by Steve Carr
The mask that Amanda lowered over her eyes was emerald green and lined with white mink and had a long blue, green and yellow peacock feather sticking up from it on the left side. Looking through the almond shaped eye holes and peering at her reflection in the full mirror, she smiled, despite feeling a little silly. Using her finger, she curled a long strand of black hair that had fallen over her forehead and pushed it back into the mass of curls that sat precariously on the top of her head like a mound of swirling black whipped cream, held together by clips embedded with diamond chips. She ran the tip of her tongue around her lips, adding extra moisture to the black lipstick. She placed her white gloved hands on her waist. Everything below that was a combination of black silk and dark green tulle covered in dark blue sequins that flounced out and reached all the way to the floor. She turned around and faced her Aunt Margot.
“Well, how do I look?” she said.
Sitting on the divan, Margot let out a long, low whistle. “You’ll kill ’em,” she said.
“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Amanda said. “I just don’t want to look like an idiot.”
Margot stood up, kicked aside her silver lame train and spread out her arms covered up to her elbows in black gloves and diamond bracelets and said, “Look at you. You’re fabulous!”
A smile spread across Amanda’s face. “I have to admit I think so also, but it’s your money that paid for this costume.” She adjusted the mask once again. “Tell me again why we’re dressed up like we’re going to a fancy Halloween ball?”
Margot lowered her arms and smoothed out the wrinkles that had formed in her lap. “Wearing the fancy costumes is required for everyone on opening night at this theater. With third row center seats you will see and be seen.”
“Seen by who?” Amanda asked.
“All the wealthy, worthwhile eligible men in New Orleans go to this theater,” Margot said. “Since you’re new here I plan on showing you off. It’s time you get back on the horse after what happened with what’s-his-name.”
“His name is Palmer,” Amanda said. “Nothing happened. Sometimes two people are just not right for one another.”
“Tonight you’re certain to meet someone, so be prepared to have Palmer put out of your mind for good,” Margot said.
Amanda took her green satin cape trimmed with white mink from around a dress form mannequin and put it around her shoulders. “Why have you kept the name of the theater and the show we’re going to see secret?”
Margot headed for the door. “The theater is hidden away in the Latin Quarter and everything possible is done to keep it secret. The tickets are sold to a very exclusive worldwide network of wealthy patrons in search of ways to spend money on the most bizarre things imaginable.” She opened the door. “The name of the show is “The Dance Macabre.”
The glow of street lamps along each sides of the narrow streets shone through the low hanging hazy fog. Sitting by the open window in the back of the white stretch limousine, Amanda sipped champagne from a Waterford flute. Latin music and jazz wafted out from inside the clubs lit on the outside with bright neon signs. She resisted the urge to tell Margot that she would prefer to spend the evening going to different clubs. Going to a show about death didn’t excite her in the least.
Stretched out on a seat that ran almost the entire length of the back of the limo, Margo adjusted the pearl covered mask over her eyes and gazed appraisingly at Amanda. “A friend of mine who saw this show in Paris said there is a dancer in it who will take your breath away.”
“He would have to be quite a dancer,” Amanda said.
“I was told he’s like Astaire, Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson all in one,” Margot said.
“What’s his name?” Amanda said.
“Désosse,” Margot said.
Amanda drank the last of the champagne in the flute. “Isn’t that French for bones?”
The limousine came to a stop and the window behind the chauffeur lowered. “We’ve arrived,” he said. He got out of the limo and came around to the back and opened the door and stood by while the women got out.
A small crowd of men and women in a variety of fashionably elaborate costumes were entering through two large open doors into a three story building that had no markings and no marque.
“Are you sure this is a theater?” Amanda said to Margot.
“Of course,” Margot said. “They just don’t like to draw attention to themselves.” She grabbed Amanda’s elbow and pulled her in behind those entering the theater.
In front of Amanda, a woman in a black mermaid style dress embroidered top to bottom with gold snakes with ruby red eyes and wearing a mask of two entwined glittering gold snakes, turned and looked her up and down. “Green certainly makes a statement, doesn’t it?” the woman said.
“Thank you,” Amanda said.
“She meant it as an insult,” Margot said.
Amanda was trying to formulate a retort that included something about snakes, but the woman’s male companion wearing a long tailed gold tuxedo with gold fringed epaulettes and a simple gold mask pulled her through the doorway.
Entering the building, Amanda stopped abruptly. She was standing on a thick red carpet and the walls and ceiling were covered in dark red felt. A large chandelier dripping with glittering crystals hung from the ceiling. Lit candles in gold sconces lined the walls.
“Stunning, isn’t it?” Margot said.
“To say the least,” Amanda said.
Following the crowd into the auditorium, Amanda looked up at the chandeliers and around at the intricately designed gold trim on the walls and on the arm rests of the red satin upholstered chairs. By the time she reached her seat and stared up at the ornately carved marble proscenium arch and thick, lowered red curtain, she forgot all about not wanting to be there.
As the small orchestra in the pit began to warm up and the lights began to dim, Amanda felt the tingle of excitement creep up her spine.
