Tara Laskowski is a senior editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. Nice editors at publications such as Barrelhouse, Mid-American Review and PANK Magazine have recently published stuff she’s written. Tara lives in reality in Northern Virginia and online at taralaskowski.com.
For five months now, Charles has been watching the dancing girl in the apartment across the street. He never uses binoculars. He imagines the details he cannot see or hear—her red toes straining for balance and blood; the sweat gathering on her forehead; the light classical music she pirouettes to, on repeat eight times.
There are details Charles can see without binoculars. She is fat. Her legs like keg barrels at the thighs, tapering slightly to her thick ankles and pudgy feet. Her upper arms swaying back and forth as she stretches, swinging her hands above her red, strained face. She wears gym shorts and baggy T-shirts. When she jumps, the lamp on her nightstand shakes.
He tries to get Melanie to watch. He says, just take a look, here, Mel, it’s the same thing every night. Some kind of routine she’s doing, but she never gets it right.
The ballerina pulls her long hair back in a bun, but it snakes out, and she breaks form as she shoves it angrily behind her ear.
Melanie just shrugs, if she responds. She picks at her sweater, unraveling it at the sleeve. She says, No one ever gets anything right.
There was a time when they would’ve sat together in the dark and watched. Melanie would’ve filled her drink with ice and then teased him about spying on other people, running her fingers up his neck until he shivered. He would’ve made up stories about the woman while Melanie laughed. How long since he’s heard her laugh.
Not that he wants to laugh at the ballerina. She presses her stumpy arms toward the ceiling, reaching, twisting. It is a move that on a real ballerina would look graceful, but on her looks strained and silly. He longs to talk to her. He thinks of her as his daughter.
Each night she gets home from her office, Melanie takes off her shoes. She sits down on the carpet and wiggles her toes in the shag. She says If only we lived near a beach. He cooks dinner and they eat in near silence. Then she gets up, walks into their bedroom and closes the door. He does not ask about the nursery, what he should do. He is not sure if he should get rid of all the blue toys and books and blankets, or if it is worse to leave them.
Sometimes he wants to find the girl’s apartment, enter the room she is dancing in and hold her in his arms. He wants to say, keep going, you can do it. He wants to hand her a bowl of cold, cold grapes and bandage her bleeding feet.
Sometimes he wants to scream, you will never be a ballerina! He wants everyone, all the couples and widows and teenagers and drug addicts and businessmen and bus drivers and teachers and priests and animal lovers, to hear him.
When the ballerina finishes each night she stretches, bending over to touch her knees, leaning to one side to stretch her sides. This is when Charles stops watching. This is when, feeling mildly sick, he closes his blinds and turns on the lights. This is when he taps lightly on the door, opens it, lies down next to Melanie on the bed, pressing his face into her hair, and breathes in deep.