THE HANDS OF SALAMANDRE [PART 4]

“The rhythm of good music casually beats to the steady sound of our souls.” -Salamandre, Brixie Boundaries for Social Interaction Volume VIX

“There you are Salaslav!” Louisa exclaimed and it was the prettiest word he’d ever heard. He’d change his name to hear it again. And then change it to hear a third time.

“Oh good, Jax got you a drink. Everything’s free for a Stickless here, so don’t worry about the tab.”

“No, no, I won’t.” Salamandre mumbled, unsure of whether he’d even offered to pay a single fish for his Stormed Waver.

“Great! Salaslav, meet my friend Alaura.”

He shook hands with the girl standing next to Louisa but couldn’t be bothered taking any real interest in her, not when she stood before the first great being of his life and beside a nearly full jar of juice in his hand. With mild amusement, Alaura tipped her head in Salamandre’s direction and continued a conversation that Salamandre had so juicefully interrupted.

“So you never told me what you think,” Alaura said.

“Think about what?” Asked Louisa.

“Salamandre.”

Taking a long sip of his drink, Salamandre added some well-ignored “mmhms” to whatever it was about him that Alaura said next. After his Waver was through, he finally listened a little more closely. But just a little.

“Don’t worry, he’s coming,” Louisa said. “You know he won’t arrive until he’s good and ready to face what must be done, even if Albert passed three days ago and everyone expects him to be here by now. What we must realize is this: It’s incredible Salamandre is alive as a real brixie and not just a character in our storie-books of ridiculous rhyme. I was embarrassed to sell a Salamandre rhyme to a customer when I knew it wouldn’t turn into a thing! How could we not? Those rhymes sell for sixteen and three quarters fish at Stickless and trust me, hope is worth a whole lot more fish than that.”

“And the real Salamandre? What’s he worth?”

“Our world,” Louisa whispered quietly, flicking her eyes briefly to the blue of Salamandre’s own. “How could you ever doubt it?”

“Of course I don’t doubt it. He’s Salamandre, he’ll be hailed as great even if he can’t read a single rhyme. Now Albert is the real hero in this, dying to let his brother live. It gets me frustrated though, you’d think Salamandre would be here in Brixie the minute he found out …”

“It could be he doesn’t know …”

“Or maybe he doesn’t care. That’s another theory floating around the shoppes.”

“He cares.”

“And how do you know?”

“Because this isn’t how it ends.”

The group fell silent for a moment then Louisa spoke again. “By the way, I should expect you don’t go around thinking Albert was the picture of self-sacrifice or an outspoken crusader for the Brixie cause. Let’s remember he was still living in Brixbanx and working for his father and didn’t do much to help when we shouted his name from down below. He had his minute or two in our darkness, that’s for sure, but  Albert Pleta was far from the altruistic spokesperson for Brixie freedom some are making him out to be. They call him a martyr in death but what evidence is there that he lived it? At least we’ve got more to go on than the King up in Brixbanx, though. The man thinks his son drowned!”

At this, Alaura and Louisa laughed uncontrollably, and so Salamandre laughed alongside them, unsure of what was at all funny, and trying to remember if he had ever laughed so much before.

The lights in the room flickered twice.

“Ah!” Louisa grabbed Salamandre’s arm and turned to her friend. “The show is about to start. We’ll talk more later this week, Alaura. We’ve got to go! Salaslav has never seen the Harmonettes play and I want to get him a good spot. See you soon!” Louisa waved a pleasant and slightly perturbed goodbye. They pushed on.

As she moved across the room, Louisa would turn around often, directing Salamandre to slide behind a Brixie here and press past a Brixie there. Several times when he got stuck, she swished around to tug him through. Within minutes, they reached the other side of the room and faced a long, empty stage. White markings marred the darkly stained wood floor and Salamandre wondered what talent had danced upon that scuffed-up surface, what performers played on its well-worn bounds. In this new existence, he too was a performer, if only playing the part of the village idiot, who knew nothing of the script or his own clumsiness, and knew not how the story would end.

The lights in the room flickered again and Louisa told Salamandre it was time. She squeezed his hand a bit too hard when she said it but he didn’t mind. Even if her skin was too soft and clean, it made for a nice contrast against the ten fingers of his well-worn hands.

“You’re going to love this,” Louisa said and squeezed again.

“Love what?”

“The show!” She pointed their clasped hands in the direction of the stage just as four females walked across it, halting when they were evenly spread out with hands placed at their sides. They stood absolutely, painfully still.

