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|Drawing the Triangle
|Creators: Elizabeth Barrette (Writer), Ellen Million (Inspiration)|
|Omorth auditions for a place in a Trefoil Dance troupe. This requires finding a male partner and a female partner.|
|Posted: 03/19/13 [No comments yet]
~ 4267 words.|
Author's Foreword: Torn Tongue pronouns do not indicate social gender. The impersonal pronouns reflect the three noun classes of this language: Natural/Living, Technological/Concrete, and Abstract/Miscellaneous. A separate set of (Natural/Living) pronouns apply only for people and mean "he/she" etc. Normally, the personal pronouns are used for all people regardless of gender.
In most cases, Torn World stories use standard English pronouns, since character gender is usually known, and English requires that pronouns specify gender. In this story, the no-gender character Omorth is very attached to that physical and social category. Therefore, the story retains the use of the Torn Tongue Natural/Living impersonal pronouns: al (nominative), la (objective), and lai (genitive/possessive). This set of pronouns implies: "I am alive, but I am neither male nor female, so I'm using something other than personal pronouns to signify my nonstandard physiology."
Omorth stood in lai sleek green leotard at the door of a spacious studio with twenty-three other newly sealed Apprentices. As such, they qualified for entry-level work in the Entertainment Guild. Over the next month, they would compete for twelve open positions in the troupe. Those who succeeded in finding compatible partners would form four new trefoils. The remainder would be released to try out for other troupes.
The space was open and airy, with decorations confined to the ceiling and doorways. The smooth floor of pale golden oak revealed no flaws to Omorth's discerning gaze. Brass bars ran along one wall, and mirrors covered the opposite wall.
The other Apprentices flitted about the studio, some of them stretching or posing, others already chatting with potential partners. Their leotards showed the green of their current rank. There were eight male, eight female, and eight no-gender dancers in all. About a third of those originated here in the city of Affabreidalam, and another third from elsewhere in Glifai territory. The rest came from all across the Empire, mostly from the libertine city Affanumuur and the more bohemian Tifireruuth, but Omorth had heard that at least one came all the way from the capitol city Faajaffug. The educational system selected for talent, and increasingly funneled the best and brightest to central locations as they moved through the Forms in school. If you wanted to learn the Trefoil Dance, Affabreidalam was the place to come, the heart of Glifai culture where the no-gender people had originated during the Sundered Times.
Omorth watched the other dancers thoughtfully. Lai classic Glifai appearance -- brown eyes, light brown hair, and pale delicate skin -- would prove a definite asset in the Trefoil Dance. Lai slim, androgynous form made for graceful motion and easy lifts. Each trefoil required one male, one female, and one no-gender dancer; due to the relative rarity of no-gender people, they had an advantage. Competition had been much steeper for the male and female slots in this audition. Omorth could afford to be selective in lai choice of partners.
The remaining no-gender dancers could be dismissed for partnership but were worth meeting as possible colleagues and definite genderkin. Two of them stood out, one larger with dark eyes and hair, the other a tiny waif with honey-brown eyes and hair so blazing red it approached scarlet.
The men all tended toward the large side for dancers, because they needed the strength to lift their female and no-gender partners. Most were fair-skinned with light or dark blond hair, but one had skin and curls of the same deep chocolate tone. A handsome blond caught Omorth's attention with the particularly gathered quality of his motion.
The women, like the no-gender dancers, tended toward the smaller side. There was one with faintly tinted skin and silver eyes that suggested Duurludirj ancestry, and another whose purple-sheened black hair could only come from the Mayaloi. A lovely brunette drew Omorth's eye with the lush expression of her gestures, but the Duurludirj moved with exceptional verve and the Mayaloi held an air of mystery, and oh, how was Omorth supposed to choose from such bounty?
Master Vronaleffi clapped her hands. "All right, Apprentices," she called. "Everyone please choose one practice partner. Those of you with a male partner may try lifts. Everyone else may try passes."
"Pair with me?" the chocolate man invited. "My name is Boronatho."
"I'm Omorth," the no-gender dancer said, "and I'd be delighted."
So Boronatho put his big dark hands around Omorth's slender waist and lifted la high in the air. Omorth might have been lying on a tree branch, as secure as it felt.
"Discuss," Master Vronaleffi called after a few minutes.
"You're quite skilled, but I'm hoping for a very classic trefoil," Omorth said.
"With your looks, I can't blame you, and you're light as a feather in my hands," said Boronatho.
"You should capitalize on your own striking appearance," Omorth advised. "Maybe try that girl with the Mayaloi hair?"
