When people ask me about my writing, I always tell them about “The Ballerina.” It wasn’t my first story, but it was my favourite for a very long time. I have even thought about getting a tattoo of a cockroach. Getting my last tattoo really spread some doubt into my mind. It’s a girl with a crow body, and she is on my ribs. I didn’t cry, but only because the tattoo artist was attractive (strong silent type). The story is full of adjectives and the cockroach is quite pompous. What does that say about me? Am I pompous? Maybe. Or maybe I wanted to surprise the reader. Most of us don’t think of a cockroach as self-assured and well spoken. But oh man, this guy is topnotch.
On a side note, this is my one-hundredth post.
So here is “The Ballerina.”
I could not remember the moment I had awoken. The sun was piercing through the glass with a determination that I could not have mustered on the best of days. As I was stretching with the simple grace of a hippopotamus under a fervent sun, I noticed that I was the only one left. My fellows, oh my sorry brethren, had all been plucked from their anxious positions by the man’s clammy fingers. I had consoled my poor head with the fact that I could not save them, nevertheless, the curiosity of what had happened to my fellows consumed me. From where I sat, with my legs resting limply in the sand, I could only discern the edge of a metal table. The table seemed to wink with a secret so egregious as to cause a trembling deep within my bones. In my bemused heart I knew that that was where he took them.
Distracted, as I must admit, my mind often is, I moved onto the piece of white bread in the corner. As I ate I could feel the sugar fill my small body as a cave might fill during a long, and arduous rainfall. I decided to pace myself, as I did not want to give the man a reason to intrude. One might ask why someone such as myself might have such a robust grasp on logic. I would calmly reply to that unenlightened individual, that one must master many a skill while scuttling along the street and rifling through sewers. Alas, I must also admit that I have been expelled from my former life. No longer do I dodge the feet of mammoth figures, hide in the walls of the miserly unaware, or clamber across department store floors. One night, I had simply made the mistake of burrowing into the wrong dwelling.
I could tell it was evening, as the sun had sunk below the dried and flaking window frame. The sun no longer distorted my wretched existence, dusk had arrived, and so would the man. My antennas began to tremble as I heard the first heavy foot falls thump on the old wooden stairs. With the sound of the man reaching the soiled concrete floor, the wings on my back itched with great agitation. In my small yet resourceful mind, the man seemed to be cut down by an invisible force. Splayed on the ground, he gurgled, and foamed with a viciousness not unlike that of a severed rat. I knew this holy vision could not be the product of reality, for I had not led a life of miracles.
Rounding the corner, the man was just in view. His suspenders rested snuggly over his starched white shirt, and his dark grey suit had been sewn and ironed in all the right places. The man’s shoes were of unexpected lightness. They were of the softest leather, and had the most handsomely rounded tip. His hair was slicked back and parted at the side; his widow’s peek added an accidental sharpness that was not produced by eyes or cheekbone. His eyes seemed to stare back at my reproachful gaze with an air of innocence that my poor mind could not comprehend.
The man moved closer to where I resolutely hid. My breath came slowly, as if a woolen cloth had been forced down my dry throat. My poor heart, it beat as if against a cage. The whole of my body began to howl with the expectation of suffering. All this, and the man had not yet reached out for me. He crouched on his heels, with his eyes peering through the glass, as if his lashes could reach out to me and cradle me in their grasp. Before I could hide deeper under the garbage that speckled my prison, the man straightened, and rung his hands as if preparing for a precarious surgery. The man lifted the flap covering my container, and I knew his finely manicured hands were coming for my insignificant form.
As his forefinger and thumb planted themselves on either side of my body, I turned and clamped my jaw on his tender skin. In his startled state, the man dropped me, yet not a drop of blood oozed from his sore. With the ease of a heron scooping a fish out of the water, the man dug his hand underneath the sand, picking up the earth around me. In his cupped hand, momentary darkness surrounded me. What next I knew of my life was only a blur. I was placed onto a cold and loathsome table, where my reflection stared back with round and horrified eyes. The tip of a needle was placed in my side, and I could feel the weariness shake my poor soul. As I rested, with the man staring expectantly down at me, my eyes began to close, and my mind began to sink.
My dancer had finally fallen asleep. I slid my spectacles along the bridge of my nose with great excitement, as I knew that this time I would succeed. Despite my dependable hands, hesitation seemed to echo through the expansive room. It slipped its cunning tongue deep into the crevices of my ear, nearly convincing me to stop, and resume again tomorrow. As I looked down at the cockroach, I already knew it was too late. It was time to begin my wearisome task.
