He had looked at them perhaps too much; had given himself away. Two of them had started occasionally looking back, and he realised it would go no further than that.

Beside him, his father talked seriously and respectably to his elder brother. For a while now him and his brother had entered into a pattern; one at either side – guards, supports, separated. He wondered if either of them had noticed, hoped that they had not. They continued to plan, shouting above the din of the music – gypsy rhythms that made corners of the café feel darker in the warm night air.

Half lit faces, limbs, hands, and bodies seemed disconnected, dancing in incandescent light – candle bulbs dirty and yellow.

Ever since the divorce his father and brother had seemed like conspirators. They talked with their heads together in low serious tones, eyes wandering, never meeting, except by accident. They had found a common and un-painful ground in discussing the practicalities of the every day. Their holiday so far had been meticulously co-ordinated. Their common ground, so transparent, made him sick. He was younger, less practical, less responsible, excluded.

Had they been looking at him or his brother? They talked together again, three of them beautiful one of them less so, but lively. Close. Their group had none of the fragility of his own.

They laughed openly, fully - eyes not hollowed and strained. He could imagine what it felt like to be with others who wanted to know your mind, your thoughts; others who wanted to let part of themselves become you - in make believe, but what did that matter? His brother, his father, himself were all frightened of each others thoughts, of each others words.

The noise enveloped him, as it had on the street, in the market, in the restaurant, but louder, heavier. It allowed him to remain silent. He felt nauseous and wanted to escape, the sensation reminding him of a swimming pool years ago, before he could swim - a splash, then sinking through the water quicker than he thought he would. Clawing at the water, unaware of which way the surface was, then a hand reaching in and gently lifting him out.

The lively one was dancing, twirling her wrists and stepping back and forth, her hips moving slightly to the music with forced confidence. She motioned to her friends who laughed; one stood and joined her.

He smiled and let his head sag, with arms crossed, nodding lightly to the music, letting himself become immersed. No thoughts, just a rhythm, fast, mercilessly fast, and unyielding. His brother and father to his left, now also nodding to the music. He smiled again. A new common ground, more painful.

Time passed and they drank beer, his father and brother occasionally commenting to one another in nervousness and irrelevance with eager and timid smiles. A tall dark haired man stood and danced next to her, with her. He looked away from her and looked back. The dark haired man was confident; none of her forced confidence. She remained nervous until the dark haired man was distracted by someone else - a friend.

They were all dancing now, all four of them. The music had become faster, louder. Bodies knocked against chairs, tables, glasses of beer, and each other. Limbs fought for space, smiles no longer self conscious, half conscious, half hidden, half light. She was looking at him now. Her gaze was unhidden and open.

As he watched she had moved over to him, motioned to grab him, beckoned him to stand. He stood, aware of their eyes watching him and his own nervous smile. They too smiled encouragingly - for the first time he realised that they were older. He danced, watching the movements of others; trying to imitate them, knowing that he could not, that he did not know how, that his smile was still nervous.

His father and brother had joined them - they too beckoned by the same gesture and the same girl. At times his father and brother were there, at times they were not. At times they were all alone, dancing.

Her friends danced, then sat, then danced again. At times she leaned over the table to speak to her friends, and sometimes they laughed. Sometimes they looked at his father, his brother, himself, and laughed. She danced with his father and laughed at and enjoyed the awkwardness. She danced with his brother too.

Later his father began to look tired and troubled, as the excitement ebbed away, and behind a strained smile lay hollow eyes. His brother talked enthusiastically with one of her friends. His brother had forgotten.

The music stopped and amidst a rising murmur of voices, amidst the room becoming its self, amidst the awkwardness of the world returning, with drunken slurred speech, she asked them where they were going next. For the first time that night, despite the comfortable way in which she observed his young nervousness, his clumsy gestures - amidst her drunkenness - he found his even footing. She knocked a chair on the way out, and smiled, bleary eyed, as he moved it aside.



© Colin Legge