"I meant to, but the no-gender redhead snatched her before I got there," said Boronatho.
Omorth narrowed lai eyes. "I think Master Vronaleffi is about to call switch," al said. "Get ready to scoop your girl."
Sure enough, "Switch!" said Master Vronaleffi. "If you did not have a male partner last time, get one now. Everyone else, pair up together."
Boronatho caught his Mayaloi girl, while the redhead went to a blond Glifai man. Omorth paired with the blond's former partner, the lovely brunette al had noticed earlier. Her long straight hair was a few shades darker than lai own, but their eyes were the same brown.
"I'm Tremarda," she said after Omorth's introduction. "I moved here from Faajaffug. What pass do you want to do?"
"Eye Pass," Omorth suggested, because it relied on body language to communicate the connection between dancers.
"What about Absent Heart?" Tremarda countered.
"All right," Omorth said, a little surprised. The Absent Heart pass required a similar level of skill because the dancers looked away from each other, although each had a hand over the other's heart. It was also more intimate, used in romantic and vocational dances. In a real performance, Omorth would likely be playing Tremarda's wayward Muse in such a pass.
So they took their positions, with Omorth's hand between the soft mountains of Tremarda's breasts and Tremarda's hand on Omorth's flat chest. She had such a very sculpted body, Omorth mused. Then they were moving through the pass, turning around each other, as smoothly as the flyweights on the ends of a beam. It was beautiful. It was exhilarating. They had such intense resonance, even without eye contact. Omorth wanted to do it again.
"Switch," called Master Vronaleffi.
Omorth was pleased to pair with a handsome blond next, just the kind of classic appearance al liked to see in the Trefoil Dance. He had straight golden hair and gray eyes, his build slender yet powerful.
"I'm Darthein," he said. "Do you like Hill Lifts?"
Omorth grinned. "I love them!" al said.
It was an adventurous choice with a new partner and no spotter, but done with the man kneeling, so not an unreasonable risk. Omorth flowed up from the floor, over Darthein's spread hands, and down to the floor on the far side. A smattering of applause came from nearby dancers.
So it went through the afternoon. Omorth got to practice with all the classic Glifai dancers who might make ideal partners. Al also enjoyed dancing with the more exotic ones who were not to lai personal taste but were great fun for variety. The only real excitement came when Boronatho tossed the redheaded waif in the air, and Master Vronaleffi scolded them both for trying a move too advanced for unfamiliar partners.
* * *
For the first tenday, they practiced in loose formation, changing partners often. Master Vronaleffi set them to working in twos or threes, so that they could have time to work with all the other dancers. Sometimes she divided them by gender, as the Trefoil Dance included moves based on that, allowing them to assess how they might work together as troupemates.
At the end of that tenday, Master Vronaleffi announced the first cut. She dropped the three weakest performers -- one each of male, female, and no-gender Apprentices -- those whose dancing showed a flaw, or who did not prove popular as partners. They said their farewells and left to seek opportunities elsewhere. The first cuts were easiest, as some foibles or tempers always came to light, and people hadn't made close ties yet. The later cuts would only get harder from here. There was no guarantee that one's preferred partners would also prefer oneself in turn, or that they would pass muster.
Then Master Vronaleffi advised the Apprentices to form tentative trefoils to practice with during the second tenday. This way they would gain a deeper understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses. The exercise might not lead to permanent trefoils but should at least generate some solid pairs. Master Vronaleffi warned them not to get too attached to anyone at this stage, but to use the time wisely to observe both themselves and other dancers in cooperation.
Omorth and Tremarda quickly agreed to form a practice trefoil together. Then they needed to find a man to complete the set. "I enjoy working with Boronatho," said Tremarda.
"So do I, but ideally I want a classic appearance. Besides, Boronatho wants that Mayaloi girl, Shrafoi," said Omorth.
Tremarda frowned a little. "He likes Gleiffe too, the Duurludirj. That could make it harder for them to win a place," she said. "You know how the troupes tend to favor classics -- you hold the majority opinion there, Omorth."
"Well, they look nothing like Glifai so they're better off emphasizing the difference. I think they look fabulous together," Omorth said. "What do you think of, hm, Klonaim? He's elegant enough."
"I like his lifts better, but he has his eye on Eluthorn," said Tremarda. "I'm sure they'll pair up. What about Levarelta? He has fair skin and dark blond hair, and the hazel eyes aren't obvious onstage. Those broad shoulders and defined muscles make for a very solid dance partner."
