Hard to Escape Chapter 20

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Candle: Chapter 20's a shortie, so here's a full chapter!

I returned home in a daze. On the way, I received a call from Yin Li. In a voice that was just as tender as before, he told me somewhat helplessly that he was afraid he'd have to stay the night at S city. He couldn't come home in time.

"Be good, tomorrow morning I'll bring back S city's specialty pastries for you. Go to sleep earlier tonight." Grasping the phone, for an instant I felt a desire to throw up my arms in defeat. I only wanted to start hysterically crying into the phone like an unreasonable child. In their youth, even the most heaviest of thoughts could all be left behind after a round of tears.

But humans find most helpless is the fact that they must grow up, so I had no choice but to suppress those emotions like an adult would. Holding back the immense darkness in my heart, I told him, "Mhm, okay." Then I lifted my head back up to face alone that large, empty road, and that ice-cold house, and thought of what my next step should be like as a mature and steady adult.

I mechanically took those old news clippings that Frank gave me and read every word from beginning to end. Those papers were already aged yellow, and most were from the Arts and Culture sections of the mainstream French newspapers. The oldest was dated to a day eight years ago, it read, "Head of the top ballet troupe, leading master of ballet and greatest instructor of her time, Madame Taylor, has accepted a pupil for the first time in ten years: An Asian dancer, Alicia Tang". The article was accompanied by Madame Taylor's evaluation of her student, "She was born to be a dancer. I have the utmost confidence that one day, she will surpa.s.s me, leaving us all far behind."

The most recent news was from a year ago, regarding Alicia's disappearance. The paper added that she'd just finished signing a contract with the ballet troupe. A month later she was to formally become the troupe's lead dancer, the first foreigner to have this accomplishment.

I stared blankly at the woman in the paper, her head tilted elegantly to the side with a cold and lofty expression, feeling as if I was staring at some stranger who was completely unrelated to me.

Even with things like this, I couldn't remember anything.

The amount of news clippings in the package Frank gave me was very small, the majority was video recordings. The date of the recording was written on the back of each. I carelessly picked one out of the bunch.

From the DVD player, a free and unrestrained scene flowed out of the camera lens. It zoomed into close-up shot of a face that looked identical mine. The girl had her hair coiled on top of her head in a bun and she wore a black leotard. She turned and smiled faintly at the camera that was positioned close to her, and then sat down to put on a pair of pointe shoes.

She looked to be exactly as tall as me, but her whole body was slimmer than mine and her muscles were clearly defined. As I watched, she rose up to balance on the tip of her toes with a relaxed and effortless expression, then tested her shoes against the floor and stretched her legs. And then she began to jump and land, jump and land, then spin, spinning endlessly in the circle, with the only sound being that of her pointe shoes against the floor. In a room lined with mirrors and soaked in sunlight, she danced like a ray of light, her steps unhurried, full of beauty and strength. That lifted neck was snowy white, bent in a gentle arc full of grace, seeming just like a swan about to take off into the sky.

"Ballet isn't just a kind of dance, it's an att.i.tude towards life. Standing tiptoed on the ground, you can reach a height higher than you could before, and the gaze with which you look at the world should naturally also be higher. Being a ballet dancer, you must forever live in the highest manner that you can achieve. Our lives are prideful and n.o.ble.

"When spinning, don't look around at everything. Always remember, keep your eyes focused on a target. Only by maintaining your focus on something can you keep your center of gravity stable. Your desires and dreams all originate from this one target, which is ballet. No matter how alluring the outside world seems, you still can only have this one important target: to immerse yourself in your dance. You are the dance itself."

For seemingly no reason, this pa.s.sage of words appeared in my mind. It was as if they'd always been lying there dormant, but with a careless move, had now been awakened.

Her manner as n.o.ble as ever, the girl in the video player was still completing the steps of a cla.s.sical dance. Her gaze was neither weak nor gentle. Instead, it was mobile, gorgeous, and aloof. The scene was peaceful, with only the sound of her incessantly jumping and landing. Once in a while, she would pause to wipe away the perspiration on her body and the floor, to prevent accidentally slipping on her own sweat.

Then after she was finally exhausted by her dancing, she stopped and took off her dance shoes to reveal a pair of blistered feet riddled with scars and bruises. Then she began to stretch her toes.

My gaze was transfixed by this scene.