When the curtain slowly raised, nine performers dressed from head to toe in costumes with the bones of a skeleton printed on the material, were in a horizontal line across the middle of the stage, each one in some variation of a bent posture, their bodies looking broken. The one in the middle took several steps forward, his body shifting and bending at every joint.
“That has to be Désosse,” Margot whispered into Amanda’s ear. “Look how he moves. It’s so grotesquely divine.”
Then the music began and Désosse alone began to tap dance. The tack, tack, tick, tick, tick, clickety-clack, of his feet on the stage floor reverberated throughout the auditorium. Then the others joined in, their arms and legs akimbo as if their joints were disconnected, but the tapping of their feet in unison and in time to the music played by the orchestra.
For the next hour, Amanda was enthralled, grasping Margot’s hand each time Désosse did a solo routine. Even though he had the hood over his head and she saw only the face of the skull on it, she was certain he looked straight at her several times during the performance. When the show ended and Désosse was the last of the performers on the stage, he reached down to his feet and picked up one of the many roses tossed there by the standing audience and held it to his skeleton nose and then mouth as if kissing it, then tossed it to Amanda.
Gently holding the flower to her nose she inhaled the rose’s sweet fragrance as he ran off the stage. “I have to meet him,” she said to Margot.
Margot rose from her seat. “Come on, we’ll go back stage.”
“Can we do that?” Amanda said.
“With as much money as I have, we can do anything,” she said.
Amanda followed Margot up the steps onto the stage, then behind the curtain and through a long dimly lit narrow corridor crowded with other theater goers. Margot grasped Amanda’s hand and pulled her through the throng into Désosse’s dressing room.
Seated and still in his costume and facing a mirror encircled with glowing low wattage bare light bulbs, Désosse turned and stood as soon as the two women entered.
“My friend was dying to meet you,” Margot said, pushing Amanda forward.
“I’ve never seen anyone dance the way you do,” Amanda said. “The clickety-clack of your taps was almost hypnotic.”
Désosse took Amanda’s hand and pressed the skeletal mouth to the back of it, then turned her hand over and did the same to her palm.
Feeling her knees growing weak, Amanda said, “May I please see your face?”
Hesitatingly, Désosse lifted the hood from his head and stared into Amanda’s eyes with his empty eye sockets set in a shinning white skull.
Enchanted in a way she had never been before, Amanda said, “I’m staying with my Aunt Margot for the next month. If I give you her address I hope you’ll come see me.”
Désosse bowed, then nodded.
Sitting at the breakfast table in the sun room, Margot raised the cup of steaming coffee to her lips while staring at Amanda. She took a small sip, then lowered the cup. “You’re in love with a skeleton,” she said.
“I know. Isn’t it amazing?” Amanda said as she bit into a flaky croissant.
“But dear,” Margot said with exasperation, “What kind of relationship can you have with dancing bones?”
Amanda washed down the croissant with a drink of fresh squeezed orange juice. “He makes me feel like no full bodied man ever has.”
“I’m the most open minded person you’ll ever meet, but you’re not thinking this through,” Margot said. “You won’t be able to marry him and he’s unable to have sex.”
Amanda took another bite of the croissant. “Those things don’t matter when it comes to true love.” She wiped a crumb from her lip with a linen napkin. “After the show is done playing here tonight I’ll go with him to Sydney, Australia and from there wherever it is he is to perform next.”
“And he’s agreed to this?” Margot said anxiously, her shaking hand causing the coffee to slosh about in the cup.
“I haven’t told him,” Amanda said.
Sitting on a bench in the park late at night, while the warm breezes tickled the gossamer strands of Spanish moss that hung from the trees, Amanda held Désosse’s hand and said, “Your final show tonight was fantastic. Every clickety-clack was perfectly timed.”
He squeezed her hand affectionately.
“From the first time we met after the show that night, I’ve thought only of you,” she said.
He nodded, then put his humerus, radius and ulna around her shoulders and pulled her close to him with his phalanges.
“If only you weren’t a skeleton,” she said. “Margot strongly disapproves of our relationship. She’s old fashioned and believes skeletons belong in the ground.”
Désosse raised her hand to his fleshless mouth and kissed it.
“I don’t mind that you can’t talk,” she said. “You show your affection for me in so many other ways than just words.” She pushed a loose strand of hair back from her forehead. “I already have my bags packed so I’ll be ready to leave with you when you the boat leaves for Australia in the morning.”
Désosse slowly pulled his bones from around her shoulders and shook his skull.
“No?” she said. “What do you mean?”
Désosse lifted her hand and kissed it, then stood up. He pointed to inside his empty chest where his heart once was and shook his skull again.
“But I thought you loved me,” Amanda said.
Without replying, he turned and ran off into the darkness, the tack, tack, tick, tick, tick, of his feet on the cobblestones resounding in the otherwise silence of the night.
Distraught and broken hearted, Amanda walked home. As she passed the above ground tombs of the St. Louis Cemetery she ignored the clickety-clack sounds coming from within them.
Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over seventy short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several American states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012966314127 and Twitter @carrsteven960.