There Is a Difference Between the Pas de Deux and the Solo by Christina Dalcher

Dancers have short life spans.

The second time you come back from surgery with one leg buried in plaster and hunger in your eyes, you tell me this again, like it’s become your theme.

“Dancers have short life spans.”

In the green room, the corps is a flutter of white tulle and satin. I can’t help seeing moths dancing around a porch light, flammable little suicides-to-be. Chloe is overdue on her rent. Sandra didn’t make the cut for Les Sylphides next season. James and Antoine say they’ll move into a smaller place across the river if things don’t pick up. New York treasures its artists, but only so much.

You make me sit on the floor, and then wind my hair into a coiled snake, pulling it back and up and so tight that my eyes sting. There’s no love in your hands tonight, and none in your voice when you tell me about him.

“All done,” you say. The stage manager punctuates this by calling me to the wings for the last act, the scene where I dance and die.

James was my Siegfried tonight. He held me through Act Two with light, strong hands, the muscles in his limbs straining through each lift, steering me into dizzying pirouettes and fouettés. But this is not Cinderella, and final steps are danced not in a pas de deux, but alone, unsupported. My arms make waving patterns on the stage, shadows reaching out, stretching for an invisible partner.

When we begin the study of ballet, we begin with ourselves. Only later, when our bones are strong and our balance perfected, do the men come, taking us into positions we could never achieve on our own. They bend and carry us, push us into infinite turns, and we unlearn what we knew.

We change.

I come back to the green room, muscles warm and hair slick after dying for the tenth and final time as the white swan. You’re leaving with a man, leaning on him for support I can’t give.

Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Find her work in Split Lip Magazine, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents her novels, one of which currently lives on the MsLexia Novel Competition long list. Website: Twitter: @CV_Dalcher

Image: Gaelle Marcel