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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8. 8

I lose interest in paint two thirds of the way through the turquoise wall and let Maddie’s professional hand continue the work. The room is far from expansive but its walls seem endless when you take a brush to them. I sit among the cans and congealed old brushes on the cleanest piece of newspaper I can find to watch her crouching to the newly-installed skirting boards in her pair of paint-smeared old shorts that are printed with rainbow stripes. My fingernails pick at the paint that splatters my skin like a strange rash and she pokes fun at my laziness.
 “I thought you were a dancer?”
 “I am.”
 “They must be teaching you wrong then – you’ve got no stamina,” she shakes her head “It’s your room, I shouldn’t be doing all the work.” She obviously doesn’t mean anything with her moaning however as I can tell she’s having far too much fun clambering on the furniture to reach the corners and slapping the brush across the white expanses to be genuinely annoyed.
 “I do have stamina,” I argue back, “I’m just saving it for later.”
 “For what?”
 “Extreme pizza eating.”

The space gradually shifts colour into its refreshing new skin. Looking at it feels like stepping into a cool summer lake after a rare day of sun-burn but the fumes are almost unbearable. I’m sick of the stench curling in the back of my throat and of wading through dust sheets and Natasha’s old tabloids. We’ve opened the window as far as the safety bar will allow but the air seems reluctant to circulate all the same so that the choking smell lingers in our breath.
 “Finished!” Maddie exclaims, dropping her brush-hand down to her side with a grin.
 “Don’t tell me you actually enjoyed that?” I ask with raised eyebrows.
“Of course I did, didn’t you?” She grins back, starting to perform a strange victory dance on the Ikea cupboard.
“Well watching someone paint my walls was obviously the most mind-blowing, inspiring event of my life so far,” I joke dryly.
 “You could have joined in,” she offers me her brush and I slap it away from my intoxicated nose sharply so that it spits green liquid up her elbow.
 “Extreme pizza eating,” I remind her as a paintbrush war commences.

 “Hello Erin,” Jon smiles pleasantly.
 “Hello.”
There’s an awkward formality in our over-polite greeting, despite the way that Jon always claims that these sessions can be as personal as I want them to – protected by confidentiality.
It’s like we are both pretending that we are not ourselves and that I will not, shortly, be ripping into him with words. We pretend that last time I was here I did not detach myself from his attempts to help or rip up the tissue he gave me into snowflakes so that I could swirl them around on the desk.
 “How have you been this week?”
 I shrug.
 “Have you had to use your red card?”
 I don’t reply and he pushes me gently into a response by repeating my name softly.
 “Once,” I admit.
 The word falls heavily into the stiffness of the room and settles between us like the shell of a bomb that’s already exploded. We don’t really know how to react.
 “And you do dancing now?”
 “Yes,”
 “And it helps?” He appeals for positivity, for some hope that I might be returning some of what he is investing in me.
 “When I’m doing it,” I reply woodenly. He’s searching my response for something other than depression but I can’t seem to find it. These meetings draw it out of me until I wallow in it; outside of this room I can hold it festering in my mind. “When I dance I’m – I’m happy, I guess… and then I stop dancing and nothing’s changed.”
 “What about Maddie?”
 “She’s OK,” He looks at me as though asking for elaboration so I let a little more of me out like I’m a balloon releasing helium. “She’s nice but she doesn’t understand me.” She’s insensitive without meaning to be, without even being able to find flaw with what she’s said. She can’t recognise the wounds of words and the way they trigger steams of recollections. If the last year had not happened she would be everything I could ask for in a friend but time does not warp itself for the preservation of my happiness and so we must make do with this clumsy, pretending friendship.
 “Is there a way you can help her to understand?”
 I shrug. I don’t know whether I want her to understand; I want her to be understanding enough to recognise her insensitivity before she voices it but I don’t really want to let her in so far that she realises how messed-up I really am. “I don’t know if she’d even want to be friends with someone like me if she knew everything.” My confession seems to shake my chair with its magnitude.
 “I thought she was 'good interested',” He reminds me firmly and I can’t answer.
“So other than dance, can you think of any other coping strategies? So, like, when you’re in school and you feel you need to use your card, obviously you can’t dance there, how do you think you could help yourself to cope?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about writing again, like you wrote before? Writing how you feel – does that help?”
 He wants me to say yes, to tell him I have formed a way of dealing with life, a way of surviving in the wilderness but I haven’t. I’ve lied a lot since I came here but things don’t get easier when I do, I just feel more and more like fraud. I already hate myself enough without that.
 “Well, what are your overwhelming emotions in a situation like that?” He asks me; prodding me intrusively with his question marks.
 “Regret. I miss them. I’m guilty.”
I throw my face down on my arms on the desk, astonished that I said it aloud and the sleeves of my jacket become wet under my eyes.
 “Guilty?” His question is very gentle and pensive but I can’t cope with any more of it. My remaining constraint shatters and I slam on the desk so that his coffee falls over.
 “I KILLED MUM,” I scream, my voice is strangled.
 “No Erin,” He says immediately, unable to keep the concern from his voice, “Your mum committed suicide.”
 “IT WAS MY FAULT!”
 “No Erin, how could it be your fault? You mustn’t think-”
 “I WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH.” I stand up blindly. I try to use my red card but that only works for school and really it doesn’t work even then. It allows me to escape questions but I can’t escape myself in that corridor. It insists on clinging to me and I can’t lessen the load of being me. “I wasn’t there. I had to be; I had to stop her. And I couldn’t even do one thing. One thing! I smashed her on the mountains,” my words become tears as I speak them; “I MADE MYSELF PARENTLESS.”
 “Your mum chose it,” he argues futilely.
 “Because I wasn’t dad! Because I wasn’t enough! Because I was too late to stop her!”
 “Erin,” he says placing a gentle hand on my arm. My whole body is wracked with self-hate and I withdraw sharply from him, shaking my head.
“Erin, listen to me, there was nothing you could have done,” He makes another attempt to pacify me by pretending to understand but he doesn’t know the full story any more than Maddie does.
“There was. Any other Sunday I would have been back; I would have stopped her leaving, but I went into the church. It was the church, and the dance, and I forgot her. I FORGOT MUM!” The church is so vivid in my memory in that moment, more vivid than my memories of home have become. Jesus is looking down on me, with his tortured face, from the muted stained-glass window and I dance for the first time under his gaze – hating him but needing him at the same time.
I start to shake and all my anger evaporates until I just feel trodden and confused.
 “I can’t do it,” I breathe.
 “OK. You’re right; I think we should leave it today Erin. I don’t think this is having a positive effect even if it is somewhat productive.”
 I nod. I wasn’t referring to this meeting in particular when I said “I can’t do it.” I really meant that the production line was too much for me and I don’t feel strong enough to keep going with it.
 “You’ve got my e-mail.” He says as I leave, head bowed as if to ask for forgiveness for my shouting. “Any time you feel like sharing some more of your writing, just send me a message, OK?”
 “OK.”
But I know he really means that he wants me to talk more, to open out more, to find ways to express everything that I’ve caged in me. My story is really just an analogy for being honest and, besides dance, it seems the only means by which honesty is possible.
The boy with dippy hair goes in as I come out. His head is drooping on its stem like mine. His hair hides his face and he doesn’t raise it even to find the doorway.

