Safety Dance


She woke with a hankering for good, local beer in an ice-cold glass. And, although she couldn’t quite explain it, she had a feeling the opportunity for one would present itself soon.

Still, not one to leave such things to chance, she stopped at the corner market to grab a Kettlehouse Pale Ale, making sure to get her husband an iced tea lemonade for good measure.

And a “share” sized peanut M&M’s she wasn’t yet sure if she intended on sharing.

When she pulled into the hotel parking lot and saw her husband’s truck conspicuously absent, she knew something was amiss.

That’s when her phone rang: flat tire… should be a quick fix… maybe 20 minutes?

She didn’t know much about cars, but she did know that nothing is ever a quick fix.

But losing hope seemed like betrayal, so she dutifully removed both car seats, stacking them in the front passenger seat and laying down the backseats to make room for two paddle boards.

She stood back to admire her work. This was all she’d wanted to do all summer. Paddle boarding the Clark Fork River was one of her all-time favorite seasonal activities. It was the one thing that made living in Montana worthwhile for her.

And this summer, which had thus far been unseasonably cold and disappointing, left her in desperate need of something to make her fall back in love with this place.

She struggled to collect her thoughts for a minute, absorbing the mind-melting heat articulating off the dusty blacktop. Glancing at her phone, she registered that it was 11:45am.

A reasonable time to have a beer, she thought, thanking God her husband had chosen a hotel parking lot as their rendezvous point.

Thirty minutes later, she had polished off a Beltian White (in an ice-cold glass) at the outdoor bar and was seizing her moment to score a recently vacated four-top table just next to the balcony drop-off.

Beneath the shade of an over-sized blue umbrella, she watched the Clark Fork meander by, carrying inner tubers and paddle boarders who hadn’t had the distinct misfortune of morning car trouble.

With her wallet safely stowed in her husband’s car at the repair shop, she was left with no way to pay… so, she ordered a pale ale and called in reinforcements.

Within 15 minutes, she was joined by a friend and – surprisingly – also her husband, and all decided to order lunch. They carried on about the day’s unexpected trajectory, the chutzpah (they can only assume) it takes to run a wild animal sanctuary while also raising kids, and the meaning of the red and white “freedom” tattoo on their waitress’ lower leg.

The afternoon wasted away.

Soon, the friend departed for a waxing appointment, leaving nothing to do but pay the remaining portion of the bill and wander down to stick her toes in the water before scooping the kids at daycare.

Together, she and her husband traversed the rocky hill down to the river. Noticing a nearby unsupervised youngster struggling to reel in a fish, her husband wandered off to help.

She adjusted her sunglasses, taking in the scene: her husband, the boy, the wiggling fish, the dark silhouettes of teens lining the nearby bridge, each summoning the courage to jump into the icy water below.

Taking a deep breath, she held it in. Slowly releasing the air from her lungs, she discarded her sunglasses onto a boulder, along with her shorts and hat. She worked the elastic out of her hair as she waded deeper and deeper into the water.

When it reached her waist, she took in another breath. Dropping her legs beneath her, she plunged into the shocking cold, her chest heaving sharply as she reemerged.

She sat on a rock to dry while she watched her husband repeat the same ritual. Then, the two made their way back up to a silver truck sporting a spare tire.

“Wait a second,” she said, digging through her bag in the backseat. She reappeared with a small, yellow packet. Ripping a corner of the paper, she dumped out a few colored balls of chocolate and held out the package to her husband.

A car cruised by blasting “Safety Dance,” and the two broke into robotic movements before parting ways.

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