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Matthew Santiago

The Dance

I remember that night like it was yesterday. I was just another broken heart filled with insecurity, nothing going my way, and about to give up. I don’t know why I chose that bar; it was a hole-in-wall with the lingering smell of urine and sewage, but the beckoning neon sign called to me.

I zigzagged through the sea of people and found a seat at the bar. The gorgeous interior was like a saloon from a spaghetti western with a modern touch. Wooden floors and railings, tables scattered throughout, but brick walls with designer lighting. At the stage, though, was him and his piano. The elegant grand piano stood proudly, greeting regulars and posing for pictures. The man smiling to people; nodding in acknowledgment.

Those nerves of mine started flaring up as the room felt hot, and my body shook. The sudden tightening of my throat dried it out, and within moments I was getting ready to leave.

               “You look like a deer in headlights.” A voice said.

I turned to see the bartender smiling as she wiped the area, tossing a coaster down. I weakly smiled back, my eyes darting wildly.

               “Newcomer, huh? Something to start you with?”

               “I…yeah…, I’m not sure…” She held a hand up.

               “Here…something to calm your nerves.” Like a magician, she pulled out a tall glass from nowhere and filled it.

               “It a special drink I make, I call it ‘Anxiety Killer,’” The warm yellow liquid twirled against the glass as hints of apple and whiskey swirled into the air. “You don’t look like a fancy drinker, so we can skip the garnishes.” She winked and left her auburn hair flowing behind.

The strong kick woke my senses as my throat burned with hints of apple and cinnamon, but something else danced over me; relaxation. My nerves melted as I swirled the glass around with my fingertips. My mind lost in the void of fantasy scenarios of tomorrow when a roar erupted.

Whistling and applause from above and around as the man bowed with a broad smile. I couldn’t help but join in clapping as his grin grew wide. He was average but yielded a charming personality as he spoke about tonight being special and had new music for everyone. His beat-up sneakers and jean combo betrayed his convincing mannerisms as every joke and word brought a reaction.

               “How ya feeling?”


               “Another?” I nodded ss she poured another concoction while the graceful dance of keys chimed across the air. Effortlessly he played an upbeat melody as his deep voice joined like a siren song as the lost souls of the night swayed with emotion to him. Song after song, he commanded emotions like a puppeteer bringing the audience to life form their average days. A strange sense overcame me, like a renewed hope.

I didn’t realize how late it was until he ended with tremendous applause. I thanked the bartender and closed my tab when that gruff voice stopped me.

               “Excuse me.” I felt a sudden wave of fear and anxiety hit me. I spun around too fast and had to grab out. “Woah, you okay there?” His soft hands touched my arm to steady me, and suddenly I was aware of my light buzz and how close we were.

               “Yes, …sorry. I just…” He chuckled and sat down.

               “Did you enjoy the show?”

               “Yes, it was amazing. You’re very talented.” I felt stupid, as the words escaped.

               “Thanks. It’s nothing really I just love music.”

               “Oh, well…I enjoyed it. There’s something special about the way you play, like its more than just music to you, almost like your painting a story.”

               “Really?” He said, intrigued. He put a cigarette to his lips and paused. “Do you mind?”

I shook my head as the lighter sparked to life, and the cigarette lit up. The smoke tangled into his neatly trimmed beard and danced around, slowly disappearing.

               “Yes, I mean… I’m not a musician or anything, but…” I struggled with my words as his honey-colored eyes searched into mine.

               “Don’t think about it.”


               “You’re thinking too hard about what to say, like your scared. Just say what you want to.” He dragged the cigarette as he shook hands and greeted people but tried to hide a slip of annoyance as he kept struggled to return to our conversation.

               “I think you have a unique passion for song, and it makes your playing unique, but I’m sure you hear that all the time.” I quickly added, looking away.

               “Thank you, that’s the… the most authentic compliment I’ve received tonight.” His name was Micha, Micha, who studied music but dropped out because he grew bored of mundane routines. We talked for a bit as I grew hypnotized with him. I lost track of time as the bar began to quiet down, and suddenly I jumped.

               “I’m sorry! It’s getting late. I should go so you can clean up, or whatever you need to do.”

               “It’s not a big deal; I just sit up there and play songs. Say you wanna get something to eat?”

               “um…well…” I paused and took a dep breath. “I’m actually not in a good place right now, and so I just spent the last of my money. but thank you.” He rolled his eyes with a devilish smile.

               “I didn’t ask if you want to pay for food, I asked if you wanna get food.” He leaned to me. “There is a difference.”

His attitude was different from most people I met in my boring life, but then again being here was already out of the ordinary, however…

               “Okay, I’d love to.” The feeling of rebellion filled me with determination and giddiness as we walked proudly to the outside world; me with my newfound sense of adventure and him with his leather jacket and nonchalant attitude.

 The moon followed us with a Cheshire smile, as we strode down the road in silence. A few drunk people roaming home or the occasional car passing by was the only interruption as I stared into the night sky.

               “It must be tiring to be so famous.”

 He huffed with smoke flowing from his nose, “Yeah. I hate people to be honest.”

               “Really? You seem so…outgoing.”

               “It’s strange. I mean, I love music, and when I see people so excited and moved, it makes me feel good. It’s just, when they want to talk and act like I’m their best friend or discuss the ‘deeper meaning’ of music that I get annoyed.”

               “Oh…I think I understand that.”


