Jennifer Hurley

THADDEUS LEARNED TO swing dance at the church’s singles’ night. He was forty-five. That was when he considered himself born again. He had allowed a minister to pour water over his head in public, something he would never do now.

Swing dancing filled all of the evenings that he’d previously spent conducting Internet research on the precious metals market. When he bought a house in the suburbs of San Diego—paying in cash from money that he’d earned building radio transmitters for the military—he decided to install a dance floor in the kitchen. One of his Army friends drove out from Arizona, and they put the floor in together—maple wood with a polyurethane coating. The coating made the floor so slippery that Thaddeus had to shake baby powder over it before practicing, which was why the hems of his black jeans were gray.

It was easy to find girls to come over and use the floor. It seemed that the girls from the church were eager to lose their virginity again, despite the promises they’d made before God, or maybe because of them. Thaddeus was only moderately interested. Mainly he wanted to dance, preferably with someone small enough to lift for tricks. There was no better feeling than being in a club and lifting a girl so high that her toes nearly grazed the ceiling. He and a girl named Laurie invented a trick together called the floor sweep. It involved the girl doing a flip between the man’s legs so that her hair swept along the floor like a mop. When he and Laurie would do the trick in front of an audience, people would gather in a circle to watch them.

Laurie wanted what she called a real relationship, and when Thaddeus seemed reluctant, she moved on to someone else. Thaddeus asked if she’d still be his dance partner, which made her cry and yell. He didn’t understand why—he was fifty-one, way too old for Laurie, who was in her early thirties. Once she was gone from the dance scene and the church and his life in general, Thaddeus got himself fitted for artificial hair. He did not like to think of it as a toupée. With the new hair, he could pass for thirty-five in low light, which would hopefully increase his chances of finding a thin woman willing to be lifted. 

He found one—a girl named Reina, who was even younger than Laurie but not nearly as gymnastic. He took her to the beach to practice tricks and flips on the sand. She fell several times, hard, but kept brushing herself off and trying again. Back in her apartment later that night, she lit candles and he kissed her. While they were kissing, Reina drew her fingers through Thaddeus’ hair, her hand pausing a split second, but long enough for him to know she had felt the seam. She said nothing. All through their practice sessions, their make-out sessions, and the tortuous discussions about their age difference, she never said anything about his hair, even the mornings after sex when he’d find the piece pulling away from his scalp. Maybe that was why he fell in love with her.

They made wild plans. Both despising the sun and the culture that came with it, they decided to move to Oregon. It was his idea to live just over the border in Washington, which had no income tax, and shop in Oregon, which had no sales tax. With the money from his house, Reina would not have to work; she could have babies instead. They were both intoxicated by this plan. The main trouble was her parents. They would not understand, and Reina’s father might become violent if he learned Thaddeus’ age. Reina’s father and Thaddeus had been in the Vietnam War around the same time, though Reina’s father had been an officer. Thaddeus should never have shown Reina the pictures from the war. They were black-and-white photos, faded and in an outdated shape. She peered at them with a perplexed face. Thaddeus had wanted to show her a picture of the first girlfriend he ever had, a woman from Laos named Daileng. She had a long, thick braid that fell across one shoulder and nearly reached her belly button, and he still missed her.

Reina said that Dialeng was beautiful and then was quiet, looking through the pictures one more time. The next day they went to the bookstore to find information on the Pacific Northwest. The new strategy was to tell Reina’s parents that Thaddeus was thirty-eight years old—and why shouldn’t they believe it? But at the bookstore, Thaddeus caught Reina scrutinizing him. He was wearing his glasses, an Army T-shirt, and shorts with white socks. Later, he realized that she was seeing him for the first time as an old man.

A few weeks later, Reina said she could not do it—she could not lie to her family; she could not give up her job, her friends, everything. Thaddeus couldn’t argue with these reasons. They tried to go out for sushi a couple of times, as friends, but they had nothing to talk about except for dancing, and Reina wasn’t dancing swing anymore; she was taking lessons in tango. A few months later, Thaddeus put his house on the market. It was hard to sell—as the realtor put it, who wanted a scratched-up, powder-stained disco floor in the kitchen? Eventually someone bought the house at a reduced price. Thaddeus wanted to know if the buyers were dancers, but the realtor only rolled her eyes. He used the money to buy a small condo in Washington State, just across the Oregon border. It was annoying to have to explain to everyone at the swing club that he was moving to Vancouver, Washington, not Vancouver, Canada. By the time the move came, he was so tired of making this distinction that he couldn’t wait to leave.

In Washington, the air smelled fresh and woodsy, as Reina had predicted. From his balcony, he could see Mount Hood on a clear day. He tried to go swing dancing in Portland, but it was a younger crowd, and they weren’t doing real swing anymore, but a bastardized, souped-up version of it called Lindy. Occasionally, he went to the Elks Club on Friday nights, where the swing was authentic but slow, and where the women would not have done tricks even if Thaddeus could still lift them.

Jennifer Hurley is a short story writer. Her stories have appeared in Stone’s Throw Magazine, Slow Trains, Commonline, and The Mississippi Review, among others. She works as an Associate Professor of English at Ohlone College in the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares a tiny bungalow in Alameda with her husband, four cats, puppy, and an absurd number of books.

“My front porch contains a pair of unwearable sandals, a dog toy with a missing head, rusted tomato stakes, and two poor, stunted geraniums in clay pots. In the spring, it is surrounded by lavender.”