Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Tale of Two Stories, Part 2

To read the first part of this post and get some backstory, click here.

Welcome to the second version of The Love of Dance, Ballerina in the final revised version. I wrote it at 24, in my junior year of college. To this point, I'd taken the pre-req Introduction to Creative Writing class, and heaps and heaps of literature classes. I'd taken so many literature classes my advisor advised me to become to a Fiction major rather than declare a Creative Writing major. But I was just screwing up my courage to my first workshop class. Yet even without a workshop, my fiction writing had improved greatly between reading so many great works, discussing them in a scholarly way, and writing heaps and heaps of essays, not to mention my continued hobby writing and my further life experiences in three years times. I would like to say the workshop helped the second version but it didn't really. Between my professor disliking it so much I think his true advice would have been to give up writing entirely and my peers not really having much to say, the workshop didn't add a thing, except perhaps the knowledge that I couldn't do much worse than the first. The story changed drastically and the writing much improved.

I can't say this is the final version I turned in because the file marked as Final Revision is actually missing the ending. I don't know if the file was corrupted or it was an unfinished file and I accidently deleted the final final version (I use to have tons of copies of document files as I was going through revision after revision, even if nothing changed much).

It's funny because it's true!

The finished final would have been printed and handed in and I probably didn't go to collect my final portfolio for whatever reason I had at the time. So this version is sort of cobbled together but I think it's what the final version would have been. Enjoy!

Ballerina -- By Stephanie Thompson, 5,634 word count

When audiences watched Daphne Calistratti dance, they were elated in the passion of her loves. They despaired in the mortality of her deaths. Their own hearts broke at her sorrowful good-byes. When Daphne danced, she transcended the mechanics, the physical movements, the technicalities of ballet. The enchantment was strong enough to transport even the orchestra who watched her night after night and knew her off stage.

Daphne heard Jack's voice counting and shouting emotions in her head: You're sad, someone killed your puppy, someone stole your boyfriend, your best friend has cancer. I want to feel . . . It repeated again and again like an orbiting satellite.

Right now, the choreographer's instruction was second to the sparring between Daphne and her opposite, Evelyn Rogette.

"Bitch diva," Evelyn said.
She travels backwards towards the audience, half bowed, her character having just received defiant news from her daughter played by Daphne.

I want to feel you goddamn depression.  Become a fucking black hole of despair.

Her face ached from the strained mask of grief.

"Faceless body," she said.

Her lips moved slightly like a murmur and the audience swore Daphne was crying out for her mother.  Evelyn swoons, in feigned death, still sneering at Daphne as she leaves the stage making room for the corps de ballet.

"You encourage her," Frank said.  "Ignore her and she'll ignore you.  Then you can both just dance."
His dry lips tapped her cheek in his favored 'congratulations' gesture.

"Is Jack  . . . having a fit?" she asked.
"Daphne, please call him Jacques."
"I am not a puppet . . . in his . . . theater, if he wants to keep . . . the French bull he can but I won't."
"Try it in public.  Yes he's pissed.  Something about expression.  I said if you expressed any more you're face would break but he cursed and stomped off.  Aren't you going to sit for a minute?"

More dancers squeezed past to join ballerinas onstage at the height of the corps performance.  They were nearing the end of "Le Casse Suite."  The mother's death meant freedom for the daughter and Daphne's final performance of the night would be one of joy as she finally joined her partner with out interference.

A dull throb permeated her legs as the muscles cooled down.  Then to answer Frank's question, Daphne turned out her feet and bent her knees in grande pliés.

"F.Y.I. Jacques is going to make a speech tonight and I think he is going to want you beside him.  Mick, where is Carlos?  His dance is coming up I need him in the other wing.  I can't see him from here."
Mick rushed into the racks of tulle filled costumes.

