Her slender, athletic frame and high-fashion clothes masked the fact that Betty was usually the oldest person in the club. When caught in the bright lights near the stage or the DJ booth, the lines on her face broke through heavy layers of make-up, suggesting she might fit better at the bingo down the road, or maybe a nursing home across town. Otherwise, she appeared to have more energy and spirit than the rest of the crowd combined.
She danced every song, most of them alone. Her smile welcomed the first note of music and remained faithful through the last. The band dedicated her favorite songs without request and she waved her arms overhead until the song ended and it was time to blow each musician a kiss of gratitude. Waitresses delivered her drinks without orders. Betty characterized routine.
Years of speculation shrouded this woman's tenure. She knew the owners. The cook was her sister. She wanted to find a younger man. She was a retired dance instructor, insane, lonely, a rich old lady with nothing better to do, good for a blow job in the backroom or parking lot, an alcoholic, a lost soul. Projection circulated like folklore, without verification or malice. Betty became everyone's eccentric aunt. Annoying succumbed to permanent and accepted.
With the same permanence, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" lingered on the song list years after falling off the hit charts. A Betty favorite, it never failed to pack the dance floor. Although the song was also high on my list, I dodged the dance floor when it started to take advantage of the vacant ladies room. Deviating from routine, Betty followed.
I took a stall; she stopped in front of the mirror. A honking blow, loud enough for me to hear over the flushing toilet and background music, convinced me illness must explain Betty's uncharacteristic silence.
I buttoned my jeans and stepped out into a changed world. Betty raised shaking hands in an attempt to hide the tear washed mascara streaming into the crevices on her face. "That song," she said, stepping away from the sink.
I switched my gaze to the water running over my hands. "It always gets to me, too. Such a sad song."
She opened a stall door, pulled off a new strip of toilet paper, blew her nose again, and let loose a new stream of tears. Relieved the song had ended, I dried my hands and turned, expecting Betty to return to normal. She snuffled behind her hands. Her head and shoulders shook. I locked the outside door as laughter, cheerful voices, and undue humiliation neared.
"That was his song," she explained as I wet a paper towel and wiped the streaks off her face. "Don't know why it got to me tonight."
"Maybe you needed a good cry," I said. "Funny how these things hit at the worst possible times."
"We danced every weekend for fifty-two years. He made me promise I wouldn't stop when he was gone."
"And you haven't." I spoke around my own mascara-threatening torrent.
"Hell no. Long as I'm dancing, I feel like he's with me." Her smile returned.
I unlocked the door, years of speculation lighter and hoping, with all my heart, I would be just like Betty one day.