A Sonnet Called Hello

I’ve never made any pretensions at being a poet. I’m terrible with rhymes, and each attempt at poetry sounds stilted and downright bad. But here’s a stab at a Shakespearean style sonnet.

12. Greeting: Write a story or poem that starts with the word “hello” or other greeting.


Hello, may I have your name?
No, this isn’t she, this is her daughter.
Yes, our voices do sound the same.
Yes, I’m sure I’m not her.

Yes, you’re right; it’s true.
Many people have made the same mistake.
I look a lot like her, too.
No, no, you’ve no apologies to make.

Sometimes I remind myself of her.
Other times I want to rebel.
Often times people compare me to her—
Negatively or favorably, I can’t always tell.

And sometimes I think how nice it would be
For someone to mistake her for me.

St. George’s Dragon Rant

This is Day 11 in my writing prompt essay series. I’ve actually made it further than I ever thought I would. I may have to start writing at a different time of day than evening, though. I’m starting to forget what my Chico looks like…

11. Dragon: Envision a dragon. Do you battle him? Or is the dragon friendly? Use descriptive language.


Theodore and Demetrius were useless fellows. They would tell you not to believe in dragons!

You’ve probably heard they were valiant warrior saints. Helped out the European crusaders in the first crusade, etc., etc. Poppycock! They never fought alongside any crusaders! If anything, all they did was drink alongside the crusaders!

And when it comes to identifying dragons? Worse than useless! Ask Theodore to describe a dragon (forgive me if I forgo the honorific of “saint” when speaking of both of them—it simply goes against the grain, I don’t mind telling you), and he’ll tell you it’s nothing more than a serpent. Not even venomous! But can you really expect more from a man whose only claim to sainthood is that he was thrown into a furnace?

And Demetrius? Don’t even get me started on Demetrius! He was nothing more than the troublesome son of rich parents who packed him off into the army to be rid of him. Sure, he was Christian, but how did he defend the faith? By getting run through by spears. Laughable.

Anyway, he would tell you a dragon was nothing more than an eel. An eel, for Pete’s sake!

An Introduction

My name is Saint George, and I know all about dragons. And I am here to tell you that dragons are very, very real. They are just as real today as they were in my day.

I, too, am a warrior saint. But while Theodore and Demetrius did nothing better than get themselves martyred, I actually fought the beasts. I once saved a town from a dragon’s reign of terror, and secured fifteen thousand converts to Christianity in the process! Say what you will of Christians, you’ve got to admit that’s some smooth operating.

Allow me to present myself to you, dear reader, as an eminent authority on dragons.

Dragon Problems

When a dragon plagues a town, first of all he starts by picking off sheep. Then he helps himself to larger livestock. Before long, however, he craves warmer blood, and that’s when he starts eating people.

Worse than a plague, is a dragon. The more he eats, the hungrier he gets. And he always starts with the most vulnerable, the poorest of the town. Pick off a couple of peasants, and hardly anyone notices. It’s only when he’s eaten a dozen that the nobles—the so-called quality—start to notice.

Up to this point, royalty looks at the dragon as a useful population control. Keep the rabble down and they won’t clamor for better working conditions! But a dragon soon acquires a taste for bluer blood. He moves up the echelons of society, picking his way through the merchant class once he’s had his fill of serfs. Next, he moves up to the landed gentry, onwards through the lower nobility, and before you know it he’s picking off dukes, duchesses and even princes!

The Dragon That Made Me Famous

That’s what happened in this one town I came upon in Cappadocia, in the country you modern-day folks would call Turkey. I’d been doing some campaigning with my ne’er-do-well colleagues (tiresome fellows! How I longed to be rid of them!), and we broke our journey in this quaint little town.

While Theodore and Demetrius patronized the local watering holes, I looked for lodgings at a respectable inn. It was there that I learned from the innkeeper—a wonderfully informative species of person, in my experience—that they had dragon troubles in town.

It had gotten to the point where they’d agreed to leave the dragon a victim each night, as a kind of—you know—sacrifice. They drew straws for it. Earlier that day, the local princess’s straw had been drawn. She was to be tied up and left for the dragon that night.

