if a photo is worth 1000 words : story 4

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

She is quiet and breathes in.

in out in out in out

The rhythm is a pendulum in her brain, always the ticking pounding sound of beats cascading into melodies. One two three tendu is not so different than arabesque penchée five six seven eight. Sometimes, she sees the world in steps and terms. The skyscraper is en pointe, that tree is a brise, the movement in the park, simply the chords. It's only the sky that never fits her catalogue of terms. Perhaps, it is the music or perhaps it is the crowd or maybe it doesn't matter.

She shakes off the thought and slowly pulls pins from her bun, closing her eyes as her hair crinkles, sweaty and dry from the tight formation. It settles in a cloud of frizz and split ends around her shoulders and she pulls it back loosely into a pony tail, settling for something, anything, to keep it from her face. White chalk is her skin, blue eyes like the sky she can never settle on. Staring at her reflection in the dimly lit mirror in the near empty dressing room, she gets the impression that they are all china dolls.

Pink cheeks washed off from makeup and brought on by the stage, the group of dancers dwindle until it is only her sitting under the fluorescent lights, gently rubbing off the character she played that night. First go the eyelashes, gently tugged from her lids. The glue sticks and she places the false lashes back in their case carefully. Next, she wipes the color from her lips, and slowly massages the shades and black from her eyes. Finally, she washes her face, vigorously, until her cheeks are flushed from scrubbing and her skin taut, but there is no hint of the performance save the dull throbbing in her muscles. When the makeup is gone, she is almost unrecognizable and she wonders if her mother would remember the daughter she kissed the night she sent her off.

It is an honor, she said, squeezing her daughter tight and brushing her hair from her face.

It always is.

She picks up her bag, sweaty from discarded tights and heavy with half broken pointe shoes and makeup, and slings it over her thin shoulders. Summer is warm in the city but there is always a chill at night, a nip in the air that whispers of loneliness. The subway is almost empty and she stares out the window at the darkening city. It is never completely black, there is always the glow of a streetlight or the warm yellow candle of a window lit by friends.

So it is with life.

She checks the station and, yes, a moment of impulse, gets off. Central Park can be dangerous at night but she is drunk on youth and strong with being on her own and outside, the sun still chases the moon. There is a crowd of people walking through the park, a trail of voices dispersing into their own little lives and she slowly slips though the crowd, floating on the heavy air of summertime like only a dancer could. A little girl points at her bag and her mother hushes her.

She walks to the edge, walks out of the park, back into the swallowing green light of the Subway station, back into the quiet that makes up tired people hurrying home. A man snores next to her and across from her, a woman turns the pages of the book she is reading loudly, peering with furrowed brow at the wrinkled words. She smiles. If I had my pencils...But no. She has no pencils anymore. Only a cramped apartment and broken shanks from shoes made to break feet.

And that's how it is.

The light is waning, waxing, and the sun just beginning to fade into the blue light between night and day when she hurries out of the subway and into the air smelling like movement. Over there, the lopsided flag twirling in the brief gusts of wind, a fouette. The line of steps leading upwards, a développé. She hurries on.

The railing leads into the sea, or so it seems, and she leans against it, breathing in the salt that smells like home. It is near dusk and still, it feels like dawn, feels like the beginning of another day, because the city never sleeps and as a dancer, she is awake for all of it. She wakes with the hurried bustle in the morning, the roasted smell of nuts and coffee and the shouts of yellow cars. She wakes with the streams of light trailing in the ever moving streets, the flickering of restaurants and the shouts of conversation under a moonlight sky.

The water pulls against the stone and she drops her bag, sinks to the ground, pulls a broken pair of shoes from their ribbons. Mostly, the people ignore her. As she wants them to. She zips up her bag, carefully.

Not for pay.

The city falls asleep and the city wakes up and she lifts into an arabesque, eyes closed, breathing hard. There is stone underneath and a slate grey sky above and if she tries hard enough, the taste of rain in the air. A tremble in her ankle and she opens her eyes, sees a snap of a taxi door shut, and she plies into an entrechat. Another. Then a glissade, pas jeté, grande jate, again and again.

It's only after she unlaces her shoes and slips her bruised feet from their ribbons that she realizes she is crying. And even more than that, she falls asleep that night to the hum of her radiator and an open window and her last thought is,

I am happy.


  1. Ohhhh man, this is BEAUTIFUL.

  2. Love the photo. Love the words. The end. :)

  3. your writing gives me chills, every time.

  4. This embodies the emotion of dance in the way only a dancer could describe. Absolutely beautiful. <3

  5. Effectively beautiful, your words make my feet ache for the dance. <3

  6. wow. just wow. this was lovely. you have some talent, dear.

  7. You make me miss dancing so much !

  8. As a reader, this was captivating. As a dancer, this was perfect. Beautiful writing!

  9. Wow, Hannah. Fabulous. The way you write these stories always gives me chills. You are so good at it!!!! :)

  10. if you wrote a book, i would buy it the dy it came it out(:

  11. oh darling hannah. i have never read more captivating words. you, my friend, are talented. i love this + YOU.

  12. LOVE! Both the photo and the words.

  13. holy moly, hannah. this is INSANE. you are such a gifted writer, and your words never fail to enrapture me!

  14. too good. so good. so so so good, hannah.

  15. this feels like such a personal side of you, since i know you are a former ballerina. i used to do ballet, not as serious as this so i don't know all the terms, but i understand a few and understand the dull throbbing of muscles post performance.
    actually, one day last february when i went to see the rite of spring (i only like the first act because the others were too dark and deeply unsettled me), i stood stage right near the exit doors (i'm an usher, and the orchestra was playing, and i like that view better. maybe it'll write about it sometime) and i could see where the set ended and the row of water bottles and heaping bags of dancers' equipment (who knows what all they put in there anymore) began. a really beautiful girl with a full face and naturally kind eyes just exited stage left, perfectly on cue with the music. she stepped off pointe and went to her water bottle, taking a long sip with her other arm resting on her hip. and she was strong. i could tell by the way she counted measures and pointed her toes absentmindedly. deep breaths, she took. really deep ones, actually, like she was afraid her lungs would burst. but it was the first performance and she couldn't help but smile, and she wasn't happy, she was joyful. and when it was her turn to go onstage again, she closed her eyes, took another deep breath, and ran to her male partner, leaping on pointe, leaping into the air, turning into an arabesque (or whatever the proper terms for those are). and it was magical and so graceful and it looked easy, like it should. basically, in the end, that experience reminded me of this. so. bless you. thank you. this is beautiful.

    if you ever can, one day, if it doesn't bring back too much nostalgia, teach me all those ballet terms you've got woven into the chords of your head. :) <3