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The Eternal Ballroom
The Ink Spots are playing softly in the background, and they’re singing about not wanting to set the world on fire.
They’re my mom's favorite, even though they’re forty years old at this point. But that doesn’t matter to her. She just looks at me and laughs. This is what she listened to as a kid, so it’s what I will listen to. I must suffer and listen to them until I leave.
My mom’s always been that way, making me do things the way she did them as a kid. Thank God I was homeschooled. I would have been bullied to oblivion if kids saw the way I acted. The music, the words, the books, everything I do is odd. And not in that weird “I’m different” way, just in an “I was raised differently” way. Statistically, most kids aren’t listening to The Ink Spots. That’s just a fact.
I look at the calendar, March 8th, 1987. I sigh as I sit down at the table, taking in the Sunday breakfast before me. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and orange juice. No pulp. I refuse to drink pulp. Mom is still at the stove, making herself food. It’s just me and her. It’s been me and her for two years now. Dad left when I was fifteen, and he took my brother with him.
I guess that’s the way the cookies crumbles.
I try not to think about it and dig into the eggs first. They are the best thing I’ve eaten in forever.
“Morning Vera. Did you sleep well?” Mom asks. I groan in response, and she gives a slight chuckle.
My name is Vera, after Vera Lynn. The lady who sang all those songs for the soldiers during WWII. I don’t know everything about her, but she was pretty. Who am I kidding, she’s still pretty, for a seventy-year-old woman.
The Sunday morning runs smoothly. We eat breakfast, we watch the morning news, we play the crossword, and then I’m left to my own devices for the rest of the day. This is good because I have to go out today and find a dress for my mother’s Spring Gala. Every season, she throws a big gala party to welcome the new change. She tells me it’s a good way to start off a new time in your life, and can help with keeping track of where you are.
I don’t mind the galas, in fact, I welcome them. The ballrooms, the live bands, the dancing, and not to mention the fashion. I am in love with everyone and their wardrobes. So much so that every year, since I was seven, I have hosted and judged the best-dressed contest at every single one. So now I must go out and find a dress, so I can secretly be best dressed, without having to say it.
Mom is going to be in Dior, so I have to be in Dior. The mother and daughter always have to match, it’s an unspoken rule when it comes to these events. I don’t mind, because I like matching with Mom. She was the one who got me into this world of hers. Plus, she’s the only person I’ve got. In a world like this, loneliness is the easiest friend you can make.
“Mom, I’m going out. I need a dress. I’ll be at the Dior on 5th avenue,” I call out as I walk down the stairs. We live in New York City, on Riverside Drive, in a penthouse overlooking the city. We have an elevator, a buzzer, and even a doorman. His name is Steven.
I know I am privileged, but I use it to my advantage. With all the money I have, why not make a difference? Why sit around and blow it on pointless things? Every ticket sold for the gala is donated to a charity of Mom’s choice. She taught me to use my privilege for good, so that’s what I will do.
“Alright. Remember the colors! Black and white with a touch of blush pink!” She yells back from the dining room. Bless my Mom. I love her.
Anyways, I leave my home and go to the elevator. “Good evening Vera. Where to today?” Steven the Doorman asks with a smile. He’s too kind.
“Dior. Fifth Avenue. Dress for the Gala,” I say as I hit the button to the first floor myself. I’ve always liked hitting the buttons myself. I would always do it as a little kid, and I will keep doing it for as long as I live here.
“Yes, It is that time of year I suppose. Your mother throws the loveliest of parties,” He responds and he stands in the back.
“You get your invite?”
He pulls a golden paper out of his pocket and smiles, “You mean this?”
I chuckle and hear the elevator ding. It’s my floor to get off. “This is me. I’ll be back in a few. Have a nice evening Steven.”
He nods and helps the next people on as I get off. The elevator rides are quick, and I’m appreciative of that because I never know what to talk about with Steven. He’s old and doesn’t understand my seventeen-year-old sense of humor. I am happy he got an invite though. He and his wife deserve a nice night out.
I start walking outside, and the chilly New York air hits me. I hold my arm out as I call for a cab. The yellow car pulls up and I get in. “5th Avenue, please,” I say as I settle into the back seat. The driver starts driving off and I take a moment to look out the window and appreciate the people walking by.
I like to imagine their lives. Who they are, who they go home to, and what they enjoy. Sometimes I imagine myself interacting with their worlds. I wish I could live in a mirror dimension, so I can look in on someone’s life, and see how they interact with the world around them. I wish I could find a mirror for my father and brother. I wonder how they're doing sometimes. If life truly is better without me and Mom.