I vowed to save the princess from such a fate. Theodore and Demetrius laughed at me heartily and said they wouldn’t wait up for me that night. (Couldn’t wait up for me, more like it. Soused as a pair of eels by sundown, the pair of them!)

At the Lake

My unease grew as I approached the spot where they’d left the princess. I found her bound at the wrists and the ankles, gagged, and tied to a stake on an island in the middle of a small lake outside of town. With what barbarity had the townspeople left her to her fate!

(Forgive me, dear reader, if I do not go into rapturous descriptions of the maid. I am, after all, a saint.)

I motioned to the maiden to remain silent, not to betray my presence. Then I maneuvered my steed into the trees and waited in the nearby shadows.

The moon shone brightly that night, the clarity increased by that celestial body’s reflection in the waters. As I crouched in wait, I was aware of every ripple, every disturbance to the water’s surface. Close to midnight, one ripple appeared from around the lake, and a dark shape moved purposefully towards the island where the maiden was captive and where I, unbeknownst to the beast, lay in wait.

The Beast

Its awful snout emerged first. A pair of large, cavernous nostrils broke the surface of the water, followed by a cruel and crooked horn. A long, thin snout followed, with whiskers dripping as they rose from the water. Its eyes caught the glint of the moonlight before ever surfacing, and the beast never blinked as it lifted its vile head from the depths.

Vile it was, dear reader, and adorned with two more curving horns of ivory, which cut against the reflected moonlight on the lake. Down its neck and across its back it had venomous spines, and its long, writhing reptilian tail curved this way and that behind it as it dragged its low and foul body up onto the shore. Its four legs were stout and strong, and each sported five vicious, curved claws. Its tongue darted in and out of its mouth, and the light of the moon glinted off of long, sharp fangs.

The Attack

I didn’t wait to learn if it was a dragon of the fire-breathing variety. Before it had taken another step towards its victim, I crossed myself and charged from the darkness, brandishing my lance. The beast was entirely surprised, and had no time to react before I plunged my weapon between its shoulder blades, narrowly missing what must be the creature’s heart—if such devils indeed have hearts.

A terrible cry burst from its throat. Although it was mortally wounded, the beast did not immediately perish, and indeed looked ready to turn and fight. I acted without thinking and turning to the maiden, cut her free from her bonds. Seizing the ropes, I threw myself on the dragon, holding its jaws shut. There we wrestled until I was able to tie a rope tight around its muzzle.

Before I could think what to do with its claws, the maiden had removed the girdle from around her waist, and in an extraordinary act of bravery, she approached the dragon. Calmly as though she were approaching her spinning wheel, she slipped the girdle around the dragon’s neck.

For a moment, the beast continued to writhe. But then, feeling the silken fabric of the girdle, it slowed and eventually lay still. Its great, horrid eyes continued to stare at us, unblinking. We only knew it to be alive from its glance, darting from the maiden to me.

Suddenly, the dragon was like a tamed spaniel. The maiden took up the other end of her girdle, and tugging gently on it, she coaxed the dragon to its feet. I stood and watched in utter amazement and she walked to the shallow ford that lead off the island and to the village road. The dragon limped behind obediently.

I spurred my horse and galloped after them.

All’s Well That Ends Well

To make a long story short, we made our way back to the town, the maiden perched on my saddle, the dragon following on the lead.

I won’t go into the details of what followed—I’m not terribly proud of the extortion I performed next. I threatened to release the dragon on the townspeople unless they converted to Christ.

I know, I know, I was heavy-handed. But believe me when I say I meant well. In the end, no one came to any harm, and after they’d all been baptized at the fountain in the town square, I obligingly chopped off the dragon’s head.

Modern Day Dragons

As for dragons today… You do have them, dear readers. Your dragons may not be visible. They may be called by other names. Plagues, dragons, pandemics. They’re all one.

Whatever you call them, just as they did in my time, they pray first on the lowest of the low. Then they move through the population and strike down rich and strong alike.

These modern dragons cannot be ignored. They will decimate your populations and grind trade to a halt. No one will move from home for fear of encountering the dragon.

