THE TIGHTROPE • by Helen de Búrca

He dreamed of his fairy child just before waking. She was dancing with otherworldly grace on a tightrope high above his head. He was not afraid that she would fall, but was frustrated that he could not see her better, for he was convinced that nobody had ever danced so beautifully. The harder he tried to peer at her, the more troubled and vague his vision became.

He forgot the dream immediately upon waking, and rose in great excitement. Today — this evening — he would see her. He would board the train in Geneva, jostled by elbows and ignoring the uninteresting conversations of strangers. He would pretend to work; he would probably just think about his daughter.

He would remember how, as a baby, she used to smile her gummy smile as soon as she saw him. He would remember her twig-like arms and legs the day she went to her very first ballet class, and her long hair in a plait down her back.

He would not think about the day his wife, already ex, had taken Daisy’s hand and led her onto the train, with her little pink suitcase — already containing tiny ballet slippers — trailing behind. He would not think about how Daisy had pressed her little button nose to the glass, her mouth a square of heartbreak. He would not think about how he had tried not to let her see him cry as the train pulled out.

That had been a long time ago; there was no need to think about any of that now.

He had not seen her for almost six months, since she had come to visit him in February for her school holiday. They had gone skiing, and she had taken to the snow far more easily than he, gliding like a swan over the sunlit slopes. Now, six months taller and older, she would be moving inexorably toward adolescence: already eleven years old! He yearned toward his vanishing little girl, racing too swiftly toward unfamiliarity.

She would have plenty to tell him after a week of ballet school at the Opéra de Paris. Would they have danced amidst the set of some great show? Would they have used the professional dressing rooms, those iconic mirrors with the light bulbs around them? He imagined a bustle of little girls, with their feathery tutus and birdlike chatter.

An email from his ex-wife beeped on his screen.

He had already planned that he would go straight to the Opéra upon arrival, and surprise Daisy with the biggest box of chocolates and the most exuberant bouquet of flowers he could find — they would have to be yellow, her favorite color. He would call her his ‘prima ballerina’, and he knew that she would accept the pet name perfectly naturally, as her due.

He opened the email.

“Hi Carl, Sorry to break this to you at the last minute. Daisy’s friend Sarah invited her to go this evening with her family to their house outside Florence for a month. I’m afraid she accepted immediately.  Sarah said she’ll have a private dance tutor every day. I know this is a disappointment to you, but Daisy is so excited that I couldn’t say no. Could you come to Paris in August instead? Best, Helga.”

He squinted at his screen, his eyes fuzzy. He seemed to be on the point of focusing on a tiny shape far above, but the more he tried, the more indistinct it appeared.

Helen de Búrca was born in Ireland and moved to Geneva almost 12 years ago. She travels and writes as often as her day job will allow her.

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