‘Out Of Step.’
As the car pulled up outside his old dance studio a cold sweat had begun over the surface of his skin. Stomach clutched at the emptiness it contained. It had been one year since he’d last been here. One long year, lonely times. Richard didn’t want to get out of the car. Although he’d agreed to meet up with his old dance group the absence of them was the biggest scar he had, regardless of his legs.
‘Richard are you ready?’ Alice’s blue eyes staring unflinchingly at him from the front.
‘Would you like to wheel yourself up there? Or shall I push you? It’s a ramp so might be better to save your strength for when you’re in there. It’s been a while.’
He held her gaze ‘Ok let’s do it.’
The last time he came here he had legs, long legs that leapt, twirled, jumped, stretched, and well defined muscles that flexed. He had felt desired by women. He looked down at his legs, it was hard to believe those capabilities were still so absent.
The railings once intended for support up the path, now another testament to the neediness of the surrounding community. Dark red flakes of paint peeling off rusting metal. Weeds sprawling out of the open wounds of the concrete. A new addition to the wooden doors ‘slag’ in a jarring green; a saddening waste of paint.
Richard’s arm automatically moving up out of a long lost habit for the bell, he couldn’t reach it; Alice put her hand gently on his shoulder. Jumping as if he had been slapped, he looked around violently at her. Remembering the burn of unwanted sympathy; scanning her eyes for pity. Alice calmly reached out for the bell knowing the welcome they would receive once inside.
Alice had worked hard to get to Richard to this point. She wasn’t his only carer but she had been the only constant person in his life throughout this broken time. A tick in the clock. She had seen the light in Richards’s eyes any time he had talked about dancing, even when he was upset. He was still passionately angry that his studio time had been taken away from him.
It had only been the shock of thinking the group could be disbanding that had shaken Richard out of his self pity. Somehow he had become quite comfortable in his victim status. To think there wouldn’t be a group he could be left out of; no me and ‘them’ was like his identity being completely wiped out.
The familiar click of the lock, heavy wood eased open, smiling face shining. A halo of autumn sunlight surrounding her head, Mia his dance partner, they had been two pieces of the same puzzle. ‘Richard, I’ve missed you so much.’ Her brown eyes filling. ‘Alice it’s so good to put a face to the name. Come in, come in. We’ve got the hall to ourselves today, just us. I’m ready to start if you are.’
No words came to Richard. He rubbed his hands over his hair, the tight brown curls comforting him. Mia had listened to him, he had requested that they set up today as a dance session, he didn’t want to sit around talking about lost time and missed opportunities. He needed to come here and for this to be a safe space where he could suspend his defences which had become so polished and abrasive. Everything that had been buzzing around his mind stopped abruptly, as he heard the first notes. The tears that he held hidden inside evaporated as music flooded into his brain, pushing all thoughts firmly out. Utterly and completely. She had remembered his favourite classical track, Bach the cello suite. It could spin the pulped mess of a brain into a breath taking cobweb discovered in the morning sunrise. Order, completeness, peace, sunlight catching rainbows in each dew drop nestling on the web threads. Each thought held still and cherished for the complexity it contains. Still, paused, peaceful.
He stood in the hall he been in a hundred times before. An old black and white photo caught his eye of himself and Mia. Immediately he was transported back to a past performance in London, two years ago. In his mind he heard opening chords of the cello soaring through the night air. He saw the clothes clinging to his body, the sensuous freedom of heat rising from the audience, wanting, needing to see him. The pulse of energy from five hundred people, one thousand eyes searching the stage in the darkness. Jumping up and down to keep the adrenalin under control. He pictured Mia on stage spinning so fast, a blur of energy, a pulsating vortex to be drawn into.
In the seemingly awkward moment Mia pushed him into the centre of the hall. The peace Richard had felt was shattered, he was jolted into the present by the unexpected movement. His head buzzing loudly. ‘What the fuck are you doing? You can’t just push me around. I’m here as a dancer not as a client. I need to get out of this chair. I don’t belong here. It’s not supposed to be mine, it never was.’
Expecting this, Mia glanced at Alice, she nodded and said simply, ‘He’s strong now.’
They moved towards him, lifted him, placed him on the floor, shiny freshly cleaned.
The smell of wood polish, so solid, constant, reassuring. As if being held, cradled in his mothers arms. An urge to curl like a foetus and suck his thumb passed over him. The impulse was in his body before his mind. Knees jerked up. Breathing. Breathing. Richard sensed Mia had moved close and was lying next to him. Reverting to routine Mia talked them through a warm up visualisation.
‘Starting at your toes, breathe into your toes, feel them. Put your consciousness into your toes. Working your way up to your feet, breathe into your whole foot; breathe into your whole foot.’
Her voice created a melody sending notes to each body part she named.
This routine closer to Richards’s heart than waking up. His eyes closed, mind caressed his body, stress dripped away. He missed what was being said as he gently rocked from side to side, mentally travelling over each muscle, each limb.
