He stood alone. All around him, people moved and swayed in time to the melodies floating through the air but there he was, sturdy and still as a rock being battered by the waves of humanity. The ebbs and swells, all surrounding him and forcing him to move but he remained grounded. Resolutely anchored to his point at the bar.
‘Would you care to dance, sir?’ She asked, rosy cheeks and warm smile. He shook his head, clutching to the thin brass railing around the bar as a lifeline. The cheek of the girl, to approach him in such a common fashion, as if her blonde tresses would lure him onto that perilous dance floor. She shrugged and danced away, accosting some other young fellow to do the tango. An offence to good nature, all of it.
A drink slid his way and he picked it up. He could feel the throb of the engines below him, pulsing through the floor as they fought against nature to keep the ship in the sky. That was where he belonged, amongst his machines and their mechanical perfection. That was a dance he could follow, one of gears and steam. Technology was his bandmaster and in those moments, he could dance.
‘Sir.’ The blonde girl had returned, breaking him from his reverie. ‘I really must insist on a dance. None of the other gentlemen will dance with me, but I feel that you will at least do the charitable thing and allow me one dance.’
The young man sighs, draining his drink in a single gulp and held his arm out to the young lady, brass buttons gleaming against the uniform blue fabric. ‘I do hope you realise that all of my instincts are telling me not to?’
‘Then what better man to dance with than one who is in such control of instincts and himself?’ She grinned as she pulled him onto the dance floor, the band striking up a waltz.
‘One, two, three, one, two three…’ He counted to himself, forcing his feet to stay in time as opposed to going with the engines. A four cylinder waltz, eight steps at a time. He could hear the beat in his heart, prowling up through the decks to distract him from the Captain’s damnable party. ‘One, two, three…’
‘Truly, Sir, you don’t have to count. It flows better if you just feel the music.’ She said, following his lead as they twirled around the floor. Other couples were taking a break, moving to the booths of the mahogany panelled ballroom, leaving nothing but him and the blonde girl. ‘Sir, dance to the rhythm you can feel. I’ll follow your lead.’
It was as if she could hear his thoughts, freeing him from the confines of the party and releasing him to his own enjoyment. His buckled shoes picked up the pace and she began to laugh, a soft tinkle that flowed into his ears. This was a real laugh, not like the polite titters he had heard when the stokers were making jokes to the ladies. ‘One, one, two, two, three, three, four, four. Two cylinders, slightly off beat. Always keeping power.’ They twirled and her blonde hair flew out behind her, blue eyes sparkling in the candlelight. Twirling and twirling until he forgot everything. His engines, the party, all of it. Nothing existed but the girl.
They slowed to the sound of applause. The entire party, clapping them down from wherever they had gone as their pace slowed to match the dwindling engines. A soft crackle broke through the noise, followed by a low, commanding voice.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Deputy Captain speaking. I’d like you all to know that we are now arriving at Purlington. As you should know, Purlington will be an overnight stopover as we take on further pneumarion supplies. You may stay on board, or seek other appropriate lodgings in town. I have been advised that Hotel Caliban is an exceptional stay.’ A slight cough, muffled by the fact that he clearly drew away from the audiophone, then his voice returned. ‘If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask the crew. The India Star will be leaving at 1600 hours tomorrow. Please be aboard and in you cabins by this time. Thank you for your patience.’
While the captain had been speaking, the blonde girl had disappeared. The young man searched for her, briefly, before returning to the bar and his drink. The memory of the Steam Dance would stay with him for the rest of his days.
I started writing the story of a barbarian at a dinner party, when I got thoroughly disillusioned with it and began again. This story is what followed. Let me know your thoughts.
The Idiot in Tin Foil