Bad garage rock music has a way of crawling across the skin and shivering up that bit of the spine that brings shoulders into neck. Al jangled his keys at me. “You don’t have to do this,” he reminded me.
We’d booked a hotel room at some semi-divey hotel about three miles off. I smoothed out my dress, black, reaching to my ankles, covering any indication of the actual shape of my body: the uniform. “No, I’m the one that arranged this trip I should at least actually go to the ball for a few minutes.” Besides, it was go to the annual Witches’ Ball, stew in the sort of creepy hotel room or try to hitchhike the three and a half hour ride home. I usually counted myself too fat to have “pretty girl problems” but I learned rapidly that things like unwanted attention were “every girl problems.”
Another wave of grief caught me, moving up the ground through my feet. I leaned against the car for a moment, the sound of wind and the terrible music it carried fading for a moment as I drew in all my will to force more than tears but wailing grief out of my creeping sinuses and back down my body through my feet to the only just frozen earth.
Al stood and waited. He’d seen this a lot the last few months, since I moved in. The divorce papers arrived right before we got everyone on the road. He had been there himself. He expected it. It was why I could trust him not to bring up that I initiated proceedings, something that people bring up a lot when women as young as 26 terminate a marriage.
I succeeded in forcing back the grief, distracting myself with my vitriolic hate of the music, with the ozone (snow-zone), with the wind and the trees. It never occurred to me to pray about this – the pain I was in I had done to myself.
Al looked toward the door of the VFW, for the night converted into a place of festivity and frivolity for people sort of like ourselves. “The music stopped. It might be safe now.”
A giggle bubbled up, some endorphin induced response to offset the twist in my innards. “Any chance they hand out earplugs at the door?”
“And admit that they have a problem?” Al shot a raised eyebrow over his shoulder at me. “Come on, priestess lady. Jan was falling all over himself for a dance with you.”
“Ah, but you get the first dance!” Al was roughly my height – him, a bit short for a man, me, a bit tall for a woman. Because Pagan beauty standards are not normal beauty standards any time we went to events where there would be dancing, we arrived together and danced the first few times together because it made his stock shoot sky high with whomever interested him at the time. In his case, it helped that he faintly resembled an elf: prematurely white hair and green eyes. I had also caught him making himself invisible-in-plain site that normal people simply did not do. His attention helped me because, after years of nurturing a flat affect because showing emotion sometimes got physically dangerous, Al could always get me to laugh.
Just at the door he extended an elbow. “Shall we?” I braced myself.
“Shit… did I hear power chords?”
We walked through the door.
We stood in the doorway, surveying the moving bodies. Lights flashed on and off at random and the music incongruously switched to Middle Eastern belly dance. “Shit like this is why everybody is drifting towards Reconstruction Trads,” I screamed in Al’s ear. He smirked.
“You have got to see someone here to distract you,” he yelled back.
I scanned the room. No on registered.
Tall, Nordic blond men do not stand out in Minnesota. Such men at a witch’s ball clad in black stand out least of all. So, when one of many such persons kneeled just at the edge of my peripheral vision, I almost didn’t turn around. A nudge from someone pushing out of the crowd brought a motion more fully into my vision.
The shirt looked more expensive than the Target or thrift store black most of the men in the crowd wore, but other than that I could see no difference between him or any other stranger present. He was on bended knee, and just as I registered his presence he proffered a black rose. I reached out, unthinking, that autonomic response that keeps flyer monkeys in Las Vegas employed.
The rose burned in my hand and I dropped it. I stared down at the blood welling from that spot between thumb and index finger. “Ow!”
The rose-bearer stood and kissed my hand, again before I stopped him. I could feel Al tense beside me. I hated uninvited touch.
My hand burned where he kissed me and before I could ask him if he was using cayenne for lip balm he stepped beyond me. When I turned around, he was gone. I could not pick him out of the crowd.
The music stopped at that moment and lights went up: one of those obligatory announcement breaks.
In the silence, Al and I stared at the rose, still on the floor, a few drops of my blood shining bright on its stem.
“Fuck me,” he said. “You just became a fairy bride.”