"That works for me. Let's ask him," Omorth said, and so they did. Levarelta, whose favorite partner had gotten cut for a slight wobble in her landings, was happy to join them.
* * *
Master Vronaleffi encouraged the applicants to take meals together, because socializing helped gauge other aspects of partnership beyond dance skills. It wasn't required, but nobody wanted to do anything that might hurt their chances. Omorth agreed heartily with this exploration, since a trefoil typically stayed together for years, or their whole career if lucky. Al didn't want to wind up paired with dilettantes or bores. So every day, their practice trefoil met with another in the Guild cafeteria or a nearby cafe. Of course, half the time they wound up talking about dance anyway.
"I heard that Klonaim dropped Eluthorn in practice this morning. They're both uninjured, but they're pretty upset," Omorth said one day at lunch.
"Eluthorn is too heavy for him," Darthein said, and his trefoil partners nodded. "Klonaim is one of the smaller men. He shouldn't be doing lifts at all."
"They really like each other, though," Omorth said.
"It's sad when people's personalities match but their physical needs don't," said Darthein's no-gender partner, the redhead Assri.
Omorth nodded vigorously. Al had too much experience with that in dance and social circles alike.
"We're still allowed to switch partners this tenday, if we have sound reason," said Darthein's female partner, Urelv.
"Maybe they should try working with Flai," said Tremarda. "She's big and strong, but nobody else wants to let her lift them. She's too heavy for anyone to lift easily, even though she's a great dancer."
"The female role usually doesn't involve lifting someone else," Levarelta pointed out. He was developing a tendency to contradict Tremarda's proposals.
"So? They could do avant-garde," Tremarda said. "Some of the choreographers like to experiment with writing against established roles."
"It would be better than someone spraining a wrist, or worse, breaking a leg," Darthein said.
"I'll suggest to Eluthorn that they approach Flai," said Omorth.
"I'll do the same with Klonaim," said Darthein.
After that, talk turned to other matters of the Entertainment Guild, such as a poetry reading planned for the tenend. It came out that Omorth, Tremarda, and Darthein all liked the dutiful stanzas of jaff afaileff or form poetry. Assri confessed to preferring the surreal whimsy of jaff ajaff or free verse, which the other three immediately complained was just a matter of poets being too lazy to follow the rules. Before they could get too far into the argument, though, Urelv expressed her disinterest in all poetry and dragged the topic over to fashion instead.
* * *
The second round of cuts proved brutal. Omorth and Tremarda lost Levarelta because, it turned out, he contradicted Master Vronaleffi's ideas as well as Tremarda's. Darthein and Assri lost Urelv for no specific reason, just a slightly lower overall score compared to the other female applicants. Then Assri dumped Darthein in favor of joining with Boronatho and Shrafoi, whose no-gender partner had been cut for weak ankles.
Omorth and Tremarda glanced at each other. They didn't have to invite Darthein into their trefoil. They could try to entice someone else, or split up, or even wait for another tryout. But Boronatho was firmly partnered now, and Klonaim had just settled with Flai doing the lifts, so there went both of their early choices. Darthein certainly had the classic look and considerable skill. They didn't want to try again with a different troupe, either.
"Let's ask him," Omorth said.
So Tremarda walked over to the visibly drooping Darthein and said, "We need a male partner. Would you like to try the next tenday with us?"
"Yes, please," said Darthein. "I've been admiring the two of you, but well, I didn't want to shake things up ... and then everything just took a tumble ..."
"We're happy to have you," Omorth assured him, coming up behind Tremarda.
The three of them fit together comfortably. They did well in the practice sessions. They also discovered similar taste in costumes. The Apprentices were allowed into the Costuming department to see what they liked from stock outfits. They would need to agree on something to wear in their debut recital if they passed the final cut.
The wardrobes lined the walls of the room, tall cabinets made of dark polished wood. They used time crystals to preserve the costumes. The deep red crystals gleamed in their enclosed sockets. Within those wardrobes, fabric would last for years, and even the most fragile costumes made of flowers or butterfly wings would survive between multiple performances.
Tremarda admired a costume decorated with dainty sprigs of bleeding hearts. "I like this one," she said.
"Lovely shape, but pink isn't your best color," Omorth said.
"That costume also comes with white flowers," said the wardrobe attendant, pointing toward another cabinet.
Darthein put down the velvet vest he was holding. "Maybe we could do something with ephemeral costumes in our recital," he said with a nod to the skirt of rose butterfly wings in Omorth's hand.
