Six hundred people in the space of fifty square meters. They’re crammed in tight around the edges and we only just get our own spot.
Everyone is dancing, but it’s a slow dance even in the fast songs.
I catch a glimpse of Matt in the distance and his girlfriend Veronica. He’s taking her hands and they’re spinning around each other. The classic romantic dance move.
They’re trying to ignore the crowd around them, but failing. It’s quite difficult.
I catch their eyes and wave.
Their smiles are slightly lower than last year.
They wave back but disappear behind other dancers before I can say hello.
In the break between one song and the next, I’m remembering back to last year’s dance and the whole damn episode replays in my head.
The alcohol, the pre-drinks at my place, the long line, the distant girl who smiled at me, the kisses shared between flashing strobe lights, the long line to the taxi, more kisses, more drinks, and more, and the quiet end to the night, everyone huddling in sleeping bags on Matt’s floorboards just outside the kitchen, unaware his parents were coming home the morning after, unaware of the creeping nostalgia waiting the year after that, unaware that this moment was somehow bigger and more meaningful than anything else I’d ever experience again.
Somehow we were more alive that year. The world was spinning clockwise and we were jumping off of its edges into the sky to burst with the stars in explosions of light and life and dance.
But the feeling is mute now. My dance partner has a smile stapled onto her face. There’s a hint there. When we’re truly happy our smile shifts, things affect it, sadness creeps up in small moments but soon the joy brings us the smile back again. That’s real joy. But the lingering smiles, the longer smiles staying on past all interference, that’s not joy. That’s something else entirely.
I turn and run into Felicity.
“I hate university,” she tells me.
She’s the same girl who told me last year she loved it.
“It just seems so pointless.”
She’s dancing up beside me.
I spin her around, and she returns the favor.
“It seems like we should be doing something more important with our lives.”
“Like anything,” she says, “I can think of a hundred other things to be doing.”
“I can’t,” she says slowly.
The realization affects her, and she stares at me, bewildered.
“You know what I mean though,” she says. “It just feels like there’s nothing else out there. Everything we’ve been told for years… What else can we do?”
She moves back into the crowd before I can think of a reply.
I’m back with my dance partner – her name’s Sally – and we’re being pushed, out and out, as more people clamber onto the dance floor. The night’s theme is jazz, but it’s already descended into hip-hop and RnB.
In the crowd I spot a friend, Blaire, and I wave him over. Blaire is always happy to see me, but tonight he looks at me for a long time before saying his usual, “Great to see you.”
He means it, but there’s a hesitation there.
The great is lilting.
“You too,” I say.
I slap him on the back.
“This is the first night I’ve had to myself in two months,” he says, looking around the room, “It’s weird.”
“How are you managing that?”
“It’s great to relax for a night,” he says, dodging the question.
“Isn’t life always meant to be relaxing?”
He looks at me, and there’s a depth to his eyes I haven’t noticed before.
“What are your hours at the new place?”
“Fourteen hour days. But it’s what you got to do,” he says, “Everyone’s working those kind of hours now.”
“I’m not,” I say.
“You were always different,” he says, “That’s why we get along.”
He’s watching the crowd.
“Do you like the work?”
I change the topic. I point across the room.
“That’s Billy Grey, he’s going to be Prime Minister one day. But look at him now, he can barely walk straight. Imagine leaking that to the media.”
I made the same joke last year. Blaire laughed that time.
This year he doesn’t.
“Yeah. Funny,” he says.
He moves into the crowd.
I’m alone again.
Sally has shifted off to the bathroom in a huddle of girls in ball gowns, talking about make up. She hates that but she placates the girls; tells them where she bought hers, tells them anything they want to hear to make them leave her alone.
Out and out I’m pushed, as more and more people clamber onto the dance floor.
There is a moment when the mood of the room brightens, when the chorus of a particular catchy song rings out and everyone – all 800 people – go scrambling to throw their hands up and jump and sway, but the moment passes, 400 or so go back to their seats, the rest dance, but in a subdued way, like they’re longing for something that the songs can’t deliver.
It’s more than the music and the dancing.
They’re just not enough anymore.
I’ve been thinking of publishing a set of short stories lately.
Leave a comment below of your thoughts of this one. You can read the others I’ve posted here and here. I’m also currently creating a YouTube series on literature and philosophy, you can subscribe to my channel here.
Thanks for reading!