Jack's voice re-filled Daphne's head, speaking in rhythm with the music for her next dance.
1,2,3,4,step, step, lift, arms open wide, wider keep it light.  Don't strain just be light you are free. free.  Your heart is pounding exploding in joy. Dammit Daphne.  Ok do the lift again.  Carlos, hold her there until she gets the arms right.  Daphne, be posed but natural, emanate lightness

The orchestral strings began the final song.  The lovers approached each other from opposites sides.
light light light light 
Carlos' hands landed in the exact right spot, pressing hard against the bruises that were made in rehearsal.
light light light light
He looked up to her, theirs eyes locked, and the lift was strong and balanced.  
light light light
Their bodies together were like the delicate cup of a lily cradled by a strong unbending stem.

"Jesus, did you scarf the whole buffet last night or take it easy with just half?"
She clenched her teeth and released her body for the descent.  The audience saw it as gentle like dew falling down a blade of grass.  She felt it like a crash; the hard wood stage jarring her shins and increasing the pain already constant in her knees.

"Would you like to break my legs slamming me down like that?"

They held each other face to face.  Joy in the final fulfillment of the love swelled with the orchestra.  Later the audience said light shone from them and tangible emotion filled the theatre.

"Fat cow," he said.
"Ugh, mouthwash much?"

Daphne wrapped one arm around his neck, extended her other arm behind her, and leaned her head back.  The music finally ended and the audience erupted in applause. The curtain fell, the clapping was muffled, dancers and crew skipped excitedly on stage.  The curtain rose again.  Bowing began with the most insignificant members and continued until Daphne, Frank, and Jack were the only ones left.  A stage manager handed a bouquet to Daphne.  She dug her nose into the red and white rose and tried not to breathe.  There was no card or accompanying instructions but she knew who had sent them.  They were always from Evelyn and Jack, who knew her allergies, they did it just in spite.  She smiled at the crowd even as her eyes itched and sinus pressure built up.  Jack tightened his hold on her waist, his fingers digging painfully into her bruises.

"Merci, merci mes amis. . . I am so glad you have enjoyed our leetle performance."
The audience hushed as Jacques Dupree began his announcement.  Daphne bristled at his ridiculously fake accent.  She wanted to run.  The itch in her eyes infected her blood stream and filled her body.  Her skin crawled where he was touching her.
Please say what you will and let me go, let me go, let me go.
Her blood burned for nicotine.

"Theez iz the last performance of 'Le Casse Suite'" clapping broke out "mais-mais . . . but this iz not the end of our zeazon.  Az alwayz we will end with Daphne Calistrati in 'The Nutcraker' the rest of the title was interrupted by more clapping.  "However," he resumed when the clapping died again," this seasonz intermediate ballet 'Le Prix de Choix' iz a new piece composed par moi" more clapping.

Daphne's heart was pounding harder than it should from just exertion.  The itching kept growing.  Jack's fingers dug into her side.  Her knees, bruises, and forced smile all throbbed with the beating of her heart.

Run, run, run, run. You don't want to hear what he will say.  Don't let him hurt you again.  Stop him and run. run. Run.  RUN!
But she stood there waiting for the death knell.

"And new works require a fresh faces." A distant hum grew louder in Daphne's ears. "From our own talent filled company, I have chosen Evelyn . . ."

She heard nothing afterwards, the hum over powered reality.  She separated from her own body.  Jack finally released her but she still did not move.  Evelyn stepped beside him pushing Daphne out of her way.  Frank kissed her cheek. Daphne kissed her cheek.  Jack kissed her lips.  The audience's hands continued to clap.  Her own hands clapped against the plastic wrapped around the flowers.  She observed it all from a distance.

An eternity later the curtain fell for the last time.  The entire corps squealed and ran to Evelyn. Daphne drifted unnoticed off stage.  The flowers fell from her limp arms.  Her pointe shoes made dead thunk sounds against the floor.  Her dressing room was little more than a broom closet, room for a vanity, a chair, and a duffle bag.  She pulled out her cigarettes and immediately lit one.  She plopped into her chair.  The cigarette burned down to her fingers, singeing her index and middle fingers before she put it out and lit another.

Frank opened the door when she didn't answer the knocking.
He spoke to the wall above her head.  "Daphne, he wasn't suppose to do that.  We were going to tell you tomorrow.  It isn't a big deal.  You are not out of the company.  You are still the Prima, it will be on all the programs   Evelyn was threatening to leave if she didn't get larger parts."
He looked at her now, trying to find signs of anger.
"Have you been crying?"

