Part Eight

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After two days he paid a surprise visit to her music rehearsal, which he rightly guessed could be found with his ears. He brought two pieces of hard-shelled candy from the market, which the seller had salvaged from the careless big folk.

The creek's rippling sheen mirrored the indigo moon in the third hour of the evening.

Would she run to him, he wondered? Would the surprise send her mouth into laughter and her body into his arms? Their lips would meet. They would become real. Bliss.

The tinkling of piano keys, roused to dissonance under amateur fingers, led him through the glen. He found a hill covered in clover with a kaleidoscope of tulips at its crest. He climbed the hill in anticipation, eagerly lifting his head over the border of tulips.

He stood aghast. Had he discovered a secret tribute to Bacchus? The seizure-like abandon of the crowd frightened him more than a little. He quickly hid from the absence of decorum and knelt among nearby stalks of fungi. The crowd's chant flowed 'round the alcove created by the tulips, like airborne syrup, and despite himself he found his hips moving in time with the alluring cadence.

To his right: a line of thimbles overflowing with punch tended by a tipsy waif, emptying two for every one served.

To his left: rows of beeswax candles, cut in half, hollowed out, and used as troughs for raw honey, refilled from bottlecaps by a guilty attendant dipping fingers into the sweet channel again and again.

His gaze scanned the thrash of limbs and the pounding of percussive stone. Was his lady-love a participant in this coarse display? Perhaps she wasn't even here.

Yes, yes she was. At the very center.

Dancers paraded with hands high in the air, orange thread tied to fingers, strips of fabric wafting in the wake of gyrations. Others shimmied with crooked, false-arms strapped to their chests. Those with ribbons leapt into the arms of these, and their catcher scrambled off with them. Writhing in their clutches, the dancers feigned fear with mournful moans and sorrowful sighs.

He watched the grotesque pattern with confusion and dread.

The piano player threw his head back. She pranced over to him, swift and lithe. Tossing her arms over those broad shoulders, she started to sing.

Come to me, my little one

Come to me, oh what fun!

My silken thread

Around you weave

Round and round

Never leave!

Come to me, my tasty one

Come to me, and you are done

From my eyes

No reprieve

Round and round

Never leave!

Come to me, my naughty one

Come to me, my web is spun

Your empty life

Shall I thieve

Round and round

Never leave! Never leave!

Never never, Never leave!

He could only gape as she jumped atop the piano and swayed.

The crowd frolicked in fits, drunk on her harmony. They controlled her, or she them. The display was symbiotic.

Then he didn't admit it-- but now, suspended with only a moment or two keeping him from eternity-- he confessed.

Yes, jealousy had furrowed his brow. Yes, envy had pouted his lips. Who were these crude characters spurning her to flirtatious play?

The music became more frenetic, and the gathered celebrants hissed and sighed, their performance bouncing between discontent and pleasure. They spun into a more aggressive choreography. Eight dancers encircled the piano. In time with the crescendo of rhythmic ecstasy, they each shot a silky ribbon high into the air, up and away from the piano. She threw her arms skyward. The arc of color briefly resembled a web. She chanted, but what he did not know.

He could stand no more. He stepped out from behind the fungi.

The stones fell silent. The piano hit an off key.

An uneasy quiet coursed through the revelers. They turned and glared at him, the invader.

She looked down on him from atop the piano.

"Him!" someone shouted. "It's him!"

The group lurched as one.

"Stop!" she shouted.

They froze. The group spread out, forming a gutter between him and her. She jumped off the piano, crouched for a moment in silence, then rose up-- Her red and black robes trailed behind her, swaying in the air, undulating of their own volition.

She nearly floated to him.

She passed through the murmuring crowd and alighted uneasily at its edge, as if she might be swallowed back inside.

"This is not the one!" She called to the group in a voice he did not recognize. She turned to him and whispered, "What are you doing here?"

His prepared challenge deflated.

"Just-- wanted to say hi," he answered, gobbling the tender meats of his jealousy. He saved his envy for later. "So-- hi," he waved. "And uhm-- is this--" He indicated the collective glare. "Well, who are they?"

"Friends," she answered.

He nodded.

She looked over her shoulder and back again. "I should really--" She squared her back to the crowd. "It might be best if you--"

He understood. Aborted sentences would continue to seed-- their unsprouted suggestions all the same.

"I should go," he mumbled, backing away.

She looked at the ground, at two hard-shelled candies. One had her name written on it. The other, his. She looked up again, just as he disappeared back into the tulips.

"Goodbye," she said.

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