The beginning of a grand pas de deux in which the danseuse and danseur make their entrance.
It FELT as if the world was consuming itself. Yesterday, an earthquake had struck Mexico City, swallowing thousands into its rubbly mouth, and AIDS had become such a scourge that the movie-star-turned-president had mentioned it three days earlier.
Peridot “Peri” Jones slammed her car door, swung her dance bag over her shoulder, and looked up at the Hollywood sign wavering through the film of smog. Its silvery promise of dreams coming true seemed a mirage that only the most naïve could believe in.
A wave of fatigue crashed over her, like curtains closing at a performance’s end, as she walked toward the studio. Her stomach was wobbling. This wobble was recent, but omnipresent, as her life—once predictable, mostly pleasant—threatened to crumble into a heap of useless shards that she, no matter her desire or effort, would be helpless to reconstruct.
She inhaled, a futile attempt to prevent the truth from splattering against her guts. Bob, her dance partner for and best friend of fourteen years, was dying, his wasted body fighting to take him somewhere far away. Hell, if you believed a man loving another man was a sin. Heaven, if you knew Bob and his kindness.
Peri herself was dying, but it was a different death—the death of a dancer. What once was easy was now hard, and what once was hard was now impossible. Maintaining the illusion of brilliance was chewing at her.
She yanked open the door to the studio, willing herself to survive the next hour, so she could go home and dive into bed where, under the black-silk canopy of night, she could ignore the question chiming in her head: What next?
She entered the studio where artistic director Levon Dektember was leaning against the mirror, his hand pressed hard into his cane.
“Peri-jan,” he said, turning her name into an Armenian expression of affection. “Thank you for coming.”
Although Mr. D spoke stiff, formal English, his accent smoked the words with the scent of far-off lands.
Peri tossed off the jacket and jeans she’d thrown over her pink leotard and tights. She pawed through her bag for a hair tie and bobby pins. Her hand closed over an ancient rubber band that was gnarly with bits of hair twisted around it.
She groaned. She’d left her new hair supplies on the kitchen counter, too depleted to remember minutiae like that. Shrugging, she bunched up her hair into the approximation of a bun and wrapped the rubber band around it. This would have to do.
Mr. D frowned as he smoothed an imaginary wrinkle from his white suit. He’d called her in to run a pas de deux after receiving word about a promising male dancer. Mr. D wanted to see how this potential hire would look with her.
The door opened, and someone jogged into the studio, panting a little. Peri didn’t look up, too busy tying the ribbons of her pointe shoes: criss then cross, a double wrap into a knot, which she balled under the silk banding her ankle.
Her pulse slowed to an adagio. How many more times would she do this? She was twenty-nine, but her body was an inventory of aches and pains on par with a ninety-nine-year-old grandma.
Peri stroked her calf, the map of veins threading across it visible beneath her tights. “Don’t fail me,” she whispered and then sighed, resigned to the truth. She couldn’t will her body into behaving.
She forced her lips into a welcoming curve as she walked to where the man who’d entered seconds before was shuffling his feet. He jerked his head backward, knocking a swoop of maple syrup-colored hair out of his eyes.
“This is Mark Maroulis, Jr.,” Mr. D said. “He is auditioning.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, the words anemic, perfunctory.
This was a waste of time. For Peri. For Mark Maroulis, Jr. For Mr. D who seemed to think he could replace Bob. Nobody could replace Bob.
She looked again at the recruit and then blinked. This wasn’t a man; this was a freckle-faced teenager.
“Mark, this is Peridot Jones.”
His alert blue eyes met hers warily. “I know,” he said, his voice a bright tenor.
Peri cocked her head at him.
“Five years ago, you and Bob, uh, Robert Winslow, danced at my school.” He laughed, an awkward ha ha. “It’s why I’m here today.”
She smiled, touched by his earnestness. “Call me Peri.”
Mr. D clapped his hands. “Let us get started.” He turned toward Peri and told her what they’d be dancing. “Mark knows the choreography,” he added.
