By Liz Prato
Snapping is what Mateo did, but he did it all through the air, fingers in front of his face and over his head and down by his crotch, and he did it real quiet. “Like butterflies,” he would say in the accent of chocolate or strong coffee or something else from South America.
Jane was the one who told me about his class. “It’s cool,” she said. “It’s a mixture of modern dance and Pilates and aerobics and Feldenkrais.”
“What’s Feldencrap?” I said. Jane was not amused. When she got really into anything—astrology, raw food, that self-help book with laws about attraction and weight loss and wealth—she was like an Evangelist: single minded and humorless.
But I went to the class anyway, because when you’re single or married (or something in between), you take classes, Winter Gardening and Malaysian Appetizers and Beginning Didgeridoo. What Jane didn’t tell me is that Mateo taught class bare-chested, and his skin was smooth and brown and hard and curved. Like that ceremonial effigy vase I saw in the ceramics exhibit last Spring. Come to think of it, that came from South America, too. Those terra cotta curves extended through Mateo’s arms, down his belly, past his belly (not that my eyes lingered there), into his long, long legs. He wore crimson pants made from fabric that clung and shimmered and draped and sang.
“He’s gay,” Jane whispered, and I said, “Really?” and she said, “Come on, look at him,” and I did look. Mateo floated his arms and his legs through space, in front and back and left and right and places in between. I did what Mateo did, tried to make my arms and legs float, but I was like a drunken tiger heron, aching to fly. “Inhale the moment,” he’d say in that accent, and he’d shimmy his bare brown chest.
When my hair slipped out of its ponytail, I didn’t reach up to shove strands back under the band, not even when it all came loose and the band fell to the floor. The thought I had when I first saw Mateo’s bare chest, Crap, I should’ve worn make-up, drifted off, my willow limbs waving it away. And when he had us do that quiet snapping thing, I said aloud, “It’s not like butterflies. It’s fireflies,” the tiny force that turns swamps into magic. If it wasn’t for my floating drunk through space like it was just mine, mine, he might not have picked up the hair band after class and said, “This is yours, no?”, fingers touching mine, and I might not have gone to his loft where walls and windows were draped with crimson that shimmered when we moved. His terra-cotta curves rolled over mine, his fingers above my head and to my sides and down by other places, too, like butterflies or fireflies, snapping.
Liz Prato plays with words in beautiful Portland, Oregon. Her prize-winning writing has appeared in several publications, including Iron Horse Literary Review, Subtropics, Juked, Cream City Review, ZYZZYVA and Who’s Your Mama (Soft Skull Press). She teaches at the Attic Writers’ Workshop, and has recently completed a novel about grief, art, sexual identity and the cosmos.