salsa-dancing-birthday-girl

The Salsa Dancing Birthday Girl

This is the fourth in a series of essays based on a writing prompt.

4. Dancing: Who’s dancing and why are they tapping those toes?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“I’M SORRY I CAN’T SALSA DANCE!”

“COMO?”

“I SAID, I CANNOT DANCE SALSA!”

“THEN WHY ARE YOU IN A SALSA CLUB?!”


Why indeed?

I’d been asking myself the very same question since I’d paid ten euros to get in the door. I asked it as we pushed through the crowd. The music was deafening, the atmosphere hot and stuffy. It smelled like booze, sweat and body odor. It almost made you wish they hadn’t recently banned smoking in clubs.

The place was a maze. Open staircases going up and down, doors leading to smaller, more intimate rooms, the bar, the toilets (never, EVER go to the toilets). Our leader seemed to know where she was going, though, so we sharpened our elbows and pushed on, following as closely as we could through the mass of people.

We climbed a sticky staircase that lead up to what I can only assume was the holy of holies. Huge windows went from floor to ceiling, dimmed lightbulbs encased in class spheres hung suspended from the ceiling at artfully varied heights. The floor was wooden, polished with use in the middle. It was the top floor of the club, the huge dance hall, open only to people who actually knew what they were doing.

Why, oh why was I here?

Upon closer inspection, there seemed to be plenty of other people if not as clueless as me, at least as awkward. The onlookers gathered close to the walls and the bar, leaving a large oval open space in the middle of the room. That oval was where only true dancers dared to tread. And boy, did they dance.

All eyes were turned to them, and everyone watched in awe as couples twirled and spun, the men masterfully making the women look amazing, the women moving like goddesses. In spite of my Irish, Scottish and German blood, my hips started to sway.

That’s when I was accosted.


“THEN WHY ARE YOU IN A SALSA CLUB?!”

“WELL…”

…How could I explain? I was brought here by force? Peer pressure? I shrugged weakly, shook my head and gave what must have been a pathetic grimace.

It turns out the young man couldn’t dance much, either. In halting Spanglish, he told me he had taken a couple of salsa classes, and he would be happy to show me the basic steps. My companions were between us and the dance floor, craning their necks to see and be seen. They were close enough that I felt safe, and so in a corner of that temple to salsa, he shyly took my hands and we started to move.

Despite some treading on toes and awkward giggling, we had gotten into what could pass for a groove when suddenly the music changed. A salsa version of “Happy Birthday” began to play, and we all crowded closer to the dancefloor to see what was happening.

A plump young woman in tight black pants and a teal tank top was dancing alone in the middle of the floor. Her body seemed to move in line with her own curves, smoothly and confidently. She danced with her eyes closed, a smile on her face, totally unselfconscious. Then a young man stepped out of the crowd and took her hand. There was no interruption to her movement—he simply glided in and suddenly the two of them were dancing together in what looked to be a choreographed routine. But then another man stepped forward. Seeing him, the first man smoothly passed the birthday girl’s hand to the second man, and on went the dance, as seamlessly as the first.

One by one, men stepped up and took turns dancing with her. There was never a halt, a hesitation or a misstep. I thought it couldn’t possibly be improvised—nobody dances like that! But then one of my group, a young man fancied by a girl I was with, stepped forward. I knew for a fact he didn’t know the birthday girl. And yet he took her hand and spun her around the floor.

My new salsa teacher slipped his arm around my waist as we watched, and tried to whisper (but due to the volume of the music, ended up shouting) in my ear, “You could dance as well as she does.”

I said nothing. I just gazed at her. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to believe him.

Bompa’s Boat

This is the third in a series of essays based on a writing prompt.

3. The Vessel: Write about a ship or other vehicle that can take you somewhere different from where you are now.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

It wasn’t officially christened Bompa’s Boat until after he died. But it didn’t matter—we all knew whose boat it was. Even when he retired as captain, it was still his.

It wasn’t—still isn’t—a fancy boat. I couldn’t tell you the model or what kind of motor it had. It was about 4 meters long and had a raised space in the bow. Underneath he stored the anchors and life vests. Against harbor master’s rules, his grandkids used to sit at the bow with our legs dangling through the railings, over the edge.

Blinding sun, bright blue sky. The heat of summer stinging my skin. The smell of salt and sunscreen. My mother looked the picture of elegance, sitting with one of her long legs crossed over the other on the little seat right in front of the steering wheel. Behind her, shielded by the windscreen, stood my grandfather at the wheel with my dad by his side. The captain and his first mate smiled behind tinted glasses. My brothers and I vied for prime seats at the bow.

Once through the harbor Bompa would open up the throttle. Then all you could hear was the roar of the motor and the whipping of wind in your ears. Impossible to speak in anything less than a shout, so we didn’t bother. Each of us would silently take in what we enjoyed most about Bompa’s Boat. The speed, the feeling of floating, the salt spray. Shrieks of laughter as a larger boat’s wake splashed us.

Each generation of our family has been transported to a happy place on Bompa’s Boat. Everyone had their favorite destination. Some liked Ship Rock. Others preferred the sand bar that surfaced at low tide. Though it was a long trip—all the way around Gooseberry Island—my favorite spot was Barney’s Joy. As the tide ebbed, the current from one of the inland ponds flowed out between the dunes, through a narrow throat and into the bay. That throat was Barney’s Joy. We’d anchor offshore, dive in and swim with our life vests or innertubes to land. Then we’d trudge up the stream a ways, jump in and be whisked out to sea. It was heavenly to float on that current, surrendering myself to the tide. Better than any water park lazy river.

Now my dad captains Bompa’s Boat as my husband stands by as first mate. I cross my legs on the seat in front of the steering wheel. Our boys and their cousins shriek, stumble and laugh in the bow. Sometimes I feel my grandfather is there, too. Smiling his quiet smile, basking in the joy his family still gets from Bompa’s Boat.

https://www.pictorem.com/74827/Empty%20Diving%20Board%20And%20Water.html

On a Diving Board

This is the second in a series of essays based on a writing prompt.

2. The Unrequited love poem: How do you feel when you love someone who does not love you back?

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

It felt like I was standing on a diving board.

Blindfolded.

I didn’t know if there was water in the pool or not.


I could jump.

The water could be cool, clear and welcoming.

Or I could hit rock bottom.

I could back away, back off the diving board.

And go back to not knowing you.


Sometimes it felt like you were next to me.

Other times it felt like you were somewhere else.

Maybe sitting in a deck chair, suntanning.

Sometimes you seemed to care.

Other times you were cold.


It turns out you were smarter than me.

You understood us both better than I understood myself.

We’d cling to each other in the water, dragging each other down.

We’d both drown in murky waters.


You wanted to control me.

I wanted to love you.


So I backed off the diving board.

I walked away.

I left you standing, eyes uncovered, clearly seeing what could have been.

Did you regret not talking me into jumping?

I decided I didn’t care.


Because in the end I loved myself.

I loved myself more than I wanted to love you.