This week’s words were:
academy :: pot of tea :: bunch :: snap :: vending machine
The Last Dance
‘I should so not have gone to the café at lunch,’ said Emily, with a frown. ‘Why didn’t any of you evil selfish cows drag me to one side and scream ‘Not one more pot of tea, do you hear me? You have to dance this afternoon!” She grimaced as she folded herself in two, neatly, her forehead coming to rest against her legs. ‘I think you’re all just out to sabotage me, frankly,’ she concluded, her voice sounding a little strained.
‘So you think it was the tea that did the damage, and not the scones, then?’ replied Marcy, coaxing her feet into fifth position. She raised her arms above her head as she winked down at Emily, who was regarding her gravely from behind her own knees.
‘Most uncouth of you to bring those into the conversation,’ she observed.
‘Come on,’ laughed Nora, practising her plié at the barre while admiring herself in the mirror. Her empty hands looked as though they were full of flowers, and her hair, in the same neat bun as everyone else’s, was like a painting. ‘As if anyone didn’t know. You’ll be thumping around here like a pregnant hippo all afternoon. Every Tuesday is the same with you.’
‘You bunch of absolute…’ Emily began, before the rest of her words were drowned out by the sound of forty dancers drawing themselves to attention, then falling into a curtsey.
‘Yes, yes, all right,’ snapped Madame, sweeping into the room. ‘First positions, ladies, s’il vous plait.‘ Her movements were perfectly graceful, despite the silver in her hair. She turned her back on the class as she dropped her bag to the floor and bent to rummage through it. For a few seconds she listened to the hisses and rustlings as the class rushed to obey her instruction, and she turned around only when she was sure her face was smooth, uncreased and calm. She was Giselle. She was Ophelia. She was the Swan Queen. She breathed deeply, her mind cycling through the steps, settling gradually, until she was ready.
‘She looks like one of those dolls, you know the ones,’ Nora hissed into Emily’s ear as they began their warm-up. ‘With all the sticky-up hair and an expression like a walked-on doughnut.’ Emily bit her lip as she tried to imagine one in a practice leotard.
‘The sort you’d get out of one of those vending machines, the ones with the grabbing hooks,’ she muttered back. She felt a gentle pinch on her back – Nora’s way of trying to keep her own laughter in – and did her best to focus on her arm movements. A tiny snort bubbled out of Nora, and Emily’s shoulders shook.
‘Silence,’ barked Madame, from the back of the room. She made every move gently, wondering when she’d feel the snap and the rushing pain she’d grown so used to. She distracted herself from thinking about it by watching the dancers, their every movement like a beat of her heart. She allowed her expert eye to follow the sweeping movements in front of her, the arms being raised and lifted, the feet sliding perfectly into position.
Then, from nowhere, a flourish of red-black feathers tickled the side of her vision; she closed her eyes and saw a glitter of sparkling frost spinning behind them. A snatch of music soared through her head. She gritted her teeth until it passed. She opened her eyes again, gazing upon her girls. They were a pile of sticks, a heap of rocks. They were a line of knights in armour, dancing.
‘Your arms are like a forest grown wild!’ she shouted. ‘This is not a class pour les enfants. We are the Academy of Dance, ladies. Remember it!’ The room filled with muttered apologies, and she watched as the girls, stealing surreptitious glances in the practice mirror, attempted to move as one.
She closed her eyes.
The lights were up. The heat filled her nostrils with a mixture of scents – makeup, sweat, anticipation. Her audience was hushed, waiting. On stage, she sat crosslegged, bowed and broken. In the wings the monster lurked, red and covered in feathers, teeth dripping and claws extended. This was the role of her life, her last as a prima, her swan-song. Lifting her hand to her forehead, she showed the audience her fear, and they ached along with her. Rising to her feet, she pirouetted once, twice, before crumpling to the ground once more. The monster roared, and she trembled at the sound. She heard the audience’s intake of breath as it took its first steps onto the stage, its claws clicking sharply on the boards. Her muscles felt like ice as she watched it approach…
‘Madame?’ came a voice. ‘Are you okay?’ She opened her eyes again to find two or three of the girls standing around her, looking concerned. She hated them, in that instant.
‘Enough!’ she barked. ‘Back to the barre, immediately!’ She hoped they hadn’t noticed the beads of sweat on her brow, or the red-black flashes she felt sure were in her eyes.
‘What’s eating her today?’ muttered Nora, as she and Emily settled back into position beside Marcy.
‘Who knows?’ said Marcy, stretching out her neck.
‘Who cares, right?’ giggled Emily. She turned to smile at Nora. ‘She’s nothing but an old witch, anyway.’
Suddenly, a loud thump jerked the girls out of their concentration, and they turned to see the crumpled form of their teacher, lying on the floor. After a few moments of shocked silence, some of the older girls took charge. Mobile phones were fetched from the dressing room; a too-late ambulance was summoned.
‘She… she executed a perfect plié and flew into a beautiful pirouette,’ babbled one girl, a junior, when the doctors came. ‘And then… she just fell.’
In the mirror behind them, unnoticed by all, a red-black beast devoured its prey.