Dance in the Twilight

Svetlana Kortchik

Plié, jeté, plié…My technique is perfect and precise. Nothing betrays the overwhelming tension that grips me. My muscles are heavy and unresponsive, but my movements are light and fast, which is just as well because when I’m on stage appearances are all that matter. When I’m up on that stage, the truth is irrelevant.

The music stops but I keep going, my grey worn out pointe shoes making regular tap-tap sounds on the wooden floor. The tap-tap-tap of my feet can barely keep up with the tap-tap-tap of my heart. My toes are bleeding, but on and on I dance, longing for physical pain, willing it to numb me from the inside out, to block out the guilt, the desire and the fear inside me. I desperately yearn for oblivion, and for a second, I almost succeed and I almost forget, but the despairing breaths that I take after every plié and after every jeté bring it all back, just like before.

***

I remember the first time we made love. We were rehearsing Carmen. It was my first lead role, and I was living and breathing his fresh passionate choreography.

‘Your moves are too perfect, there’s no soul, no passion,’ he would say, his Italian accent getting stronger as he got more agitated. For hours and hours I danced until I broke down in tears, and knelt on the studio floor. His arms around me felt comforting. His lips were on mine, and soon I was no longer trembling from crying but trembling with desire, from his touch, after months of wanting him, making me weak.

That was a year ago. I have loved him for a year.

***

Yesterday, as he held my quivering body in his arms, he said, ‘I have something for you. For our anniversary’.

‘You remembered.’ I was pleased. I gasped as he placed a delicate pendant shaped as a dancer around my neck. ‘Carmen,’ I whispered.

‘I can stay a little longer tonight,’ he said. ‘Sarah is with her parents’.

I tried to smile, struggling against a tidal wave of jealousy at the mention of her name. Hearing it here, in our special place, where the two of us shared so many happy private moments together, seemed unnatural and disturbing. It’s been a year of this, I thought. A year of jealousy and guilt and of hiding how I truly felt. ‘Can you stay the night?’ I asked hesitantly.

‘Not tonight, babe.’ He held me even tighter, as if afraid to let me go. ‘I know it’s been hard for you. I know you want to live a normal life.’

‘I just want you.’ I want a normal life with you.

As if hearing my thoughts, he said, ‘You want a normal life with me. I think the timing is right. I will tell Sarah tonight.’

I moved away from him, stepping back all the way to the wall. Not far enough. He was still touching me. ‘We talked about that. I can’t break up your marriage. I won’t be that woman.’

‘And I have told you before, Sarah and I don’t have a marriage anymore. We are like two strangers living in the same house.’

‘It’s wrong.’

‘You think that just because we haven’t told her yet, it’s not wrong? My life is a sham and I’m done living it. I want to be with you.’

‘What about Andrew?’ I whispered.

‘Lisa, I will never abandon my son. I am not your father.’

***

The last time I saw my father, I was twelve. His things were packed in the back of his Ute, and the house seemed hollow without his guitar, his smoking pipes and his model ships.

‘Daddy, when are you coming back?’ I demanded accusingly, although even back then, in my adolescent naiveté, I knew that he was leaving for good. The house was too small to hide the arguments, the heartbreak, the betrayal. The walls were too thin to protect me from my parents’ whispered conversations.

‘I will be back in a little while, baby. You look after your mother, ok?’

‘Where are you going? Are you going to live with her?’ I tried to put as much contempt into the last word as I possibly could. She was the twenty-two year old French teacher at the private school I attended. I looked at my father, who was so familiar and so loved, and my eyes filled with tears.

‘Now, now, little one. Don’t cry. When you grow up, you will understand.’

‘I will never understand,’ I said defiantly. ‘I will never understand how someone can break up a family. What kind of person is she?’ What I didn’t understand when I was twelve and afraid, was how to fill the void in my heart where my father had once been.

***

On and on I dance, tap-tap-tap of my feet getting faster and faster. I dance through my pain and through my madness, through my hope and through my fear.

‘Keep your back straight, don’t tense your shoulders.’ His voice startles me, and I pause mid-pirouette and turn around. I can’t see his face in the shadows but I can make out a suitcase by his feet.

‘Antonio,’ I say, as I walk toward him, pointing at the suitcase. ‘You told her about us?’

‘Didn’t have to. She was drunk when I got home. She lashed out. I left.’ Even in the dark, I can see a bruise on his face. I gasp. ‘Has it happened before?’

‘Happens all the time.’

‘I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I’m so sorry,’ I repeat, stroking his face.

‘It’s fine, darling. I’m glad it’s over. I’m finally done living my life for the sake of appearances.’

I hold him and stare at my feet that are bleeding and torn. Then I look at him, and in his eyes I see the truth, the only truth that matters. ‘Let’s go,’ I whisper. ‘Let’s go home.’

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