Our queen moves behind, around, outside and back atop her throne seamlessly. Her altar is a finished wooden counter top toward which she gathers us, her subjects, with sadistic grace. We fall into formation fawningly. Those who fail to secure seating during the immediate rush are shamed in their relegation to the periphery. And why not? She is a popular leader—part interlocutor, part deity.
I am a moon calf, silently debilitated by self-conscious deference. She will sacrifice us all.
She is feline in the way she moves about her commonwealth, bequeathing her constituents with their prescribed mixtures: to the chatty thirty-something sitting to my left, our queen procures a green potion that burns in its recipient’s stomach, quelling the envy evident in her eyes; to the downtrodden forty-something sitting to my right, our liquid mistress puts forth a luscious mix, red like Burmese rubies, strong enough to make the man flush. I’m stricken by something else; the queen mixes me yellow elixirs that cloud with her subtle addition of fresh water and ice. I sip the drink and it cools my nerves, benumbing my cowardice.
I feel powerless. I am fearful that the queen is humoring my dreams in which she, as with countless others around me, is slated to play a lead role.
Suddenly, the queen is forced to break the formality of this routine public procession—a drunkard two seats over has spilled his chalice onto the spotless granite floor on which She stands. It’s apparent that consternation has crept up the queen’s spine, though her experience in regal diplomacy allows it to register only in her eyes. Her Highness smiles understandingly at the louse, stoops down with white rag in hand and wipes his mess. For those around me, it’s yet another opportunity to marvel at her exalted magnanimity.
Watching her kneel down to scrub the floor breaks my trance; it affords me a brief space in time to create my own mental sketch of the hierarchy taking form at the foot of the throne. When she looks out at us, what does she see? And for the first time since my assimilation into her ranks I ask myself: to whom, when she is forced to put her feet back on earthly soil, does our fair-skinned Nefertiti give favor? With whom does she share the “I” that Kundera so eloquently explored and expounded upon?
Though she sometimes doles out blessings to the worthiest of subjects, to whom does she turn to regularly to diminish the solitude? Who can she treat the equal?
Just then the hired band recommences its melodic march, careful to remain within the confines of permitted frequencies. The blues-inspired sound saunters casually toward midnight on a weekday. Rather than interrupt my inward meanderings and bring me back down among the subjugated, the music fans the flames of my newfound self-worth. How I yearn to dance in that moment! Uninhibited, eyes drunk and whirling, I would be loathe to pinpoint any fathomable source of anxiety or regret. How I would laugh in the faces of the stiff-armed zombies shuffling in unison around me!
A smile creeps onto my face at the thought of it. I turn from the band at the exact moment that the queen is rising from her duties on the floor. The blood of exertion has rushed to her cheeks from the effort. The music, as if on cue, has successfully distracted the surrounding populace; I am the only occupant facing the altar. Our eyes meet. She holds mine and smiles awkwardly with a barely noticeable shrug of her shoulders. The white lace of her tunic rests on them. I lean in.
May I have this dance?