People were already milling on the steps in their T shirts and party clothes. The beer was being opened, the DJ had already turned on the music inside. Outdoors was balmy, indoors airconditioned; couples were already floating onto the dance floor and voices lifting above the tables.
“You did great this afternoon,” said a voice.
“How’d your caucus go?” said another.
“If it’s going to be this cold in here I’m going back to get a jacket,” said a third.
“Where’s the bottle opener?”
“And then I said…”
Rabba-dabba-dap-da-dap went the music and started making sounds like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”: only it was really something else, some other song entirely and from at least 30 years later.
“You’re looking very fetching tonight.”
“Is that dip you’re carrying there?”
“Can you nominate me for VP tomorrow?”
“Watch my beer will you, I’m gonna dance.”
“I’m freezing, let’s go outside for a minute!”
The hell with being tired, she was off on the dance floor boogying down. One thing about Saturday night, no one cared if you had a partner or danced alone or had ten partners all in a circle. You could boogie, waltz, do the twist, swing-dance, pogo, anything that didn’t bring 30 bodies into a football tackle on the floor. And she was a good rock-and-roll dancer and she knew it. Dance was a religion she too rarely practiced.
At first as she flung herself in there was a tearing pain in her chest, but she breathed deep and went on: too young to have a heart attack even if her cousin had died of one at 29. The pain left to become breathlessness; she was 37 years old and hadn’t danced like this since Saturday night last summer. She grabbed a beer, gulped some swallows, and went back to dancing with the bottle in her hand.
The DJ had a little box of lights on the floor that flashed red, green, and blue all over the dancers; another box zapped them with a white strobe; a third exhaled a mysterious smoke.
“This is giving me flashbacks to Viet Nam,” joked one of her partners.
“We’re being sacrificed to the god of disco,” laughed another.
“She’s so fine...!” wailed the boom box.
Dancing in the glittering, jittering darkness, she was her natural self, a primal sex goddess; let it be a lesson to all those new people who were just figuring things out. Jut and thrust, bump and grind, twist and twirl, strut your stuff and reach to the floor and reach to the sky. It didn’t matter whether anyone was watching, because they were all letting it out together, everyone doing their primal stomp except the confirmed talkers, the too-fat-to-walkers, and the I-have-to-rest-for-a-minuters. The men were more subdued than the women, but only some of them; the women on the dance floor all went wild and incited the men to do the same, to forget about paunches and bald spots and just have a damn good time. Handsome Joe Hasty frisked by with a river of sweat down his shirt-front; Brian Santini leapt into the air with a flourish and came down in a prance.
“Shit,” she heard Nola Dunn say, “I’m in big trouble now, I kicked El Presidente in the nuts. We were dancing and I put my leg between his, only I went too far; hey, I figured if John Travolta can do it, so can I, but boy was I wrong!”
“You couldn’t’ve kicked him too hard, he’s still dancing.”
“Yeah, but still. I swear to you, I’m too old for this. I gotta stop before I throw out my back or kill somebody. Hey, that Dan Vannet is a great dancer though. Have you danced with him? He is just uncanny, he’s so good. He can mirror every move you make. He has such intuition, you couldn’t step on his foot if you tried, and he sure doesn’t step on yours.”
“Yeah, I saw him dancing with Alice Lowe. He’s good, all right.”
Back onto the floor, minus beer bottle. Jim Harrison came swooping up with outstretched hands, slick with sweat. She took hold, felt a brief revulsion at their sweat-grease, then submitted to the dance and the moment.
Sweat flying, they sailed into a good smooth fast step. Around and about, hands on shoulders, step-step-step, up and down on the balls of her feet, step back, turnabout, back together...
“You have a lovely rhythm,” he said.
“Sure you do.”
Up-up-up-down, up-up-up-down, around and around...
“This is wonderful. Usually I can’t follow at all.”
“You’re doing great.”
She lost track of what anyone else on the dance floor was doing; it was just the two of them flying around to the music. Fast and smooth, sweat dripping. Breathless.
“Let’s take a break.”
“Yeah, let’s go evaporate for a minute.”
Out into the warm June air to join the beer drinkers on the steps watching the fireflies.
“You lead really well.”
“You shouldn’t have any trouble following, you have such nice rhythm.”
“Maybe, but you lead really well. I’ve hardly ever danced with anyone I could follow that well. Usually I’m wondering where to put my feet. My boyfriend knows how to dance, but I can’t get him to go out dancing because he used to help his wife teach ballroom dance and I guess he doesn’t want to be reminded.”
“Ah,” said Jim. “Painful memories.”
“I guess,” she said, and they talked about this and that for awhile because, after all, they’d been friendly for the past three years and he was a great comrade, calm, sensible, kind.
“Is it true,” he asked, “that a lot of people sleep around at these things?”
She laughed. “Well, there’re certainly enough rumors!”
“But do they really?”
She looked at him, standing there in the glow of the outdoor light: young, smart, earnest; happily married to the best of her knowledge. “No.”
“No? What makes you think that, when there are so many rumors?”
“Oh, I don’t mean that people never do; in fact I once knew a guy to complain that he’d only gotten laid once in the whole weekend!”
They both laughed.
“Was he anyone I know?”
“Nah, he hasn’t been back since. Anyway, there’re a lot more rumors than romances.”
“Boasting and wishful thinking, then?”
“Partly. I mean, how much time is there really to start anything? Either you sneak out of meetings or you don’t get any sleep.
“True. It’s pretty hard to imagine finding the time.”
“I think people like to imagine it. They see people talking, and they imagine torrid sex. I personally know of three or four cases where there was tremendous gossip and nothing had happened beyond a few dances or some intense conversations.”
“Oh, absolutely. Like a few years ago, everyone was just positive Brian Santini had seduced a woman I know. Just because he’d held her close when they danced. There was all kinds of discussion about it, not in their presence, of course. Some people were pissed at him, some people thought she was having a last fling before she got married. So a year or so later she and I and about four other women were sitting in her living room talking about something else, and suddenly she asked us if Brian had ever come on to any of us, because he had totally embarrassed and humiliated her once by dancing really close to her. She wondered whether it was something we ought to address organizationally, if people felt like he harassed women.”
“And another time there was just endless talk about Joe Hasty and a woman from Portland, because they spent all night in her room talking once.”
“How do you know they were just talking?”
“I don’t, but it’s a 90% certainty. For one thing, she must’ve called her fiance twice a day every day. For another thing, my room was two doors down from hers and I can tell you her door was open every time I got up that night. And just knowing the two of them, I’ll bet you Joe was hoping to get somewhere with her and that she was totally oblivious and intent on discussing Portland strategy.”
“That’s really funny, I’ll bet you’re right.”
“I’m sure I’m right, and I’ll bet there are people who think I’ve fucked around just because I’ve had some long conversations out in the meadow with Alex Bloch on Saturday nights.”
Karla Huebner has appeared in such literary and genre venues as Northwest Review, Colorado State Review, Magic Realism, Fantasy Macabre, Ceilidh, Weave, and Opossum. She teaches at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio (where they went on a very long faculty strike last year) and her book Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic is now available for pre-order from University of Pittsburgh Press; her novel In Search of the Magic Theater is forthcoming from Regal House and her collection Heartwood was a finalist for the 2020 Raz-Shumaker award. Karla recommends the House Rabbit Society, Doctors Without Borders, and the Nature Conservancy.