Pantomime Horse

May 27, 2009

Jennings strode to the front of the stage, his bare feet squeaking softly along the lacquered wood beneath him. He cut a strangely beautiful figure, his sinewy dancers’ legs jutting from the front half of the costume stallion that balanced on his upper body. The papier-mâché and wood horse’s head lent very little weight, so Jennings was able to pirouette and prance with efficient grace.

Forsythe—the silver-haired old goat who captained the horse’s tail end—had lost his balance and fallen, so the horse’s ass and back legs sat slumped and discarded at stage right while Jennings advanced. Once he’d been parted from his faux rear, Jennings stepped out of the ungainly galoshes that comprised the horse’s front legs, so that only the brown-and-white spotted stallion’s head and a portion of similarly-dyed fabric sat atop him. Maybe Forsythe had tossed down too many pints: Jennings had no clue, as Forsythe had pulled an inopportune disappearing act. But the show belonged to Jennings alone now, and the young dancer would make the most of it.

A lesser man would’ve blanched at appearing as half a pantomime horse in front of an extra-unruly pack of drunks at the rowdiest dance hall on the East End, but Jennings heard the house band’s resident ivory-mangler coarsely pounding out some Cole Porter on a dilapidated tack piano. Somehow the familiar strains of “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” possessed his feet. Jennings moved along the stage, his large equine headdress muffling boos and catcalls from the audience. He heard a pint glass shatter just a few feet away from him, but he continued to move along the floor undeterred.

Through the constrained eyeholes of his mask Jennings could see the bright lights that lined the front of the stage. He danced his way downstage, and the crowd’s obnoxious caterwauling increased in volume. The piano player continued playing, and Jennings continued dancing, a slender vision that persisted in bringing beauty to this grotesque hovel of a theatre.

Jennings soft-shoed his way forward when he felt a sudden shard of pain at the bottom of his right foot. Sure enough, the jagged broken handle of that discarded pint glass had embedded itself. But professional that he was, Jennings continued dancing without missing a beat. The crowd quickly grew silent, as though Jennings’ pain jarred them all to empathy.

 The horse-headed dancer dipped, and then gracefully dragged his bleeding foot along the stage floor. Soon he was turning and smearing his blood in complex patterns all over the worn floorboards. The crowd responded with gasps, then ripples of applause. The ripples became a torrent, and soon Jennings could see patrons leaping from their seats and enthusiastically clapping and whooping as he danced in front of the audience. Jennings looked down at the crimson smears he left on the stage.
 
Somehow, he’d managed to sketch out, with his own blood, a perfect portrait of a horse in mid-gallop.

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