The Bridge of Aspiration

"I’m an addict.
Ballet is my morphine."

Six months after the death of her father, Erin Weir's mother commits suicide. Orphaned, she is taken to London in a bid to escape the guilt-ridden village of her childhood.
There seems to be no way out of the cycle of depression she's plunged into but then she discovers ballet, a gift that may be powerful beyond anything...


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13. 13

Jon tells me that my writing hangs, framed, in his living room. It seems somewhat ironic that his flat contains more of me than my own does. Of course, I am there in Natasha and James’ flat as evidence of my existence but there are no overt statements lining the walls for guests to pry into.
 “I hope you don’t mind, Erin.”
I shake my head slowly; strangers will know me better than Maddie does. It seems stupid but I don’t argue with it.
“My wife said it was too good to keep on a computer screen – it needed to be seen. She said I should be proud of the fruits of my labour instead of keeping them in my inbox.
 “I wrote it, not you,” I blurt before I have time to notice the selfishness of it.
 He smiles; “That’s what I said. She said ‘exactly’.”
I venture no further; I half understand but I am not sure how I feel about it. I wrote because there were words; I did not consider where the words might go once they were written or what use they might be put to. I’m unsure whether it really matters that they are being manipulated into an advertisement for the man I entrusted them too. Yes, they are personal – painfully so – but, at the same time, I recognise that when you share your words they cease to be yours. They come to belong to the one who reads them and so, perhaps, I have already decided. Perhaps it was when I clicked ‘send’ that I knew I was exposing myself brutally and yet deemed it bearable. I let my finger perform its revelation.
 “So…” he settles his elbows on his desk and leans forward on his hands the way he always does. “Good week?”

The holidays die out as though they never lived and I find myself swallowed back into my routine of school.
I witter about auditions, aware that I am sickening myself and others but unable to stem the flow of words out of my mouth.
 “You never even talked about dance before Christmas and now you never stop.” Maddie complains. We are both sat on The Wall because of my incessant chatter in class and I realise that she holds me guilty and does not plan to readily forgive.
“I’m sorry.”
No response.
 “I get carried away by it… it’s the only thing that stops me doing what my mum did.”
I don’t mean to say it but it blurts out of my mouth and cracks the screen between us. She turns to look at me in shock:
 “B-but didn’t your mum er, you know, top her-… commit suicide?” She whispers the last two words as though they are a secret sin that must not be allowed out and I turn away…
 “It’s terrible isn’t it,” Dad says from behind his paper.
 “What?” I ask but he doesn’t answer me.
 He turns to Mum.
 “Someone dies and the world cries and they overlook the fact that they belong to the world that killed her.” I pretend not to be hearing this but I can’t exclude his voice.
 Constricted, angry, too loud for these walls.
 “Someone here saying what a shame she got herself so drugged up – it ruined her – but isn’t it the other way round?” Mum is silent and uncomfortable; she doesn’t want to hold this discussion, not here, not now. “They ruined her so she drugged herself to oblivion. Don’t you think they could do better things than work out how she destroyed herself? Wouldn’t it be better to find out what destroyed her?”…

 And the one so worried about destruction was how all our destruction started.
Ironic how things play out isn’t it?
Maddie is looking at me pityingly and I nod my head slightly in answer to her question. My eyes beseech her to keep my answers hidden; I don’t want another string of dark gossip to confirm all that already exists about me.
“Sorry.” She apologizes for knowing the truth and we sit in silence a little more until she can no longer hold back the question.
 “But why would you want to. What’s wrong with being alive?”
I pick at a scratch on my arm; I don’t know how to answer.
“I never used to think there was anything wrong with being alive,” I say slowly. “I don’t think I ever particularly loved being alive but maybe that was because I hadn’t thought about the alternative. Living was just something that simply happened to me and I didn’t think about whether it was nice or painful or lonely. I didn’t think about life stopping. I didn’t predict.” I start to dig my fingernails into my arm. I think the pain reassures me; it reassures me that I’m still human. “Now I think about how painful life is every single day. And every single day I get memories streaming in like… like – like spewed glass and I – I can’t…” I run out of breath as I talk; “I can’t keep doing it. All I can do is hurt!”
“Except when you dance,” Maddie finishes for me. She sounds shell shocked and I want to apologize for being here, for existing, for driving her beyond childhood on a playground wall.
 “Except when I dance,” I affirm with a torn-up smile.
She puts her arm around me in a small token of comfort but I don’t feel good, I just feel empty.
 “I don’t really mind,” she concedes, “About the dance, I mean, not about… about the-”
 She can’t say it but I know what she means.
“It’s just... well, it sort of seems like you only ever think about dance. Don’t you care about other people? About proper stuff?”
 “Like what?”
She shrugs like she has no idea what she means. “Sorry,” she repeats dumbly.
We never grow tired of pledging our empty apologies to one another to fill empty air.
I consider her statement; sensing its truths and lies. I think about other people all the time but never people who are alive and who can be affected by me. I think about past reflections of people and about how empty they’ve left me. I don’t think about the people around me or the people who try to be friends and who try to care. She’s more right than I want her to be. Four months ago I had no dance but now, bit by bit, it’s claiming possession of me. It’s wired that it was absent for so long. Now it steals me like the plague.

