I notice the young woman about to slop her wine even before I raise my own flute of crisp, cool Prosecco to my lips, but she’s not even worth critiquing. Black mascara runs down her cheeks, her hair is coming loose from its pins and slipping over one ear and the neckline of her silky, cream colored dress is sliding off to one shoulder.

At dress-up functions, like this wedding reception, I love to scan the crowd for well-put-together outfits. I don’t care if the vibe is chic, crunchy, or curated as long as it clicks. My aesthetic has barely changed in 40 years. Back in my teens, I could have worn the same minimalist silk sheath, the color of stones and spider webs, I have on now, but that doesn’t stop me from analyzing, OK, judging, other women’s clothes.

This woman probably started the afternoon looking sexy, sassy and adorable. Eventually, most likely around the third drink, she devolved into a muddled mess, a sort of life-sized over-loved stuffed animal. Style aside, I’ve got to admire her vulnerability. She’s gazing at the bride with such naked admiration she looks more like a middle schooler than a millennial.

The bride floats through the crowd of guests as though lit by a spot light. Her gown, its bodice fitted snugly to her impossibly small waist, flares into a skirt of pure white froth. Cheeks pink, dark eyes shining, she gives me a quick smile as she whirls by, the brilliant foamy lace at the hem of her beaded gown brushes my ankles. I turn to gaze at the long red curls cascading down her back and notice the sloppy girl is crying.

“I can’t help it,” she says, swaying slightly, the Chardonnay in her glass tilted to within millimeters of spilling.

“She’s so beautiful.”

Even as I smile, I feel a splash of jealousy. I try to embrace my age but I’ve got a lot to get my arms around. Gray hair frames my face, a few warts are pushing to the surface of my cheeks, my eyebrows are faded and the skin on my neck is loose. At least, I tell myself, my stomach doesn’t stick out further than my chest and my thighs don’t rub when I walk.  As long as I don’t slouch, I look OK.

I pull my shoulders back and turn towards the dance floor. There, enveloped in the pumping, hip-hop beat of Salt-N-Pepa, my daughter, long-legged and luminous in her short blue bridesmaid’s dress, her slim arms upraised, hips swaying, moves in unison with a circle of friends, a tribe of languid, fertile goddesses offering prayers for a beloved sister.

Now it’s not a few drops of jealousy, it’s a wave crashing over me.  Next to her I’m a dry seed pod, as colorless as my dress. My shoulders slump as I glance towards the door. I need to get home into my wool socks, into the corner of the sofa, into a book as soon as possible.

I set my glass down with a click next to a clear vase of pink and white peonies. Fresh, exuberant and trusting, there is nothing cynical about a peony. I feel like an anti-peony, but before I can get away the crying girl steps towards me. She isn’t crying anymore.

“Do you wanna dance?” she says reaching out her hand.

I’ve always loved to dance. Square dancing across a grade school cafeteria reeking of sour milk, in silence with my reflection in the bathroom mirror, to the Rolling Stones around the dining room table, to ‘Proud Mary’ with boys with sweaty hands and beer breath in darkened gyms, glowing under black lights in a cramped upstairs bar, or in the kitchen to ABBA, I know who I am when I dance.

I slip my hand into hers and under chandeliers draped with garlands of pungent, deep green eucalyptus, the music flows over my shoulders, clings to my waist, slithers over my hips and brushes my thighs. It fills my head, my veins and my heart with joy. When I dance, I’m a woman.

 

Victoria Lewis taught school for thirty years, wrote computer code for five years and for the past year has been writing full time.

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