I only ever watch her from a distance; through the small square window in the solid oak door. I protest occasionally that I feel like a voyeur, but it is always her choice. It is part of the ritual; our ritual. We have been going so regularly now that we never miss a single week. I managed to bribe the security guard to make us a key. A few notes crossed palms, the padlock was freshly oiled, and we can now glide through the external cage door and into the lift in seconds. Our subterfuge is part of the act; we are rarely seen, and even if we are, we are totally ignored. The shadows within the alley hide more unseemly and engaging activities than mere spying.
The gramophone is a newer touch. We used a CD player before, but she felt the gramophone was more immediate; a closer link to the recording. She had seen it sitting forlornly alone in the window of a second hand store and had been instantly attracted to it. It was old, well worn and battered but still just about worked. It was a bit like me, she told me with a smile, which was why she liked it so much. I manhandled it into the building one day, and we managed to hide it on the top shelf of the janitor’s closet; ready to be moved in and out during our early morning assignations.
Our routine never changes. I bring the gramophone into the studio and set it up on the table. Once I sweep the daily build up of debris from the sprung wooden floor, I go to her bag and retrieve the album. I slide the record carefully out of its sleeve, careful to hold it only by the edges. Blowing off the fluff, I drop it gently into place on the turntable, A-side up. I then prime the gramophone, turning the handle vigorously till the beads of sweat form on my upper lip. I walk over to where she sits and she kisses me; a long slow lingering kiss, her eyes tinged with sadness and melancholy; my signal to leave. She turns the lights down low, so low that she is barely visible; a shadowy figure in an artificial twilight.
I listen closely for the thud as the needle is dropped onto the old Bakelite. Even from beyond the door I can hear the scratches and the hisses. And then, the first haunting notes of “The Pavane in F-sharp Minor” by Faure start to drift across the room. It is always the same song; always the same slow build up. She starts imperceptibly moving; so subtle that you can barely see it. She begins to increment the movements, her limbs moving with precision and grace, her muscle control both seamless and effortless. As the music builds, so too does her routine; the jumps, pirouettes and kicks all perfect in their performance and execution. The plain white leotard accentuates her sublime shape. It is almost like she is dancing naked; you can see the twitch and movement of the muscles; almost feel their suppleness and tone. And all the while, her twirling silhouette is accompanied by a ghostly twin, silently copying her every move in the full length mirror along the wall.
And then; all too soon; the last note rings out and she drops to the floor in her final flourish. She looks up at me then, her mascara starting to run down her face, her chest heaving with the effort of another flawless performance. She never asks me how it is; she knows she is perfect. She patiently waits for me to cross the threshold between the corridor and the studio. She holds her arms up and briefly squeezes me affectionately as I heft her into my grasp. I then shuffle across and slide her gently into her wheel chair.
Nature’s price for perfection: degenerative and incurable arthritis. She is in the very early stages; for now at least, the chair is only required for recovery. But if you look closely, as her breathing returns to normal, you can just make out the needle marks on her arms and legs; a betrayal of the steroid injections required to rail against the inevitable. By sheer force of will, she has so far managed to block out the chronic pain, but despite the precautions and desperate measures, it is only a matter of time before she makes a mistake. We know it can’t last forever; perfection never does; but it will signal the beginning of the end for both of us.
As I put away the gramophone and turn out the lights, I am acutely aware that in a few minutes her body will be a cauldron of agony. Even though the pain will be intense and overwhelming, she will smile and laugh; like a guilty schoolgirl in fact; and we both know why. She has danced with the Devil one more time and won; banished her own personal demons for another week at least.
Even though I know the answer, I ask her again why she does it; why she puts herself through it over and over again.
“I am the dance, and the dance is me,” she says simply. “When I can’t dance I will die.”
She looks at me then, her face aglow with the remnants of her performance and I know she is serious. My love is not enough for her. It never was, but I knew that from the very beginning and I understood it too.
She is a Dancer.
Iain Cosgrove was born in Canada to English parents. He was educated in the UK and now works in Dublin, Ireland where he moved in 1988 with his future wife. He has three sons to show for it (the unholy trinity!) He is an IT Professional and has been writing in his spare time for the last 20 years. He has written two novels (Literary agents take note!), a large number of short stories, and currently working on a third novel. His short fiction is published in “A Twist of Noir” and “Indigo Rising Magazine” among others.