The band members brought their instruments and their small amplifier system into the activity room through the big glass doors facing the parking lot. As they tuned their instruments and warmed up, the residents started to stream into the big, bare room.
Some arrived in their hospital beds, some were pushed in their wheelchairs, some shuffled in with canes and walkers and a few strolled in with the spring of anticipation in their steps.
There had been bands there before, but this was a real dance band with horns, percussion and a female vocalist.
He walked down the long hall with a group of others from the dementia unit. By now he knew the way, even though his eyes failed to guide him because of his advanced macular degeneration. He could see the nurse’s aides in their brightly colored scrubs, but he had trouble making out his fellow residents in the slow caravan.
As they approached the activity room he heard the sweet sound of the vocalist and the wind instruments. The rhythm energized him and he remembered dancing to Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw tunes like “In the Mood” and “Begin the Beguine” in the Forties. He suddenly felt sad. Where was his wife? Why wasn’t she there with him?
One of the aides escorted him to a chair along the sidewall, close to the band. They were playing something Latin he didn’t know what to dance to. He couldn’t see if anybody was dancing yet, but the music was cheerful and made him feel good.
Eyes turned toward her as she entered the room. She felt pretty in her blue dress and shoulder-length black hair. She saw him sitting by the band and quickened her steps, her left leg swinging outward in a slight semicircle and her arm kinked at the elbow. It had been six months since her stroke and this was her first dance since then.
He noticed the blue dress as she approached him, but couldn’t tell at first who she was.
“Have you been waiting long?” she asked.
“Well, hello, dear. I just got here.”
“I’m so glad to see you”, she whispered in his ear before planting a discreet kiss on his cheek. She sat down next to him. She made sure to place herself so she could touch him with her good arm.
The band started playing a new song. He realized after the first few bars that it was “Tuxedo Junction”. Years ago he would have done the Lindy Hop to it, but he couldn’t pull that off now. This would be a nice, slow swing dance.
“May I have this dance?” he asked.
“Well, certainly”, she answered and gave him a slight squeeze.
She led him onto the improvised dance floor with her right arm and they stood there for a few bars, her right hand in his left, both of them just moving slightly to the rhythm. He led her into first the basic step, then a push-out and then an underarm turn. She followed beautifully. They danced the whole song without saying anything at all.
The next tune was a slow waltz. She was able to put her left arm up on his right one and he danced gently with small steps. His eyes strained to see her facial expression, but he didn’t see the tears that had begun to well up in the corners of her eyes.
“I’m sorry I was away for such a long time”, she whispered.
“It’s all right”, he answered, patting her on the back as they danced.
“I was really sick and couldn’t come to see you.”
He didn’t see the scars on her bare arms or the tracheostomy scar over her windpipe.
“I’m so glad I am here with you today.”
“I’m glad you came”, he said and added “I love you.”
By now, a flood of tears was streaming along her pale cheeks and down her neck, across her demon and snake tattoos, wetting her jet-black hair.
“I love you too, Grandpa.”