“Double Greygoose on the rocks, please.” An order I only give in airports, a place that deserves its own drink. Greygoose anywhere else would just feel wrong.
I closed my eyes and took the first sharp sip. With my eyes shut I could pick little snippets of sound around me. I listened to the ice as I swirled my glass, the muffled sound of headphone music from the man sitting next to me at the bar, the wail of a child overlapping the rhythmic sound of a woman’s heels. I opened my eyes, watching the vodka tumble around the ice as I continued to drink.
As my gate was called I placed the empty glass on the bar top, allowing my hand to momentarily linger. I reached into my ballet bag, rummaging around tarnished pointe shoes and loose hair pins to pull out the ticket. Another paper came out with it, the brochure for the new ballet company I was joining for the year. Hastily, I stuffed it back into my bag and started towards the gate, ignoring the shoulders I brushed pass.
As our nose broke through the top of the clouds I looked out the window. This was my favourite part of flying. Where it seemed as though I could be nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Burrowing my chin deeper into my neck pillow my eyes drifted over the horizon, heavy lids bouncing along with the subtle hues of pink that were slowly swallowing the sun.
I opened my eyes and Stephen was still there. Lying beside me in bed with one hand on his chest and the other holding me to him. I watched for a moment, taking him in for the first time. I gazed at the patchy shadow of a beard beginning to appear over the subtle cleft of his chin and the unkempt hair tumbling across his creased forehead. The way his lips slightly parted as his chest rose with the soft rhythm of his breath.
I started to move, ever so slightly, off him. He woke and wrapped both arms around me, pulling me into him as he kissed my forehead. I couldn’t help but smile slightly, turning my cheek into his chest. His muscles relaxed and he sunk deeper into the pillow, lightly tracing his fingers along the landscape of my arm. I tentatively ran a finger along his chest, thought better of it, and placed my hand back down.
“Good sleep?” Stephen asked, kissing my forehead again.
I opened my eyes just before the stewardess approached me.
“Would you like a snack?”
Nodding, I opened the small bag and looked out the window to see that night had fallen. I began to find a single star and hold onto the sight for as long as possible, until it reluctantly slipped from view. Then I would move onto another star. I popped the savoury pieces of cracker into my mouth and let the flavour melt on my tongue. Looking around the plane I noticed that most of the passengers were asleep, or reading with their overhead lights on. Turning back to the window I picked another star until it disappeared, and then another, until they began to blur together.
“That was good, but this time try it with an emphasis on beats two and four, instead of one and three.”
I nodded to the choreographer, gathering my breath while trying not to look as tired as I was. The other dancers’ eyes were on me. So I did as I always did. I blocked everything out except for the music. My feet slipped into a natural v-plus position as the dancers around me disappeared, shoulders rolling back as my arms curved into demi-seconde.
As the first tinkle of ivory emanated from the accompanist my arms breathed though demi and up to ecarté as my right leg tondued to seconde. The movement pulled me through the space as I chasséd into a deep fourth position. As I sunk deeper into my plié I sprang onto pointe into a double pirouette. As my last turn finished I suspended my leg forward to hold for a moment before transferring seamlessly into the next step. As my body melted into the floor I heard an audible exhale, the sound an audience member makes when their own breath connects to the movement of the dancer. I felt a surge of energy as my body propelled forward, movements matching the ebb of the music and the rhythmic sound of the choreographer chanting two and four. My arms sliced through the air with steely softness as my body quickly changed positions. On a single breath I crossed the studio with sweeping motions, never ceasing as each step bled silkily into the next.
I could hear the music reluctantly drawing to a finish, as though even the accompanist mourned the ending of his piece. The soft notes brought me back to the present as I saw my reflection in the mirror, surrounded by a sea of faces whose names I would never learn before having to leave again. As the final note resonated I sunk into a deep curtsy, fingers brushing along the worn dance floor so soft it didn’t feel like wood anymore. My cheeks flushed red as the room quietly applauded. The choreographer didn’t speak, just gave a small curve of his upper lip as I stood alone in the centre of the room.
The studio began to fade, the dancers disappearing one by one until it was only my face in the mirror looking back at me. And then that faded as well.
I could feel it before I could see it. Fingertips gently brushing the hair from my face. It was at that moment that I knew I would sleep with Paul. The dank bar came into focus as I peeked at him from under long lashes, his fingertips continuing to brush along the contour of my cheek. I bit my lip and looked away, feeling him stare intently as I picked my Guinness off the bar top. He took the drink from my hand. He wrapped his other arm around my waist and led me from the bar and through the dark tunnel of my dreamscape alley.
No words were said as Paul picked me up and dropped me easily on the bed. I lay waiting as he quickly tore his shirt off, and fumbled in his haste to take his pants off. I put both hands behind my head as I watched, amused by this anticipation. After he got his legs free he hopped on top of me, I burrowed my fingers into his hair and brought his face to mine. Lips eagerly met, our tongues laced with alcohol and our bodies a mixture of sweat. I closed my eyes and allowed my senses to consume me. I felt the beat of his heart against my skin, the tickle of his warm breath on my neck, his supple lips as they kissed every inch of my chest before roughly biting the valley between my breasts. My fingers grasped between his shoulder blades until suddenly there was nothing there to grasp. My hands reached through the space, looking for something to latch onto, something to hold me in place as I drifted through the void.
I woke up just in time for dinner.
“Chicken or pasta? We are out of beef.”
“What?” I asked, sitting up while rubbing the corners of my eyes. I looked up at the flight attendant as she repeated the options with noticeable disdain.
