"You sure she is going to come out here, man? I mean, I know people say she performs no matter what, but I'm freezing my balls off out here, and I've got on three layers. They say she dances in just a T-shirt and jeans, and nobody in their right mind comes out just wearing that."
"She'll come. She hasn't missed a single storm in a year and a half, so the cold won't deter her."
"Maybe. But I wish she'd hurry the hell up," Lance said.
"Just shut up and pay attention," Cater said, and he turned back to look at the Edison Memorial Fountain, which had been drained for repairs.
"Fine," Lance grumbled, stamping his feet again, while looking at the warm lights spilling out of the buildings lining W. Adams Street.
On the other side of the park, the "she" in question was waiting inside her car, with the driver side window cracked to let out some of the fumes. Maxine Taylor looked at the clock in her dashboard, which read12:24 AM. Next she checked that the two balls of steel wool that she had soaked in paraffin oil were tightly hooked into the three and a half foot long ropes. Once Maxine was satisfied that everything was in order, she turned to look at the clouds and waited. The storm was supposed to dump anywhere from 8 - 12 inches of snow on the city, and she wanted to be ready. She'd picked this park because she was sure there would be someone who would see her dance, even at this time of night and in this weather, but also because it was big enough that she could see people coming, and could get away before anyone got too close.
Maxine could not say what drove her to dance per se, but she loved the idea that she was like a ballerina in a snow-globe. But no sooner had the thought blazed across the neurons in her brain, than she wondered if she was being egotistical and selfish. It was hard to say. She had danced in this park a few times before; although, it was always at different times and only ever after dark. She liked the idea of being seen, but not seen; although, she thought ruefully, tonight would be more of a spectacle then when she used her LED poi.
Outside the car, the first fat, wet snowflake fell, while overhead, towering clouds moved off the lakes. Ten minutes went by. Then twenty, and now the flakes were coming down in thick curtains, and the ground started to freeze enough for the snow to stick. It was time.
Maxine got out of the car, her poi in one hand, and a jug of water in the other. She was dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt with a tank-top under a white outer shell, and--even though they were not the best things to dance in--sneakers. She didn't have on any gloves or a hat, but that didn't matter. She figured she would only be out in the snow for six minutes at the most; unbeknownst to her, two men saw her approach the fountain.
Carter slapped Lance's shoulder and pointed to the woman that was walking through the park. She was dressed the right way, but the dead give away were the heavily weighted balls suspended off what looked like hemp ropes that she carried in her hands. Lance nodded and they both shrank back into the shadows of the bus stop so they wouldn't frighten the woman away. At the same time, Lance began training his camera on the fountain, trying to get the best shot possible.
Maxine reached the fountain and looked around. She thought she saw something off by the bus stop, but when she looked again, didn't spot anything. With a shrug, she quickly stripped off her outer shell and set it on the edge of the fountain along with the water jug. The snow that struck her bare arms and shoulders seared her skin, while already her long, sandy hair and eye lashes were coated in flakes. Quickly, she put her hands through the straps of the poi, extracted a lighter from her jeans, and after one or two attempts set one of the balls alight. Tossing the lighter onto her shell, she knocked the two poi balls together until the second one caught. Then she waited...she knew it wouldn't take long.
At the bus stop, Carter and Lance watched the woman light the poi but then instead of dancing, she just stood there, watching the snow fall.
"What's she doing?" Lance muttered?
"Don't know. Maybe praying or something like that." "Maybe," Lance said as he zoomed in. "But I kinda like the look see."
Carter agreed, but already there was something else stirring inside of him that had nothing to do with physical attraction, which was already clearly visible. Then it happened: the flames heated up enough that they started to eat into the steel wool, and with a hiss, a huge spark flew off one of the balls. This was followed by several more, then a troop, then a company, and finally a battalion of huge sparks. However, as soon as the first of the sparks flared, the woman began swinging the cords of her poi, sending the flaming, sparking balls through the falling snow in luminous, orange arcs.
Maxine started to sway, and with a flick of her wrists, she sent the fiery balls whipping through the air. At first she moved slowly and deliberately. One arm would raise while another would lower, her body would spin, and inside her head the music played. Her hips began to tilt and pivot, while slowly the sparks being emitted from the poi grew in size. Over and around her head the flaming balls twirled, picking up speed, and now the arcs had grown so that tongues of fire hung in the icy air and shapes began to emerge. At first it was a circle, and then within the circle a clover leaf appeared. Suddenly Maxine spun and it looked like she was wrapped in rings of flames; she kept spinning and the poi began throwing sparks almost a hundred feet in every direction, like some kind of demonic sparkler.
Carter stood slack-jawed. He had never before seen anything as frightful and beautiful all at the same time. In the orange glow of the fire-trails he caught glimpses of the woman's face, and it was like nothing he'd ever seen before. Her expression was almost vacant and glassy eyed, except that from somewhere far away, something else seemed to be shining through. It was a light that was far more subtle than the inferno of sparks coming off the poi, but it was all the more radiant for it, and the whole time the snow fell, creating a surreal wonderland.
Suddenly Lance hit Carter in the shoulder. "Come on man. Do some of that reporter crap. This is what we are here for," the camera man hissed.
