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        Hung from the ceiling, captured in its lone spotlight, the disco ball spins. Its parti-colored spangles, dimmed in clouds of cigarette smoke, race across the walls and over the dance floor. Each dot of light manically chases its neighbor, never gaining, never losing position. Donna Summer is in need of some hot stuff tonight. 

        College students, bell-bottomed and dirt poor, sit at several small square tables pulled together to form one long table towards the back of the bar. Table and floor are sticky and reek of stale beer. Two pitchers of cheap beer, this evening’s special, stand at half-empty attention. 

        An English Language and Literature major is wearing one of the two garishly patterned and colored faux-silk polyester shirts his mother bought for him last Christmas. The top three buttons are kept, pro forma, unbuttoned. The throat is bare of disco de rigueur gold chains. He can’t even afford fake ones. His eyes are bleary and bloodshot from sucking beer and several shared pre-saloon joints. He leans in to his friend’s ear and yells, “Disco sucks.” 

        The friend nods in agreement. His eyes are equally enflamed and his head bobs in slavish, if slightly syncopated, rhythm with the song’s visceral beat. Their mugs of beer are lifted in unintended unison and they drink deeply, empty them. The once and future poet snares the pitcher, refills their mugs, calculates he has sufficient funds to purchase two more fresh pitchers and have enough money left-over in case there is a late-night run to Taco Bell or Big Boy. If the others at the table can also buy a couple of pitchers, they should be able to drink to repletion until closing time. His idea of repletion is staggering, black-out drunkenness. 

        The song finishes and the DJ decides it’s time for a break. 

        “Be back in ten, folks. Remember to tip your servers.” The ensuing silence is stunning. It takes a few seconds for the patrons to adjust but they are soon talking. Their inebriate voices are louder than need be. The crystal globe stops spinning as its spotlight is doused, the multi-colored track lights over the dance floor are turned off, and some of the house lights flick on. 

        The waitress arrives with a new pitcher. 

        He grins, hands her two bucks, tells her, “Keep the change.”


        Glad to get the fifty cents, she flashes a quick distracted smile, thanks him, and glides away to deliver the other drinks on her round tray. 

        Everybody at the table is engaged in conversation except the bard and the attractive young woman sitting directly across from him. Her name, he remembers from an earlier introduction, is Sharon Jansen and she is visiting her cousin at Lake Superior State College. 

        Her smile is gorgeous, so are her eyes. With the fine nose, cheekbones and jawline of a Hollywood starlet, she is the prettiest one at the table. Her straight hair—thick and parted in the middle—is a sandy blond, glorious falling. She has been dieting and exercising and has a curvaceous figure. Within three pounds of her ideal weight, she thinks she should lose another fifteen. 

        Two years ago, she was diagnosed with primary osteosarcoma in her right leg. The tumor was located proximally on the tibia and had spread into the knee joint and surrounding nerves and blood vessels. Due to its size and location, treatment required an amputation at the lower thigh. Rotationplasty performed by her highly skilled surgeon, enables the right ankle to function as the knee joint. Her artificial leg is state of the art and nearly undetectable under her blue jeans snug-fitting around her hips but looser on her legs. Only she and her cousin know about the prosthetic. 

        With the help of a good physical therapist and hard-work, Sharon has learned how to walk with only the slightest of limps. She moves like an athlete who is three weeks into recovery from a right knee sprain and almost ready to return to full practice. 

        The would-be writer—his mind scrabbling like the claws of white mice at the walls of a glass cage for something, anything to say—raises his beer mug in slightly trembling hands to drink deeply and give himself more time to think of an opening gambit. Sharon intervenes before he can gulp at his drink. He rarely sips, particularly at keg parties and Pitcher Night when the goal is to get both wasted and his money’s worth. 

        Her tentative smile is a lovely moth flitting at her lips, she asks, “So Matthew, what are you studying?” 

        Her voice is smooth, rich, and of a deeper register than most other girls. He lowers his mug to the table, clears his throat. Returning her gaze, he answers, “I’m an English major.” 

        Her eyes are amazing: grey with flecks of hazel, blue, and green. 

