Stage of Life

The lights shine brightly from above, but having been here many times before, I do not cringe, but open my eyes wider to their glaring intensity. Finally, I am home. It has been some time since I have been here, but the pain that had overshadowed all else is gone and I am free to be myself again. Smiling, I look out into the waiting audience, their faces faintly blurred with the vagueness of memory. They are comfortable in their velvet-clad seats and are dressed to perfection for the performance that will bring light to a lifetime.

Above me, an ornate ceiling rises into the dark night. Figures of cherubs and scantily clad male statuettes stare down at the dancers who perform nightly. They are the guardians of the theatre and we respect them as we do each other. The dress circle is defined by balustrades and decorative wood-carved scrolls, separating the wealthiest from the merely wealthy.

Peering over the edge of the stage, I watch as the various musicians take their places in the orchestra pit. The lithe fingers of the pianist strum a single chord and waits as the rest echo back. They lie hidden, these creatures of the night, taking no credit for the performance that goes on above their heads. The conductor takes his place, a small man with balding grey hair wearing the traditional coat tails. His baton is thin and light, a parody of the man who wields it, and he waves it experimentally. He will listen intently to each move made knowing to slow if one is tiring or excel if one is desperately longing for more. Their attention to detail is as particular as those whom the audience watch so intently, searching for a single mistake. They are rarely rewarded for their efforts.

Tonight, the star, the prima ballerina absolute, is not I, nor will it ever be, but rather a friend, Kimberly, whose death at just sixteen changed the way I see and believe in the world. Her dark brown hair is pulled back into a tight bun that accentuates her long dancers neck and her ice blue eyes stare unseeingly into the audience – emphasised by thick black eyeliner, curled into ‘cat’s tails’ on her temples. The disease that killed her is nowhere to be seen, the catheter that let her live for just a small amount of time, gone without leaving a scar. Her grace-filled dancers body is incased in pale stockings and a magnificent tutu of pure white with beads of crystal diamantes that shine in the eyes of the audience, making them blink in awe of her beauty.

She dancers with perfection attainable only by the immortal. I reach out to touch her, just to know she is real, but she dancers out of my reach and into the arms of her partner, the principal male. She smiles at him, a dark haired youth whom she lusted for just months before her death. It was his death that meant her end. He could not handle the pain that she withstood and took his own life, despite her protests. She gave up fighting because of him. I could not forgive or forget so easily.

A male soloist moves to take hold of her, throwing her effortlessly into the air waiting for the slight pause that indicates a complete defiance of gravity, the moment that every dancer dreams of. She lands and he grasps her firmly, his face indistinct and slightly blurred at the edges before I remember his name. Daniel. A father figure for a child who lacked one. A friendly face amidst a crowd of the unfamiliar. His face lacks the lines of old age, the skin that used to sag beneath his eyes is pulled taut by some unnatural means. He smiles gently at Kim before she is taken by her love.

The music swirls around me as I wander the smooth stage, caressing the heavy velvet curtain that lies open at one side. It’s firm presence reassures as it used to when I was a child, hiding in its thick folds. Suddenly, he appears in the wings, as if by just thinking of him, he was somehow propelled to my side. James, a nice solid name, but we called him Jimmy. It was more fitting somehow. He smiles broadly as he watches them dance and runs a hand through hair so dark as to be almost black. I had loved this man. As much as a seventeen year old could love anyone. But even at that age, I knew what love could do. Slowly his image blurred and faded into the darkness as I let him go, a love lost was an important lesson after all.

The faces of the corps de ballet are glazed over, frozen in a single expression of acknowledgement. Some I recognise; a girl I met in hospital whose name I can’t remember, a teacher who showed me the importance of release, a young boy who I watched die on a football field as his heart stopped beating its relentless drum. They are all there, friends I had forgotten, family who I had tried desperately to forget. They were all there, and I wasn’t afraid.

In the center of the stage, a girl is surrounded by those male corps members who are beginning to fade into the intricately painted backdrop. She demands their attention relentlessly and they are more than willing to give it. Her white blonde hair blows in ribbons about her heart-shaped face, punctuated by huge bright blue eyes. She wears a crimson dress, a colour fitting to her seeping sensuality. As she dances, all eyes follow her and she deserves them. I watch from the wings, smiling slightly, knowing that she knows precisely the affect she has on these young men. For a moment I thought that she grinned back, but no.

I approach a girl who is sitting on the edge of the stage, long wand-like legs dangling into the orchestra pit below. As I near her she turns her head slightly and recognising her profile I gasp in silent surprise; she has not been here before. I had all but forgotten this dark haired girl. We had lived as sisters in our youth and for a short time she had been family. She had resented the fact that I danced; jealous of the release that was just out of her reach and in the end she had left. I was not unhappy to see her here; she seemed to belong, on the edge of a world that was unknown to her.

When I look up from her face, the world that I found so much comfort in was fading slowly. I take my place, sitting cross-legged in the middle of it all and watch, knowing that I could return if the need was great enough.

Stage of Life


East Maitland, Australia

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