Twisting his torso, swivelling hips he began to travel, slowly as if travelling through setting concrete. Mia joined him, she knelt gently next to his head. Mia opened his arms up like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, wings still damp, softly stretching. They looked into each others eyes for the first time since the accident, an instant flood of communication, no words needed. Mia got up to change the music.
Richard cleared his throat, ‘Alice, you can go now. Wait for me in the car please. Mia will get you when I’m ready.’
Looking at the floor and hiding her smile under her long blonde hair, Alice left them alone. Richard had made sure Alice’s shift finished at half past six. The next support worker, Louise was really practical but unable to travel any emotional depths to meet her employer in his angst.
The vibration of the first long chord resonated through the wooden floor and sent tremors over his body. Although the hall was run down they’d always prioritised the quality of the sound system, it was invigorating to have the music massage his body so intimately. How had she known this was the song he was obsessed with right now? Although they’d always been grabbed by the same pieces of music it was just the right kind of synchronicity he needed. Piano chords dropped out of the speakers and trotted repetitively across the floor and ran up his spine. The notes continued their path up his neck and gently pulled the corners of his mouth up into a smile. The earnest yet sensuous female voice spilt out in a rush, accompanying the searing guitar.
‘And the pain has started to slip away’
As he lay there he heard it, the private words that had travelled round and round his head creating tracks in his brain. He had listened repetitively, obsessively and most importantly privately on his mp3 player for the past three weeks.
‘Do you really want to know how I was dancing on the floor?’
His eyes shut he could smell Mia’s perfume a musky spicy smell combined with her sweat. He knew she had been dancing before he got there.
‘I was feeling lonely, feeling blue,
Feeling like I needed you.’
She was there creating deep pressure on the length of his body. She was on top of him, her back on his chest.
‘And the pain has started to slip away’
‘Can you roll over?’ She whispered.
‘I think so, yes.’
‘Roll with me so I can move with you on my back.’
A strong clear beat now gave him strength, with the breathless rise of the singer they turned together at exactly the same time. He trusted her implicitly. He knew if anyone could carry him she could. It wasn’t simply about strength; Mia possessed incredible sensitivity in her body. It was what drew him to her as a performer when they first met. Each individual body part could dance on its own; he could watch her hand dance or her arm as it created its own repertoire.
As she crawled she used her whole spine to correct the balance he was lacking. She matched his breathing until Richard felt himself melt into her physicality, he no longer felt like a separate entity. He knew that was her intention. He felt as if he was moving on his own, he embraced her around her stomach. Gentle strumming from the guitar signalled the end of the song. Mia was breathing deeply, she’d been working hard carrying him on her back, he’d lost track of the time.’
‘Do you want to go back to the floor?’
Mia eased herself so she was lying flat face down.
‘Ok, Richard I’m going to turn slowly to the left, you are going to land on the floor heavy so brace yourself.’
‘Yes, I’ve got it. Ready.’ He felt a flush of shame if she had talked him through the movement when he first arrived he knew he would have shut her out thinking she was ignorant. He’d shut so many people out.
‘I’m sorry Mia.’
She sat up staring at him in the sudden silence. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘I just didn’t think you needed to be involved.’
She leant forward and stroked his shoulder; ‘I’ve missed you. Let’s focus on what we can do now.
‘I didn’t want you risking your career by taking time out too. I don’t understand what’s been happening. I thought we secured funding for two more years.’
‘Yes if we met the target audience. It was an ambitious project. We said we’d have contact with one thousand five hundred people through workshops alone. I couldn’t do that without you. You are highly thought of in our world. The dance world. You have a lot of influence. Anyway we haven’t met numbers, therefore the contract is broken.’
‘That’s utterly ridiculous, how can you stand for that?’
She laughed ‘Look Richard you haven’t been around. It’s been tough for you. I’ve missed you, the group have missed you. But do not tell me that I haven’t been trying. You haven’t been available to talk to.’
‘Well I’m back now.’
‘Seriously, You think we can pull it of? I was so hoping you would. There are some great inclusive dance companies out there; do you remember when we saw ‘Candoco’? They blew me away.’
‘We are not going to become an inclusive dance company Mia. We are going to continue being us. ‘Flight’. That’s who we are right? I don’t want to go on some crusade, I will have to take things at my own pace but I’m in. That’s it. Can you call Alice in I need to get back into that.’ He pointed to the chair in the corner.
He watched her as she pulled her long black hair into a tight bun at the back of her head. When she stood he felt her disappointment as she shut the door behind her. He knew they would be talking about him but that was ok. He would have to get used to that. He had always been fond of Mia but he had never wanted to have a relationship with her. Their chemistry was useful in performance and he planned for it to continue that way. He looked around and saw again the faded paintings; it was difficult to distinguish figures under the dusty glass. A rusted lock on the back door made it impossible to get out for fresh air. Richard instinctively took a deep breath in and was inspired to push for more. Wanting his old life back, he was ready for a fight.