The room smelled of Lysol and potato chips as Sara stood there wondering why a married woman such as herself had come to a mixer where the male pickings tried to act like they were 45 but, in truth, didn’t look a day under 80. She tried to rationalize all of this as she winced while squeezing off her wedding ring, slipping it into her pocket.
Every open eye was on her as she crossed the threshold. The males stopped and stared at her face; the women appraised her with their obvious stares. The room was half-filled with metal walkers that screeched atop the waxed tiles and shuffling feet taking pause beneath the promises of hip replacements. All appeared to judge her, strangers making up her life story from a distance. She’d worn her flowered A-line dress and matching flats, a barrette holding back stubborn side curls which she had been in the bad habit of always pulling away from her face. She’d drawn a scant line of eyeliner on her lids, a bit of rouge on her cheeks. A man in a bowtie and only a few wisps of silver strands on his head approached, asking her name and would she like some punch.
“Thank you, but no,” she said.
He accepted her answer and moved on. Elderly men were so nice and understanding. Or perhaps they were tired. It had been years since she’d known another man other than her Henry. She pictured him on the porch of their home, sitting on a lawn chair with a book in his lap that he’d never opened. Or without the book. Waiting for her. Looking at his imaginary watch.
Sara’s thoughts vanished at the moment someone cleared his throat nearby. His head was down in kind of a shy way, but his eyes looked up beneath thick brows. His name was Sam, he said, and would she like to dance? Before she could even begin to think about it, he led her onto the dance floor and pulled her to him as they danced a slow fox trot to some tune she’d never heard of before. He smelled of VO5 with a side of brie, and she felt so safe in his arms, so safe, in fact, that she found herself almost gliding above the dance floor. Sara could feel his arm muscles beneath his sport jacket, actual muscles, no flabby biceps. He led her around the room, sometimes making small talk in her ear, otherwise humming whatever tune was playing. Their laughter blended with the melody, their steps breathed life into Sara’s spirit.
“My limo is parked out front,” he said when the music stopped. “We could take a drive to the cliffs. Such a starry night.”
It wasn’t a question, but the request sounded so sincere that she needn’t worry about anything nefarious. Before she realized it, he had helped her on with her coat, the chauffeur swept the door open and guided Sara to the back of the limo. The seats were soft premium leather, and the plush carpeting cushioned her feet after she dared to kick off her shoes without Sam taking notice. The rear of the limo was even more spacious than Henry’s den where he liked to watch television and spend hours watching his Rangers slam opponents against the rink’s plexiglass. A cool blue glow shone from each of the inside door handles and a bar filled with bottles of every size and shape took up one whole side.
They drove up and up, heading toward a north star, sipping champagne and finding common ground in music, books, travel. She and Henry used to talk like this, singing songs they’d heard as teens, surprised that they still knew the lyrics, discussing the latest best seller, putting together photo albums of cruises to the Caribbean and Alaska. Then they ran out of important things to say, and then the conversations stopped altogether.
Finally, the limo stopped at the bottom of some craggy steps leading to the uppermost cliffs. Sam grasped her elbow and held her hand, lifting her to what seemed to Sara like the heavens as the city lights below sparkled like diamonds. Sam pointed out the constellations above, naming each one, making sure she was looking in the right direction. He mapped out the sky, unfolding it piece by piece.
“Look over there, Sara, in the eastern sky.” His fingers connected the dots in squares and rectangles. “That’s Orion the Hunter. See those three bright stars close together? That’s his belt. Above that and a little to the right is Taurus the Bull.”
Sara could actually “see” them, unlike when she’d sit with Henry on the front porch trying to find anything celestial but there was fog; always fog. Tonight, there was no mistaking these starry outlines on this clear night, a warm breeze caressing the California palms, the crickets a soft din in the backdrop.
“Nice, huh Sara?”
“Very,” she said simply. She watched him with a strange curiosity, noticed his handsomeness, imagined what he may have looked like as a young man. Discretely, with her fingertips, she traced and retraced his silhouette in her empty spaces, yearning to memorize every feature so she could call it up in her mind at will, her clothing and guilt the only things blocking her from acting upon her passion.
She wanted him to stop talking, stop instructing, so she could just breathe it all in; the dancing, the limo, the stars, moon, Sam, Orion with his warrior pose and that sparkly belt. She thought of Henry. Or was Henry thinking of her and taking over her thoughts?
“I have to get going,” Sara said, the words choking in her throat. “But such a beautiful night. One doesn’t get many beautiful nights like this.”
Sara knew this was true. Not in a week. Not in a lifetime. She felt the weight of the ring in her pocket, patting her dress to make sure it was still in place. She knew what she had to do.
They got back into the limo, the inside now not as much of a novelty; in fact, it all looked rather gaudy. They sat apart in the back; the pricey bottles of alcohol clinked against each other as they drove down the highway. The chauffeur drove so slowly it was as if he knew that she might change her mind.
Deep in thought, Sara stared out the window as Sam touched her hand. “The night’s young yet. A nightcap at my place perhaps?”
She could tell that he was used to getting his way with just a bit of persuasion. Part of Sara wanted to but said “No. I can’t. Really. You’ve been so nice, but no.”
The dancing hall was now dark, the elderly partiers long gone as the limo pulled up to the curb to let her off. It waited until Sara got to her car in the parking lot, then she watched the limo disappear in the distance.
Sara noticed a tiny flickering light as she stepped onto the porch. Henry, an unopened book in his lap, was holding a cigarette, staring at her as if he had just seen her for the first time.
“What did I tell you about smoking,” Sara said as she slid the cigarette out from between his fingers, then she poked the smoldering tip against a dish sitting on a nearby table.
“Who are you? You smell nice,” he said.
Sara sat down next to him, her hand rubbing his arm, up and down, giving him time to realize she was there. “You say that 20 times a day, Henry.”
“Look at all the lights up there. So many lights. So shiny.”
Sara placed her head next to his, turning him so he could get a better view. “The hunter. Those three sparkly lights all in a row. That’s his belt.”
“Were you in the kitchen?”
“Did you have a good time?”
“I did, Henry.”
“So cold. Help me inside.”
“Oh, but it’s so nice out here. Let’s sit for a few minutes and look up at the sky.”
“Were you in the kitchen?”
“Yes, Henry. I was.”
“Did you have a good time?”
“I did. Very much.”
The wind picked up suddenly, a few drops of rain pattered on the steps, and the fog began to cover up Orion’s shield. Soon they were just looking upward at nothing at all. Sara leaned back, reached inside her pocket and put her ring on her finger.
Lori M. Myers is an award-winning writer and playwright. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a Broadway World Award nominee. Her fiction has appeared in American Writers Review, Art in the Time of Covid-19, and The Dark Sire.