Peri touched her stomach. The wobble had increased to full-blown shaking. This wasn’t one of Mr. D’s hardest pieces. It was conceivably something two people who’d never danced together could get through without decapitating each other, but still, it required stamina, focus, and precision, qualities she was lacking these days.
The last time she’d danced it had been four years ago when she was on top of the world, able to tick off the endless balances, manifold pirouettes, and six-o’clock extensions with effortless glee. Four years before everything began sliding toward atrophy and irrelevance.
Mr. D inclined his head toward the accompanist. “An easy pace.” He wiggled his cane at Peri and Mark. “Do what you can. It is your first time dancing together.”
Peri stationed herself at the edge of the floor. She placed the tip of her right pointe shoe on the ground and pushed her arch over before repeating the action with her left. She ran her tongue around her lips and then patted her haphazard bun. She performed this ritual every time before she danced in a small, hopeless gesture to ward off misfortune.
Five, six, seven, eight, she recited to herself as she pointed her foot forward. The entrance began with walks toward center, the deliberate pacing misdirection before the fireworks erupted.
Right, then left, a half dozen more steps until she reached center where Mark was waiting, his arm outstretched. She placed her hand in his, sprung into sus-sous, her toes the roots from which her body grew, and unfolded her right leg into a developpé. Mark raised their clasped hands to lead her into a slow pirouette. She ended with her leg in attitude, a hook of one knee juxtaposed against the rod of the other.
Mark walked around her, his grip steadier, warmer, more comforting than she’d expected. He led her into another pirouette to end facing him. With his hands on her waist, she arced into a deep backbend before he guided her up toward him. Mark wrinkled his forehead as the freckles spilling across his nose and cheeks paled.
He didn’t remember what came next.
She whispered the steps. His eyes brightened as he whirled her back and forth, her arms sweeping like curlicues.
A boy, she thought as they executed a pas de bourrée, a graceful grapevine of a step.
They turned toward each other, their arms lifted like a garland. Mark’s jaw clenched as he split his legs into a grand jeté, his body a flesh-and-bone asterisk imprinting the blank air.
He’s an acutely nervous boy who thinks this means something, she thought. That ballet means something. But it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t.
It wouldn’t stop Bob from dying or any of the rest who’d died or the more who would die because AIDS was a plague. And even if humanity survived and ballet continued, it didn’t mean anything because this boy, even with his talent, would end up like her—old and broken, with no plan for the future beyond staying in the present.
Peri’s eyes felt gummy, but she shook off her dark thoughts as they continued, not dancing well but not poorly either for their first time. Mark was a good height for her, and he was a much better dancer than his ordinary looks suggested.
Then, one of the last moves—a penchée where her body would seesaw forward until a leg pricked the sky. Anxious to get it over, she pitched forward, not waiting for Mark to initiate. He grabbed her waist, but it was too late. She threw her hands on the floor to prevent falling.
Mr. D held his hand up for the accompanist to stop. “Peri-jan, show him where to put his hands.”
Mark plucked at the neckline of his white t-shirt. It had a pinkish cast, as if he’d thrown it in with everything else he owned, not knowing whites needed to be separated and washed with a splash of bleach.
Where was his mother? Father? Big sister? Anybody?
He seemed young to be here, all alone, auditioning for the company, without an adult watching through the window to offer encouragement and/or sympathy depending on the outcome.
Mark coughed. “They were too high.” He paused. “My hands, I mean.”
Peri took his hands and placed them on her hipbones. “Here.”
He nodded. His eyes, blue like forget-me-nots, had gone flat with worry.
She patted his shoulder, hoping to ease his nerves. In spite of her bleak mood, she liked him.
“Again,” Mr. D said as he glanced at the clock on the wall.
Peri followed his gaze. Only a few minutes until Mr. D crushed this sweet boy’s dreams. Why was Mr. D even trying? No one could replace Bob.
