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Festival
John Prohaska
' By what right did she cleave the world in two? Where did this woman get the power to go about forging small universes? '


I can’t recall the specific occasion for the street festival we attended. The calendar was peppered with them throughout the fertile season and none truly gave a damn about the particulars. They were occasions to join a throng of strangers and dance, and that was explanation enough. But I do recall that this one took place in the city center very close to the Gallery of Art. Our group was a strange gathering, made more so by its convoluted creation. I was with Tania, but was drawn to Karen. Karen was with Garry, but only through the intervention and manipulations of Tania. Tania liked me, but in a frivolous, impermanent way. Garry’s interest in both of them was a distant curiosity, as if he were watching it all on television. We all knew each other, but had never been together in this context. We hadn’t learned the mechanics of our group. As bass notes sailed over our heads like a battleship salvo, we pressed various conversational buttons experimentally, vainly trying to figure out how the damn thing worked. We laughed occasionally, but our discomfort made it seem regrettable.

Karen was pretty, petite, and shy even to her personal adornment. Her clothes were of light fabric, draped and layered about her. They were designed as a hiding place, but one that permitted clues to the pleasant form beneath the wrapping. Her hair also played accomplice to this plan. Black and thick, it intruded upon her face. It hung like a curtain, concealing her forehead to the eyebrows. Her tresses trespassed over her cheeks, completing a three-pronged maneuver. They crept forth like jungle lianas, stopping just short of her delicate features, her dark eyes peering out at the world. Slightly more slender and a little taller than our trepidatious gypsy was Tania. Her copper-blonde hair was straight and swept back from her face allowing her feral eyes, etched in black, to reign. She wore a simple gold dress, tasteful, but not designed to dissuade. They were equally lovely, but Tania was more comfortable with her beauty than the other. Then there was Gary. A known local musician, he was a story in himself. We’d been friends a long time. Between his local celebrity and his easy-going charm, much came his way. Because he’d suffered so little, he wasn’t a man to stand by you. But he had a pleasing wit and was enjoyable company. And of course there was I, the intellectual and the observer; a part-time musician who showed the talents to succeed at almost everything. Unfortunately, I never did because I hadn’t enough love for anything.
That was our group.

We took a break from forcibly trying to hammer out a comfortable conversation and Karen stepped away to get a better view of the stage. I watched as she moved closer to the crowd that throbbed like misaligned pistons to the music. She tilted her head up futilely to see over the throng. I smiled. She looked so vulnerable; a sparrow among hawks. Then with the violence of a premonition, my attentions were drawn away. Deep in the crowd a woman advanced. She was unknown to me, but my eyes swept over thousands to settle directly upon her. Her hair was pale and long, meticulously woven into thick corn-rows. She was tall like a man and her long limbs were emphatic in their movements as she marched/danced through the swaying copse of humanity about her.

A sexual vibration emanated from within her like a rattler’s tail. It conveyed a threat, but behind that lay a latent promise of something exquisite, something exotic, something unknown. As she approached I found she had a somewhat metallic quality. Her hair, eyes, flesh and clothing all seemed to be cast from a bronze-coloured element, glinting through the infrequent gaps in the natural patina of reality. Flesh or fabric, they were all variations of the same colour. I insisted that evening light is a playful and deceptive thing. It was strange how, despite the flailing motions of her limbs and hair, she didn’t physically strike anyone as she passed through the dense crowd. She attracted attention, but no enduring enmity. I watched, logging the reactions that she was catalyst to as she purposefully pressed on. Expressions of curiosity, mockery, and annoyance were churned up like the waters in a boat’s wake. But within seconds, the crowd collapsed back in to fill the empty spaces created in her passing, their tranquility restored as if she had never existed.