And just like the beasts of my day, modern day dragons must be managed by competent authorities. Modern St. Georges, if you will. Not clowns like those buffoonish fellows Theodore and Demetrius.

My Fellow “Saints”

But where were Theodore and Demetrius, you ask? How is it that they cannot identify a dragon, even after such a spectacle as this?

The simple answer is, my dear readers: they were drunk. They’d drunk the innkeeper out of his best ale, and had fallen asleep under their stools.

Is it any wonder they met the ends they did, dear readers? I ask you!


I am privileged to count among my closest friends a small group of extraordinary women. Today’s essay is a tribute to two of these women. I sometimes wonder where I would be without them.

10. Friendship: Write about being friends with someone.


Ours was not an unlikely friendship.

In fact, anyone would expect us to get on like a house on fire.

What surprised us both was just how strong a connection we each felt.

You came to sit with me at my desk.

You were supposed to brief me on your job and how we would collaborate.

We were supposed to talk for half an hour.

An hour and a half later, we had to be reminded we were at work.

That first conversation left us both impressed.

I was impressed by your talents,

Your liveliness,

Your loveliness,

Your wit,

And your open heart.

You must have felt the same,

Because since that day I have enjoyed your friendship.

A friendship that has enriched my life.

Merci mon amie! Je t’aime!

Thursday my dear friend called to say she felt useless.

The baby was fussing, she couldn’t get anything done.

Saturday morning my mother took ill.

Saturday afternoon, I hopped in the car, almost nine months pregnant.

Saturday night my mother died, just before I could make it to her side.

Sunday morning my brothers arrived.

Monday morning we visited the funeral home, the clinic and the church.

Monday at noon I went into labor.

Monday afternoon, just before 5pm, my son was born.

Tuesday, my dear friend rode in like the cavalry.

Baby in stroller, diaper bag on her back, lasagne in hand, carry-on suitcase with maternity clothes & baby clothes dragging behind.

My dear friend. Some days you may feel useless.

But every day you mean the world to me.

The House Finches

Here’s Day 9 in my series of essays. It’s a bit long, but I admit that I was having lots of fun with this one.

9. Animals: Choose an animal. Write about it!


It was the perfect spot for a nest. Or, at least he had thought so at first.

It is just so hard to tell when you start building your nest in the chilly days before spring really starts! There’s no telling what will come out of the woodwork—or out the patio door—when things warm up.

The Courtship

Mr. and Mrs. House Finch had only married the previous winter. It had been a quiet ceremony, attended by just a few close friends they’d gotten to know around the local feeders. He had been surprised she’d accepted his marriage proposal in the first place. He was barely fully grown, and the feathers around his head had only just turned to a blush red. She’d been courted by an older male with a beautiful scarlet head, but something had attracted her to her young mate.

He considered himself a good provider, and had been rather proud of the choice morsels he had presented her during their courtship. She’d been impressed with the variety of seeds he had brought, but he suspected that the dandelion seeds had been what sealed the deal; she was terribly partial to them.

A Doomed Honeymoon

Their first spring had been a disaster. Young and inexperienced as they were, they’d chosen the worst possible spot for their nest. A little nook in the side of a building had seemed perfect in the cold dark days, when they were scouting out locations. It had been sheltered and snug, and without hesitating they swooped in to claim it before another couple could.

It wasn’t until the first fine spring day that they realized their error. They’d just returned home for a mid-morning nap when without warning the nest began to shake and tremble. A horrible loud rumbling filled the air, and before they knew it their home was being dragged into the gears of an automatic garage door. They barely escaped with their lives, and watched in despair from a nearby tree as a shiny red vintage convertible Maserati pulled out of the garage and drove off on its first spin of the season.

The worst of it was, she’d been about to lay her first clutch of eggs. In their confusion after losing their nest, she ended up laying them in a field where a hungry fox quickly discovered them.

A Second Attempt

This year, though, they had to get it right. And as the prime nest location scout, the pressure was on him to come through.

He chose a sheltered spot, on a lovely horizontal beam, tucked right up under a nice terrace. He’d watched the house for a few days and had seen no movement at the door that led out to the garden. A day or two more of watching confirmed it. The lazy humans living in the house never once set foot outside. He told the Missus, and they swooped in to claim their spot.