Those were a pair of feet that were pretty much identical to my own. When paired with the previous scene of beautiful dance steps, they could be said to be completely ugly in comparison. But the girl in the screen suddenly lifted her head to look at the camera. Without saying a single word, she stared straightforwardly in its lens with her pair of black eyes. I experienced a feeling of weightlessness, as if I'd jumped off a building. The face she'd raised up that was identical to mine, even though it didn't have any expression in particular, still seemed to give off a feeling of provocation as it stared at me, separated by the screen. The video ended there.

As if possessed, I dug out another recording.

This time the girl in the video seemed to have grown a bit older. There was makeup on her face and she no longer wore such simple practice clothes. Instead, she wore a tutu, looking as if she were about to go on stage for a performance. The skirt moved beautifully, with little white gems st.i.tched all over the tulle. The camera used a combination of both far-away and close-up lenses. She stood backstage behind the heavy curtain, lightly stretching her ankle with little movements that slashed faint shadows on the wooden floorboards. Her eyelashes were lowered and she seemed calm, elegant, and composed. Then with a turn of the camera, the music already beginning to play, she fluttered onto the center of the stage like a little b.u.t.terfly. Her steps were full of life, seeming solemn and dignified yet lithe and graceful.

Next was her pas seul, a solo dance by her. In this variation, her body flowed through the borders where light and darkness met on the stage.1 Staring at the person in screen, it was as if my own body was also there on that stage, using my own pair of arms and legs to recount a tale, with each movement following another, each step in the dance like the innermost hidden desire of my heart. My hopes, my pain and tears, my joyful laughter, these were all feelings that ballet had both bestowed upon me and s.n.a.t.c.hed away. And combined with the fierce, intense struggles that no one else could understand, at the end each and every one converged into a set of precise, beautiful, and wonderful dance steps.

1 “pas seul” and “variation” are ballet terms that are kinda interchangeable, they both are used to refer to a solo dance.

Like an idiot, like a madman, I watched the entire stack of recordings in reverse order, going from the most recent to the earliest dates. That face that was identical to mine also seemed to flow backwards in time, from the self-confidence of a young adult to the freshness of its youth, all the way until a time when it still had not grown out of its childish innocence.

In every recording, in every ballet dance, there existed a feeling that was strong enough to move the heart. That feeling was a strong desire on the verge of bursting; a hunger for ballet to become one's entire world, for ballet to become one's entire life, a wish like that. The strength of this wish was enough to make any random stranger feel moved.

Unlike other doc.u.mentaries, the majority of these recordings were silent. But there was no other recordings that could tell this much of a story. The ballet dancer used her own body to convey a tale, by tossing out all of her self-consciousness to broadcast her true self out to everyone. But the only thing I could see was that intense, unstoppable dream pouring out of her eyes.

My inner heart was like it'd been struck by an immense object, and in my head still rang echoes of Tchaikovsky's music. I sat on the sofa, wrapping both hands around my legs, with those pair of ugly feet unceasingly reminding me that what I just saw was my past.

She and I really were the same person.

I took out the earliest recording again, and putting it back in the DVD player, let it play another time.

The first time I'd watched it I'd only felt a sense of inner shock and a feeling like I was spying on something, like I was searching for my past self amongst dust-covered memories. It completely felt like I was peeping in on some unknown stranger's life. Furthermore, I had been instantly attracted to those beautiful dance movements. But the second time around, I even more seriously concentrated on it as I watched, feeling a pain that I had no way of alleviating.

As I watched the video, the more beautiful and the more challenging the dancer's movements, the more my heart chilled, like it was being plunged into the depths of an icy h.e.l.l. The dancer in the screen, whose dreams and adoration of ballet seemed to be packed into the tips of her toes, when compared to the me right now who, besides a feeling of enjoyment from watching it, felt no other love for ballet, created an extremely ironic contrast.

I could only feel a sense of total emptiness in my heart, as if I'd already died a long time ago. Those old dreams and plans I'd had for my life had now vanished without a trace from this body.

What was even more lamentable was that even the deep suffering and pain I'd wrung from my body for the sake of those dreams, until even my blood had flowed, had vanished. Because I could no longer remember anything. I'd forgotten those promises I'd made to myself about dance, I'd forgotten the pain my toes had endured, I'd forgotten my blood, sweat, and tears. And that glorious struggle had also forgotten me.

I wasn't me, I was only a roaming spirit that occasionally occupied this body.

Candle: Oof, I can sense that this story will maybe start using a bunch of ballet terms… send help ;_; (and maybe a Chinese-English ballet vocab glossary)

Hard to Escape Chapter 20

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Hard to Escape Chapter 20 summary

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