The crowd greeted this entrance with due applause. The first performer, a tall feather of a female wore a long, grey dress; its train stretched across the length of the stage. She made a motion with one elegant hand and the room fell silent.

This woman was unlike anything Salamandre had ever seen before. Her skin was the color of a late evening sky and twinkled, star-like, with midnight shadows cast upon her cheeks from the spotlight above. Salamandre could tell her furrowed brow could speak of hardships, her ten, grace-filled fingers could talk of trouble unlike anything he’d ever known.

Finally, she spoke, her voice calm and clear. “Thank you all for coming to E-Shelf tonight. It’s a beautiful thing to see so many smiles as our times turn less golden each day. Our fates may be a little muddied, but for tonight, we are all fated here at E-Shelf to feel the music of our suffering as one.”

Salamandre let go of Louisa’s hand and wriggled his fingers away. He counted quickly to ten. All there.

The twinkly woman continued. “On a lighter note, I can’t believe the turn out here! It’s invigorating and inspiring for each one of you to be in our music and believe in our message. As you may know, I’m Mariepose …”

The crowd roared …

“And next to me we have Inra, Rubina and Ariel.”

Again, the crowd surged with loud claps.

“Some call us rebels, some call us fighters, some call us stupid but for tonight, you can call us …”

Mariepose paused, taking a deep breath to inhale the heightened energy of the weighty silence that filled the room.

“…The Harmonettes!”

Sounds exploded across the room, up into the beams and into forgotten corners then whizzed onto the stage again. Salamandre was screaming, too.

Through it all, Mariepose stood quiet, watching the excitement she had created burst open into lingering joy. She smiled a little as she observed from her spotlit stage above the crowd, and Salamandre could tell she wasn’t really happy but not because her smile only reached the tips of her lips; he knew because he recognized the smile as the one he often wore.

“Thank you, please, settle down,” she said and the crowd obeyed. She seemed genuinely pleased to have their attention. “Now, treat this first tune with care, it’s called ‘My Core.’ Rhyme with us if she feels you!”

Mariepose turned to her band of three others, now standing in a staggered line behind the train of her dress. She snapped her fingers as she counted, “A-one, a two, a-one, two, three, nine …”

On nine, the woman closest to her took a step forward; Salamandre thought from order of introduction this was Inra. If it was, then Inra was an older woman, with frizzled hair and a generally frazzled appearance. She began to speak on a low tone, amplified by the second round of silence that befell the room. “Rain trickle down, rain Brixie crown. Rain trickle drop, rain trickle STOP!”

As Inra spoke, ran fell in a small ring around her body, ceasing to pour as she said the word “STOP.” The pitter-patter of the water on the hard surface of the stage made for a fixed beat.

Inra recited the rhyme again to this pattern of pounding water, repeating it with a lift of her hands and stomps of her feet that came in time to the musical downpour.

“Rain trickle down, rain Brixie crown. Rain trick drop, rain trickle STOP!”

The “STOP” broke up the rainfall so it hammered steadily then ceased at this word. When it stopped, Salamandre could see how Inra’s silver dress had gotten soaked from the rain and was sparkling with drops of water that caught the colored stage lights in a rainbow display of shine. While her rhyming grew louder, the rain fell harder. So she went on: “Wicked as it comes, wicked as it goes. Shun all the highs, delight in all the lows! Listen with care but hear only rain in speeches of those never once called insane! Rain trickle drop, rain trickle STOP!”

Inra’s rain rhyme went on like this for three more repeated verses until the next Harmonette in line – presumably Rubina – a short woman outfitted in a right, red dress, purred on a seductive warble against the rain: “Heels on the floor, strain no more. Click click click click! Heels on the floor, I said strain no more!”

When she rhymed, the singer took off her conveniently red-heeled shoes, and the words recited caused the heels to lift up off the stage then strike the ground on their own accord, just one tap behind the dropping rain and falling whenever Rubina said “click.”

“Rain trickle drop …”

“Click.”

“Rain trickle stop …”

“Click.”

“Rain trickle down …”

“Click.”

“Rain Brixie crown …”

Click.”

As the alternating heel-clicks and raindrops continued, the third Harmonette – Ariel if all other assignments were correct – a thin, blonde waif no more than fifteen years old, crooned her own rhyme on a soft vocal glide: “You know I don’t love you, let’s call this a lust, that swoops through my bod in spreads of wind dust. Here comes the breeze, see you’ve lost all your muster, and there goes the storm, now you’re hardly a bluster.”

When Ariel sang, holding tight to her forearms with each verse, a light wind picked up around her, whirling her hair into golden coils above her head. The wind howled in a baseline rhythm, grounding the two alternating rain and shoe beats beneath this shy, cadenced whir.

