Your Coffee Break Read

The Engagement Party

This was not a pregnant pause. The sense of expectation was something altogether more profound and powerful. For most watching, it was like the moment when a giant firework screams upwards into the midnight sky at New Year, drawing every eye and inspiring the mind to speculate upon what exciting and marvellous spectacle of explosive beauty could follow in the moments to come.

There was a preternatural hush. The unsound of every breath held in anticipation, and for a few scant seconds, time was suspended into tableau. From forth movement, activity and life there was birthed a stillness which transformed the instant to a photograph captured by the camera of every eye present. Something wonderful was about to happen, a culmination and catharsis which was both long expected and yet in the moment surprising.

Standing alone in the middle of this captivated audience I felt only clammy nausea. The cold, sickening churning of dread in my stomach, seemed to drop like lead as if I was in a high-speed lift going down fast. This was akin to standing before the darkened radar screen of an air traffic control room and watching two points of light merge into one, flaring more brilliant, the second before it blinked out forever.

But, as everyone else there present, in that moment I only had eyes for Roxanne.

She looked ethereal in profile, like an antique watercolour. Her hair the living copper shades that Titian craved, her face damask, skin with the softened radiance of fine porcelain or bone china. I could not see her eyes, they were not fixed on me, but I knew they would be as compelling as the sea, the colour of the Mediterranean, neither blue nor green but some special tone that ascended beyond those both and was all her own.

She wore white, a symbol of purity, innocence – and sacrifice. For a moment, when the red fell against it in a liquid splash of violent colour, I felt as if a blade had slid into my own throat and I couldn’t breathe from the pain.

Then she spoke and time returned.

Roxanne was smiling. People sighed, words broke the mirror of silence and there was even clapping as she lifted her hand to show the ring and cup the ruby pendant her fiance had just slipped around her neck,  so she could see it better. In seconds she was surrounded by a thicket of family – mostly female – and friends – exclusively female.

The sea of well-wishers, oblivious to my presence, washed around me like an incoming tide and my isolation deepened. It took me a while to realise that I was still breathing, that the world was still turning and that the painful constriction in my throat and the cold knot in my stomach were invisible to everyone.  I became aware that for someone in that moment the centre of the universe was not Roxanne. Someone was watching me.

I did not need to shift my vision very far. He was close, very close, to where Roxanne was holding her impromptu court. Her fiance. His lips were addressing words to her fawning father whose broad back was towards me, but his chilling blue gaze rested on me.

They held no trace of triumph, no gloating superiority – in fact, no real emotion at all. All they contained was the cold dispassion of menace – a statement not a threat. This was not a battle lost, a campaign defeated. This was the end of the war. I had lost everything and had no hope. Life itself was without meaning. I was nothing now and despair settled into me, it’s vulture’s beak ripping the soul-flesh from my heart. Then, abruptly, the ice blue eyes shifted away from me and, dismissed, I turned, left the room and walked out of my own life.

E.M. Swift-Hook

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