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Pas de Deux
‘The world of Ballroom Dance is one of
formalised, gender-specific rôles carried out
by dominant male and subordinate female
partners. It is not a democracy.’
‘Something is going to happen . . . it had to happen . . . it was meant to happen . . .’ As she lay in a sickening delirium, those words ran through Deborah’s mind like a litany, one part of her mind pedantic and certain, the other indecisive, possessing the inertia of unbelief.
Such things didn’t worry her. Like her nightmares they only seemed bad at the time, in a detached sort of way.
But another assertion entirely chilled her to the marrow of her being.
‘Your life is no longer static . . . it has been riven from its moorings . . . left to drift . . .
. . .and you are changing . . .’
These words terrified her, because they were true. The fragile truce she had made within herself to get by from day to day was being eroded, swept away by invisible, unknowable forces. At home in her own world, she coped with such destructive inner pressures either by staying up for days until she was utterly exhausted, or else she would go out and get drunk, leaving herself not focused enough for such forces to take hold. In either case, these forces, too, would become insensate for a time; but only for a time. They would, gradually, inevitably, gather strength and focus once more, even as she did, and once again she would be driven to harm herself in order to cause their hold on her to loosen, as though her fragility of being were her best and only defence.
But now, in this world, the force that had dogged her life since childhood was becoming palpable, so real that she could almost taste it; she could feel its cloying presence permeating her being, as intimate and violating as rape.
Even as she began to think of it in those terms, or rather, as such images forced themselves upon her, intruded upon her thoughts, old memories became intermixed, as though this soul-destroying force that dogged her, and her old experiences, were one and the same. The memories, or impressions, began to become stronger, more physical, trying to increase their hold on her, and she began to struggle, terrified, desperate . . .
She felt a heavy weight on top of her, and hands, someone else’s, interfering with her, pinning her hands, pulling her legs apart- her own parents or demons; she couldn’t tell the difference-
Outraged, violated, she began screaming, struggling wildly to break free-
As though frightened off by her cries, the phantoms drew away; but she could still feel their presence; they merely waited for another opportunity . . .
By degrees she became aware that her room was in near darkness, though it was very bright outside. Evidently her room faced north. The breeze coming in through the window above her bed disturbed the light curtains; the shutters had been opened wide. The air bore a tang of early morning, and from outside, occasional gusts of wind hissed through nearby trees, a timeless, haunting sound that was vaguely reminiscent of the quiet roll of breakers upon some distant beach.
Laying quietly, drifting in a netherworld of semi-wakefulness, listening to the morning breeze, and watching the glitter of reflected sunshine mixed with the silhouettes of tree-branches dancing on the ceiling, she felt somewhat refreshed, memories of terror, betrayal, of demons and soul-pain, gradually receding. The instant she moved, however, a wave of nausea and dizziness caused the room to spin, drowning out all else with hideous vertigo, leaving her drenched in a cold sweat. Her left thigh ached dully, too. Reaching beneath the covers, gingerly checking her wound, she found that her leg was bandaged. Withdrawing her hand, she thought she could smell dried blood, though that might have been her imagination. Besides the bandage, she was completely naked.
She had been in a hospital only once, and that was when her favourite aunt was dying of some lingering form of internal cancer. Ever since then, she had equated hospitals with death and dying.
Theuli! With a shock she remembered . . .
‘Malina? Theuli? Is anyone there?’
An Elf woman dressed in white came from somewhere to her right . . . she was not about to move her head to see from where, and risk the hideous nausea again. She heard the sound of water being poured, as if in a bowl, or like receptacle.
‘Are you a nurse?’
Noting the Elf woman’s incomprehension, Deborah realised that she was speaking English. Switching to the Elf tongue, she said, ‘What is this place? Can you tell me if an Elf-woman named Theuli was brought here, or if anything has happened to my companions?’
For some reason, the Elf-woman’s features seemed indistinct, though friendly enough. Deborah found that her eyes ached when she tried to focus.
‘Don’t try to move,’ The Elf-woman drew off Deborah’s covers, much to her embarrassment, and began giving her a sponge-bath. As the nurse worked, she said, ‘Yes, I am a nurse, and this is a house of healing. Your friends are all well. Theuli sleeps in the next room and the two children are with her husband.’
Deborah began to feel an uncomfortable tugging at her leg, and realised the nurse was changing her dressing.
‘I am sorry. Did that cause you pain?’
Deborah could only grit her teeth and make a small grunt of assent.
Once done, as the nurse began changing her sheets, Deborah noticed an unpleasant stickiness. ‘Please lift yourself up at bit, Miss. Your monthly has begun; I’m afraid you’re stuck to the sheets.’
Deborah was so mortified that she covered her face with her hands and began to weep, quietly.
‘Come now!’ said the nurse brusquely in a no-nonsense tone, without pausing from her work, ‘you’ll feel much better when you’re clean and the sheets are changed. There is no reason for you to feel shame.’ As soon as the nurse was done washing her, she changed the linen and wrapped a long sheet around Deborah from her calves to her under-arms. As she draped a warm blanket over the young woman, the Elf said, ‘You may find this a bit restricting, but if you try to move your leg or do so in your sleep, you will find the experience very painful.’
Drifting off again, Deborah reflected that this was not like in the movies where people defied all pain (and logic) by ripping arrows out of their own bodies and kept on fighting . . .