Off Balance (An Excerpt)
Spring Season 1997
On Saturday night Alice Willoughby’s world, her glittering soloist’s career, came apart with a single misstep executed in front of 2000 spectators at San Francisco’s California Civic Theater. Rendered careless by fatigue, she’d prepped wrong and the next step into an arabesque en pointe proved to be her last. A curious pop sounded, her knee gave out and she fell to the black, slip-resistant marley floor. She heaved herself to sitting, adrenaline surging through her, stunned by the realization that she couldn’t get up any further. Her left knee simply wouldn’t cooperate. The pain was like an explosion, obscuring everything but the mantra drummed into her after twenty years of ballet.
The show must go on.
Without breaking character.
Ben, her partner that night, immediately caught on to the situation. He made his way over to her, via a series of grand-jeté leaps to give the illusion that they were still dancing, that her fall had merely been part of the ballet.
Time slowed to a psychotropic-hued crawl. She seemed to be watching herself, her brain whirring uselessly, her limbs dumbly splayed out. Her gaze swung to the right, past the blazing stage lights, where she saw the other dancers now crowding the wings, jaws slack in horror. April, the ballet mistress, was standing in the middle wing, crying out, “She’s down! She’s not getting up!”
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Dirty Little Secrets (Doublestop Magazine, November 2007)
The first time Montserrat saw David St. Pierre was in September of 1987, in London, where they’d both recently commenced their studies at the Royal Academy of Music. He’d just stepped out of the Academy’s front double doors onto the sidewalk of Marylebone Road. She saw him standing there in the golden afternoon light—a slim, handsome American who’d already drawn international attention on the violin, following his third-place win in the Paganini Competition the previous year. For a moment it seemed as if the world around them paused before adjusting its course to orbit around him instead of the sun.
When Montserrat saw him in Matthew Nakamura’s San Francisco apartment, twelve years later, so unchanged, it took her back so viscerally, she stumbled. Which was fitting, given that it had been her reaction on Marylebone Road, as well. She’d had to swing her arms wildly to correct her balance, eliciting snickers from the students around her. “That stupid rug,” Matthew said now, reaching out a steadying hand, “it curls up at the edge and keeps catching on people’s shoes. I’m so sorry.”
Monday, October 15, 2007
Black Ivory Soul (Unbound Press, Fall 2006)
The first thing I noticed was the AK-47, cradled in the arms of the Gabonese military checkpoint guard. That, and the fact that the man looked angry. He sprang to attention as our dust-caked van rolled to a stop, clutching the rifle close, arms at rigid angles. A steel bar, supported by two rusting oil drums, stretched across the unpaved road, preventing us from passing without his permission. Since my arrival in Gabon forty-eight hours prior, I’d discovered military checkpoints were common in Africa. At the first one, outside the Gabonese capital of Libreville, the guard had waved us through without rising from his seat. At the second, a soldier was sleeping in a chair tipped against a cinder-block building. Only the noise of our honking had awakened him. But this third official took his job seriously.
Inside the Peace Corps van, I glanced around to see if anyone else noticed the danger we were in. No one was looking. Animated chatter filled the overheated van. “Um, excuse me?” I called out over the din, my voice abnormally high. “Someone with a big gun is heading toward us.” This elicited a few raised heads. The two second-year Volunteers in the van glanced through the smudged window before returning to their conversations. Carmen, an education trainee like myself, leaned over me to peer out.
“Whoa—check it out.” Her fascination shouldn’t have surprised me. Although she was tiny and pink-cheeked, her multiple piercings, spiky hair, heavy eyeliner and combat boots probably saved her from ever being referred to as cute. Back home, I would have given her a wide berth. Here, she’d become my close friend. Together we watched the soldier draw closer. His eyes glowed with a fanatic’s fervor, as if he were drunk on his own power. Or maybe just drunk. The authorities here, I was learning, bore little resemblance to the clean-cut police officers back in Omaha who patrolled the suburban neighborhoods, stopping me in my dented Ford Pinto to inquire whether I was aware of how...
The Inheritance (Espresso Fiction, 2006)
Opal chanced upon the violin the day she went searching in the attic for her husband Stan’s gun. The attic was awash in clutter. She waded through it all, stubbing her toe on the Christmas tree stand and knocking over a stack of boxes. And in the end, no gun in sight. She sighed and picked up the violin case instead.
She’d inherited the violin—a Stradivarius, a real Stradivarius, according to the stained, yellowing label inside—six months earlier, after Aunt Julia had died. Stan had gleefully speculated about its worth, so she’d taken it to a local violin shop, a dusty little basement store that doubled as a shoe repair. The room was dim and quiet, the smell of leather, polish and varnish unfamiliar but not unpleasant. The violin-maker, or luthier, as his business card read, was a tiny, bent man with the hint of a foreign accent. He appraised the violin, scratching notes on a pad of paper before picking up the violin again and turning it this way and that. Fifteen minutes later, he gave her the news. Made in Europe, yes, but the “Antonius Stradivarius, Cremonensis Faciebat Anno 1719” label affixed inside did not mean, as she and Stan been hoping, that Aunt Julia had left her a Stradivarius.