I fastened strings to both hind legs, letting them rest on the table. Next, I tied two strings to the bug’s forelegs. So as not to snap any limbs, I gingerly tied the cockroach’s forelegs onto each corner of the contraption. He hung there from a t-shaped support, with his bloated stomach facing me, lulling in his deep ocean of sleep. I then tied his hind legs to loops that had been screwed onto the table. I stood back to view what I had created. The bug was forced to stretch in a manner of beauty that was all my own. His mid legs dangled ineptly, yet I could not find the heart to snip them off.
The sigh that escaped my dry and cracked lips, was not of frustration but of exaltation. I had crawled over my difficult task, and now all that was left was success. I reached into the drawer next to the table, retrieving a box of luxurious satin. Lifting up the lid revealed a small rosy ballerina costume. Its glittery pink fabric shone out against the inky satin, even as my forefinger and thumb cushioned it in my soft grasp. I unzipped the back of the costume, and placed it up against the suspended cockroach. His forelegs were easily contained, as the arms of the costume unfastened. After buttoning the cockroach’s forelegs, I noticed that the body of the costume was not slimming along the form of my delicate dancer. Considering this grave fact, I decided I would have to snip his mid legs. The scissors held the bug’s limb with its shining jaws. My fingers came together, and the scissors determinately sliced through flesh. After conducting the procedure a second time, I bandaged his sides with thin gauze, for blood had begun to seep.
For the second time, I placed the costume on the cockroach. This time the fabric stretched elegantly along his sides, with the skirt ending halfway down the abdomen. My eyes enveloped him. I could catch his small movements, his drug induced spasms. You see my dear friend, all the others had expired, none had survived the deep and terrible sleep.
My foot splayed backward, with a need that I could not at first comprehend. I pressed play on the exhausted stereo, and Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor filled my incipient theatre. I began swaying the t-shaped support back and forth. Tears welled in my warmly watching eyes, as my dancer elongated to the crescendo. A dark stage was alight with the cockroach’s disconcerted pirouettes, and chaînés. His legs began to convulse as my hand quickened. The sound of oppressive violins coveted the very hairs that inhabited my ears. Gasps ascended into the rafters from a seething crowd. I stood, the director of the last unrepeatable act. My sweet dancer leapt into the air with great countenance, and the spotlight alighted on his small frame with a seemliness that was not unlike moonlight on water. He longed for the air, for the floating particles to enrapture him with their humanity. Oh but they could not cushion his weight, and he swiftly collided with the unnerved stage.
With a last sumptuous bow, the stage descended into shadow. My chest heaved as a fish might, as it is hooked by a fisherman and pulled from the water. The cockroach lulled in its intrepid state, for it was beginning to wake. I wiped the lingering sweat from my forehead, and set about preparing the second needle. I placed the needle on the syringe, and removed the solution from the neck of the ampule. After twisting off the cap and drawing out the liquid, I delicately tapped the syringe. As I held the device, moonlight emerging through the blinds caressed the tip of the needle with great solicitude. I stepped forward once again to delve deep within the bug. Yet before the tip could even kiss flesh, a vehicle could be heard ascending the driveway.
The breath caught in my lungs, and sweat claimed my trepidatious skin. They were not supposed to be home until well after nine o’clock. Had time eluded me so skillfully? It could be just another vehicle meandering through the neighborhood, possibly turning around in the driveway. I stood with my good ear tilted toward the ceiling. A key turned in the lock, and the latch slid back to allow my intruders. I placed the needle that I had been holding onto the table. I would not have time to hide him, my handsome dancer. My legs conveyed me out of the room, and to the foot of the stairs. “Harold!” “Dad?,” they called out to me from the kitchen. I climbed the stairs, preemptively searching for the keys in my pocket. A smile stretched across my unwilling face, a smile that did not sway my eyes.
The door closed, and the basement was once again muffled in darkness. The sounds of a family could be heard through the taciturn floorboards, while fingers of moonlight brushed the singular cockroach on his support. An observant eye could perceive the slight movements of his hind legs, for they twitched the ropes taut in their insistence. As the shadow that elongated from his form grew, so did his struggles for unattainable freedom. Throughout the night the man did not return to release the cockroach. Yet, as hard as the cockroach grappled, his pulchritudinous frame remained suspended for the man when the sun engulfed the room.