Muse’s Curse

“The apparition paused, sighed deeply, and then resumed in a tone of still greater menace:”

(—Alexandre Dumas, from “Edmund Dantes”, p. 29)

Dearest Mother:

I’ve written to you before of Edmundo and I, how we attended college together, and how we became fast friends. But so much has happened since, that I’ve been remiss in the details.

Edmundo and I were often in our cups together, often carousing the city streets at night in our intemperance. This sort of life you do not write home to Mother about, the sort of life that you hide and keep private; how many students have the taverns and pubs of London devoured whole to their family’s dismay?

But it is not the demon drink to which I owe my fate; it is to Terpsichore, the fair Muse of Dance. For one evening Edmund and I, wandering the streets in search of entertainment (as we so often did between examination days) stumbled by merest chance upon a run-down, disreputable dance hall called The Broken Wheel.

It was not at all the sort of establishment known for its expensive liqueurs and fancy dandies. The only beverages served were the low beers and the very cheapest rum. The tables each tucked away in the darkest corners, and the unsavory business and characters that frequented each nightly are best left unimagined. The dancers were the lowest of women, overly painted and under-garbed. I’m told that most, if not all, were ladies of negotiable affection–if you will please excuse my crassness.

All save one.

Salome was her name, and when she took the stage a hush always fell over the generally noisy, boisterous tables. Glasses stopped clinking. Even the barmaids stopped peddling–for whenever Salome was on the stage, no one was buying.

She was swarthy and exotic, some said Gypsy, others said Turkish, I’ve even heard pronounced the she hailed from far-off India. But whenever she lifted the hem of her skirts and began to dance, time itself hesitated. Her dance built slowly, gracefully from something ballet-like in its quiet grace. Whirling and twirling as her skirts swayed in counterpoint to her pirouette series of spins.

As the dance progressed it would quicken, grow more bold. She attacked the stage, using the entire floor. Passion flashing in her eyes as she crossed the floor with explosive, expansive leaps.

Only to stop—falling into her skirts, forehead to the floor. Chest heaving from exertion and eyes closed–and the crowd suddenly rediscovers its voice with an explosive roar! The walls of the small and shabby Broken Wheel shook to the cheers and stomping feet of the patrons, and the bartender would typically sell an hour’s worth of drinks in the next ten minutes.

None cheered more loudly or more enthusiastically than Edmundo and I. Nor did we fail to shower silver on the barmaids like all the rest. Over the coming weeks and months, we returned to the Wheel again and again. Captivated and captured by our Terpsichore.

If only I could see and warn Edmundo of what was to come.

Dearest Mother, I do hope you can understand, if not condone, the actions of two young gentlemen so captured within the orbit of Venus. Salome was beautiful, mysterious and an entrancing dancer. And Edmundo launched a clever scheme whereby the two of us could be smuggled backstage and finally meet this vision. And meet her we did.

Do you know of the tradition where patrons and paramours can cause roses to be delivered to a prima ballerina’s dressing room? Edmundo provided the wit, and I provided the funds. And for a solid week we had flowers, wine, candies delivered anonymously each evening. And on the seventh evening, we had ourselves delivered as well.

Personally, I was dumbstruck upon first being physically in Salome’s presence. Edmundo carried the day, while I contributed little more than a handshake and shy smile. The two of them became fast friends, laughing together and talking of dance, theater, culture, even politics. I was just content to gaze on Salome, enjoying each of her smiles, and dazzled when her smiles began to fall upon me as well as my friend.

Over the coming days and weeks, we called on Salome several more times. First in the Broken Wheel, later in the summer sunny streets of London town. The three of us became almost inseparable, and Salome gradually drew me out of my quiet and into the Dance we enjoyed together.

And I could feel Edmundo advancing his cause, and I was content; for he was my dearest friend and I bore them nothing but respect and genuine best wishes, both. From time to time my funds financed our excursions, and other times we went ‘on the cheap’, and picked amusements that cost little or nothing. Walks along the riverbank, painting the sunsets, trips to the zoo.

And as the weeks turned into months, I began to be cognizant of Edmundo and Salome’s relationship changing.

