The Youth Dance

by Carmen Mason

It was during those years when I’d look into the mirror as I now look into a suspicious salad when I think something small and dark is moving in it. I would spend hours examining my inherited bucked teeth and hazel eyes, thanking god for at least not giving me my mother’s sharp nose, too long and almost pointed. I would peruse each pimple and rosy smudge and purse my lips into a unilateral kiss, making a soft puffing smack I hoped one day would be reciprocated. Oh, to be kissed by a dream boy whom, I must admit, I had no set picture of. He must just be someone who would thrill me every time I thought of him.

So I was alone and deep into my face in the playground bathroom mirror during recess when a beautiful blond girl I’d seen in the classroom next to mine (which meant she was in the seventh grade too) came and stood next to me. She took out a golden tube of lipstick and said, “My mother’ll kill me if she ever finds out,” and putting her perfect featured face up to the mirror, smeared – back and forth, back and forth- two rose petal stripes on her pretty, slender mouth. I had moved over so we could share the mirror, but didn’t want to leave because I wanted her to stay. I could tell in that split second there was something different about her from the other girls, her voice, her enunciation (my mother’s favorite topic), her Scandinavian blondness. She was wearing a low yellow crisply ironed cotton blouse and she had real, full breasts. (Mine were just entering the world, so I wore a padded bra but I was confident they would be sufficient one day.) Anyway, she was breathtaking and when she turned and said the following to me, I knew we were going to be friends, best friends: “Aren’t you Carmen, the girl who goes to St. Peter’s Episcopal?” 

“Yes,” I said proudly. She knew exactly who I was.

“I’m Barbara Benson. I’m in the SP class next to yours. My boyfriend, Donnie Mason goes to your church. Do you know him?” I said no.

“Well, do you go to the Friday night youth dances?”

I was thrilled because I was going to my first one that very next Friday. My mother had not only agreed but was sewing me a nylon red polka dotted slightly off the shoulder dress just for that dance! I told her yes, absolutely.

“Well, if it’s not too much of an imposition -” I swear that’s just the way she talked – “could you tell me if he’s fooling around with a girl named Lynn Hinton? That’s what I’ve been told, and I just want to know if it’s true. I go to St. Paul’s Lutheran.”

I didn’t care that she wasn’t Episcopalian or was asking me to spy on her boyfriend, because I was hoping we would still be friends whether he was two-timing her or not. How could someone ask someone to spy on her boyfriend if she hadn’t already checked her out and felt she could trust her? I was more positive than ever that this girl and I would become close, despite her sophistication and my lack of it.

Anyway, I was sure Barbara knew what she was doing and could take care of herself. She appeared to me to be very sure of herself on the outside and whether she had any of those secret demons and trepidations (my mother’s word) I would find out after we had become friends. I was sure she was sensitive, could keep secrets and was ready for the loving friendship I was so prepared to give to someone.

Friday night came and I must say the dress fit perfectly. I had to walk about a mile to St. Peter’s, the oldest high Episcopal church in the Bronx that looked like a cathedral, had a bright red door and was surrounded by a big graveyard. Even though it was a warm September night and I’d be taking the bus back, my mother had given me her white woolen shawl if it got breezy. My mother and I parted friends (another good omen for the evening) and I walked with two other Episcopalians to my first youth dance. I’ll never forget how right I felt walking around the side of the church to the stone steps that led to the big rec room.

The moon was already out in the still light but a fading sky and the tombstones were softly silhouetted. I remember entering the crepe papered and ballooned room where some kids and two or three grown-ups stood against the far wall. Then some already dancing kids turned toward me and their easy smiles and a few shouts from here and there, “Hi!” and “Hello Carmen!” were all I needed to know it would all be okay. I put my shawl on a low table and joined some girls I knew from school. It took me about a minute not only to find out who Lynn Hinton was but to have her pointed out to me. She was across the room standing close to an auburn-haired boy in a gray suit. His back was to me, but she was in profile, and she was beautiful. She had shiny chestnut hair, was super-developed and flipped her hair like a slow-motion whip. Her mini skirt was brown and she had low-heeled tan shoes, the very ones I’d asked my mother to get me for Christmas. I didn’t like her one bit but the boy leaning into her magnetic field and making her laugh and giggle did. That must be him, I thought. Donnie Mason. I’ll have to tell Barbara the ugly truth and hope she doesn’t kill the messenger. (My sister taught me that expression because she was always delivering my mother’s dictums to me before my mother got to me.)

