Written by Allyson Tai, edited by Grace Smith
It was summertime. The new year had just rolled over, leaving everyone high and dry with a sudden nothing to celebrate. People paced restlessly on the streets, still looking for the renewal that the new year had promised but never quite delivered – a collective that Elliot believed himself exempt. It must be stated that such a belief did not come from a place of arrogance but rather a place of painful loneliness.
As if in a dream, he forever streamed into keyholes, through windows, past thresholds, tiptoeing through spaces he did not and could not occupy.
It had been an especially bad week. The new pills did nothing for the nightmares and made him retch till his throat stung. Sometimes in the early hours of the morning, when the city was asleep, he’d find himself slumped over by the kitchen table with the entire studio tilting forwards as if someone was forever pushing his head downwards. Usually, he’d close his eyes and fixate on each motion as if to will them away, and when he next opened them again, day would have broken.
That night, however, he couldn’t remember either of those things happening. Instead, Alex had found him half-asleep outside his office door when he arrived at the clinic at 8:38. Alex doesn’t say anything as he helps him up, pushes open the glass door, and directs him past reception, into his consulting room.
Alex gives the door a slight kick. Clack.
‘What’s been happening, Elliot?’
‘The pills. They don’t work.’ he says. He feels like a plaintive child. He avoids Alex’s gaze and stares blankly at the pot plant in the corner.
Alex waits. Tell me more.
‘I can’t think when I’m on them. The room never stops spinning.’
‘That must be terrible. How long has it been since you started taking them?’
‘Okay. Have you been back to see Dr. Greene about this?’
It goes on like this for sometime. Until, at some point, the next question doesn’t come.
He looks up and sees Alex thinking. He knows what he is going to say next.
‘I know we talked about this in the past, but what are your thoughts on alternative therapy as of this moment? We don’t need to look into it – it’s just an option that is available should you want it.’
‘Dancing – I thought it’d be something you could try’ Alex had said, in November.
‘Alex, that’s ridiculous.’ he said, calmly.
‘You enjoyed yourself , didn’t you, that time you went to watch Lee perform?’
‘Appreciating from afar is very different from doing.’
‘For sure. But you’ve also always wished that you could.’
He closes his eyes and is then reminded of how they flared open in the early hours of that day, with a sea in his stomach. How he’d closed them again against the migraines, against the embarrassment of being ‘not that hungry’ at a company dinner when in fact he hadn’t eaten all day, against the fears that never stopped running in his mind — against the world. In vain.
A printer whirrs and clicks and comes alive in response. He blinks his eyes back into reality.
‘Here you go.’
Alex stands above him holding out a piece of paper which he accepts with resignation.
Alex looks at him carefully. ‘If it gets worse, call me straight away. And I want to see you in a week’s time. Okay?.. Okay.’
He finds himself in front of the change room mirrors of the dance studio, in all black attire, feeling ridiculous. And ashamed really. The man in the mirror who stares blankly back is a far cry from the seventeen year old that he had once been. Although still similar in physique, something fundamental was missing. Perhaps, it was the wildness in his eyes, or the sun on his lips, or his laugh that rang clear at dusk during summer break — all of which had since been beaten up and buried.
A couple of ballerinas eyes him curiously from the corner.
He snaps out of it and realises class has already started (‘Haha. F***.’ he thinks).
The instructor, Ken, is smiley and quietly chaotic. He leads them through the most peculiar warm-up, with exercises that he’s dredged up from his days as an archetypal theatre kid. He compels them to fall into poses and motions that their bodies are most naturally inclined to, to then shout out their names into the void of the room, as if to vocalise that the state of merely existing was significant enough.
‘…draw your arm up along your midline, as if you were pulling a piece of string, over your head, and then let your arm fall, to the side…shoulders back. Don’t over think it, ladies and gentlemen…Now your feet…first position…like so – don’t push it. Go where your feet naturally want to go….second position…tendu…let’s go back to the beginning…one…two…three – and on three, let your left leg sweep to the side, … right arm…unfurl your fingers , sweep your arm outwards…feel each joint and sinew unlock…create space that wasn’t there before…’
Gone are the migraines, the embarrassments, the fears — they lie forgotten at Elliot’s feet.
It is beautiful – the room around him. He hadn’t realised when he first walked in. The cool walls waver in early morning light, as it filters in through the windows (which stretched from the floor to ceiling) and falls in soft rectangles on the walls and floors.
He thinks of nothing now, except of how to hold his torso (as though the top of his head was “suspended by string”), how not to step back but to sweep the ground, how to not simply move across the room but to dare to fly.
And the world around him — it bursts — into full colour, from the inside out.