In spite of everything they told
themselves, from the day of her funeral to their final hours of old age, she
never would have been a ballerina. Her life wouldnt have worked out
like that. It wasnt who she was.
Its true, there was
grace in those limbs, such elegant grace. When she danced she was like
blossom on the breeze. Twenty-five kilos going on weightless. And
so delicate in her motion. Every gesture soft as silk.
Of all the bodies to be
smashed by a truck.
But what they
couldnt possibly have known is that this body was destroyed in its
absolute prime, its season of greatest beauty. Puberty would have been
unkind, you see, hardening her frame, thickening its movement. Caged its
fluidity. No more would those muscles melt into music.
that shed always loved to dance, and this love would not have left
her. A thousand times she dreamed of dancing the ballet with poise and
abandon. But she never could have made it. She lacked the
character, the blinkered discipline required for someone to break their body
like that and turn it into art. She was just too happy to dominate
herself, too sunny and laid back and in love with her friends. She never
wouldve sacrificed the pleasures of her teenage years.
shed lived to see those years she would have rebelled soon enough.
Recoiled at the mean constant pressure, at her mothers crazed dream
of realising her own failed dream, and at her fathers dumb consent.
She would have broken with their wishes sooner or later. One day the
first crack would have appeared a drag on a cigarette, maybe, or a
mouthful of cider or a kiss with a boy and the whole facade would have
come crashing down. Thered have been more cigarettes and a lot more
cider, then vodka, and wine; in time thered have been joints and pills,
perhaps cocaine; and thered have always been boys, a constant plague of
boys throughout her teenage years, some treating her well, but most misusing
her. Nothing too unlike any other teenage rebel, all told, but her
parents upset and admonishment and rage would have seethed and swollen,
it would have festered until it became a rearing, unsleeping despair that would
have antagonised her wildness still further. And by the time shed
have reconciled with her folks, years later, the dream of the ballet would have
long been forgotten. All shed retain from those teenage years would
be a memory of failure and self-loathing that would haunt her for the rest of
But of course she died
before any of this played out, killed one sunny morning on the way to school by
an exhausted man driving a truck. Gone like that. Ten years
Nothing can make
sense of how she died, of course, but people cant live with
nothing. They need something to go on with. Some kind of story to
tell. At her funeral they were already groping for one, her relatives and
friends and teachers. They ate buffet food and drank tea and looked at
each other out of sore eyes and hoped that something would come and catch their
falling souls. And though there were no words to explain her death, they
found they could at least dream on about the life she might have had, about
where she might have studied and where she might have lived.
As they talked
over ham and cheese sandwiches and slices of quiche, their speculation over
what might have been gradually condensed into a communal vision of what
would have been. The tale they were telling reverberated between
them with growing conviction, hardening until at last it became a kind of
truth, a description of who she really was. So that, in a certain sense,
she was reborn on that day of her burial, reborn into a narrow perfection she
could never have embodied in waking life.
She would have been a
ballerina, you see, thats what they all concluded that day of her funeral
and then repeated to themselves again and again throughout the years.
In time it even
came to console her parents. Its what they always wanted, after
all, what theyd dreamed of, though on the day of the funeral her they
werent at all ready for this talk. The abyss was too deep.
They couldnt bear to take their eyes off the girl theyd kissed
goodbye only a few mornings earlier. As if she wouldnt really be
gone so long as they didnt forget a single detail about her. It was
too soon to think about the future shed lost.
however, that shattering, faithful image of their little girl became subsumed
by something they could actually live with. In those first weeks and
months after her death, months of raw loss, a fragment of time would come
rushing back to them, resurrecting her before their eyes as if from nowhere,
and with tears theyd recall some glad moment of her life.
Thats when they began to say it to themselves, as the moment receded and
they remembered she was dead. She wouldve been a ballerina.
And for years
afterwards, when her mother or father were alone, and theyd find
themselves sobbing without provocation, suddenly weeping at the sink or on the
toilet or in the shower, theyd think about the ballerina she would have
been. Theyd daydream about it going home on the bus.
And above all it
was something they said when they were all together, her parents and all of her
family and friends. They invoked it whenever her memory was conjured at a
wedding or a christening or some other reunion, when a mention of her name
lodged itself in the space between them so that silence followed and their
hearts shivered at her presence.
She was a lovely dancer,
someone would say. What a wonderful ballerina she would have
And as her
parents unconquerable sadness only grew with age, lining a million tiny
folds inside their heavy hearts, and as their minds flooded with memory as they
approached their death, the crutch of those saving words became relied on more
and more. They repeated them to each other night by night before the TV
and, after her father died, her mother muttered them to herself as she lay
awake in bed, she said them to every visitor she had, no matter how many times
theyd heard it all before. And when her own death drew near and she
was moved to the hospice, she told all of the nurses there, too, she told them
they reminded her of her daughter, Did you know I had a daughter? shed
say. Only she wouldnt have been a nurse, my Jane, she wouldve
been a ballerina.
Only the truth
is, she wouldnt have. Her story was never going to turn out like
that, which I guess is another way of saying that the story Ive told
isnt hers at all. Really its the story of how her true self
was covered over and lost, how that deluded tale about the ballet came to
conceal the person she was. Although on the other hand maybe it tells you
all you need to know about her. About how she made people feel and what
she meant to them. And above all the love and levity she infused in them
when they saw her dance, and the devastation they felt after she was
gone. And if the fantasy of the ballet helped them cope with her death,
well, she would have been the last to want to deprive them of that. She
wasnt that sort of person, you see.