        She increases the wattage of her smile. Her teeth flash even and white. Several moths start fluttering in his stomach. Hands steadier, he lifts the glass and drinks while she responds. 

        “Oh, do you want to be a writer…an editor?” 

        “No, I’m going to get my secondary certification and be a high school English teacher.” The statement is only partially true. The negative only applies to the editor aspect of her question. He fully intends to write more poems, essays, and stories and try his hand at novels at some point in the future. Having his summers off will provide him the opportunity for this writing. 

        “I loved my high school English classes,” she enthuses. “We got to read wonderful stories like Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day or books like To Kill a Mockingbird.” 

        “Yeah, Bradbury’s the best. Mockingbird is one of those rare works where the movie is as good as the novel.” 

        “I agree.”

        “You know Harper Lee has never written another book, says the success of her first novel was like ‘being hit over the head and knocked cold.’” 

        “I think she was afraid to write another novel. How could she ever top, or even come close to matching, the success of To Kill a Mockingbird? The task was too daunting…” 

        He concurs, “I believe you’re right,” takes a swallow of the cold beer, asks, “Where are you going to school?” 


        “Ah, party school.” 

        “Not as bad as Central…but aren’t they all party schools, Matthew…if that’s your thing?” She takes her first sip of beer. Partying is definitely not her thing. She will nurse her drink all night long or, if she’s feeling wild, have a second beer in a couple of hours and most likely not finish it before last call. Getting drunk or high is stupid. Doing both is even worse. She’s here to meet people, socialize, and dance. 

        “True. You know, you can call me Matt. That’s what most of my friends call me.” 

        “I like Matthew better.” Actually, he does too, but never says anything to his friends. He’s liking her even more. 

        “That’s cool. So, what are you studying?” 

        “Accounting. Some people think it’s boring.” He is one of those people. “But I think it’s fascinating!” 

        “Hmm, well, at least you’ll be able to get a job, a good-paying one, when you graduate. When will that be?”

        “Two more years,” she says with a resigned sigh, as if it’s a small eternity of a grind rather than the best years of her life. 

        The DJ returns to his turntable and fires up the overhead lights and disco ball as the houselights dim. Cocktail uplifted, he hovers over the microphone and exhorts the crowd to, “Party on people!” As he’s prepping the next album cut, he reminds them, “Don’t forget, we have a special on pitchers of Stroh’s beer tonight. Only a dollar fifty!” The announcement is greeted with a few, scattered boos from the beer connoisseurs in the crowd. These would be the non-student, full-time working young adults who have the wherewithal to buy more expensive brands like Michelob. The students cheer lustily. 

        Headphones in place, the DJ deftly places the needle on the spinning LP and cranks the volume in perfect synchrony with the start of the song. By the third funky, bass-heavy, synth infused chord, patrons are heading for the dance floor. Talking over the intro, head nodding and hips moving in rhythm to the driving beat, he gestures for more people to get up, tells them, “You know the Bee Gees are right, you should be dancin’, yeah!” 

        The braver guys head to other tables to ask cute girls if they want to dance and some of the girls are doing the same to cute guys. With Disco Inferno already cued up on the second turntable, the DJ starts flicking through the albums in one of his several milk crates looking for another disco tune, maybe Brick House… 

        Two seconds into the Bee Gees song Sharon is moving her head, neck, and shoulders to the beat, letting whoever cares to notice that she is very interested in going out to the dance floor. Matthew notices, takes a hasty drink of beer, leans over the table, inquires if she would like to dance. She smiles beautifully, arises with some difficulty from her chair, and heads for the nearest empty space on the dance floor. He thinks her struggle getting up is due to trying to navigate the cramped space between tables. 

        They quickly establish a small space on the maple parquet floor. It’s worn bare from decades of use. 

        Grinning happily, he slips into his limited repertoire of moves and quickly gets lost in the thumping beat. Sharon smiles in return and easily slides into time with her partner. With hips, arms, and shoulders swaying, she takes a few steps and those are small. Her style is circumspect, almost cautious. She is hoping those staring eyes from the gallery are watching other, more exuberant dancers. 

