“Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday, happy birthday ...”, chirped Aunt Edie, balancing her oversized cake and its 80 candles on the balls of her elegant fingers.
Two hundred and fifty guests – relatives, friends and acquaintances gathered during a long, sometimes strange life – grinned and applauded with gusto.
“Still bringing the house down,” said Second Cousin George, from Birmingham, England.
“Does she ever stop?”, asked Hennie Markus, a new neighbour in plush Herzliya.
“Not that you’d notice,” retorted Nellie, Edie’s one surviving sister, who lived with her in a state of permanent semi-exhaustion. The pair had emigrated from England twenty years before and loved attending productions staged by Israel’s major dance companies.
But the Hotel David’s Master of Ceremonies was now calling the crowd to attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. Your hostess and birthday girl, Edie Aaronson – ‘Madam Yenita Aronovska’ - wishes to welcome you.
“Boys and girls,” said Edie. “My speech will be brief as I am making a simultaneous translation from Hebrew into Russian, French, English and Yiddish.
“First I offer thanks to everyone for their efforts in joining me for my birthday – most especially those who have travelled thousands of miles from their home countries for the occasion.
“What can I tell you? Life is not easy. If I had not been ‘spotted’ as a kindertransport child from Vienna, perhaps I’d never have made it to London; met Ninette de Valois, been accepted for the Royal Ballet, nor had the fantastic fortune to dance just once with Rudolf Nureyev.
“And don’t think”, added Edie mysteriously, “that the splendid Rudy only loved other men … But tonight may not be the correct time to tell that story, surrounded as I am by my darling great nieces and nephews.”
As Edie ended her speech, the crowd’s uproarious guffaws melted into stares of startled admiration as she kicked off her slippers and dropped the skirt of her white and silver feathered gown to reveal a tutu and a pair of shapely dancer’s legs beneath.
“See,” she said, hooding her eyes and lowering her voice to a stage whisper.
“This is my birthday surprise to you. The waist may be a little thicker and the bosom rather heavier, but the legs and arms are twitching.
“They insist on performing the final moments of the Odette Variation and Dying Swan.
“This, I remind all dance scholars out there, is not part of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake but was originally a solo choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for the great Anna Pavlova to music by Camille Saint-Saëns.
“Maestro, please,” she nodded at the hotel’s resident pianist and began performing the steps Pavlova had made so famous.
Some minutes later, the pianist faded the concluding bars as Edie’s ageing swan raised and fluttered its wings one last time before sinking slowly, grandly to the floor.
But she did not rise and as the seconds ticked past, guests grew anxious.
“I wonder if she’s O.K,” growled George. “I hope she’s not done a Tommy Cooper. He was the British comic who died on stage from heart failure.”
But the swan overheard him, cocked its head and chuckled.
“Don’t spoil things George, please!,” it scolded. “I’ve planned a much better end to my party than merely dying!”
And even as she spoke, a mass of pink-grey tulle and satin exploded onto the dance floor from the direction of the kitchen.
“Come here. Come to me,” she ordered, throwing her arms wide to encompass her horde of mesmerised great nieces and nephews.
“Tonight you are my corps de ballet. First though, you must help me get up and although you all look lovely in your costumes, I won’t ask you to dance.
“Please don’t forget,” she added, “leave some for your Aunt Edie. And after that? Well, I’ll have to wait for someone to name a pudding after me.”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 09 November 2012)