He was boxed in by fear on one side, and desire on the other. Afraid of women he was; speechless most of the time, and when he did speak, soft-spoken with erratic eye contact. And, yes, sweaty palms. He lived alone, and worked at the liquor store, not yet thirty, and not bad looking either. He could tell from looking in the mirror his ears were too big, and he kept his red hair longish to keep that hidden. Yes, desire too; he looked at women and felt stirring deep inside him. The newspaper lay open in front of him, and he read the ad: Dance at the V.F.W. Friday Night @7:00pm. 128 Union Street.
Maybe I should go to the next town over so if something bad happens I don’t have to see the woman at the bank or supermarket in the days following and have to suffer the embarrassment twice.
He thought again about that, and decided he was being foolish, and made up his mind to go Friday night.
The first thing he noticed was how warm it was what with all those people so close together, and the music was loud which he liked the same way a fox likes the foliage he can blend into. He recognized some faces from the liquor store and had a smile to himself when he realized the pint, he’d sold them that afternoon was in their back pocket tonight. He watched the couples dance and pictured himself doing it. Even though he paid three bucks to get in, he was already thinking about leaving rather than taking the risk of asking a woman to dance. Then he saw her. She was standing along the wall, and she worked at the supermarket. She’d checked him out several times, and she was always friendly. He felt he could talk to her, but if he did, she would want to dance the same way he would figure that a man wearing bowling shoes at the bowling alley wanted to bowl. It was fraught with peril. Not only would she want to dance, but the music was so loud, they couldn’t talk to each other without screaming. He decided not to gamble, and on–cue, the music was turned down. He still had the obstacle of dancing and realized that risk was cut in half by the knowledge he could fake a slow dance by pushing his partner across the floor like a punching bag being careful not to step on her toes was all. He watched her for a few more minutes; she looked lonely, standing by herself with a solemn look on her face. Maybe he could make her laugh, and he could be exempt from the dancing part. He joked around with the fellows at the liquor store, and maybe she would enjoy his humor too. He took a deep breath and said “excuse me” to the guy in front of him and walked across the floor. Her face animated when she saw him, and she said her name was Lucile, and he told her his name was Lyle. His face was flush, and he felt himself sweat, and they paused, not knowing what to say next. After they paused for a time, she said how she was waiting for someone, and he took that as a brush off, and scanned the dance floor for another opportunity. She told him he looked good in the shirt he was wearing, and that made him feel good so maybe things weren’t as bad as he thought. She asked him where he worked, and when he told her, her face smiled, and she asked if he knew Ralph Bowler. He nodded his head as he remembered Ralph going on and on about a woman from the supermarket who wouldn’t put out.
“I’m thirsty,” she complained.
He pretended he didn’t hear. She wanted to sit at a table, and he looked around, and saw a man in a Harley-Davidson leather vest and a red bandana on his head, and his scantily clad, at least ten years younger than he, girlfriend get up from a table.
“Come on,” he said.
He led her to the table, and she said again how she was thirsty, and all he could think about was how fast the five-dollar bill in his jean’s pocket would disappear. He pretended he didn’t hear and thought she’s going to think I’m hard of hearing, and did hear a slow dance start to play, and thought, This is it, Lyle. Ask her to dance.
She coyly smiled and stood up. They walked to the dance floor, and Lyle felt the whole room was watching him, and he put his right arm around her waist, and took her hand in his left. They slowly moved together, and he felt her breasts on his chest, and he responded. He squeezed his eyes shut hoping she wouldn’t feel him.
“You naughty boy,” she scolded as she straightened her arms to separate them. They looked like Catholic middle – schoolers. Other couples watched them, and several of the men thought: What’s up with them two? The music changed to a fast tune, and Lucile started gyrating, and waving her arms. Lyle didn’t know what to do so he started wiggling his hips. Lucile laughed at him. She exclaimed,
“Oh My God! That dance was popular twenty years ago!”
He froze and felt sweat on his forehead. He walked off, and she followed him. They sat at the table. The dancing couples were smiling and talking about them. After not more than a minute, the motorcycle man with his ten-years younger, scantily clad girlfriend hanging off his arm like a Christmas tree ornament were standing there.
“This is our table,” he announced.
Lucile and Lyle looked up at him baffled.
“We’re sitting here,” answered Lyle, his voice squeaky.
“We were sitting here.”
Lyle weakly smiled.
“Yes, but don’t you see that once you leave the table, it becomes vacant again?” Lyle’s voice cracked. I sound like a pussy, he thought. Motorcycle man grinned thinking the same thing.
“I wouldn’t want to see anyone get hurt over this,” threatened motorcycle man.
Lyle gulped. Lucile stood up.
“Go ahead. Just try it.”
Lyle emitted a squeak.
“Aw…come on, Buster, there’s a table near the jukebox,” said the Christmas tree ornament.
“Good idea, Brewster, take a table that’s vacant,” said Lucile.
Motorcycle man scowled at Lyle and muttered something. Christmas tree ornament tugged on his arm and pulled him away.
“What was his problem?” asked Lucile.
“Bully,” he said.
And again, she said,
He had no money: six days to pay day and what am I going to do? he thought. Hey, I saw that guy Pearson no, that’s not it, Preston earlier. Maybe he would loan me five. He’s always friendly.
“Wait a minute,” he said and scanned the floor looking for Preston.