Well, the music was blasting and I was dancing mostly with other girls for the first forty-five minutes. I kept refilling my cup of Coke because my mother forbade me to drink it at home. She said that they’d put ‘coca’ from South America in it and that it was addictive. Anyway, I was full of Coke and brownies when “Rock Around the Clock” started up and I swear, like in the Bible movies with the famous Red Sea scene, the dancing kids seemed to part evenly and from across the room I saw the auburn-haired boy who’d probably just come back from necking in the graveyard with Lynn Hinton coming toward me and there, right up close to me, he said, “Hi, would you like to dance?” and I said yes and we danced first the lindy and then he pulled me into a conga line – “Kitty, kitty conga, you can do the conga…” and then, yes, I admit it, we did the “Fish” which was a slow hip-lifting kind of dance I swore I’d never be caught dead doing with anyone my whole entire life and my heart was pounding and I was sure the “coca” had taken effect and I was drugged, but I could not stop looking at his dark thick-lashed eyes (thicker than any girl’s, I swear)  and his perfect-toothed smile and listening to his conversation and I knew that I would be different than all the girls he had known before, even, yes, even Barbara with her beautiful hair and figure and speaking voice and definitely the voluptuous Lynn Hinton and her mini skirt. I knew that I had met someone I was never going to be without and when Lynn Hinton grabbed her girlfriend by the arm and said overloud, “Let’s get outta here. Now!” I kept dancing and I knew that Donnie Mason would walk me home so I didn’t have to take the bus and that I would see him, as I’ve already told you, again and again forever.

That Monday I went with shame and trepidation into the playground bathroom. I was early so I practiced some remorseful, sorrowful expressions in the mirror. I noticed that my mousy brown hair had a luster I’d never seen before, and my eyes looked big and had gold and green flecks of shining light. I closed my mouth over my buckies (someone once having buck teeth was better than having buck eyes) and waited for Barbara Benson to arrive.

“Well,” she asked softly, “did you find out anything?”

We were both as we had been when we first met, staring and talking to each other into the mirror. I looked at her hopeful reflection and said, with all my heart and soul in my words, “Barbara, I’ve got to tell you, yes, I went there and yes, he was with that girl Lynn and he was all joking and smoochy with her but then…”

“I knew it,” she squealed. “Everyone was telling me, but I wouldn’t believe them but now I know it’s all true…”

“Yes, but you have to wait because something happened. I didn’t mean for it to but it did and he walked over to me and it was like – crack – lightning in the sky, I swear, it was like we were drawn to each other like a magnet to a nail and he couldn’t stop talking and dancing with me and me too and honestly, Barbara, I didn’t mean for anything, I didn’t do a single thing but just stand there and there he was and then…”

She backed away from the mirror and turned to the real me as I did instantly to her. We faced each other and I swear she could see me trembling, but she didn’t say or do anything but look into my eyes, and then with her perfect face looking into my repentant one, she smiled and grabbed my shoulders, pushing me softly back and forth and laughing, “Oh, I don’t mind one iota, it’s fine, and I hope you can come home with me this afternoon if you’re free ‘cause we live in connected buildings , did you know that?” (I was thrilled – she’d researched me!)

“I swear Carmen, I don’t care about you two, it’s only I didn’t want that rotten girl to have him. I knew it was all over for us. Look, can you come over today? I swear I forgive you so please- just send me a note to my class,” and she hugged me and sped back to school. I breathed heavily for a while, then followed after her but had to get a late pass and I didn’t care ‘cause I knew that next to the most handsome boy in the world, I was about to get the best and most lasting friendship I’d ever desire.

Now, I know you’re thinking sure, sure, childhood fantasy made up of glory and romance.Well, six years after all this, I married Donnie Mason and we had one beautiful thick lashed, auburn-haired girl, Danielle, who we nick-named Curly Moe. Four years after another of life’s inveterate infatuations we parted, but Barbara? She’s been my true friend forever and we’re both in our seventies so that’s really saying something, isn’t it?

Carmen Mason has been writing poems and prose since she was five. She has won several short story and poetry prizes throughout the years, been published in magazines and online and is completing a book of her poems. She enjoys sharing her writings with anyone who’s interested.