               “Yeah, it’s like silence. People always feel the need to fill it rather than enjoying it.”

               “Like now?”

               “No. I mean… this is different, I mean…never mind.”

               “You seem different from most people. Everyone was there to have a good time or enjoy something, but you were escaping. You wanted to hide or runaway from something. I thought I’d say hi and see what happens, and I’m glad I did.”

               “I lost my job today.

               “Oh…That sucks.”

               “I just have a lot on my mind and…”

               “You know, I’m a firm believer in fate. You?”

               “Not really.”

               “Well, I think every one of us has a path, and sometimes those paths interconnect. We can try to fight it, but they always lead to the same destination.”

               “So, I lost my job because it was fate?”

               “Maybe. I didn’t say that you did.”

He chuckled, tossing the dead cigarette butt.

               “Why did you talk to me tonight?”


               “Yea, why?”

“I dunno…you seemed like you needed a friend.” I felt myself grow small.

“You realize you’re worth something, right?” The words caught me off guard. “I’m not good at this stuff, but…material things are only so much that makes up a person. The way you moved to the music tonight and the look in your eyes, there’s a part of you that’s not lost and knows what they want. I just…I see that, and I want to know it better.”

It was an awkward silence as he shrugged, stopping at a crosswalk. I felt the need to open up and talk, cry, do something. Yet, he was a stranger. I wanted to be alone when suddenly I felt his large hands on me.

               “You look cold.” His leather jacket lay on my shoulders as I wrapped it around me.

               “Thanks.” The smell of cigarette musk lingered around like a shield against the cold, and we walked on in silence.

                “This is going to sound crazy, but do you wanna hang out?” He looked at me with a massive grin.

                “Hang out how?”

                “Yes or no.”

                “I like this spontaneous you, but I’m down.”

                 “My place is around the corner.” A surge of uncertainty broke my confidence as I realized I just invited a stranger over. My mind swirled with thoughts of possible murder, drugging, kidnapping when his voice broke my trance.

                 “Hey! I live here too!”


                 “Yeah, the first floor, you?”


                “What are the odds, right?” The shock couldn’t explain the feeling of dismay I had as we climbed the stairs to my apartment. As I unlocked the door, my body felt tight, and panic was beginning to set in.

                 “You okay? You look a little…off?”

                 “Yeah, just nerves.”

My apartment wasn’t big, it was a small studio with little room for anything. It was clean, but my couch was still in bed mode with blankets and pillows tossed awry.

                “Sorry for the mess.” I rushed to clean up placing his jacket on the couch

                 “Mess? Where? This place is immaculate, OCD?”

                 “No, I just…I like it clean.”



He kicked off his sneakers and looked around.

                “You can use the couch. Drink? Water? Tea? I might have a soda.”

                “Tea is fine”

                “Okay, ill boil some water.” The panic was rushing into my limbs as I fumbled with the tea packets and pots as I made a mess.

                 “Cool! Can I play this?” He hovered over an old record player in the corner of the room.

                 “Sure, I don’t have many records, but…”

                “Ah this is a classic choice.” Carefully he placed the record and needle as the music filled the air. The sounds of Moonlight Sonata filled into the room.                      “This song always gets me.”

As the melody played, I felt a sea of calmness push the anxiety away.


                 “Yeah.” I fought to avoid looking at him as I waited for the water to boil.

                  “I don’t have much, but I do have ice cream if you’re hungry.” He didn’t respond, and I turned to him in a trance. His body gently swayed with the triplets adding emphasis on the melody’s beats.

                   “This song… its always played with something mysterious or sad, but to me, it’s more of a story than anything. I picture someone lost in darkness, struggling to find a way out but bumping into dangers and falling into despair.”

It was enchanting to watch as this lean man flowed like a snake seduced by a charmer. I felt lost in the music as I prepared the mugs.

                 “This second movement; it’s more like a dance between life and death. Almost like the person is deciding what to do in the despair. Like when you’re at a dead-end and everything seems hopeless. Something will call you. When it does, you have to decide; will I change, or will I stay.”

I watched as he danced around the small coffee table waltzing with his imagination. I finished the preparations of the tea. Its sassafras scent mixed with the music as he bowed at the end of the movement.

                “Then, the final movement.”

Passion in my eyes locked with mine.

               “It’s the struggle to live. When we decide that the pain and misery won’t hold us back. We have to fight and find meaning.”

Fiercely he put the mugs on the coffee table and pulled me close as we danced around the room. Spinning tightly, I leaned into him as he led us in dance from side to side. I closed my eyes and let the music guide us as we bounced and spun into a fantasy world of hope and life. My guide through the inferno as his cigarette musk along with the spinning of music in my head caused my heart to race.

I felt each beat and emphasis as we danced and spun, gently then fiercely back forth as if the struggle he spoke of was happening now. I felt waves of heat and emotion as everything rushed up. My past experiences, my failures, everything surfaced. Yet, his hold never loosened. Suddenly I swept up as we dipped and bounced, and I felt myself growing familiar with the steps and movements until finally, we collapsed onto the couch.

He held me tightly as I breathed into his puffing chest. Nothing was said as the profound understanding we felt sank in. Tears were flowing from my eyes as he stroked my hair, and slowly we drifted into sleep. The morning sun crept through the blinds tucking us in with its warm caress as his slowing heart played a new lullaby for the two of us.       


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