Leaving the dance floor drenched but not dripping, breathless but not panting, hot but not fevered, enveloped in a glow of live atoms, they joined others outside on the steps, where discussions of politics and personality and miscellanea held sway.
“My father was in charge of supplies and war rationing for the whole state of New Jersey,” Riva Gump was saying.
“My father was out in the Aleutians in charge of some kind of radio thing,” Russell Blank was saying. He and Riva were fondling one another in a slight but noticeable way as they spoke, as though they were trying to be discreet and succeeding only in drawing attention to themselves.
“My father didn’t do anything unusual like that, he was just in the Battle of the Bulge getting shot at like everybody else.”
“Your father was in the Battle of the Bulge?” they exclaimed, forgetting their caresses for an instant. “I wish my father had been in the Battle of the Bulge!” cried Russell. “That was the real war, not bullshitting around in the Aleutians.”
Thus accidentally bested, Russell and Riva gave up boasting of their dead fathers’ exploits though returned to touching each other’s bare arms at frequent intervals; she and Dan refrained from touching although she noticed Russell, once her lover, watching their movements with a sharp eye. He was the kind of person who watched all alliances, political or personal, with an avid fascination masked by a pose of urbanity. She was accustomed to this, and mildly amused. Then after a moment Jim Harrison joined the four, then one Stassen Pugh, an egregious bore of twenty-six smoking a cigar almost larger than his head. She hated the stink of cigars.
Stassen, it seemed, wanted to continue a previous discussion of a sex scandal involving a dominatrix who had recently carved a pentagram into a man’s flesh as performance art at a San Francisco birthday party; everyone else was sorry they had ever mentioned it to him. If it hadn’t made the newspapers in Florida, why need they enlighten him now?
“It’s getting late,” said Jim with a meaningful yawn.
“Yeah, getting to be bedtime,” she said. Anything to get away from Stassen and his dominatrix fetish, and while she wanted to sit with Dan he seemed content with Riva and Russell. Maybe it was because Riva kept petting his arm when she wasn’t mussing Russell’s remaining hair. Maybe Riva and Dan had had a fling at some point just as she and Russell had; there seemed to be a certain jealousy subtly emanating from both Riva and Russell towards herself and Dan. Or maybe they just wished they could dance that well.
She and Jim got up to leave, and she somehow, most adroitly but completely accidentally, toppled Stassen’s beer bottle causing most of the contents to slosh onto his leg.
“Hey!” yelled Stassen. “You spilled my beer!”
“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” she said (how do you apologize when more amused than sorry?).
“You spilled my beer all over me!” elaborated Stassen.
Everyone looked away in an effort not to laugh. Hey, at least she wasn’t ramming the bottle up his ass in imitation of the San Francisco dominatrix.
“I guess I’ve become totally uncoordinated,” she said. “Time to go.”
She and Jim hastened off, smothering their laughter until they were at least twenty feet away.
“I’m not really sleepy, I just had to get away from Stassen,” said Jim.
“I know, the poor boy shows up and we all want to leave. Maybe he’ll improve with age.”
“We weren’t like that, were we?”
“Of course not.”
“What on earth was this story about a dominatrix?”
“Oh, it was the big story in San Francisco awhile back. A bunch of politicians and sports honchos at a birthday party where the entertainment consisted of some guy letting a dominatrix sodomize him with a bottle and carve things on his back. I should never have mentioned a thing like that in Stassen’s hearing.”
“And they say New Yorkers are perverse.”
“Hey, nobody I know does things like that for fun,” she said. “It was a scandal, not standard municipal practice. Besides, I hear one of your New Yorkers keeps a slave on a leash in her apartment. Someone told me she brings him out to show people at meetings.”
They walked a ways.
“You and Dan really dance well together,” said Jim.
“I was lucky tonight,” she agreed. “Two great partners in one evening. We’ll have to do it again next year.”
“No question. It was really fun.”
They wandered in the dark shadows of the buildings conversing until they could see that Stassen had gone away.
“Let’s see what those guys are talking about now that Stassen’s gone.”
“Sure, we don’t want to miss any hot gossip.”
Russell, Riva, and Dan were sitting talking now on a different set of steps; Riva and Russell were still doing most of the talking.
“I think he’s starting to lose his mind,” Russell was saying. “Maybe the pressures of office have gotten to be too much for him.”
“Who are we talking about?”
“El Presidente, of course.”
“I knew we’d come to the right place,” said Jim. “Definite hot gossip. Now what makes you think he’s losing his mind? I mean, I totally agree with you, but I want your take on things.”
Babble babble, the pleasures of off-the-record cabals under the moon on warm summer nights. Crickets chirping off in the shrubbery, frogs belching in the distance, political bellyaching in the foreground. Sometimes these conversations eased the pressure, sometimes they led to internal coups. Long discussions of El Presidente’s girlfriend and whether she was crazier than he was. Would they break up in a few months or were they a perfect match?
“She’s incredibly bright and incredibly abrasive. She destroys every organization she works for.”
“Maybe she’s a government mole.”
“She’s just an insane lawyer bitch.”
“Break out the champagne, then, they’re meant for each other.”
Crickets, bullfrogs, hot air. Riva shaking her mane and running her fingers down Russell and Dan’s arms whenever she spoke. Russell patting Riva on the back, Dan looking silently off into the distance, no shortage of complaints from some people about El Energetic Presidente who was a pretty good dancer himself both on and off the dance floor.
Eventually things wound down.
“Hey, it’s two a.m. and we have meetings tomorrow.” As though this were a surprise.
Everybody shuffled off to the dorms in the warm summer air. The vibrations of dancing still animated her skin; she walked with a slight lift to her bust, a slight sway to her hips. Riva and Russell turned right, the others left. Were both Riva and Russell’s rooms to the right? Who knew and who really cared. The three dance enthusiasts bade chaste adieux and disappeared into their respective lairs.
Alas, no wild sex after dancing. A moral victory or bad luck? Probably neither: Accept what comes. Accept perfection of the moment; accept temporary unity of purpose. Accept that which is, while not denying the existence of perfect arousal. Whole-body desire unsatisfied, but beautiful in itself.
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.