Maxine accelerated the poi balls rotation as fast as she could. Up, down, around, her arms went, and as she danced it was as if she left her body and began to watch herself from above.
Lance knew he should be standing in front of the camera at that moment, commenting, but he couldn't. Out of his peripheral vision he could see other people from the buildings across the street coming out in ones and twos to see what was happening. "Get a shot of the crowd," Carter said as he started walking towards the fountain, with Lance trailing.
Lance looked around quickly and said "There's no crowd. Just a few wankers come to see what all the fuss is. Now come on and do your reporting so we can go get warm."
Carter whipped around and hissed, "Look, you've got some good shots, so just go. I'll add a voice over track later," and even as he said it he was surprised to see how angry he look in the reflection of the lens. It must have taken Lance off guard as well, as he stopped walking momentarily.
Getting his bearings again, Lance said, "Look. I'm not trying to bust your balls, and I can see you fancy her. Fine. But come on. We came here for a story, now let's get it."
For a moment, something in Carter rebelled against the idea of reporting on this. He wanted to keep the moment to himself, but then, recognizing that Lance was not trying to start a fight with him, he took his mic out of his pocket and set himself up.
Maxine twirled and through the orange light of the fire that was all around her, she saw the reporter and his camera man. For a moment, it looked like they were fighting, but then the reporter turned and held up his mic. She got a fleeting glimpse of him in that instant. He was classically handsome and deserved to be on TV, she thought. Then just as one thought finished, a second flashed through her mind: I don't want to be on TV. The realization shot down her spin and made her innards start squirming. Then, like a car slamming into a street lamp, she stopped and threw the poi, as far as possible, away from herself while still keeping them inside the fountain. They landed in an eruption of sparks, but Maxine rushed forward, grabbed the water jug, and dumped the contents onto the flaming balls. As she did, she saw the reporter drop his mic and start running towards her, with the cameraman lumbering behind.
As soon as the jug of water was empty, Maxine rushed forward, grabbed the poi, and then leaped out of the fountain without a backwards glance. The duo was right on her heels, but she dug into her jeans and pulled out her car keys. Reaching her car, Maxine opened the door opened and brought the engine roaring to life. Gunning it, she took off faster than a jackrabbit hopped up on meth.
"Why the hell she run?" Lance puffed as he and Carter looked at her tail lights.
"Don't know. Maybe she didn't want to be on TV."
"That's stupid. Everyone want to be on TV."
"Most people; she might be shy."
"What do you mean, shy? She was sending sparks fifty feet into the air. That's bound to attract attention. Besides, why come out in public, and why always come to the same park? Someone was bound to take an interest."
"Look. I don't know, but you've got good footage, right?"
"I guess, but what good is it? We didn't get an interview. Hell, we don't even know who she is."
"I know," Carter said as he started walking towards the van with Lance. But it's not a total bust. You got one heck of a free show."
"I don't think you know what a bust this night is mate. I'm half frozen, and got almost nothing usable out of it."
Carter sighed inwardly. Lance was always a bit a killjoy while working, and he did not want to listen to him gripe for the next hour. So, almost without thinking, he said, "Look man, I know you're pissed. But for coming out with me, take this. You've earned a little extra," Carter said pulling fourty dollars out of his pocket as they reached the van. "Go get a drink or two on me. I'll catch you tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me. But why don't you come get a pint with me? You're just as cold as I am."
"No thanks. I think I'll go home and warm up with a scotch in bed."
"Suit yourself," Lance said, and then got into the van and drove off.
Carter watched him go, and then smiled. The cameraman had been so busy making sure he didn't drop his camera that he failed to notice the woman had not picked up her coat. Walking back to the fountain, Carter kept his fingers crossed. The shell was still where Maxine had left it. Carter picked it up, looking for anything that might help him identify her. Inside one of the pockets he found a case for business cards. He opened it and found her name, phone number and email. With a smile, he took out his cell and called.
Maxine's phone rang through the Bluetooth in her car. She answered and a deep male voice that she didn't know said, "Hello, is this Maxine Taylor, the woman who was just fire-dancing in the Edison Memorial Fountain?
Maxine's hear skipped a beat, which she knew had nothing do with identified. "It is. You're the reporter aren't you?" She purred.
"I am. I hope you don't mind that I called, but you left your coat on the fountain, and I found your cards in the pocket. Listen, I think I scared you back there. But can I meet you, alone? Buy you supper. I mean, what I saw tonight. It was fantastic. You're amazing, and I would love to find out more about you."
There was a long pause. For Maxine, it was thrilling to know someone found her dancing as beautiful as she believed it was, and she basked in that warm glow. For Carter, it was simply a few moments of agony. Then she said, "You know Duly’s Place? It's a 24-hour diner."
"I know it."
"Good. Be there in thirty minutes." The phone went dead, but the smoky allure of Maxine's voice acted like a lighthouse, guiding Carter to unfamiliar shores that held the promise of something both unknown and life altering. It was irresistible and set Carter’s mind ablaze with possibilities. Looking up, he silently thanked the falling snow and then set out for shores unknown.