You, Prom, a Dance by Kristine Langley Mahler

(an erasure essay)

A dance, a prom, a cotillion, a ball—one of the greatest puzzles.

You think it has everything solved, formal and accepted. Your dance, your beau, your school. You invited him to go with you. You make arrangements, chauffeur him in your car, suggest what to do after the dance—not his plans; plans proposed by you.

You give the boy a chance to take the lead. Is it all right to hint? If it’s for a prom? You know the boy could get you flowers. It’s easier, though, to pin it on yourself—safe, attached invisibly, anchorage—less apt to spear your need. You allow plenty of time to get the mechanics of fixing your hair, your dress is perfect (you think; you planned). You’re unspottable.

You arrive at the dance, but your date says no compliments.

You’re a mythical princess! A real live movie queen who owned a chunk of the world!

Your date should return the favor.

He’s a stranger to most of your friends. You long for a heart-to-heart. You’ve been temporary (he is from out of town); you are vanishing fast. Most women keep out of the corners and stalk other quarry.

The two of you have been with each other so long you feel a claustrophobia, but you don’t want to refuse just now—the custom has its obvious advantages. One obvious problem: a boy may abandon a girl. You sit this one out; you escape to the ladies’ room for repairs, a wallflowers’ refuge, a group of girls few have the courage to penetrate. You want to change partners, quietly disappear, crush duty.

(There have been vague rumblings of discontent through the evening)

The boy can’t dance. He’s hopeless. You walk off the floor, certain. He’s clumsy. Online, you have an assigned place—“Don’t interfere with it,” you repeat over and over (and know it, and everyone else will know it too).

Weapons are outstretched arms. They have no idea. They’re going to a parked car in the moonlight, so serious they look as if they couldn’t possibly be cheek-to-cheek. You can’t follow. He wants to go right home, a snake in a hole, but not you.





Source: Haupt, Enid A. “Chapter 8:When You Go to Proms and Dances.” The seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining, David McKay Company, 1963.



Kristine Langley Mahler‘s nonfiction received the 2016 Rafael Torch Award for Literary Nonfiction from Crab Orchard Review and has appeared/is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Quarter After Eight, New Delta Review, Sweet, Storm Cellar, Split Lip Magazine, Chautauqua, and elsewhere.



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