searchterm entry #4: echoing footsteps

The fourth entry to the second round of the already infamous search term challenge, following the life and death of a relationship.

For other searchterm entries, just look at the sidebar, under the ‘recent updates’ section.

Lastly, if you are the author – or know or guess who the author is – hold your tongue; this post will be updated with author details after the challenge is over. If you want to enter, remember that submissions are due Sunday!

Voting has closed, so I can now reveal the author of this entry: me!

******

Echoing Footsteps

Rich carpet underfoot.  A bed with a bright red duvet in the corner. The girl’s feet are eager, tapping impatiently as she stares into the mirror and applies one last lick of mascara.  She smoothes down her clothes, nods at her reflection.

Then she flings open her bedroom door and races down the corridor, the sound of music and laughter beckoning her forward.  The ballroom has just opened, but it is full—it is always full—and she joins the crowd eagerly.

She ignores the line of chairs against the wall and goes straight to the middle of the room, dancing and spinning, her periwinkle peasant skirt a floating halo around her body. All around her are other girls, dancing, laughing, and every now and then she exchanges secret smiles with them.

The boys soon notice her, as she knew they would.  She is wearing silver high heels, heels any other girl would have fallen in, and they click-click deliciously against the marble floor.  She struts around the room, making every step a challenge.

Catch me, she is saying. Catch me if you can.

Her red lips curve up into a smile and she keeps dancing alone, daring, tempting. Her long, silky hair brushes against her shoulders with every movement, sinfully decadent, and in that moment she feels that she can do anything, everything.

A crowd of boys grows around her. She ignores them purposefully, stares up at the arched ceilings, at the gold-edged frescoes, as if they hold the answer to some forgotten question. She pretends she is dancing with those painted figures, dancing in the clouds.

Finally, a boy dares to approach her.  He steps carefully past the wall between her and the rest of her admirers, and takes her unadorned hand with gentle fingers.

He bows low over her hand, and leaves a warm kiss on her skin that sends shivers down her spine.

The paintings don’t seem so interesting anymore, crumbling like the plaster they are made of in the face of this maleness.

***

They are alone together in this small, intimate parlour, as they have been many times before.  It is a room lit only by candles, all soft spaces and round corners. On one side is a small table for two, with a clutter of dirty plates and forks. A half-eaten strawberry lies forgotten in an empty bowl.

The young woman clings to her man tightly as they sway back and forth to the distant strains of music, which echo down the corridor from the open ballroom doors. They are a well-matched couple; he in his sharp dark suit, her in a flowing black dress that ends at her knees.

Her hair is pinned up, demure and womanly. Every now and then, the ring on her left finger catches the candlelight. She cannot help but look at it, smiling. Her lips are pale pink, her cheeks faintly flushed, and if there are small wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, they are only of the laughing kind.

She looks into his eyes and finds a home.  She cannot help it when the words slip out.

He looks frightened. He pulls away, apologies. Senseless words come out of his mouth. The end? Farewell?

His eyes and ears turn to the ballroom, to the twirling skirts she once used to wear, and, mumbling, he walks out into the corridor.

Anger, sudden and severe.  She pulls at her ring.  It gets stuck on her knuckle.  She pulls again, hard, her finger aches, but she gets it off and launches it after him. It hits the back of his head with a disappointingly small sound, but at least he flinches.

He turns, and she can see his eyes are already having trouble focusing on her. It’s as if he can only see through her now, as if she doesn’t matter anymore. In this moment, she feels she can do nothing.

He picks up the ring and pockets it, then leaves without another word. He is swallowed from sight by the ever-spinning crowd in the ballroom.

He’s not coming back. The repercussions band around her heart, unforgiving and tight, and she falls to the floor, weeping.

She’s alone.

***

The woman is in the ballroom, sitting in a secluded corner, her chair pressed right up against the wall as if she wants to become part of it.  She watches the girls dance past with a world-weary look in her eyes, her fingers rubbing the bare patch of skin on her left ring finger.

She is fading, wilting in that shadowed corner; her thin hair is bleeding colour as the etches of time deepen on her face.

She looks at the dance floor, at the twirling skirts of red and blue, and realizes what strange publicity it is for love; these boys and girls, dancing alone. She smiles, and her sad eyes look even sadder.

A hand on her shoulder startles her out of her thoughts.  She looks up, sees a face that could be her mirror, and the reminder that she looks like this—wrinkled, used, forgotten—brings tears to her eyes.

“Come,” says her mirror, so she gets to her feet, clutching on to the back of the chair to belie the trembling in her legs.

They walk to the end of the hall together. With each step, the sound of laughter and merriment fades, until she turns to get one last glimpse of those smiling, young faces and realizes they’ve already gone. Her footsteps echo even louder after that, and her mirror takes the lead, slipper-soft feet barely whispering against the hardwood floor.

At the end of the corridor is a lonely door. It is stiff, difficult to open. The doorknob groans as she struggles with it. She puts her weight against it, has to stop for breath. Eventually the door opens.

Rich carpet underfoot.  A bed with a faded red duvet in the corner. Her feet are eager all of a sudden; she barely notices the shakiness of her legs as she moves into the room and closes the door.

She gets into the bed, hiding down deep under the duvet, and lies quiet next to her mirror.

******

The entries were:
#1 – Impossible Odds
#2 – Day Job
#3 – Wooing Zadie
#4 – Echoing Footsteps
#5 – An Unwelcome Intrusion

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About A.M. Harte

A.M. Harte writes twisted speculative fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic Above Ground and the zombie love anthology Hungry For You. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and is utterly addicted to chocolate.
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3 Responses to searchterm entry #4: echoing footsteps

  1. Merrilee says:

    I loved the mood in this story; as an old biddy on the shelf, I can relate!

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