Mark initiated the penchée correctly, and they flew through the finger turns and promenades where he walked around her as she struck pretty pictures with her legs.
Finally, they got to their last move—a romantic lift. She rocketed toward the sky, her hands on Mark’s shoulders to give her a boost, him catching her legs. As he hoisted her above him, the tatty rubber band split and her blonde hair fluttered around them. Behind that gossamer curtain, they stayed immobile, gazing into each other’s eyes, communing, telling secrets, their hearts tapping out a rhythm for everyone to hear, as the outside world became smudgy and then nonexistent.
Slam. The accompanist hit the final chord.
Peri gasped as she flung her arms upward into the last pose. The accompanist’s emphasis made it clear. They’d missed it the first time around.
“That is enough, children,” Mr. D said.
Mark slid her down the warm wire of his body until she landed on firm ground. She sipped in some air, so she could say something, anything, to escape the claustrophobia of her confusion.
She’d missed the ending. She’d never done that before.
Peri bit her lip and turned to Mark, who was gaping at her.
She stepped away and then looked at Mr. D. The corners of his lips were curling upward as his eyes glittered like black glass.
Mr. D knew.
Peri touched a finger to her lips. But there was nothing to know. Nothing had happened beyond her getting caught up in the dancing and, for once, forgetting about the rot overtaking her life.
Mr. D inclined his head toward her. Peri dipped into a curtsey before grabbing her bag and zipping to the exit.
“Mark, the variation,” Mr. D said.
Peri closed the door, her hand dewing the handle.
Not a boy, she thought and then shivered.
(sudden spring or bound)
MARK WAS DOUBLED OVER, wheezing from trying to scrape the ceiling with his leaps.
It wasn’t perfect, he said to himself. But it was better than good.
He’d landed heavily on his cabrioles because he’d lingered too long in the air, and his last pirouette could have been cleaner, but he’d hit everything else to the best of his ability.
He let out a breath that whistled with worry. The last hour had been full of embarrassment and fear. That it wouldn’t work out. That all the steps he’d taken to get here would add up to nothing.
Mark turned to Mr. D to get it over with.
“I would like to offer you a contract,” Mr. D said.
Mark grinned. He pushed his arms against his body to keep himself from punching the air. He was in a ballet studio, after all. This white box with a mirror on one wall and a metal barre around the other three didn’t look much like the palaces where ballet had started four centuries earlier, but still. Good manners ruled, then and now.
“Will you accept?” Mr. D asked.
“Where do I sign?”
“Can you sign?” Mr. D rubbed the weird green stone that topped his cane. “Your teacher said you were seventeen.”
“I am not familiar with the term.”
“It means I’m legally an adult. I don’t need a parent to sign for me.”
Mr. D raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a long story.” Mark swiped at the sweat dotting his upper lip. He didn’t want to explain how one foul baseball had resulted in him standing here in tights praying for a job.
Mr. D smiled. His teeth were surprisingly white and strong against his skin, which was beige and wrinkly like an old lunch bag. “Go to the office. Trish will take care of you.”
In the hall, Mark gave into his joy and relief. As he raised his arms in a victory salute, his gaze snagged on a black-and-white picture of Peri and Bob. Peri had one leg wrapped around Bob’s waist as his uplifted arm framed her.
Were the rumors true?
Was this why Mark had gotten the job?
He pushed his hair out of his eyes, his excitement icing over. He could never be Bob. Nobody could be Bob. No matter how high Mark jumped, no matter how many turns his pirouettes had, he’d never be like Bob. Bob had been a real-life Prince Charming who even bored audience members in the nosebleed section liked.
Mark was a freckle-faced guy with a crazy talent for ballet. Nothing more, nothing less. Even the best teacher in the world couldn’t make him good looking or suave.
The door to the studio creaked.
Mark cursed. He didn’t want Mr. D to find him here, mooning over a photo of Bob and Peri, so he double-timed it to the office.
