By Nikita Lysyuk
He watches as she glides her way through civil conversations and the carefully curated smiles of the crowd; subtle movements of a swaying, two step tango and the afterglow of cigarettes and whiskey, mingling. She plays them with proximity, holds the gaze a little longer, leans in: softly; almost touching, breathing in each other’s– firmly stops them at the waistline. Curtsies, curtly. She’s careless; flippant, and the ladies blush or sigh – the women hide a stony gaze. As wine glass follows wine glass back through heavy wooden doors and clocks count down the thinning crowd, the two remain, unchaperoned.
And so, after the ball, only the hall divides them. The chairs are stacked to slowing music and windows let the night air in. He pulls a chair up, she accepts. She kicks her shoes off and her feet stretch out to gently lie upon his legs. His hand pulls up a silver lighter and a pocket case. Two cigars flicker, bursting into life.
“You haven’t left this seat all night.”
He exhales slowly, smiles slightly.
“Would he approve you doing that?”
“Don’t be cruel.” And then, “The king is…occupied.”
He laughs. “With what? Another hunt? The beasts have fled. There are no dragons anymore.”
“You’re quiet. I apologise.”
She looks at him, then slowly turns away. They drift into the middle distance, float in white noise on a vacant floor.
With time, she asks him if the story’s true – the one about the slippers and the ball. He stubs out his cigar and asks her if she really wants to know, because the truth is far less beautiful a story. She says the truth is beauty at its purest.
“There never was a magic ball. They chose her on the back of what we stood to gain.”
“And what was that?”
“The classics. Money, power…” fame, a name. She understands him far too well. And as he speaks, she hears his voice – a hidden steel not wrought nor wielded, and distance in his weary eyes. “The slippers fit a hundred people…” that he had neither met nor seen nor heard, a list conjured never by magic, but by word. Why does the rhythm seem familiar? “…my tracks laid out before me, heedless…” needless of an interjection, he goes on.
The conversation strays from politics to wine, he asks her what she dreams of – what she wants and how she’d get there, and somehow in naivety they find…a sort of refuge. They laugh into each other’s eyes, slip off their rings.
But as the music swells to fill the empty halls and stokes the coal fed fires, and as they come together they do not think of quiet master bedrooms languishing on upper floors. They simply dance; her head against his chest, even after all the music fades and feet are sore, and smile at the midnight chimes.