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Fiction #166
(published February 12, 2004)
Dancing Lessons (part 4 of 8)
by William Starr Moake

Chapter 4

I skipped the football game because a goddamn blizzard started blowing and I didn't feel like catching pneumonia. I went to the dance in the school gymnasium after the game. I hardly ever attend dances because I'm not much of a dancer. My big feet don't always go where they're supposed to go. I can handle slow dances if I concentrate on what I'm doing, but fast dances really throw me. Anyway, there I was in my stocking feet, leaning up against the wall like some wallflower while I looked for Pauline in the crowd. It must have been a hundred degrees in the gym and I was sweating like a pig. I was feeling pretty lousy and I had a crazy idea that seeing Pauline up close might lift my spirits. I finally spied her dancing with Mr. Quarterback to a fast tune. She had told me on the phone she was a great dancer, but I thought she was bragging. Watching her move on the dance floor, I realized she hadn't been bragging one bit. She was so hot the quarterback could hardly keep up with her. My eyeballs practically fell out of their sockets.

The next song was a slow one and I decided to make my move. The funny thing is I didn't know I was going to dance with her until that very moment. If I had sat around for hours thinking about it advance, I would have chickened out for sure. Now I figured the worst that could happen was maybe breaking a few of her toes and making a complete fool out of myself, but it would be worth it if I could hold her in my arms for a couple minutes. Later I could always go outside and kill myself if necessary.

"May I cut in?" I asked the quarterback.

"If Pauline doesn't mind." Athletes always look for a way out, like trapped rats.

Pauline smiled at me and said: "No, I don't mind."

I slipped my arm around her waist and we started dancing. I was surprised when she leaned her head on my shoulder. I worried that my sweat might be dripping on her or that I had bad breath she could smell. For the first minute or so I couldn't stop thinking about crap like that even though I knew it was stupid. I swear if I died and went to heaven, I'd start looking for faults in the place. I can't help it. That's just the way my mind works most of the time.

"I wondered if you would ever ask me to dance," Pauline said, interrupting my bleak thoughts.

"I just got here a few minutes ago."

She lifted her head to look at me. "That's not what I mean, David. I know who you are."

I felt as nervous as a whore in church, but I tried to act nonchalant. "Sure you do. We're in the same homeroom."

"I knew it was you calling me."

I felt like crawling under the hardwood floor. "You did?"

She was grinning at me. "You didn't even try to disguise your voice. Some mystery guy you are."

All at once I felt about two inches tall. I didn't know what to say, so I pulled her closer and hung on for dear life. By the time the song ended they would need a crowbar to pry us apart.

"It's all right," I heard Pauline whisper in my ear. "I'm glad it was you."

My mind went sort of hazy after she said that, like I was in a dream or something. I quit worrying about sweat and halitosis and stepping on her feet as we glided around the dance floor. The song seemed to last for hours and I didn't want it to ever stop. The sweet odor of her hair made my nose tingle. She felt so good in my arms I wanted to laugh and shout and do cartwheels in the bleachers. I was completely whacko and loving every second of it.

Then the goddamn song ended and it felt like the floor dropped out from beneath my feet. Talk about a come down, I was ready to freak until I saw the expression on Pauline's face. She looked incredibly happy. It was hard to believe, but that was the only word to describe it. And I knew I had a lot to do with it.

"Call me later tonight," she said.

"Who, me?"

"I want to give you some tips on dancing."

She was teasing me with a big smile, which didn't bother me at all.

"You think I could use a few lessons?"

"I'll make a long list."

"Don't be a wise guy."

God, was I in love with her. That's why I had to leave when the quarterback barged over. I couldn't stand watching him touch her with those meaty paws, not after I knew how she felt in my own arms. I stopped at the exit door to take one last look anyway. Pauline was staring at me and she made the telephone sign with one hand, smiling the whole time. Jesus, I thought. This girl really likes me even though she knows how weird I am. Every time I think I understand girls they do something that proves I don't.

