By Veronica Randolph Batterson
The woman danced. She clutched the baby to her breast and let the sound of the music carry her feet across the room.
Gracefully she moved and as light as a feather, her toes touched the floor for a split second before the next step continued the motion. Hips swaying, she arched her back, feeling the song in her heart as it traveled through her body. Her movements were effortless and sensual. Those who watched were entranced, unable to take their eyes from her form.
It had been her life. Dance. The dream, the classes, auditions and rehearsals. The hard work paid off and she’d performed across the finest stages in New York and Europe. Everyone came to see her.
“Yes, they all came to see,” she whispered.
Pivoting sharply, the woman shifted the child to one arm while grasping the folds of her skirt with the opposite hand. The silk, organza and tulle made soft swooshing sounds as the fabric brushed against her calves. She danced with abandon, eyes closed as if in a trance, never loosening her hold on the baby.
Paris had been her favorite, she remembered. The city was alive with people; bistros and outdoor cafés bustled with business and artists flocked to the area to work. It was the one place she fit in and it was the city in which he’d found her.
That memory caused her to stumble, shaking her from the trance and causing her to grip the child protectively. She refused to remember, focusing on her movements to help erase all thoughts from her mind. It was the only way. But her thoughts kept interrupting. It was an annoyance that wouldn’t allow her any solitude.
“What is wrong with her? Do you think she’s ill?” the voice whispered. Her mind recalled the questions but it seemed she was just hearing them for the first time. Just dance, she insisted, pushing the voices from her head.
But her movements became erratic. No longer fluid and graceful, the woman‘s motions were shaky and she faltered, all confidence broken. Her feet felt heavy and she was suddenly clumsy. Memories did that to her and she became frustrated. He had no right creeping into her brain again. She was safe now, they told her. Just not safe from those horrid thoughts.
“Poor woman,” the voice said in English.
“Oui. La folie,” came the French response.
Madness. She spoke enough French to recognize what they meant. They thought her insane. Sometimes she wondered it herself. At other times, her thoughts were clear and she could rationalize and process her life and where it had led her. It was in those times that she knew he had been responsible for her escape into the folds of lunacy.
She no longer heard the music. Slowly opening her eyes, reality returned in a rush, causing her to catch her breath at the ugliness. Looking down, her baby stared back with blank button eyes, its vinyl arms extended in a frozen form. Her feet were bare and dirty, the cotton of her dress hung limply on her thin body. She touched her face and felt the swollen jaw. If she had a mirror, her reflection would reveal a cut lip and black eye and years of faded bruises that never completely healed, instead marking her face with the shame she’d endured.
The sting of a tear fell on her injured lip. A fist to her face and a stillborn child were images that played through her head like a movie reel on repeat. Black and white, over and over. She pressed her hands to her temples and willed it to stop, but other thoughts took over, filling her mind with sadness. Her memories were real now, lucid.
She had met him in New York, a rich man with powerful connections. She was young and naïve, looking for that big break as a dancer, but struggling to make ends meet. He came in for coffee where she worked. Before she knew it, he was wooing her with money, expensive gifts and promises of introductions to famous Broadway producers. She no longer had to worry about rent or food. He moved her into her own apartment and, for a while, she was dazzled by his charm and attention. But things began to change after a few months. He started coming up with excuses when he couldn’t see her. And those promises of business introductions never materialized.
Finding herself alone one evening, she called a friend and they met for drinks. When she came home, he’d been waiting for her, angry. That was the first time he ever hit her and if she’d had the courage, it would’ve been the only time. Instead, she stayed. Months turned to years and all she did was get older. The control and abuse extinguished her ambition and will to live, until she discovered she was pregnant. Knowing if she stayed, the child could be harmed, she fled to France with the help of a friend.
She lived in Paris for six months, slowly looking at life a little more brightly, until she saw him one day, waiting for her outside her little flat. There was no time to scream, as he grabbed her and barely waited until they were inside before the beatings started. An intervening neighbor saved her life. He fled before authorities could get there.
Her child did not survive. The despair made her unable to cope and she retreated into the fantasies her mind provided her. There, she danced and her baby lived. It was a safe place for her to be. It was happy.
She clutched the doll tightly. Her head hurt and she wished the memories would stop. If she started screaming, the nurses would give her a sedative to calm her. But she’d learned that while drugs removed the pain, they also prevented the descent to her other world. She didn’t like the soulless state those narcotics put her in.
Closing her eyes, she thought she heard music. Yes, there it was. Returning to her like a long lost friend. She embraced it and gave in to it, relaxing as she moved. Once again mother and dancer; once again on the finest stages where everyone came to see.
©Veronica Randolph Batterson