Dances So Pretty

When the men are bored they find an open lot and practice their dance moves. The shirtless man wearing Nike gym shorts hears the crowd chant his name and knees, jabs, uppercuts the air like his UFC heroes do on TV. The man in the Hawaiian shirt Karate kicks and roundhouses, even though his giant belly interferes. The third man, with the camera, pretends he is a soaring bird with talons or a great white shark who circles prey at a distance and sees everything.


It’s the fat man in the Hawaiian shirt who needs prodding. He says he likes to fight, can take a punch, but they have video proof he can’t. He tries to bear hug everybody into submission, deflates after a solid smack, and cries for the game to be over. “Screw your proof,” the fat man always says. Every time the men joke about his nonexistent fighting skills he defends by saying, “The bitch kneed me in the nuts. You tough guys woulda gone down too.”


The man with the camera lobs a found beer bottle in their direction and calls them pussies until they inch closer. When the fat man finally lands a kick to the shin both men cuss and rip at each other to hoots and laughter and their anger turns up so high it cooks vision and bruises bone.


Sometimes the men drink until their money is soaked and their skin glows like the city at night and they haunt the boardwalks for talent. The man with the camera talks because he’s the one with feather-boned features and the voice so private and fine.


He tells the woman they find, “Pretend this is your audition, right now. If this was your only shot to prove pitch yourself then let’s see what you got.” The night is temperate, typical LA. It promises too much. In the middle of the boardwalk she eases off her sandals, does a tipsy pirouette, some fouettés, and this pulls hands together in applause, this elicits howls and whistles from the men. Tourists, families, girlfriends, boyfriends turn to see what is going on, who these people are these loud-mouthed jerks making a fuss.


While they walk the camera man shows the woman video from when he interviewed movie stars. “Big and little names. Even teensy-tiny lilting names like yours,” he tells the woman. The stars on video are all from porn. They gab soundlessly and shine their luxurious heads for the best angle. They try so hard, they give their souls to this performance, and so what if Pretend Julia Roberts doesn’t smile or laugh as insanely. The woman and camera man are too dumb-drunk to notice.


“Shutup such a cliché,” she says.

“It’s true here everybody’s a pitch.”

“And a bitch.”

“Hahahayou guys are dorks.”

Smoke curls into the frame. The video shows her throat, her pretty peach-white throat and then upward, her head thrown back the violence of her laughter.


“Oh I love this song turn it up,” she says. She gets up to dance with the camera man. The bed TV their reflections tilt and sway as if the motel room was a tiny boat on the sea.

She shoves back down on the bed and glares at the men from under her bangs. For a moment it’s in her face, the fear, but then she grins. Her left bra strap wants to slide off, to get this over with. She pushes it up over the frown of her shoulder again.


The video slides to the right and the girl the bed fall away to a nightstand lamp telephone remote control. A gaudy expanse of wood paneling becomes a forearm lacerated by dark hair and a Hawaiian shirt sleeve. In the corner of the room in the chair tattooed with hibiscus print sits the shirtless man wearing Nike gym shorts. He blocks his face with one hand, reaches the other for the camera eye. The light creases, folds upon itself to darkness.


It shows her mouth her throat her hand splayed on his hip. Pink polka dot fingernails. Earlier the fat man in the Hawaiian shirt asked if pink is her favorite color because it’s his favorite color, too, and he wanted to know if she painted her nails this morning thinking she’d be here right now doing this.

In the frame she looks pretty, a princess wearing his hands on her head like a tiara. “All the way down,” says the fat man with hairy legs. “Hold it hold it hold it.” She splutters, gags. Capillaries spider into the whites of her eyes. The men laugh. “Atta girl.”

She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and then she laughs too.


Faces swing in and out of the frame smiling full of teeth. She didn’t take the first punch too well. She lie twisted on her side, hand covering her face, the left side where the skin sings.

She kicks thrashes her arms tries to claw the fat man’s face tries to pry his hands from around her neck. His forehead shines with the effort of making her understand, his face an exploding red star, his cheeks sucking in puffing out as breaths come ragged in grunts. 


“That’s really good,” the men had exclaimed. “Wow you’re like one of those pro ballerina girls aren’t you.” Her dance wound down to a wobbly stumble and a burst of laughter and while she bent for her sandals again the men told her be careful now. “You don’t want to fall and hurt yourself twist your ankle because then would you be able to dance so pretty? No you wouldn’t and then what. What would you be if you couldn’t dance so pretty.”


  1. Jon,

    This is good writing. That said, the use of violence as a dramatic device is always tricky, especially when it’s violence that is perpetrated against women and or children who are also being brutalized and exploited sexually for the entertainment of men. The employment of that kind of “dumb” and senseless brutality is a form of pornographic titillation that carries with it a certain responsibility that too few of us recognize and or accept.

    The female in your story, the victim, reads as if she is a young girl at best which is to say, a female child who is being beaten and exploited sexually by the men in your story who are capturing all this on video for entertainment purposes I presume. My question to you, is why are you are capturing all that, for us?

  2. You seem to enjoy explaining an author’s intentions, Daniel. So I’ll leave that one up to you.

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