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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Melvin’s Last Dance

Category: Short Story

“I mean, look: are you two even dating yet?” Bob said dating like he might have said infected.

“No, but I don’t see what that’s got to do with it. We might as well be; by tonight, we probably will be,” said Melvin.

“What that’s got to do with it? Everything, Melvin. Everything!” Bob said everything  like he might have said your soon-to-be girlfriend is about to end your life as a free-willed individual, and you’re too infatuated with her to notice. “Melvin,” he continued, “She’s dragging you by the ear already.  Just think when she doesn’t have to lure you in anymore.” 

“You say “lure” like she’s fishing. I hate it when you talk like that. You’re just worried we’ll stop playing cards Wednesdays, or something.”

“Melvin, she is fishing! She’s dangling a purple rubber worm in front of you, and you’re about to bite it, and when you do, you’ll find yourself exhausted, disoriented, and suffocating in her boat.

“Look, I think you’ve gone a little far with the boat, but frankly, I don’t care at this point. I’m not going to listen to a chauvinistic poker addict lecture me with tired out fishing metaphors. I’m going to date Dana, and it’s going to be a good thing!”

“All I’m saying,” said Bob, lowering his voice, “is look around you, or you’ll wind up biting a fake worm with a hook in it.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you Wednesday.”

Melvin hung up the phone. He wanted to throw it, but he was trying to give up throwing things. Dana said throwing was for ballplayers and people who lose arguments. He’d won. Bob didn’t know a thing about women, seeing as he couldn’t hold onto one for more than a week; what did he know about control if he didn’t have any himself? Dana wasn’t controlling him.  Damn it, he’d won.
                ***

Dana Jacobs belonged to a circle of dancers. This was unfortunate for Melvin, who was not a dancer, even in spirit. Socially speaking, he was more of a logician, and as such had a certain knack for calculating the exact moment at which he ought to tell a joke, begin a conversation, or put too many chips in his mouth. When it came to jerking his body about in a spontaneous, expressive, and subtly sexual fashion, though, he came up short. For one thing, he could never keep track of his facial expression when he danced. If he didn’t pay careful attention to them, his brow furrowed and his lips pouted. For another, dancing made him feel as though he were somehow exposing himself; in fact, the sense of burning, helpless embarrassment he got from dancing resembled the sense of burning, helpless embarrassment he got from ripping his pants in public. But more than anything else, Melvin disliked dancing because he couldn’t see a reason for it. He played cards because it was fun, skipped stones because he was absent-minded, and fell for women because he couldn’t seem to help it. But dancing, it seemed to Melvin, had no purpose but to bore, tire, and humiliate him all at once.

He had gone dancing four or five times with Dana’s circle at clubs, parties, and, on one particularly horrifying occasion, an event at which formal lessons had been offered. He liked the clubs best, because they had the most beer. He always tried to look like he was having a good time, for Dana’s sake. Once they started dating, he figured, he could take her places like movies and parks, where there was no dancing. But for now he hoped for beer.

Tonight, though, Melvin felt different. Bob had challenged him, and he wasn’t about to back down. Tonight, he’d show Bob that he wasn’t just a fish on a line. He felt masterful and assertive as he pulled into Dana’s driveway. Almost a dozen people had already squeezed into the family room, and all the chairs were gone. Melvin sat against the fireplace bricks, strategically positioned next to the recliner Dana had claimed. He greeted her warmly, thinking about how he’d go about sweeping her off her feet tonight. He’d knock her out. He’d be the one reeling her in.

Everybody milled about for a while, eating snacks and changing TV channels. Melvin sat next to Dana enjoying his new-found sense of control. She reached down to pet him on the head; he began to wonder if he even needed to make the relationship official. Maybe it was understood.

“So,” Dana asked her guests, “what are we doing tonight?”

“Let’s go to Club Euro!” Anne Anderson suggested. “Half-price drinks tonight!”

Melvin liked the sound of half-price drinks, but his masterful nature did not want to go dancing.

“Seems we’ve gone out quite a bit the last few weeks,” he said, silencing the room. The old, less assertive Melvin hadn’t spoken up often.

“What if we just hang around here and play Scrabble or something?” he added. Anne looked at him with confusion and amusement, and Dana stopped petting his head. He felt like he’d ripped his pants.

“Or,” he continued hesitantly, “I know this nice place downtown, Harold’s. They’ve got food too, but the bar’s good.”

“Yeah,” said Dana. The statement stuck out for a moment, and she finally added, “But I don’t know if I’m up for something so low-key tonight. What about everybody else?”

“I’m not really hungry.” said Lauren Young.