It all feels familiar now: Finding a place on the changing room benches, tightening the drawstrings of my shoes, being numbered and shepherded and scrutinised. It feels familiar enough for me not to get lost in it but not familiar enough to be comfortable and comforting. I don’t feel like I belong here among dancers.
 “I’ve done five seasons now,” one girl announces as we wait. We are not sorted in to age groups anymore; we are a cross section of remaining dreamers and she, judging by her boast, must be one of the eldest although she is physically tiny. “I mean,” she continues, “After this many auditions, these are a breeze to be honest. They practically know me anyway. What about you guys?”
Unsurprisingly, the inhabitants of the corridor are reluctant to reply. Her composure oozes with unpleasant arrogance. Maybe Marzena and Elodie are self-obsessed when they dance, but they never brandish their talents when they have no need to.
 “I guess you’ll be alright then.” Another girl says after an awkward pause. She speaks tentatively as though unsure whether she should or not. “I got in once but that was two years ago. I doubt they’ll want me anymore – I’m the wrong shape.” She fidgets with her leotard and tugs upwards at the chest.
 “No you don’t really have the right figure but they might still let you in… if you’re incredible.” She makes it sound as if it is highly unlikely. I wonder whether she understands that sympathy and consolation was called for and provided the opposite intentionally or whether she’s just really clueless about people.
“How long have you been doing ballet for?” Someone asks the general group. There are so many faces; none of them are recognisable from my initial band of eleven year olds. Some of them look vaguely familiar but I don’t pay enough attention to other people to know them definitely from the recall. In a way all the faces are identical: tense, hair taut back, glimmering with their anticipation.
 “I was seven,” the girl continues anxiously. “Everyone says that’s really late.”
I start to panic.
“Ten years.”
“Since I was three.”
 “I was four.”
 “Yeah four,”
Answers rattle down the wiggled lines, coming closer to me.
 “Um, four months,” I offer when my turn comes and the scuffles and whispers die instantly.
 “Four months!” The arrogant girl snorts derisively, she unfolds her hands from their elegant cross and lets them fall to her sides. She wears the number 116 with distinct pride. “You don’t stand a chance. Sure, they say its talent not training but, at the end of the day, most talent comes from training.” She shrugs blandly and I bite my lip. I’ve never felt such inadequacy. Not even when I couldn’t do my posé ton levé in arabesque.
 “You did good to get this far,” the painfully thin girl beside me says kindly. “You must be pretty amazing.”
 “No.” I say.
 “It was probably a mistake, I mean, they wouldn’t let someone so undertrained and technically incompetent get this far.” Number 116 says.
“Oh yeah,” someone rounds on her, “And what do you know about it. You might have been here five times before but I don’t think they let you into the secrets of their judging panel.”
It feels odd how they are so defensive over me. Or perhaps it’s less about helping me and more about beating her.
“I’m just saying; it could be a mistake.”
A few shake their beautiful hair-crowned heads but I am forced to agree. It’s been something I’ve considered ever since I was recalled – it had to be a mistake – but I have always consoled myself with the thought that a mistake would have been noticed as soon as I came into the recall room. Now, in the cool sweat of the corridor, I’m less certain. The fight seems to drain out of me and I know that I can’t fit here; I’m just not good enough. These effortlessly graceful girls are birds whereas I’m a mere fledgling; hopping and scuttling and falling.
I wonder whether a mistake could have been overlooked in the swirling mesh of bodies and feet. It’s plausible.
“They read out the numbers twice,” the thin girl says eventually; “They wouldn’t repeat a mistake.”
I relive the moment; checking the card for an error and letting the digits bounce through me and for a moment then the relief, heady relief.
I watch my toe trace circles on the boards. I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be a fledgling. Isn’t life good enough at mocking without taunting me with ballet as well?
The girl’s words sink through us; cold and final so that nobody argues. Nobody even talks.
We are chivvied through to our warm-up shortly after her statement and the conversation moves on.
I do not.
I can’t, somehow; the sensation of uselessness clings to me and holds me captive with my own worthlessness. My one normal escape route is the problem this time and I have no other solutions.
I’m unsettled and I stumble my way through the little exercises. I once more forget how to smile; I’m conscious of every flaw in me as the flock of swans observe me. they search me for traces of talent that might have lead me this far and I realise that there is probably nothing to find. I start to fall apart, I crumble at the edges.
It is nice having Paula and Henry there again. It’s like having friends.
But when the chords play themselves into music and the music translates itself into dance I stumble over the body of my one true love. I slide, I fall, I try but my fear buffers me out. I fail to slip into the piano’s weave, I fail to release the butterfly from the chrysalis, I fail to dance. I want to dance so badly but I’m scared of it and the dance only accepts you if you forget to be scared. Of course, you can dance when you’re scared but not when you’re scared of the dance. You can’t dance when your stomach churns your inadequacy and turns love to poison.
The others are good. No, they are better than that. The others are skilled, flexible, magical while I am earth-bound. I start to cry, my face is hot and I barely notice that my eyes are wet and dripping. Perhaps I think it is sweat at first but I realise soon after that I’m streaming in shame and fear and loneliness. I try blindly to fly but only hit the walls of my own limitations and sink back, a prisoner in my own “undertrained” body.
116 raises her eyebrows at me, she wears a smirk like a badge, and when she dances she slices me on the sharpness of her pique turns. Each one is like another egoistic touch to her smug face. She is beautiful and I hate her for it. Like I hate the mountains. I can’t stop watching her.
In my head I pull of my dance shoes and throw them on the floor. In my head I surrender my heart and let them all pick it lose. In my head I shout without having any words to say and I storm away; trying to forget that I’ve just lost myself.
But in reality I press my body into fifth position and beg for the dance to deliver me while silent beads stain my cheeks.
I attempt to dance; I search for happy oblivion in the blank pages of my head and it teases me briefly with its presence. It embraces me and carries me a little way and then I remember 116 and it all caves in and shatters. I’m in the broken body of a car suddenly and them I’m streaming and streaming and forgetting.
One of the judges taps a pen impatiently against her chin; the mirrors seem to reflect laughter.
I will the clock to spin.

