Three people sat in the drawing room. One was an old man, hunched and hairless, crumpled into a threadbare wing chair. A small, fat chihuahua sat in his lap. Another was an extremely tall and thin young man, effeminate and made-up. He stood in the window embrasure, gazing out into the afternoon. He wore a shirt of silky drapery, with frills at his wrists. The third person was a child of about nine, a boy, who sat on the hearth rug playing with a toy train. There were only faint sounds n the room: a clock ticking on the mantle, the small boy making quiet train engine sounds, sotto voce.
After a long period of this quiet and stillness, a woman entered through the door to the hallway. “You’re all wanted,” she said, then left.
The three disparate occupants of the room, representative of their three stereotypes – old man, effeminate man, boy – roused themselves and looked at each other.
“You go first,” said the effeminate man.
“I’m too slow,” said the old man. “You should go, you’re young and strong.”
“He’s the youngest,” said the effeminate man, pointing to the boy.
“But he’s just a boy,” said the old man.
“Yeah, you pansy, I’m just a boy!” said the boy, clutching his toy train nervously.
The effeminate man looked fearful. Suddenly, he turned and flung up the sash on the window and leaned out. He shouted:
“We’re all ready to go, but we won’t go!” he shouted.
“Now, now, what good will that do?” said the old man. He slowly clambered out of his armchair, leaning on it to support himself to upright, the little dog clambering to the floor. The atmosphere shrank in upon the three, as if they were inside a parachute, its thin silk obscuring a clear view of the world. They had no idea what was to happen.
They were suspended in dread, the inevitability of something occurring, of action filling the void of inaction. The door opened again. Into the room marched a troupe of acrobats, girls and boys in lycra, hoops and balls in their arms, and a strident-voiced leader. They spilled and ran and rolled and spread around the room, encircling the three.
“Do you have a newspaper?” asked the leader to the three. They shook their three heads. He scuttled over to the piano in the corner and began to play; his acrobat fellows began swaying; the leader broke into a Frank Sinatra song “…please proceed to lead me…” The rhymes were forced, the foxtrot rhythms mesmerising. The acrobats and the old man, the effeminate man and the boy joined into a conga line and went swaying around the big room, the chihuahua following at the end.
The toy train lay forgotten on the hearth rug.
24th Nov 2013