Near darkness. A smoky, stultifying, seemingly dimensionless space, filled with light strains of plucking strings. A raised dais containing two amorphous masked shapes. Behind the golden visage of one it was hard to discern an expression, the mere eyes betrayed a leering smile, dripping with smug malice. They darted through shades of self-amusement like a pianist’s fingers slipping through the octaves, lightly, nimbly with little thought to an audience. To its right sat a more revealing mask which only covered the nose and regions around the eyes and the full almond-shaped lips were almost feminine in their perfect sensuality.
A little further from these unlikely companions sat a truly feline apparition replete with silver ermine which completed the impression of predatory intent. A pearl-encrusted mask similarly allowed the lips full expression but, paradoxically they were thin and seemed to have been drawn on in the most cursory fashion by a thin scarlet pencil, attenuating even their corners. An elfin chin pointed downward to a pair of legs elongated such that they dominated the entire frame beneath the mask. The limbs shone in sequins as they flirted with a pair of towering high-heels, in silver cahoots with the clinging dress that rippled and flowed over calves, thighs, abdomen, subtle breasts and angular shoulders. One could neither discern whether the limbs were coiled to strike out or to assume control of the dance floor which glimmered like a dark pool in the moonlight.
More strange faces surrounded these three from the shadows, occasionally flashing a jewelled surface, burnished gold or silver, often only eyes would be illuminated but every once in a while lips or ears would be visible for an instant and then would vanish into the murky twilight. It was as if the Venetian nobility had stepped out of the pages of history to gather in some obscure watering hole in the middle of nowhere.
The whole tableau teetered on the brink of the abyss, creaking and groaning in agony, an affront to reality itself, a wart in the middle of a beautiful face. From the middle distance, the squabbling voices and surreptitious whispers carried to the ears, confused babbling, occasional barked commands issued forth unceasingly, carried on by a greedy energy that fed from soul to soul. All the while, a melancholic dance, syncopated and throbbing with the strings played upon the air above the voices, urging, cajoling, drawing the throng ever outward from their shadows. Couples would drift outward, approaching each other as if swimming desperately against a current, then swirling and grappling they would pull each other lower and lower until the opalescent surface claimed them – noiselessly. The absence of any expression of surprise might have seemed bizarre to the outsider, for the throng did not even acknowledge the disappearance of some of its members, so engrossed were they in their own inscrutable self-denial.
The timbre of the music changed, becoming more insistent, more strident, causing more couples to separate, flow towards the dark pool, mingle in their dance to oblivion. As more and more of the masked throng disappeared, the eyes behind the golden visage gleamed brighter, the almond lips curved upward perceptibly and the silver apparition seemed to pulse with an inner fire.
A lithe figure stole from the murky wings, sans mask, a teasing smile on his lips, the hint of open spaces in his audacious gait. There were few couples still twisting morbidly on the black mirror of the dance floor who soon made way for the anticipated magnetic contact of the silver-clad dancer and the new arrival. His tight-fitting suit was so black as to appear blue in the indistinct light in direct contrast to the ruddy tone of the skin stretched over his face. He matched his counterpart for height, leaning towards her as they finally touched like two gazelles engaging their horns; indeed, an inaudible ‘clack’ seemed to accompany the clasping of hands and collision of shoulders. The rhythm of their movement was both sensual and combative at the same time, undulating rotations were followed by contact that sent puffs of involuntary breath into the thick air. Inexorably the dark stranger toyed with his partner’s stamina, her cool demeanour unravelled, her limbs wobbled and she began to drop her sinuous arms. In a flash, he stripped off her mask, revealing the ethereal beauty of strong cheekbones, rich earth-coloured skin and even the thin lips seemed to have become more generous. A pair of almost-green eyes shone with the elation of discovery, the predatory posture softened, the space lightened visibly, the dark abyss began to close.
A primordial howl of outrage issued from the golden visage as he and his companion rushed towards their protégé, clutching at her dress. In a movement almost too fast to perceive, she shrugged off the grasping hands, flashed a pointed heel at each shadowy figure, sending them sprawling, clutching flushed faces, one of which had begun to bleed. The other, held his almond-shaped lips, now swelling and split in two places.
The two dancers joined again, more smoothly this time, undulated gracefully between the heaps of discarded masks that had just begun to glow amber in the first warm rays of the sun.