a short story by Kaitlin DiPatri
Synopsis: Polly shows up uninvited to a masquerade party in the woods. In a futile attempt to flee the scene, she finally learns to put on her jukin’ shoes and enjoy the party.
A pale yellow glow permeated the woods. Violins, cellos, and horns softly sounded all around Polly. Strings of lights wrapped around the oaks and the large wooden gazebo. Men and women dressed in elaborate ball gowns danced all around Polly, without acknowledging her. The women wore black feathery masks with long silver beaks. The men wore rich green and gold Colombina masks. Two young identical twins ran up to Polly and played with her hair until their mother shooed them away. The accordion player waltzed around her and laughed as he twirled away.
“Hey, mister! Excuse me!” She yelled, trying to get his attention. No one seemed to care that she was there. They were too focused on their footwork to say anything to Polly. White tents were set up in every corner with food overflowing out of dishes on the tables. The bartender made his way to everyone and offered long, tall glasses of wine to the guests. Polly was mystified by how much food she saw. An intense hunger came about her, but she was apprehensive to eat anything. Trying to ignore the heavenly fumes, she sat down near the garden to collect her thoughts. She knew there had to have been a way out.
The band had never seemed so loud. The persistent pulse of the upright base made her head and heart pound. Slow, steady box steps turned into fast paced swing. Not even the flowerbeds were off limits to the dancers. They giggled as they stomped around the bluebells and chamomile, still paying no mind to Polly. “I’m never going to get out of here,” she thought to herself while picking at the grass, “I’m going to go crazy here.”
Just as she convinced herself to get up and walk away, a young man tapped her on the shoulder. He was a handsome man, just like the others. His slick, parted hair glistened under all the lights. He wore no mask.
“Excuse me, but I noticed you were not dancing. It is rather peculiar to attend to a dance party and not dance.” He stated.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know where I am. Could you point me towards to main road?” Polly asked.
“You can’t leave now. It’s too dark, and it would be rude.” He mumbled through a mouthful of horderves.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a bashful tone, “but I can’t dance.”
The young man shook his head and smiled. He offered his hand to Polly after wiping crumbs onto his slacks, inviting her to the gazebo. Reluctantly, she accepted.
“My name is Victor, in case you were wondering. I could teach you some moves. You’ll be tripping the light before you know it!” He revealed to her.
“Hi, Victor. I’m Polly. Is this your party?” She said trying to make small talk. He didn’t seem to care what her name was, or what she asked. The only thing on his mind was the music– and the food. Victor began by showing her simple swing moves in between bites. He threw in complicated steps that she couldn’t quite comprehend. The music was even faster and louder now.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. To tell you the truth, I made these up. I can’t dance either.” Victor said.
Polly recognized the next few songs after they slowed back down. They all had the same introduction section, but the lyrics were different.
“I know this… the ink wells… the spots… Al Bowlly… the Ink Spots!” She yelled feeling proud of herself. Despite the repetition, no one could deny the beauty in those buttery voices. Polly felt like each song was written about her. It comforted her in a way, but she still had so many questions.
“Can I ask why you don’t have a mask?” Polly inquired.
“That’s a very personal question to ask someone you’ve hardly met. You never ask a man about his mask.” He winked and continued spinning Polly around in circles.
“I wear no mask because I have nothing to hide. Don’t let these rug cutters fool you. They are not so pretty and perfect.”
“You’re the first person to speak to me. I was getting worried. Do they know I’m here?” She asked.
“Oh yes, they know. They won’t care until sunup. That’s when you’re in trouble, love. I could tell you where the main road is, but that would be no fun at all!”
“What do you mean I’m in trouble? Victor, please, help me get out of here.”
He hushed her and continued to feel the music. Each step felt like an eternity to Polly. She was beginning to feel frightened.
“If you will excuse me, I am going to leave now. Thank you for your troubles.” She frantically stated.
“How do you plan on getting out? You just said you don’t know where you are. And besides, you haven’t had anything to eat all day. Please, stay a while.” He pleaded.
“Victor, I really would like to stay. I have a dog I need to get back to. Tucker, he is an old man and I can’t leave him–”
“You are a very rude girl! Stay, eat, and then I will show you the way out.” He demanded.
Victor led Polly towards the tents and assigned her to the head table. She remembered how hungry she was as soon as the savory scents hit her nose. She was still reluctant to eat anything from this strange place. Against her better judgment, she picked the olive out of her drink and ate it. The music halted. Guests shoved away their dance partners. Simultaneously they turned to look at her. Polly could see the sun rising. Bulbs from the string lights shattered over the flowers like rain.
“Victor, what is happening?” She cried out.
“I told you to be gone by sunrise or you’d be in trouble, love.”
One by one they took their masks off. A young girl walked up to her and handed her her very own mask. It was a beautiful velvet mask with small embossed gold accents all around. Victor gestured for her to try it on, but of course she resisted. All eyes were on Polly ; she was the main act now.
“Dance!” They screamed at her.
“Get moving girl. You got your own mask now.” Victor whispered to her.
“What do you mean Victor? You told me you would help me out of here.”
She noticed her feet were tapping to the beat. She couldn’t stop , but this time she wanted to move. The sun was blazing now, illuminating every ugly detail of this now shoddy place. Bluebells were wilting and the oaks and pines were rotted. Everyone’s attire seemed more fit for a prison sentence rather than a dance party. The ornate ball gowns were now ripped and faded. As Polly made her way around the scene, they cheered her on. Victor was right. Light was all around and she knew how fantastic it would be to trip it.