She wanted to dance. More than anything, that was what she wanted to do, and so she became the midnight dancer.
It wasn't that she had never taken classes, because she had, but genetic joint trouble had led to an early retirement from that particular career at the age of ten. At first, she felt no resentment: her teacher had not been the easiest to get on with and she found it hard to keep her optimism going after each class. Later, approaching fifteen and with a schedule far too tight to allow any prospect of resuming classes, she longed for the rigour of the exercises and the monotony of drills.
She spent her evenings watching videos, following each leap and turn with eager eyes, repeating it again and again until the image of a flying white figure was imprinted behind her eyes. And then every night, she danced.
At first it was small: stretches, exercises for strengthening muscles and joints. Then it was her old drills, like the plies and grands battements over which she had toiled for six years. She tried to correct her own posture from what she could remember, and rejoiced in the aches and pains that this routine brought on.
But still, this was only a workout, and the midnight sessions were hardly worth the risk of discovery that haunted every minute of them. This young dancer was determined not to skimp on the basics, but two months later she truly became the dancer that she had always intended to be.
Resplendent in shapeless pink pyjamas and her mother's eighties' patterned legwarmers, she circled the room, reaching for an invisible partner. There - the arabesque over which she had strained so much, in order that it might be perfect. And was that sock-muffled turn really a pirouette?
Each leap had the added thrill of the danger. She knew that if for one moment she forgot where she was and landed too heavily on the lino floor, she was done for. For this very reason, she was as light on her feet as any prima ballerina, and if her jumps were just that little bit lower, all to the better, for there was really no space in this little bedroom for such dazzling displays.
No one ever saw the midnight dancer perform, or at least, it was never proven. But such a caged spirit could never have been content with such a small practice space, and a year later the first rumours started to fly - tales of dance studios broken into by some unknown person, never caught on cameras or security tapes, who left behind no fingerprints and no clues save that night's black satin pointe shoe, worn, broken, useless.
And it was always said that if you crept into a dusty abandoned theatre at night, you might just see a pale figure in a deep purple tutu sweeping across the stage, arms outstretched as though she might just take off, who faded when you tried to look too hard.
It was also whispered that no one knew her name, or where she had come from. There was no evidence as to where she bought her shoes or clothes, and no one ever saw her coming or saw her leave. They knew only that she was, and forever would be, the Midnight Dancer.