I walked home instead of taking the bus. It was cold as a witch's tit, but I wanted time to think and I can't think on buses. Riding a bus, you have to sort of act as if you're in a play or something. You have a role and it's all laid out ahead of time like a script. You can play the bored commuter or the happy guy rushing home to a birthday party or a dozen other roles. But you can't think outside the script. At least that's how riding a bus is for me.

I understood why girls went for guys like the quarterback. I wasn't exactly crazy about the reasons, but I understood them. It all boiled down to biology. In the animal kingdom females mate with the hardiest males to insure survival of the species. If they mated with weak males, the whole species might flounder and disappear eventually.

Physically, I'm pretty weak myself. I couldn't do twenty pushups if my life depended on it. I also have small bones and I'm a bit on the skinny side. No matter how much I eat I never seem to gain any weight. It's strange because my old man weighs about 200 pounds even though he's no taller than me.

But there's one thing I don't understand about biology when it comes to humans. If you have a lot more intelligence than muscle, why doesn't this count for something with females? Intelligence can be a big help in taking care of a family. I've seen plenty of stupid fathers to know they usually aren't great providers. I guess the intelligence factor hasn't been around long enough in evolution to influence female mating instincts. Women still get all hot and bothered at the sight of brainless neanderthals with handsome faces, which I think is a shame for the human race. I mean, what kind of kids are they going to have with that type of guy? Good-looking maybe, but they sure as hell won't win any Nobel prizes or cure cancer.

In all honesty sex is a mystery to me. It seems like some crazy game where the rules change constantly and no one is keeping score. Sometimes I think I'm the only person alive who doesn't know the secret of sex. You're not supposed to have sex with someone unless you love them, but a lot of people do anyway. Love is even more confusing. The guys I see parading around in school with their girlfriends think they're in love, but they're fooling themselves. I know any one of them would dump his girlfriend in a heartbeat if he got a date with the prom queen. My old man says he loves my mother, but it's an act. I found out he had an affair with my English teacher in junior high school, Miss Warrick. She was tall and horse-faced. I realize that sounds mean to say, but there's just no other word to describe her. That's what the students called her, Old Horse Face, and she wasn't too popular with them. She even had a faint mustache you could see if you looked real close. If my old man was going to let his lust get out of control, you'd think he would have picked a woman who was a lot better looking than Miss Warrick. Maybe she had hidden charms, but if she did, she hid them pretty damn well. Anyway, I got an A in her class when I only deserved a B. I couldn't figure this out until I heard my parents arguing about her one night. I had gotten out of bed for a drink of water and at first they didn't know I was listening. After my old man spilled the beans, he caught me eavesdropping. He said, "Little pitchers have big ears," which made me want to laugh. I stopped myself just in time because I knew he was in a bad mood and might smack me. My mother almost left him over the affair, but she stuck around after he promised he would never see Miss Warrick again.

As far as I can tell, real love is as rare as hen's teeth and the rest is hooey. What I have a hard time understanding is how love fits into biology and evolution. Sex has an obvious purpose, but what is the survival value of love? If it doesn't help us survive as a species, then why are we all so goddamn obsessed with it? It doesn't make any sense when you consider the facts. As much as I like old movies and television, I have to blame them to a large degree. They're always showing people falling in love in moony romantic situations. I think I got most of my ideas about love from old movies, which is why I'm not exactly a lady killer in real life. Girls are a lot more complicated than how they are portrayed in movies.

By the time I got home I felt as frozen as a popsicle and depressed from thinking too much about biology and everything. If you're a scrawny guy like me, biology isn't the most cheerful subject to ponder. I felt like I was getting a cold and I went to bed that night without calling Pauline. I didn't want to talk to her while her hormones were still raging over the quarterback. I wouldn't know if she really enjoyed talking to me or whether it was just spillover from necking with the Touchdown King.

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