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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14. 14

The forms in the envelope are all fussed over; examined, quizzed and penned in a storm of breathless activity.
 “Do you know how tall you are? What’s your waist size?” Natasha asks, brandishing a lilac form.
 “What do they want to know that for,” Keeley asks with her face crunched in displeasure. “Don’t you think it’s a bit weird – ‘hips, waist, chest’ – isn’t that personal information.”
“It’s for costumes,” I explain not particularly perturbed by it. My voice seems stretched somehow; I think I’m still in shock – ecstatic shock.
 “Still…” she shrugs before going on; “And it’s a bit well, messed-up, don’t you think, having some random guy watching a load of little girls prance around in practically underwear.”
She gets up and exits the room as though she’s trying to make a point but Natasha just ignores her and starts rummaging in drawers for a tape measure.
It seems natural to me – sharing dancing with other people who understand it – and leotards just help to give the right lines as far as I’m concerned.

The hype surrounding my acceptance – even if just for the touring company – leaves me pleasantly stunned for the best part of a week. Each sheet of paper we fill in bestows pledges of ballet; each one enquires about costumes and rehearsal dates and travel to tour venues, each one luring me with their questions. The more I read, the more intoxicated I become. I fall in love more deeply with the prospect of it.
 The Touring Company will perform a reduced version of this season’s production at twenty venues (see green sheet for more information on locations) over the course of the two weeks 14th – 27th July. Touring dancers will be expected to learn the reduced ballet in twenty intense hours of rehearsal (see pink sheet for more details). Our expectations are very high and so we will require dedication and focus as wells as immediate warning if the young dancer is unable to participate in this opportunity.
The tour gives dancers a completely unique experience as it travel between hospices, hospitals, care homes and nursing homes; performing for and meeting with those who would not otherwise be able to access ballet. It promises to be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience but also a challenging one and those involved will be treated, and expected to behave, as professionals.
Kind Regards
N. Ellington
Chairman and Founder of London Burroughs Young People’s Ballet

I tack the letter to me bedroom wall so that I can wake up every day in the knowledge that it is far more than the dream it pretends to be.
Maddie tells me that I’m insane.
She doesn’t even say ‘well done’ when she sees it, she goes instead for the ‘it was predictable’ approach and ignores the fact that it is a complete surprise.
 “Wait until you’re super famous,” she says, “and all the top magazines say how amazing you are and all the best boy ballerinas want to dance with you and people send you flowers and cards and reviews and then you’ll regret that you ruined a perfectly painted wall with some petty little letter.” She pauses for breath and thought momentarily before plunging on in pretence frustration. “Just wait ‘til I’m famous for painting and my pictures and selling them for millions and then you’ll regret wrecking one of my priceless early works with blue tack.”
 “How does blue tack even ruin it?” I ask in bemusement.
 “When you pull it off it pulls the paint off with it. And it stains the paint,” She replies wisely and I feel a bit bad.
Perhaps the peeling paint will remind me of home. Somehow.
“It’s OK,” She says as though I have spoken my regret aloud. “I guess it’s pretty cool actually. You could start a massive collage thing right across your wall of all the good things that happen to you and then when you wake up you’ll remember that it’s good to be alive.”
Her voice goes soft and nervous as she finishes – bringing it back to our Wall-bound exchange – she’s just as scared of me as I am.
We fall serious; the mood deepens to a contemplatory pause that’s partly sad and partly wise.
I wonder whether I should confess, here, now, that sometimes, when I look down the spiralling stair cases, I debate how far to lean. Far enough to look? To dizzy? To tip? To end?
It’s not like I’m riding a rollercoaster or something; I don’t do it for the thrill or to sicken myself. I do it because I am sick of myself.
I stand up suddenly and drag her with me.
 “What are you doing now?” She asks as I pluck a green pen from my school bag.
 “Stand there,” I say, “yeah, there, and put your hand on the wall. Next to the letter.”
She does as I instruct and I draw around her hand, letting the nib tickle unsteadily between her splayed fingers.
 “You’ve got green all over me,” She complains and I shrug in response.
 “It’s your favourite colour.”
I remove her hand and write on the place where her palm pressed the wall.
 “What does it say?”
 “Maddie. My best friend.” I read.
She smiles.

