At first I don’t recognise him. It’s so unexpected, seeing him here only a few metres away. I recognise the sound of his voice, recalling the mellow, sensual quality of it.
He’s standing with his back to me and leans over to kiss the woman in the bed. Others come in, family probably. A woman is beside him. She lifts the child pulling at her arm, supporting his weight on her left hip, and rocks gently from side to side to pacify him. I can’t see Lee now…
It’s my first time at one of these dances. I split up with Rick a fortnight ago and Megan and Sarah have convinced me to come out with them tonight. Megan’s got her mum’s car, a taste of freedom that compensates somewhat for not having a boyfriend. It’s not been a good start though. As we pull into the makeshift car-park, Rick is there with some mates. They mimic each other, standing with one hand wrapped around a stubby, the other hand hooked into a pocket. Some slouch against utes that are fitted with bull bars and the high-powered, halogen lamps they use for spotlighting.
Rick pretends not to notice me as he and his mates amble down the gravelled car track towards the hall and the fire. It’s a congregation point for those who don’t want to dance and we have to pass them to get to the door. Rick still pretends he doesn’t see me but his mates throw me covert looks as we walk by. They’re here to support him; he’s here to spoil my night.
The music is loud as we shuffle inside. the only lights are the coloured beams that flash through the darkness and over the dancing mass in the centre of the hall. We’re checked at the door, a stamp on our hand and we’re through, the anticipation of the night ahead making us giggle. Sarah’s spotted Jared hanging around the entrance with his mates and is already moving away from us. They’ve been going out for a month now. Megan and I circle around the hall, edging our way around the netball teams and the guys from the local footy clubs. There are heaps of kids milling together for support, eyeing each other. Mostly the boys stand against the walls drinking and checking out the girls who huddle together in their own groups both on and off the dance floor.
Megan yells something inaudible in my ear and I catch ‘drink’, but I’m lip-reading in the semi-darkness. I nod and sidle around bodies, following her to the bar. It’s a footy do and the committee put on a dance once a month during the season as a fundraiser. There are sandwiches and chips on a table near the stage, so we grab a few chips and sip our drinks. It’s an opportunity to do something, an excuse to look around and see who else is here. Megan doesn’t have a boyfriend either, a reason to hang out till finally we venture onto the dance floor. I smile or say hi to those I know. Two dances in and we kinda join another group, kids from our class.
I see him edging through the crowd with his mates and a few girls in tow. Lee is so cool. He’s left school, he’s a good footballer, and very popular. He comes into the shop after training or after a game, but never says much, just asks for what he wants and leaves. He’s followed by Chris and Stubbsy, who hang out with him and they throw me a quick look of recognition as they pass by. They’re two years older than us. I don’t know the others and they ignore me.
re-edited: originally published in Painted Words 2013, by Bendigo TAFE
© Janet Bayliss 2013