© Copyright March 2000. Terri Pine.
Let The Dance Begin.
By Terri Pine.
The windscreen wipers beat a restless tattoo and Mark increased the volume on the car stereo to compensate for the sound: he had turned onto the moorland road two miles back, and there were at least three more mind-numbingly dull and deserted miles to go before he reached anything even approaching civilisation again. Still, anything was preferable to staying at that weird dinner party, he reflected with a twinge of unease. He had made his excuses early on, and as soon after dinner as etiquette, and his conscience, allowed, he had begun the long drive back across the moors. And what a night for it! He squinted out of the windscreen at the rolling black hills and dense woodlands.
Damn these parties! - it wasn't even as if he enjoyed them anymore; since the divorce he was forever being trotted out as the good cause, as in; 'I'd like you to meet Mark Gregory, you'll cheer him up, won't you?'
As if the pain was still there after all this time ...
He flicked the wipers onto double speed as the rain, borne on a sudden gust of wind, splattered heavily against the windscreen. The weather seemed to match his mood, and his thoughts turned back once more to the party he had left half an hour ago. His brother had been persistent in his invitation.
'Please, Mark - you'd be doing me a real favour.'
'Oh, come on; you know Judith, once she gets an idea in her head. She asked me to ask you. It'll be me that gets it in the neck if you don't.'
So Mark had gone, for Michael's sake. Sure enough, Judith had produced the inevitable friend, and with resignation Mark had watched the two of them bearing down on him. He accepted the introductions politely and mechanically, but had found his attention distracted almost immediately by a woman standing by the window, alone and pale against the dark curtain.
He hesitated, the flicker of recognition quickly becoming solid memory, one which made his chest tighten with misgiving. She looked different now, which was why it had taken a moment to place her, but without a doubt it was the same woman; Hannah Carver. They had met months ago, after each had suffered painful break-ups and had naturally drifted together for a while. And a short while was all it was, he remembered, a shudder running through him as he recalled her sudden and frightening collapse into depression. She had seemed fine at first, a little nervous which was only to be expected, but that night, the night she had tried to persuade him ... He shivered every time he thought about it; how close they had come ...
Driving home now, he remembered an inexplicable coldness in her eyes as she swept them over him at the party, too harsh a judgement from an old and casual lover, surely. Even despite the manner of their parting; that terrible row when, in desperation he had agreed to her hysterical suggestion that they end their misery together. She had been talking about it for weeks, crying to him that she couldn't go on, and that she knew he felt the same - she was wrong, of course; he had been over Claire by then, at least over the worst of it, but Hannah wore him down. He had no intention of going through with any crazy suicide pact, with her or with anyone else, but he had finally given in, pretending to agree - God, anything to get her off his back ...
Except he hadn't gone through with it, and so in the end neither had she. She had screamed and wept, swearing that she would still go ahead with it, and at last run from the house where the stage had been so carefully set for their final and terrible act.
Obviously she had changed her mind, he thought to himself with relief, and she looked good tonight, despite her haughty demeanour. She seemed to have got her life back on track, and he had been about to cross to her, maybe to ask if she was glad she had changed her mind, he didn't really know, when Michael arrived and clapped an arm across his shoulders.
"Come and have a beer, Markie." Then, under his breath: 'Judith says you're ignoring what's-her-name ... she's not happy.' Mark obediently went with his brother, uneasily aware of the continued stare of the woman by the window. She stood completely alone, speaking to no one but watching Mark across the increasingly crowded floor.
He tried to ignore her presence, and almost succeeded until dinner, when he noticed that she was not at the table. He found himself looking around for her, intrigued and more than a little spooked. What exactly was she doing here? Then he saw her, one of Judith's hired catering staff left the door connecting the dining room to the lounge open, and Mark glimpsed Hannah, staring fixedly at him and emanating a suddenly fierce malevolence. He gave a shocked gasp and stared back down at his plate, his heart hammering, his face on fire. When he looked up again, the door was closed.
He remembered now, how tight his chest had become, how panicky he had felt; he had never realised how frightening it was to find yourself suddenly barely able to draw air. Loud laughter down the table had broken the moment and Mark had breathed more easily in the echoes of the familiar sound. After dinner he had followed the other guests back into the lounge with a certain amount of trepidation and begun to make his excuses to Judith for his early departure.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hannah again, and she was approaching him. To his surprise she did not wait for Judith to finish speaking, but cut directly across her. Mark had been so astonished at her rudeness that he could hardly make sense of what she had said, and it had barely occurred to him how odd it had been that the flow of conversation had continued, uninterrupted.
He had left soon afterwards, and now, heading home he tried to remember Hannah's words, something about some kind of dance ... A moment later the car gave a shudder and a jerk, hard enough to make his safety belt tighten across his chest.
'Oh, no you don't, not out here ...' he muttered. He switched off the radio and blipped the throttle, swearing as the engine cut out altogether and the car coasted to an eerily quiet stop, the hissing of the tyres on the wet road the only sound. Mark switched off the lights and sat in angry disbelief, staring out at the darkness through the waterfall of his windscreen. He twisted the key again, not expecting anything but feeling a surge of annoyance anyway, when the engine gave an almost apologetic coughing sound and fell silent once more.
'Shit!' Mark thumped the steering wheel in frustration. He glanced at the luminous face of his wristwatch, then back along the road the way he had come. He knew a couple who had been at the party who lived in this direction, but they would not be leaving for a good couple of hours yet.
Irrationally, Mark felt his anger directed towards Hannah, who had been his main reason for leaving the party early, and as he recalled her piercing gaze he felt his skin prickle. A gust of wind seemed to carry her whispered words;
"Dance with me, Mark. It's time ..."
He gave a muffled cry and stared around wildly. Then he ran his hands through his hair and forced himself to think about his present predicament. Was if further to go on, or to go back? All he needed was a phone and he was sure he had passed a call box a few minutes ago; he had always meant to get himself a mobile, and never before had he wished so fervently that he had done more than think about it. Pushing open the door against the wind he steeled himself, turning the collar up on his jacket, and began to walk.