‘Do you think she’ll last the night?’
Moira gestured across the dance floor, shouting. Fran screwed her eyes up and peered into the heaving crowd.
‘Can’t see a thing. What’s she doing?’ she hollered into Moira’s ear.
‘Dancing or falling, hard to tell. She’s kicked her shoes off. Her hair’s come loose. I thought Lesley was with her. Shall we go and see?’
Moira performed an elaborate mime to make up for a sudden machine-gun spasm from the drummer shredding her words. Fran laughed.
‘He’s enjoying himself anyway. Did you bring extra towels?’
‘No, that’s his job, part of his kit. He’s had them for years. Come on, let’s get Angel.’
There had been a scrum of embraces, the boys clapping each other’s backs and pecking the girls’ cheeks, the girls casing the boys for fat and each other for lines. Ten years since the last reunion gig but this year was the sixtieth birthday for three of the boys and three gigs would have forced them to choose between, so they’d decided on one. It wasn’t until the grins were starting to ache that Moira noticed Angel standing with her back to them, leaning on the car. She caught Fran’s sleeve and nodded towards the platinum topknot. They slipped across the grass.
‘Angel! Lovely to see you.’ Moira held out her arms.
The deep breath Angel took before turning was slow and tremulous. Her narrow shoulders rose and she staggered slightly as she moved. Her smile arrived slowly and did not travel to her eyes. Her voice was tiny.
They circled her and hugged her gently, she seemed so fragile. It was like kissing tissue paper, Moira thought, holding a hand that felt like loose chicken bones.
‘How are you?’ she whispered, their heads now touching.
‘Oh, you know. It was a little stroke, quite mild. I’m OK.’
They walked together like old friends with Angel in the middle.
The boys had disappeared into the garden and were breaking out cans, re-establishing their pecking order. Sam was clowning, Ad was story-telling, Rip was already in reminiscent tears and Mick was listening hard for an opening for his news. A new band, the possibility of a recording, a tasty girl singer- he could hardly wait but it wasn’t his birthday, so he did.
‘So where’s Lesley?’ he grinned at Rip, hoping perhaps to hear that she’d left him. Odd bird.
‘Upstairs, reading. She’ll be down soon.’ Rip was innocently cheerful, unapologetic for his awkward wife.
The girls, coming into the garden, paused long enough for Moira to send a message to Sam by eye-mail – you carry on, we’ll see to Angel – before taking her to the kitchen for something innocuous, non-alcoholic.
‘Herbal, Earl Grey, bog-standard?’ Fran waved the tea caddy.
Angel’s smile was only just there.
‘I’m not drinking, don’t worry.’
Showers had been shared, bed spaces allocated, introductions made and forgotten, by late afternoon the business of reminiscing was in full swing complete with passionate discussions on which year it had been, which girl, which tune, which riff. They caught up with ten years of their other lives. Sam had moved steadily on in his secure, reliable way and was now senior management, Moira a senior nurse for terminal cases, a sponge for her compassion. Ad and Fran had scraped home with their clothing, now interiors import business fairly intact. ‘Have to diversify.’ they told everyone, ‘It’s what you have to do.’ Rip had thrown himself into making bespoke furniture for love but discovered the joys of money when his work became fashionable amongst maturing hippies who now had income. He and Lesley performed jazz together when she wasn’t writing well-thought of,unprofitable literature. Mick, made redundant from his safe profession, had retaliated by declaring himself a freelance illustrator. He played in several pub bands which seemed more important to him than his art work. Angel helped with the paperwork and went swimming. They were amazed at each other’s tales. Various children had been produced along the way but they didn’t discuss them; this day was not about that generation.
Mick wanted to get going on the rehearsal, kept telling the others they really ought to get going, they only had the hall for three hours. Once he’d bundled them into the cars their departure left a huge silence, a company made up of wives, strangers and unfamiliar relatives feeling school-kid shy. Angel started to nod off and Moira put her to sleep on the chaise in the study, just below the drinks cabinet, tucked up in a pink blanket. Everyone else drifted off, some to walk, others to doze, Lesley to read and Moira and Fran to lie in bed together like sisters and chatter about health scares and family secrets. Downstairs, Angel woke up quivering and found herself staring at a bottle of vodka.