"Just allergies from the damned flowers."
Her own voice surprised her.  It sounded normal.  Her insides trembled and wailed.  She now felt the wetness of tears she hadn't known she was crying.  Her third unsmoked cigarette was half gone.  She finally took a drag.  In all of this her voice still sounded normal.

"There is a part for you in Le Prix de Choix-- the major lead under Evelyn.  You will have less rehearsal time this way, Daph, but your pay is the same.  It's a very fair deal."

"What about next season?  In January, when we renegotiate contracts. . .what happens to me then?"
She asked the question but already knew the answer.  The question was obligatory, a line she had to say to continue the scene.  Frank stood near the door bracing himself for her wrath.  And while her face was grim set, the usual fiery eyes that accompanied her anger were absent, yet his answer still came with great trepidation.
"There will always be a place here for you, the audience loves you."

That was the final ring of the knell: The audience loves you but the company has no need for you more than a crowd pleaser. You are too old.  
She sucked on her cigarette in earnest now like the burning need had made its presence known again.  When she lit the next one in silence and made no other attempt to move, Frank took this as an opportunity to escape.

"Alright then, there will be a briefing of the new ballet at the studio Monday morning and rehearsals in the afternoon.  Enjoy your weekend off; everyone has deserved it."
And having said his lines, he slipped out the door and shut it gently behind him.

Sounds of a living world came muffled through her door.  Cigarette ash fell unchecked to the floor.  A theatre hand shouted that they had thirty minutes to leave or get locked in.  Finally she moved for something more than for smoking and lighting.  She untied her shoes, removed the moist padding, and stuffed her drying bags in.  She placed the entire thing in a mesh bag and threw it in the ash beside her chair.  Even if she had cared to be more considerate, there was no place else for them.  Her skirt and leotard were balled up and thrown just as carelessly into her dance bag.  The tights came off last and went in the trash--they usually didn't last more than one performance and she wasn't even going to think about trying to preserve the delicate material.

She stood naked in her narrow room glaring at the reflection of the body that dance made.  Her skin was smooth ivory and even after the performance there was not a sign of blush.  There was no scar or dimple; it was perfect save the dark finger shaped bruises that glared from her waist.  She had lost count soon after 50th time they had practiced that lift.  The rehearsal had ended with Jack still unhappy about the results and Daphne's ribs felt like overly abused timber.  

The muscles of her arms and legs were visible but long and lean like any normal persons but she had no layer of fat to hide them.  It looked as though she didn't spend hours dancing a day . . . like she had no power at all.  She let down her thick flame red hair, the only extraordinary thing about her appearance.  It rested on her shoulder highlighting the curve her neck.  Her mother's voice floated to her from the past.

The instant you were born I knew you would be a ballerina.  It's the neck and your shoulder--that graceful curve.  I knew it then, the great suffering and beauty your life would entail.

Daphne shook her head, worse than Jack's voice was that of her mother's.

She pulled on a cotton black tank and dark denim jeans.  She slid her feet into cheap canvas shoes, hauled her dance and shoe bag over her shoulder, lit another cigarette, flicked off the light and left the silent darkened theater.
But she did not leave the voices there.  Despite the action of her head, she had not shaken either of the ghost voices from her mind.

You'll be a better dancer than I ever was.  Everyone will love you and no one will leave you.  You'll make it out of Caton.
There is no other woman I would rather be with. . .  there is no other dancer I would have dance my creations.  You are my living fantasy.
Don't let a man kill your dreams, Daphne.  Don't let him stop you ever because men are mortal, fallen, sinful--they will do you wrong but passion-the passion for dance will always support you.
It takes a lifetime to build a dancer and only one man to ruin her.
A single injury Daphne!  Only one and your career is destroyed.  You have to be more careful, much more careful.  Or what else is there for you?

When she was outside her apartment door, she didn't remember getting there.  Did she walk?  Did she ride the bus?  She remembered nothing but the voices.