“You’re the new hire?” Trish asked.
Mark was too busy gawking at Trish to answer. She was wearing so much mascara that her lashes clumped together, like an army of ants. Mark averted his eyes although Trish didn’t seem to notice his staring.
“Is your mother around? She’s going to need to sign.”
Trish opened her mouth, but he cut her off. “The state considers me a legal adult.”
He lifted his eyes upward. This was going to get old quick.
She gestured toward a ratty club chair. “Might as well get comfortable. I have to redo the contract.”
Mark slouched in the chair and tapped his hands against the cracked leather armrests in time to Trish’s typing. Hurry up, he wanted to say.
He longed to get out of here, so he could call his ballet teacher and tell her the good news. If he timed it right, he could catch her in between classes. Maybe she could figure out a way to let his mom know everything had worked out without too many details.
He gazed out the window. Peri was walking across the parking lot toward a shiny beige hatchback. She wore slim jeans and a white blazer with big, structured shoulders, as if she were a model in a fashion magazine.
His stomach wiggled.
Peri opened the trunk, tossed in her dance bag, and then slammed the hatch shut. She pushed her long, baby-fine blonde hair over a shoulder as she headed toward the five and dime at the end of the strip mall. The palm trees lining the parking lot cast long, thin shadows, so Peri looked like she was walking through a jail cell.
An idea wrapped itself around his brain and squeezed tight.
“Do you have a piece of paper and a pencil I could borrow?” Mark asked. “I want to remember something Mr. D told me.” He tilted his head low, so his hair would hide the lie burning in his eyes.
Trish looked up, a flake of mascara stuck to the bridge of her nose. “Sure.” She ripped off the top sheet from a pad of paper and selected a nub of a pencil from the bunch crammed into a coffee mug. She pushed both toward him before turning to her typewriter.
“I’ll be right back,” Mark said. “I have to dance it to remember it.”
Trish kept her focus on the typewriter. “I’ll be here.”
He jogged to the men’s room, gagging as he entered. It stunk of piss and unshed tears. A balled-up paper towel rested on the sink. He nudged it into the trash and placed the paper on the edge of the sink.
Written in swirly script at the top:
Morning, Noon & Night Locksmith
At the bottom lay a number to call and a fancy drawing of a door under a moon and some stars.
Mark tried to figure out what to say. But there were so many things, pushing and pulling at each other, that he had to wait until one rose above the others.
Thank you, he wrote.
He looked it over. The big, messy words tilted downward, like something a little kid would write. He started to crumple the paper but changed his mind. He’d have to ask Trish for another piece, and he didn’t want to deal with her questions.
Words said so many times they meant nothing. He frowned, hoping for something better. In his head, he completed the phrase.
Thank you for helping me remember the steps and for showing me where to put my hands during the penchée.
That wasn’t going to work. It was too many words for the small sheet of paper. Plus he didn’t know how to spell penchée.
Should he add a period? An exclamation point?
A period felt weird, like there was something final about the note even though it was a beginning rather than an end. As for an exclamation point, that seemed girly.
Mark shrugged. No punctuation then. He couldn’t go wrong with nothing.
He gazed at the two clumsy words. His handwriting was bad, not unreadable but not neat and definitely not sophisticated.
Should he at least rewrite it?
He rubbed the end of the stubby pencil. Instead of an eraser, the pad of his finger plugged up a metal hole.
Mark sighed. This would have to work.
He left the bathroom, glancing over his shoulder to make sure he was alone. He snuck out the front door, fingers crossed that no one would see him in the blaring white sun, and made a beeline for Peri’s car. He placed the note under her windshield wiper, message facing in.
Heart thumping, he turned to run inside, but a couple of girls were blocking his way as they got into the car next to Peri’s.
“Oh. My. God,” one said as she opened the door. She had to bend extra low so her bangs, a row of shellacked curls, could clear the door. “That clerk needed to bag her face.”
“Totally,” the other girl said. “I’ve seen, like, better-looking dogs.”
