97. From Yesterday

The music begins hesitantly as warbling, adolescent strains fill the room. It sounds as awkward as the young cadet feels until the first glorious crescendo, when everything falls, suddenly and with absolute precision, into place. The ball has officially begun.

For a brief instant the lovely, understated silhouettes and perfect profiles of girls with the slender necks of swans rising above their shoulders captivate him. However, his speech never falters in its even cadence and nothing betrays his rapturous amazement at the sight of a roomful of cadets in hopeful blue and the young women accompanying them. The girls are bedecked in fine, glimmering fabrics and precious gems. They are all of them pieces of a fabulously adorned, brightly coloured puzzle.

It is his first military dress function. He is so bedazzled and so determined not to show it that he turns and moves to dance first with the most plainly attired woman there—a female cadet his own age or perhaps a little younger. Like him, she is also in dress uniform, brilliantly blue and starched—although perhaps with crisper creases. She is obviously better with an iron than he.

She has a quite, precise air about her that makes her both a suitable dance partner and the prettiest girl in the room.

They dance wonderfully together. When the music stops, before he is composed enough to step back, bow, and take his leave to move about the room, they hear the gracious applause of the collected assembly. In this case, the assembly consists of the officers and their wives (some of them inappropriately young), the cadets, the women from about town. Also the spinster chaperones that sit primly to the side, smiling at the couples on the floor that are able to execute the neat pattern of a waltz.

The cadets bow to each other and part ways; he moves to socialize and she stands at the sidelines. She is respectfully attentive to the war stories of a superior officer, and even dances with him; a spirited polka that has her clinging to his hands for dear life.

She dances also with a boy near her own age; he is blond, strong-featured, and strangely awkward. Compared to her, his steps are heavy and hesitating. Unlike her first partner, his palms are sweaty. She is polite, but refuses a second dance.

The rest of the evening passes, for her, without incident. Her dark-haired partner from that first dance flirts diplomatically with the girls about him, but he leaves quietly as well. The two of them walk out together, unobtrusively, and go their separate ways at the door. The ball is over, all of it to be packaged away in large boxes with crisp paper and those fine dresses the young girls wore. The memory of the evening will be pulled out like an heirloom by a group of those dwindled, frail chaperones. They will remember each detail vividly and hungrily, colouring the events with phrases they think are romantic.

Years later they will reminisce about this party, this dance, remembering the silks in a brighter hue, the lace-edged handkerchiefs and the blue dress uniforms more neatly starched. They will talk about that dance like it's some sort of myth, a beautiful story to tell the girls that visit them in their tiny, old homes.

Do you remember those dancing soldiers? One of them will ask, leaning her body so far forward that she is in danger of falling out of her chair. The dark-haired boy and that blonde girl.

The old gossips will recall the sweet, clear movements, the splendid turns about the floor.

It was amazing, another will remark. They were really the most beautiful things I will ever imagine. (She wonders to herself if it was a dream, but dismisses the idea; it is not a possibility that she wishes to consider.)

Immortalizes in careful, measured time, those two impossible people dance on without fumbling into the dark of some unsolicited memory. There is a smooth, repetitious movement to it, causing the dance to loop back around it self again and again with that fragile human blindness characteristic of those beloved on this earth.

(But it really wasn't like that; one of the old women tries to explain on her deathbed. It was even more wonderful than I can remember, more wonderful that that distortion time allows.)

(Oh, she whispers, falling asleep, if only you could have seen that dance, like they were the only people left in one small world, in that small place that time provides…)

Somewhere in the world, Roy and Riza are still young, and dancing.