I jump out of my thoughts as the cab parks to the curbside. I look up at the meter and see the price. $8.64. I pull out at $10 and look at the driver.
But then something is off, and I stop.
The driver looks like dread incarnate. He has these eyes that could pierce through you like a knife. No mouth, just a blank slate where it should be. No hair. Nothing. Like an empty void of a person. His body is made up of puzzle pieces, the only article of clothing being his taxi cab hat. I’ve seen him before, in my dreams.
I consider them dreams, not nightmares. He has never hurt me. He just watches from the corner of the room as I do my leisurely activities. He watches as I dance, as I dream of Christmas, or as my father walks back into the room. I see him everywhere in my dreams.
As our eyes are locked, I start to hear someone yell “Ma’am.” Over and over. It’s too loud, and I want to look for its source, but I can’t lose the staring contest. I have him in a corner, I have him where I want him. We are locked in and I can understand him. I get it. I can pull apart the puzzle pieces.
Louder and louder, so loud. Then I’m shaken awake.
“Ma’am!” The cab driver yells. I startle as I wake up. In the 30-ish minutes it took to get from Riverside to 5th Avenue, I fell asleep. I take a deep breath and pull out a $10, hand it off to the driver, then quickly hop out of the cab. I don’t want to be in there longer than I have to be, because I have an image to uphold. I can’t be the rich girl who falls asleep during thirty-minute cab drives.
As I walk to the Dior Boutique, I think back to the man. I should make a name for him, that would do me better than simply saying “the man,” don’t you think? As I walk, I think. It can’t be a normal name, for he is not a normal being. Maybe I’ll call him Aberration. He’s unordinary and abnormal, so Aberration seems fitting.
Now, you might think it’s odd I am not too thrown off by Aberration, but listen. I have been dealing with him since I was a little girl. You get used to monsters in the corner when you greet them for so long. The only surprising thing is the idea of him not having a name yet.
But yes, he is now Aberration.
As I stop outside the doors of Dior, I take a breath. Aberration can wait. I need a dress. I let my breath go and walk into my mother’s world, which will one day become my full world.
When I’m lying in bed I like to do nothing. I don’t want to watch television, I don’t want to read, and I especially don’t wish to talk on the landline. I like to sit and study my breathing. I like to think about the future and calculate how I’m going to achieve things that are to come. Tonight, I will sit with my thoughts about the gala.
It will begin at noon, starting off with a beautiful welcoming and announcement of guests. Mom thinks it is very important for everyone to have a moment where their name gets called out and they give a wave or bow. She is very particular about the way she has this done.
Then, once all the guests have arrived and have had their names called out, my mother greets everyone and starts off the activities. We begin with a first dance. This year’s theme of music is 1930’s/40’s big band, including the works of Al Bowly, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and of course, The Ink Spots.
After the first dance, we have a mingle. Everyone catches up with each other. We discuss the economy, fashion, the city, pop culture, and not to mention Broadway and its shows. I take this time to start assessing the people and their dress of choice. Mom’s galas never have a theme. It is just a celebration to welcome the seasons change. This is harder for me, because I have nothing to base the styles on other than my own expertise and opinions.
Then, of course, is the fashion contest. Everyone who wishes to participate lines up and waits their turn to walk onto the platform we have set up for them. I judge based on confidence. Everyone has a different taste in style, but if you’re confident in what you’re wearing, then you sell it. Selling it is all part of the fashion process. I might hate green feathers, but if you’re walking with your head up high and with passion, then I’m sold.
After the contest is the big dance. This year, mom has selected The Edison Ballroom to host. It’s beautifully haunting. When we went to check it out together, I was at a loss for words. The ceiling is beautiful, with chandeliers hanging everywhere. The wood floors are deep and rich. And the echo of your steps create a hypnotizing sound that makes me excited to hear how the live band will play.
The gala is in three days. Until the time comes I will be helping Mom set the place up, check up on the band and listen to their rehearsals, and make sure the guests are aware of when and where to go. I also have to get myself in check. The recent galas have been difficult for me, because I always feel like something bad is going to happen at them. Maybe a chandelier falls or maybe one of the guests mysteriously dies and we all have to solve the case.
Aberration has made my life hell in recent years, but I won’t let him ruin the one thing I love and enjoy.
It is Wednesday, March 11th, 1987. The Spring Gala is today. And something bad is going to happen.
Remember when I said the Edison Ballroom was hauntingly beautiful? Well, now it’s just haunting. The gala starts in two hours and Mom went off to deal with some last minute things. I am sitting at one of the tables in the dinner corner. When the ballroom floor is empty, this place gives me the chills. This place goes on forever and ever. The hallways lead to more hallways and the carpet in them disgust me. Suffice to say, I don’t like this place.
