Even though I’m only a cashier by day, I’m a dancer by night. Weeknights, I dance in my room, in front of the mirror, until Ma yells, “Doreen, knock it off! The floor is vibratin’ like crazy!”
She hates disco. I love disco.
I tell her I gotta practice. “I gotta keep goin’, Ma,” I yell down the stairs.
“The hell you do,” she yells back.
Every night it’s like that. And every morning she gives me the stink eye while I’m eating my cereal before I go to work to stand on my feet for eight hours.
“You’re too loud,” she says. “I’m gonna have to kick you out if I can’t hear my programs.”
“Disco changed my life, Ma,” I say.
And she waves her hands in the air and won’t talk to me anymore. She thinks I’m making a big mistake just because she met my father at a dance and they ended up dancing all night. “I was caught in a whirlwind,” she always says when she talks about it. “And look where it got me.” I’m supposed to know the answer to this -Â pregnant at 17.
OK, but that’s a boring story. That’s not the story I even wanna tell. I want to tell you about Tony Manero. He’s this Italian god who goes to the club, mostly Saturday nights. Sometimes Friday nights too but mostly Saturday nights because he can probably only afford one night. Odessy 2001 is expensive; I don’t hold it against him or nothing just because he can’t go two nights.
Tony Manero is sexy. He’s trim but strong. Tall but not too tall. Tall, black hair. I know he spends a lot of time on his hair. Gold jewlery. Polyester shirts. Sometimes silk. And he can dance.
He dances like no one’s business. He’s out there dancing, twirling. He does this move with his hands, like they’re two guns and he shoots them into the air. Bang, bang. Bang, bang. God, is he sexy. I watch him every weekend. Those eyes! Sometimes he takes chicks out to his friend’s car and screws them in the backseat. I know that’s not good but I wish it was me. I wish so hard it was me. Squeeze my eyes shut and wish but itÂ never turns into me. It’s always some girl who’s thinner, prettier, a better dancer. It’s not hard to be thinner or prettier than me. I’m short, round, blond ever since this dye job Ma gave me. I keep tellin’ her to fix it.
“Fix it,” I say to her.
“It’s perfect,” she says. “Shut your mouth. All you gotta do is curl it around the sides. Curl it around the sides. Up. Curl the sides up.” I don’t know how anyone is supposed to do anything with their hair when she’s barking like that.
My friend Connie, she’s a hairdresser, she tells me Ma is full of shit. Connie says she’s gonna fix my hair soon but she’s gotta help the clients who can pay first. I can’t pay. I don’t have a lot of money. That’s why Ma is doin’ my hair in the first place. But this isn’t the story I want to tell, either. It’s boring. Whenever I stop talking about Tony, shit gets boring.
What I’m tryin’ to say is I’m not pretty. It’s discouraging, sometimes, to look in the mirror.
But two weeks ago on Saturday night, I got up a lot of nerve. I watched Tony dance and then I went over to his table. Even just remembering it makes me shake. I said, “Hey Tony!” and all his friends started laughing. It was hard to tell if they were laughing at me or just laughing because they take pills that make them goofy.
“Hey, Tony,” I said.
And then he put those blue eyes right on mine. “What?” he said. It might sound like he was being mean but he wasn’t. He was really asking me, “What?” like he cared what I was gonna say.
“You’re a terrific dancer,” I said. Then I said, and I didn’t plan this, I swear, “Can I wipe your off your forehead?” I meant cuz he was all sweaty and stuff like that. I wanted to wipe his sweat.
He didn’t get what I meant. “Wipe my face?” he said. “What for?”
“Cuz it’s all glistening,” I said. “With sweat.”
“C’mon, Tony,” one of his friends said. “Give the girl a thrill of a lifetime.” Actually, they also said something about me givin’ him a blow job but I’m Catholic. I can’t talk about that stuff. Don’t get me wrong though, I’d give Tony a blow job in a hot second if he wanted one. It didn’t look like he wanted one all that much from me. I think he put his hand over his crotch or something, like I was goin’ to get down on my knees right there.
So he let me wipe his sweat off. I took my time. I wiped his forehead with my grandmother’s handkerchief. He was really sweaty, too. I’d wipe some sweat away and more would pop up. Finally, he batted at my hand to make me stop.
“OK,” he said. “Let’s go dance. I’ll dance with you.”
And he took me out there, onto the floor. I can’t even tell you how many people saw us go out there holding hands. I couldn’t look up at him, into his eyes. I started doing my moves, you know, the ones I do in front of the bedroom mirror. And then the song ended. Just like that. Like there was only 20 seconds left when he took me out there. I thought maybe we’d dance the next one but he didn’t like the song and he walked off to yell at the DJ. I didn’t know what to do. I was just standing there. Then I realized that I still had the handkerchief in my hand.
I had the sweaty hanky!
I thought someone was gonna steal it. I put it inside my bra for safekeeping. It was still wet! Tony’s sweat was on my right breast. Can you imagine? I felt my knees goin’ out from underneath me and my friend from high school, Janet, she came up and held me up.
“I saw you out there with him,” she said to me. “Everybody did. Is he gonna take you out to the car?”
“No,” I said. “But I wiped off his face. I wiped his sweat.”
“Gross,” Janet said.
What the hell does she know? I know that a girl like me doesn’t get many chances. I touched Tony. I danced with Tony. I have his sweat on this cloth and I put it in my bra everyday. I sleep with it every night. Once I put it between my legs. I’ll always have this.
And when I’m a better dancer, I’ll dance with him again and I’ll reach out and wipe his sweat with my bare fingers. I just have to keep practicing. And get my hair right.