Before leaving the car I used a toothpick to free the particles of garlic and mint lodged between my incisors, remnants from the lentil salad my wife served for dinner. I took the last few swigs of Diet Coke, hoping it would mask my breath, then hauled my gym bag from the back seat, taking care not to pull my shoulder again.
I passed the elevator, a temptation for my arthritic knees, before climbing to the second floor—I swear those risers are especially steep—and stashed my stuff in a locker, then positioned myself on the rowing machine just outside the dance studio. Opening iTunes, I hit the play button, tucked the ear buds into my head and the phone into an arm band as I started rowing, slowly at first. I was supposed to be doing intervals—I’d work my way up to a faster speed.
As far as anyone could tell, I was watching ESPN on the overhead flat screen. In truth my attention was focused inside the dance studio. Through the backs of the heavy-set older women trying to whittle away fat I could catch a glimpse of the hot hot Zumba teacher. She was the age of my daughters, and reminded me of them.
Tonight she was wearing a silky sleeveless top with a shimmering pattern and a long hood that swooshed, like a scarf, each time she set out in a different direction. Her long black hair, too, was flying all over the place. You could see her firm round breasts and buttocks moving under the slinky fabric, though not too much—not like the jiggles on the other ladies.
My wife sometimes does Zumba, but tonight she was out running. My wife runs about five miles a day. This is more than she ran before all her surgeries.
The Zumba teacher should be dancing on Broadway—she’s got all the moves. It’s funny watching the older women in the class try to imitate her. Either you have it, or you don’t. Not only can she move, but her face—always posed, either in a smile or a high-energy look. If I had cancer, I’d choose this woman over chemotherapy.
One of the trainers came over and suggested I up the speed on the intervals. I felt like I was having a heart attack already, but tried to go faster. I was dripping. I felt gas in my stomach—damn that lentil salad.
The Zumba class had broken up. The teacher was organizing her stuff. I started packing my bag as well. I had it timed. I entered the elevator just as she did. The doors closed and we were alone. She didn’t have a drop of sweat on her, though she glistened. I was schvitzing.
“You remind me of my daughter.” I hadn’t planned to say that.
“Does your daughter do Zumba?”
I nodded. “She teaches it.” Which wasn’t exactly a lie.
“Then you should come to the class.”
The elevator doors opened, and she was gone, that swoosh of hair following her.
“What should I wear to go to a Zumba class,” I asked my wife when she came back from her run. My wife doesn’t sweat so much either, but her skin gets very red. She has always turned red, even before she became bionic. She definitely jiggles a lot less than she did about 30 years ago. After the mastectomy and uterine prolapse surgery, she became a fitness nut and lost about 20 pounds. She works at it almost every minute of her life.
Even still, she has a muffin top and a flabby ass. She works out so much harder than I do, and is so much more careful about what she eats. Maybe that’s why I eat her lentil salad, but at lunch time I sneak out for a burger. She knows this, and it annoys her, but she doesn’t say anything anymore.
When we met, in grad school, she helped me out and sometimes wrote my papers. She helped me get my first job, but after that I always made more money than she did.
After the vaginal surgery, she got really horny—wanted to have sex all the time. I think she just wanted to test that all the parts still worked. Now that she was running and cycling, she wasn’t interested in sex.
“Since when are you interested in Zumba?”
“My trainer suggested I give it a try.”
I called my youngest daughter and asked her what I should wear.
“Don’t wear those American flag shorts!”
“But you gave them to me.”
“They’re good for a Father’s Day barbecue. For Zumba you…”
As I was talking to her I Googled men’s Zumba clothes. “I’m looking at a guy wearing black harem pants with stars shooting across them,” I interrupted. “There’s also a guy in a Hawaiian shirt. Oh, wait, here’s one for me—a guy wearing a tank top that says ‘babes waves.’ And look, here’s a video of men doing Zumba wearing suspenders and jeans.”
“Dad, why do you want to go to Zumba? You hate that sort of thing.”
“I thought I’d try it. The trainer wants me to challenge myself in different ways.”
I found a pair of gray shorts and a gray T-shirt my wife had laundered and folded neatly in my drawer. I wondered if I should puncture the shirt with strategic holes to look younger for the Zumba teacher, but in the end I wore what I’d usually wear to the gym when I knew there was going to be a lot of sweating.
Usually I’d see one guy in the Zumba class, though not always the same guy. I noticed the men have more trouble with the rhythm than women. I was never much of a dancer, but it’s never too late, right?
“No judgement,” I would hear the instructor say.
“Welcome,” said the hot Zumba teacher, wearing a tangerine top with a plunging neckline that her shimmery necklace dipped into. “My name is Nicole. If you’re new to Zumba, it includes a little bit of everything—salsa, merengue, Arabian rhythms, country, samba, reggaeton, cha-cha, belly dance, bhangra, martial arts, belly dance, hip-hop, world rhythms…”
I didn’t know what half of those things were—but, sure, bring on the reggaeton.
“Just follow me, don’t think about it too much, and most important, have fun!”
I tried not to look at the wall-to-wall mirrors to see how incredibly stupid I looked.