"That would be wonderful," Omorth said.
* * *
They talked about dancing, of course, but they also talked about other personal things. Darthein mentioned his favorite fiction series. Tremarda described the sights of Faajaffug. Omorth shared lai fascination with exotic pets. They even managed to get out to a poetry reading one evening.
Then one afternoon, Darthein and Omorth were relaxing together while Tremarda went to get her hair styled. The two of them chatted idly about sex and romance. Darthein enjoyed the company of women but, it turned out, had not engaged a lengthy relationship since Third Form in school. Omorth admitted to being asexual and just not interested in most of the things that occupied everyone else's interest.
"Do you like to cuddle?" Darthein asked abruptly. "I like to cuddle. There's this joy boy at Painted Faces who's built like this --" he held a hand about a foot away from each hip "-- and comfortable as a couch, with a registered specialty in cuddling."
"Could I get his card from you?" Omorth said. "I love cuddling. It's just hard to find someone who enjoys it for its own sake instead of wanting to take it somewhere that I don't."
Darthein nodded vigorously. "I know exactly what you mean. Girls will have sex with a boyfriend, but when they start thinking about cuddling, what they're really thinking is husband. That's just not what I want. I've poured all my energy into dancing -- this is the only commitment I want to make."
"Hm," said Omorth. That was something al had not thought of before, the possibility of finding dance partners who might consider the trefoil a primary relationship, instead of secondary to a marriage. Curious, Omorth stretched out on a couch and beckoned to Darthein. "Come here and see how we fit."
They fit, as it turned out, just as well on the couch as on the dance floor. After a bit of experimentation, they wound up with Darthein on the bottom and Omorth spread over him like a particularly charming blanket. Darthein made a happy purring noise. "I could do this all day," he said.
"We have practice in half an hour," Omorth pointed out.
"All right, until practice," Darthein said.
Tremarda bounded in then, her hair freshly styled and floating around her like a dark cloud. "You won't believe what I just heard!" she exclaimed. "Boronatho, Shrafoi, and Assri just decided to leave. Then Klonaim, Flai, and Eluthorn said they wanted to go too. So they're all going to approach the avant-garde troupes together. That means there's no final cut -- it's down to twelve, and we're in!"
"That's fantastic," said Darthein.
"It really is," Omorth agreed, "though I'll miss Assri."
Then Tremarda tilted her head curiously and said, "Why are you two sprawled on the couch like that?"
"We're cuddling," Darthein said. "We both like it, and you know how hard it is to find someone who doesn't have the wrong expectations."
"So very true," Tremarda said. She had told them about her last, rather disastrous relationship in Faajaffug, which had ended when the young man tried to convince her to stay with him instead of studying the Trefoil Dance in Affabreidalam. "Maybe you have the right idea, Darthein, just sticking with the joy houses. At least there people know how to be professional and don't cling like a piece of tickweed."
Darthein sent Omorth a thoughtful look. Omorth nodded. "Come join us if you like," Darthein said to Tremarda.
So they rearranged themselves on the couch into a comfortable cuddle for three. "This is nice," Tremarda said. "We should do more of this."
"After practice," Omorth proposed.
In the dance studio, they tried excerpts from different performances that they liked. The troupe had a folder of one-act dances for new trefoils to use in their debut recital. Everyone was poring over it, now that the specter of the final cut was gone.
"I think we should do the One Heart dance," Tremarda proposed.
"That's archaic," Darthein said.
"It's still in the approved repertoire," Tremarda said. "Omorth, what's your opinion?"
Omorth perused the illustrations accompanying the text. "I think it's romantic," al said. "Look, Darthein, you'd be dancing in a snug jumpsuit, and Tremarda would be in a floor-length silk dress."
"We wanted to do something ephemeral with costumes, though," Darthein said.
"The notes say only the base costumes are defined. Dancers get to decorate them as desired. So we could use any of the flower or feather accessories, for instance," Omorth said.
"We already found the bleeding hearts. What about string-of-hearts plant? It has heart-shaped leaves on long vines," Tremarda said.
"What about linked heart butterflies? They have that design on their wings, we could put it on a costume if we can't find actual butterfly wings," said Darthein.
"That would be lovely -- and butterflies symbolize luck and prosperity," said Tremarda.
"I like it," said Darthein.
"Let's do this," said Omorth.
