A Dance of Death

Isn’t the dance of death just an amazing spectacle? Doesn’t it make you feel so alive?” He moved in time to the music in an understated sort of way. “It’s so attractive, so frightening. I mean it intimates we’ve got a really gruesome side to ourselves we don’t know of. Or wouldn’t admit to,” he said, as they watched the prancing skeletal figures.

She didn’t reply as she gazed entranced at the dancing carnival figures. It seemed perhaps she hadn’t heard his words amongst the furore of loud and rhythmic drums and the whistles. There were so many bands playing. So many people dancing. That rhythm had been beating through the streets, the flares and their smoke all evening.

He found it elating. There were shouts too, sounds of delight and screams of mayhem. There was no saying what they signified, but the many ingredients of the evening made an intoxicating cocktail, topped by a full moon high in the ceiling black sky. It seemed to grin down at them. The two quiet figures stood in the dancing crowd, swaying to the all pervading rhythm.

She turned towards him, grinning in a way he hadn’t seen before. Her eyes as wide as a pale phosphorescent flare. “It’s not a spectacle at all,” she said quietly. He barely caught her words above the din of the crowd, and it struck him as such a curious thing to say.

But more disturbing was the wild expression flickering about her face. His mother looked years younger, and like a different kind of person, a girl.

He knew a little about voodoo and hypnotism because he’d read about it. The Sunday supplements were full of it at the right time of year. But he’d had no personal contact with the subject before. This wasn’t mere contact though, this was more like immersion as he felt the power of his mother’s disconcerting stare. It occurred to him that it was as if she had become possessed. She was possessed, in the simple act of watching the carnival parade in a nameless town in a country he’d rather not have been in.

He’d only taken his mother on holiday to cheer her up following his father’s tragic death. It was the sort of thing a good son should do. He felt he’d only doing his duty. Taking her somewhere she said she’d always wanted to go. But this wasn’t just a cheering up. This wild and weird grinning had her burning in hysteria.

The dance of death isn’t a spectacle, it’s something you take part in,” she said with an knowing quality in her voice that astonished him.

He felt his stomach lurch as he saw his mother leave the pavement to disappear into the swirling mass of costumed people that flowed down the road. Seconds later she re-appeared for an instant where the crowd momentarily parted. She was beckoning to him. He had no alternative. He threw himself into the surge of people as if into a churning sea. He felt like a lifesaver striking out from a tide-struck beach. For a moment he seemed to be carried forward without his feet touching the ground. A hand closed on his arm.

Your father would have loved this,” she called to him, and she winked uncharacteristically in what felt like a leer. The simple act of closing and opening one eye seemed both absurd in the staid figure of a mother he had always known as dependably ordinary, and it seemed horrifying too. Repulsive almost. He had always known her to be different from other people’s mothers, but in no extreme.

She had always encouraged him to be different from other boys. But there never was an intimation of this wild woman in her personality. She pulled him close so that his ear was close to her mouth.

He’s dancing in his death now,” she said, her grin widening.

He felt she was going to laugh loudly and he suddenly feared her.

He’s found himself at last,” she said. “Now he’s no longer here. I finally made him happy, your Dad.” He felt her arm around his waist. “Come and dance, she said,” pulling at him, “Say Good-bye to meat, Carne e val!” He thought for a fraction of second that he could see a glint of something metallic in her other hand. “This is absurd,” he said to himself. “There are flashes of light and reflections all around. Pull yourself together, there is no knife. Get yourself out of this ridiculous crowd. Take your silly mother back home where she belongs.”

Come and dance with me and your father,” she said, “This is our last dance, there won’t be another one.” She pulled at him, her hand locked onto his arm, drawing him away, and they were both swept away into the carnival.