(Write about a character obsessed with an era they didn’t live through)
The balalaika is always there. In the background, faintly on the wind or great sweeping sounds of the strings waking me from a sound sleep. I strain to hear it when it is teasing me and I swim in it when it flows over me, almost drowning me in the music. I wake or become aware and my face is wet with tears, often my breathing is deep and catching in my throat as though I have undergone strenuous exercise. It used to frighten me but now I just wish and wait. There is futility in the waiting but I have a frantic need to know.
I am just as I seem. I am a woman in her prime with a whole life. I have gone forward in my life and career, I am a success, or so it appears.
If this is true, why am I tortured by this other life. No, not another life, but a vague feeling I can't quite reach out to grasp. It comes on its own, the music, the fragrance and often a brief change in temperature or crispness of the air.
Yesterday in a gathering of friends, I turned my head slightly and I thought I saw a man, just a momentary glance but then looking quickly back there was no one but a brisk cold crisp breeze caused me to wrap my arms around myself with a shiver.
Why will this thing not leave me. Why continue to tease me with these moments? Alone or in a noisy crowded place, it comes when it comes but it always ends with the balalaika, the music trailing off so quietly the last note just a quiver in the very air I breathe.
Long ago, when my mother was still alive, I asked her if she could recall anything I might have experienced as a young child that remains in my memory but she, like my aunts and most of my Mother’s other friends, laughed about my childish romantic ideas, it's just your imagination to be replaced soon by real romances and a full life. Magda my sweet daughter, do not dwell on things that will pass or are part of the past. With those words I feel two things, I feel embarrassed and I feel uneasy as though they know but will not tell me a thing they know to be true.
It would be a lie if I told you it is unpleasant, it is not unpleasant at all. What it is is , too brief. I feel, see, hear or taste it and in that moment of crystal clear realization it disappears. Gone from me, until for whatever reason, it returns of it’s own volition.
On a recent night, as I woke to the music, I saw my own self in full skirts, just lifting the hem of the long gown to see black shiny boots and my feet dancing to the music. A blink, a simple blink and the moonlight from my window showed me my room and my husband sleeping at peace beside me. The colorful dancing woman was just a feeling with no substance.
I slipped quietly out of our bed and tiptoed down the stairs. The third step from the bottom always squeaks and as I stepped on it, the music began from somewhere in the house, faint and teasing me to come and dance. I stood transfixed not wanting to break the spell or whatever this moment held, I closed my eyes hugging the newel, I feared if I even breathed it might stop. It frightens me at times like this, I wonder if I may be losing my mind. What is this thing? What is the purpose?
It is fading away. Is it because I stopped listening to question my sanity? I sink down to the stair tread and resting my head against the wood, I close my eyes. I try to hum what I remember. It is nothing like the graceful, full of life and living sound of the strings, but then I hear it again, faintly and light so sweetly floating on the night air. I hold my breath and it builds, it flows around me and I am lost to the full richness of the sound. I stand and move with the music, I am crying but I feel whole. After a bit, I settle to the floor in front of our large bay window, the moonlight streaming on me, my heart is hammering, I gasp for breath and then the realization that I am waiting for a partner to complete this dance. This emotion is all about winning back a lost love.
They say, “Dance like no one is watching!” It is an old saying and no one was watching, unless I count. I felt I was standing outside of myself watching this inner being, my true self, dance with abandon. Wildly and with very suggestive overtones. Who is this creature that lives within me? Who is this being that becomes stronger with each dance? Is she trying to be free? I sit there in the moonlight, my dress a crumple of flaming reds and oranges, ruffles and lace, I lift my chin my face to the moon, and I cry out, “Please tell me! Do not make me suffer the loss of my mind! Tell me, tell me, please!”
This is how my husband finds me, my cries awakening him and he rushes to me. I am on the floor by the window in the moonlight and the stark white of my night dress glows in the moonlight. My face is down, my tears spent. I am exhausted. He lifts me and carries me up the stairs to my bed.
It is morning now, I hear the murmur of quiet voices in the hallway outside our bedroom, my husband and the doctor. They are discussing me as though I am but a specimen on a slide for a microscope. What must be done? Who to see who might help in such matters. My old and steady family physician knows this is beyond his skills but he will consult with a doctor known in medical circles as brilliant. Perhaps thoughts or ideas or a course of treatments going forward.
They are deciding my life and I am not included. This is so very wrong on all levels. I do understand there can be no more dancing that is or can be observed, but never fear, I will dance! I will dance until he comes for me.
I smile, I do as they wish, I regain my strength but always the balalaika lingers in the background. It was my life. Somewhere in time it was my life! And I had a great lover! I am so very certain that these feelings can only flow from a real and true thing. A passion for the ages.
My medication helps me sleep deeply and soon they are not as vigilant. I avoid my dosages and the music creeps in at my edges. I want it so badly!
Tonight I lay in my bed having said a lovely goodnight to my dear husband. I stretch like a cat, down the length of my legs, my muscles tingle, I have a slight smile. I drift off to a perfect sleep.
From far away the sound of the strings flows on the air currents. The pace is increased, the music calling me louder and louder. I am afraid to open my eyes but raise my lashes just enough to see the red and orange of the dress that waits for me. I hear the fabric rustle. Breathing deeply I feel the fabric, I run my hands down my torso smoothing the bodice. And then the balalaika commands me to stand and dance. And I dance. Oh how I dance! The ruffles flying, the colors swirling.
In the morning I am gone from that house, my Puritan white night dress lays crumpled on the floor and one golden gypsy earring lays nearby!