Mark lifted his eyes heavenward. Kids his age with their stupid slang make him feel old.
The girls rolled down their windows as the engine rumbled to life.
“I, like, love this song,” one said. “Turn it up.” A pop song poured from the car’s open windows.
Mark struggled to catch the words as the girls sang in a tone that brought to mind cats getting their tails tied in knots. Something about wanting to know what love is. Wanting to be shown what love is.
Mark glanced at the note on Peri’s windshield. Tingles spread from the back of his neck to his face. As the car streaked out of the parking lot, the girls’ voices fading, he shook himself and turned to head back inside. He still needed to sign his contract.
“All done?” he asked Trish.
She shoved the contract and a pen toward him. “Autograph here and here and here.” Trish pointed to a few lines on the document.
He started to skim the contract but got jumbled up by all the legal terms. So, shrugging, he took the pen and scribbled his name. “Is that all?”
“You start on Monday. Company class is at ten.”
He pushed open the office door and walked toward the exit but then went rigid, his breath all stopped up. Peri was strolling to her car, a bag dangling off her arm. She reached into it, pulled out a butterscotch candy, unwrapped it, and then popped the golden disc in her mouth. As she carefully folded the cellophane in precise quarters, her eyes widened.
His mouth went dry. She’d seen his note.
Peri snatched the square of paper and read it, one cheek bulging as she sucked on the butterscotch.
It’s from me, he wanted to yell.
He didn’t because she knew. She had to. Her forehead creasing, she tossed the note into her purse and got into her car.
Mark slumped across the door, his body hot and itchy like he had a sunburn.
She thinks I’m a kid, he thought. A really weird one.
The opening section of the classical pas de deux, in which the ballerina, assisted by her male partner performs slow movements and enlèvements in which the danseur lifts, stabilizes, or carries the danseuse. The danseuse, thus supported, exhibits her grace, line, and balance.
“Mark starts tomorrow.”
Peri’s palms moistened. She stopped the pathway of her wineglass, which was halfway to her parted lips. Carefully, so as not to disturb the sloshing Bordeaux, she replaced the glass on the circular indentation it’d created on the tablecloth. “He can’t replace Bob.”
“No one can replace Bob.”
“Then why . . .” Peri’s voice drifted off. She rubbed her damp hands on the napkin in her lap.
Mr. D took a sip of wine, his eyes never leaving her face. Peri crossed her legs and then uncrossed them. Mr. D’s expression was benign, but his lips were twisting as if he knew something she didn’t.
“I hired Mark for himself. He is a once-in-a-generation talent. Even if he doesn’t understand the magnitude of his gifts, I do,” he said.
The waiter materialized, his pen poised to scribble their order.
“Cassoulet for the lady,” Mr. D said as Peri handed the waiter her unopened menu. There’d been no point in perusing the options. Mr. D always ordered for her.
She sighed internally. She didn’t like cassoulet, but it could have been worse. The menu contained plenty of dishes more heavily creamed or sauced than this.
Mr. D loved French food, something to do with the years he spent as a young man in Paris, the city where he’d discovered ballet. If it weren’t this restaurant, it’d be another one with a leather-bound menu, a mustachioed career waiter, and velour high-backed chairs.
She’d been to them all a thousand times. This one was her least favorite. Although the food was palatable enough, the restaurant never seemed clean with its splotchy silverware and plates filmed with cheap dish soap. A few times, she’d recoiled at finding lip prints on her wineglass.
Peri touched the tablecloth, which should have been snowy white but was a dull gray, as if it had been washed without bleach.
An image of Mark in his pinkish t-shirt popped into her head.
So she’d see him tomorrow. And every tomorrow after that. The wobble in her stomach expanded through her until even her heart was wavering precariously.
She ran her fingers through her hair, remembering the moment he’d lifted her high above him, his warm hands on her waist, his blue eyes meeting hers, how the whole world had receded until it was just them.