        As Barry Gibbs’s falsetto winds down, the DJ starts in with The Trammps and a disco inferno starts to burn. The beat is identical and everybody stays on the floor. A few more couples squeeze in forcing Matthew closer to Sharon. Surrounded by pulsing lights and music that’s too loud, all the other dancers fade away and it feels like it’s just the two of them on the floor. He likes the close quarters, is feeling the music. He stares into her eyes. Swaying to the music, her face lights up and she laughs but behind the merriment in her eyes he seems to detect a note of …is it hesitation, concern? The horn section blows in and he breaks eye contact to dip, twirl, dance with an intensity matching their fiery, silver tones. Sharon continues her judiciously rhythmical movements. She likes what she sees, loves that she’s dancing, and a delighted grin plays about her lips. 

        When Jimmy Elli’s smoking tenor takes over, Matthew looks again at his partner, notices for the first that she has trouble whenever she steps to the right, even when she limits it to just a few inches. There is an ever so slight hesitation, a break in her rhythm, until she can move to her left. He realizes she never moves forwards or backwards, never spins. She dances simply, but well, in a rather small area and not just because it is crowded on the dance floor.

        He takes a closer look at her right leg. Unlike the left leg, it is stiff and there is a slight ridge encircling her mid-thigh. It is only briefly visible when one of her steps in combination with a certain swing of her hips pulls her jeans tight to her thigh. 

        Still looking at her leg, realization breaks through his fog of pot smoking and beer swilling. Matthew’s gaze travels upwards from her leg at a rapid, but calculated, rate allowing him to take in the hourglass curves of hips, waist, and breasts, the flawless column of her throat, her well-molded chin, full-lips, fine nose, to her astonishing eyes without being overtly rude. Her warm and comfortable green cotton crew neck sweater, carefully chosen like all her clothing, allows for the swell of her bosom with due modesty and good taste. 

        Sharon has been watching him the whole time. She knows he knows something is wrong with her leg. When their eyes meet, she has set her face to a hard neutral, is barely dancing. She’s waiting to see how Matthew will react to his new found knowledge. He blinks a couple of times in puzzlement, wonders why she’s no longer smiling, having a good time. The inferno is burning itself down. He doesn’t care if she has one of those walking casts on her right leg. Obviously, she can dance but will probably need to rest it frequently. 

        He grins at her, continues to writhe in time to the music, gestures encouragingly to her to keep dancing. She grins back, starts to undulate. The chorus enjoins them to burn, baby, burn and Jimmy agrees one more time that they should burn that mother down. The song fades out as the distinctive bass riffs from Brickhouse kick in and the beat goes on.

        With unspoken consent, they exit the dance floor. Matthew ushers her off first. This is less about chivalric courtesy and more to do with the opportunity to look at her nice butt and admire her sleek and glossy, wondrous drapery of waist-length hair. Sharon’s limp is more noticeable and she is again having difficulty navigating the narrow and tortuous route to their table. He is not too concerned, is thinking, “My God, she is a brickhouse!” 

        They take their respective seats with Matthew neglecting the politeness of pulling Sharon’s out for her. Most guys, in this bra-less age of women’s lib, no longer do this little courtesy. But she’s an old-fashioned girl (who is never without a bra in public, it would be crass) and is slightly disappointed. She takes a sip of beer, looks across the table at her dance partner. 

        He developed a thirst out on the dance floor and takes several large gulps of beer. The mug is emptied. He refills it right away. It will take him ten years to figure out he is an alcoholic and that there will never be enough beer in the whole world to assuage his thirst. A joint of brown Colombian is nestled in his shirt pocket. 

        He is thinking perhaps he should take to heart The Trammps’ parting advice and leans in to ask Sharon, “You wanna get high?” 

        “No, I don’t smoke weed…but you can go outside if you want.” 

        He decides to forego the joint and stay. He can get high anytime. However, the potential of scoring with such a beauty is a rare opportunity and not to be squandered. He leans across the table, asks, “Hey, what’s the deal with your leg?” 

