How to Dance With a Shorter Man
You wish you could let him stand on your feet, to boost him, like your father did with you when you were a child, clutching the tails of his tux jacket at your cousin’s wedding, but you can’t. He’s too heavy and too proud. So you slump your shoulders. You widen your legs to lower your center of gravity. You lean down until your cheek can graze the thick stubble of his, and you hope that he doesn’t notice that you aren’t wearing heels, that you never wear heels to weddings or receptions or parties. You hope that he doesn’t notice you trying to be shorter for him, to be something you are not.
At home, after these parties, he skulks around the house. He grumbles low in his throat, and you are sure that he knows you are too tall for him now, that you are no longer the girl he found in the corner of the coffee shop pouring over her physics book to prepare for another final.
Your mother and grandmother warned you about men like him, men who drink big glasses of scotch, the belly of the glass heavy with stony ice cubes. They told you not to trust men who pursue you so obsessively, who own you once they’ve got their teeth sunk in. When they told you about these men, the very idea of them seemed a hundred feet tall, like Godzilla marching through your life, but despite his thick, muscled frame, he is shorter than you.
And their warnings didn’t stop you when you met him. You sat in the corner of the coffee shop, reading about motion and gravity and the pull of things. You stared at your book with a deliberateness that begged for his attention, and he didn’t disappoint. He sat close, leaned in, let his eyes meet yours, and your mother and grandmother disappeared, replaced in your mind by the singular existence of him.
Now, three years later, he sleeps in your antique bed. He is a lawyer now, though not an accomplished one, and you teach high school science. Physics and Chemistry. You get home from work earlier than he does, and you sit around the house, coordinating your outfits for that night’s dinner party or reception, trying to decide which clothes you’ll slip on for the evening, which new person you will become for him. Mostly, you wear horizontal stripes, hoping the illusion will align you with him. When you met, that first day, you weren’t wearing stripes. You wore the hoodie your ex-boyfriend gave you, hoping to be trendy with your designer coffee and frayed cotton sweatshirt. He made you throw the hoodie away, along with all the other ratty clothes and people of your former life, made you replace them all with him. He became friend, mother, father, grandmother, dressing himself in the clothes of your old self.
You find a pair of panties that are not yours, that stink some animal smell. In a rage, you tell him to fall down a well, to take a long walk on a short pier, though you know it will do no good. He has you already, and there is nothing you can do about that. He puts a fist through the wall, and he comes over to you, ready to keep it going, and he has you convinced it was you who did the wrong thing, who betrayed his trust. After though, you learn that he likes the anger, likes the ferocious make-up sex where you claw at his skin, bite his shoulders, pull at his short, gray-black hair, dig your heels into the meat of his quivering thighs. During the act all you can think of are those girls one town over, those girls with their baby fat boobs and dimpled cheeks who lure him away from you, and you dig your nails in deeper, and you feel him grow larger inside you, pleased with the pain of it.
The next day, before he gets home from work you pick out a new shirt from a catalogue. It has blue and white stripes that will make you squat, short, not so tall any longer. You think that you will wear boot cut jeans with the shirt, that the swell of the jeans will shorten the long legs he marveled over that first night, his blue eyes looking up at you from your ankles, from where he kissed every inch of your skin, nibbling occasionally.
At work, you try not to notice when the male teachers flirt with you. When one, a young guy, your age, asks you out to dinner, you smile and blush and try not to notice how your head barely reaches his shoulder. You say, “I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate that much.” You laugh, to show him it’s okay.
When you find a jewelry store website saved on his computer, you begin to suspect that he might propose, so you start positioning yourself to be seated if he does. You sit all the time, never sure when he will make his move. You cannot be standing when he drops to a knee, cannot let him realize that, on bended knee, he barely grazes your hip.
Sometimes, in fits of anger, you think that maybe you could cheat on him as well. Maybe with the young guy at work, Coop. He’s a coach and an English teacher, and you can tell from his tall broad frame that he played football himself. He comes by during your planning period, and he reads you bits of the poems he teaches. They mean next to nothing to you, but you smile and nod, and play along. You imagine extricating yourself from your relationship, running away with Coop.
Sometimes, you find yourself fantasizing about killing him, your lawyer. You imagine smashing his rocks glass, slashing his thick, lawyer belly with the fragments. You think these things during the days, when you are at work, but by the time he comes home, you are waiting for him to take you out, for him to escort you on his arm to whatever social occasion the night requires.
There are so many social occasions in a small town like this, and you orbit them all, circling from party to wedding to party, always drifting through them without lingering, always drawing the eyes of other men. You feel them staring at your legs, your ass, and you keep moving through the places, table to bar to dance floor to coat room, and he is always there with you, circling, your moon hovering alongside, a satellite to ward off any newcomers.
You understand that he has you, even though you do not want to be had. You understand that him abandoning you would be worse than him possessing you. You understand that he is all you have, and therefore there is nothing to be done except to try to be what you think he needs. You understand that the gravity that moves you keeps him nearby, circling, always alongside, and sometimes, you know, gravity is stronger than will.
So at the parties, when you dance, when he smiles up at you, you smile down, always down, so that he won’t realize that even though he has devoured you whole, when you look straight ahead, your line of sight no longer meets his big, winter-blue eyes.
Christopher Lowe’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, Bellevue Literary Review, Fiction Weekly, New Plains Review, and War, Literature, and the Arts.
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