When her key didn't turn the lock and the door opened from the inside, terror climbed up her throat until she recognized Troy.  She said nothing still gripped in fear and general confusion.  Troy lived three blocks from her and she hadn't been by since the season had started.  Why did she automatically come here?  Somehow Troy knew without her saying even a greeting.

"You look like you need beer and pizza but I don't have nay here so let's go out to Luigi's."
She tried to protest but he allowed no dissention.
"You can tell me all about it in the taxi."
So she told the whole evening in the back of a cab and he injected his commentary about the people he knew as well as she.  Troy had been in the company too but he had left before he was they could shove him out.  He found a business partner and opened a successful café and bookstore.  He was the only person she knew who understood the dancing world but no longer had the same stakes in it that she did.

In the restaurant, Daphne was the only one with pizza as Troy ordered a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.  Till they split a pitcher of beer.

"Daphne, forget them.  Leave that company, you're the only thing makes resemble decency anyway."
She said nothing to this but inhaled on her cigarette and drank from her mug.
"There are other companies.  Hell, there are other kinds of dance too.  Ballet is quite possibly the most boring one.  Hindsight is 20-20 and I can barely see how I stayed with that gig for so long.  Try something else.  Try jazz!  Think off all the pop tours you could go on, You could really travel the world.  Maybe even marry a musician.  You know K-Fed was a back up dancer for Britney."
He winked.  Daphne couldn't help but laugh at both the absurdity of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline and at the idea of doing another type of dance.

"I'm not made for anything else, Troy.  Those dancers have thick legs and strong arms.  They sweat and jerk and grimace.  That's not what we do at all.  There is no elegance or grace in all there stomping and gyrating."

Her mother had said something very similar years ago when asked if she offered jazz or tap classes at her school.  It's a ballet school, for real dancers, not stomping and contortion.  Elegant beauty, that's the true essence of dance.

"That's such old fashioned bullshit.  It's all movement and music plus whatever you bring to it."
"Then why didn't you do it?"
Now he didn't answer and drank his beer instead.
"Because you're a dance snob just like the rest of us.  Any serious and self respecting ballerina would just shuffle off stage shrinking with crumbling age like a closing morning glory.  That's what I should do."
Even as she said this numbness threatened to collapse around her again.  What would she be without ballet?

As if to answer Troy said, "There are other careers too.  I mean keeping a bookshop is quite respectable and self sustaining."

Troy smiled at her and she smiled back an empty smile because a louder voice had answered before Troy. A voice with Jack's authority:  You are nothing but what I make you, Daphne.  There are thousands of others lined up behind you.  If it weren't for me and my dances you would disappear with them.  Working behind counters and remembering your little girl ballerina fantasy.

Whatever solace her mind was subconsciously seeking in Troy it hadn't been found.  Numbness swallowed her completely again and dumped her in front her actual apartment late in the evening.  She remembered nothing of the rest of the dinner but felt her mind swimming with food and beer.
She turned on the light of the kitchen, the only light in the studio apartment.  She still had her dance bags with her and threw them in one corner of the space and then changed into her shorts and dance company t-shirt.

She moved back to the kitchen. From the fridge she pulled a bottle of Cabaret Sauvignon and Tupperware of Brie.   She filled a large wine glass, one that holds half a bottle, put a smear of cheese on a saucer, and a slice of crusty French bread.  She felt guilty about her low class meal still heavy in her stomach but she didn't want to let go of the fuzzy clarity that accompanied alcohol and over eating.  But in her apartment there was no more beer and pizza just cheese, wine, and bread.
This was Jack's doing.  Before him she would have had ample supply of emotional junk food but he insisted that she was too elegant for that.  He said that only when she acted high class would people treat her high class.  And she was 16 fresh from Tennessee and he was an up and coming choreographer born and raised in NYC.  What did she know about real living and real people? All she knew was what her mother had told her about dancing; Jack was there to fill in the rest.

When you eat well, you know, eat quality, you feed your body more than just nutrients.  Then your body gives more than just life.  When you please your mouth, brain, and body with delicious food they reward you with perfect execution, passion, and flawless memory of choreography.

