C'mon Dance With Me
Arya F. Jenkins
It’s late afternoon, the way it can only be on Cape Cod, on Corn Hill, where we stay, with the sun stretching orangey red across the sky, hovering low over the darkening, placid bay, and sunbathers below, wrapping up, stowing away their towels and things to take uphill.
We stay in the outermost cottage. Its deck overlooks a two-mile stretch of private beach. My mother sits on a chaise lounge on the deck most of the day in her wide brimmed straw hat and tennis shoes, wide rayon pants and sleeveless blouse, a stack of books at her side, alternately looking out for us and reading. Graham Greene. Iris Murdoch. Muriel Spark. A writer herself, she has a penchant for the Brits.
During the day my father starts out early with his fishing gear, sometimes just in his khaki shorts and leather boat shoes, my two young brothers in tow. By sunset he’ll return with fresh fish or clams for a chowder he’ll concoct himself. My sisters and I spend most of the day on towels, going up and down hill for baby lotion, drinks, snacks. At the end of this day, a Saturday, I have only one thing on my mind, the mixer at the harbor club, where I will meet boys my age. I am 15. It’s August and that’s what I am here for. What else?
When my sisters and I arrive, one at a time, a distance of minutes in between, I find my father shucking clams, releasing the juice into a deep pan on the lit stove in which there are also potatoes and onions, and my mother setting the long wooden table for seven. “The dance starts at eight,” I say, breathlessly, not because of the long trudge up the dune but because it’s important I get there on time, and one of my parents has to drive.
“What dance?” my father says without turning from the stove.
“The dance I said I wanted to go to at the harbor. There’s a live band. Mom, you said I could.”
“John,” she queries, folding napkins now and depositing soup spoons on top.
“I didn’t hear about any dance,” he turns in my direction a little while slurping up a clam from its shell.
My voice has already gone high, feeling desperate for the struggle ahead, the firstborn to be allowed anything. “Daddy, it’s a decent dance and a decent band. It’s for teenagers.”
“Who’s going to be there,” he wants to know.
“What do you mean? Kids. I’m sure it will be chaperoned.” This last part is a lie. Of course there will be no chaperones. Chaperones are our mothers at School of the Holy Child mixers. Here, I would be exempt from chaperones. It’s one of the main reasons to go, to be free finally, at 15.
“It’s getting late,” he screws up his face. “We have to eat.”
“I knew it,” I say, tears starting as I make a soft stomp to the corner room that I share with my sisters, who leave it quickly knowing what space there is in it, I need to myself right now.
“Please,” I sob loudly, throwing myself back on a double bed, trying to cover my eyes with one arm to block the cruel sun’s rays streaming in through the wide window, and to keep at bay the coming night that I will spend not at the dance, or even on my own.
“Please,” I go on, hot tears spouting from my eyes, staining my cheeks. I stop for a little while in which I feel dead heat inside, the heat of hatred for those two that rule my life, cannot give me even an inch in the middle of summer. Minutes later, in a void of self pity, sadness and hatred, I realize everyone in the other room is eating.
“Come out and have some chowder. It’s delicious,” my oblivious father calls out.
“No thanks,” my voice quavers. Then, as I hear the slamming of the screen door, my siblings exiting into the night, to the dunes, where they will run free for another hour or two, I begin again. “I want to go. Please let me go.” All I want is to hear music and dance with boys my age. What is so wrong with that?
I step out quietly and lean against a doorway. My parents are seated across from each other on wicker chairs in the living room, legs crossed, calmly reading. “Daddy,” I say, “could I please go? Just for a couple of hours. We’re supposed to be on vacation.”
My mother, who usually has my back unless my father is stressed out and cannot be pressed, says, “John. Please. I think it will be fine.”
My dad scratches his head. “What time is it?” He looks at my mother as if this is the most important piece of information they have exchanged all day. She looks at the man’s watch on her wrist. “It’s almost nine.”
“All right,” he says. “Five minutes. And I’m picking you up at 11 o’clock sharp. You understand?”
“Yes daddy. Thank you, daddy.” I’m already brushing my long hair in the bathroom mirror, looking at my puffy eyes, which my parents have ruined by making me beg and cry for this one small thing. I apply brown shade over my eyelids and a pale lipstick gloss, and put on pearl earrings, which go nicely with my white mini culottes and sleeveless top and also highlight my tan. Lastly, I slip on my white sandals in which I will soon dance.
Once my father has dropped me off, and I am inside the club, I am a solitary figure set loose upon the night, with no family behind her, nothing ahead but whatever adventure I choose out of volition. Almost immediately, after paying the four dollars out of five my father has given me, a blond guy with a striped shirt, approaches me. His name is Dwight and he is staying on Corn Hill too, in one of the cottages higher up on the hill behind ours. He is 16.
Dwight is from Chicago, and he will be at Corn Hill one week less than we will and only one week more than tonight. Time is short. And time is long. There is music and the night, and only these two things prevent me from hating everything. And now this boy that plays football lifts me up onto the top of the outside deck enclosure, so, sitting, I am taller than he is.
“Why so sad?” he says. His eyes are blue and his voice, kind.
“I hate my parents,” I confide. “They almost didn’t let me come.”
“Bummer. You’re beautiful,” he says as if to make their near decision seem that much more asinine.
I smile and he helps me down and we dance a fast dance, then slow to, “Light My Fire,” which the red-faced lead singer of the live band hollers, spits and stomps out with not unattractive intensity. I lean my head against Dwight’s beating heart, taking in his sandy, metallic smell of a boy/man. His blond warm head leans lightly against my own.
I would like to feel love, be his all night and forever into the week, and beyond. Would like him to write me letters, which he does, that I can share with my girlfriends at my all-girl Catholic high school, which is made up of girls like me who come from good homes with parents that let them do nothing. I would like him to fall in love with me, all of which he does.
Even my father, who will watch me through binoculars from the deck walking away down the beach, hand in hand with a boy from Chicago, the same place he grew up, will approve of him. He will approve of Dwight’s blond hair like his own, approve of the place he lives, and the fact he plays football.
Even though this love between us could unscroll, go the way of joy sharing it with my parents, my sisters, my friends, all I feel is the simmering hatred of a child deprived of time on a precious summer night that could have been even longer. My love chokes, refuses to emerge.
So, when the band plays “Hey Jude,” at the end, a song we start dancing apart and end up dancing close as it is so long it could take up the length of a relationship, I weep what’s left of my tears into his swollen heart. And he tells me I’m the tannest, most beautiful girl there and that he loves my hair as his fingers play it like a piano on my back.
“This song is so cool.”
I nod, my forehead scratching his shoulder. “Yeah,” letting him think my tears are the sentimental tears of a girl who loves The Beatles and everything associated with them and this music, which is our road away, away, and not the bitter, angry tears of a rebel whose brewing heart is getting ready to explode out of its envelope.
About the Author: Arya F. Jenkins’s poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared recently in journals such as Agave Magazine, Brilliant Corners, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Cider Press Review, Dying Dahlia Review, The Feminist Wire, KYSO, Otis Nebula, and Provincetown Arts Magazine. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her flash, “Elvis Too” was nominated for the 2017 Write Well Awards by Brilliant Flash Fiction. She writes jazz fiction for Jerry Jazz Musician, an online zine. Publications are forthcoming in Front Porch Review and Sinister Wisdom. Her second poetry chapbook, Silence Has A Name, was published in 2015 by Finishing Line Press. Her latest blog is here.