As I cut into the rubbery chicken I looked back at the night sky. I took no interest in the stars now, just experienced the vastness. I remembered that night, the feeling of his body against mine, his primal need for me. I think it was in Austria that I met him, but couldn’t be sure. After a while the faces and places start to bleed into each other.
I briefly wondered what Paul was up to now. He had wanted to move to Canada to pursue architecture, I wonder if he ever did. We never kept in touch. My first class was tomorrow, and I knew that my head would barely have time to hit the hotel pillow before having to get up again. Then after rehearsal I would have to move into my new apartment, located down the street from the dance school. I hated unpacking, I never bother to put my clothes in the closet. I know I will always be leaving again.
My hips were starting to get sore from sitting too long, and I tried to shift into a more comfortable position. Every year more of my body starts to ache. Checking my phone I saw there was still an hour until landing. I handed my partially eaten dinner back to the stewardess and sank deeper into my chair.
And then there was a spotlight. It was too bright at first and I shielded my eyes. However, as my vision adjusted faces started to become clear in the audience. I could pick out old company members, family, childhood friends and past lovers scattered throughout the theatre.
As I stood there gazing at the sea of blank, unchanging faces my hands ran across a bodice. Looking down I could see I was wearing a white romantic tutu with lace running along the sweetheart neckline. The bodice was donned with layers of intricate beading, each jewel reflecting the stage lights. The skirt cascaded with soft tulle and red satin pointe shoes peeked out from underneath the full skirt.
The sudden beginning of an orchestra startled me, and I looked up from examining the elegant gown. A conductor now stood at the foot of the stage, his head bouncing along with the 3/4 rhythm of his baton as he led the orchestra into a waltz. My mouth stood agape as the whimsical music caressed me as the audience sat waiting.
I felt an arm slip around my waist, turning me. I instinctively found his shoulder as he grasped my upward hand. Looking to his face I realized I knew this man. Matteo, or Michel. I met him while I was living in Italy. Our eyes had met across the Trevi Fountain, and I smiled shyly as he walked through the crowd and introduced himself. The night became a whirlwind of gelato dates and cocktails, ending in Piazza Navona to examine the street artists.
Matteo, or Michel, continued to whisk me around the stage as I remembered him in Italy sneaking a kiss in a small alley, our bodies illuminated by only a single dim streetlamp. A kiss that led us all the way back to his apartment. Now I looked up at his face as he dipped me, remembering the feel of my fingers running through his ringlets and how my mouth had softly kissed the scar on his cheek. He brought me up from the dip and I leaned in towards him. Our lips grazed as I felt a new hand on my back. My Italian suitor disappeared as I turned into the arms of a new man.
Simon, from Switzerland. The bartender from the very first bar I went to. That’s a tradition of mine. After the first ballet rehearsal I move into my apartment and then find the closest bar. I knew when Simon handed me my first San Miguel that he was interested. It was in the way his eyes seemed to drink me in and the way his fingertips lingered as I took the glass. He smiled crookedly and winked as I took my first sip, and that was all it took.
He had been so rough that night, but now on stage his manner was gentle as he held me. Simon spun me out, and then pulled me in, placing his hand securely around my waist. His arms sheltered me as he led me across the stage.
I felt another hand grab me as the music shifted tone. The waltz faded as a tango ensued. Simon exited through the wings as I felt a hard member graze me. With my back to this new man I felt two hands rub from my breasts down to my hips, keeping rhythm with the sensual mandolin music. I felt my cheeks flush as I was held tightly against his body. He spun me around to face him. It was Marcel from Barcelona. My memory of him a mixture of beach sunsets and sex, pure and raw, simple and un-convoluted.
Suddenly it was no longer just Marcel and I on the stage. The space became obstructed by many men as Marcel slipped from my arms. I became lost in the crowd, at every turn faced by a part of my past. Adrian from Russia. Scott from Brussels. Haytham from Lebanon. Fitz from Germany. Some whose names I could no longer remember. Each face a small chapter of my life, fleeting moments left behind as I pursued my career as a dancer.
The energy of all the bodies in space overwhelmed me and I closed my eyes throwing my arms over my head.
But then a stillness took over the theatre, and I welcomed the silence as I lowered my arms. I was alone on the stage now, no suitors in the wings, and no one in the audience. I stood comfortably under the warm glow of the spotlight as my body began to sway. The sway grew as more of my body became involved in the movement. I allowed my body to lead me across the stage as my arms swept and reached. My legs moved effortlessly through the dance. A solo performed only for myself.
I heard a ping in the distance.
“Flight attendants please take your seat for landing.”
Another year passed, another contract ended.
But Sam’s soft cinnamon musk lingered on me. I didn’t say goodbye that morning, didn’t bother to wake him. Rather, I slowly placed my legs over the side of the bed, toes greeting the familiar creak of the wooden floor boards one last time. I quickly gathered my belongings. Not much, just a pile of dishevelled clothes in a faded canvas suitcase embarking on its final journey. The lining of the case was in tatters, with one wheel broken from the cobbled Italian streets. Now it wheeled with a sideways gait and I practically had to drag it. Scattered amongst the clothes were my ballet things for work. Faded, worn in pointe shoes scattered amongst a tangle of pink tights. Loose tampons swimming around my body suits. A plastic baggy with hair pins, elastics and hair spray.
With everything packed I flipped the suitcase lid, cringing at the sound of the zipper. But he didn’t wake. I picked up the suitcase and headed out the bedroom door. I didn’t look to him. I shut the door slowly, leaning my forehead against the soft wood. I tried to ease the knob back into place, but the door still audibly clicked shut. I only lingered for a moment.
I think I always knew that he had been awake. He had never wanted to say goodbye either.
*Originally published in The Wild Quarterly