Men who can dance have a big advantage with the ladies. But do they make the best lovers?
9. Mating Dances
Ellen assessed the effect of her dress in her full-length mirror. It was girly, and perhaps too young for her, she thought. The top was cut low, with spaghetti straps and a knotted crisscross effect over the bust. From there it fell in liquid folds to just above the knee. The color, at least, was sophisticated, a mossy hue somewhere between golden brown and green. After much thought, Emily had decreed that the next meetup would be at Brasília, a salsa club, on Saturday night.
“I’m afraid I don’t know how to dance salsa,” she told Emily. They’d hit it off well and decided to have coffee on Tuesday mornings, when Ellen didn’t have classes.
“Don’t worry, you’ll dance. Everyone dances at Brasília. Except Hugh,” replied Emily with a laugh. “I picked it partly to get revenge on him for dissing My Tipple. But also because Hector and Jaime are great dancers. The club has a floor show at eleven, and delicious mojitos. You’ll love it! Be sure to wear a sexy dress,” she added, her eyes on Ellen’s uninspiring chinos, T-shirt and blazer. “You’ll feel out of place if you’re not in something especially pretty.”
This is the night, Ellen decided. Her purpose in joining this group was to gain some sexual experience and “get laid,” as Amber put it. What would it feel like, to have sex without love? Perhaps she should abandon the whole project and look for a real boyfriend, but she had to admit that the men in the group were attractive. Even Charlie was sexy, in his own special way. She would sleep with one of them tonight, if he pursued her, and if she felt an answering spark. Sighing, Ellen picked up her evening bag and the black lace wrap for her shoulders. She decided to take a taxi; her apartment was in Center City, but Brasília was a little too far to walk in her dress and heels, especially late at night.
When she arrived, several of the group were already there, and the tempting beat of the mambo made her wish she knew more about Latin dance. Kim, in a stunning blue minidress, was on the floor with a surprisingly graceful Owen. The plunging neckline of Tina’s red dress served up her large breasts for Charlie’s delectation; Ellen was reminded of the boys in Chinatown who eagerly pressed their noses against glass cases of snow mountain buns. Hector was dancing with Val, whose dress had a flirty fringe at the hem, and Emily, in a black tank and hot pink skirt, was being whirled about the floor by Jaime Moreno.
Ellen made her way to the bar, where Hugh and Gerry the Drummer were standing glumly with their Dos Equis. As usual, Hugh wore a dark suit, and Gerry was in jeans and a T-shirt that reproduced the cover of The Clash’s London Calling album. As Tina had asserted, he was a gorgeous man: tall, broad-shouldered and narrow-waisted, with wavy brown hair that brushed his shoulders, and a soft-looking beard. He reminded her of the seventies men whom her older sister had dated, charming pot-heads who wore psychedelic tie-dyed shirts, and jeans with no underwear.
“Hi, you two,” said Ellen, introducing herself to Gerry. “I take it dancing isn’t your thing?”
“I stick to what I’m good at,” said Hugh, “and that doesn’t include dancing.”
“Shit yeah, man,” said Gerry. “Dudes like us are at a real disadvantage here. We probably shouldn’t even have come.”
“A margarita,” said Ellen to the waiting bartender.
“Frozen or on the rocks, lime, watermelon or strawberry, with or without salt?” he recited in a bored voice. Around her, many of the revelers were sipping brightly-colored frozen drinks from goblets the size of small fishbowls. She asked for a regular margarita on the rocks with salt, and turned to the two men. “So why did you come?”
Hugh didn’t answer, though his eyes traveled up and down her body. Gerry gave her a smile that made her heart beat a little faster. “Just to see you, pretty lady,” he said. “Want to blow this pop stand and grab a hot dog?” Ellen almost laughed; his unsubtle approach was disarming. Clearly, Gerry didn’t need to make much of an effort, and he knew it.
“Thanks, but I just arrived,” she said with a smile. He grinned as though sharing her amusement. “Catch you later, then.” Draining the rest of his beer, he disappeared into the crowd as Charlie approached, leading Tina by the hand. “Ellen!” he called. “Why are you wasting your time with Baby Huey here? He has two left feet!”
“Stow it, House, or I’ll use you as a toothpick,” said Hugh.
“Come on and dance,” urged Charlie. He was wearing black slacks, a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal bulging forearms, and a tight silver vest; his dance shoes boosted his height by an extra inch or two.
“My drink’s ready,” she told him, as the bartender slid it toward her. “Maybe later.”
She paid for the drink and hopped up on the barstool, turning outward so she could watch the action. Hugh remained standing quietly beside her. His double-breasted suit had a Thirties look, with subtle pinstripes and wide lapels that emphasized the breadth of his chest. According to Kim, he was a freelance illustrator who worked from home, so why did he always dress so formally?
