Classical Ballet Academy

(short fiction originally published in Rag Mag, Spring 1995)

This is the place you whispered the moon had broke its skin.  Like a child’s bruised knee, you said. 

We stood outside The Classical Ballet Academy on Fourth Street East and watched the low, tethered moon gather up over the farmers’ market, dissolving purple clouds, and hurry toward the arcing pitch of stars.  I think it’s the way hurt comes into our lives:  like a worn, pomegranate moon, a thumb against your eyelids when the imprint lasts.

It was September and not quite cold.  You wore my leather motorcycle jacket and paused in front of the dark window of the Ballet Academy long enough to watch your reflection as you fanned your wrap around skirt and danced a soft twirl.  You bent your knee, lifted your arm above your head and turned with a crooked smile.  I threw pennies at your feet, and you curtsied and bowed and ran into my arms. 

I kissed your eyes and hoped it would last the way you hope for things by holding them with your breath, willing them to life.

We held hands down the deserted aisles of the farmers’ market and made believe vendors’ carts were alive with bunched asparagus, celery, radishes, carrots, and purple beans; wood woven baskets of brussels sprouts and sugar snap peas, wagons of cauliflower, eggplant, and dripping romaine lettuce.  This is a shaker of salt, you said thumbing a rock, and I’m salting up a very fat tomato. 

I went from cart to cart, plucking imaginary sprigs of juniper, lilac, and babies breath and strung up a bouquet with Swedish ivy, and you pretended to hold the flowers to your chest.

I think that’s when you plucked an eyelash, cupped your hands and with your eyes closed blew it softly away because you said that’s how you could make dreams stay: by dreaming against blown eyelashes.

I wished you would have found a way to tell me how close you were to surrendering, then, because I couldn’t tell.  I wanted to believe the worst had ended.  And I think, too, I may have fallen asleep somewhere along the way in my own careless way of wandering.

Today I found a drunk woman in three inch heels on the third floor landing of the North American Carousel building on Ninth Street where they still craft wooden carousel horses and carnival pushcarts.  She said she was waiting for the elevator and then wondered about the time.  Her perfume must have been from the dime store and she had doused enough of it on her body I had to back away at first.  I need to be at a birthday party and this is all wrong, she said.  Lenny’s son’s.  And I was going to buy nylons, and I was supposed to buy a cake with blue icing and plastic circus clowns or actually Lenny was, but I know he forgot.  She looked near tears or laughter.

I told her I was looking for a studio to rent, and she asked if I was a painter.  She told me this Lenny whose son’s birthday party she was late for owned the building, and she would introduce me in exchange for a ride downtown.  I told her I only had a motorcycle and she said fuck if that matters.

I helped her down three flights of stairs.  Each step took a while and she leaned into me, her ankles twisted at right angles, and she laughed most of the way.

Her face was bad and she wore a thick spread of lipstick and her breath was bourbon.

I didn’t really ask her where we were going when I helped her onto my bike and palmed the throttle.  She wrapped an arm around my neck and one across my chest, and I had to reach up and pull the one arm from my neck so it was lower.

When we rode past a cluster of children splashing one another in an outdoor fountain, she yelled, They call it Indian Summer because all the Indians are in heat, and she laughed, and I wasn’t sure if it was okay for me to laugh with her or not.

We ended up on Fourth Street, here, outside the Classical Ballet Academy when she told me this was where Lenny’s son’s birthday party was being held.

Lenny lives here.  He’ll be here, she said.  You can come up and make an arrangement.  Most of the painters split a john on each floor.  She leaned toward me and slung an arm around a meter.  She said, Heat and water are paid.

I told her it was okay.  Some other time.  And I wished Lenny’s son a happy birthday even though I had never met him but pictured a boy with dark bangs and a face full of blue icing.

The woman just stood outside the Ballet Academy building, leaning toward the window.  She smiled and gestured for me to approach.  I wandered near her and the both of us watched a room full of young girls in pink tights and flayed tutus circling the room with their arms steepled above their heads.  They bent and swept their bodies slowly and gracefully, low near the pumiced, parquet studio floor.

The woman laughed and held her side.  How about that?  she said, rapped her knuckles against the window and a handful of the young ballerinas looked past us awkwardly.

All I said was, Pretty, and I thought of you in your red converse tennis shoes, my motorcycle jacket, and the shift of the night sky pushing against us.