Finally, against all these accumulations of wonderful sound, Mariepose started her rhyme, lifting her fist in the air after each line was delivered: “Collaborate a rally! Jubilate a war! Escalate a silence! You can’t take away my core! Let’s say ‘collaborate a rally!’ Jubilate a war! Escalate to silence but don’t take away my core!”

Mariepose’s words, spoken above the timid wind sentiments, metrical rain rhymes and timed heel clicks, did not cause any object to appear or force anything already present on the stage to move. But the words were so catchy in their enthusiasm, so sincere in their disregard for convention that soon every member of the audience became an animated participant in the chant, dancing and reciting along with Mariepose.

Stirred by the pounding rhymes the Harmonettes fed them, the Brixies in the room enjoyed because why not? In this place and in this moment, life’s troubles didn’t matter, the letter didn’t matter, the strangeness of the shelves didn’t matter. All that mattered here was the wind, the rain and the clicking in between. And of course, those words that Mariepose gave and the crowd inhaled, how they stuck into Salamandre’s mind! He shouted them back at her because it seemed like the only thing he could do.

“Collaborate already! Hungrigate a jar!”

Salamandre’s version was terribly far off from the original composition but he didn’t notice his creative interpretation, he was too spellbound by the pair of heels dancing on a rain-battered stage. The melody left nothing behind and it was only fair that he would never be the same again. Salamandre treaded on with heavier heart but happier mind, moving at the will of his body and doing something he thought might be considered a dance. The final shackle binding him to himself ripped apart. Unbound, he allowed the rhymes to take over and bring him wherever he needed to go, wherever his arms or legs demanded he should be. He grabbed Louisa by the hips – she had this whole time been hopping to the beat – and spun her around. They shouted words at each other, separately lost in the music, brought together by song, just like Mariepose said, as one.

“So do you like it?” Louisa asked into Salamandre’s ear, but he barely heard her over the screams of the crowd.

“Yes!”

“I knew you would.”

Well, no. He thought and turned away. He may think her beautiful but he couldn’t let her know him. Not yet. He decided it might be better to sing a different tune and listened instead to the rain rhyme of Inra. Salamandre began to recite along with this Harmonette, who he now felt should get a lot more audience support – as far as he heard, she had none – for all her expert musical showers and masterfully disheveled hair.

“Rain trickle down, rain trickle crown …”

Salamandre had only recited one full round of rhyme, (this time taking care to get it right), when he immediately regretted the decision. Hard beads of rain pelted the top of his head in a circle of stiffly falling water that stopped not an inch from his person, wetting no one but himself. Then, he lamented the rhyme choice for another reason; the water started to disintegrate his rhymed-up costume, causing his loose LETTER top, ridiculous jar-hat and tight, metallic pants to melt down his body in colorful drips of silver, blue and brown. Without the runny clothes, he was back to his old shirt-cloth and rhymed-up shoes. His hair grew back into its usual knotted mess and dirt built up on the scabby skin that had before been clean and smooth.

The rhymed rain stopped a few inconvenient minutes after Salamandre recited the last word and so he stood in a puddle of colored water that – unlike the contained rainstorm – spread out to splash a nearby Brixie kicking his legs in time with Rubina’s heels.

“Hey! Watch it, bri! What’s with the water?” The Brixie shouted at Salamandre’s back.

He spun around. “Oh settle down, you won’t melt.

“Look, I didn’t come here to … woah!” The Brixie paused mid-sentence. He stepped closer to Salamandre. “I know you.”

“No.”

“I do!”

“No, I know you!”

“No.”

“Yes, you’re … holy ghelleyberry! Bri, are you Salamandre?”

The music immediately stopped. The Harmonettes had heard it; they had heard his name shouted from somewhere. The song could wait. Everything could wiat.

“No, I’m not Salamandre,” said Salamandre. “He is not me. Very sorry.”

“I’m right! I know it’s you! You’re the greatest secret ever kept and now we know you’ve arrived! Salamandre is finally here!”

In the confusion caused by the Harmonette’s unexplained break, every member of the audience caught this declaration of his name. Hundreds of legging-clad, tee-shirt wearing Brixies turned in confusion, in earnest, with solemnity and with hope to the one now identified by a dancing comrade of song as the one who would save them all, the one called Salamandre.

Then a sharp tug and he was yanked sideways, plunging into the gloom of some hallway then another, and a third after that. He could see little of his surroundings but heard an unfamiliar voice carve a gritty path through the darkness.

“Good evening, Salamandre. Welcome home.”