She came toward us with avalanche purpose, direct and unstoppable, but without consciousness of our existence. I waited anxiously. Her path would bring her very near. I wanted to see the colour of her eyes. I wanted to see the flash of her skin and teeth from up close. I wanted to know her smell. I wanted her to seize my hand as she passed and rip me from my place, dragging me along, explaining nothing, showing me everything. But she stopped. I nearly jerked with surprise as I looked for whatever had arrested her movement. It was Karen. She was the tether that had bound the metal woman. The tall one had stopped without seeing her, but now, slowly turned her head and looked down into that small uplifted face. From beneath the veil of her mane, Karen offered a disarming smile. The other turned to face her directly with two quick cat-like steps. Then a smile slowly spread across her lips. That was when it all changed.

Whatever pulled on the corners of that coppered mouth was tearing the world in two. Her smile should have been formed in a moment. Instead it was interminably long, my heart grinding out numerous beats while she slowly bent her mouth into the appropriate shape. The action should have been accompanied by the creaking and groaning of steel. But in reality, all sound became liquid, the music of the festival becoming dull and distant thuds from the bottom of an ocean. The crowd lost its identity, melding together into an amorphous thing without detail or consciousness. The world had become one large beast of instinct, reacting but never acting, all life a limitless protozoa. But it didn’t matter. It was now a separate thing, with its own laws and relationships with time.

And I had been snatched from that world. But to be placed where? The woman was now smiling. It was a warm and sharp-edged gesture. She began to move her head slowly, her face descending toward Karen’s like a fishhook on a line. And only I could see. I could see because I’d been granted a window. But it was more than just a window. I wasn’t part of the undulating festival world with a view of the other. I was more a part of theirs, transfixed to the moment, feeling only what happened there, inside their bubble. Even the creator of this place did not know of my involvement. I presume it to be an accident, her universe including me because I had always been there. When she raised the walls, I was already inside, my thoughts on them, providing the conduit for her energy to pass through me and bar the door behind us. Did she intend to kiss her? What would her lips be like? Would they be warm and soft, or would they be cold with the taste of iron? Who was this woman with her epileptic vigour and her bullwhip hair? By what right did she cleave the world in two? Where did this woman get the power to go about forging small universes?

These things I ask are things I could not ask then, for I was only an appendage to the world she’d created. I could only watch and wait. No thoughts that pertained to the prior world were allowed entry. I was granted only a minimal amount of will for, in such a small world, there was room for no more. After all this time, presuming time had passed at all, her slender neck had done all it could. Now she slowly leaned in at the waist, continuing to close the distance between their mouths. I maintained my vigil, my mind so utterly engaged I could not form an impression, nor an opinion. I could formulate no theory as to what was happening, or for what purpose. My feelings toward the two of them were bleached away. I had been reduced to nothing more than a video-recorder. They were very close now, their noses nearly touching. They could smell each others skins. Then, barely perceptibly, Karen turned her head to the side. Giant shards of the world smashed, silent and glacial, against the earth. The woman of metal stood straight and looked down at her, astonished as sounds began to enter once more. I studied their disparate faces, one painted in shock and the other humble as my senses awoke. Sounds, loud and celebratory, broke in adding to the general sensation of apocalypse. Their vibrations hastened the dismantling of the makeshift world and the stranger no longer held sway.

She stared at Karen, blank and uncomprehending. Then her expression changed and she joyfully flung a laugh into the air that was swallowed instantly by the crowd. She turned immediately to follow it, her churning arms once again creating the impetus of her motion. Within seconds, that woman whose approach I charted from miles away was lost among the masses. As I continued to pass my eyes over the crowd in a vain search to relocate her, I noticed Karen slowly walk back to us, her head bowed. She must have known that I knew, for she walked straight to my side. Once there, she raised her head enough to speak. She may have said, "I think she was going to kiss me." But I could not say for sure. I only know that I said nothing in return. I could not. While she may have come back, I was still withdrawing the tendrils that had penetrated my skin and dusting off the slivers of the tiny world they’d made. Pieces still clung to my thighs and shoulders and, as I methodically removed all remnants of where we’d been, I dreamily wondered if I might learn to open other worlds too.

© John Prohaska 2001
email: johnprohaska2000@yahoo.ca

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