Short Story | In Step With The May Dance — by Carla Dow, Illustration by Alankrita Jain
The ribbons flapped in an unexpected chill breeze unusual for this time of year fresh in the early warm promise of spring.
The dancers paused for a second, only a second, in their steps around the May Pole so that when they resumed they were just a half-breath out of beat with the music. It was the way of this day, not of the May Day tradition retraced and repeated each and every year but the way of this single day on this single year out of sync with the rest, out of step not only with the dancing and the chill breeze but with the entire village, it’s people and even time itself.
There was one girl in the group of skipping May Pole dancers who felt this slip more than any other. She alone understood the meaning of this one day because she alone had called for it.
This was after all Mary-May’s day. It was her namesake, the time she had waited for. It was on this very day that Mary-May turned away from her childhood and welcomed the sweetest age of 16.
The girl dressed from head to toe in cornflower blue, a shade which made her eyes shine like the sky, swept her gaze across the crowds gathered under the warm spring sunshine. A few folded their bare arms across their chests at the unexpected chill breeze while others lowered their sunglasses and peered up into the sky expecting to see a cloud where there was none.
Her sight caught upon his like a flyaway hair twisted upon barbed wire. He stumbled slightly on his feet and goosebumps raised on his arms, the skin puckering in a wave of tiny pimples. He tried to pull away, to turn his eyes from hers, but he found he could not. Not until she allowed it.
When she cut lose her anchors he blinked twice, heavily, his eyelids sticking like glue to his pupils grating like the fresh flesh of a toddler’s knee on hard concrete so that he had to use all of his willpower to open his eyes again. And when he did he daren’t look up. He wasn’t to know why or even how this strange twist of darkness had weaved its way into the fabric of his predictable days. But if you’d told him, he wouldn’t have believed you.
It was all because of what she had done last night in the quiet moments before the moon had woken from its slumber. In the half-light between the sun and the stars Mary-May had crept to the May Pole that stood proudly erect at the centre of the village and gazed at its expectant beauty. The young girl on the cusp of womanhood, the girl who had been orphaned at childbirth in one cruel sweep of fate’s careless hand, now wrapped her slim fingers around the post as one would grasp the elegant neck of a swan before snapping the life from it, her blue cornflower dress flapping in the unexpected chill breeze.
The ribbons bound her wrists, wrapping tighter and tighter until her hands became white with the lack of blood and she raised her face to the skies to beam her most beautiful of smiles at the new moon. She conjured up his image in her clear mind; his open eyes, his ready mouth, his strong arms built large from hauling fishing nets day after day. His reluctant mirage soon melted to her will when he saw what she held for him and sensed the ripe readiness of her womb, her willingness to please. He was powerless to resist. It was inevitable if she desired it.
Now in the clear light of the May Day she danced only for him. Although he could not look up her spell wound its way around his heart, around his ready young loins, just as the many shades of blue ribbons of the May Pole wrapped their way into a pretty plait at the spinning steps and light hands of the young maidens. Although he could not look up he saw the dainty way she skipped lighter than any of the others, her smile shining more vividly and her body moving more sensually as if she were dancing in his very heart. He was caught like one of the fish in his nets and no amount of desperate thrashing could ever untangle him from the spell of her love.
As the music fell silent and the dancers stood still, Mary-May smiled sweetly. The fisherboy bowed low and took her hand, his eyes still fixed on the ground as if he were too shy to look at her. The local people frowned and smirked in equal numbers at his old fashioned gesture and the confident flick of her head that came in return. But the couple walked away unconcerned to the seas where they would be joined together as if bound by a strong shiny thread of thick ribbon. His fate was sealed just as she had cast.
Illustration by: Alankrita Jain