And it was indeed perfect. They were sheltered from wind and rain, and the nest she built while he kept watch was flawless. And so, they settled down and set about the business of starting a family.


She was two days shy of laying her first egg when the worst happened.

The back door slid open.

Their peace was shattered by the piercing voices of two child humans and an adult, presumably the female of the household. Mr. and Mrs. House Finch huddled in terror in their nest while the trio burst into the garden and tumbled about the lawn. Once the first shock had passed, they gathered their wits enough to fly out of the nest and alight on a nearby tree.

As they watched, he felt his mate’s accusing stare. He had failed her last season. Had he failed her again this year? They stayed away until the humans had gone back inside and shut the door. They waited several minutes after they heard the door latch before returning to the nest.

The Trampoline

A few days passed. They became cautiously optimistic that the humans’ natural predisposition to laziness had prevailed, and they had lost interest in the garden. But then, it happened.

One bright morning, the door opened again. Out stepped the male of the family, followed by the two clamoring juveniles. By this time, the House Finches had three eggs in the nest, and the Missus wouldn’t leave them. Mr. House Finch flitted from the nest to a nearby electrical wire, where he puffed up his chest as menacingly as he could and chirruped his loudest at them. To his utter humiliation, this drew only cries of delight from the humans! He flew to the neighboring fence, and watched them anxiously, ready to dive at them should they get too near his wife and nest.

As he watched from his perch, his sense of foreboding increased. The male human was opening boxes and laying out pieces of some great structure. Over the next couple of days (what he heard them refer to as “the weekend”) his worst fears were confirmed. They were setting up, of all things, a trampoline.

There’d be no peace now! Not from the humans, and certainly not from the Missus. From the moment of its completion, hardly a day passed that they weren’t surprised from their afternoon nap by the sound of the sliding door and the children tumbling outside to “bounce.” The stress of it caused them to lose their first clutch. Only one of the five eggs hatched, and the hatchling was weak and puny. It didn’t survive.

“She’s bound to leave me now,” he thought. But there, as so many husbands do, he underestimated his wife’s fortitude. Though the initial shock had thrown her, she did not give up that easily. She knew she had a good two or even three more clutches in her that season. And she, too, had been watching the humans.

What the Missus Observed

Whenever they came out, they stayed away from the nest, as if they wanted to avoid disturbing the birds. Her instincts told her that these humans meant them no harm. Though the noise was nearly unbearable, Mrs. House Finch steeled her nerves and prepared to lay her second clutch. She soon became inured to the startling sound of the sliding door, and she found she was able to sit on her eggs in relative composure. She even came to enjoy watching the children’s delight on the trampoline. She pictured how her own chicks would soon be very much like the two human children. She was at peace.

Then, one fine morning, the eggs hatched. Despite the noise, the disturbance and the stress, they were finally parents. Mr. House Finch came through on his courtship promise and delivered only the choicest dandelion seeds to his wife and chicks. The family of humans seemed to know something had happened, and they gave the nest an even wider berth.

Mr. House Finch’s Song

The couple felt happy. So happy that one day, as the human family sat atop their terrace for their evening meal, Mr. House Finch flew up and landed above them on the roof. He fluffed his feathers and cleared his throat. He gave a tremendous PEEP in order to ensure he had their attention. When all four pairs of human eyes were turned up and fixed on him, he opened his mouth and sang his sweetest song. A song of gratitude.

Thanks for sharing your space! Thanks for letting us be! Thanks for being good neighbors! Thanks for saving our marriage!

Pandemic Dreams

Day 8 in a series of essays based on a writing prompt. We all have those dreams where we feel like we can’t get away from something. Apparently, the pandemic has made our dreams more intense…

8. Dream-catcher: Write something inspired by a recent dream you had.


It started in the pit of my stomach.

A slowly increasing burn, like someone gradually turning up a gas stove.

It crept up, spreading through my chest, and then into my throat, making it hard to breathe.


All because I couldn’t fly more than two feet off the ground.

This was supposed to be a flying dream, for goodness’ sake!

I ran down a steep hill and took a flying leap into the air.