She headed into the darkness of the living area of her studio apartment.  When she first got to New York, she had shared the small studio apartment with two older dancers.  When they left she could afford the place on her own but she didn't expand her domain.  Most of her living occurred in one half while her dance equipment occupied the other half.

On the table near her futon was her peppermint lotions, oils, and a half empty jar of Vaseline.  She flipped on the TV to the Food Network catching the middle of an Iron Chef marathon. She sipped her wine and snacked her bread between rubbing her feet and legs.  She had a routine: sip, rub essential peppermint oil right, chew, rub oil left, sip, smoke, chew, slather lotion right, sip, slather lotion left, smoke, seal with Vaseline all around, smoke, chew sip.  Her legs sighed relief with the cooling of the mint.  That was something her mom had taught her to keep her skin smooth and her muscles relaxed.  Jack had admired her for it because of her determination to do it each time she danced.  She did it whether drunk, sick, or exhausted.  

Is he teaching Evelyn this?  Molding her to be the perfect dancer who can be his perfect lover too?

Her eyes left the oddly adorned table, went past the TV, and focused on the spaces around it. Most of Daphne's walls and shelves were covered with gifts.  Anyone who ever visited the company or her mother's school would give her something, a knick-knack or autographed photo, and she would keep it.  She kept everything from fans: letters, clippings, artwork.  It looked like a poorly made collage with some papers yellowing and the tape coming unstuck in some places. .  Fan letters, pictures, ballerina photos and statures, clippings plastered and collecting dust anywhere the eye fell.
She finally noticed the two pictures just above the TV.  The only two in frames.  One of her mother and one of Jack.  Why hadn't she noticed that before?  Why was that picture hanging up there still after he'd left her three years ago?  Was it three years?  Why was his voice still in her head dictating her every step?

A clang of dropping pots and pans came from the TV.  Her head snapped back to Iron Chef where the Challenger's sous-chef had just had an accident.  At the same time the Iron Chef was having flare up in one of his sauces.  The flames reached above his head in a barely controlled splendor.  Daphne watched as the fire flicked above the confines of the set and onto the wall, licking the bottom of the picture frames.  

She would not get Jack's new roles.

This knowledge floated from the new silence in her head.

Her mother and Jack had finally stopped choreographing her life.  It was her voice alone speaking to her, at last figuring out the full implications of Jack's announcement.

Daphne was only going to dance 'the classics', the boring dances she could perform in her sleep. She was being phased out.  That's what Frank had really meant.  Soon she would be a figurehead closer to a guest star cameo than the Prima Ballerina.  She wouldn't get to express her passion; she wouldn't be pushed to unexplored limits.  Year after year it would be The Nutcracker Suite and Swan Lake.  She would be a relic displayed twice a year for people to admire and worship what she use to be.
She clenched her teeth.  She wasn't going to let that happen to her.  That's what her mother had done, that's what she had been warned against.  Her mother faded in to the backstage and then off stage and then into the annals of history.  She had traded on her name to open a school and still stay with in the realm of dance.

Keep the fire, Daphne, do not smother the passion.

That fire needed the spotlight, it deserved the spot light and she wasn't going to relinquish it yet.  Her body would have to crumble beneath her before she would stand aside willingly.  Nothing but the Prima spot  and the true roles the title required would feed her fire, her life . . . she needed this to live.
Jack had said it after all:  If she wasn't a dancer what else was there?  It took her long time to realize that he meant that she was nothing but a body to him.  A body he could make dance in the day and have sex with at night.  Then she had felt that there was something wrong with being only a dancer.  She had felt dirty, whorish, for using her body to make a living.  And as her mother had warned, a man had smothered her passion. Every dance was a struggle, not because of aging but because Jack had stolen her fire and was using it to kindle Evelyn.  She had been dying. . . but now she would rip it back.  She didn't care if it left Evelyn broken and bleeding, it was her's rightfully.  She was going to get it back and live.

She was early for the meeting.  Daphne had wanted to talk to Frank before but in his usual brisk style he shook her off.  A few other dancers milled around the mirrored rehearsal room.  Daphne tapped her foot.

