to Marianne said, “Go and dance, Marianne.”
John straightened up his body and puffed out his chest like a piece of rock. “Now I know your name, my dear. In the past, I’ve always found that’s half the battle.”
“Are you a warrior?”
“I’m simply tired, and tonight may be my last opportunity to dance with a beautiful woman in this lifetime.”
“So, you expect there’ll be dancing in the next life?”
“I say my prayers.”
The song master on the stage said, “We’re going to be playing for hours. Dance.”
Marianne pushed herself up and approached John. He took her hand in his and kissed it.
“I’m too old for this,” she said.
“If it kills us, so be it,” John said. “I’ve waited long enough for death. If I must die in the hands of a woman, then that would be as good a way as any.”
Marianne smiled. They walked out alone onto the dance floor. The band began to play another slow methodical tune etched with dark notes like a deep red wine. John held Marianne close with a touch of familiarity as if they were old comrades in arms. They stepped in time to the beat of the music as pain wracked their bodies in their joints and muscles. Marianne smiled.
She felt his strong hands on her body. “Were you ever married?”
“What?” John asked.
“It’s a simple question, or are you hard of hearing?”
“No. I never married.”
“That’s ok,” Marianne said. “Marriage isn’t always a good thing.”
“I always hoped to marry, but the girls always said no.”
She squeezed him.
“Don’t do that,” he said.
“Yes, I could break.”
“You said you were ready to die.”
John laughed. The music stopped. The singer looked over the room. He spoke quietly, “How about something with a beat?”
The crowd laughed.
The music began to play a fiery thumping tune with high notes strung along like links in a chain. Marianne and John stepped up their pace following the beat and both pretending it was 1945. Pain shot through their bodies, but they ignored it and pushed themselves as hard as their frail flesh would allow and then some.
“You dance beautifully,” Marianne said.
“My dear, you’re a beauty like no other.”
Marianne smiled. “Are you trying to get in my pants?”
“If I had to, I could find some Viagra.”
Marianne laughed. “Dear lord, I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Johnathon Hickle.”
“Can I call you John?”
“I always liked that name.”
“Thank you. Every seventeenth person is named John.”
Marianne laughed so hard she worried about her spleen.
They danced in time to the quick beat of the music, and when it died down, Marianne pushed John away. He closed the distance between them and grabbed her by the waist.
The singer called out, “Any requests?”
“I’m done dancing,” Marianne said. “These tired bones ache and my legs pulse with spikes of pain.”
“It may be our last chance to dance, my dear. If you fall over dead, will it not be worth it?”
Marianne shouted to the stage, “Play Van Morrison’s Moondance.”
The singer smiled wide. The band members began to play. John and Marianne danced. Slowly, the pains began to edge away. The swelling in their joints began to shrink. Their skin began to grow smooth. The marks of age on their bodies evaporated like dew under the heat of a bright sun. Her hair began to bleed blonde until no grey showed. His hair began in spots to turn black. Slowly, as they danced to the beat, they became young again.
The music stopped, and the crowds broke out in applause and howls. John stared into her wrinkleless eyes and kissed her smooth lips. Men and women put their canes and walkers aside and stood up from their tables and approached each other to dance.