“I’ll be back,” he said. He walked around the floor looking for Preston. He ran into motorcycle man and Christmas tree ornament sitting at a table, and motorcycle man glared at him. He kept moving. He saw Preston with a heavily made up woman with ample cleavage sitting at a table in the corner. Preston looked up and saw him.
“Hey, man, how’s it going?” he exclaimed.
“Good…good,” said Lyle.
“Yeah. That’s it…. Lyle.”
“I didn’t know you came to these dances.”
“Well…it’s kind of a new experience for me.”
“Fun, huh? I always have a good time,” said Preston glancing back at the painted face.
“Yes…yes, I can see that,” Lyle quietly said.
“Listen Preston, I was wondering if I could ask a favor...”
“Sorry, man, I don’t have any dope...The name’s Prescott by the way.”
“Oh, hey, I’m sorry Prescott. I don’t mean that. I was wondering if I could borrow five bucks until pay day?”
Prescott looked left, then, right, then, asked,
“I’m sorry to be a nuisance…”
“I understand, man. Say no more.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of bills. He counted out five.
“There are ways for you to pay me back.”
“What do you mean?”
Prescott looked to his left, then, right, then, said,
“You don’t have to pay me back with money.”
“What do you mean? How else would I pay you back?”
“Forget it, man. I’ll see you at the store.”
“Hey, thanks Prescott. I appreciate it. Sorry about screwing up your name.”
“Forget it, man. Forget it. I can see you’re clueless.”
Lyle bumped into people as he made his way back to Lucile.
She told him what she wanted to drink, and he bumped his way to the bar. When his turn came, he ordered, and the bartender looked disgusted and said,
“Iced tea? Where the fuck do you think you are? The Ritz Carlton? This is a VFW hall we serve beer, whisky, and you can find water in the men’s room. Now, what’ll it be?”
“Rum and coke. Hold the rum.”
` “Wise ass.”
He was served a coke and handed the bartender two dollars.
“What? No tip?”
Lyle handed him another dollar.
“Hey thanks. The pleasure’s all mine.”
He doesn’t really mean that, thought Lyle.
“I wanted iced tea,” she said when he handed her the drink.
“They don’t have it.”
“What do you mean? They had it last week.”
“The truck didn’t come in.”
“What truck? What are you talking about?”
“The ice tea truck didn’t come in.”
He shrugged his shoulders. The chaps at the liquor store think I’m funny, he thought. Lucile’s face lit up and she waved to someone. Out of the crowd came a round, short man with greasy hair and mustard stains on his shirt front. Lyle saw his yellow teeth.
“It’s Marvin!” exclaimed Lucile. Marvin stood like a dork with a dumb grin on his face.
“Hi,” he said.
“Oh Marvin, this here’s Lyle who’s an acquaintance of mine.”
Marvin stuck out a limp hand. Lyle took it in his and felt moisture. Gross, he thought. Marvin had peach fuzz.
“Wanna dance?” he asked.
Lucile stood up and extended her hand. They walked out onto the floor and began making big, bold, graceful moves. Other dancers stopped to watch them. Lyle saw the sweat stains under Marvin’s armpits. Now I get it, thought Lyle, he maybe fat and gross but he can dance. More dancers stopped to watch them, and their dance floor became bigger and bigger, and Marvin did not back down; he took command of whatever space was given him. The dancers watched as if in a trance. They ended in applause. They sat at the table. Marvin took out his overstuffed wallet and thrust a ten-dollar bill at Lyle.
“Two cokes,” he said. He was sweaty and smelled. Fuck you, thought Lyle, but he got up and went to the bar. He returned with two cokes.
“We should practice our tango,” Lucile told Marvin. Marvin grinned and said,
“I don’t do the tango. It’s a fag dance. Maybe Lyle will do it with you.” What an asshole! thought Lyle.
“Oh Marvin! I don’t know why you have to be such a prima donna.”
Marvin waved his hand and said nothing. Lyle felt anger.
“Look at the cow herd,” said Marvin nodding toward the floor.
“Have you always been fat?” asked Lyle. Lyle’s hands were shaking, and his voice quivered. Marvin looked at him with contempt.
“Have you always been a fat boy with bad breath?” Marvin stood up and Lyle stood up.
“What is going on?” exclaimed Lucile.
The two men were staring at each other.
“Oh, sit down the two of you and stop all your posturing,” said Lucile, “or maybe you can tango!” She cackled at this thought. Lyle and Marvin slowly re-seated themselves.
“I don’t like you,” said Lyle.
“Nor I you.”
Marvin stood up again and motioned to Lucile to dance. I should leave, thought Lyle, there’s no point to me staying any longer. He stood up and walked along the wall to the front door. He was walking on the sidewalk and thought, I don’t know why I worry about myself the way I do. I’m no better or worse than those people in there. That Marvin guy is an asshole, yet I bet Lucile overlooks all his faults and sleeps with him anyway. In the backseat of his cluttered fast-food wrappers and empty soda bottles car no less.
He walked and it was a warm night and he saw fireflies in the distance. He got to his apartment and climbed the flight of stairs. He turned on the bare light hanging from the ceiling. He rustled through some discarded newspapers and found the yellow pages and saw the ad: Individual or Group Dance Instruction, Stardust Dance Studios, 51 Foster Street, and he thought, I’ll show that bastard.
He looked out the window for half a minute and flipped some pages until he got to Oriental Sun Martial Arts Studio, Self Defense in two weeks! He smiled. Just in case, he thought.
Friday, February 13, 2015