A Starlight Waltz

Written by Liam Ball

Like a painting in motion, dancers twirled gracefully across a glass floor, all the while Frank watched on from afar.

Awash in an air of glamour not seen since the 1920s, Frank felt somewhat out of place. Styled and adorned in art deco, the room felt like a scene from the distant past, caught between the many sparkling chandeliers above and the sight of something big, blue, and terrifyingly far below. The Earth was only visible to those willing to look down, which didn’t include Frank, who instead gazed at the curve of the planet out the windows. Just beyond the horizon, he could see the stars. They sparkled like gems so, comparatively, the chandeliers were a poor imitation.

It wasn’t the stars or the planet that had his undivided attention that night. There, dancing in the middle of the floor, the glass between a party and the vacuum, was the lady of the hour. Elizabeth Marquis. Dressed in shimmering blue silk, she smiled brightly. She was spectacular, and it was because of her that he sat over 35 kilometres above sea level. It was far from where he would have preferred being, especially considering it was a miracle that he hadn’t fainted on the elevator ride up. So, he sat at the bar and watched Elizabeth dance the night away. She seemed to be having the time of her life.

‘So, are you planning or dancing, or are you just going to stare?’

The voice of the bartender wasn’t enough to make Frank turn from the sight of the dancers. Though, the cheeky tone with which they spoke wasn’t lost on him.

‘I think I’ll stay where it feels safest.’

‘Scared to dance?’ The bartender gave a dry laugh.

Frank cast them a sharp glance from the corner of his eye. ‘I’d rather not try dancing on glass.’

‘I suppose that’s fair enough.’ The bartender shrugged. ‘Though it would be such a shame to leave her dancing by herself.’

Frank raised an eyebrow. ‘I don’t follow. I’ve seen her dance with everyone here.’

‘With the exception of the person she brought here.’

‘Yeah, well, I’m sure she wouldn’t want to dance with me anyway.’

‘Considering you’ve been making the effort to avoid her all night, I wouldn’t be surprised. Are you really afraid of heights Mr Thane, or something else?’

‘You know who I am?’

‘Well, of course I do. You’re Ms Marquis’s business partner after all.’ They lowered their voice. ‘I’ve actually been asked to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t leave the party too early.’

‘May I ask who did so?’

Tapping their nose, the bartender coyly said, ‘Sorry, but I’m under strict orders not to tell.’

Giving the bartender an odd look, Frank turned back to the dancefloor and noticed the dance had changed into a fast-paced, elaborate tango, the dancers’ shoes tapping incessantly against the glass floor. The annoying image of cracking glass and stumbling feet flooded Frank’s imagination. A couple of days ago, Elizabeth had talked him into going to the party for the sake of their clients, a party which she had quite literally described as ‘out of this world’, causing him to groan and roll his eyes.

In the present, he was left wondering why he had been brought along. His skills were all in the office, whereas she was the one who excelled in bumping shoulders with the important people. She had her strengths, and he had his weaknesses.

‘Sounds like the band’s beginning to wrap up for the night.’

Frank spun around to the bartender. ‘Wait, what? This early?’

With a nod, the bartender gave a casual response. ‘It’s getting quite late now. This’ll probably be the last song for the night.’

A sense of disappointment washed over Frank. ‘Oh … ’

‘Though I have heard they do take requests sometimes.’ The bartender looked to the bandstand, the hint of a grin on their lips. ‘For a small fee, of course.’

Surprising even himself, Frank stood up from the barstool and quickly strode across the room to where the band was already drawing the song to a gentle close. He walked up to the conductor at the front of the band.

‘Um, excuse me?’ he nervously asked.

‘Hmm?’ she hummed, setting her baton down.

‘I was told that you take requests, is that right?’

‘That is indeed the case.’ She smiled. ‘What is it that you were hoping for?’

‘Something slow, preferably.’ Frank muttered.

‘That’ll be about 450 credits then.’

Wincing at the price, Frank hesitated as he pressed a finger to his watch and heard the tell-tale chime of a payment complete. The conductor, with pizazz, grabbed her baton and rapped it upon her music stand.

‘Alright, everybody! Let’s make sure they’re humming this one ‘til they drop!’

Encouraged by the swell of music, Frank swallowed his fear and walked over to Elizabeth, who was standing alone watching the dancers, and before his nerves got the better of him, he offered her his hand.

‘Would you care to dance?’ He hoped like hell that she didn’t hear the tremble in his voice.

She paused, evidently surprised. But took his hand and smiled. ‘I’d love to.’

Walking onto the glass floor, Frank held his breath steady and kept his eyes on Elizabeth’s. He placed a hand on her hip and held her hand with the other. Slowly and uncertainly, they began to waltz and, for a moment, it was terrifying, but then, her fingers curled around his, and it all became a little better. Everything seemed to fall away, and all that was left was the two dancers. Among the stars they danced, every white dot a distant sparkle in the inky black. The band serenaded the scene with music, gentle and harmonious. In time, Frank forgot that he was far above the Earth, but too soon he heard the song come to an end and mourned the lost moment. However, the band began to play again, causing confusion to sweep over him, only for it to disappear when he felt Elizabeth squeeze his hand as her eyes met his.

‘I asked if they could play it one more time.’

Liam’s work appears in the Euphoria, Atmosphere, Forward, Retro, Tension, Colour, Order, and Skeptic editions of WORDLY Magazine.

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