“You only live once!” bellowed Ethan Thomson. Everything that came from his mouth was bellowed, as far as Melvin could tell.

“Half price-drinks!” repeated Anne.

“Well,” said Rich Longman, “I guess that settles it. Club Euro it is!”

Everybody filed into the hallway, making driving arrangements. Melvin’s spirits had dampened a little, but he tried not to show it. There were half-price drinks, after all. He decided he would offer to drive Dana.

“Hey, Melvin, why don’t you ride with me?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“I, ah…well, sure, that’d be great,” he said. It was basically the same anyway, right?

Dana backed her little white hatchback out of the driveway and gunned it up the street.

“Boy, you really get after it, don’t you?” Melvin asked.

Dana laughed. “Yeah, I guess that’s just the way I like it. Life’s short; drive fast. I’m really excited for Club Euro tonight, too. Aren’t you? I haven’t been there in so long!”

“Oh, sure, sure!” said Melvin, wondering how she could tell all the clubs apart.

They drove in silence for a while.

“Melvin?” Dana finally asked.

“Yes?”

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you the last few weeks.”

Melvin’s chest tightened; how could a masterful man let a woman ask him out?

“Yeah, me too,” he answered. “Or, you too. I mean—you know. I guess it’s a good thing I spilled that coffee on you after all isn’t it?”

She laughed again, but he was too flustered to notice.

“I never got it off my jacket, you know. Anyway, I really like you.” She stopped just short of asking him on a date, letting him do the honor.

“Yeah. Maybe we could go to Harold’s or something sometime. You know—when you’re feeling more low-key.” He tugged at his collar. It felt like a noose.

“That’d be so great!” she said. “I’ve heard it’s really good; my brother is kind of a regular.”
                        ***

Melvin’s head spun as Dana’s tires crunched into the gravel lot. Less than an hour ago, he had decided to sweep her off her feet and assert his will; instead, she had swept him off his, and he was at a dance club. He began to wonder if Bob had a point.

When the car came to a halt, Dana swung her door open and hopped out. Melvin sat in the passenger seat, staring at the glove compartment.

No, he imagined himself saying to her. No, I’m not going. I didn’t want to go in there in the first place, and I think you knew it. Now, I’m going to Harold’s, and you should come too. Come on, get in, and let’s get outta here. He grinned at the way get outta here had flipped off his tongue. He was in top form tonight.

“Hey, what are you smiling at? Come on, silly!”

Melvin snapped from the daydream, surprised to find that his leather jacket had turned back into a navy blue polo. He got out and followed her inside.

Club Euro was pretty respectable as dance clubs go. Most of the patrons were young and attractive, many wore clothes, and few were so determined as to slip things into drinks. A bar lined one of the walls, and mirrors covered the rest, so that the room seemed to stretch on forever. A strobe light hung from the ceiling, and several colored spotlights swung frantically back and forth. Little was audible aside from the bass, which shook empty glasses off the counter from time to time. Melvin, still trailing Dana and holding her hand, stopped just inside the door.

“What’s wrong, Melvin!?” she shouted, turning her neck back to him.

“I just don’t feel so well, is all! I was working in the yard today, and my legs are real sore! I think I’ll just have a drink, and I’ll catch up a little later!”

Melvin did not have a yard, but Dana had never seen his apartment.

“What about the store!?”

“No, I’m sore! I’m going to have a drink!”

“Yeah, I’ll say you’re sore! You’ve seemed off all night! Well, if you’re not dancing, hold this!”

She thrust her handbag at him. It was covered in glistening sequins, and he pinched it by the strap like he wanted to drop it off of something high or into something wet, which he did. Dana vanished after the others into the crowd, and Melvin, slinging the bag uneasily over his shoulder, headed over to the bar.

A few drinks and an hour later, Melvin had settled as comfortably into his surroundings as he figured was possible. He still had no intention to dance, but the lights and noises had dulled a bit, and he’d let the bag, which he’d nearly forgotten about, slip cozily over his shoulder. He still felt uneasy about Dana, who seemed to be leading him around by Bob’s proverbial purple worm. He resolved to assert himself by sneaking through the entire night without dancing. His sequined bag was not sneaking anywhere, though, and one of its bright flashes caught the eyes of two young men who had unbuttoned their shirts.

“Hey girl!” cooed one, who had slicked his hair back like a glob of tar, as they sauntered over.

“Can we get you a drink, cutie!?” asked the other, idly fingering one of the chains hanging from his neck. They bumped fists.

Melvin, finally remembering the bag, adjusted himself so as to look uncomfortable with it, but said nothing, hoping to avoid trouble.