“I’ve not had a chance to talk with you much,” she said. “Tell me what you do.”
“To earn my keep, I do commercial art, especially for clients who want hand-drawn graphics,” he said. “I also do freelance book design, and I sell a cartoon now and then.”
“Really? Cartoons like in The New Yorker?” she asked, fascinated.
He nodded. “I’ve placed my work in The New Yorker, and in Playboy— they’re one of the few magazines that still buy traditional, single-panel cartoons,” he explained, as though she might be offended. She wasn’t, though she was curious to know what his Playboy cartoons looked like, and whether they were sexy.
“Yes, I suppose it’s a dying art,” she replied. “But what about new media? I’d have thought that a one-panel cartoon is the perfect genre for the age of the iPhone.”
“If only the rest of the world agreed with you. It’s all about photographs and video these days,” he said. The mention of phones and photos brought to mind the explicit picture she had received, and she wondered whether Hugh could be the culprit. In spite of Kim’s doubts, she felt an intuitive certainty that it was one of the men in the group, and she’d noticed him watching her more than once. Watching someone isn’t a crime, she reminded herself.
“I’d like to see your work,” she told him. He held her gaze for a moment, assessing, and then drew from an inner breast pocket a slim notebook, to which a pen was clipped. Flipping it open, he showed her a page full of doodles: a tiny man in a three-piece suit extending a large foot forward and waving to the onlooker with an outsize hand, a large-lipped fish walking on its tail fins, and a lithe yet busty Tinkerbell-like fairy. He turned the page and she recognized a caricature of a squinty-eyed, diminutive Charlie, whose impossibly broad chest tapered down to a pair of tiny feet. There were kinder renderings of Tina and Emily. Tina had a sexy but wholesome look, like a dark-haired Ginger Rogers; although the page was dated in the current month, she was portrayed pre-silicone. The portrait of Emily was a surprise; Hugh had drawn her as a slender young girl in a pinafore dress with two dark ponytails, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
She exclaimed as her eyes fell on each new image, and said, “Your work is extraordinary. I can see why The New Yorker likes it. The styles are so retro.” Perhaps this accounted for his suits, his fedora… it was a way of paying tribute. “When did you draw these?” She pointed to the caricatures.
“At Kim’s place. I don’t usually draw in front of other people, but I like to go out for a smoke, and then I doodle for a while.”
“Your visual memory is amazing. Do you save your sketchbooks?” she asked. She couldn’t help wondering whether he had drawn a picture of her, and wishing it was so. Now that she was used to his stark features, she found him rather attractive. Maybe he would be the one, tonight.
“Mmm. I have loads of these,” he was saying. “Been filling them up for years. If I had to spend more than a day or two without pen and paper, I think I’d lose my marbles.”
“I’d really love to see your book designs.” There. That would give him a hint, but let her save face if he wasn’t interested. Hugh’s eyes held hers intently, but before he could reply, Hector appeared at her side. “Bonita Elena!” he said, holding out his hand. “May I have the honor?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know any of these steps,” she told him.
“No problem, I’ll show you. I’m a very good teacher,” replied Hector smoothly, taking her hand. “Come on! It’s ‘Que Rico El Mambo,’ one of the classics.” She glanced back helplessly at Hugh as Hector drew her away. His expression was hard to read. He looked grim, but that was more or less normal for him.
Conscious of his gaze, Ellen followed Hector onto the floor, where he clasped her right hand in his left, and slid his right hand beneath her arm, so that it rested on her shoulder blade. “It’s simple, mi querida. You’ll step back as I put my foot forward, rock on your heel, and then step forward with the other foot as I draw back.” They began to move, and in a few minutes he showed her another step, and a basic turn. As she was getting the hang of alternating between steps, he let go of her with his right hand, raised the left, and whirled her around. She laughed, savoring the physicality of the dance. She could do the basic steps now without looking down at her feet.
“See, Elena? Tu es muy hermosa, muy sexy,” he said. Suddenly he spun her around and dipped her, supporting her with both hands. He leaned over her and smiled, his dark eyes glittering. “Now, let your body relax,” he said. “See how Kim does it?— you should move your hips in a way that is instinctive for a woman. Show me, corazon.” She allowed her hips to roll as she performed the steps, a little fearful of looking ridiculous. The movements felt like something a stripper might do. But Hector looked approving. “Te quiero besar, Elena. Do you know what that means?” When she shook her head, smiling, he said, “It means I want to kiss you.”
