The Three Dancers
The sky opened up but the three maidens were not afraid. The evening air had been warm and still and many from the village had gathered in the marketplace to chat among the closed shops and stalls. The three, Delia, Jaen, and Roselle, were talking about their lovers’ clumsy advances and boyish pouting when the warmth in the air fled and an onslaught of stars swirled about the marketplace.
“Witchlights,” screamed a woman from behind a stall.
“Heaven is falling! The gods are angry,” shouted the butcher, who had stayed behind to clean his shop.
The shouting and screaming, the mad rambling echoed between the shops and stalls as the people of the village scurried like rats in a sudden storm. Only the three maidens stood still, looking up into the wondrous shower of light.
The butcher ran to them waving his arms. “Come, you loons; you’ll be swallowed up whole!”
They never heard him, never saw him, never noticed as he grabbed for them, trying to get them to move. Giving up, he made a holy sign over the three, then stumbled off to the safety of his home.
Roselle took Jaen’s right hand into her left hand as Jaen took Delia’s. The chain was completed a second later as Delia looked into Roselle’s tear-filled eyes and took her reaching and open right hand. Roselle looked to Jaen, whose lips showed a wide beatific smile. “Yes,” said Delia. “We will join you.”
You are joined. Come.
The three looked at each other, puzzlement marring their bliss. Then, as one, they knew what to do. Delia took back her hands and began to untie Jaen’s bodice. Jaen worked on the buttons of Roselle’s dress as Roselle took off Delia’s knitted belt.
Stripped of their clothing, the maidens danced in the shower of light and color. Laughter danced with them in the now chilly air. Their arms went over their heads, their hair moved in rhythms different than those of their bodies, and their faces were wet with tears of joy. In the dirt of the marketplace ground where their tears fell, tiny pools gathered and grabbed at the light and color falling from the sky.
A cat yowled from a distance and a dog whined, but the dancers did not hear them, they only heard each other’s pealing laughter. More beautiful, more resounding than the temple’s iron bells, their laughter filled the evening air.
The people of the village heard not laughter, but screams. All of them, all the villagers, said hasty prayers of salvation for the souls that screamed after they’d prayed for their own salvation and safety.
The butcher began to cry, and his wife, whom he told about the three maidens, understood why. “The gods have their own reasons for things,” she whispered to her husband as she took him into her warm and steady arms. “My own friend, seven and seven years ago now, was taken so by the sky. And I have dreamed of her. Yes, I have dreamed.”
Their breath came out in gushes of white steam and their chests burned from the effort. Roselle thought she felt her feet ache, and Jaen knew her legs were tired. Delia still lay where she’d tripped on a wagon’s wheel, looking deeply into the white white above her.
“Is…is this all a dream?”
Jaen and Roselle’s voices were joined. “Delia!”
And sleep overcame the three.
Delia woke to find herself alone and still naked on the ground. A man made all of the white light and colorful sparks stood before her, but she was unafraid. She could see no face on him, but felt or imagined that he was handsome. His voice was soft, like the voice from the sky. “You are alone now. And unafraid. Confident. This is good. You can be alone and still be content. Not many can be so.”
“I have been alone before. My mother has died and my father…I never knew my father. Only in stories from my mother.”
“I can show you your father, take you to your mother. Would you have this?”
The answer was about to fly from her mouth, but a thought came to her, quieting her. “If you can do this, what else can you do?”
The man made of the white and swirling colors cocked his head. “I can do much. What would you have me do?”
“Do what I want.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“What I want.”
“Don’t you know?”
The man was silent for a moment, then asked again what Delia wanted.
“If you don’t know, you really can’t give it.”
“I can give you anything you desire.”
“Not until you know what I desire, you can’t.”
“You are maddening.”
“Names are not what I desire.”
“And certainly not anger.”
Delia went back to sleep.
Jaen’s legs no longer hurt as she rose. She saw the man of white and swirling colored sparks before her and took in a sudden breath, thought to run, then looked about her. Delia and Roselle were not with her; she was alone with this glowing faceless man.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Do not be afraid. I am here to give you what you want.”
“I want my friends.”
“They are safe.”
“Well, I want them here. Why aren’t they here?”
“I want to be alone with you right now.”
“Well, I don’t want to be alone with you. I want my friends here.”
“I…I just do.”
“Do they strengthen you?”
“Do they define you?”
“Well, yes, I suppose.”
“Do they love you?”
“Yes. They’re my sisters. Like my sisters.”
“Not of your blood?”
“No, but better than my blood. I have chosen them and they have chosen me.”
“We have chosen you.”
“ ‘We?’ ” Jaen looked behind and next to the man of white and saw no one else. “You’re alone here.”
“You are here with me.”
“But not ‘us’? Where are the others?”
“Your friends are safe.”
“Not my friends, your friends. Where are--”
“They are not important; you are what is important now.”
“Your friends are always important. If they truly are your friends and if you are a true friend, they are always important to you and you are always important to them.”
“That is not important now. You are--”
“Of course it’s important! Friends are all we have in life. Well, family can be important, too, if you let it be, but, really, your friends are who you are, and--”
“I do not understand.”
