Consider the thick ballerina. Her legs are two Iberian hams, stretched perfectly straight, but not forming a line as a featherweight should. The strong, firm bulges have the disadvantage of causing each tap of the toe to become an artful thump. It is clear to all but the dancer that she is a tutu-clad textbook case of excess androgens. She knows as she draws her acned face to the warmth of the spotlight that this will be her final performance as the rest of the troupe takes to the road without her. Theirs will be a world of playing pocket girlfriends and hearing voices quiver at the power of their stickly silhouettes. She only hopes that she, too, has a face in the dark of the auditorium that is quickly becoming charmed into obsession over her unconventional frame. But she knows with a persistent ache deep between her shoulder blades that she could only be the recipient of deferred appreciation, like a home with vinyl siding. Disgust would give way to beauty for her spectator, coming full circle as it tended to do, but she would need millions minutes more than the two in the spotlight could afford. The classical piano notes tinkle to a halt and she’s meant to quickly bend a delicate knee in goodbye, then flit off stage with a name too common to trace and footsteps too light to follow.
Not so long down the road, the ballerina’s middle begins to pour into the sink as she brushes her teeth, leaving a bar of dried toothpaste on her slimming black garments, just below her waistline. And soon, like the last birds of summer, her waistline has disappeared. She is left alone in front of the mirror, staring back at the chin behind her chin, the greater stealing the focus from the lesser. Her shoulders curve in arcs down to her padded wrists.
Pizza calls her from the kitchen, singing a love song she knows from another lifetime. She can feel the savory-sour-softness of the marinara on her tongue, stretch the mozzarella and squish its rubbery saltiness in her teeth. Copious doses of olive oil and fresh basil slide down her throat. Quantity begins to win out on quality and it’s now a personal challenge to see how much will stay down. When thoroughly compressed, the pizza sends out its grips from the fridge, not yet abandoned long enough to grow cold. One more slice will fit. But she is wrong. Three more fit with some tamping down. The seasons change and so does her body. The iron core remains, but becomes enveloped by expanding cells she cannot recognize.
Her legs rub together as she walks. Then everything starts to rub. Such a chafing, heaving object she’s become. She eats until she can no more. But still the butter calls. The biscuit crust. The pesto sauce. Smoked Gouda. It’s a dream brought into daylight, but it’s never good enough.
And then come the dark days. She can no longer rise from her bed, no longer fit into a car to be dually weighed and scorned by that smug Indian doctor. All that had once been firm is buried alive in pulsing folds. Two home health aides unsuccessfully hide their disgust by her bedpan and her smell. But one day a sub comes by.
He has a ribbed black turtleneck and stands on his tiptoes to reach over her shame, wiping the creases under her folds. He speaks no English, but points to himself and says, “Nicolas.”
She lays awake all night begging whatever gods may be to send Nicolas back. An answer comes through an azure grin at the foot of her bed, then dissipates before hitting her ears.
You can’t take him with you, he’ll only meet a thousand ends.
The agency has keys. After all, she’s upstairs, up the curving staircase fit for a more lithe southern belle. She hears the front door open and light footsteps climb the stairs and approach her room. He’s come back. And he’s smiling.
He comes back over and over again. Quiet and calm. He prepares her pizza, then holds it up for her to see. To her surprise, he cuts it in half. Then he sits down next to her at a small table he must have found by the door downstairs and proceeds to eat his half with a knife and fork.
A week later, Nicolas is bringing wine and salad to eat along with their pizza. And after one month, he looks at her without speaking, putting his hands out and lifting them up in a biblical motion that bellows, “Rise!”
She giggles and feels her chin ripple. Is it pulling away from her neck just a bit? She grasps the bed frame that has imprisoned her and pushes off. She’s standing now, like she hasn’t stood in months. One step forward feels like dancing and Nicolas turns in a tight circle with a toe touching a knee. His arms go out, then in, a perfect arc ending in two fingertips hovering together. Nicolas has the balance of a someone who’s been dressed at one point as a swan or a nutcracker.
He brings music now and throws his toes straight up in glorious leaps across the bedroom. He takes her hand and twirls her heavy body until it becomes light again, if only for a moment. She’s ready now, ready to leave with him. She’s lost enough of herself to make it out the bedroom door. He walks her, no dances her, over to the curved stairs. She knows now the only thing to do is an artful arabesque before beginning her life below.
She lifts her leaden leg and throws her arms to grace. But her other leg must now hold the whole project and it fails its hopeless task. A wobble becomes a tumble and before she can tell what direction she’s dipped, she’s rolling, snowballing Nicolas and dragging him down the stairs. For two-and-one-fourth seconds, they’re dancing, twirling around as they go down. In a flash of finality, she looks down to her outstretched thighs at the bottom of the stairwell where she’s crushed her nurse in a hasty death.