… And then at midnight, the lights were dimmed for the final act. Everyone hushed and made a clearing in the centre of the atrium. A small steam train made of gleaming gold began to chug forwards into the centre of the palace floor. In each compartment there appeared to be a small person or perhaps child merrily waving – it was hard to tell whether they were real or simply lifelike dolls. They were dressed as soldiers, duchesses, clowns and queens. As the train chugged and put-putted further in, the last carriage came into view – attached to it was a giant gilded water lily.
The chugging of the train came to a halt and a silence fell over the guests. The show master clapped at the birthday boy and motioned him to step forwards. The boy stepped towards the water lily and inspected it in wonderment. It really was made of solid gold and had tiny details etched into every single inch of it. As he bent closer he saw there was a big clockwork key on one side of the lily. The boy turned the key but nothing happened. He tried again and once again, and then he heard a sound like the opening strains of an accordion. He then turned the key several times and was greeted with a bellowing sound that made him totter backwards.
The gold petals began to move slowly and he was close enough to hear the mechanisms of the flower begin to work. The petals gently eased open and there, inside the lily, was a little girl, prettily curled up in the centre. She stretched out her arms and inside her palm there was a pocket-sized replica of the golden water lily. She offered it to the boy who smiled and took it from her. He inspected this miniature version and noticed the tiny clockwork key. He wound it up and then a sweet soft music began to play.
The little girl stepped out of the water lily on her tiptoes and began to dance. Round and round she spun, her copper hair streaming around her to create an auburn glow. Her delicate pale arms wavered above her head, whilst her graceful legs moved as though they were one.
The guests were enchanted by the little dancing girl and tittered amongst themselves in appreciation. As she danced she smiled brilliantly at the boy with such sweetness that he was struck – spellbound and entranced – immovable as stone. When she finished her dance, the party began to disburse, but the boy remained, fixed to the spot. As the guests moved away from the atrium, he went forwards to where she had danced and knelt down, touching the cool marble floor stones. As he raised his hand he saw his fingertips were dusted in a fine golden powder. He brought his fingers to his lips and knew that he had been given the greatest gift he would ever receive.
The following day the boy asked that the girl be moved to the palace to dance every evening. She was brought to his chambers at dusk with her tiny gold musical water lily and she danced until the boy fell asleep well into the early hours. Every night was the same. He would settle himself in a mound of silken floor cushions, wind up her water lily and she would dance before him, her blazing hair swirling around her slight frame and beautiful smiling face. The boy’s parents expected the infatuation to wane over time as most little boy’s infatuations usually do, but the boy was loyal to his flame and saved every evening for her whilst his days took on a golden glow. He watched her dance – night after night, month after month, year after year. He was in love – madly, tenderly, irrevocably…
Copyright 2018 Joon Haque. All rights reserved
(First published in ‘Tales of A Lovelorn Clown’, 2013)