And I can feel Aberration. I don’t know where he is, but he’s somewhere. Watching. Waiting.
I decide to walk around. I have two hours to kill, so I might as well just get lost in this maze of a building. While walking, I take note of the paintings and portraits on the walls. People dancing in the ballroom, people laughing and smiling, performers at the stage, weddings, everyone is happy. Then I come to a mirror, and I get to look at myself for the first time this evening.
I never do my hair or makeup for these events. I have other people do it for me. I never like to see myself at these events, because I feel like a different person. As much as I love this lifestyle and the things that come with it, I sometimes get sad when I’m in the moment. I see these adults and their money, how they got here, how they made a company from the ground up. They made an empire, and I’m just the daughter of a rich woman. I don’t even fully know what my mother does!
I sometimes feel like I got all of this for nothing. I know parents are supposed to work hard to make sure their kids have a better life than they ever had, but what about me? Will I ever fully grow if I don’t go through some sort of hardship?
And this place doesn’t help me at all. I wasn’t kidding when I said I would get lost. These places are all familiar. I’ve been to so many ballrooms in my life that they all just blur together now. Red and gray carpet, brown wooden walls lined with gold, paintings of happy people, chairs and corner tables placed randomly in the hallways. Every single place is the same.
Then there it is. A shadow runs across the end of the hallway. I stop in my tracks for a minute, then shake it off. I have no time for monsters tonight. I have to go over what is in style trends right now, because I have a show to judge.
But then I hear voices. Has it been two hours already? Why are people here? Unless it’s technicians or lighting people. I start to quicken my pace as I try to find the voices. I turn left, then right, then left, left again, and everything becomes circles. I can’t get out. The walls are closing in on me.
I start to run. I need to find the ballroom, I need to find the voices, I need to find Mom. I just want my Mom. I want to run into her arms and let her hold me until everything is okay. This place never ends. Mom would know her way around, she always does. When I was little I got lost like this once, and she found me. I was sobbing, and she just picked me up and carried me to the ballroom. She danced with me. That’s what I want now.
Then the music comes in and now I really have to get to the ballroom. I have to find the band, because I’m in charge of music this time! I have to figure out where the best place for acoustics is. Who should sit where and what the conductor will be making them play. It is all up to me.
The music, the hallways, the shadows, the mirror, everything in my surroundings is not helping me at all. I am running so fast, and my makeup is ruined with tears. Then I trip, and rip my dress. I have ripped Dior. What a miserable day trying to find what feels like an eternal ballroom.
That’s it, that’s what I’ll call this place. The Eternal Ballroom. I have to find it and get back to the ballroom. When I’m in the ballroom, I will find Mom and tell her I don’t want to be here. I will opt out and let someone else judge the contest.
Then, I see him: Aberration.
We make eye contact.
Then he bolts.
“Hey!” I yell out to him when he starts running. I ran after him. I am fed up and done with this monster’s wicked way with me. How he taunts me and makes me anxious. How he ruins my life. How he thinks he can just ruin my life like this. Or maybe my life was always meant to get ruined. What if that’s why he’s always been here?
Because in the end I'm supposed to end like this.
It feels like I've been running forever when we reach the door.
I take a step in and everything is different. The red wallpaper burns my eyes. The dark, seemingly blood stained floors echo with each step I take. And in the distance, big band music plays, even with no band present. I’ve made it: The Eternal Ballroom.
There are people sitting in the dinner corner, but they have no faces.
But I know they’re all looking at me. They’re waiting to see what I’ll do. But all I can do is sit in the middle of the floor and cry. I finally let the melancholy sink in.
Then, just as I’m wiping up my tears, Aberration gets up from the corner and comes to me. He’s a tall, dark figure. Maybe I should be scared, but I’m not. As angry as I am at him for ruining my life, he’s comforting. This one, and only this one, is comforting.
He extends a hand, and I know what to do. It’s time to take my first waltz in The Eternal Ballroom. I don’t even know how this place came to be, but it’s here now. And I’m dancing in it. I’m dancing on its hardwood floor, around its deep vermilion walls, and letting the music take me away.
Then, I understand. I’m becoming one of them. Everything will become dark, and I’ll be stuck here forever. As the realization kicks in, and I try to push away from him, everyone gets up. Everyone is dancing. They want me here, because I’m new meat. I’m the most interesting thing they’ve had in a long time.
So I succumbed. I let the melancholy And I died but a peaceful death.