Dancers by the Hedge
By Anahita Ayasoufi
“It was a peculiar dance,” Maria said, and she tried to imitate some of its moves, disregarding completely how people would think of an old lady dancing in the bar. The move she tried to show was the hip-slip as she called it, but it came out quite dissatisfactory. The dancers by the hedge did it as if they were moving in a viscous fluid, as if a sort of resistance in the air smoothed their moves and blended it with nature.
“There was no music, and yet I felt like I actually heard the music in my head.” Maria closed her eyes for a moment, to hear that sound again, but all she heard was the subtle clanking of drinks at a neighboring booth. “Some dancers.”
“What dancers?” The bartender asked.
“The dancers by that huge hedge on the right of the summit path,” Maria said.
“What hedge?” The bartender asked. “The summit path is bare on both sides.”
Maria felt a little shiver pass on the back on her wrinkled hands. “Bare?”
“The crater’s flesh is still warm. It’ll take a while for anything to sprout in there, let alone a huge hedge.”
And it was not the first time that the sound of reason had mismatched the concrete experience of her eyes.
The first time had happened two weeks ago, when she was in the cemetery. It was well before sunset, and yet she saw the sun’s setting over the graves, with all its sadness and haunting beauty, except it was well before sunset time. She walked in that surreal scene for ten minutes, enough to get to the exit. During those ten minutes, the sun rose again, to the height it should be at.
“But I saw that hedge,” she said. “I can’t even imitate their dance moves. How could I have imagined moves that I don’t understand?”
The bartender was back to wiping glasses. Maria stepped out.
It was a bit after sunset, the sky dark but not quite. The last rays of the sun still reflected on shreds of clouds. Enough light shone on the summit path, enough to show its bareness on both sides. All as the bartender had said, except at about a quarter mile’s distance, the shreds of clouds twisted inside each other in the form of a cone, one that had almost touched the ground.
Tornado was the first word forming in her brain, but it dissolved as fast as it had formed. There is no such thing as a static Tornado. And the cone stood frozen static in her horizon.
For the past two weeks, Maria had wondered, what would she see had she stayed in that cemetery, had she gone from that surreal sunset into a surreal night? She did go back the next day the same time, but nothing out of the usual happened. Now this was her chance of discovering if her dancers were inside that cone.
By the time she covered half the distance to that cone, the darkness had settled, blurring the edges of her sight. She glanced back one time and saw the bar gleaming in the fog. Ahead still stood the cone, except she felt it had spread out, infecting more of the space. She felt as if the cone was reaching to her, that if she stood still, the cone would swallow her up. Maria did not stand still, though. She stepped forward and into that cone.
Maria thought she was dead. She thought it was her passing that brought her images from her past. She felt the effect of gravity lessen on her flesh. Floating was the feeling, her feet some inches above the ground, and the space around her solidified into a prism, glowing and multi-sided.
Through one side of the prism, she saw her dancers by the hedge. This time close-up revealed their clothing—sleek shards of skin, emeralds glowing in their eyes. Maria reached in their space and felt the viscous air slowing her fingers down, and she saw an irregular moon in their purple sky. A shriek escaped Maria’s throat. The dancers never stopped dancing.
Was she dead? It did not feel like that. But then again, how would she know? She had never died before.
On the other side of the prism her mother quilted by the fire. Now she knew she was dead. How else would she meet her mother again? Yet she turned her head. The fire seemed too familiar. It was the fire that caught on the house, the moment the volcano trembled. Not all memories she wanted to revive.
The side of the prism she turned her head to, showed her the magma flowing, the landscape of the bleak, except it had never happened. The magma never swallowed the town.
In confusion, she spun on her heels. In the side of the prism behind her, the bar was still gleaming in the fog.
The multifaceted prism was open to her. She was free to step in either side of it that she chose. And there were many sides, so many it would take an eternity to count them.
The cemetery sunset had not been an illusion. The hedge was not an illusion.
Time was an illusion; space an illusion—tricks of perception of human mind.
The choices were real.
Maria was alive.
- - -
I teach at East Tennessee State University and have a flash piece published at Bosley Gravel’s Cavalcade of Terror.
Labels: Anahita Ayasoufi