She hadn't slept last night.  She tried turning the TV off, turning the air up, folding up her futon, tossing, drinking water.  Eventually she gave up and sat on a window ledge blowing smoke at the city.  

The whole weekend had been a series of faltering.  Determined to keep all the dances belonging to the Prima, when she laid sleepless on her futon.  But then she would put on her leotard and practice shoes, balancing her self with barre and raising her leg in time with the music, a regimental tune, she would be convinced she should fall back into line and except her age determined role. She enjoyed the new silence of her mind but felt like she was drowning in uncertainty now.  She didn't know what the right thing to do was.

Her toes were sore from her furious tapping.  The other dancers were talking and laughing together.  Their words echoed and fell meaningless on her ears.  Gastric juices burned in her stomach.  She longed for those cigarettes she had burned into the night.

Just get this over, over, over, over, so we can go back to dancing.  

Half of her wanted to find Jack and Frank right then.  Right there and fight on her terms and less on display.  Some of her wanted to yell at him in front of everyone.  Expose him for the manipulating and using man he is.  And the tiniest voice in her quailed against any action.  If she just sat there, no one would think less of her.  She would be doing what she should be doing; what any ballerina at her age should expect.  And the arguments repeated in a vicious loop each with the same logical argument and sounding right in it's turn.

She stood up, more for a reason to move than in an act of decision-making.  She had a cigarette lit and in her mouth before she realized what she was doing.  Carlos and some 16-year-old starters glared at her.  Smoking anywhere in the building was forbidden but she couldn't stub the cigarette out on the dance floor.  Daphne was stuck with her action of accidental rebellion.  She turned away and was then forced to face her own reflection; one she had been avoiding in the mirror walled room. Her eyes were like dark smudges in on face.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail but the bumps and loose strands made it looked like her hair was trying desperately to escape from her head.  Her cigarette smoke hung around her giving her a ghost appearance.

"Alright gang, we're gonna make this quick."
Frank pushed through the door and had Jack and Evelyn trailing behind him.
"We're gonna do a brief story overview and then the announcement of the roles, well, the rest of the roles.  Then we can all go home and enjoy the rest of the weekend."
"I have something to say."

She was only sure she had spoken when everyone was looking at her.  Suddenly she thought she could do anything like she could scream and stab someone and run through the studio laughing or break down in tears and just appear hysterical in front of everyone. Ash fell from her cigarette because her hand was shaking.  Perhaps she shouldn't say anything in front of anyone, when she was like this, when anything could happen.  Smoke wafted up and burned her eyes reminding her, urging her to speak.

"Sure Daph, we can talk in my office.  Just let Jack get started and then we'll go," Frank said.  

Daphne knew this was only placating measure.  Something to stop her from making a scene in front the other dancers.  A dancer would go into Frank's office and come back out either submissive or rejected from the company and the confrontation stayed a mystery.  But she had been dancing other people scenes for years, it was empowering now, to think she was creating her own.

"No, I'm not waiting for him to go first.  I want to say something and I want to say it now."

She looked at the trio, waiting for permission. Empowerment faded quickly and she returned back to indecision.  She thought the rehearsal room must have looked like a Degas painting gone wrong.  Dancers weren't dancing or stretching, some were in costume, some were in jeans and the principles were standing in lines offense and defense, smoke trailing from Daphne's hand, and no one looked elegant or graceful.  They weren't dancers, ballerinas, they were just people, waiting. If someone had said no or ignored her like an insolent child she may have just sat back down and relented quietly.  Instead, Frank said "Alright then.”

"I will dance the lead in Le Prix de Choix.  I will dance because it is in my contract, I am the Prima Donna, I dance the lead roles.  If it's a demotion you should say so and give a satisfactory reason.  But my dancing is the same level, I come to every rehearsal, I stay late, and I am always on time.  There is no reason."

Her voice was soft like she was talking to herself but the entire company was silent.  Each member heard her without complaint or strain.

"Daphne, you've got this all wrong.   You're not demoted; you're just sitting this one out.  There is no breach of contract.  You still have the title," Frank said.

The longer she spoke softly the more nervous he became.

