The Futurist's Ballet; short story

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Ekphrastic story based on: Celebration in Montparnasse after the First Futurist Ballet, 1929. Andre Kertesz

Characters are entirely my own and are not the people in the picture. For reference, the characters are as follows: Charlie is at the righthand head of table, Edna is to his right, Walter, Irene, Marjorie, Florence, Louise, Jack at the lefthand head of the table, Roy, Rose, John, and Alice.

The ballet had only just finished, but Charlie always had a way of ruining things. We’d all had enough champagne to bear it no mind when it happened, and his voice filled every room with a malevolent calm, the kind that was just as addictive as coke but twice as dangerous, so we could never think to part with him.

The only one of us not intoxicated by Charlie was John, which always put Alice on edge—though she wore a smirk the whole dinner, nonetheless. I was on edge too, but only because if I hadn’t already loved another man, I’d love Charlie. People said I looked at him like I did, but I didn’t, I’m sure. Charlie’s eyes were hollow and gaunt, sunken and dark like he’d done it on purpose with a shadow. And his jawline cut like a knife into his neck, meeting at the spot where an actual knife had cut into his neck. I’d seen it happen. His blond hair was so slick it looked like a heat puddle on a paved road. His cheekbones rose to needle-like points on either side of his slender nose then dipped to frame his slender mouth. He wasn’t handsome—he looked like a villain. So much like one I often forgot he was one.

That’s why, when the mob walked in, it almost felt like they had been invited. Walter was giving a toast, his sixth since the ballet, and Marjorie’s shrill laugh exposed how many bottles of champagne had been emptied. One would’ve looked at our table in our private room and thought us a party of good friends.

Roy, a cousin of Charlie, was the only one of us to notice their entrance. His eyes, so large and concaved like Charlie’s, grew double in size and I never thought that possible. That’s when they shot Roy. It came from my end of the table, right behind my head—it was so close I would’ve sworn it was Charlie himself had I been able to take my eyes off him. I watched even as he rose from his seat and drew his own pistol, pointing it just above my eyeline. All I did was watch. It was like the fourth act of the dance the way he moved. Jack jumped to help Roy, but Roy was surely dead. Weren’t we all? When you befriended Charlie Cowell, you knew you’ve already died, you just wait to find out how.

Walter gripped a champagne bottle by the neck, empty of course, so as to have the other full bottles for when all was settled. He brought it down with brute, drunken force on the head of the man with the smoking gun, James. But it wasn’t the first time that had happened to that particular mobster—I had done the same two summers ago with a bottle of pinot grigio—so Walter was shot. He was heavy and shattered the dinnerware as he met the table. Poor Irene, on his right, spilt her drink all down herself.

Marjorie, Florence, and Louise fled the table with handkerchiefs pressed against their rouged lips. Jack was still bent over Roy who, to my immediate surprise, wasn’t dead. He never came across as a man to survive a bullet.

It was John who rose and shot Roy dead. He shot Walter for good measure. Alice and Rose then stood at his side, clearly ready to leave. I rose as well, still watching Charlie as he pointed his gun at John. But I was the one to do it. I shot Charlie. Only his leg, so I knew I could watch him again another time. He didn’t even make a noise, that man—the villain.

Alice and Rose were the firsts to leave, but not before ensuring Marjorie that they’d see her for cards on Sunday. Marjorie’s horror had subsided by that time, and she almost seemed intrigued, mostly by Frank. Frank always intrigued the good ones—I thought it was because of the way his jacket fit over his back when he held his gun at another man. She agreed in earnest to cards on Sunday. Then, James and Frank, James still with broken glass and champagne remnants on his shoulders, gathered the other men’s pistols, emptying them. Each bullet hit the floor in a sound like a pianist striking his keys.

John lowered to Charlie’s ear and whispered something through clenched teeth before putting his knife to the scar on his neck and adding two vertical lines, completing the “H” Haynes had started some months ago before Charlie interrupted him. Charlie didn’t move this time. He wanted to see what John would do.

Charlie hadn’t accounted for John when he killed Haynes, when he spread his empire just a little too widely and thought he snuffed out Haynes’ boys—he thought John was his. But Haynes had been priming John, and it was John who was destined to run with the legacy. John was a masochist in private and a sadist in public, and Charlie had no idea. Charlie was so sure of himself that ten minutes ago even he might’ve looked at our table in our private room and thought us a party of good friends. And maybe we all were friends, but all of Charlie’s friends were dead, and when a man knows he’s dead, he’ll do anything.

James tucked his arm under my coat, around my waist, and drew me close to him. “Shall we go home?”

Charlie now watched me, and I wasn’t nearly strong enough to hold his gaze. It wasn’t even in anger, it just held all of that glorious malevolent calm. And I was already so drunk off everything, it seemed.

“Yes, my love.”

“Did you have a good time at the ballet?”

We were in the hall now, and I swigged a bottle of champagne I had snagged on the way out. “You really ought to have seen it, my love. It was beautiful.”

“Well, I’m glad.”

And he was.

“Did you have a nice evening as well?”

“I did.”

“Well, I’m glad.”

And I was.

By Taylor Martin

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