Jaen did her best to make the man of white understand, but soon found herself too sleepy to continue.
Getting up from the cold ground, Roselle’s first instinct was to cry, but she was taken by the strange allure of the figure standing before her. The body was definitely that of a man, and it was made of bright white light with glowing motes of dancing color. “You’re…beautiful.”
“Thank you. We…I think you are beautiful, as well.”
Roselle was still swimming with the motes of color, then blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I said that I find you beautiful.”
“I simply do.”
“But why? What about me do you find beautiful?”
“All of you.”
“Oh no. I’ve heard that line too many times. What do you like about me?”
“Your hair is dark and silken and flows with the breeze and your eyes capture the moon so well, and--”
Roselle held up a hand. “All right, you’re a touch better than Marten and Jaen’s brother, but really, how can you, one so beautiful, find me, a plain old girl from a backwater village, beautiful?”
“For all the reasons you find me beautiful.”
“No, no. You’re so different. All glowing and white and all those lovely colors dancing around inside you. You’re like something from heaven. Me? I’m pretty to some men’s eyes now, sure, but what will I be in ten or twenty years? Fatter, greyer, older. Not so beautiful, but comfortable. That’s what I’ll be. Broken in, like a pair of trusty old work boots.
“Is there no beauty in comfort?”
Roselle snorted. “Beauty costs, comfort comes easy.”
“But beauty can come freely, naturally. Comfort takes time to develop.”
“This beauty you say I have? Well, it costs, let me tell you! I have to pluck at my eyebrows so I don’t look like a madwoman, I have to wash this mane of hair you like so much or else it sticks flat to my head, I have to have a care how I wash the dishes and clothes or my hands will go all rough, and these clothes, plain as they may be, don’t come free, either.”
“And this business about comfort, well, I’ll give you that it can sneak up on you like a thief, but that’s more complacency than comfort, you know. It’s more a giving up and an accepting of your lot in life than any real attempt to become or get comfortable. I mean, the boots you wear don’t try to get broken in, they just get that way by you forcing them into that shape by wearing them. Life will do that to you. It’ll wear you into whatever shape it wants you to be in, whether you like it or not.”
“You believe this?”
“I know this. I live this.”
The man of white and swirling colors shed a tear Roselle could not see, the same tear that Jaen and Delia did not see, and Roselle went to sleep.
Delia, Jaen, and Roselle danced naked among the stars, laughed among the stars, and sang out among the stars.
In their dreams they were one with the night, one with the sky, one with stars. In waking hours they were one among themselves and with each other. That no one from the village ever looked at them or treated them in quite the same way again never bothered them. They held something no one else held, felt something no one else but the three of them held or felt. They shared what could not be shared unless you’d owned it outright yourself. They had each other as they’d had themselves and they had each other as each of them had had the man of white and swirling colors.
The butcher’s wife thought she knew, thought to ask about what happened to them, but when she saw them together, speaking quietly to one another, smiling completely as they listened or were silent, looking at each other deeper than eyes can see, she knew that she really had no idea what the three maidens had shared. This frightened her and enticed her and it made her dream. Oh, how she dreamed.
Mike Griffith has been writing fiction off-and-on for many years, but is just now getting serious about it. His story "Why the Moon?", published in the July 2002 issue of Twilight Times has been read live on a radio program called "Fractured Fiction" and "The Three Dancers" may soon follow. Mike teaches communications at Northampton Community College in Tannersville, PA and is co-editor of the educational newsletter Teaching for Success.
"The Three Dancers" was inspired by the artwork that accompanies the story. It is an original work created by Penny Shrawder, co-publisher of Teaching for Success, and one of the dancers in the story was inspired by her. The others were inspired by his wife, his daughter, and many other women he knows and has known.
Read another story by Mike:
Penny Shrawder, born in Sacramento, CA in 1955, has also resided in Germany, Anchorage, AK, Champaign, IL and South Lake Tahoe, CA. She has studied a wide range of subjects including electronics, astronomy, philosophy, Tai Chi, Pilates, art history, intaglio and figure painting.
Penny and her husband Jack founded an international, college teaching improvement publication, Teaching For Success where she has worked for 15 years as an artist and graphic designer. In the past four years, she has focused on her first love, figure painting in watercolor.
But her figure paintings are not your everyday, garden-variety scenes. She attributes her unique approach to figure painting to a wonderful synergy created by her ongoing spiritual journey of enlightenment through the path of the study of Greek and Eastern philosophy, the practice of Tai Chi and Pilates, her love of astronomy and mythology with an obsession to portray the beauty of the human figure.
Her beautiful, photo-realistic, watercolor figures are placed in abstract and sometime fanciful, galactic settings that are reminiscent of science fiction interstellar vistas of Star Trek.
In her current show, "The Universal Gift," Penny explores in paintings the possibilities of new human/universe relationships and understandings that are now possible through a rapidly expanding knowledge of the warp and woof of the fabric of space-time.
She feels that in this current climate of war, terror, hatred and suspicion that we must not forget the crucial need for increased understanding of our commonalities as a world community and common-sense, caring stewardship of this fragile planet we call home.
Published by permission of the author.
Published by permission of the artist