by Ruth Brandt
A breeze of music rippled through the dancers, swaying their heads together and apart, like ears of grass colliding and parting. The bonfire at the centre of the party reddened faces and elbows, calves and bare feet, as the dancers twisted and turned in its warmth. Marie-Anne bent and weaved with the others, observing Tom and Sian dancing into and out of each other, hands carelessly sweeping over each other’s arms and back, hip brushing against groin. The cocktails couldn’t be blamed for the intimacy they displayed, only for the unintended public disclosure of something that had not had the space to mature.
Marie-Anne sipped her pina colada and watched. How long? she wondered. Where? When?
Sian bent her mouth towards Tom’s ear. He laughed, then stepped back, his glance towards Marie-Anne giving away his sudden recollection of her presence. And as Marie-Anne watched his shoulders and chest illuminated by the fire she remembered them above her that morning with sweat beads forming as he lowered his face to hers and said:
“I still fancy you, you know.”
And even as her body pulled his further into hers, she had thought, where’s the but?
Sian was dancing with someone else now, a man Marie-Anne didn’t recognise, her hands moving in the same way they had over Tom, her hips tempting and teasing, but Marie-Anne knew that the pretence was to remedy the mistake Sian had failed too late to realise she had made.
Marie-Anne’s glass was empty, finished too quickly. Adrenaline chased the alcohol through her veins and she staggered unintentionally.
“Fuck,” she said.
Someone tossed a new log onto the fire and red sparks surged up with the smoke and Tom had disappeared, spirited away in a magician’s flash. Marie-Anne searched the silhouettes for Sian, spotting her at the edge facing someone who stood in the darkness beyond the firelight. She dropped her glass and put her hands over her eyes. The Fratellis, hisses and cracks from the fire, a laugh, a high voice, the drone of a car in a different dimension.
“Hey, not dancing, Marie-Anne?”
Tom held out a drink to her. She took it, behaving normally because she didn’t know what else to do.
“Come on.” He took her free hand and pulled her towards the dancers, ignoring his glass which tipped rum onto the sand as they made their way towards the warmth of the fire. They stopped and, as he merged in with those dancing around him, she watched his face, his calculatedly carefree smile, his eyes everywhere apart from on her, or Sian. He knew that she knew. Tonight he was styling it out. Tomorrow he would say she had been drunk, or she had imagined it, or she had simply been mistaken.
Marie-Anne allowed the beat of the music to numb her and, focusing on riffs and lyrics, she started to dance. Someone behind nudged into her. A woman at the edge of the circle crumpled to the ground, pulling down a man next to her and they lay together, the firelight occasionally picking out body parts. Tom danced around her, strutting up to her, peeling back, circling her, a peacock beginning the long seduction of his mate. And Marie-Anne responded to his love dance by preening herself and touching hip to groin, just as Sian had done, not knowing whether she was trying to win him back, or whether she was demonstrating just what he was going to be missing. And with all her attention on him, Tom relaxed and cavorted, ruffled his feathers and displayed his arrogant beauty; the cock with two hens.
The music banged out into the chill air and, as the last beams of daylight dulled to black, bodies drew closer to the heat so that everyone’s movements met, forcing them into synchronicity. Away to her right Marie-Anne glimpsed Sian lying on her side, hands together under her cheek like a child who has fallen asleep, perhaps waiting for the drink to finish Marie-Anne off so she could reclaim the man.
Later, when the fire had died down and they were back in their room, Tom would kiss and caress, murmur and groan, and maybe he’d say, “I still fancy you, you know.” Only this time Marie-Anne would know that the but was stuck in his conscience. For now though, all she could do was to dance and dance until she had danced herself to the end of her love. For only when she loved him no more, would she be able to make her decision.
Ruth Brandt‘s writing has been published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, Volume 4, Litro magazine and elsewhere online. She is a Bristolian living in Surrey.