"That's nothing but bullshit, being Prima is more than a title.  It's more than the role, it's more than the moves, it's more than the dance.  Evelyn could execute every move perfectly and she still couldn't be the prima.  She's missing the. . . intrinsic fire.  She's only an animate imitation."
Daphne kept her eyes on Frank, as though he was the only person in the room.

"Jack thinks you're a cold fish next to my fire," Evelyn said.
Daphne hardly glanced at her.
"Whore," she said.
"Takes one to know one."

"Hey, girls, knock it off," Frank said.  "Daphne it's already decided.  I've seen Evelyn perform the part and she does fine.  Ultimately it is Jack's piece and so it is his decision."

Now, Daphne's stare fell on Jack.  He was already glaring at her.

"We all know what Jack decides with.  Just stop pretending any of this has to do with Kendal's threat; no one would care if she were gone.  It's Jack you're afraid to lose.  You're sacrificing me to keep him.  All because he wants this month's piece of ass to have a promotion."

When Jack spoke it was with out his French façade. 
"Why do you think you got the spot in the first place?  Or did you never think that you being here had anything to do with me?"
Jack smirked.  Evelyn and a few others snickered.  Frank looked at his feet.  Daphne dropped her cigarette. The smoke stopped veiling her as the cigarette burned out against the floor.

"I guess you haven't been paying much attention all these years."  More snickers.

She wasn't surprised.  It was something she heard all the time.  But Jack had phrased the question in a different way: Did you never think that you being here had anything to do with me?  She suddenly had new questions come to mind: What was she doing here?  Why not go to another company?  Why had she spent the last three years torturing herself under Jack's thumb?

There was no answer.

Frank, Jack, and Evelyn looked small now.  All of them did.  Like leaked helium balloons.

She wasn't staying here.  Nothing was keeping her there.  She would find some other company.  Or maybe she wouldn't.  But she would be doing it on her own account either way.
Daphne walked past them, out into the hall, and down to the locker room.  Frank came in when she was packing her bag.

"That's not exactly true you know.  We probably would have made you Prima anyway, just a little bit later, if it weren't for Jack's insistent."
"It doesn't matter, Frank."
"It matters to me.  I don't want you to feel inadequate; you've earned your title a hundred times over.  You're right, Evelyn doesn't have what you have, fire or what not, it just isn't there.  But no dancer is good without a choreographer and I can't afford to lose Jack.  I just can't, Daphne."
"I can.  So, I hope y'all can survive without me.  I'm getting away from this shit, I'm gonna do my own thing now.  Good-bye, Frank."

Frank let her go past and threw up his hands as he headed back to the meeting.  But Evelyn followed her to the door.

"You can't go, Daphne.  You know the company won't last," she said, oddly pleading.
She turned to her.  Evelyn had shrunk even more, looking like an overgrown child.

"I wasted too much time with him, you should go before you get lost in it too."
"I wouldn't know where to go.  Here, Jack takes care of me."
"Yeah, he use to take care of me and he'll probably take care of someone else after you.  Then what will you do?"

Evelyn just stared at her, waiting for the instruction, for the next move.

"You should leave him, now, before you become so dependent you're nothing but an empty shell.  Then you will have to painfully remake yourself.  Now you have the love of dance and that's enough.  It will take care of you in a way no man can.  Depend on that and get out of this place."

Evelyn still said nothing.  Daphne left the building.  She let herself get swept into the sidewalk crowds and smiled.

You know, now that I think back on it, I think The Love of Dance was the first short story I ever wrote and completed. In fact, I'm not 100% sure I ever tried to write a short story before but instead mostly focused on novels, since that was all I read. Either way, I feel like Ballerina was my first "professional" piece and I'm pretty happy with the results. Yet, to quote from the same Faulkner quote as yesterday "I'm convinced I can do it better." A piece I haven't thought about in years, that I don't really care about, that I have no intention of publishing anywhere else, and still I keep thinking, "This would be so easy and short to revise and make even vastly better." On top of all the other works that need revising, that need writing, and the countless art and craft projects I'm working on and still a part of me wants to revise this thing!

Ah well, at least Faulkner says it's a healthy condition to have.