“Aww, she’s shy!” said hair glob, whose chest hair wasn’t. Melvin stared at it, repulsed.

“Maybe a drink would help!” suggested the other. “Barman, an appletini for the girl!”

The bartender shot him a look, but mixed the drink and put it on the counter. He was sick of these guys.

“Come on, can’t the coat rack talk!?” demanded the chains, who had forgotten he’d been calling Melvin a girl.

“Maybe it needs permission from the girl that belongs to that bag,” his partner suggested.

“Yeah, could be! Tell you what, coat rack: we’ll go find your girl and ask her permission for you to talk, and while we’re there, we’ll show her how real men party! Maybe then you won’t have to hold her bag anymore, if you know what I mean!”

The chains punched the hair glob in the shoulder, and they turned for the dance floor.

Melvin opened his mouth to stop them, but paused and emptied the drink into it instead, and then slammed the glass onto the counter like a shot. It snapped at the stem, and he looked at it thoughtfully for a moment before apologizing to the bartender, sliding a twenty onto the counter, and turning for the door.
                  ***

“Hello?”

“You were right, you bastard,” Melvin clipped into the phone.

“What? Melvin?”

“You were right, Bob. I wanted to not go dancing tonight—they’re always dancing—but no, we just had to go dancing. She made me. And she drove me, and she pretty much asked me out, and she made me hold her bag.”

“Oh, that thing. Yeah, I tried to warn you, but sometimes you just gotta see it yourself, I guess. Sorry it had to happen the hard way.”

A rusted old pickup truck roared past Melvin.

“Where are you?” Bob asked.

“Getting my car from Dana’s. I’m like halfway.”

“You’re walking home? Isn’t that place fifteen minutes by car?”

“Yeah. No big one.”

“Are you drunk?”

“Little. I had some beers and an appletini. You know how those damn dancing things are.”

“Yeah,” answered Bob, who didn’t. “Well look, I don’t want you getting in trouble. Where are you?”

“I said getting my car.”

“What street?”

“Oh. Forest Way, I think past where you hit the deer.”

“Okay, give me ten minutes.”

Melvin hung up the phone and threw it down in the road.
                  ***

“Get in,” said Bob ten minutes later, easing his Jeep to a stop next to Melvin, who was leaning against a guard rail.

“Wait, I have to find my phone. It’s in the road.”

Bob, who had been on the other end of too many similar situations to protest, shook his head, turned off the Jeep and got out. The two stumbled around in the darkness for a few minutes until Bob had found most of the phone.

“Alright Melvin, let’s go. You said Dana’s house, right? You’ll have to give me directions.”

“Okay, but—but I’m starving. Can we go to Harold’s first?”

“I don’t know, man. It’s all the way downtown. It’s already midnight, too.”

Melvin was about to speak when a pair of headlights crested the hill and came to an abrupt stop behind the Jeep. Dana flung her door open and stormed toward them.

“Damn it Melvin, what are you doing? I looked for you all over that club, and I must’ve called you a dozen times. These two freaks kept hitting on me, and you just disappeared. And now you turn up on the side of the road with your chauvinistic poker addict friend! Come on, come with me before this gets any worse.”

“No,” he replied. “No, I’m not going with you. I didn’t want to go to that club in the first place, and I think you knew it. Now, I’m going to Harold’s, and you’re not. Come on, Bob, let’s get outta here.”

He grinned at the way get outta here had flipped off his tongue. He was in top form tonight.

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Old Comments

  • Dating is an infection, much like zombieism.

    Posted by deminizer  on  11/13  at  11:25 AM
  • I thoroughly enjoyed Melvin’s… coming out?  Growing up?  Catharsis?  Whatever it was, I liked it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/03  at  07:08 PM
  • I liked the story, I thought the dialogue flowed well, so often you can be reminded that you’re “reading” a tale as opposed to “just going with it” because the characters conversations seem wooden or false. I think it made the story.

    Did you date this chick?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  12:07 AM
  • Nope; this actually isn’t very autobiographical, but I did draw some inspiration from a friend of mine (who I am happy to say I like a great deal more than I like Dana).

    I’m glad you liked the dialogue; aside from establishing the setting, it’s what I find most challenging about writing.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  01:15 AM
  • This was fun to read and reminded me of various past ambivalencies about going to clubs.  I felt sympathetic with Melvin for most of it, but you know, maybe Dana would like to do something wholesome like go camping and play poker, and just hasn’t been asked.  Part 2 please?

    Posted by julianyway  on  02/01  at  10:41 AM
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