Completely Mental

For Anna - because, well, she can dance.

The music was Mozart and, though instrumental, was far too fast. I resisted the urge to get up and pace, an urge I have found to plague me strongly in the past few hours. It was really pathetic, I told myself, how worked up I was getting about something so simple. It wasn't as if there was anyone about to laugh at me. The things one does, I told myself, for research!


My heart froze in my chest. Irreproachably dressed, as if this were serious, he stood in the doorway, leaning a little on the frame to get the most of his weight off his legs. Good-naturedly he had protested the endeavour at first - the advancing cold made him ache - but I had been stupidly persistent and in the end he had given in. I wished now I had not been so forward.

I frowned. "You didn't tell me you were getting all dressed up for this," I said with a touch of irritation in my tone. "I can't possibly stand up in my jeans with you."

"I reserve my views on jeans," he said ominously. Then, with a little sideways twist of the shoulders, he added, "Your hair went up so nicely this morning, I thought it a shame to have you wrestle into your gown. I know you get so very mithered about that. Now, are you serious or aren't you?"

"I - hmm," I said intelligently, and kept my seat.

He held out his left hand imperiously. "Come along, Half-pint."

He had the way about him. I found it impossible to refuse. With a prodigious sigh I rose, my heart still uncomfortably where my throat should be; in three steps I was across the room. A moment later, with my eyes shut as though I were expecting it to sting a little - maybe I did - I put my hand in his. When he made no move, I cracked one eye open. That light, mocking smile of his that had more to do with his eyes than his mouth was flashing at me. "Honestly."

I pulled myself together. "Should I put on shoes for this?"

"I will try not to step on your toes."

Hand in hand, he led me into the next room where there was more area to move about. Pathetically I was shaking a little, from embarrassment and excitement. In reflection, I thought it perfect. She would be feeling much the same feelings herself, under her own circumstances. Thus far, research was going well.

If only I had thought to put on a gown.

My companion took his position and wrestled me gently into my own. The music from the other room was faint now; I only heard little snatches of it. For a moment the sheer, stark reality of the room jostled with my imagination: sofas refused to give way to polished mahogany tables and a piano; the carpet refused to give way to a polished ballroom floor. With grim determination I took a heavy intake of breath and conjured them up for all I was worth, afraid all the while that even the slightest movement of mine would shatter them.

My companion maneuvered my hand onto his arm and took a firm but gentle hold of me. We were ready. I felt him pause, as if listening to the beat in his own head. I kept my eyes fixed on his as if I were grasping a life-line. He counted silently, then suddenly broke off with a splutter, which was very unlike him.

"You look like a cornered rabbit. Relax. I can't dance across from a face like that. Just relax. Think of your feet making patterns in ink, the way your fingers do. With me, now."

And suddenly we were moving. I was half a heartbeat behind him, which made for an awkward beginning. He stepped forward - which foot was mine? - and I stepped backward just as he was gliding to the side. Hurriedly I caught up with him, still as stiff as a poker, my eyes instantly glued on our feet. I began to worry now that he would step on my feet. Unexpectedly he pulled me forward, to the side again, and even turned about in step. I always seemed that half-heartbeat behind; my stomach was beginning to knot.

"Look at me," he said. With a painful hesitation I tore my eyes from our feet. My gaze trembled on his own. "Look at me. Dancing to ink, Half-pint. This is what you do every day. It's just like that. Look at me. Let me guide you."

He was wearing his gloves, his black doeskin gloves, and for that I was thankful; my hands were growing rather sweaty with all this strain. But I cared. Hadn't I told Uncle Raymond that once? If I cared, I stuck to it. For all I felt like an idiot, I was going to stick to it. Obediently I kept my eyes on his, moved when he moved, stiffly, stupidly, my heart in my throat...and then I felt it. It was beginning to flow. Over and over, backward and forward, gliding and turning, backward and forward, gliding and turning. Like Ben-Hur and his horses, altogether one with the lives of themselves flowing in the reins, he and I somehow managed to grasp the genius of the dance. A smile cracked my pensive lips. Dancing to ink, he had said: patterns of ink. Oh, the sofas were gone. The carpet vanished. I was in a Lookinglass ballroom, in a gorgeous red gown, and everywhere there were lights and laughter and the clinking of glass on glass - and perhaps even, if I listened hard (though I did not have much leisure to), the accompaniment of music. I knew, in that annoying back part of my mind which had a way of hem-hemming reality at my elbow, that I was dancing truly horribly in a rather small enclosure, but somehow that did not matter at all. I had ink in my veins. I could feel it rushing through with the beat of my heart.

