Instructions for Dancing

Instructions for Dancing

Nicola Yoon

The book of love is long and boring

No one can lift the damn thing

It’s full of charts and facts and figures

And instructions for dancing

But I

I love it when you read to me

And you

You can read me anything


Almost nobody gets out of love alive.



A Better Version of Me

BOOKS DON’T WORK their magic on me anymore. It used to be that if I was in a funk or in the barren hinterland between sad and mad, I could just pluck any random one from my favorites shelf and settle into my fuzzy pink chair for a good read. By chapter three—chapter four at the very latest—I’d be feeling better.

These days, though, the books are nothing but letters arranged into correctly spelled words, arranged into grammatically correct sentences and well-structured paragraphs and thematically cohesive chapters. They’re no longer magical and transporting.

In a past life I was a librarian, so my books are arranged by genre. Until I started giving them away, the Contemporary Romance section was the biggest. My favorite of all time is Cupcakes and Kisses. I pull it down from my shelf and flip through it, giving it one last shot to be magical. The best scene is when the no-nonsense head chef and the sexy, constantly brooding line cook with the mysterious past have a food fight in the kitchen. They both end up covered in flour and icing. There’s kissing and a lot of dessert-related wordplay:

Sugar lips.

Sweet buns.

Sticky situations.

Six months ago this scene would have made me gooey inside. (See what I did there?)

Now, though? Nothing.

And since the words haven’t changed from the last time I read them, I have to admit the problem isn’t the book.

The problem is me.

I close the book and stack it on top of the others I’m giving away. One last trip to the library tomorrow and all my romances will be gone.

Just as I start putting them in my backpack, Mom pokes her head into my room. Her eyes travel a circuit from my face, down to the tower of books, up to the four empty rows on my shelf, and then back to my face.

She frowns and looks like she wants to say something, but then she doesn’t. Instead, she stretches out her hand and pushes her phone toward me. “It’s your father,” she says.

I shake my head so hard my braids whip around my face.

She jabs the phone my way again. “Take it. Take it,” she mouths.

“No, no, no,” I mouth back.

I’ve never seen two mimes arguing, but I imagine it would look something like this.

She moves out of the doorway and all the way into my room. I have just enough space to dart around her, so I do. I sprint down our small hallway and lock myself in the bathroom.

Mom’s inevitable knock comes ten seconds later.

I open the door.

She looks at me and sighs.

I sigh back at her.

Most of our communication these days comes in the form of these small exhalations. Hers are Frustrated and Long Suffering and Exasperated and Impatient and Disappointed.

Mine are Confused.

“Yvette Antoinette Thomas,” she says. “How long are you going to keep this up?”

The answer to her question—and I think it’s a fair one—is forever.

Forever is how long I’m going to be angry at Dad.

Really, the better question is: Why isn’t she?

She slips the phone back into her apron pocket. There’s a dusting of flour on her forehead and some in her short Afro, making it look like she suddenly went gray.

“You giving away more books?” she asks.

I nod.

“You used to love them,” she says. The way she says it, you’d think I was setting them on fire instead of donating them to the library.

I meet her eyes. It feels like maybe we’re having a moment. If she’s willing to talk about me giving away my books, then maybe she’s willing to talk about something real, like Dad and the divorce and how things have been since.

“Mom—” I begin.

But she shifts her eyes from mine, wipes her hands down the front of her apron and interrupts me. “Danica and I are going to make brownies,” she says. “Come down and help us.”

The baking’s new. She started the day Dad moved out of our old house, and she hasn’t stopped since. If she’s not on shift at the hospital, she’s baking.

“I’m meeting Martin and Sophie and Cassidy tonight. We’re supposed to start planning our road trip.”

“You spend more time out of the house than in it these days,” she says.

I never know what to do when she says something like that. It’s not a question and not an accusation, but it has a little bit of both in it. Instead of answering, I stare at her apron. It reads Kiss the Cook and has a drawing of two enormous red lips smacking.

It’s true that I’m not home much these days. The thought of spending the next few hours baking with her and my sister, Danica, fills me not with despair exactly, but something close to it. Danica will be dressed perfectly for the occasion—a vintage-style apron with a matching chef’s hat that sits in the middle of her Afro poufs. She’ll talk about her latest boyfriend, who she is (very) excited about. Mom will tell gory emergency room stories and insist on playing reggae music, something old-school like Peter Tosh or Jimmy Cliff. Or—if Danica gets her way—they’ll play trip-hop while Danica documents the whole thing for social media. They’ll both pretend that everything is just completely okay with our family.

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