by Zoë Harris
She has specifically requested wool socks to help her spin. Yet each stumble and slip on the smooth parquet floor is erased by the liquid sway of slender arms that still whisper of their former baby plumpness.
I crouch nearby, a nature photographer praying the wind will hold and my scent will not startle my subject into stillness. Four years of broken sleep drag at my eyelids; I look my age now when I never have before. My joints are stiff from lack of exercise, and holding this position on the floor will mean agony when I rise, a low grunt accompanying the effort: my grandmother’s voice from my own throat punctuates my awareness of how quickly I am aging.
The music picks up pace, and her movements become bouncy, jaunty, her thin shoulders under her dinosaur pyjamas lifting up and down in time. Her eyes are closed. The plucking of pizzicato strings creeps under her skin the same way it has always crept under mine. I envy her untainted, unmoulded freedom; she has not been taught how to move. She forms such shapes with her kidney bean body, one moment impressionist, the next cubist. In combination with those closed eyes and the serenity of her face, she is ethereal. Fey. It is not grace; her movements are far too oblique, almost ugly in their angles. It is her immersion in the music, her unawareness—not only of my watching her, but of everything in the room—that glows with unpretentious beauty.
She is not on stage, not even in her mind. She is in a meadow, on a beach, atop a mountain. I imagine what she sees: water flows, sunlight dances eagerly over the ripples, matching her pirouette for pirouette. Trees bend in the wind, birds dip and dive. This is somewhere solitary. No one should see. Not because it is secret, but because the moment is hers alone. I am a fascinated intruder.
The music draws to its crescendo and she lifts her hands above her head to spin like the ballerinas she has seen at the theatre. She has asked—no, begged—for lessons, and I am silently torn. Pink tutus like cotton candy around her tiny hips, crowns of tinsel and sequins, the same heavy pancake and kohl painting her face, will remind me of my years under the lights. Heaven. And Hell. Broken blisters, torn muscles, shredded ligaments. Can I bear to expose her to such torture? Can I bear to deny her applause and roses?
She trips on a power cord and tumbles to the floor. I expect tears of frustration and make the first moves to the torment of standing. But she gathers herself on her way down, rolling into a rosebud, her arms about her knees. She opens her eyes and smiles.
The music ends.
Zoë Harris is an author, book designer, and editor. After studying professional writing and editing in Adelaide, South Australia, she moved to Norway where she now writes novels for young adults, is a partner in Grimbold Books, and leads the Oslo Writers’ League (OWL).