'You've got to be kidding!" My husband put down his briefcase and laughed.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, dear," I said. "It will be fun."
"You're tall and dark-haired," Jack, the bandleader, had said to me. "You don't have to be a professional. Just dress up like a Spanish dancer, and I'll get you the castanets." He looked at me with a grin. "All you have to do is click."
As an evening's entertainment for seniors at the community center, Jack and his volunteer musicians were putting on a little show with Latin music. I would be the featured "dancer."
For weeks before the event I sashayed around the house, clicking the castanets and singing whatever Latin tune came to mind.
"I don't think so, Mom," our son said, grimacing.
"It's an evening for older people," I said. "I don't expect you to come."
"Do I have to come?" my husband asked.
I affirmed that he did, and that I'd expect him to take pictures - for the community center's yearbook.
"I can't believe you're doing this," he said.
I grew accustomed to the merriment of my family as I alternately spun and wove my way through the first floor of the house, trilling the rhythmic "Malagueña" at the top of my lungs. The click-click-click of the castanets became familiar background music to whatever my husband and children were doing. I heard bedroom doors slamming shut upstairs.
One week before the show, we had a single rehearsal. As I pulled up to the community center I heard the strains of "Granada." Inside, a large group of elderly men and women were seated in front of their music stands.
"How wonderful," I thought, "to make use of one's musical talent even in old age." This was a volunteer band. Each blast of a trumpet or lilting note of a flute was a gift they were still able to give.
"You will be 'Elenita,' " Jack told me. "Just pretend there's an audience down there and go do your thing."
To the opening chords of "Granada," I swung an imaginary skirt through the aisles, clicking the castanets and smiling at the empty seats.
"I can do this," I thought. And the band played on.
The costume would be up to me. "Wear something that looks festive," Jack said.
An old, swishy, multicolored skirt I'd worn only once would do. I'd put on sandals and paint my toenails flaming red. By the end of the week, a visit to the local flea market had yielded a sequined blouse with long, sheer sleeves. The outfit would no doubt match my talent.
The night of the show I felt clammy and anxious. I stood in front of the mirror slicking my short dark hair straight back with gel, pulling spit curls down to curve onto my cheeks. I plastered them flat. Next came a huge red bow on a comb, which fastened on the back of my head.
My son and husband stood at the bathroom door, struggling to stifle their laughter. "It looks fine," my husband said generously. "You definitely look Argentine. Or are you supposed to look Spanish? Or Brazilian, or what?"
"I don't know," I snarled, nervously. "He said 'Latin.' "
We arrived early, as planned, but cars were already parked in the lot. "Who do you suppose they belong to?" I asked my husband, his camera slung over one shoulder.
"Your audience," he said, grinning.
I scooted in a side door and went backstage. From behind the curtain, I heard the band warming up.
I envisioned their heads slightly bent, their nimble fingers lovingly coaxing music from their instruments, just as they had done back in their high school bands.
The noise of the crowd increased, and with each burst of gaiety I shed new beads of sweat. This performance was supposed to be for a handful of senior citizens.
"Get ready," Jack said, opening the curtain just wide enough to see me. "As soon as the speaker finishes, you'll hear the first notes of 'Granada.' Go right down into the crowd with a lot of enthusiasm."
"Speaker? What's going on, Jack? I hear more than a few people out there."
"It's just a roast for the director who's retiring," he said. "Don't worry." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "You can handle this."
He winked at me and closed the curtain.
Then I heard it - "GRANADDDA!" Suddenly the curtain opened, and Jack belted out, "Brought to you at great expense from Brazil - Elenita!"
I clutched the castanets in sweaty palms and looked straight out at the audience, where at least 200 people met my gaze.
My husband hovered in the corner by the exit looking petrified, the camera frozen in his hand. Jack gave a nod. Unable to sink through the floor of the stage, which was my first choice, I thrust my chin in the air and raised my arms over my head. With two clicks of the castanets, I swept into the crowd to meet my fate.
Heart palpitating, I maneuvered my hips from side to side, trying to keep my skirt twirling. I clicked the dime-store castanets, oblivious to the rhythm of the music, and froze my painted smile in position.
And then I saw them: the man and woman on the aisle with their mouths agape.
"Isn't that Elaine?" the woman asked her husband as I swiveled by. "What's she doing here?"
That did it. I nodded to my former colleague. My humiliation was complete. And with nothing more to lose, I burst into song - "GRANADDDA!" - and clicked my castanets for all they were worth.