She flinched, disgusted at herself. Mark was what? Seventeen?
I’m mixed up on the inside, she told herself. Because of Bob.
“Eat,” Mr. D said, pointing to the dish of cassoulet the waiter had slid in front of her.
Peri forced thoughts of Mark from her mind. Obediently, she picked up her fork and pushed the tongs into a bean. She chewed and swallowed, forcing the oil-slimed mush past her boredom and revulsion.
Would she ever be free of these lunches? They’d been going on for fourteen years.
When she was fifteen, Mr. D had plucked her from the classroom of a top ballet school in New York. She moved to Los Angeles, blinded by the bleached-out sunshine and the golden opportunity. There’d been a whirlwind of classes, rehearsals, a new ballet Mr. D was making with her as the lead, an uncomfortable doctor’s appointment where a nurse had pressed a plastic clamshell into her hands. Upon opening, there’d been twenty-eight pills arranged in a horseshoe. “One a day,” she instructed Peri. “Don’t forget or else.”
Or else what? Peri had thought as she swallowed the first pill. She found out a few weeks later.
Mr. D took her out for lunch to celebrate her first month in California. She’d done her hair three times, changed at least half-a-dozen more, practiced making adult conversation in the mirror, and borrowed an etiquette book from the library because she’d never been to a fancy restaurant.
After plying her with boeuf bourguignon, which she’d barely touched, and pouring her glass after glass of wine, Mr. D took her to his home that was cluttered with bejeweled knickknacks and paintings of colorful squiggles. He guided her to his bedroom where her heart hammered at the bed hung with burgundy velvet.
She’d been too tipsy and terrified to protest as he peeled off her dress and then took her virginity as the silver cross dangling from his neck jabbed at the hollow of her throat. When he finally completed his choreography of pokes and grunts and a wet mouth that went everywhere, she wanted to curl up in a ball and cry at the foulness of the experience. Mr. D, though, handed her a tiny wineglass filled with Armenian brandy.
He clinked his glass against hers and said, “I will make beautiful ballets for you.”
She thought about running away, but where would she go? Back to her hometown of Pittsburgh where nothing awaited beyond marriage to the first man who asked and a house full of screaming babies? Back to the school in New York where everyone would wonder why she’d given up the chance to dance for the famous Mr. D?
So she stayed put and drank the brandy.
Now, every Sunday, after he went to an Armenian church that Peri had never set foot in, they met for lunch. He used to take her to his home afterward, but that had lessened over time and now had become so rare she couldn’t remember the last time it’d happened. She didn’t miss sex with Mr. D although she longed to be touched by someone she desired, to have that someone desire her, to find out if sex could be more than an obligation.
Peri pushed a bean around the dish. Her stomach quivered; the few bites of food she’d forced down were threatening to come up.
“Mark’s parents agreed?” she asked. “Shouldn’t he be in school?”
“He is emancipated. The state allows him to make his own decisions.”
Peri’s thoughts fuzzed over. “Did he say why?”
Mr. D gazed at her with eyes that betrayed nothing. “It is not my place to ask.”
Emancipated? That was a serious step, to divest himself of his parents. What had gone wrong? Again, she wondered, Where was his mother? Father? Big sister? Anybody?
Mr. D guessed her thoughts. “It’s not your place to ask either,” he said.
She ducked her head to keep Mr. D from seeing her eyes narrow in annoyance. She wanted to retort, Who are you to tell me what to do?
But even if she could, she wouldn’t. He was her boss. Telling her what to do was his job. Doing it was hers.
Mr. D dabbed his lips with his napkin. He placed it on the table and leaned forward. “I am making a new ballet.”
“You are?” Peri fumbled with her thoughts. “That’s great?” Her voice swung high at the end.
Mr. D hadn’t made a new ballet in a while. The last few years, the company had been cycling through his previous works, which had a lot to do with their falling fortunes. People wanted new. People wanted interesting. People did not want to see the same thing they’d already seen.
