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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21. 21 (Rated Y)

I let the tube train rock me home. I find my way despite how impossible navigating the stations has previously seemed. The station clock tells me that it is 3 o’clock and I have to stare at it for three minutes before I accept that it could be. The day seems to have smoked itself out without even beginning and I wonder what happened to the hours that split this moment from my earlier visit to the same space. I crunched them in my fist, I suppose. I took my day and screwed it up along with the rules and laws and certainties. I suppose I must have left them somewhere in Floral Street, spilled beneath my crippled fake converses. I must have trampled them there and their absence makes me feel lighter somehow. Life jacket, buoyancy aid, oxygen in my lungs? I don’t know what The Bridge gave me but it seems to have diminished some of my baggage.
I wonder whether two months is really such a long time after all.
School finishes at half past thee so I pretend I’m waiting for a train. I wait while time becomes a snail, not quite sure of what I’m anticipating. How can hours be so little and minutes be so much?
I extract Shmuel and Bruno from my school bag and digest their fates and their conclusions. For some reason I have a great desire to hurl the finished novel onto the tracks. I want to let the roar and the darkness swallow them until I can’t hear them anymore. Perhaps Mrs Cox would be proud on me; she’d be pleased that they ‘made me feel’ and that I’m so ‘moved’. Or perhaps not; I’m not sad so much as angry, sickened and empty – I want all their words to be undone and unwritten. I’m unoriginal – my only solution to this being to force them under a train. To let wheels slice apart the pages until it’s no ‘masterpiece’ just a shredded alphabet.
15:26
Time is so unsympathetic, but then, who am I to beg sympathy from a clock?
15:27
“You OK, kid?”
I shrink from the stranger’s question
“Waiting to meet my dad,” haha, perhaps I am, “off a train.” I have to confirm to myself that I’m lying. dad didn’t like to take trains, he said they were impersonal.
“Alright,” the stranger nods; conscience soothed, it is time to board a carriage and plunge away from me without feeling.
15:29
I count the seconds – surely more than sixty have passed – and drum the book against my denim knees. I wonder why I like denim, maybe it feels like home but doesn’t at the same time – shape shifting versatility.
15:30
At last I stop waiting, whatever fictional purpose I had dissolves and I expel myself from the dense stuffiness of it. The world outside is equally dense and stuffy but the pressure comes from less bodies and more air particles.
I drag my way along from the station, meandering along the pavements and feeling the pull of my sling across my neck and collar bone. The pavement seems a heightened shade of grey today and in the distance I see the streams of students leaving school in tired, ragged constellations. I wonder if I should wait for them to all pass me by or whether it would be less conspicuous to just slip into their flow and let myself become one of them, unsuspected.
A familiar blonde girl is walking alone. Oh. I try not to watch Maddison as she loiters towards me without seeing. She’s lost the weird short and baggy jerseys of primary school. Are all human changes irreversible? I notice that her shoulders bow like they’ve been saddled and that her feet drag with life-fatigue. I recognise the symptoms from my own reflection.
We draw reluctantly and unavoidably closer as The Way Home From School merges with The Way Home From Dreaming. I wonder if we’ll properly meet or if we’ll just brush without quite finding the same direction and the same purpose.
Then she looks up and her eyes settle on me. She is frozen and then charged like static and starts to sprint desperately in my direction. Her flip-flops are like gunshots as her feet slap the pavement. She stops just short; about to fling her arms around my neck but remembering, just in time, the kilogram of plaster I bear. Her hands splutter and droop awkwardly to her sides; slowly like floating through water. Her eyes don’t have black fringes today; they have pink rims instead. Her lashes have been thickened and clustered with the tears that have been wrung from her sweat-shirt heart.
 “Oh God – you’re OK – oh God. I’m sorry.”
“Huh?”
 “My God; you scare us all shitless and then come back and say ‘huh’? I will never understand you,” she’s almost screaming, almost crying. It’s weird the way that she swears now; I can’t tell if it’s because she’s incensed of whether she’s just trying to be old enough to cope. I don’t know what to think about it so I try not to think at all.
“Don’t you get it Erin? You didn’t show up at school and they rang your place and got told you left home – we don’t know where you are… questions get asked, puzzles pieces slot in and it all comes out.”
 “What?” We’re both breathing hard although only she was running.
“You have no idea!” she shrieks. She looks half angry and half devastated; I can’t help bracing myself to receive a punch. “They started asking if I knew anything – I realised how bad it was – people admitted stuff. Anyway, Lydia and some others explained everything they’d done to be a bitch to you and I admitted that I’d been a bitch to you recently – God knows, I told you to put me before your life – and we all gathered the evidence that life had been a bitch to you…” he voice tunes out like a faulty radio and her lips tremble over the words. “We thought you’d done it – you know, gone, found your parents.”
Then, only then, do I see it; I understand pink eyes and fleshy lips. I realise that I did a mum to them…
“You, better than anyone, know the cost of death on the living. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to inflict it on anyone.”
 “Who is there left to care?” I ask viciously.
 “So many people Erin, so many. Why do you insist on discounting us?”
 “You care because you have to. I’m just a job to you, a chore… people wouldn’t have to keep trying to love me.”…

“Sorry,” I say, shell-shocked. I want to hit myself but I can’t assemble any other words; they’ve run out on me.
 “All them words on paper,” Maddie wonders hysterically, “and then you can only use one when I really need them.”
“I don’t mind if you’re angry,” I say quietly. I suddenly realise that I am angry with mum – anger, that’s what all that hurt and bitterness was made of.
She shakes her head.
“I’m angry with myself… and with you but I can’t really be angry with you because you at least had the decency to not be dead.”

