"What?" Maria stared at Anna, sure that this had to be some sort of sick joke. There was no way the other girl could just say that straight out, without tears or thinking about it, not when she'd only met Maria a few days ago. Could she really be telling the truth? It wasn't something people normally shared.
"She killed herself. She was - she would have been - a great dancer. Everyone said she had potential, but she wanted more than that. She wanted to be the best and it killed her." Anna bit her lip and looked at the floor. "I'm not supposed to talk about it, in case people think it's odd that I still want to dance. But I dance for her, you see. I dance in her memory ... in her place, almost."
"Tell me, please." Maria felt like she was pressing for information, but she tried to make her voice as gentle as possible. In her experience, things were easier to bear if somebody else knew. "Tell me what happened. I promise I won't judge you."
Anna smiled up at her. Now she saw that there really were tears in her eyes. "I know you wouldn't judge me. I think it's silly, that I can't talk about it. It seems like we're all trying to forget her because none of us ever say anything about her, but that's not true. It's just that it's hard." She paused, took a deep breath, and began.
"My sister's name was Isobel, and she started dancing when she was four years old. By the time she was ten she was very accomplished; her pointe work, by the time she reached twelve, was fantastic. Everybody said that she could have been a professional and although we didn't encourage her, we all thought it was true too. I was four years younger than her.
"When she was fourteen, and I was ten, we were both dancing. Suddenly, my teacher asked me to join her private class, because she thought it would be beneficial. She said that I, too, had the talent. I could have been great too. Not as good as Isobel, but better than the others in the school. My sister didn't like that. She felt I was stealing her spot in the limelight and she was jealous. She said I should stop dancing or she'd tell Mum that I was threatening her...
"Of course I told her she was being stupid, and said I would not stop dancing for her or for anybody else. But I was afraid, secretly, as she was always terrifying, my sister. She had this look in her eyes when she was angry that would have reduced a grown man to tears!
"So she was fourteen. One day she was asked to be in a dance show, but when she went to audition they said that she was not good enough and she did not know enough dance. She told them she would learn. They said there was no time. But every day she would work and work and work, from six in the morning until ten o'clock at night, and she never ate anything until after she had finished. She got so thin - every one of her ribs could be seen, I swear, and she was far thinner than me, though I was so much shorter.
"When she went back, they said that her technique was fantastic but she was too thin. In grief she begged them to let her have the part - said that it would kill her not to dance it. But it was the part that killed her.
"She was angry, you see, because she collapsed after a week from lack of food and they said that the understudy must go on. She did not want that to happen, and she went on stage although she was so weak. When they told her to leave she did - but not in the way that they thought.
"You must remember, Maria, that my sister was only fifteen years old now. But she went out onto the balcony, where you could see the whole city. She said she was practicing - held onto the railing and did an arabesque on pointe, and pirouetted across ... and then, without a sound, without a scream, she fell."