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Curve and Sway

Cathy Ulrich

The ballerina at the end of the world does pirouettes in the park. She is surrounded by green and grass-smell. She turns and turns. Her toes are bruised. Later, she will wrap them in damp towels. She took the towels from a window-broken shopping mall, wet them with water from convenience store bottles.
At night, in her apartment, the ballerina still flicks the light switch on the wall, still opens the refrigerator door.
Everything is dark and empty.
Everything is hush, hush, hush.

When the ballerina is done pirouetting, she sits in the grass, then leans back in the grass. The sun on her face. She used to meet her lover in the park. She used to wait on red-painted benches, hold books she was only pretending to read.
She remembers lying in the grass beside her lover, hands brushing, breathing in time, faces turned to the sky.
If she holds still enough now, if she breathes quietly enough, she can pretend that it is then.
The ballerina opens her eyes and goes, for a moment, blind in the sun.
She thinks: I could stay here forever.

The ballerina was getting old for a ballerina. She saw how the younger girls eyed her hungrily. She soaked her feet in salt baths longer and longer. There was one girl she remember in particular, demi-soloist, with fingers long and stiff, like chopsticks. Except when she danced, how they would curve and sway.

The ballerina watched the girl’s reflection as they rehearsed in front of the mirror, thought: Her. It will be her.

In the end, the ballerina sometimes still goes to the studio, thumbs through playbills with her face inside. She checks herself in the mirrored wall, her posture, her frame. She remembers bending to pick up bouquets tossed before her on the stage. She remembers the smell of roses.

She remembers squinting against the footlights, trying to find her lover’s face in the audience.
She remembers curtsy after curtsy after curtsy.

The ballerina used to think the part was quiet before. It is quitter now, wind-still quiet, empty-world quiet. The end of the world was loud for a while, all shout and metal-clamor, and the ballerina hiding alone in the studio wardrobe, amongst the costumes, hung flat, breathless. She pretended to be nothing, she pretended to be gone. When she came out, finally, it was quiet. It is quiet still.

The ballerina stands barefoot in the grass, puts her hands tight up against her ears, listens to the roar of her own body.
She thinks: I am alive, I am alive, I am alive.

The ballerina remembers getting ready in the green room, remembers pushing aside the demi-soloist’s dark lipstick, Scarlet Empress, the ballerina always thought the name was so pretty. She remembers watching the tube roll and roll, drop to the floor. Remembers thinking I should pick that up, remembers applying her own softer-toned lipstick, remembers kissing her lover in the park under blue sky, white cloud, when will I see you again, and her lover’s whispered promise, soon, soon, soon.

The grass is dew-damp and cold. The ballerina curls her bruised toes into it, arches her neck, tilts face up to sky.
She remembers the sound of applause, the heat of the footlights. She lifts her arms. She spins.

Cathy Ulrich took jazz dance in elementary school. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Her work has been published in various journals, including Fractured, Adroit and Truffle. She can be found on Twitter: @loki_writes.

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