I watch you dance with Shane in the big rodeo corral of Bar 918. It’s oppressively country even for Oklahoma. Shane’s six-foot-two, all Levi’s and self-deprecation. You’re something else. The lights alternate bar mitzvah orange and blue. You’re two-stepping. We have plans to bird watch in our old age, mine sooner than yours.

You taught me two-step. Though there are only three steps, I constantly need relearning. You laugh whenever I dance. This pattern—forget, teach again—is a homey point of contention, like our couch. Of course you’re right: my dancing is a disaster.

Before, I asked Timmy Tiger where you and Little Ralphie went and he said, “ We don’t all keep track of each other.” He said he meant Cherokees, like you, and I thought he meant gay guys, like Ralphie. Either way, he was laughing and I felt like an ass. Timmy said two-stepping was the official dance of white people. I circled my face, gave him the ‘not all white people’ and he said I was the other kind, Sweater White. I rhymed yachts with square knots.

Earlier still, at a gluten-free brewery ringed by your art, you bragged on me singing karaoke, Ludacris’ verse from “Gossip Folks” by memory. There was a whole tangent on snagging, hooking up at powwows and such. The jokes were mild and strange. I come from a long line of “it’s not offensive if it’s funny,” a long heritage of not-funny people. I watched out for jokes I didn’t belong in. I’m still learning to pivot.

I say you have a voice like a Disney princess and you say, “I can’t sing.” It’s like when I compliment your butt and you say, “I don’t have a butt.” Or like when I call you brilliant and you say, “I don’t see why.” It’s the easiest thing in the world, telling you true things you refuse to believe. All night you’re unimpressed, moving forward.

Your bangs are kinetic. You say “I love it!” when you love Alice’s shawl, Timmy’s tiny wine pouch. Your back is an agony of nerves tucked against your spine from preparing for your show, but you animate the table. You talk about race cars and setting picks in basketball and spook trails. It’s all become a language I’ve learned. You smile with your chin thrust out.

We held hands walking down the street headed to a unicorn bar, the saddest place in Tulsa. I watched dudes malingering around the dance floor like carnies. The sight made my scalp itch to back when I was unsteady with hygiene, unsure of what to do with my mouth, leering at every wrong time, careless with what was given to me. At times I doubt what’s left of my talent for reinvention.

Shane can two-step like he got it in church when he was eight. Shane I don’t mind, though you look good together. I might be making a mistake, but at some point you have to be ready to look foolish. I watch you step on beat, watch Shane spin you and smile. You grapevine, another move I can’t master. I still think that I could learn. You quote Beauty and the Beast in Shane’s handsome little ear, your black braid whipping, thick as the rope you’d throw a drowning dog.


About the Author

Christopher Murphy received his MFA from The University of Arkansas and teaches creative writing at Northeastern State University. He reads for Nimrod International Journal. His work has been published at Gulf Coast (online), This Land, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, and decomP among others. He has a collection of flash fiction, Burning All the Time, coming soon from Mongrel Empire Press.

Photo, "linedance," by Michael Pollak on Flickr. No changes made to photo.