“The Queen’s Denouement Ball” — C.Birde, 1/17
All in the Queen’s retinue are clad in silks and satins. Gowns shimmer like sunlit water, in every color imaginable. But none shine so brightly as the young Queen herself. Dressed in white satin gown, she is the sun, the source of all colors cascading out from around her. It is the Queen’s Denouement Ball.
Clustered about their Queen, the women dip their heads and whisper to each other behind painted fans. Pearls adorn graceful necks. Feathered plumes bob in complicated headdresses. We stand in an antechamber just outside the grand ballroom. Peering past the Queen and her other women, I see the farther stone wall is covered in large, colorful tapestries. Chandeliers cast welcome candlelight, and music emanates softly. A parquet floor unifies the two rooms.
The Ball is about to begin. The women fuss over the Queen as they prepare to enter, smooth her skirts, her glossy, dark hair. The Queen’s guard stand to either side of her and, to my surprise, these well-muscled and whiskered men are dressed in satin gowns, as well – one in pale blue, the other in pink. Neither seems the least bit distressed or uncomfortable. The Denouement Ball is, after all, a strictly female function, and they must dress the costumed part to fulfill their obligation as protectors to the Queen.
Of all the attendants, I alone am woefully underdressed. Wearing jeans and black t-shirt, I feel coarse, common. I keep to the edges of that brilliant human spectrum, a dull shadow to their light.
“Down…and Out” — C.Birde, 1/17
One…two…three… Step after step. The stairs descend into murky darkness, leave the light behind. Grip the handrail, feel it move against the wall. Seven…eight…nine… Dark and darker. Step more carefully. Twelve…thirteen…fourteen…fifteen… On the landing, pause. Eyes slow to adjust.
The cellar is far larger than expected, stretching beyond the scope of available light into darkness. Note the evenly spaced support beams, erect and dark; stalagmites of steel. Step off the landing into that vast space. Poured concrete underfoot, smooth and unbroken. Navigate around derelict equipment and machinery, past crates and boxes stacked one atop the other, floor to ceiling. Move through the labyrinth. Trail fingers along wood and stone and rusted metal, each a subtle guidepost.
At the far side, another set of stairs. Crudely made. Purely practical. Boards and beams and sheets and scraps of wood hammered together. Climb. Five steps in all. Hands upon the door – push. Hinges creak, and the door swings wide, allows the night to spill in, cool and damp and sweet to breathe. Fill lungs. Shed tension.
Lamplight from without casts a gentle glow, scatters across the cellar’s interior. Prop the door open. Thrust the stepstool’s feet into the turf; wedge its back under the door’s handle. Light chases along the stool’s tubular metal frame and legs, along the yellow plastic seat and seatback.
Now, return. Back down the makeshift stairs and into the cellar. Easier to see now. Easier to retrace those many steps around makeshift rows of storage and antique paraphernalia. Easier, now, to navigate. To get in and get out again.