It gets worse when I’m back at the flat with Maddie and the table which is ringed with coffee stains and concern. Natasha throws herself at me when I enter but she catches, half on my fingers and half on the side board, before we can collide. It is so much harder to face a room full of people who maybe, I consider, maybe care – Natasha, James, Jon, Adele, even Keeley – Maddie’s grief replicated and posted into each of the wooden chairs. They smother me in their anxieties and their tears of relief and their ideas of what could have been my epilogue. I think I find it alarming – I allow myself to not want to live but it feels different to know that others fear that I don’t want to live.
They keep telling me they’re “sorry” like they’ve caused some sort of scar. I’ve got plenty of scars but none of the occupants are responsible for drawing them on me. 
Jon wants to talk to me for ages about how ‘suicidal’ I am feeling when I don’t even know whether that is an emotion and, if so, how you measure it. He tells me how sorry he is for not taking last week’s pleas more seriously and not trying hard enough for me as though I really have just ceased to breathe. He apologizes profusely, wants to start “picking up the pieces” right here right now but I decline. How do I explain to the spectators that I didn’t intend to kill myself, or at least, I wanted to die no more than I’ve wanted to die for the past year? How do I explain that my intentions were different when I don’t even know what my intentions were? How far is their understanding of how I feel fictitious?
Adele is weepy, Keeley is stiffly pale, her cheeks dimmed to sickly pallor. James is pinched – relieved but still only half allowing himself to breathe, still half empty, half crumbled.
“I’m sorry Erin, so sorry. Are you OK? I’m so sorry, sorry Erin” Natasha weeps it, clinging to my shoulders to steady herself. I hate the word ‘sorry’; it is so shallow yet so often the only word available to us. I hate that she is saying sorry to me when I’m the one who caused this. I hate that she cares so much when it shouldn’t be her place or responsibility to. I hate that I hurt them all so much and shoved their care back down their throats to choke them.
“Please stop saying sorry,” I beg in a muted voice. “None of this was ever your fault, not really.”  It was mum’s fault and a lorry driver’s fault – you just weren’t enough to fill the gap… or did I even want the gap filled?
“You shouldn’t be saying sorry to me, I should be saying sorry to you but I’m just too selfish – not a good enough person – to have done that yet. You all deserve more than me,” stupid little kid who never had enough hope to be gracious. “I should be saying sorry because I’m the one with all the mistakes and the flaws and the difficulties.” Without me you’d be so much happier… but not a present-tense ‘without me’, a past-tense-I-never-happened kind of ‘without me’.
“I’m the one who should know best but I’m too self-absorbed to care.” My throat dries up on me and creaks a little like it is too tired to speak this much and this honestly. Today is my chance, my starring role, my expressive monologue only I’m putting aside the acting and the mask and have stripped to bare bone.
“I’m sorry, I almost did to you what I’ll never forgive mum for doing to me – I should have known better. I should have known better, I should have known better…” My voice catches and goes in circles as I forget my lines. “I misjudged what caring people you are because I managed to lose the ability to care for people who go on breathing…”
My voice refuses to go on this time and tears stick and jam and clamber over each other in a bid to escape their morose tomb. The room full of faces blurs in the film that forms before my eyes. I let the truth leak from me as Natasha presses me into her. Enveloped by her jumper, I shudder violently without knowing why. It must hurt her having the plaster cast ramming her stomach but I bury my face into her clothes so that I can stop seeing. I want to tell her that I want to be held there forever. I want to ask her to never let go of me, even though she shouldn’t have ever been necessary to my life, but I can’t get the words out. They drown in my tears.

“Erin,” Natasha begins that evening. “You say that we deserve more than you but that’s not true, you do know that, don’t you?” I twist away and make an empty, non-committal noise. “Erin? Because the truth is that you deserve far more than us. You deserve more than being an orphan, you deserve more than all this unhappiness, you deserve more than how you’re treated and more than broken bones…”
She trails into silence.
It doesn’t work like that, says the cold, snarky voice within. If anyone could gain happiness by working hard then it would make sense to talk like that but I could spend my life working and not reverse my unhappiness.
“…God knows; you deserve better.”
I wonder what grounds she makes that statement on. It certainly isn’t on the grounds of me being a good person, an angel who has only given selflessly to others without any personal gain. Does someone ‘deserve’ happiness merely by paying for it with their heart?
“But I’m rubbish,”
“No Erin! That’s what I’m saying. You have to get over thinking that you are – people will tell you many things but you can’t let people who hate you tell you what you are.”
“Oooh,” Adele says with a disapproving smirk, “Someone’s cracking open the cheesy self-esteem-boosting expressions.”
“Shut it.” Natasha turns her attention back to me, a hand strokes my hair out of my face with extreme gentleness. “I’m saying it because it’s true,” she argues.
I wonder whether it is; I hold the opinion that I am rubbish but maybe that is only because I hate myself.
“I am rubbish; even when people love me, I only give them more hurt in return.”
“If I try to change your mind my daughter will accuse me of being cheesy and clichéd and maybe I am, and my ideas of love are, but I can tell you that the hurt you give us is tiny in comparison to the hurt others have inflicted on you which is, in my ‘cheesy’ opinion incredible. People who have been hurt often feel inclined to make others suffer, the fact that you have no wish to do so shows that you are a remarkable human being.”
 “You’re just saying things,” I say because I am scared that I am right.
 “No, I mean them as well.”
I sink my head into her shoulder. Perhaps beginning to trust in the honesty of others would help me begin to be more honest, help me to begin to be a better person, a person who deserves the woman who has tangled her arms between my sling and my rib cage.

 

 

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