Heel click, toe up. His chin stiffens, he extends his muscled palms, and I take them. I look into his face, past the steep blue-black zygomatics into his tiny eyes, and we begin. Seven eight one but he is too early on the beat, shock-jerks my arm hard into a tabla–still, I go with it anyway. I turn into the dobro–we can do this, I can do this, I think to myself. The beat, the BEAT, I whisper to him and he says, uh, right—AH! as he figures it part-way and his mouth turns up small and pinched at the corners but his voice ropes tight around itself. I count again, seven eight one two three FOURYES I say, and he lifts his hoof into the left canter box and I slide around and climb up a narrow trail and he’s surprised at that, yet I firm it out and he grins real big this time because it worked, and then a voice says, Thank your partner, and I do thank him. But in mid-bow, five nails reach around my waist and zither it close and I’m down along the line.
His hips swivel and his left hand clamps my right and spasms the whole armature from shoulder on out in the Cuban style he saw on YouTube. I turn my posture high and aloof, also Latin, though really to keep his orange dreadlocks from pronging my eye, and I dodge his elbow while he whirls, whirls that claw—
I pivot one-eighty and walk fast to the wall. I sink against the bricks and send breaths down round inside my green lungs and out. My hand is over my face, but finds no strange angles. It’s got to be a thick-marrowed elbow hit my nose. That…kid. The music squirrels back inside my ankles, my rump, and I step figures with my eyes closed, just a filly again alone in a field. I trace circlets of them round back to the line, eyes open now, and a familiar face snags me over.
Her lips part. Her eyes narrow like sleep. They are cornflower and I ask how is her job and she is cheerful about hating it and I smile at her honesty and she curls pale pink and we segue into sweet slip and bop. Her white fur hand is loose and I sluice under her arm and double her bet with loops. I am odd-toed and she is even, but right now she is purling me and I knit her right back. Sitar me, girl! Did you hear the Fuji Hajis are at the Moon Room? They’re a Japanese-Iraqi fusion band. Very cool, they wear all period costumes!
My next dancer’s hips are moving for my eyes in those jeans. I like big muscular soft dogs. Those retrievers, what do you think they get for you? We joke and lose count and miss our gallivant and that makes us laugh, and laughing makes us laugh some more. I guess we are flirting but I think he is a healthy person, and probably would never put up with me if he knew what I have to do to manage my blood vessels. They are finicky and really run me, rather than me relying on them to run in background. Normal people with normal vessels that just work without them thinking about it cannot imagine what it’s like to have to open and close their heart valves manually. It’s a lot of time and custom Excel work, and all those tiny titanium Allen wrenches not covered by insurance cost a fortune. I heard this guy is big on bicycling through ice tunnels in the snow, but I can’t do that anymore carrying my toolbox. He is throwing me a taiko now and I kick far and spin fast but not fast enough, and I’m not quite back around by the eight. Then the music ends.
A voice announces the time-to-corral-your-stray-water-bottles-and-Coke-cans-song. I see a hairy shoulder I know from the back, and large feet that shamble. Head bump. You look pretty tonight, did you know? No I did not! Yeah you do. Do you want food? I always want food. Is there any? I don’t know. Do you have to go to the drug store on the way? I haul my bag up my arm and hear a chorus of faint clinking.
Susan Nordmark’s essays, poetry, and journalism have appeared in Draft: The Journal of Process, Porter Gulch Review, Matrix, and elsewhere. She studied evolutionary biology and anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and Harvard, and now writes fiction in Oakland, California.