200 people. 200 suppers. Invisible organisation. Foil balloons with 60 in red letters, streamers and poppers on every surface, 200 nameplates on the tables, a mirror-ball and coloured lights hanging well below the aircraft hangar ceiling, shrinking the space. Someone’s nephew and music college friends were playing something classical unheard in a corner, the unlit stage was already stacked with amps and drum-kit, a keyboard and guitars propped up like promises. Men in suits and men in jeans introduced themselves and their wives, in dresses and in jeans, exploring the paths that linked them to Sam in his sixtieth year. A small heap of gift-wrapped malt whiskeys were propped on a table, ribbons twisted together. Supper was slow and noisy with champagne corks and party poppers, laughter and gossip. When the cheese was being served, the boys slipped away, stripped down to their T-shirts and began the testing-testing preamble, adjusting amps, plectrums between teeth. Ad tried some complex riffs and laughed at his muffed notes. ‘Fumble Fingers!’ someone yelled and Ad beamed at them. Mick grimaced. The borrowed keyboard player played several flashy glissandos before turning his volume down at Mick’s order. He turned it up again when Mick moved away to test his harp off the mike. Sam and Rip, on drums and bass, the engine room, clocked each other’s presence, smiling. Then the lights came up and Mick leapt to the mike, cockrelling like Jagger as the band hammered into life behind him. The crowd roared their affection and swept onto the dance-floor as one. The band played for an hour, all the best soul and blues songs they knew and the dancers stayed with them, energising and energised. Angel, with her vodka flask for comfort, joined them and danced her teenage dance, cheering Mick’s harp playing and singing with his lyrics. ‘That’s my husband.’ she told everyone and they smiled at her. Lesley danced beside her, keeping watch.
Someone put the disco tapes on. They converged on a spot on the dance floor as if it might have been a lay-line sparked into being some forty years ago. Angel, still slightly dancing, eyes shut, holding Lesley’s hand while she smiled and spoke with Rip. Fran handing Ad a pint, Moira handing Sam a gifted malt whiskey, delivered with a kiss. They make a small circle facing inward and party-goers pass their perimeter patting their backs.
‘Good as ever!’
‘Still got it!’
‘Great gig, do it again in another ten.’
‘Come and play for my sixtieth.’
‘I love you boysh.’
Mick comes down off the stage at last and finds them. His eyes are shining, he is looking all round the hall. Angel opens her eyes and focuses on Mick.
Mick turns to the others. Angel starts swaying again.
‘They’ll want an encore. You game?’ Mick’s eyes flit from one to the other.
Sam laughs and slaps his back.
‘They’re just being kind, mate. I should mingle a bit. Come on, old girl.’
He trots off with Moira into a barrage of cheers and applause.
Ad draws Fran away, his arm around her waist.
‘I fancy a dance myself. With my missus.’
They are dancing together before they stop walking, close as puppies.
Lesley speaks, catching Mick’s arm.
‘Maybe Angel would like to dance with you.’
‘Yeh, dance with me, Mick.’ Angel pleads quietly.
Mick fidgets, looking agitated. He half makes towards Angel then turns back to Rip.
‘What about it, do you fancy it? Just one more.’
‘We haven’t practiced anything else.’ Rip shuffles.
‘Practiced ! Do we need to practice?’
‘You might not. I haven’t played this stuff for ten years. Let’s not overdo it.’
Lesley nods. Mick glares at her. She smiles back.
‘There’s starlight outside – shall we take our drinks out there?’ Lesley asks Rip.
He smiles and nods.
Angel tugs at Mick’s arm.
‘I’m tired. I want to go home.’
‘I’ll get you a taxi.’
‘No, with you. I want to go home with you. Mickey.’
Angel twists round until she is facing him, her loose hair shining white on her shoulders.
‘Just like we used to, Mickey. After the gig.’
In the pastel lights her skin is tinted pink. She looks well. In her repro sixties dress, she looks as she used to. His very own loyal groupie. Mick looks around the hall full of middle-aged people, running to fat, balding, spectacled – dancing in stiff movements, flirting with their partners. They look like his parents. Angel is smiling, beautiful again, so he takes her arm and heads for the door. He glimpses the parallel reflection of a middle aged man in the open door but it’s not someone he knows.