VARIATIONS • by Cristina Iuliana Burlacu

It was summer. Your hair was already deep in its journey to become a twisted hue of grey. You were too old for my young years, but it didn’t matter, as I told myself the soul had no age. You spoke low and calm and beguiling. Your light brown colored suit reminded me of melted caramel. You had brown eyes, so unlike mine, which carried the tint of the sky in the core of spring. You reminded me of autumn, I reminded you of everything else.

The sun was setting that day beyond us in a tornado of fiery colours. We watched it disintegrate over the scales of the lake, side by side, my left knee five inches from your right one.

You asked me what words meant for me. I stopped and thought for a second. Words were everything. I could become whoever I wanted by the use of words, whoever I felt necessary. I could hide myself in them the way rabbits hid in their holes in the ground, I could soar above all like an eagle thirsty for air and wideness.

You told me to never stop dreaming.

You said what you shouldn’t have.

“So what do you think?” you asked.

I looked down at the magazine in my hands, my heart beating a steady rhythm just under the hollow of my throat. They were there, my words, on the fourth page, filling its bottom quarter with small black letters, shy but adventurous at the same time.

“I’m nervous.”

“About what?” you asked, a crease cutting your forehead in two.

I shrugged, avoiding your eyes.

“I don’t know… It suddenly feels less… private. I’m used to keeping this part of myself hidden.” It sounded hollow and rude and I knew. I had been the one to ask to be published in your magazine after all. All you did was to make it happen.

“You have nothing to be nervous about. Your writing is delicate and heartfelt and so mature for a high school girl. You’re beautiful and so gloriously pure and your verse shows it.” Your confidence made me weak. I wanted to believe you, I really did.

I was young, just like you’d said. Between two waves of the light, a ballerina was born. You twisted an unseen key with your magic fingers, the music box slowly opened and let her dance freely.

We sat there and watched the sunset and talked about how I wanted to lock my life in words and throw away the key. Wind sighed and turned the pages lying on my knees. Your eyes moved from me to them and watched how verse flew in the light, brought to life like a motion picture.

“I’ve never met anyone like you, you know…”

I looked at you, curious about what you could find in me so different.

And then you tried to kiss me.

I ran away, suddenly aware.

The magazine fell from my lap in my haste to escape, fluttering closed in the sigh of the wind. I left it behind and you with it that day in the summer. I left behind me the bench in the park, the lake with twinkling scales of light and the last breath of the sun that bled on my soul.

Time passed. I grew up.

I tried with everything sane inside of me to forget that once, a man with the hair the hue of grey mist talked to me and about me with a beguiling voice. I struggled to stop dreaming and see life as raw as it is.

Fourteen years later, I’m still desperately trying to close the music box, but the lid is broken. I twist it, I’m forcing it in place, but it bounces right back the second after. The ballerina springs to life, dancing herself into oblivion on the rhythms of a music she’s never learned to forget.

I watch her turning around and around. I hear the music again and again. I toy with the lid just for the pleasure of bringing her to life. She has imprinted herself in me and silencing her is no longer a choice. There is something different about her though. Perhaps her colours have mellowed over the years, perhaps the novelty of the music has faded. Or maybe is just the sad smile that grew on her face that day in the summer when you taught me that dreams always come true with a price.

Born in Romania and currently living in Canada, Cristina Iuliana Burlacu has toyed with words ever since she was fourteen. When the real life gets sour, she hides in her make-believe world with her alter ego.

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