        Also leaning in, she replies into his ear, with a mischievous smile, “Which one?” 

        He blurts, “The right…” but then leans back, notices her grin, chuckles and nods with appreciation, tells her, “I see what you did there, Ms. Jansen.”

        She leans back in, explains, “I had bone cancer in my leg. It had to be amputated. I have a prosthetic leg.” She is matter-of-fact with her statements. There is no shame, no self-pity. This is her life. She lives it with dignity, pert humor, and stoic courage. 

        He leans back, looks down at the table for a moment assimilating this information. With a couple little nods and a slight shrug, using all the wit and perceptiveness at his command (given the state of his altered consciousness), he tells her, “OK,” then asks, “Does it hurt when you dance?” 

        “Only when I move around.” He’s a little slow on the uptake, probably needs another beer or two and some bong hits, frowns in confusion and concern. 

        She takes pity on him, “Just kidding.” He laughs with relief, she joins him. “My prosthetic is very comfortable, top-of-the-line…and I do love dancing. I get tired though and have to rest after a while.” 

        The Commodores finish their song by shaking it down, down and there are a few seconds of dead air because the DJ was distracted while flirting with one of several of his coed admirers. Sharon tilts her head and, with a smirk and eyes glimmering merrily, tells him, voice low, “I’m feeling rested now, Mr. Pachek.” 

        KC and his band start in with the funky guitar and piano for I’m your Boogie Man. Matthew, smitten by her cute head tilt, is smiling as he reaches out for her hand. They dance to three disco tunes then go back to their table for a break. After a few more fast songs, the DJ plays the first slow tune of the night: Bob Seger’s Mainstreet. Many of the couples leave the dance floor as Drew Abbott’s guitar chords, clean and honeyed and haunting, fill the bar.

        Seger is one of Matthew’s favorites and this song is one of his best. With eyebrows lifted, he looks the question at Sharon. She smiles sweetly, nods her assent, rises from the table, starts toward the dance floor. He quickly follows, keeps near, takes her in his arms while Bob is standin’ on the corner at midnight. 

        He reaches around her narrow waist and pulls her close. She encircles his neck with both arms, moves in even closer. With bodies pressed together, they sway to that smoky beat. A shiver courses through his body. Can she feel it? He bows his head, buries it in her long hair. Her perfume is a marvelous, sweetly floral musk rushing to his brain. It momentarily makes his knees weak. He has to lean on her a bit until it passes. He can feel the hard plastic of the prosthetic’s sleeve on his left thigh. It doesn’t bother him in the least and they continue swaying to the music. In his enthrallment, he forgets she has trouble moving to her right so when he turns her to his left for the first time, she responds awkwardly, staggers a bit. Their bodies break apart and they momentarily lose time with the song. Wordlessly, they come together and her head again nestles on his shoulder while his face seeks the silken softness of her hair. They sway in rhythm, and when they turn throughout the rest of the song, it is slow and careful and always counter clockwise. 

        Not missing a beat, the DJ follows up with The First Time Ever I saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. 

        Sharon continues slow dancing, murmurs into the hollow of Matthew’s neck, “I love this song.” 

        “Yeah, me too.” Keeping his right arm securely around her waist, his left-hand strays upwards to gently stroke her lush tresses.

        She sighs with pleasure. “Mmm, that’s nice.” 

        “I love your hair.” 

        “I could tell.” 

        Lonely for connection, they cling together through the rest of the achingly beautiful song. Toward the end, her right leg is beginning to fatigue and hitch despite his care. As they exit the dance floor, her limp is pronounced. 

        When they get back to the table, Sharon’s cousin is ready to go and so is she.

        While Sharon is putting on her winter coat Matthew downs his half-full mug of warm beer. Captivated with Sharon, he has been ignoring it. That he allowed it to get warm, failed to guzzle it and a half dozen refills throughout the evening, is ample proof of her charms. She waits until he is finished, asks, “Would you like a ride home?” 

