By Jack Knight
“Last dance!” called the man in the straw hat, and the revellers leapt to attention, forming two lines, everyone facing their partners.
The band struck up, with the playful jolt of the violin rising above the rest, up to the canvas ceiling of the marquee.
I ignored the weave and bob of the dancers as they followed their instructions; instead, my eyes fell upon the girl with the violin. Even from my dim corner of the tent, I could still see every movement she made, every flicker of the bow upon the strings.
She’s the real dancer here, I thought.
“No,” said a voice, slurred but firm.
“What?” I asked calmly. I was reasonably certain there was no way she could have known who I was looking at.
“I said no.” The voice belonged to my friend Katie, who was drunk.“This is no good. This music is awful.”
“What?” I demanded, outraged.
“It’s awful. I could play better in my
sleep.” She couldn’t, as far as I knew. Katie thrashed out the odd sequence of piano chords every once in a while, and thought it made her the eminent wisdom on all matters of rhythm and harmony.
The lines of dancers parted and the bride and groom ran down the middle, barefooted on the grass. The bride had presumably changed since the ceremony, as she wore a sensible dress of dark green. I saw that very clearly.
“They look happy, don’t they?” I muttered to Katie, desperate to change the subject but still stinging from the insult to the girl with the violin.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t know them.”
I hushed her. It was true that we weren’t supposed to be here; it had been Katie’s idea to come, in fact; we didn’t think of it as gate crashing so much as… visiting. That kind of distinction becomes relatively blurry after a few ciders.
The crowd parted and I saw her again. She was packing her violin away in its case, as carefully as if it were a newborn baby. I admire that kind of care and attention, I thought.
“Shall we go then?” Katie said. “This is boring.” I couldn’t understand why she sounded so gloomy, not then. I hadn’t looked at her all night. It would later transpire that this was part of the problem.
“I don’t want to go yet,” I said. “I’m enjoying myself.”
I’m enjoying her, I thought. She had closed her violin case and was smiling, laughing, at something one of her bandmates had said. To Katie, I simply said, “Well, I’m staying.”
I hardly noticed her touch on my hand. “We shouldn’t stay here,” she said, changing tactics. If I’d looked at her, I’m sure I would have seen fear in her face.
“Somebody will realise we’ve snuck in.”
“No, they won’t,” I said, waving away both her concerns and her touch. “Let’s go and chat!” I laughed.
“Let’s mingle!” Part of me hoped that my joy would infect her, but most of me hardly cared.
The twinkling lanterns, the pleasant bubble of the myriad conversations that had erupted since the band had fallen silent, a warm feeling running through me that couldn’t entirely be attributed to the cider… All of it possessed me like a playful spirit, and I longed to leave my dark, gloomy corner and my dark, gloomy friend. I longed to stride across the crumpled grass and dance some more, and befriend the bride and find another drink, perhaps, and most of all I wanted to talk to her, the girl with the violin, who had now stood up from her seat and was talking gleefully with the man in the straw hat. I was already planning what I was going to say to her. I’d compliment her playing, strongly, to drive away Katie’s harsh words about it. I longed to do all of this… so I did it. With a single glance back at her, I told Katie that I was going to talk to the people, and that perhaps I would tell the band how much I’d enjoyed their performance.
In the brief moment that I looked at her, I saw that she was supremely miserable. I barely comprehended this. My mind was already on the other side of the tent, in the wavering light of the lanterns, talking to her.
I didn’t see as Katie left the tent like a storm blowing quietly away into the night. I wouldn’t understand until later, much later, why she’d left. And by then, it would be much too late.
Because I’d be the guy with the girl with the violin.