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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17. 17

“How was it?” Maddie wants to know as soon as tour is over and I am returned to being a normal eleven-year-old. We are sat on the playground swings near her house, balanced absurdly, half-in, and half-on the baby swings that look like crates hanging on their chains. It’s not late but it is late enough for there to be no small children wanting to use them. The final family on the creaking roundabout dismount and head for home.
“Good,” I venture cautiously and she slaps her forehead, pretending to fall backwards off the swing.
 “Good?” She exclaims in exasperation “I’ve been dying in anticipation for you to tell me about it and how you’re going to be the next Darcy Bussell and then you tell me it’s been good?”
I grin half-heartedly. In all honesty it was painful and upsetting and revealing and beautiful but those aren’t the sort of words you tell your best friend as you wile away a summer evening.
 “Well,” I say when she continues to stare expectantly, “it was awful in some parts and amazing in others so it averages out as good overall. I don’t know. It was hard – mostly not physically – yeah, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done out of choice but it was also the most rewarding, I think.” I run my hands over each other; searching for the memory of that woman’s touch.
 “Bit of a comedown now, I guess.” She says; “We’ve got secondary school in three weeks... Wow that’s scary!”
“Not really. I couldn’t have done it for much longer.”
“They must have worked you hard.”
 “Yeah,” I say my hands fall to my lap before running down over the muscles that have hardened there over the last six months. I realise that I used to struggle with the stairs to the flat. I’m getting stronger. “We did a press up competition on the last day. I only did ten – it was pathetic.”
“I swear press ups are what men do,” she replies and I shrug.
“Maybe in some worlds,” I say
 “Seriously, some of the things you say are weird. You’re too smart; you just use words however you want.”
 “Maybe.”

I race her, and beat her, back to her house; we eat Doritos and listen to the sort of music I don’t like. Then we watch the Lion King because Maddie says it is necessary for the completion of my childhood. I think she forgets that my childhood died in a car crash. I think she forgets that it hurts when I see Simba’s dad trampled to death by rampaging hooves. She starts sniffing when he’s trying to make his dad wake up – huddling to the carcass in his desperation. I just look at the paintings on her walls and dig my fingernails into my wrists. There are too many parallels.

“Natasha and James passed on a message to me that they got from the director of that dance tour you did,” Jon says in a calculated voice. Jon is the one commitment I have during the summer holidays; there is no break from it because there is no break from missing mum and dad. If that was something like school, something that had weekends and holidays, I don’t think I would mind too much but it’s a full time occupation and the only breaks I get are the breaks when I wear ballet shoes.
 “She seemed to think that you struggled emotionally with the demands of the tour.”
 “I guess.”
 “Apparently she said that the tour always presents emotional challenges for kids but you found it particularly difficult.” He is telling me facts but, at the same time, asking questions. His voice turns up at the end; hoping I can unravel it.
 “I guess,” I repeat. “It’s difficult – difficult for everyone –because it is the truth and you’re faced with the reality of human beings and being human. The truth stares you in the face, cries out at you and weeps and it’s difficult because you want to believe that you’re immortal and it reminds you that you’re not. Difficult for everyone.”
“Are you sure you want to dance?”
 “Of course,” I answer defensively; the struggle of the tour did not compare to the joy of dancing it.
 “I just mean, you wouldn’t make a bad writer if you put your mind to it.
 “But I don’t want to write,” I reply simply. That at least is something I can say in complete honesty.
 “I know. I was just saying.”
He flickers his fingers over his pen and turns his head on one side like he is waiting for me to continue the conversation. When I fail to think of anything to say he points me towards an answer: “You say ‘for everyone’?”
 “That’s how it was for everyone.” I point my toe into daggers under the desk and wonder how much damage I could inflict with my feet. Not that I want to.
 “I heard,” he says gently and I snap up in response.
 “What?” I panic. I know immediately what he is talking about. That was private; that was personal and I trusted it to Sarah. Why did he have to try to prod me into telling him when he already knew? Why could he be completely honest the way he told me to be and come straight out and talk about it?
 “Erin, she had to let them know; nobody else ended up running away through the hospital corridors. She was concerned.”
 “NO.” I hit the table. I don’t even know why it’s such a betrayal. I don’t even know whether I feel betrayed by Sarah or Jon or both. I suppose Jon’s no better than I am: if we were both entirely honest we would have broken straight into the emotional break-down in the hospital instead of waiting and putting it off.
If Jon had to know I wanted to be the one to tell him; I didn’t want him to get the story from someone else – like gossip – but then why couldn’t I just have said it myself straight away?
 “I’m sorry Erin.”
 For some reason I begin to talk; “We were in this hospital and I kept on having all these memories piling on top of me. They were burying me and I couldn’t stop them.” My voice is quivering and I plan my words. The memories overwhelmed me and pushed me into some sort of hysteria.
 “I couldn’t cope and I was trying to run away but no matter how far I ran I was still in the hospital and I couldn’t stop remembering dad.”
But I was also trying to run backwards; back towards him. I wanted time to repeat itself just a little differently. I don’t tell Jon this because he’d only reiterate the truth: ‘You can’t change the past.’
“Where did these memories come from?” His voice seems to have tightened itself as I’ve spoken. Not in an angry way – just as though he is trying to hold things back.
“WHERE DO YOU THINK?” I shout. “I COULDN’T STOP REMEMBERING DAD DYING.” Then I hug myself and bury my face in the neck of the hoody I’m wearing. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I mumble.
He doesn’t say anything else; instead he stands up and crosses the room, turning to watch the window. The heavy August light falls over his face. He becomes a statue, silhouetted against the skyline. His eyes are bubbling around the rims; he keeps staring out of the window. The sun draws him an outline like a cardboard cut-out.
Is that when it dawns on me? Is that when I realise or have I always known but only bothered to think about it now?
His face is cracking, creasing; the office and professionalism disintegrates until he’s not a social worker anymore; he’s just a broken man. I consider for the first time that he is as human and as destroyed as I am. I consider that he wouldn’t bother trying to understand lost-cause-kids if he didn’t understand that they needed saving. I consider that the reason he wants me to write happy endings is because, to him, I am just a mirror image of another part of him and he wants a happy ending.
“It’s nearly September.” He comments eventually. “That tree’s already turning brown,” he points it out although I can’t see it from where I’m sitting.
 “Are you sure it isn’t grey?”
 “Grey-green to grey-brown. Sad child to sad adult.” He says and makes a thing of polishing his glasses to hide wiping his eyes. “You’re going to secondary school soon, aren’t you? That’s what September means.”
He says it emptily because he knows that September actually means something entirely different for me.

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