        Like a modern-day Cyrano, his wit as keen as the edge of a rubber-bladed knife sold to fudgie kids in the tourist traps on Portage Street, he answers, “Um, yeah, I would…cool.” He puts on his Navy surplus wool parka, throws his scarf around his neck, and says good bye to his friends. The disco ball’s ceaselessly chasing scintilla flash across their backs. It is impossible to tell which ones are the winners, and which are the losers. 

        He gets in the back seat of cousin Angela’s rusty ’67 Falcon. Both girls are in the front seat, sober as their favorite Sunday School teacher. Sharon turns, looks at Matthew in the back seat, and asks, “Where do you live?” 

        “Over on Third Street. We call it the Pink Palace—.” 

        Angie cuts him off, “I know where it is.

        Sharon likes him a lot. He really is a decent guy. She believes—once he graduates from college and switches, with her help, from party mode to provider mode—he has the potential to be a good husband and father to the children she dreams of having. She tells him, “I’m not sleepy. Do you want to come over, listen to some music? I think we have some beer in the fridge…Old Milwaukee, right Angie?” 

        Her cousin, looking straight ahead at the road, her mouth a thin, straight line, answers, 


        “Yeah. Cool. I drink Old Squawk all the time. 

        Angela mutters, “I’m sure you do.” 

        A few minutes later they are at an eighty-year-old house on Eureka Street in the student ghetto neighborhood on the north side of LSSC known as the Canal Zone for its proximity to the power canal for the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant. They climb the decrepit, out-of-code external stairs to Angie’s upstairs, two-bedroom apartment. Her roommate is gone for the weekend. 

        Upon entering, she declares, “I’m going to bed,” disappears into her bedroom. Through the closed door, she requests, “Don’t play the music too loud. The neighbors down stairs will complain…and I need some sleep.” 

        Sharon assures her, “We won’t,” as she and Matthew hang their coats on hooks by the front door. She heads for the kitchen, asks over her shoulder, “Will you pick an album for us?”

        He flips through the selection of LP’s on the floor, lined up against the wall between two concrete cinder blocks. He finds Boz Skaggs’ Silk Degrees, powers on the Technics stereo system resting on wooden boards supported by more cinder blocks. After first turning down the volume, he puts it on the turntable, and the pop rock strains of What Can I Say come softly through the speakers. 

        He sits on the floor with his back against an old, broken-down couch, its legs missing probably since Eisenhower’s administration. Just as Boz is declaring it’s 3 a.m., Sharon enters with the promised can of beer. 

        Her smile is warm, genuine as she declares, “I love this album!” 

        He starts to rise but she gestures to him to sit back down, it’s actually more comfortable on the floor than it is the wreck of a couch. She hands him the beer, sits, with some awkwardness next to him. Their arms, hips are touching. He can feel her prosthetic against his left leg. 

        He opens the beer, takes a sip, drapes his left arm around her shoulder, pulls her even closer. She scoots her hips a fraction of an inch nearer to his—to get any closer she’d have to climb on to his lap—snuggles into him, lays her head on his shoulder. 

        They listen for a while, his left hand again finds its way to her hair, gets lost in her long, luxurious locks. Eventually he sets his beer out of the way because he has cast his self-doubts aside, worked up his courage, and is ready to make his move. He reaches over, lifts her chin, looks into the grey of her eyes…they are a deep lake on an overcast day. He bends down, kisses her lips with tenderness. Miraculously, she responds, places her left hand where his jawline meets his throat. The tips of her fingers touch his ear, slide into his wavy, shoulder-length hair. 

        In a timeless instant their gentle kissing becomes passionate. Lips are pressed together tightly and tongues are doing a probing dance of their own. Somehow, she is laying with her back on the floor and he is on his left-side next to her.

        His hands have caressed in the safe zones only: face, neck, arms, waist, and hips. Both are breathing heavily; she appears to enjoy kissing as much as dancing. He decides to make a play for one of her two danger zones which might, in fact, be forbidden zones. His hand cups her breast over bra and sweater. The soft heaviness, despite the intervening layers of clothing, is intoxicating for him. She continues kissing him, makes a small involuntary sound from the depths of her throat. Is it acquiescence? The other breast is equally intriguing. He wants to fondle them au naturel, tries to slip his hand underneath her sweater. She breaks the kiss, looks him in the eye, tells him, “No.” 

