Singer stands alone in the Great Hall, shivering.
Her bare feet
stick to the cool marble floor, which sends chills throughout
her body. She wears a thin sleeveless shirt that is nearly
translucent, and a simple green skirt that stops just above her
knees. The only other article on her body is the small gold
bracelet that he gave her; the charlatan, the liar. She
hates him yet cannot part with his gift.
The room soon fills
with men in sharp tuxedos and women in the latest finery and
hairstyles. They wander into the hall, ignoring the Singer,
taking their places at the cushioned seats to the far end. The
air is pervaded with aimless chatter, crisp footsteps, and
squeaking chair legs. As the last person sits, the Host and
Hostess of the Evening enter behind the Singer. They saunter
past her, flaunting their wealth in her face, making it
absolutely known that they are in charge, that she is nothing.
The Host smirks at the Singer and she inhales sharply, her hand
involuntarily flitting to her bracelet.
The Host and
Hostess take their seats in the front row, and the Master of
Ceremonies steps out from behind a velvet curtain. He holds a
small silver tray in his hand like a waiter; an exquisitely
fashioned dagger is balanced precariously on the tray’s surface.
He steps curtly over to the Singer, his boot heels like rifle
shots against the polished floor. His face is grave, and he nods
slightly to her, an acknowledgment of respect. He turns to the
audience and gives his speech, which they have all heard before.
When he finishes, he turns back to the Singer. She nods and
begins to disrobe; it doesn’t take long. Once she is naked,
trembling hard enough to shake her bones, the emcee places the
silver tray in her hands. The Singer closes her eyes when the
emcee plucks the dagger from the tray, and her breath catches in
her throat as he makes the incision.
The Hostess of the
Evening gasps loudly, says she’s viewed the viddies, but never
seen this in the flesh; it all seems so unnecessary. The Singer
then hears the Host softly explain that this is all part of the
experience, that when the performance is over, the body will
knit itself back together and will appear untouched, nary a
scratch to be seen. He further elucidates that the Singer feels
no pain, but he is wrong. It hurts every single time. The
physical rending may disappear, but it hurts all the same.
The Singer winces
slightly as she feels the emcee’s delicate fingers tug gently at
her heart. There is only slight resistance, then the heart comes
free. This Master of Ceremonies has excellent technique. She has
had emcees so harsh in their handling of her most vital organ
that it would take days to recover after a performance. But she
feels secure and even comfortable in the hands of this
particular Master. She opens her eyes as he places her heart on
the silver tray in her hands. It beats regularly and strongly,
its telescopic ventricles and aortae still attached,
disappearing into the small slit to the side of her left breast.
The Master of
Ceremonies bows deeply, then steps to the side. The Singer
treads forward confidently, displaying her heart for all to see.
Several audience members put a hand to their eyes, some turn
away, some gawk with mouths agape. The Singer looks
unflinchingly at the Host of the Evening, her heartbeat the only
audible sound in the Great Hall. The Host just stares at the
Singer, his expression revealing his shock and understanding. He
never attended one of her performances, no matter how she urged
him when they were still together. He seems to be projecting his
thoughts straight to her: I had no idea what you go through.
He lied to her
then left her for another. He claimed love in the beginning, a
white-hot flame that burned out too quickly for either of them.
He stole every cent she owned while she was out performing, then
fled without a word. And yet, all the Singer feels for her
former lover is pity. He will never change; love seems to be
beyond his grasp. The Singer then looks to the Hostess and
realizes that if she cannot turn back the clock and save
herself, she can still save another.
The Singer takes a
deep breath, her lungs expanding with the extra room, then does
what she does best.