Elida had the perfect response prepared for this moment, replayed it in her mind so often that she thought it would come automatically; but now that it's here, she's at a loss.  Roseanne's skin is cold, rough, and as the sting from the blow works its way from Elida’s earlobe to lips, temple to chin, she imagines the hand must share a similar sensation.  When the same hand, closed-fist, comes hurling toward her again she ducks just in time. Roseanne’s body fumbles forward with the momentum of her own anger, and she falls onto her knee—the bad one—as Elida walks out the front door to the soundtrack of a high, childlike wail.

      Although she wears a heavy sweater with sleeves long enough to cover her hands, it is loosely knit and when the wind blows, it bites at the girl's skin.  Elida thinks about going back, or maybe she'll go past the bus stop after all, take a left at the bottom of the hill and hole up in the library like she usually does; surround herself with stacks of books, just like the other regulars. Only Elida's titles of choice are not medical books, like the others, but self-improvement or spiritual books: new-agey, pastel colored paperbacks that provide the same advice in a myriad of ways.  She thinks about an old, yellowing book she read just last week. It claimed that breath control is a cure-all for any mental or physical ailment.  This book praised the value of meditation techniques, and one such technique was called walking meditation—a technique in which a person moves purposefully, taking slow, careful steps, synchronous with the rhythm of his or her breathing.

        “Hold your core tight and feel your balance there," her mother used to say, poking her daughter in the stomach. "Once you find it, you can spin forever."

      The sky is dark with fat snow-filled clouds that look as though they will never move.  Slow steps allow her anger to fall to the ground like the soft snow flakes that dot the sky. Elida feels as though she's eight years old again, in her mother's ballet class. Roseanne used to wear her dark hair in a French twist, clap her hands, and a class of small dancers would lift to the balls of their feet.  Only Elida would have trouble balancing.

      It was during a recital that Roseanne’s dancing career ended with a collapse on-stage; her daughter watched in horror from the front row as her mother’s lanky body folded in on itself and the sound of her anguish filled the room.  The sound she'd left behind.

      "About face," Roseanne would instruct, with a clap, and the entire group of kids in their pink leotards and tights would spin to face the back of the mirror-lined room.

      Elida places a shoulder under Roseanne’s heavy arm, lifts her up, smothers her with apologies.  She listens as Roseanne cries, prepares toast with honey, gin and tonic.  She watches a reality TV show, and joins her mother in laughter when a girl in a skimpy dress says something vulgar but scripted about her roommate.  Roseanne’s breath becomes slower as she sinks into a coma-like slumber.  If this were a movie the protagonist would stand over her mother and there would be a soundtrack, ominous or hopeful.  Elida glances back at a sickened, bloated body, one that no longer belongs to her mother.

      She closes the door behind her; this time, she leaves bundled in a warm, pillow collared down coat, and she knows exactly when the bus will be arriving at the bottom of the snowy hill.

Jen Knox teaches Creative Writing at San Antonio College and works as a Fiction Editor at Our Stories.  Her short fiction and nonfiction has been published in Flashquake, Slow Trains, Short Story America, SLAB, Superstition Review and  elsewhere.  Jen's first book, Musical Chairs, was released in October, 2009 by ATTM Press.

Years ago, I was a chunky, uncoordinated girl in ballet class, wondering why I couldn't find a way to balance on my toes without toppling over. My instructor was hardcore, a graceful and beautiful woman. She'd clap in my ear and ask me why I wasn't able to slow down and find my center like the rest of the class.  It seemed that the harder I tried to appease her, the more often I landed on my ass.  We were at an impasse, and I realized that I was no ballerina.

This scene from my life was the seed.  The truth is, I rarely set out to write fiction.  In this case, I wanted to write an essay on balance, to examine meditation, healing techniques and my personal experiences, including that of a failed dancer; but as I began jotting notes for my essay, these two characters emerged, and I began to wonder how I might exemplify a relationship between two women, one who was losing balance just as the other was beginning to find it.     



Copyright 2009