A short version of this (a modification of the first three paragraphs), won 3rd the 2011 Knoxville Writers Guild Flash Fiction Contest. I didn’t remember that I had elaborated.
She eats figs like candy, and little spider webs of her saliva leave a trail between her mouth and her silver cup as she spits out the fruit’s stones.
Her movements are underwater-slow, and the rest of us watch from the sand above as if she were a mermaid, a dolphin, a sea serpent. When she rises from her place at the table she brushes clouds of black hair away from her alabaster face. When her red lips part slightly I could swear that I saw tiny white fangs flashing.
Her dance grows darker, and men and women both secretly vow to give her whatever it is she wants. As long as she keeps dancing, as long she keeps licking her red lips and closing her green eyes and moving her full hips to the drums that beat ferociously in the corner.
Of course what she wants is our heads. Our bodies. She wants us in a pile, helpless beneath her delicate feet. And we promise her that.
This dance. It goes on and further on. We watch, our bodies leaning forward collectively, goblets of wine never reaching our mouths, arms frozen in mid-air, jaws slightly slackened and hearts beating like moth wings. The silks that cover her brown skin keep threatening to fall away, which would shame her father but release us from our insatiable thirst. Several old women in the corner of the hall are smiling behind their henna’d hands, their hips rocking slightly back and forth on their cushions. Did they know she was going to dance? Have they been teaching her the ways of the times before, when idol gods were driven out? This dance feels ancient, my body pulses and vibrates just watching her.
When she finishes, when she bows low before her mother’s husband. He stands, and motions her over to sit near him. I notice his eyes are fevered, glowing amber lamps with ink black pupils. Even if he’s aware that it’s his step-daughter with the gold bracelets pushing into her young, plump arms, he’s not showing it. We all know about his strange appetites. We know about the boys from the village that he knows by first name and the married women who invite him inside their tents with only their kohl-rimmed eyes. He is not good at keeping secrets. He is a boorish, lascivious leader.
“Beloved girl, sit by me and share our food. Your dance has put us under your spell, and we wish only to serve you.”
She bows lower, and slowly glides over to his place on bare feet, silver chains and bells tinkling as she travels across the rugs. When she sits, she looks not at him but at her mother, who is at the women’s table. Her mother appears ready to leap to her feet and grab her daughter away from her husband. But her husband is still her master, and he still rules all of us, so she sits and waits to see what will happen. The rest of us wait, too.