        He mumbles, “Sorry.” The Harbor Lights are dimming, it is time to flip the album. She lays there while he does so as rapidly as possible. He wants to return to nuzzling, is incredulous that he’s making it with the hottest girl from the bar. Quickly he’s back in position and lips are locked as the bass and drums introduce Lowdown. The music fades into the background as they are swept into their passionate necking. 

        Sharon is a good girl, a life-long member of the Reformed Church, and, in fact, a virgin. She is as aroused as she has ever been with a guy but…she is saving herself for the right man, her future husband. She knows Matthew could care less she’s an amputee and that’s nice, is quite aware, with legs entwined, he wants her. She should probably shut it down, send him home. He is, she’s certain, the type who understands no means no. But it feels so good to return his kisses…to be desired. 

        Matthew’s mind is a blissful, chaotic whirl of hormones. He encircles Sharon with his arms and, keeping his lips to hers, rolls over onto his back to bring her on top and be enshrouded by her long hair. The silkiness is wondrous and he thinks this may be heaven’s scent.

        Boz implores his amour for love as they maintain their kiss. She’s uncomfortable with this new position, is concerned the hard plastic, outer shell of the stump cup of her prosthetic may be digging into his leg. After a second or two, she slides off to the side. 

        He’s disappointed but figures she may be embarrassed about her prosthetic. Side-by-side now, some of her tresses draped over his face and neck, still kissing, he slips his hand between them and gropes her right breast for a few moments then slides his hand down to her buttocks, gives them a squeeze. 

        Her whole body stiffens and, with lips still brushing his, shakes her head no, tells him, “Uhn, uhn.” 

        His hand drifts to her waist, the kissing continues through the next song and into the following track. His ardor intensifies, he is pressing too hard with his mouth, squeezing her breast too hard with his hand. His libido is a race car engine running itself into dangerous rpms. 

        Just as she’s thinking it is time to quit and wondering why the guy always gets so worked up, his left hand insinuates itself between her legs. She abruptly breaks away from the kiss and, eye-to-eye, tells him in her sternest tones, “Stop!” 

He jerks his hand away. Stricken with guilt, he looks away from her angry eyes, again mutters, “Sorry.” 

        She relents, tells him gently, “Look, …I know what you want, but it is not happening I’m tired and it’s time for you to go.”


        They get up from the floor. He notices for the first-time the carpet is filthy, looks like it’s been months since it was last vacuumed. Still unwilling to meet her eyes, he gets on his coat and heads for the door. 

        Before opening it, he turns and asks, “Will I see you again?” 

        This is safer than, “Can I get your phone number? I’d like to call you some time.” She’s still angry with him, would most likely refuse to give him her number. 

        “I don’t know. I leave early tomorrow morning. It’s a long drive to Kalamazoo.” He turns, reaches for the door. She notices his can of beer and, as he’s opening the door, brings it over to him. 

        “Might as well take this with you.” She hands it to him at the open door, gives him a peck on the cheek. 

        He stares at the can for a second, is confused by her little goodnight kiss, tells her, “Thanks…um, good night,” walks out the door, closes it behind him. 

        Sharon stands in the living room wondering why he didn’t ask for her phone number. She really thought he might be the one. A tear starts to well in her eye. She decides there is no way she’ll let the damn thing fall and, with a couple of rapid blinks, it goes away. 

        The temperature has dropped to zero in the pre-dawn hour. The sky is black and cloudless. The stars are splinters of glittering ice that never melt. Half-way down the block, nearing a lone street lamp, he’s already taken a couple gulps of the beer. Berating himself, knowing he blew it with a girl who was completely out of his league but may have had a chance for something real and meaningful, he flings the beer across the road. Suds spilling out, it caroms off the curb and, gathering a thin layer of the new snow, rolls into the streetlight’s circle of illumination. The light from above finds—on the street, sidewalk, and empty can—a myriad of crystals of snow and each is a diamond scintilla winking.


Slow Dancing with a Prosthetic Leg

Michael Peach

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