The day Paul left I joined a dance class. I came in late, stood close-kneed and feeling naked in the leotard I’d paid too much for at the front desk. Everyone was already at the barre, only I didn’t know it was a barre. In my head, I thought of it as the bar, had hoped to find in my plies and relev és the comfort of gin-soaked elbows and hopeless pick-up lines; someone saying, with tough-love warmth, I’m cutting you off.
Instead, there was a room of women in tights and a boombox. The instructor barked, when I came in, warm up. Her hairstyle was severe, painful, stretching the skin of her temples like wet paper. She had soft rolls of fat trembling beneath the elastic of her tights. I didn’t know dancers could be fat. I thought her hair must have hated the fat; if they went to high school together the hair would drive the fat to school and then pretend it didn’t know the fat the second they hit the hallway (with the fat bouncing up obliviously in the cafeteria hey hair, hey hair).
We learned a dance to a song about sunshine on a cloudy day. The teacher said and one and two and three and four. The teacher said, hey you. I was the you; I was the one nobody knew; I was seven and a half counts behind; she said, keep up. I burned, pirouetted in the wrong direction, bruised myself on the beat.
After class I went up to the teacher. I’ve never done this before, I said. I think it’s really great. As if thinking dancing was great would make her believe I wasn’t a terrible dancer. The teacher watched me in the mirror, and I wondered if my lies reflected sounded more like truth. How long before I know what I’m doing, I said as she took down, slowly, her hair. With her hair down the dance teacher looked like someone who wouldn’t know how to dance, who might have taken up cooking, or books. I closed my eyes and thought about hairspray. I could feel the dance teacher’s breath on my cheek. She said, there are never any men in this class. She said, it gets very lonely. She touched the base of my spine. She could have been correcting my posture, and I thought, for a moment, yes, this is correct, and I will go out into the world floating. Then we were covering our bodies with each other, and I was biting her through her leotard and she was kissing my awkwardly tighted thighs. There were great smudges on the mirror. I said, I’ve never done this before and I’m new to dance and again, hopefully, how long before I know what I’m doing? and she said you learn or mmmmm you don’t. She said you listen to the beat.
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