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Balance and Swing
by Clare Hagan

Josh and Salem looked out on the room full of spinning skirts and spinning smiles. Bluegrass music beamed down from the stage where a caller stood at a microphone announcing “Balance and swing. Half a hay. Ladies chain across.”

Salem’s straight stance stood in answer to Josh’s tall, bent spine. A full head shorter than Joshua, Salem looked like an angry cat standing next to a giraffe.

“You’re dancing the next one,” Salem said flatly.

“Hows about we grab a snack instead,” Josh suggested, swiveling to escape into the hallway.

“Come on, man.” Salem grabbed Josh’s skinny arm.  “All of our friends decided to go Contra dancing tonight and everyone is having a fantastic time except for you. Just give it a try. I promise. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t enjoyed it.”

“Dude, I can’t dance,” Josh said, protesting. “Do you see these feet?”

They were somewhere around size seventeen.

Salem looked down, but not at Josh’s feet. A frown passed across his lips, and he shook his head. “I just want you to have a good time, man,” Salem said, “There’s so much out there for you to enjoy if you weren’t so goddamn oblivious all the time.”

Salem let Josh’s arm fall.

“Why don’t you just give up on me and go dance with Charlie?” Josh asked, catching sight of Charlie’s thin, dark beard heading their way as the last dance broke up. “He is your date, after all.”

The sound of banjos and violins gave way to the music of  rumbling footsteps and low voices mumbling requests. “Not tonight,” Salem murmured.  He didn’t look towards Charlie, didn’t look towards the dance floor.

After a few suspended seconds, Charlie turned away to find a different partner. The dancers began taking hands-four in lines running down the room, pairing off in couples for the next dance.

Salem went to sit in a chair by the side of the wall, and Josh followed to sit down next to Salem, crossing his long spindly legs Indian style and leaning forward on his elbows. Salem pulled the dark, ratty hood of his jacket over his head as he leaned back into the seat. He clenched his teeth and kicked out at a thick plastic water bottle on the floor beside the chair. It thudded on the ground, bouncing a couple times before settling dully on the old wood floor.

Josh let out a snort. Half a second later, Salem smiled in spite of himself. He let his neck strain back as he rested his head against the wall. He closed his eyes, the remnants of the smile still playing around his lips. “You know, Josh,” he said, “we could always dance together. I mean, if you wanted to. I swear, it’s not weird for a straight guy to dance with a dude here. They do it all the time, and there’s even these straight guys that wear skirts and—”

Josh wasn’t listening. A few feet away from him and Salem, a tall girl in heels and bright red lipstick stood by a short, sundried man, their hands held ready for the dance.

Damn,” Josh breathed, his wet lips looking after the girl’s long legs.

Salem let his head fall back against the wall.

“I know, Joshua,” he said, “I know.” 

Clare C. Hagan’s fiction has appeared in the University of Louisville’s journal The White Squirrel, and her poetry has been published in Bellarmine University’s Ariel. She is currently an undergraduate at Bellarmine University pursuing a degree in English and Philosophy.