Nicole put on the music, and everyone was moving: Two steps to the left, kick, pivot, two steps to the right, kick, pivot. Just when I thought I caught on to the sequence, she’d change it up. To heck with it, I thought, as I kept moving. It was all about getting to watch Nicole up close, without a barrier between us. I felt like I was tripping over my own feet. Now we were supposed to be walking like an Egyptian, lunging… what had I got myself into? I tried to avoid looking at that omnipresent mirror.
“I told you,” I could hear my wife gloating.
All those old ladies I’d made fun of from my position on the rowing machine suddenly seemed like gazelles. I watched a wiry haired woman, thinking she’d be easier to follow than trying to do what Nicole did, but I couldn’t keep up. My sweat-soaked clothes started to feel very heavy. I could smell myself and it wasn’t a good thing.
I looked around to see if there was a defibrillator. What if I had a heart attack? Would Nicole try to do CPR or would she call 9-1-1? I was picturing her doing mouth-to-mouth on me.
The first song was over, and Nicole was applauding. “Bravo, everyone, great job!”
Before she put the next song on, Nicole said—and I’m sure it was directed at me—“It’s all about losing your inhibitions. Just let it go, set your inner wild child free. Dance like nobody’s watching!”
I could feel a stitch in my side. Trying to ignore it, I stepped, shimmied and shook.
“Looking good,” Nicole said. Was she addressing me?
She let us take water breaks between numbers. I’d forgotten my water bottle and had to run out to the fountain. Cold water never tasted better.
I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket, but ignored it. What could be more important than the proximity of my view of Nicole’s ass. Mostly she kept her face in a smile while she moved, like the star that she was, but now her face was in a kind of grunt, like she was having sex. As we swirled our asses all over the place, I imagined I was having sex with her, bumping and grinding. Unbelievably, Nicole was standing before me, thrusting her chest in and out to the music. I looked around and saw all the old women doing the same, thrusting their boobs at me, like Betty Boop.
“That’s it, you’re done,” Nicole said at the end of the class, and everyone applauded. I grabbed my towel, wiped my face, then hobbled out to the water fountain and the men’s locker room where I collapsed. I could really use a cold beer, but decided to start with a cold shower. As I soaped myself and felt every aching joint, I decided a nice soak in the hot tub would be just the thing.
I reached into my gym bag for a swim suit but all I could find were the American flag shorts. They had a liner, and would work just fine. I pushed open the door into the pool area, and there she was in the hot tub, surrounded by ogling middle-aged perverts like me. As I got closer, I could hear them all speaking in a foreign language. I couldn’t tell if it was Spanish or Polish.
As I got to the edge of the tub, she turned and looked at me. “Nice shorts!” she beamed, then quickly turned her head back to her groupies, that black mane swishing even when wet. Her skin still glistening.
I jumped in, but couldn’t get to my usual jet because Nicole’s fan club was in the way. They were speaking so loud, it was giving me a headache—I wish I’d worn my ear plugs. Maybe they were speaking Russian, or Latvian. I swear, people always revert to their native tongue to say things they don’t want you to hear. Maybe they were talking about me. All the guys were laughing at something Nicole said, and now she was laughing too.
Here was the moment of a lifetime, to be in the hot tub with Nicole, and yet with all these foreigners I couldn’t be further from her. She turned her head from side to side to hear them speak, that hair swooshing each and every time. Within a few minutes, she climbed out. She was wearing a bikini, and her round ass and firm curvy thighs were smooth even when not squeezed into spandex. Within moments, her Pied Piperettes were gone and I had the hot tub to myself.
Was Nicole Russian? I wondered. I never detected an accent.
After toweling off and putting on clean clothes, I remembered that my phone had buzzed. I listened to the message—it was my wife. She’d been running in the park and tripped and fell. She was badly bruised and bleeding. Could I pick her up?
I looked at the time—a good hour had passed since she left the message. I phoned her back, but she didn’t pick up. I tried a few more times on my way to the parking lot, then let the phone keep ringing her as I drove home.
Her blue coupe was in the driveway. I opened the door and called her name. I could hear her faint reply from the family room, where she liked to read her iPad when I wasn’t blasting the TV. I rushed to her side.
“Are you OK?”
She looked OK.
“Did you get my message?”
“I was in Zumba class, then the hot tub and shower… as soon as I got your message I rushed home.”
“I was hoping you’d come and rescue me.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“There was a nice young fellow who picked me up off the asphalt. He helped me to his car. He had a first aid kit and cleaned me off, then drove me home in my car and ran back to his car. He was very sweet.”
“Oh, honey,” I said, rubbing her shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
My wife could have died there on the asphalt path in the park, blood everywhere, not found until the next morning, thanks to my inattention. Even then I was still thinking of Nicole in her bikini.
“How was Zumba?”
“It was OK.”
She took my hand in hers. “I’m proud of you for giving it a try.”
Ilene Dube is a writer, artist and filmmaker. Her short stories, poetry and personal essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Atticus Review, Corvus Review, Former People, HerStory, Huffington Post, Iconoclast, Kelsey Review, Foliate Oak, The Grief Diaries, The Oddville Press, Parhelion, Penny Shorts, the Same, Unlikely Stories and U.S. 1 Summer Fiction. She writes about the arts for Philadelphia Public Media, Hyperallergic and many others. For more, see https://theartfulblogger1.wordpress.com/