You used to tell me this:  Promises break as easily as dandelion snow.  But my oath was solid and I never let go of your soft hand no matter how bad things got during the worst parts.  Just whisper when you’re scared, I said, and I held you through blue fevers when your whole body shook and nothing could quiet or calm or drown it but time.  I would run a damp washcloth across your forehead and mouth and your lips would purse as if to suckle the coolness of moisture.  Those nights I’d watch dreams move across your eyelids and wonder about telling you how I missed you.

Sometimes you’d wake and murmur in a sad, far away voice about a blue baby with broken wings who had fallen through a window frame.  Couldn’t we carry the broken baby to water?  you’d say.  Couldn’t we be careful and try?

And I would tell you, Yes, we would be most careful and try, knowing so little about what else to tell you, knowing so little about why you saw this same blue baby night after night.  I would wait for the shivers to die away and for everything to be smooth and silent and careful and close.

I remember the day we drove off to the torn marsh and the old cabin my father owned.  We walked barefoot across the dead fields when rain swollen clouds and a lightning storm pulled in around us and pushed us into the abandoned barn.  We pulled off each other’s clothes and they were so wet they barely let go.  Your skin was white and blotchy red and goose fleshed all over.  When we kissed you said you could taste the rain and fields, and we held each other until we were warm again.  Lightning bloomed in petals, and we let the rafter pigeons’ eclectic cooing soothe the quiet in between thunder.  I broke the glass and splinters free from all the windows so the cold wind just poured in.  The field was blue and lovely.

After the storm, we tied our wet clothes in a bundle, your worn, purple lambs wool cardigan and my carhartt overalls, and we walked across the fields in our underwear.  Back-lit clouds broke apart in strips.  You told me how it helped everything was soft suddenly, including our love, but that you still wondered about what letting go would mean.

So I slowed your walk but didn’t know how to tell you not to, to don’t, don’t let go, because mostly I wasn’t sure whether we were close or far away from this.  I only knew I wondered about losing you and the full ache would push and lift like some sort of rush of chill, and I wondered if this fluttering hurt wasn’t the way you felt most always.

I held you in the field and your shoulders were blue and I wanted to tell you:  I need this, I need this, too, and don’t, please, let go.

You took the Saint Michael medal from my chest, warmed it in your hands, and smoothed my tears with a Hush…hush…hush…and we both leaned into one another, our toes lost in the cold, muddy field.  I suppose we were waiting for something spoken.

All this is mine now, like book-pressed valentines, these broken memories, every image that held you, each fragment that wore you down:  the fire that combed through the woods across Cedar Lake, the blue baby with broken wings and broken lips, the empty syringes, tangled sheets, and acrid taste of mornings; the razor, the silence, the why, why, why.  All the things you collected and saved:  tricycle wheels, and kite string wound around a red wooden spool, the veins of leaves severed of skin, the watermarked, grainy photographs you took of my freckled knees and set by your mattress in a birch bark frame, the cold, blue stones from Lake Michigan you would hold against your cheeks when your look was faraway, the serpentine line of open mason jars along your window sill filled with rainwater.  It’s all here still.  Just here.

And the ochre field and vermilion moon, the sky fat with stars, the pull of wind, and the smell of the sidewalks after the rain, the quiet of then; the hurt, the push, the endless soft, like kisses and whispers, the cool, weathered church steps on Christopher Street where we touched and breathed, touched and breathed and breathed and bent like flowers in rain.

It’s the place we were before you called this truce, your beautiful suicide.  I wonder if you thought you were the only one standing here hurting from this careless, round world, Suz, the only one in awe of its graceful sadnesses?  There was a time when we each took turns pointing at the sky, picking out the brightest stars.

After the drunken woman in three inch heels meanders her way toward Lenny’s son’s clumsy birthday celebration, I stand outside the room full of determined ballerinas and imagine your leaving.  I see you finally close your eyes, run your fingers across the sky and bruise, and with simple spread of palm and fingers reach toward falling through.  Your mouth is a soft o. 

The ballerinas break from their rehearsed movement to study me, the way I’m standing, your abandoned lover.  They collect at the window in a tentative shuffle.  With sad faces they watch and nod toward my slow reach of open hands unfolding like simple, early roses.

© Kipp Wessel, 2011.

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