Originally Published on “Necrology Shorts.”
Her feet knew the steps and fell into the light and graceful pattern easily. Her little satin shoes carried her across the polished floor, their pink roses peering from under her pink and lavender skirts. They swam through the waves of music that broke across the spinning couples.
Still, her heart was even lighter than her steps. Everyone noticed her bright eyes and brilliant smile. Effervescent, her delight was contagious. The other couples smiled as she danced past, in the arms of a young man she didn’t seem to see.
The young girl’s partner believed that he understood the reason for her delight, but he was wrong.
The blow struck across his face. He tasted the metallic, copper flavor of blood as he hit the ground. He spat into the dirt floor and drug himself up onto his elbows. Fighting for breath, he worked to pull the dark room before him into focus.
He did not want to hurt the man in front of him. Leaping to his feet, he made a bolt for the door and the man lunged after him. He caught Michael around the legs, and together they fell against a rack of tools.
A heavy piece of equipment fell off the wall and landed against his assailant’s shoulders. The cry still in his ears, he made another break for freedom.
Freedom was the only thing Lucy could think about. Her partner had requested the next waltz for her. It was a melody by Strauss, one of her favorites. He had done it especially for her, to please her. The realization of this merely irritated her, interrupting her bliss.
He tried to kiss her, but she spun into the next step. She knew what he expected from her, but that didn’t matter anymore.
Soon she would be gone from here forever, and none of this would matter.
Michael spun to avoid the next blow. On his back now, he dug the heel of his boot into his attacker’s abdomen and flipped over, scrambling for the way out on all fours. He screamed as the attacker grabbed his ankle, pulling his leg from under him and he was sprawled out onto the dirt floor.
He felt the blow as the handle of a shovel was brought down across the back of his ribs. There was a crack, and the cold breath he sucked in through his teeth sent white hot sparks of pain down his side.
Lucy’s breath was beginning to come harder and faster as she kept dancing to the music. Noticing she needed a rest, her partner guided her to a seat and went to get her some punch. While she waited, her thoughts wandered.
She began to wonder if she would even feel married, what with only eloping and not having a proper wedding. Ever since she was a little girl she always thought she’d have a big wedding in a church. The white dress, the organ playing, her brothers in attendance; would she even feel married without these things?
Still, she told herself, her new life with Michael was worth more than a day in the limelight.
Michael swung the pitchfork handle and felt it connect with the man’s shoulder. He didn’t want to hurt him. He didn’t. Yet, all reasoning was gone. Growling in pain, the man lunged low, under the weapon and his shoulder connected with Michael’s gut. He dropped the fork and choked as his shoulders and the back of his head connected with the wall behind him.
Lucy heard an old maid whisper about how in love she was with her partner and how she’d never seen a young lady’s eyes glow while dancing like that. It made her laugh. She was in love, but not with him.
Her thoughts drifted to what Michael must be doing now. It would be time for her to leave the dance soon, time for them to be together. Her thoughts turned to freedom and her feet flew.
When she saw her partner speaking to her father and two of her brothers, she knew what it was about. Their expressions were so serious. Her dance partner even looked anxious. Her father smiled a dry smile, and pressed his hand against his shoulder.
The men looked pleased and shook each other’s hands. She knew that an agreement had been made and accepted. Under different circumstances, she would be horrified at the prospect. But now, it just didn’t matter anymore. Tomorrow, she would be miles away and none of them would be able to touch her.
She wondered briefly where her oldest brother was.
The man’s hands closed around Michael’s throat. He could feel the man’s skin tear under his fingernails as he clawed, but his grip remained. The breath stuck at his closing windpipe.
Michael was seeing red. Spots danced before his eyes as he choked. The back of his neck was warm and wet, and the world was dancing before him. The other man’s face was in front of him. He could smell sweat and blood and the gin on his breath. His hands finally sank to his sides.
In his last moment of consciousness, he felt his fingers grip around something. As he realized what it was, he smiled.
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw them talking. They wouldn’t notice her leaving now. As she opened the door and the rush of winter air touched her bare shoulders, she felt like a kite whose string had escaped the sticky hands of a child. Goosebumps rose on Lucy’s arms as she ran down the carriage path, but she didn’t mind them. She rubbed her little white hands against the exposed skin. Snowflakes hit her like little pin pricks, but she just laughed at them.
It was a long walk. She and Michael didn’t dare risk hiring a carriage for their flight, so they’d have to reach the train station by foot. She desperately hoped he’d be there when she arrived at the churchyard.
Cold began to tear at her, but her heart stayed light. It was as though she could see him, waiting for her. She imagined him taking off his coat and wrapping it around her. She imagined walking with him, his arm keeping her warm.
Time wore on and she shuddered in the cold. The church bell tolled, and she knew the wait was too long. She told herself that any number of things could have detained him, and that there was no reason to worry. She tried to smile and remind herself of the new life she was headed for. Humming a wedding march, she leaned against an oak tree, trying to shelter from the wind.
“He’ll be here.” Exhaustion began to take her, and she closed her eyes, resting her head against the tree trunk. She imagined his touch, his embrace, his kiss, and began to feel warm.
“Please forgive me, dear lady, for keeping you waiting.” She couldn’t see for a moment. The fog was thick, and it diffused the light into a dull gray pallor that washed out the surroundings.
“Oh, you did give me a fright. Why, what’s the matter? You seem so strange.” Michael’s face was before her.
“It’s nothing, nothing at all.” He extended his hand and helped her to her feet.
“Are you very cold?” He put his arm around her.
“Not now. Not one bit.”