* * *
Darthein, Tremarda, and Omorth spent the rest of the tenday working on their intended performance. Master Vronaleffi approved their choice of the One Heart dance. The costuming department provided a jumpsuit for Darthein, a dress for Tremarda, and a leotard for Omorth all in the same plain buff color. They decided to put the string-of-hearts vine on Darthein, the bleeding heart flowers on Tremarda, and the linked heart butterfly wings -- which they did find in a slow-time display case -- in Omorth's hair. They spent hours and hours practicing.
The three of them fit together more and more snugly as the days flew past. They visited Painted Faces, where Omorth tried out Darthein's recommended cuddler, to their mutual delight. Tremarda found herself a different boy while Darthein picked out a girl. By the end of the evening, Tremarda decided to copy Darthein's very effective habit of meeting erotic needs with professionals instead of amateurs.
Omorth enjoyed the close connection between them, quickly coming to rely on it. Al thought about this more and more as the recital approached. Al wanted to let the others know how special they were becoming to la, how important it felt to recognize their common bond. None of them desired a primary relationship outside the dance. They suited each other. Perhaps the matter merited discussion.
Suddenly the night of the recital was upon them. They huddled in the wings, waiting, while another trefoil took the stage. Music filtered sweetly through the velvet curtains.
Omorth took a deep breath. "I want to make this permanent," al said to Darthein and Tremarda. "I think we fit together as a great trefoil. We have a lot in common. We all consider dance the central focus of our lives. I'm asexual and neither of you are looking for marriage. Let's make the trefoil our primary relationship."
"Why ask us now?" Tremarda said.
"Because I want it to be about us, whatever ups and downs may come," Omorth said. "If the recital crashes, we might not have the courage afterwards; and if it excels, we might dismiss this as just getting caught up in the rush. I want it to mean something for its own sake, so I'm asking beforehand. But you don't have to answer me now if you don't feel like it. You can think about it first."
"No, you make excellent points," Darthein said slowly. He looked at Tremarda, then gave a firm nod. "I'm in."
Tremarda grinned and said, "Yes! I'll partner with you both." She hugged them, taking care not to crush Darthein's vines or her own flowers. "The recital can be our consummation."
The previous trefoil cleared the stage. Music trilled. It was time.
They stepped out onto the smooth oaken boards, glowing golden under their slippered feet. The audience was a vast hidden beast, breathing softly in the dimness beyond the stagelights. The three dancers stood at the points of a triangle with Darthein facing the crowd first.
He danced with power, the muscled grace of all that is male. His feet stamped on the stage, sturdy as stones. His arms curled and bunched. The long vines with their heart-shaped leaves accented the swirling lines of his motion. Then the triangle shifted, bringing Tremarda to the fore.
She moved with finesse, the flowing elegance of all that is female. Her hands folded and unfolded themselves delicately. She poured herself from one position to another, the flowers hanging from her bowed form like raindrops from a branch. The triangle tilted again to put Omorth in front of the audience.
Al danced with subtlety, the lightness of being that pervades those of no gender. Al flicked lai fingers and toes in all directions. Lai body was wind and mist, scarcely seeming to touch the stage.
Then they turned to each other, the audience and the wings of the stage at their backs, all their focus shifted inward. They stepped in together, lifting their arms to touch fingertips at the center in the Salute of Three Hearts. They swirled to the left, and then to the right, the grapevine steps of the Whirlwind.
They looped through each combination of pairs -- Darthein and Tremarda, Tremarda and Omorth, Omorth and Darthein -- with hands on hearts and eyes meeting in the Present Heart pass. Then they danced the Whirlwind again, left, right, pause.
They met in the center and clasped hands. Darthein tugged Omorth's hand over his heart. Tremarda pulled Darthein's hand over hers. Omorth drew Tremarda's hand to lai own chest. Then they leaned forward, very carefully, propping each other up. They began to inch their feet slowly backward. In this manner they lowered themselves to the floor, panting with the effort to make it look effortless. At last they lay upon the stage, each dancer's head pillowed on another's back, their legs angled out and away in a perfect trefoil.
Omorth could not have wished for a more perfect performance or more dear partners. As a consummation, this left nothing to be desired. Omorth struggled not to cry as the audience burst into applause, urging the dancers to their feet.
They bowed, still holding hands. They scampered off the stage to make way for the next trefoil, still holding hands. Nobody wanted to let go.
"Welcome to the troupe," Master Vronaleffi said formally.
"We are honored," they said, all together.
They were still holding hands as they walked away from the velvet wings of the stage.
This story came out of the November 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from Ellen Million, who wanted to see more theatre stories. It also fills the "Consummating the marriage/union" on my Cotton Candy Bingo card from 10-1-12.