Jennifer Stevenson, "Solstice"
(The Horns of Elfland, Roc, 1997;
Green Man Review chapbook , 2003)
A small-time rocker named Dawn breaks up with her boyfriend in the car one winter night. Dumped off on the side of the road, she storms angrily across an icy field until she trips and falls. A jolly, round woman offers her a hand up -- and shelter and a hot meal, but only if she agrees to play for a party. And what a party! Her host is as thin as the hostess is round, and he's dressed all in yellow. There's a roaring fire, thousands of twinkling candles and a long table groaning with food. Dawn joins an amplified fiddler, a bass player, and an indefatigable drummer in providing an eclectic mix of very loud, rollicking music for the dancing guests, including her host and hostess. As the night wears on, however, she notices that the man in yellow seems to be getting thinner and thinner, and weaker and weaker. Finally, she realizes like a cymbal crash just what her role at this party is. And author Jennifer Stevenson has written this story so well that the reader shares Dawn's "Aha!" and her sense of satisfaction at fulfilling her role.
"Solstice" packs an amazing amount of sensuality into twelve short pages. My mouth watered at the descriptions of luscious delicacies -- even though I was two days into a nasty flu when I read them. Everything explodes onto the senses of the reader's imagination: the host's bright yellow suit, the heat from the fire and the candles, the throb of the music. When Dawn jumps up onto the stage to join the other musicians, she discovers that the whole stage is the sound system! But in addition to all this sensuality, or perhaps even because of it, "Solstice" is also a very spiritual story. The reader somehow senses that everything Dawn sees, each action she takes, even her name, has a deeper significance. She's not just playing for a great party, she's playing to keep a shrinking, fading man alive on the longest night. And if it's an over-the-top, splendid bash that keeps the sun alive for another year, well, human beings believed that for a very long time. Maybe this story will help us remember some of what we've forgotten.