Only to skim along frustratingly close to the grass.

I flapped my arms as if they were wings.

I strained and pulled, trying to force myself up.

The panic increased, and I felt I HAD to fly higher.

Because now something was chasing me.

Horrorstruck, I realized I couldn’t get away.

Then I woke up in a cold sweat, the sheets twisted around my legs.

Damn, I thought.

Pandemic dreams really are a thing.

What One Week of Writing Has Taught Me

I never thought I’d get to seven straight days of writing! Go me!

*Pauses to give herself a nice pat on the shoulder.*

I do hope to continue–I’ve already read today’s writing prompt and I’ll mull over it throughout the day until I can sit down this evening and write.

But I’ve already observed a few things thanks to this daily writing exercise, so I thought I’d hash them out.

You don’t have to feel creative

I can’t say I ever really feel creative. What does that mean? I mean I’m not a very artistic person, I’m not a creative type.

Even when I’m knitting, which is arguably a very creative pursuit (you are, after all, quite literally creating something), to me it just feels like I’m following directions from the pattern. I am giving form to someone else’s creativity.

And yet, I have been able to sit down and write on a daily basis. I still don’t feel like I’m being particularly creative, as I’m mostly basing what I write very loosely on my own experience (except for the rocket ship to the moon. I’ve never been on a rocket ship to the moon).

Takeaway: you don’t have to feel creative to be creative. You just have to do it.

I feel the limitations of my vocabulary

Though I read a lot and as an English teacher I have expanded my vocabulary quite a bit, I still feel limited when I sit down to write.

Maybe it’s that words fail me, or perhaps it’s that lack of creativity that I feel that has me sometimes searching for the right language.

(Anyone who has spent time with me knows all too well that words usually come to me with absolutely no difficulty.)

I have a feeling that practice will help this.

My comfort zone has become very clear

I’m definitely more comfortable writing from my own experience. Even if it’s a fictionalized version of my experience, I like to have something to base myself on.

That’s why I found the Day 7 prompt about a rocket-ship going to space to be quite challenging. I even felt a little silly and self-conscious writing it. It seemed so far beyond me.

But I suppose that’s the point of the exercise!

More to come!

As I (hopefully) continue this exercise, I’m sure I’ll learn more. I have a feeling, though, that while certain prompts may be a challenge, the practice of writing every day should make the process easier.

Just like regular exercise makes running easier, or speaking a language every day makes you more fluent, writing daily will make me a better writer.

Here’s hoping!

To the Moon

This is Day 7 in a series of essays inspired by a writing prompt from ThinkWritten.com. In which I attempt a narrative. Tally-ho!

7. The Rocket-ship: Write about a rocket-ship on its way to the moon or a distant galaxy far, far, away.


One moment he was weightless, the next his forehead smashed against the window.

When you’re in zero gravity, though your brain knows you’re moving, your body doesn’t. Your speed is constant, and there are no air pockets or turbulence, like in a plane.

So when he was suddenly thrown into the window he’d been taking pictures through, he knew something was seriously wrong. His training kicked in immediately.

In split seconds he’d done a sensory check. Touch: what did he feel? Pain in his forehead. No sudden temperature change, no drop in pressure. Taste: blood. A quick probe with his tongue found that he’d bitten his lip in the impact. Well if that’s the worst of it… Smell: any leaks or fires? Nothing. Not yet, at least. Sight: could he see any damage? Not from his position. Hearing: were any alarms sounding? The bump to his head must have been strong because his ears were ringing. But before that thought had even fully formed, he realized the buzzing was an alarm coming from the cockpit.

He shook his head to try and clear the fog of the bump. Pushing himself off handles and walls, he made it to the cockpit. His colleagues were already there. Marian looked dazed, as if she’d hit her head, too. Then he saw the droplets of blood floating from her temple. She’d been running one of the experiments when the collision happened and had been thrown into a door frame. Karl was examining the wound.

Though it was fewer than 20 seconds since the impact, Liudmila and Ewan were already running diagnostics. Mila was on the radio, and Ewan was identifying the source of the alarm.

