No Shame in Rooms Like That

No Shame in Rooms Like That by David Ebenbach

I let that pass, and once we’d all settled in I asked Monique about her work—it turned out she did something with business licensing—and I in turn told her about working in IT, which went over about the way it usually does when you talk to people who aren’t in IT.

“My computer’s always going down,” she said. “They can’t do anything with it.”

I almost asked a question or two to start the diagnosis, but I was off-duty, and I didn’t think she really wanted to get into it, anyway. I understand that.

Pretty soon the ladies took over and the conversation turned to belly dancing. They talked a bit about the other women in the class, from how skinny some of the white women were—“bony” was the word they used—to how beautiful and tough the teacher was, to how hard it was to move and hold a fan at the same time. I hadn’t even known that there were fans involved; Tawnya must have hidden hers back in the bedroom somewhere for her private practice sessions. Anyway, Monique was the first to mention the show.

“I don’t know how we’re going to be ready in time,” she said.

“Ready for what?” I said.

Darren turned to me again. “You don’t know about the show?”

“The show?”

“They do it every year,” he said, drinking some of his wine down. “About a thousand women belly dancing for an evening.”

“The shows are beautiful,” Monique said. “And it feels so good to be up there.”

I turned to her. “I thought you were in the first beginner class. You’ve been in shows before?”

Darren chuckled a little. “She’s in the beginner class every year, Hubert,” he said.

I looked at Monique and found I could barely stand the expression on her face—wounded, like a person who’d been wounded before and has come to expect it but still hopes for something different. I looked away quickly to Tawnya. “You didn’t tell me about this,” I said.

She cocked her head. “You say that like I’ve been keeping bad news from you.”

“No—I didn’t mean that,” I said. She was angry at Darren, not me. “I just mean you didn’t tell me.”

“Well, I was going to. It’s a month away, still. A little more than a month.” She crossed her fingers and held them up in front of her like she was warding off evil.

“Well,” I said. “That’s really something.” I went back to the food on my plate and let the ladies take hold of the conversation again.

On the way home in the car, I said, “How come you didn’t tell me about the show?”

“I don’t know,” she said, looking out the passenger window at the dark street. “I guess I just feel funny about the whole thing.”

“But you’re going to be in the show?”

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David Ebenbach is the author of several books, including two short story collections—Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House) and Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press)—and a guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books); he teaches Creative Writing at Georgetown University. Find out more at