I grew up running with a wolf pack: my four cousins and little brother. During this time, I became acquainted with the extremes of the emotional spectrum. While other children grew up with family trips to the zoo on lazy Sunday afternoons or matching sweaters on Christmas cards, the children of my family had one binding code: everything we did was done in extremes. Whether it was hide-and-seek with the lights off in my grandparent’s farm house or running wild along the rural roads long after sundown, the children of my family grew up knowing nothing of apathy. Instead, we became a pack built on a rough-and-tumble sort of relationship with the ultimate goal of cementing a sense of dominance within the group. Of course, we had our sweaters and zoo trips as well, but these memories are white noise in comparison to the vivid symphonies of other memories that I can recall.
Among the most animated of these comes from the summer I was in eighth grade, a time when Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games warped itself into my family’s collective imagination. Under its influence, the theme of every game we played became apocalyptic warfare. Together we built a universe in which we, a set of six obnoxious pre-teens, were humanity’s sole hope for survival, and as such we armed ourselves for the fight. What started off as weapons of air shifted into solidity as my grandfather took it upon himself to craft a toy very much not suited to a klutzy fourteen-year-old who felt she was invincible: a bow and arrow.
The bow itself was nothing special, just a limber tree branch knotted with string, but the arrows were another matter. I was given a quiver of wooden dowels sharpened to a point and, to top it off, one real arrow with a metal tip. This arrow became my prized possession, so much so that I took to giving it the nickname ‘Bulls-eye’, even though I never actually shot it at anything. The dowels I let fly at practically any opportunity, but Bulls-eye remained untouched. It was, to me at least, a shot that was only to be used in some sort of cataclysmic circumstance, almost as if the existence of time and space itself rested on that metal tip. Nothing less than the entirety of it unravelling would be worthy enough to oversee its release. And as fate would have it, the universe did fall apart that summer.
They say when Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind, Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock and sending an eagle to tear his liver out while he remained helpless to do nothing but writhe in agony. When my cousin stole from me, I unleashed upon her the fullest force of wrath I could muster. Such is the way it works when one is living with wolves: pride is everything. The protection of ones ego is held at the highest accord, and my hubris had been called into play through this act of theft. All summer long we had been competing to see who could curate the most spectacular arrangement of rocks, pine-cones, broken class, and any other sort of garbage we could find. To think that my treasury had been looted in an act of what I could only imagine was spite felt like some sort of unforgivable sin to me and that it was now my place to cast supreme judgement.
With the rational benefit of foresight, I see now that my actions were completely out of hand, but in that moment I felt completely rabid. If you want to run with wolves you have to prove that you are willing to sharpen your claws and bare your teeth, and I knew my honour had been challenge to a duel. Without any rational thought, my fingers reached back into my quiver as I prepared to play my ace in the hole.
I can distinctly recall how light Bulls-eye felt in my hand at that moment, almost as if it were weightless. Had it held some weight, it may have even stayed my hand, but it remained as light as the feathers it was adorned with. I inhaled as I drew back, thinking myself akin to Katniss, and for a moment time stopped as I took aim. With tunnel vision I aimed that deadly metal tip at the mess of blonde hair that was now sprinting away from me. It didn’t even occur to me in that moment that her reason for moving was to get away from her deranged cousin with a weapon, only that she was running and I felt I had the shot. With the string of my makeshift bow pulled as taunt as it could be, I let the arrow fly. Blood rushed into my ears, and for a second the world seemed to pulse in tune with my own heartbeat.
I told myself that I wouldn’t miss.
And I didn’t.
Or at least, I hit as much of my target as I could considering the fact that my bow was, quite literally, a tree branch and string incapable of shooting with any considerable force. However, it served its purpose well enough to net my arrow in her mess of golden hair. As the realization dawned upon us as to what I had actually done, we all shared a moment of collective horror. I had shot a weapon. At my cousin. A living, breathing member of my family. All over the fact she had ‘stolen’ a bucket of pine-cones from me. No one said a word, but together we shared a silent understanding; the adults must never know.
There was an awkward pause in which no one said anything, until my cousin slowly pulled Bulls-eye from her hair. She held it out to me, and I tucked it back into my quiver where it remained nothing more than a trophy in a case for the rest of my summers. As quickly as the moment had come, it was gone, and with no time to loose, my wolf-pack family and I hurled ourselves right back into the apocalypse. There we remained, frolicking and feral, until my grandmother called from the house that it was time to wash our hands for supper.
I’ve never seen a darker sky than the one that lingers over the rural roads outside my city after nightfall. If that sky and the world beneath it was a canvas, it would be painted a thousand variations of the darkest blues. That’s one thing people consistently get wrong about the night sky. They call it black, but it’s blue. Even the stars are blue here, their yellows sucked out by winter’s chill.
The dashboard clock reads 11:28 and the air behind my brake-lights coughs red as I prepare for a stop sign I can’t see but know is coming. That’s the wonder of the back-roads. Drive them enough and every detail works its way into your system to the point where muscle memory can take over, even though it’s been years since you’ve driven them.
You can never lie to roads like these; they turn time to dust and in doing so make liars of us all.
I stop at the sign and suddenly I am ten again. Summer has enveloped the Canadian prairie and Dad is taking me out into the rural areas outside town practically every day. I fly kites and run barefoot over fields until I know the hills and the roads alongside them like the palms of my hands. He says that this is the kind of summer he grew up with; the kind that makes your feet tough and your lungs strong and puts you in sync with nature. The kind of summer where at night, if you howled at the stars, the coyotes would sing out in reply because they recognized a kindred spirit in your voice. The kind where you learn to see the night sky as blue instead of black, because black is a void but blue is a possibility.