Raised voices interrupt my sleep that night and I sit up in bed, blinking lethargically. The shouts and accusations ricochet through my sleep-blurred mind.
“It’s so unfair!” Keeley shouts. “I never got any of this.”
 “Why do you have to be so bitter? Why do you have to begrudge her the one thing she’s got?” I hear Natasha fire back.
I wonder who they’re talking about and slip out of bed, suddenly finding myself awake. I pad silently out of my room and down the hallway until I’m hovered outside the door of the living area.
 “Because you never did things like this for me. Did it cross your mind that, maybe, I wanted something like this?”
“How should I know? You never told me.” Natasha says sounding defensive and wounded
 “You never offered. But she comes along and you’re happy to fork out-”
 “You know perfectly well that this touring thing is free.”
I realise that I am the source of the argument and hug myself uncomfortably as both the voices swim deeper into incensed hysteria.
 “And the lessons? And the travelling? And the outfits?” You’re happy to do it for her. Why? She’s not even family, she’s not even wanted so why couldn’t you do it for your own daughter?”
I crouch on the floor, squeezing myself against the door, holding in my breathing. I wait for someone to counter the word ‘unwanted’ but no one takes the time.
“Is this what it all comes down to – selfishness, blind jealousy?” Natasha asks through her tears. “You think I didn’t try hard enough for you. You don’t get it do you? She’s got nothing, nothing, and if ballet’s the one thing I can give her then I’ll give it. I bought you toys, new clothes, nice shoes – I didn’t have to – You had birthday parties and swimming lessons and holidays and films and, most importantly, you had us!”
“Some gift that’s been.” Keeley snarls.
 “How dare you?” Natasha yells – it’s like Keeley’s started throwing punches at her, and at me.
“Perhaps I’d have been better off without you – I’d have got the sympathy vote, the ballet lessons, I’d have been babied.”
 “You complained that I was belittling you.”
 “I complained to kid myself that I didn’t care. But I did care. I cared that day when you let me go to Jazz’s party and I really wanted you to stop me but you didn’t. You let me.”
“Well, maybe you did,” Natasha admits tightly, “I don’t claim to have been a perfect mother, but I tell you one thing, Keeley, if anyone in this house has grounds to complain it’s her so you can stop being so bloody selfish, you can get over your jealousy, and appreciate how cushioned your life has been compared to hers.”
Someone slams out of the flat. Keeley. I hear her heals stabbing the flooring as she departs. Perhaps she wears them so that she can inflict her pain on things that don’t feel.
I hear Natasha sob loudly as her body heaves into the kitchen sink for support. I watch her start the washing up through the crack in the door’s hinges. The spoons are rinsed in tears.

“How are you Erin?”
I stare numbly at the floor. I don’t really know how to answer: The dance part of me is saturated in happiness but the human part feels like she’d drowning.
“Are things going OK with school and home?”
 “Yes,” I say eventually on default. “No, I mean, Jon, do you think that Natasha and James actually want me to be there?”
 “Why would they have volunteered to adopt you if they didn’t?”
“Because they felt obliged to or because they pitied me – like a charity appeal; you don’t actually want to text away five quid but you do it because the TV convinces you that you cannot be a good person if you do not. It tells you that you are essential to them and so you do it – you’re blackmailed but you feel sort of good because you feel like you’re doing something good and so you ignore the fact that you actually had no desire to do it at all.”
He sits there a little stunned, I don’t think he was expecting me to have given it so much thought but I’ve had plenty of time on my hands to consider the things that’s been bugging me so much. I think his question intended to be a rhetorical one but I can’t help myself firing back suggestions because I’m so desperate for answers.
“What gives you that impression?” He asks after a very long time in which the ticking of the clock seems to boom.
 “I don’t know…” I do not intend to divulge what I overheard Keeley say. “I mean, I just think that… What if they only do it because they didn’t feel they could not do it rather than because they actually wanted some screwed up kid living with them?”
 “The adoption process is a very thorough process,” he says in a flat sort of voice, “and I doubt they would have passed through it if they didn’t genuinely want to help you.”
I picture them at some meeting, passing round papers like the ones I’ve been delighting in. I picture some face-less woman (for some reason it’s a woman) with a patronising voice, thanking them repeatedly for wanting to adopt me without asking if they actually did. Expectations can manipulate people so easily…
Dad flattens his paper across his knee.
“A man once said something very true,” he tells me; “ he said ‘If you tell people the same lie enough times they believe it’ – or words to that effect.”
I try to grasp why this is of relevance to anything, hugging my knees and trying to feel intelligent. I consider it.
 “Like Father Christmas?” I ask…