They were two days and four hours into their journey. Theirs was to be the first crew to land on the moon since 1972, when Gene Cernan stepped off the lunar surface with a promise to return. Coming through on Cernan’s promise had been his dream since childhood.

Twenty-three seconds since the impact. Another alarm began to sound, followed by another, bringing him back to the present. “Gabriel,” Ewan said, “Come with me. Don’t forget your radio.” They fitted their radios into their ears and glided off. As he glanced back, Gabriel saw Marian already moving into Ewan’s seat, a bit of bandage haphazardly stuck to her temple. Some of her dark hair was caught in the bandage, and it floated next to her face  like a wisp in the wind. Karl was checking sensors, the fine lines around his mouth deepening in concentration. Mila was relating to ground control all the information she could glean from the computers. She was pale, focused, aware of each alarm and its meaning, impervious to the noise.

He followed Ewan from one chamber to the next, pulling himself through the narrow openings after his crewmate. They didn’t get far. At midship they encountered a sealed hatch, blocking their path. The emergency closure had activated. While Ewan checked the readings on the control panel, Gabriel glanced through the window next to the now-sealed door.

A feeling of cold panic shot from his forehead, down his spine and into his arms and legs. His throat suddenly felt dry. His fingers and toes tingled. Adrenaline flowed through his entire body.

It was gone. The entire rear of the ship had been blasted apart.

“Mila…” he began weakly.

“I know.” Her voice came clear and cold through the radio. I know.

Eye Contact

This is Day 6 in a series of essays based on a writing prompt. I thought I’d keep it up for five days max. Since I’ve made six, how about we see if I can get to ten?

6. Eye Contact: Write about two people seeing each other for the first time.


The moment their eyes met—electric. You could feel the current running between them. It was practically visible.

Sparks flew! Heads turned towards them! Everyone noticed the energy darting back and forth! It was like that scene in The Return of the Jedi when the evil emperor is zapping Luke Skywalker with electric bolts from his hands.

Oh, was that not the comparison you were expecting?

Wait, you thought I was going to tell you a LOVE story??

Oh, no no no no no!

They knew the moment they clapped eyes on each other that they couldn’t stand each other.

It was loathing at first sight.

And don’t think this was one of those romantic comedy situations where they hate each other at first and then come to love each other. Nope.

They simply didn’t like each other. And they never would.

The first words he spoke to her were snarky, each seemingly polite phrase dripping in sarcasm. They were paired in biology class. They had to dissect a fetal pig together. They would both have preferred the dead pig’s company to each other’s.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. He then had the nerve to start dating her roommate. Her roommate, for crying out loud! Wasn’t it hard enough having to share a classroom five days a week? Why did he have to impose himself on her social life, too? He enjoyed seeing her squirm with discomfort whenever he was around. It was as if he sought her roommate out on purpose, just to make her uncomfortable.

Thankfully, the relationship with the roommate didn’t last (she finally cottoned on to what a loser he was) and eventually he faded out of her life. He’s a person she very rarely thinks of now, except when called upon to think of the most hateful person she can. Then his image comes roaring back to her mind.

In those moments, she is grateful to him. Grateful to him for being such a perfect jerk. His face appears on every literary villain, every bad guy she reads about.

But sometimes she wonders… Was she the one being the jerk?

What’s For Dinner?

This is Day 5 in a series of essays based on a writing prompt. I never thought I’d keep it up this long…

5. Food: What’s for breakfast? Dinner? Lunch? Or maybe you could write a poem about that time you met a friend at a cafe.


“Mama! What’s for breakfast?”

“Mama, what are we having for lunch?”

“Mama, I don’t want that for dinner! I hate that!”

“Mama, we had this yesterday.”

“Mama this is yucky.”

“Mama, you KNOW I don’t like scrambled eggs!”

“Mama, why don’t you EVER make ANYTHING I like?!”

“Mama, but it’s green!”

“Mama, it’s gone mushy.”

“Mama! I dropped some!”

“Mama, it’s on the floor.”

“Mama, can I put ketchup on it?”

“Mama! Can I have bread? With butter on it?”


*Gagging sounds*

“Mama… It came back up…”

Mi amor, it’s absolutely delicious. Gracias.



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?






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.



…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.