Dancing to a Different Drummer
by Kerry Buchanan
The beat faltered and stuttered. Ba boom, ba.. ba… ba boom.
Her partner guided her round the room, her feet keeping perfect rhythm, silks floating about her in a powder-blue cloud. The beat faltered again and her feet faltered with it, almost tripping her up.
A frown marred the prince’s handsome face.
“You are not perfect, as I was led to believe,” he said, a coldness to his voice. And as quickly as that, he left her, deserted at the edge of the dancefloor. Fear clouded her eyes and panic ate away at her composure.
Ba… ba…ba…ba boom ba boom.
The rhythm began to collapse, a faintness chilling her skin. She staggered and put out a hand to stop herself falling. It gripped the edge of something cold and hard.
In a dream, she looked down to see a large drum. Behind the instrument stood a tall man with blue eyes and a symmetrical face, his mouth set in a half-smile that could never change.
She recognised one of her own kind, an automaton created for the pleasure of mankind, to be used and abandoned as the whim took them. She sent him a mute appeal.
So slowly she thought she had imagined it, his head tilted in a nod. One hand came up over the edge of the kettle drum to grasp the wooden drumsticks set there. His eyes stayed fixed on her face, holding her. She heard the unspoken reply and held on, refusing to let herself sag into an ungainly heap on the floor, a puppet with its strings cut.
The stick came down onto the skin with a reverberating boom that kicked off an answering reflex in her chest. The orchestra faltered in the Viennese waltz, the unexpected percussion distracting them, but then they picked up their beat again, so quickly the dancers barely noticed.
The drummer raised his other hand and brought it down on the drum.
Again the orchestra faltered, but this time they picked up again even more smoothly, playing louder and a little faster in their confusion.
Her heart reacted and joined in the rhythm, the clockwork answering the call of the drum – ba boom. Colour began to come back to her cheeks.
He picked up the pace and this time there was no ignoring the interruption. The orchestra trailed off into a discordant noise and the dancers bumped into one another, grinding to an ungraceful stop. Silence crept over the great hall.
“What has happened? Why has the music stopped?”
Then it came again, resounding in the silence.
Boom boom ba boom boom ba boom boom….
As the tempo gathered pace, a pale beauty stepped out onto the floor, her blue silks swaying as she walked, head held high, eyes sparkling. Without knowing what they did the dancers moved back to give her space, whispering.
“Who is she?”
The beat found an echo in her heart and her feet took up the dance, carrying her as light as thistledown, swirling around an invisible partner, her poise and grace the envy of every woman there.
On the grand staircase, the prince stopped and looked back. Far below him her perfect form continued the dance as though he still held her waist, her hand raised as if to grip his own gloved fingers. His breath caught in his throat and he took a step toward her.
The conductor of the orchestra had been too shocked to move for a moment, but now he left his podium and made his way through the ranks of violins and violas towards the percussion section, brows drawn down in fury.
As the girl whirled and spun, the drummer had eyes only for her. So consumed by the rhythm, he had no attention to spare for his surroundings, so when the sticks were snatched from his hands he continued going through the motions for the next few beats.
In the centre of the dancefloor the girl stumbled and stopped, arms still extended, face frozen in despair. On the stairs, the prince waited to see what would happen next.
Before the other dancers had time to move, the snare drum picked up the beat, followed in a heartbeat by the bass drum. The conductor turned to glare, a vein throbbing in his neck. He dropped the sticks and set off towards the snare drummer, but before he had taken two steps one of the cellists began to pluck out a simple melody. The harp took up a rippling harmony and after a moment of confusion, the entire string section joined in, followed by the woodwind, not wanting to be outdone.
The conductor stood, incandescent in his rage, but helpless to prevent this mutiny. Behind him the timpanist picked up his sticks from the floor and went back to his kettledrum, providing the framework for the new composition.
The prince never took his eyes from the girl as she began, ever so slowly, to move to the new rhythm. The tempo of the music picked up and so did her steps until, with a roar from the rest of the dancers she soared into the air in a leap, spinning and settling down gracefully. One by one, the other dancers began to follow her lead until the entire ballroom took up the new style of dance.
From his position, high above, the prince saw the form of the dance, free and joyful expression. His own heart ached for what might have been, but it was too late. She could have belonged to him, but he had turned her down and now she belonged to his people.
What the girl and the drummer had achieved this night would send waves throughout the kingdom. The tingling on the prince’s skin told of change in the air, but only time would tell if it was for good or for bad.
Kerry Buchanan has been a veterinary surgeon, computer teacher, sub-editor and stable hand. Now fifty with teenage children becoming independent, she has made time to write.
She says short stories and flash fiction are a fun way to practise the skills required for the longer works as well as a welcome break from the umpteenth rewrite of her fantasy novel.
Although coming to writing late in life she found that once the tap of creativity turned on it has proved impossible to turn it off.
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