I scratch the surface of the paper and leave a grey trail of worthless phrasing. I cast for ideas in an empty land, my fingers digging through the dirt for buried gold but making no discovery.
 “What are you writing?” Maddie’s voice butts into my head.
 “Nothing,” I reply furtively. In all honesty it is true; the few words I have assembled sit on the paper in a clumsy and uncompromising mixture. More importantly, they are the wrong words. They are not the words that I want to use and that are the ones that really belong; I’m still searching the unyielding deserts of my mind for those words. The ones that perfectly express all that I want them to say, and that explain to Jon the real difficulties of wilderness survival.
 “Don’t tell me it’s more of that story thing,” she moans, peering for a closer look but I shift my hand so she can’t read my attempts to begin. When the words came before they flowed unstoppably out of the pencil; they were a tsunami but now I am back to nothingness.
 “I can’t think what to write.” I say to nobody, tapping my pencil against my lip impatiently.
 “Have you got – whats-it-called – writer’s block?”
 “No,” I answer but perhaps the true response is maybe. Writer’s block sounds to me like a damn and words are the water piling up on the other side, writer’s block sounds like an indestructible barricade that piles up between you and the words whereas what I’m experiencing is just a total absence of words. It’s not as if they are constricted and tantalizing behind a prison wall, they have simply evaporated under the savannah sun but maybe writer’s block is writer’s block, no matter what method the words use to evade you.
Maddie leans into my air and reads.
The vultures seem… You are writing more,” She says indignantly. “Wasn’t five ticks enough?”
 “It’s not for her,” I respond coolly and I angle myself slightly away from my best friend in a childish statement of dislike. There is something cutting about her question which makes me wonder whether she really wants me as her friend as much as I need her.
 “Who then?”
 I shrug. I’m writing it because Jon wants me to but, if I’m honest with myself, I think I’m probably writing it for myself as well. There’s a part of me that longs to explore on paper what I’m too scared to explore with anything more real; that longs for the same graphite resolution as Jon.
 
“This list is up!” I am informed indirectly by the exclamation with which Marzena hails Elodie’s arrival.
 “What list?” I ask thickly, my leggings are half peeled off and I shuffle over with my legs snatched in at the calves.
 “The cast list. For the show.” Marzena explains impatiently, her eyes scanning the sheet of word-littered paper that is blue-tacked to the grey paint.
“Show?” I ask, working my way between them for a closer look.
 “Yes, we always do a show in April. It’s a weird time but it’s cheapest to hire the theatre then, Miss Corinne says.” Elodie elaborates before returning her feverish attention to the sheet. For a moment I am confused and then I realise that Miss Corinne must be the anonymous teacher who has been guiding my dancing for the last few weeks. It’s strange but I’ve never even thought about her name; she has simply been “miss” to me and I have not bothered to learn her any more than that. “She told us that,” Elodie explains but not in a self-important way; she is merely stating a fact. Of course, they have the details right from the teacher’s mouth; they’re high and mighty with connections in lofty places.
 “The Secret Garden,” I read aloud to disguise my feelings of lowliness.
 “That’s the ballet,” they respond in unison. “We always do stories.”
I read on in my head so that there is no opportunity for them to jump in on me at every line. The lead roles are filled by faceless, unfamiliar names and I pass them by until I reach the general cast:
Indian Servants – Grade 5
I scan onwards, working my way down. Excitement is battering through me, warm and fast and loud.
Snowflakes – Grades 3, 4 and 5
Lead snowflakes – Jess Appleby, Isla Jones, Elodie Matthews and Marzena Wysocki

I am also, it transpires as I progress, a ladybird along with the whole troupe of pink-wrapped Grade 2s and a lily with the Grade 5s again.
 The last thing on the list before the generic “FINALE” is the astonishingly cheesily named “reconciliation dance” which I almost laugh at until I see the serious, overwhelmed expressions on either side of me.
Reconciliation Dance: Hope – Elodie Matthews, Joy – Marzena Wysocki, Love – Erin Weir.
“It’s us!” Marzena breathes with incredulous excitement. She flings her arm around my shoulder. “Us” – the sensation of inclusion is beautiful.

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