The dark corner sat empty, save for a pair of cuffs dangling from the ceiling. Not their style. She turned searching- but not for long. The bench was on the stage this month, prominent, spot-lit. She turned to him with a pleading look, a look he did not see. He had noticed the bench too, empty at this early hour, this time with everyone present and no one playing, committed to presence but not yet to action, still hesitant to show who they were.
Hand on her back, leading her up, steadying her up the steep steps, oblivious to her terror.
Not his fault; she was trying to hide it. Trying to please him, trying to convince herself that this was worth it, that she could display herself for him, display the pain that he awoke. Trying to convince herself that the connection is what mattered, any audience incidental.
Trying, but not quite succeeding.
He held her as she mounted the bench and settled, turning her face away from the glare of the lights. She found she cold bury her head, hide her expression, her elbow a stand-in for the shadowy corner.
The music was louder here; she could not hear him. A squeeze of her hand, a squeeze back. A different method of communicating, one that required contact, one that came with a dose of comfort.
The other hand struck, a solid, smarting, grounding sensation. Again, again, gradually finding a beat that worked with the music, guiding her into a trance, melting away from time and place, merging into the moment.
The strap landed louder, sharper, startling. She rose onto her elbows and howled into the cone of light above her, its sudden brightness in her newly-opened eyes encouraging the tears to flow. She rolled with the sensation, the pain that wasn’t quite, the feeling fueling the trance, punctuating a beat, a constant, predictable, precise tempo. Another part of the dance. Another percussion reverberating from the walls, adding its own subtext to the music, cueing her screams.
The cane, without the swish, came as a surprise. Lines of fire arriving unannounced, leaving her cries to carry the melody on their own.
Back in herself, she noticed his hand still in hers, still holding, still reassuring. Two squeezes, they had finished. Squeezed back, confirming she had returned, suggesting she might be capable of standing.
He helped her rise, steadying her shaking legs, visibly similar to the shaking that had come before and yet completely different in source.
Bowing, not to audience whose presence and attention began to register on the fringes of her consciousness, but to her tormentor; finishing the performance that wasn’t.