The Long Night by Lynsey May

This is an extract from a work in progress, started during Lynsey's stay in Grez as part of the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. 

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Working title: The Long Night

Once the pastries were reduced to crumbs and hair had been scraped back, bread dunked and coffee drunk, the dancers giggled their way down the road to hold a rough, fragrant class at the river’s edge. Bare feet were scratched by the dry, prickly grass and muscles were beautifully warmed with the minimum of effort. And when even that effort proved too great and the sun too warm, they jumped loudly into the water, the boys gallantly splashing and kicking to keep the girls safe from curious ducks and the shiver of passing scales.

After a short swim, the girls gathered up their clothes to traipse across the bridge, where a Scottish artist had already promised them the wooden floor of his studio for their pointe work. He’d been taking a drink in the hotel bar when the dancers descended and made his gallant offer after listening, rapt, as Violet complained about the way the heat melted the glue in their shoes and the inadequacy of their tiny bedrooms for practice. Randi later dubbed the artist fuss-bottom, thanks to his nervous gait and unfortunate habit of wiping his dusty hands on the backside of his trousers before reaching out to shake.

Randi and his friends alternated between sizzling on the river’s banks and wallowing in its coolness. In the afternoon, they were joined by a group of skinny local boys who introduced them to the glorious possibilities of jumping from the bridge into the coolest, deepest point of the river. 

Writing by the water

Randi’s ‘bravo’ was the loudest and he was the first of his friends to follow the path to the jumping off point. The arches of this particular bridge were already rather famous and much revered by the daubers and poets who’d taken a shine to the commune, but the young men cared little for the elegant arches and the dapple of reflected light patterning their undersides. Each jumped with a huge yell, cut short by the punch of water. Randi watched the first ten or twelve boys from his comfortable position on the bank then stood poised on the lip of the bridge, his toes gripping the hot bricks as he looked into the murky green below.

He was about to step forward when he heard a yell more highly pitched than the usual encouragement. Looking to the opposite bank, saw Violet flapping at the water’s edge. Her fright rippled through him but he took it as a spur and lunged from the bridge, tucking his knees up and letting his arms slap loosely against them.

The water was a welcome shock and Randi let himself luxuriate in it before raising an arm in victory and swimming strongly towards one of the small supporting platforms. He pulled himself onto the smooth surface and waved to Violet who, the second she saw he was safe, turned away and stalked up between the trees. Randi smiled and spread his arms to the next boy on the bridge, yelling that the fish were growing impatient. Never had Randi felt so relaxed and so content to make the most of the opportunities that offered themselves to him.

Invincible Randi forgot to be sad about the non-appearance of the baker’s daughter and drank an extra glass of wine with dinner. Violet was still grouchy with him, her displeasure puffing from her mouth like invisible smoke rings.

‘Little boys do it,’ Randi said. ‘Even, later, some girls came and shrieked off the top. You should try it. I could tread water below, if it makes you feel better, arms out and ready. Think, you could be a real sort of swan queen.’

‘And when have you seen swans throwing themselves off bridges? Who wants to be a swan anyway, they’re all destined for either a watery grave or someone’s dining table. And don’t forget that these children you boast about might be brave but the more important thing about them is the fact they’re small, with feet that don’t reach anywhere near as deeply as yours. They’ve been splashing about in that river since they were smaller still, they know where the sand drifts are and where the weeds are most likely to grow. Leave them to their performances and keep your own for the stage.’

‘But my beautiful one, isn’t it all a stage?’

‘Only for people as full of ego as you, Randi.’

‘Here is the Violet we all know so well.’

‘You’ve drawn her out I’ve been so wonderfully relaxed for a whole twenty-four hours. I should’ve known you’d find a way to spoil it. If you are so keen to show off, spend tomorrow rehearsing with me.’

The next morning, after a night in which Randi behaved himself (only because he was so tired he slept soundly through the wild thunderstorm that soaked the streets and thrummed against the windows), he and Violet held their own, short class in the not yet open breakfast room. Afterwards, they walked in the brief cool of early morning to find a shaded patch where the grass had been blissfully softened by the night’s rain and ran through their pas de deux and variations for La Longue Nuit, counting the phrases aloud as they danced. He was waiting during her solo, massaging his shoulder as he called her beats, when he spied the dark hair and tanned shoulders of the baker’s daughter. She was partially concealed by a great Linden tree and he gave the smallest nod in her direction. He wasn’t sure if she had seen it, so completely was her attention focused on Violet. Randi knew that the second he stepped in and their adagio began, the girl would see the magic coursing through him too.

Lynsey May was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2013, a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2015 and was named Cove Park's Emerging Scottish Writer in 2016.

Lynsey says:

'I couldn't be more grateful for the wonderful gift of time, space and inspiration the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship offers - and plan to make the most of every minute. I'm particularly looking forward to briefly disengaging with all of the stresses and distractions of everyday life and completely immersing myself in the novel I'm working on.'