Another song began, and now she was more conscious of the warmth of his hands on her body as they danced. Jaime asked to dance with her, and Hector agreed only reluctantly, adding a few urgent words in Spanish. Jaime showed her the cha-cha, alongside Val and Charlie, and then returned her to Hector. She felt flushed and was beginning to tire now, though she recognized in herself a keen sensation of arousal. Hector was a great dancer, and not a bad teacher. What might he be like in bed? “One more dance, mi querida,” he said, as the music changed. “This one is slower and more romantic, the bachata.” He turned her so her back was to him, and held his body close to hers as they moved, then whirled her around to face him again, twining her arm about his neck and moving sinuously, seductively. More than once he gently grasped her hips and thrust his bent leg between hers, so that she felt the pressure of his thigh against her pubic bone. Finally he moved behind her again and kissed her neck lightly as they danced. “Se mío esta noche,” he whispered in her ear. “Will you come with me, Elena?”
Ellen looked about her. She saw Kim and Jaime dancing. Angus, newly arrived, was holding an earnest conversation with Emily at the bar. But Hugh was nowhere to be seen. Quivering under Hector’s touch, she turned to face him. “Yes, let’s go.”
She retrieved her purse and wrap from the coat check, and Hector led her outside as a taxi pulled up. He opened the door for her with a flourish, and she got in. As he slid close to her from the other side, and the taxi was pulling away, she spotted Hugh standing near the entrance of the club, finishing a cigarette. He was looking straight at her, and as she locked eyes with him, he threw down the butt. Then they were away, and Hector was covering her mouth with his, and sliding an arm behind her to press her close.
On Sunday morning, Ellen awoke early in her own bed, and lay there thinking about Brasília and what had come after. She felt elation at having finally slept with a man other than Derek; satisfaction because she had found the experience pleasurable; and puzzlement at the whole situation. What ought she to be feeling now, after sharing her body so intimately with someone else? Did sex with Hector belong in the same mental category as last night’s plate of pad thai? That was tasty; I’d like to have that again some time. Was that, in fact, how he thought about her this morning, if he thought of her at all?
At least she knew not to expect a call; she was relieved of that worry. But how should she act, the next time they met? Images of their evening together flitted to the surface of her mind like champagne bubbles: the dancing, the taxi, her confusion when she saw Hugh outside the club. Then Hector’s apartment in Manayunk, close to the Schuylkill river. Hector kissing her neck and laying her on the bed, pulling off her shoes and massaging her feet as he murmured endearments.
“You’re the only man I’ve been with besides my ex,” she said. “Show me what to do, what you like.”
“Mi querida, I am honored. You need do nothing but lie back. I’ll take care of the rest.” True to his word, he slowly undressed her and then himself, lightly batting her hand away when she reached out to unzip his trousers. He kissed her body as he held her motionless with his, then moved his hand between her legs, taking his time, urging her to relax. When he finally rolled on a condom and entered her, she was nearing a climax. It arrived as he was stroking her lazily but rhythmically from within, and felt just like the orgasms she remembered from the early days of her marriage. It felt as though she descended step by step into a heated pool, and pushed off into the water with a satisfying release of muscular tension. Afterward, the glowing warmth stayed with her as they lay together. He didn’t ask whether she had experienced an orgasm. Perhaps he could tell.
“Hector, tell me about your work. I see you at Parnell sometimes, but I don’t know much about your program. Do you write poetry?”
“Yes, stories and poems,” he said, waving a hand as though to thrust the question away. “I teach classes and write. But this is my time for not thinking about work.”
“Okay,” she said, disappointed. “Where are you from, then?”
“Miami. My family is from Cuba, and one day we will go back. Are you hungry, mi corazon?” he suddenly said. “I have a snack we like to eat, mariquitas. Like a salty potato chip but much better, made from plantains. Or I have some lechón asado leftovers. I roasted the pork myself.”
“The mariquitas sound good,” she said. Clearly, he didn’t want to talk about himself. Perhaps it was a method of maintaining emotional distance. But why all the Spanish endearments, if he wanted distance? Were those just a way to avoid saying her name? No doubt he also called Tina or Val mi querida, when they were in bed. He rose to fetch the chips, and glancing at his now-flaccid penis and black pubic hair, she remembered the photograph on her phone. It could be Hector, but there was no way to be sure. After a time, she dressed and called a taxi. He gave her a kiss as she went out the door, and she heard the lock click shut behind her.
Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
Notes: I often find myself writing about dancing. I enjoy it, but the Long-Suffering Husband is more like Hugh. So my dance thrills have to come vicariously. You can hear the classic “Que Rico El Mambo” by the King of Mambo, Pérez Prado, on YouTube.
Hugh the cartoonist is a composite character, but the cartoonist part of him comes from Seth, an illustrator whose work is often seen in The New Yorker. He’s very “retro” and (like the great Robert Crumb) is always to be seen in his suit and hat. Seth, Chester Brown and Joe Matt are three cartoonist friends who have done autobiographical work. It’s interesting to see how they depict each other and themselves.