Natasha’s arms are full of opposites when she gathers me in them. They are cool against the heated shame of my skin but warm in their intention, they are soft in pretence but hold me firm, and they are unwanted but desperately needed.
 “I don’t want to talk.” I tell her; scared that she will trigger me by mistake.
 “I know.” She strokes my back and I fall into her. “I know.”

“Open it then!” They urge when James has found it among the post and set it ominously by my dinner place.
I stroke the envelope, wanting to preserve my hope as I trace where a pen nib dug inky trenches in the stiff paper.
 “Go on.” Adele says, lifting her gaze from her phone briefly. “Them dance people took long enough sending you the answers; why do you want to wait some more?”
 “Let her do it in her own time,” Natasha says gently. She alone knows how much that audition cost me and how little I want to read the words.
But at the same time I have to read them; I have to know.
I tear at the seal and it rips in short bursts; refusing to cooperate with my shaking fingers. It’s funny how I can care about something so much. I caress the envelope once more before removing the first sheet of paper. There are so many pieces alongside it; so many forms – enough forms for me to hope again. It seems stupid and impossible to dare to hope but I can’t help myself.
I unfold the first sheet, hardly breathing. The clock ticks loudly in my ears, the paper crackles and I read.
Audition feedback form, it is entitled.
 “Wrong piece.” I explain in a muted voice and they nod with a grave intensity.
I withdraw a second; my heart doesn’t seem to be capable of a regular beat. It races, then plunges and then swoops and then seems to stop as my eyes fall on the text.

Dear Erin Weir,
Firstly I want to thank you for attending the auditions on the 27th; the judges were most impressed by the standard of the competition this year and have assured me that it was a difficult decision.

I know what is coming but I read anyway.

However, I am sorry to tell you that we cannot offer you a place in this season’s stage production as the places are very competitive. I hope this will not deter you from attending future auditions or following dancing ambitions and would like to take this opportunity to remind you that this decision does not mean, in any way, that you are a bad dancer. You may not be quite right for what our choreographer has envisaged or it may be that on the day you were simply less technically advanced as other auditionees. I would like to encourage you to continue to train and return next season as your dancing might well develop over this period.
It has been difficult to cast this season’s production and I wish you all the best as you progress with your training. We are unable to find a role for you in the stage production Peter Pan…

I set down the paper. No words. I try to form some but they congeal on my tongue until it’s heavy and too lethargic to move. I swallow; what were you expecting? I ask myself.
Moron.
With an audition like yours there was never any hope, but it still punctures me to see the ink:

We are unable to find a role for you in the stage production of Peter Pan.

 “Well?” Keely asks completely pointlessly from the sofa. I open my mouth several times but only tears start to fall out. I shut it again; I might spew a jumble of trashed dreams.
 “I didn’t get in,” says a voice. I realise it’s mine. It’s been distorted by the weight of my disappointment.
I stand up to go somewhere, anywhere, to escape from this room full of my failures.
“Can’t you read or something?” Adele asks unexpectedly from behind my caving back.
“What?”
 “Jesus Christ, don’t tell me you gave up halfway through?”
I up-turn my face to her, screwed in confusion and bitterness.
 “We would, however, like to offer you a place in our touring company as we feel you showed a great promise… blah, blah blah… You actual prat!” she berates me. “You have to read the whole lot!”
I can’t speak, I’m drowning in my hope, in my incredulous, surging joy. No words.
I run back and throw my arms around her waist. I’m still crying, or perhaps I’m only just beginning to cry, but I’m soaking her chest with relief. I’ve never touched her before, except by accident but I hold on to her with all my heart. The bottoms of her cheese-string hair pet my head and I realise that perhaps she is only a cheese-string as long as I see her as one.
Her hands close over my back with distinct awkwardness and I feel the rough edges of our relationship in their stiffness and the hails of “prat” that fall across my shaking shoulders.
We cling on to one another – a child pretending to be and adult and an adult trapped as a child – until time and discomfort separate our sodden tangle.

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