The stage sits empty, the lights dim and dust dances in the bright stream of the spotlight. The audience is silent now, and the flutes have begun. From the wings, Alice is waiting. She holds the coarse black curtain tight between her fingers. Her palms damp.
Is he there? Through the curtains she can’t see. The audience are dark, only their gasps and applause will give away their presence. She hopes he is. He said he would be. Sitting on the plush red chairs, a carton of popcorn balanced on his knee.
She can taste the remnants of sweet coffee at the back of her throat. Her stomach curves tight against her ribs. She hasn’t eaten today. The sugar of the coffee is mixed with the bitterness of brandy. It is first night tradition. Under the strip light of the dressing room, Harry, the director, poured each of the girls a shot. For the nerves. Dark liquid in thumb size glasses. Standing in a circle, they raised their glasses and looked each other directly in the eye as they swallowed the liquid in one gulp. Break a leg, Harry said.
The strings are rising.
She can feel the tightness of her corset, the heaviness of her tutu. Her breath fast and rapid. Slow down. Breathe. In, out. She flexes each foot, up and down. The white tights crease, then smooth into the perfect point. Her toes rest against the curtain.
She is both entirely aware and completely oblivious to the two other dancers stood beside her. Of the crew with their clipboards and large black headsets. Of the assistants watching from the shadows. Only when a hand is raised does she focus. The countdown begins.
Three: Her heart rapid, so fast it will come out of her and she will melt into the floor.
Two: Her mind is blank. No steps. No music.
One: The sharp nod of the head. Go.
She runs. For a moment she is flying, a flash of white on the dark stage. She is there and not there. Commanded only by the music. The strings toss her into the air, moving her legs in time with other girls and holding her tight as she falls. She does not need to think.
The music crescendos and falls silent. She bends her body into a deep curtsy, the floor grainy against her fingertips. The girls beside her do the same, and the applause begins.
She is alive.
Ruby Bosanquet is a writer from Bath, UK. After graduating from the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University with a distinction, Ruby is currently working on her first novel. Twitter: rubywrites_ Website: rubywrites.blog