The ecstasy had started to work. Elise could feel it under her skin, making her limbs feel light, her mouth feel wet, her face and heart at the same time seem to be smiling. She answered the door to more people; they smelt of cologne, hair gel, she could even tell which of them was wearing which deodorant. They saw her eyes, and squeezed her hands. Stew had set up decks in the front room; Eddy and Bella were down in the laundry pouring ice from plastic bags into the sink and buckets. Elise just stood, listening. And for a moment, the volume of the music, the swaying dancers, the blue light of the evening, which was actually the darkness falling, seemed to come together in such harmony such wide arching wonder that she had to pause, still holding the hands of the two new guests and whisper ‘Listen, just listen to that.’
But they couldn’t hear what Elise heard; all the echoes of the past and the future winding themselves into the night, around her senses and into the air.
Eddy had a long glass with condensation on the outside. Patience stood next to him, her fingers in her own curly hair, feeling its texture. Bella and Stew moved onto the dance floor. Elise couldn’t tell what the music was, but Stew had been working on the decks, now was taking a break, it was a CD, the rhythms complex and strong. Paul and Luke and Yeo were on the couch, crowded into their conversation. Millie and Jane were dancing together, so closely, their hands on one-another’s backs, moving up and under their silky clothes. Everyone seemed more beautiful, even Rory, poised with his hands out, explaining to Violetta why country life suited him, why he didn’t come and live in the big smoke.
Elise noticed she was still holding Mark’s hands, so she smiled and slid away. Out in the back courtyard Steph, Jo and Pia were doing tequila shots. There were a crowd of people watching, laughing. Their faces shone, each one of them had an attractive feature, each one of them clearly beautiful. Elise felt that she’d accessed a way of seeing only the good. She looked up when she heard the fruit bats overhead, above the noise of the party their high-pitched conversations. She saw them flit against the moon, a dozen of them flying together, so nonchalantly, even slowly through the sky. Eddy was there with his arm around her waist, breath in her ear. He was so warm, smelling sharp, like spirits.
‘Here’s your drink.’ He said as he, too, looked up at the bats against the sky, and put the cool glass in her hand.
Elise had been worried about what Sasha would think. Whether she should invite Sasha, all clean and crisp and somehow so naive about the word. But, now it doesn’t seem to matter too much. With the house full of people, the music beating its way through the air, the night so clear and full of scents, Eddy’s warm hand on her hip exactly where it was always meant to be. Her hip had been made with this hand in mind; that weight and pressure. Sasha hadn’t arrived, and Elise found it hard to keep track of her own thoughts.
‘How are you, love?’ Patience smiled, lit from behind with the light from the kitchen,‘How the chemicals treating you?’
‘Lovely, yes,’ Elise sighed.
‘Venus and Maya have just arrived.’ Patience told her. And Elise was off. She was like a child again, running to greet a beloved aunt or grandmother. Her step sure and light she felt herself full of love and the pressure of it pushed her through the dancers and into the arms of her old friends.
Venus was wearing scarves and a velvet jacket, she smelt of apricots in a familiar and powdery way. Elise held her tightly, letting her friend’s hennaed hair tickle her neck. Maya stood to one side, blinking in the crowd. They were sober, stiff from travelling, their clothes slightly too heavy for the October night. Elise, unwilling for the hug to end made fists in her jacket, but Venus gently extracted herself, to hold her at arm’s length and examined Elise slowly, as if able to read on her skin any new events, any changes anything that they couldn’t say there in the doorway with the crowd pressing against them.
Maya opened her mouth to say hello, but was overpowered by Stew on the decks starting a new track and hitting a volume that made the dancers jump. Pulling off her bags and scarves, Elise had Venus on the dance floor, among the writhe and heat of bodies in the small room. Maya waved to Eddy who stood near the lamp, and he signalled he would make drinks.
It was just then, when Venus was beginning to relax, realising her friend was on another plane and the dance was just part of that – when she felt in tune with the excitement that was Elise at that moment -– that Sasha arrived.
Venus didn’t know Sasha – it was that night that Sasha met Will and Rory and all the others – but she registered the look of shock and apprehension that crossed her face. The wide eyes widened, the hair seemed for a moment to almost leap with shock - though that could just have been the breeze from the open back doors - and her mouth curved in a way that Venus wasn’t sure about.
Elise didn’t see Sasha straight away. She was lost in the whirl and touch of the dance. She was absorbed, thinking that this was all she had ever wanted, to lose herself completely in the music and the dance and have nothing else to care about. Sometimes it felt that too many cares crowded into her life. All she wanted was to dance, to smell the collective sweat feel the beat buzz her spine, her whole body, and know that the people she loved, that they were close by. Millie had her by the shoulders, Jane was stroking her stomach, Venus had moved away and was dancing near the edge of the crowd, sipping a drink with Eddy and Bella.
And there was Sasha.
Elise met her eyes, saw the lost look among the confidence of the smile. Just then, she knew something about Sasha that she hadn’t seen before, and that she would forget by morning.
The dark had truly set in when Elise, mid dance, noticed it was hard to see. And she remembered the tea-light candles. She carefully lifted Stew’s lighter from his unguarded pocket and one by one she started to fill the house with candle-light. Four at the front door, lit with a sort of solemnity that quietened the boisterous conversations there, moving through the dancers she put some on the mantle pieces. And, as each candle lit, a small piece of the mood that she caught in Sasha’s eyes is lifted. She went to the courtyard where the drinkers, Eddy among them, had started to sing and she gives him a lit candle, catching the eye of Mark’s girlfriend Hilda-the-witch. Together they put a candle on each of the stairs, on the windowsills, and in her room where Sasha and Rory are lying on the bed, talking. They stop their conversation as Elise comes in. Hilda waits in the doorway. Sasha looks up, waiting for Elise to say something, to give some explanation, or to demand one from her. Rory is quiet. The silence in the room is almost tangible to Elise, who savours it. She balances the last two candles on the chair and lights them lovingly, remembering the story candles of her childhood. And then, she leaves the room, pulling the door to, as Hilda takes her hand and they go onto the balcony and sprinkle glitter on the police at the front door.