It’d taken Mr. D years to put together enough seed money to fund his company. He spent his youth and then his middle age traveling to wherever someone would pay him to choreograph: backwater regional companies, large civic troupes, the occasional plum gig for a musical theater show.
His style was specific, distinct. He liked splashy, over-the-top pieces with extravagant technical feats and excessive emotion. He made short pieces, so even people who were wary of ballet might come. He used music that was easy to enjoy.
“People work too hard. Let me give them an hour or two of pleasure and then send them on their way,” he always said. “A dance performance shouldn’t last longer than a nice lunch.”
It’d worked for years until Mr. D’s creative well had dried up.
Which might be Peri’s fault. She’d inspired him for ten years, and then everything went wrong. A dull ache in her calf that she’d chalked up to overdoing it in a long rehearsal left her howling in pain days later. She could barely hobble from the bedroom to the bathroom, after which, she’d crawl back to bed where she’d pull the sheet over her head and pretend what was happening was not happening.
Dancing was out of the question.
She went to doctor after doctor, all of whom grunted in frustration when they couldn’t find anything wrong. At the studio, she lay crumpled on the sidelines, gently kneading the meaty knob of her muscle, praying for it to heal. Because if it didn’t, then she was out of a job with a broken body to boot.
As for Mr. D, he was still signing her paychecks through the end of the season, but he’d shifted his attention to a sprightly brunette with impeccable batterie, her slender legs switching back and forth like a chef’s knife as she skimmed through the air.
Lightness and brightness were what he wanted. Peri only had anxiety and discontent to offer, neither in which he was interested.
Finally, a visit with a new physician identified an overstretched nerve in her back. The pain had manifested itself in her calf, which was why no other doctor had been able to diagnose it.
“What do I do? For how long?” she’d asked, ready to do anything and everything to get back to classes, rehearsals, and performances. Maybe before that brunette stole all her roles.
“You rest,” the doctor said. “For six months. Maybe a year, so the nerve can heal.”
So she sat out the rest of the season and the summer break, her stomach sloshing with fear that she’d never dance again. Or walk without pain.
Healing was nonlinear. Her calf would feel better, and then a trip to the grocery store where she waited in a longer line than normal would send her to bed for three days.
She finally improved enough to return to the studio at the start of the next season. Bob suggested they skip company class, and he’d teach them their own slowed-down version. Together, they broke down big movements into small ones, which Bob refined into smaller ones. He stopped often to make sure she didn’t push herself.
Her progress was glacial until it wasn’t, and she was back on top thanks to a couple of cortisone shots in her back and the departure of the brunette who’d gotten a job with a better company in New York.
But she wasn’t really back on top. The months she’d spent away from the barre had done a number on her technical aptitude. To get it back, she needed to take risks. Push for the extra revolution in her pirouettes. Take the chance of losing her balance by lifting her leg higher. Maybe stumble on the landing after a soaring jump.
To reach the heavens, she needed to gamble falling to the earth.
Yet she couldn’t. The door had slammed shut on her youthful conviction that she could fly, and the best she could do now was maintain what was left.
From time to time, her calf would flare up, but Bob always guessed and he’d pull them out of company class to work slowly and methodically. His positivity helped dry the cold sweat pouring down her back.
A few months after she’d returned to the stage, Mr. D suffered a minor stroke. He returned using a cane, his ability to choreograph new ballets depleted. Peri felt too overburdened with her physical strain and emotional pain to rejuvenate him.
Then, the men started dying: first, a new company member who’d been healthy one day and gone a week later, his body found in a dip-dye of his feces; next, Bob’s friends; and now, Bob.
Each setback had chipped away at her self-confidence and self-motivation until her spirit hung at half-mast permanently.
Peri rolled the hem of her napkin between her fingers. Mr. D was making a new piece? Her shoulders sagged at the pressure of the months ahead of her, rehearsing The Nutcracker as Mr. D choreographed his new work.