"Indifferent Strangers" by Chris Wolff

The first thing I saw of him was his shirt. It was an indigo short-sleeve button-up shirt with a white feathery pattern, its jagged stripes glowing against the dimness of the room, blocking my view of the crowded dance floor.

He said, “Do you want to dance?” and I had to lean back and turn my head upwards to see his face. He was towering over me, a black ’stache and goatee lining his mouth. Sweat drops shimmered on his cheeks. A single silver stud blinked in his right earlobe.

I hesitated. It was a hot Saturday night at the end of August. Vancouver's Pride weekend was in full swing. We were surrounded by people dancing as if their life depended on it, bodies moving hard to soft electronic sounds. I had come here alone. The Cobalt was a bit of an unusual spot for a Pride event, its rough northern Main Street location near the railway terminal being far away from the rainbow sidewalks and neon glare of Davie Street, but that's why I had picked it. No one I knew would be here. I wanted to disappear in a crowd tonight, not talking, not thinking, feeling safe among the indifference of strangers.

He bent his tall figure down to me. “What's your name?” I had to scream the answer against the music. I didn't bother to correct him when he heard it wrong, and nodded instead when he questioningly repeated it. He told me his name was Dusty. Again he asked, “Do you want to dance?” Dusty's drunkenness was radiating off him like a damp wave. But I said “OK.” 

We danced to the longing sounds of Bronski Beat, surrounded by gay boys and queer girls lost in dreams and embraces. Dusty kept yelling questions at me: “So where’re you from? Do you go to school here? Are you single?” I yelled back: “Here. No. Yes.” I was completely mystified as to why he bothered to ask in the first place. Dusty was a lot younger than me, and he was handsome in such an obvious way. I wanted to ask him why he didn't talk to one of the boys instead of talking to me.

Dusty kept smiling at me and grabbed my hands, swinging my arms around to the music. He asked, “Do you see any cute girls around the club?” I shrugged. I was just here to dance, I told him. He nodded, a blissful smile spreading on his face.

At some point Dusty dragged me toward the lit-up main stage of the club. A small group was dancing there, people he seemed to know. He introduced me as his friend, and the others gave me puzzled smiles. I smiled back apologetically. Dusty started dancing with a dark-eyed bearded guy. I saw him grinding against the other man, and thought that he would move away from me now. But after a few minutes, he turned around and came back to me. He said again, “Are there any cute girls in the club? You can totally go dance with a cute girl if you see one.” But then he also said, “You're my dance partner for tonight. I think you're cute as hell.” I found that hard to believe, coming from him, but I also felt a sense of validation I couldn't remember ever feeling before.

Dusty told me he was going to get us some water. Watching him disappear into the crowd, I felt a sadness in my chest—a sadness at his youth, at his kindness that didn't seem to be the result of being drunk and lonely, but a genuine part of who he was. And yet I somehow knew he wouldn't remember me the next day.

He came back with a small paper cup of water. He passed it to me and said, “My ex will be here soon.” Then he disappeared again. I looked at the tiny lighted quadrangle of my phone. It wasn't that late. But I decided to leave, starting to feel the tiredness that sets in when you stop the flow of endless dancing and come back into real time.

When I walked toward the exit, Dusty suddenly reappeared. From the look on his face I could tell that he had been looking for me. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, “My ex wants me to go home.”

“It was so lovely to meet you,” he said. Still he called me by the name he thought I had given him, and still I didn't correct him. Dusty hugged me tightly, his sweaty shirt clinging to my body. One last glimpse of the blinking stud in his ear. Then he was gone.

Outside, the sweltering summer night had cooled down. The street lights were blinding bright after the pitch black of the club. People were staggering out of The Cobalt and into waiting cabs. I started walking toward the bus station. Months later, I would look back on our encounter and know that Dusty had been the first to understand—the first to see the boy inside the girl, slowly pushing from the deepest corners of my body to the surface. But that night, it seemed he was just being sweet to a lonely face in the crowd, for a while, until we both went back to our separate lives.

Christopher (Chris) Wolff was born in Germany and currently lives in Port Moody, BC. He has tried every job from book editor to garbage man, but writing seems to be the only work that's torturous enough for him—besides fighting homophobes and transphobes on the internet.

Chris’s blog is https://christopherandhiskind.wordpress.com.