The Dancer's career was no shorter or longer than average and on the
night of her final performance—a contemporary revival of La
Bayadère—she cried in front of strangers for the
second time. The first time was years ago in a dentist's office over
the holidays when during a root canal the doctor had said, "Boy that
tooth tried awful hard to live." It was the dentist's assistant who
noticed the Dancer's tears and placed two tissues in her hand with a
The Dancer was the daughter of the Man Who Missed No Eclipse. In fact,
the Dancer's father missed hardly any rare astronomical event visible
from Earth, but especially those not to occur again for the next 37 or
241 or 1,100 years. The Man Who Missed No Eclipse had made
his money as a developer, buying large plots of desert on the edge of
the city, the kind of land anyone's grandparent would say was good for
nothing. Within a year the Dancer's father had built a mall or network
of office buildings, and all of this with his head toward the heavens.
The Dancer used to think that if there was no such thing as gravity her
father would be the first to float away.
From a young age the Dancer was acutely aware of the unlikelihood that
she should have a career in dance. She was, quite simply, too athletic.
Though her body was nothing if not the external reflection of a
cavernous will, a hunger so old it did not even resemble desire. It
grew disproportionately in the dark and caused the Dancer a generalized
but relentless discomfort with the whole of the material world. Its
only cure was mastery.
But how to make oneself less strong?
Whether she willed it or whether she was the lucky beneficiary of a
trend toward more tenacious physiques, the Dancer had become a corps
member with the Milwaukee Ballet out of high school. Then to Cincinnati
and then to Denver. The Dancer ended her career as a soloist with
Ballet West in Salt Lake City, dancing her final performance with two
herniated discs while her father witnessed a transit of Venus from a
balcony in Bangalore.
The morning of her last performance was a Sunday morning and the Dancer
spent it in bed with her lover whom she loved for always looking at her
squarely. There were no angles in his assessment; even when vulnerable,
he refused to retreat. But what she loved most was that it never seemed
to bother him that he took up space.
That morning she nestled against him and didn't speak; it was too early
for words. She began to stir, starting with her feet, curling and
releasing one against the other, and then both against the small mound
of sheets discarded in the night. She closed her eyes, pressed her
forehead into her lover's back and took a deep breath. She took another
one. She opened her eyes and noticed a small pink flowering along his
lower spine, a strange rash of symmetric circlings. She traced it with
her finger, but she was too gentle and this tickled him. "Hey," he
said. "Hey," she said, "you have a rose on your back." She
traced it again. "It's for you," he said.
Because of staging difficulties, the final act of La
Bayadère is often left out, even in full-length
performances. So by the end of Act III the Dancer prepares to take her
final bow as a dancer. She is shifty backstage and cannot help from
thinking about the decision of her thirteen-year-old self whose body—or being?—could not,
with any measure of ease,
move with the effortlessness a ballet patron expects to witness. The
Dancer recalls her stubborn evaluation: effortlessness is an illusion
achieved only through effort, and if they are looking for surrender,
she will elude them, she will seize. And this is what she has done. The
stage manager signals to her. She continues the charade. She is halfway
across the stage now and cannot contain her tears. The applause. They
are celebrating her because they believe. But I have lied, she wants to
say as her chest bobs unevenly and her nose starts to run. It is no
pleasure being in a body.
The Dancer, already overcome, avoids looking toward the section where
her lover usually sits. He is standing and clapping and in a month the
flowering on his back will have grown and taken on the appearance of
wood grain. Erythema gyratum repens, the doctor will say, and tell him
that it is a marker of internal malignancy. How long have you been
smoking, the doctor will ask. But it is now and the curtain is closing.
The Dancer is desperate for breath. She lowers her eyes and finds roses.