“WANT TO HELP ME?” Are you sure they didn’t just get told that they wanted to? Why would anyone want me?”
Tears start bursting violently from me like a spring has opened. I knew that honesty could be hurtful to others but no one told me that it could be so painful to myself.
Simple truths have sharp teeth, I decide as I feel the whole room start to deflate around me like the walls aren’t strong enough to support it.
 “Believe it or not, Erin, you are not an overly repulsive person,” he says so sadly that I almost feel bad for adhering to his honesty policy but I’m crying too hard to take it back. I’m crying so hard that my breaths are screaming gulps and Jon eventually has to lead me from his office; holding me and dragging me like he’s escorting a criminal.
I feel diminished somehow, choking myself on a chair outside his office; the office that segregates me from all the people who might otherwise be friends and keeps me eternally marked as a red-card-kid.
The boy with the dippy fringe comes in mid-howl and his eyes link into mine before ducking like he remembers too many occasions when he was me. I am overwhelmed by its endlessness – this endless process of trying to heal – and if anything can give an example of its interminability it is this ageless boy who seems to have lived forever in the shadow and shallow comforts of Jon’s office. He has lived with it too long to be even vaguely unhinged by my spurting anguish.
 “I know,” he says without even needing to ask. The thing is that he does know and, although that is some sort of comfort to me in my deranged state, the still-rational part recognises how sad it must be. Nobody would visit Jon if they didn’t ‘know’ the way he does, nobody would come here if they were happy, and that simple truth sinks its bloodied teeth into all of us.

Marzena doesn’t come back to ballet. I understand it now: the crying and the head shaking when the future was mentioned because Marzena’s future didn’t contain ballet. I realise that the last time I saw her was when I hovered at the door and her grandmother told me it wasn’t hopeless to dream. I realise that I didn’t say goodbye to her or manage to stop her dad. I feel like I’ve been cut off. Isn’t it weird how your last moments of seeing someone can so often be so vague and imperfect? Shouldn’t last memories have some potency, some treasured point to them? But I don’t even remember whether she said goodbye to me. It’s easy to overlook last memories when they’re happening. Last memories of how you tiptoed across your sleeping bedroom, past the heap of your mother, to collect the egg boxes from the window sill.
The last thing I saw of mum was her foot protruding from beneath the covers she’d smothered herself with.
And then she was eternally gone.
“I thought you and Marzena were going to do your exam this term?” I say to Elodie.
 “We were.”
 “But not now?”
“Obviously,” She looks oddly alone and out of place without the first half of her talent show. I remember the same word from her lips – in a sweaty audition room – it tasted different then.
“I didn’t get into the stage show.” I say because I don’t know how else to ask without boasting.
 “Oh, sorry,” She says – perhaps I sound like I’m fishing for sympathy. “I did,” she shrugs like it’s no big deal but we both know that it is.
 “I got into the tour though,” I say.
 She stares at the reflection of the two of us for a long time. I suppose she must be used to having a blonde ballerina as her the girl beside her. Eventually she opens her mouth and says something that sounds like a damp sort of “Yay.”
We subconsciously shift order on the barre and I somehow end up at the front, behind Elodie. We are empty without Marzena; set free from her spell and wishing that she could recast it. Miss Corrine seems a little hollowed; she doesn’t even say anything about my posé ton levé even though I know it is wrong.

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