EXCERPT: THE BIG PALOOKA

A GIRL’S GOTTA DANCE before she knows she’s alive.

Don’t give me any bushwa about that, either, because I know the truth. Until she’s out there, letting her body do what it wants, glowing for the world to see, she hasn’t lived at all.

Me, I’m no choice bit of calico, so folks don’t watch me to please their eyes. I’m no Oliver Twist, either, and I don’t dance I been trained or did ballet since I was small. I’ll tell you my secret: when I dance, I do it knowing the room belongs to me.

It doesn’t matter if it does just yet, ya follow? What matters is it will. The whangdoodle (that’s the Jazz band to you, you boob) does its deal and the music just crawls right into my skin and makes itself at home, and dancing’s the same as breathing.

Better than breathing. Nuts to breathing!

When I dance, the music moves with me. We heat up the place, turn it inside out like a stained sweater, get it all going hard and strong, and in less than five, everybody’s dancing with me.

Everybody. Even the wet blankets in the corner become hoofers. It’s like magic. Magic, birds and broads.

But that night, the night you wanna know about, that night, there was this guy, and he wouldn’t dance at all.

I was hitting on all eight. Even half the band was tapping their feet and wriggling in their seats, and the bartender (what, you think this wasn’t a speak-easy?) nearly spilled the hootch.

It was good. Real good. And then I spotted him hanging by the door, not drinking, not dancing, not doing anything but just staring at me.

He was giving me the willies. So still it was like the room moved around him, like running around a body in the street. Now, isn’t that goofy? He made me think of dead guys, and I didn’t even know why.

Anyway, he stood there in dark blue glad rags, his hair all big and curly like he was some kinda three-letter man, but he didn’t feel like a Nelly. The way this fella looked at me, I just felt it all over, like he had invisible hands.

I don’t need a sugar daddy, you know that. You’re the only palooka I ever hooked up with, and that didn’t go so well, so I thought, whatever this guy wants, he can just beat it because I’m no chippy. I dance more, wilder, until it feels like the music’s going to rip out of my skin and dance away with my bones.

But he still doesn’t dance, even though some of the saps around me are gasping and dripping sweat.

Like water around a rock. There, that’s better than a dead guy, right?

I must’ve taken my eyes off him for a second. Must’ve, though if I was goofy, I’d swear he just vanished and appeared in front of me like a ghost.

And finally, he was dancing.

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