Slacks pressed and button up shirt collar folded down, Black Pencil Moustache is ready to go out dancing. He considered shining his shoes but couldn’t find the shoe polish and remembered later that they had no shoe polish. He picked the olive green shirt and the black slacks and decided against the tie because it was too sharp and this was her night. Her night to wear an old cocktail dress and curl her once naturally curly hair and pretend they were married ten years ago instead of fifty. His job was to disappear.
Black Pencil Moustache took that tiny brush and combed his black pencil moustache that she teased him about when they first started dating.
“You look like you just finished a glass of chocolate milk,” she’d say and rub her thumb across his top lip as she giggled and he playfully poked her ribs.
“Oh, but baby, don’t you know I’m lactose intolerant?”
Then they would kiss on the picnic blanket in the park and he’d run his fingers through her curls and she’d smile.
Now they dance. Three times a month at a little club that’s lit like people should be there. Young people. Young people who bring their friends to sit in smoky corners and talk about fashion and college and smooth mixed drinks that taste so sweet you’d hardly believe there’s liquor in them.
But there are only pushy bartenders staring, a Chicago cover band on a makeshift stage, a pair of young men at a side table, and an old couple on a small square of wood that could hardly be called a dance floor. They are the only ones dancing and it’s to music that was new when they were first contemplating retirement. They keep pace well at first, performing a modified salsa and then transitioning to what appears to be a poor man’s samba. Aging Beauty is beaming, strawberry lights hitting her leather pumps and eyes flashing with delight. Freshly bleached teeth on full display. Anything less than a smile would seem unhealthy on her. Less healthy is the tan she has been receiving each afternoon from glowing beds that turn her skin into hide and make her and her husband look like opposing pieces on a checkerboard. Less healthy is the wrinkled skin between her breasts that shouldn’t be seen this late in her life. Less healthy is her belief she’s forty.
When they are face to face Black Pencil Moustache grins, his defining feature forming a drawn on smile that hovers over his own and is probably more genuine. A grin can’t mask that he is slowing down, fatigued from years of selling furniture and replacing roof shingles and trying to get their children ready in time for Mass because she won’t be late. She will not be late. As he slows Aging Beauty speeds up because this dress wasn’t cheap and with the price of gas an effort needs to be made and the time of the music is fast and she won’t be late. She will not be late. She releases his hand and takes a solo, twisting with such force that her skirt flies up. She wants to show some leg. Young women show leg. Her eyes reach for the band, the bartenders, the two young men at the side table. She’s gone. And he’s alone. At about this time, three days a month, he is alone. He’s never liked to dance alone and his movements are tight and awkward without her; his rhythm is lost. He’s disappeared.
To one of the young men at that side table he is still visible. To the one who got too much whiskey and not enough sour when his friend got too much tonic and not enough gin, Black Pencil Moustache is very real. Too Much Whiskey has been watching him ever since he got inside the club after a rough night at work at the restaurant across the street. Young men don’t know much. This young man doesn’t know what type of old woman takes a solo when her old husband is tired and what type of old man puts up with an old woman who puts him in such a humiliating position. This young man doesn’t know how the old man can keep smiling when it’s obvious his heart is breaking one note and one step at a time. This young man doesn’t know why when Black Pencil Moustache turns and they meet eyes the younger starts to cry because he doesn’t know if he can live in a world where old men are forced to dance alone. Too Much Whiskey wonders if he hangs himself with a tap shoe string and leaves a note at his feet that says, “Because dancing alone isn’t dancing at all” will someone find him and make it into a newspaper headline that Aging Beauty will read and never take another solo. Then there won’t be disappearing three times a month. There will only be picnic blankets and curls and chocolate milk moustaches.