Dancing to ink. Patterns in ink.

Just at the right moment he stopped, giving me one last turn while the realness of the carpet flashed hot-red into my bare feet, and we stood apart, panting a little. The tables and glass and music were gone. It was just the living room now, oddly bleak after the colour of my imagination. But even now that did not matter either.

My companion gave a little philosophical sniff and pulled at the hem of his coat, adjusting it back into position. "Well, amphibious girl," he asked, "was the research satisfactory?"

"Yes," I gasped, hands on knees. "I think I have the pattern for the scene now. What I do for my stories! I'm completely mental."

"Don't flatter yourself." He wilted gracefully into a chair and leaned his head back against the wall. "We knew that already."

"Ppthbt," I said childishly.

12 ripostes:

  1. <3 So sweet, Jenny. I love that phrase: "Dancing to ink."

    And what we do for our writing, hmm? I cannot count the times I've wondered where I could get my hands on a real sword, just to see how it truly feels...

  2. Ah, swords. I have a few serviceable blades, one the length of my forearm, one twice as long again as that - not real swords, but serviceable nonetheless. Kiss, the longest one, is good enough for hacking, but the one the length of my forearm is more the sort of weapon you would use to kill Caesar. The realest thing we have is a bayonet which saw one of the World Wars (it escapes me which one) and while you might be able to cut butter with it, and not much else, it still sports a nasty point and grim, war-like defiance which my other blades, having not had their tongues whetted, do not have.

    How does it truly feel...? It is far from the subject of dancing. My blades are all built to my size and also made of steel, which is lighter than iron. It is perhaps a subject for another post entirely, but I can say fair certainly that swinging a long hunk of iron around all day would get pretty tiring. Otherwise, holding Kiss, my best blade, is like cradling something coldly alive and potentially deadly across your knees, and when you run the oiling cloth down the blade, you can almost imagine the singing sound of steel that it makes is the sound of its genius purring.

    What we do for our stories! What we make others do for us. It's a fun life.

  3. I can relate. :D I even know a writer who tried strangling himself to see how it felt -- of course he stopped before he died. ;)

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Ah yes. Doing something for the research for for stories. I think I have done it a time or two. till the realist part of me convinced myself it was silly and should be stopped before anyone saw it. That was simply beautiful!

  5. Tim must have got some genes I didn't if he can move at all gracefully in time to music.

  6. Haha, this was hilarious and beautiful at the same time! I don't know how to waltz or anything, but would love to learn someday, and I can imagine that it will be very awkward at first!

  7. I love waltzing. It's makes me feel so light and airy, almost fairy-like... Until I must maneuver one of those nasty six-step turns. Then everything goes awry and I trip over my feet.

    Anwway. Thank you for sharing this, Jenny. Beautiful, dear, and altogether real. That's what it is. Impeccably lovely. ^.^

  8. Oh my goodness; I feel so THICK! I've been wishing I could comment on your beautiful blog for months now, as it's one of my favorites - and I only just realized that I COULD if I clicked on the title of the post!!
    If I had known, I would have been commenting quite constantly! For everything unsaid, let me sum up: Your blog is beautiful, inspiring, amazing, and in my top five favorites EVER. Thank you so much for writing it.
    I especially enjoyed this excerpt :)
    ~ Mirriam

  9. Oh dear, Mirriam, I am sorry. I wish this template came with labels and date stamps and "please to comment" notices, but it doesn't appear to. Thank you for commenting now! You flatter me most undeservedly.

    Thank you, Katie! As always, you are an immense encouragement. Or your encouragements are always immense. You are of a normal size. The English language. The trouble you can get into with it.

    Thanks, peeps!

  10. I know I'm not commenting in a timely fashion, but I have read this - many times over - and it never fails to bring a grin to my face and a concurring "hum!" to my lips. I'm afraid my dancing skills have not been much tried in the ballroom setting; the only skills I have invested in are better suited for country-set dances. (I do like to waltz...) But I think those are the inkiest dances of all: whirling footstomping-revelries beside a blazing bonfire under a starry sky...

  11. Finals over at last, I have come back to writing and blogging at least a tiny bit, and I had to stop and say I loved this post. :D The dancing to ink idea was beautiful, and your character came so vibrantly to life so quickly! :) Your writing always inspires me. :D

  12. Thank you, Katherine Sophia! I'm glad you survived finals to enjoy my bit of inspirational scribble, and I'm glad that my scribbles are inspiring. It's Christmas Eve, so have a wonderful Christmas set free from the long tedium of school. (Did I ever mention that your name is quite lovely? It has such a nice ring to it. Katherine Sophia.)