- 6 -

     Two, hand up.  Slide down; three, four.  And-five-and -six; bend then straight, bend then straight.  I wasn’t getting anywhere. I knew that by the count of seven my hip was supposed to jut out to the right.  By eight my buttocks extended and rotated so that my left hip mirrored the position of my right only a second before. 

     When the rhythmic cycle repeated my hands were meant to forcefully slap my thighs.  Then use the rest of the seven counts to slide smoothly down the contours of my leg and then back up my body to rest between the ridges of my clavicle. 

      I knew what my body was supposed to do.  It was simple choreography.  Yet when the melodic bridge came I wanted to pop my knee and do the sultry bend and pose sequence that we had been doing for as long as I can remember.

     I had improved somewhat.  Instead of completely bypassing the movements in-lue of the old ones I at least faltered trying to remember what they were somewhere in between.  By the time my mind sent the message to my muscles however it was too late. 

     If we had been performing I would have ruined the whole line.  If only Chloe hadn’t felt the need to show off in her new position as assistant choreography director.  I wouldn’t have two eight counts of new material that was seemingly impossible for my body to remember.

     I slumped down disparately into a chair.  A stiff puff of air was pushed from my lips.  The common room sparsely populated at this hour.  Everyone was ‘out’.  Doing what I wondered?  A warm hand gave my shoulder a pat.  The gesture was accompanied by a passing, well meaning voice.  “You’ll get it”, Laura offered encouragingly.

       I watched her long thin legs beneath pale blue flannel shorts move swiftly like the blades of scissors opening and closing away from me.  Her freckled arm flicked up to fan the air in front of her nose. “Phew’ she muttered as she passed the trash can in the kitchen.

     “You’re not going out tonight?” I launched the query towards the kitchen without bothering to reposition myself to face her.  “No, I’ve got a headache.”  “Ah” I sighed in understanding.  Usually I wouldn’t waste the energy to make contact with someone but she had started the exchange.

     In all my time here at the company I can’t recall a single occasion in which I’d spent an evening away from the complex, that wasn’t a performance of course.  Although I knew nearly everyone’s name I didn’t know that any of them would count me among their friends.

     I heard the tinkling of pills being emptied from a plastic bottle and swung my left leg in a fan kick over the chair to position me facing Laura.  I looked at her pleasant round cheeked face.  Her pointy chin protruded as she attempted to swallow the pills without the aid of a drink.  What was it that made her existence so vitally different than mine?

     We were both dancers in the dark district although if I didn’t start improving faster I wouldn’t be for long.  Pathetic, the adjective that I had employed to describe my life was being used with increasing frequency in my musings.  Perhaps the difference was that if Laura didn’t have any friends she’d care.  

     The thud of the cabinet being closed was followed by the soft padding of the dancer’s bare feet leaving the common area.  I spied her fingers fluttering in a vain attempt to clear the air as she walked towards the elevators.  The acrid stench of rotting fruit seemed to become more noticeable by the minute.

     I pushed against the back of the chair to rise.  There really should have been some sort of chore chart around the complex.  The reek grew stronger as I approached the kitchen.  Someone needed to take out the trash.  I might as well make myself useful.

     I walked out to the dumpster behind the complex.  I could feel the hairs on my arms rise as the cool air made contact with my skin.  Dirt and pebbles stuck to the bottom of my bare feet.  The strings of the trash bag dug into my fingers.  The heavy load threatened to spill out of its confinement. 

     I noticed someone standing in the street.  Initially thinking they were smoking I avoided them quickly heaving the bag into the large container and briskly walking to the back door.  The figure drew closer but I pretended not to notice.

     I walked faster.  My rapid pace motivated by both the temperature and a fear of being accosted.  Then she addressed me and I knew I couldn't get out of an interaction.  My heart quickened its pace as I remembered my trip to the library, why hadn't I asked someone to come with me?

     The voice was surprisingly polite and although I couldn't see their face I could tell it had come from a woman.   As the dim light from the security lamp washed over her recognition registered.  The features that had been obscured by the dim light in the car became clear.  Almond shaped eyes contained pale green irises.  High cheek bones gently sloped into long thin cheeks.

     The woman introduced herself but I didn't catch her name.  Only the friendly tone of her voice lingered in my ears. She stood between me and the side door preventing any chance of avoiding her.  I willed myself to relax; to let her words and not the thumping of my heart be heard.

     There was a flash of silver and a photo ID as she explained.  The local districts crest proudly displayed below her name, Emily Autner.  It was an investigation concerning someone who had been seen in the dark district recently.  I knew it must have been rather serious, a particularly heinous offender, to bring the local police force into the hedonistic district.   

     Her friendly manner set me at ease.  I rarely left the complex so the odds of me having seen or heard anything about the man she was looking for were low.  I slowly relaxed as the fears ricocheting through my mind just moments before subsided.   This was a routine investigation about something I had nothing to do with.  No scary woman attacking me, no strange man stocking me.

     The woman pulled out a photo from the same pocket she had returned her identification to.  It was a woman’s image not a man’s.  The officer elaborated on the perpetrator she was looking for; known as Vera Jones. A tall thin ex-performer last noted to have had platinum blonde medium length hair.

      I wanted to oblige the amiable woman but the face staring back at me from the photograph was eerily familiar.  Those yellowish eyes I had seen twice before seemed almost neon in the lamp light.  The hair an incongruous short dark bob to the last time I had seen her.  Although those eyes were unmistakably the same and I wanted to leave their presence.

      My eyes grew wide with identification.  I wanted to run.  The investigator knew she had something though.  She maintained her friendly attitude but was a bit more forceful. "You know her don't you?” she kindly suggested.  I shook my head laterally to signify I did not.  It was the truth I didn't know who she was.  I at least didn’t remember knowing her.

     "You’ve seen her then? You know of her?” she persisted.  I knew I had to give the woman an answer in order to leave.  I searched for an answer to offer her.  I needed something that would satisfy the recognition she had noticed from me while removing myself from the investigation. 

     I grasped for a believable lie.  I found none.  My heart beat drowned out any probing words Detective Autner may have provided.  The palms of my hands now slick with perspiration.  The slight chill of the air combined with my nerves catalyzed a spasm of shaking.  From chattering teeth to knocking knees I knew only that I wanted to return to the safety of my room.  The fact that the strange woman I had once noticed was becoming a realized threat seemed unbelievable.

     My life was too dismal to deserve such excitement.  Or perhaps it was so wretched it deserved to be upended.  Conceivably this was the beginning of its end.   I couldn’t fabricate a lie nor could I divulge the truth so I resorted to what by body had been telling me to do since I noticed the detective’s figure leaning against the wall in the shadows. 

     I sprinted around her and the building to the front door.  I slammed my card against the reader to unlock it.  I didn’t slow my pace until I had thrown myself onto the bed.  The empty halls provided I wouldn’t be comforted by any curious peers this time.  I realized the woman had discerned I was withholding information.  Now she knew where to find me if she wanted to get her answers.  Yet for that night she didn’t pursue me any further.


The End

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