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At the Starlight Club With Felipe, 1990


There are tiny pinpoint lights all over a velvety black ceiling, and Sunday night is Latin night. A live band from the Dominican Republic is on stage, keyboards, percussion, guitar, bass, a whole brass section doing back-up dancing, fifteen guys in ruffled shirts and navy blue tuxedoes.

My girlfriend is at home in her apartment in Somerville waiting for me to tell her yes, I’ll move in with her. She doesn’t know I’m here with Felipe, one of my co-workers from the E.S.L. program. Felipe doesn’t know about my girlfriend. He has met her, but he thinks we’re just friends.

I don’t know what Felipe and I are. Right now we are dancing meringue, he leads, I follow, he backs up, moves forward, turns me, I follow, never missing a step, while the brass players do their back-up dance and the singer sings about love and heart break. Felipe doesn’t stop smiling at me. I lose myself in the confidence of his body.

The other young women here have tight dresses, strappy high heels, sprayed hair. I have on a clean button-down shirt and corduroys. Felipe says it doesn’t matter what I wear, but when I go into the bathroom the girls stare and stare. I wash my hands quickly, wishing I was more like them, or that the part of me that loves this music, this dancing, was more visible than what they see.

When the band takes a break the DJ plays American top forty. Teach me to dance your way now, Felipe says. I think of nights at the women’s bar dancing to Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Technotronic, Janet Jackson. I don’t have a name for the way we dance. I never thought of it as something I could teach someone else. Just go like this, I say. I move my body, shake my hips. He still has not stopped smiling.

Later in his car in front of my house Felipe makes a move. One kiss, soft lips, he smells like faint cologne and sweat and all I want is always to be kissing someone in a car, in a field of daisies, in a snowbank. I want to wear my corduroys and dance to a live band from the D.R., or to Escapade and Express Yourself. I want my gringa friends to learn Spanish. I want to wear tight dresses and have the girls in button-downs like me. I want the young women in tight dresses to like my corduroys. I want boys to like everything about me.

I can’t explain any of this to Felipe right now, so I blurt it out about my girlfriend. He yells and yells and I can’t hear the words, but I know I am losing something here, and I can’t think fast enough to know if it’s something I want back.

Mary M. Davies was born in New Orleans, and grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her work has appeared in First Person Queer, and in Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture, where it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is working on her first novel, set in Halifax. She lives in Massachusetts.