“Alright,” Moomin took hold of his hand, “just put your hand here on my shoulder, and then I…” He didn’t finish his sentence, instead placing his own hand gingerly on Snufkin’s waist. He took a moment to glance into the other’s eyes, just to make sure it was alright, before clearing his throat and straightening his back. Their left hands joined together to the height of the troll’s shoulders. They looked directly at one another. The mumrik nodded, signaling he was ready. The troll mimicked his gesture, but found it unbearable to maintain his eyes on him after that. “Alright, now we…” he trailed off again. He swallowed hard, staring intently at the space just beyond his best friend’s ears, and made a small step forward. Snufkin reacted, albeit less than a second in delay, taking a step back. The next step came smoother, as did the one after that. On the fourth step they stumbled, but regained their footing in short.
Excusing themselves from one of his father’s sailing trips, carefully coordinated to a day in which Little My was off to see her sister (who in turn, had been bribed to keep the smallest mymble entertained), Moomin and Snufkin had sneaked back to moominhouse midmorning. Locked away in the study, blinds shut, they placed a record on the old gramophone and awkwardly waddled towards the other. They only had a couple more days before the dutchess’ grand party, which Snorkmaiden had arranged for them to assist, and the mumrik was far behind on understanding the etiquette, refinery, and sophistication which was expected of them, where they hopeful to ever be invited back. The mumrik himself, of course, hoped a great catastrophe would come before that day.
Moomin had first asked on the third week of spring, whether he found high society absolutely, irredeemably spoiled, without exception. He, of course, answered yes. His friend dejectedly dropped the subject, only to bring it up again during April. That second time he asked about how terrible it might be to withstand such a crowd if only for a single night, not even the whole night, but a couple hours in all. That’s when Snufkin’s suspicion caught on, but he answered decidedly that he’d rather swallow minnows live. Then in July Moomin asked again, if maybe, for a single night, and just one for the rest of his life, would he perhaps consider, and he needn’t answer right now, he could wait, if he could possibly endure assisting to the Duchess of Whitecliffe’s grand ballroom cocktail party, only because Moomin himself was asking, with all of his heart. The mumrik choked, and despite himself, agreed.
Snorkmaiden had received notice during winter. Her weekly embroidery sessions with the Fillijoink had finally given fruit, earning her not one, but four invitations for the evening on the Whitecliffe manor, on the night of summer’s end. The whole valley had know for over six months before anyone had bothered telling Snufkin, correctly assuming he had no mind for such events. The first invitation had gone to Little My, which gave her a sense of great importance and the nerve to belittle everyone else because of it. The second, of course, went to Moomin, and the last, as Moomin implored, was reserved for Snufkin.
As so, he was swept into a world of preparations, as the girls picked dresses and wigs, and hats, and shoes, and Moomin himself fret over which vest would best suit him, and how he ought to modulate his voice to greet the duchess. It was during one of these anxious break outs that Snufkin, hoping to relieve his friend, had confessed how he never learnt how to waltz. It stopped Moomin’s rambling, for sure, extracting a bewildered expression from his face, which in turn, had set in motion the desperate attempts to indoctrinate the tramp on all manners of fancy behaviour. In the course of a week, he’d learned to lift his pinky when holding a glass, to nod politely in conversations and to stand with both hands behind his back, when he wasn’t using them to gracefully gesticulate, all of which he’d only ever do when directly in Snorkmaiden’s field of vision. Lastly, just a couple days before the big day, Moomin had managed to coordinate enough time alone for the two of them, to teach him how to waltz.
Their closeness was measured, structured even. Neither dared intrude a centimeter closer, breath out of rhythm. Counted steps, in a boxed set. Arms precisely at the right height. Only the music around them became a veil, under which excuse the immodesty of looking directly into one another. Beyond its spell, the study stood in stoich stillness. Rows upon rows of tomes of poetry and prose perched rigid on their shelves. A hand painted lamp sitting idle on the cedar desk. A dusty amber atmosphere flooded the locked lounge. Only a faint ray of light stretched from a miniscule gap above the blinds, occasionally gracing Moomin’s cheek, lending his snowy fur a golden tint. They moved among the room, heeding not to trip on the piles of aged books laid about the floor, close to the divan and by his father’s chair. Snufkin’s heartbeat caught in his throat, though he pressed his full attention on mantaing form, careful no to step to closely nor too deeply away. Careful not to let his own mind wander away from their array, and into uncharted territories. This, apparently, was also a departure from decorum.
“You’re too stiff,” Moomin reprimanded, as the piece found its closure. “Now that you’ve learned the set, you need to let yourself flow with your partner.” He stated in a scholarly fashion. He asserted his stance, steading his grip on the other’s hands. A wave of panic washed over the mumrik, tumbled and choked him. All he was left to do was nod, straightening his back and bracing for the inevitable.
“Maybe, just pretend I’m someone you fancy.” From his authoritative instructions, his tone had shifted somewhat bashful, but all timidness was bypassed as a new minuet began. Without further due, Moomin leaned back into the music, pulling Snufkin in with him. Though the first steps, once again, felt somewhat strained, soon, their pacing became drifting, and posture became sway. In effort to push a sense of playfulness into his friend, Moomin would occasionally tug a tad bit harshly on his outstretched arm, coercing small gasps and ‘ oh ’s from Snufkin’s lips. In turn, the other would land his steps perhaps too closely, pushing Moomin back nearly off his balance. By the second movement, the pair found themselves tittering, exchanging breathy expressions of daring and complaint. They turned around the other, bumping ankles here and there, enraptured by the music, until their boldness took a toll for the worst and they stumbled.
Snufkin’s hip struck directly into the writing desk, and his friend toppled over him. The the furnishing groaned in protest, shaking on its wooden legs and threatening to tip over. The mumrik quickly held it back with both hands, as Moomintroll leaped away, coughing into his fist. His father’s manuscripts had spread over the secretaire, and couple of blank pages fluttered away from the typewriter’s grip. A framed photograph had tipped over. Both laughed awkwardly at their mess, before settling into a charged pause. Moomin headed for the gramophone to lift the needle off the record, whilst his alumni took to gathering the stray pages, which he arranged in a messy pile regardless of content. He lifted the picture frame to reveal both of Moomin’s parents, staring absently back at him. He set it in place, and looked away from them. The quietude stretched, beyond anyone’s comfort. Moomin fiddled with his fingers, and Snufkin took to untangling the hairs on the back of his head. The old wooden floorboards creaked, and the singing of birds outside became apparent.
“You... you’re a wonderful dancer, Moomintroll.” Snufkin stuttered with his words. “To have, well, to... have as an instructor.”
Moomin’s eyes raised to meet his own. They gleamed, in the sparse light, adding to his shame. He set his sight on the closed window.
When the moomin spoke, he did so carefully. Measuring each syllable for a reaction.
“You’re not too bad for a beginner.” He offered. “I think you have a natural adeptness for rhythm.”
The mumrik only grunted an answer, nodding with absent eyes. Moomin longed to be looked at. To be praised more, perhaps. He should have known not to expect as much from the mumrik. His stomach lurched helplessly as he saw him reaching for the door. It unlocked loudly, and the hinges squealed as it opened.
“I should head back now. Thank you for the lesson, Moomintroll.”
“You’re always welcomed, Snufkin.”
He closed the door behind him, and Moomin ached in his absence.