Little things at first; Edmundo would present her with a gift, a scarf or a pair of gloves, and insist that she wear them. Soon, he was directing her outfits. He dressed her more modestly, adding lace to her decolletage or lengthening her gowns. He would often correct flaws in her diction or in her posture.

All of these things Salome accepted without complaint, for she was just as enraptured with Edmundo as he with her. The news of their engagement was both inevitable and expected. Our society demands that young men may only dally with young ladies for a brief time, without making their intentions serious and known to all. And I approved–two people whom I loved, only natural that they should be together.

But a darkness began to gather around Edmundo, and the clouds grew more threatening as the year turned to Winter.

Edmundo began to object whenever he found Salome smiling at another. His brow would furrow, and his words grow tight and controlled. He particularly didn’t like other men gazing upon his bride-to-be.

You’ll recall Salome was a dancer, Mother. And an enormously popular one, popular with the low crowd that frequented the Broken Wheel. Edmundo had much to object to, and many eyes gazing upon Salome to fuel his rage.

He and Salome began to fight frequently. Edmundo would flare jealously at one Wheel patron or another, and even start brawls. And Salome kept trying to keep his rage under control, explaining that he was her one and only, and the bar’s patrons innocent of any wrongdoing.

And I? I began withdrawing swiftly from our à trois, distancing myself from the affianced couple lest Edmundo feel any jealousy for me.

But eventually, that night came; the fateful last night I ever saw Salome dance.

Mother, imagine if you will: Edmundo and I watched, from our small table in the Wheel that evening. On our table was one of the cheap rum bottles, quite unusual, but Edmundo had began drinking early and heavily on this particular night. His eyes flashed from customer to customer, an each time his brows furrowed. I placed a hand on his forearm, about to advise him to slow down the drinking, and his eyes glinted in anger at me!

But at that moment Salome’s music began, and she took the stage. Her usual dance and the usual audience response, we were one and all familiar; yet still enraptured by it. Except tonight, as she dance, her eyes would pass over our table and Edmundo’s furious gaze would lock on hers each time. And eventually, perhaps inevitably, her timing slipped and Salome stumbled.

The audience gasped audibly. And Edmundo surged to his feet, and locked his hand around her elbow. Before we could react, Edmundo had drug her from offstage, a hasty and involuntary exit stage right.

What else could I do but follow?

They were arguing audibly; she screamed for him to stop, he was hurting her. He was calling her filthy names, demanding she stop dancing at this place, in a blind rage, demanding control. In the short, dark corridor between the stage and dressing rooms, the other dancers were scattering. As I arrived behind the pair, an audible click froze my blood.

Edmundo, still grasping her elbow, buried the muzzle of the pistol in her ribs.

Mother, I tried to stop him, I swear it. I leaped at Edmundo and fought with him over the weapon. Salome shrieked and battered him about the head and shoulders with her free hand. And–the pistol went off.

Salome sighed once and collapsed on the floor. Edmundo pistol-whipped me and I knew no more.


 

I never saw Edmundo alive again. According the the police, he took his own life that every evening, and hung himself in his chambers. The owner and most of the patrons of the Broken Wheel and I attended Solome’s funeral later the same week.


 

Now, mother, I am oft visited in my dreams by his wrathful spirit. He blames me, for the death of our Salome, for her escape of his control. This school year has been lost to me, and our Muse is gone forever. I am returning home, and should arrive on the Wednesday train.


 

The original Writing 101 prompt:

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What jumps out at you? Start there, and try a twist: write in the form of a letter.

I departed from Edmund Dantes (save for that single line), but attempted to preserve the original tone; may be more Edwardian than intended.

 

RecDave Seal

Post-Script:

I hadn’t intended the “letter home” to be nearly so long, it tops 1500 words.

But today’s Daily Prompt was:

Today, publish a post based on unused material from a previous piece –a paragraph you nixed, a link you didn’t include, a photo you decided not to use. Let your leftovers shine!

And I was sitting on this unfinished writing 101 prompt from earlier in the week, so…I finished it. Not entirely pleased with the ending, but you know, two birds, one stone.

Skip a two-for-one assignment? No way!

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