I believed his words whole-heartedly. I still do. Because in that summer I knew my place in the world and the world knew me, but now winter has come and I’ve found myself backtracking, searching for a place I can belong to again.
The dashboard reads 11:34.
I’ve sat idle long enough. Even on roads like these, prolonged pauses are not a safe idea.
I press my foot to the gas and begin to fly, but not before catching sight of two golden spheres glowing in the roadside ditch. As my car pulls away I hear a familiar howling and all I can think is that perhaps there is room for yellow in the night sky and that I’m not as out of touch with the world as I thought. After all, the coyotes must still consider me their kind, because they’re calling me home.
“I am going to make everything around me beautiful-that will be my life.” -Elsie de Wolfe
There’s a girl who longs to be a force of nature. She speaks and writes and dreams up metaphors of things that are built to matter. Her greatest fear is that none of this will ever be enough. So she works harder. Stays up later. Asks questions until she has no voice. Writes as though time is out to get her. In her quest for all that is bright and beautiful, she has spent a fortune of words that never seem just right. She is looking for perfection in a world that does not contain the concept in its vocabulary, and thus the search goes on. She does not know if it is pride or fear or hope that pushes her forward, only that she will not stop. When she becomes all that she was born to be, she swears she will know.
There’s a girl who longs to be a thousand and one things because there are moments when being just a girl, just one little person, in this expansive cosmos feels as though it is not enough. She knows there is a place for all in the universe, but it is the great space inside her that baffles her so much that the only way to explain it is to compare it to something else. When she writes out this poem, she swears that she will unravel the doubts she has about herself and lay every card on the table.
There’s a girl who does not want to write about herself. She fears that the world will either find her boring or reject her. There’s a girl who is not nearly as together as she seems. There’s a girl who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. There’s a girl who feels as though she cannot carry it all, but she will never say a word because she has a stubborn insistence of making it through, even if it kills her.
There’s also a girl who loves herself. She has worked hard to be where she is today and she does not regret it for a second. There’s a girl whose laughter is genuine and who has a smile that meets her eyes. There’s a girl who loves to learn, not because she feels she has to, but because she wants to know more about the brilliant chaos of our world. There’s a girl who would rather be happy than sad so she chooses to focus on the good, even if it means using a microscope. There’s a girl who dreams herself to be the night sky and an ocean and a hurricane not simply out of want to be something more, but because she knows that dreams have power. There’s a girl who never intends to stop talking or writing or choosing happiness as long as she is breathing, all in an attempt to search for some perfect form of better, or some better form of perfect. She knows this life is meant to be lived, and this is what makes the world come alive for her. When she opens her eyes and looks out at the dawn of possibility, she swears that nothing will weigh her down.
The following is a Personal Response inspired by Italo Calvino’s short story “The Distance of the Moon”. All characters are of his creation, and as such credit pertaining to them goes to him.
Though she has long since forgotten the sight or touch of all that was green, the Woman of the Moon can still hear the Earth calling out to her. She can’t remember the sound of her name or the sight of her own reflection, but she can hear ever roll and pitch in the chorus of voices that seemed to reverberate in her bones as they howl out into space. It is a pathetic sound; it has a tendency to haunt as it looms throughout the atmosphere and yet no matter how hard she tries to block it out, she fails. The endless dogging of misery is what has sent her here, in hopes of some escape, and yet even here she recognizes the sound of its putrid panting.
In response to this she plucks arpeggios out on her harp. The sound calms her and takes her back in time. She closes her eyes, and suddenly silhouettes are conjured. There are cliffs in her memory, running with jagged consistency in the backdrop. There is a Ladder that acts as a cathedral; it connects the heavens to the Earth one rung at a time. Slowly, a hymn of creaking wood and scuffling feet begins, and the Woman of the Moon panes the scope of her dream world down to see what has caused the sound. It is then that she sees him.
Though everything else in her mind has receded to shadow, she can still recall every inch of him. The curve of his jaw, the cut of his build, the dreamy absence in his eyes, and the grace in his feet; she knows it all. She would know him, dreaming or waking, life or death, Moon or Earth for he seems to be the answer to the questions the universe was built upon. He climbs up to her, back to the Moon and all that could have been. Her heart is soaring. Soon so is he as he leaps from the last bar and spreads his arms as he floats down before her. The Deaf One has returned to the Moon with the same easy grace he left it with.
She cannot help herself. She lunges forward, arms stretching out to capture him, and still he evades her. The Woman of the Moon opens her eyes and all that greets her is an empty space where love used to be.
When she left the Earth behind, she had defiance. It curled hot and heavy in her stomach, mingling with lust for she knew that above all else, the Deaf One looked upon the Moon with wonder. So if she lay herself down within the Lunar Soil, she too would be subject to his gaze. The thought had satisfied her and kept her warm throughout the cycles at first, but then came the wailing.
As the Moon drifted farther and farther from Earth, the cries from the planet grew louder and louder, almost as if by the distance of the void in between magnified the connection that had been lost. She knew they did not cry for her, and yet she could not help but wish they did for then she and the Moon would truly be one in the same. Only then would she be able to feel the caress of the Deaf One, even if it was just his eyes gazing up into the night sky. As the cycles had come and gone throughout eternity, she had come to feel grime build around her. Something had been soiled, and the great crescendos from Earth cut her to the bone with mocking. Throughout history, ballads have been sung to the Moon; her face is sketched into history with craned necks and inky fingers. But these songs of lust and longing, they are not for her. She is merely eavesdropping on a great love affair of axis, tilt, and time.
The Deaf One’s passion has never died over eternity. She can hear his voice calling out, though it is distinctly different from the others. While others bawl over what they cannot have, he sings lullabies of satisfaction for the Moon to simply be. He cannot hear his own tune and yet he is content in knowing the Moon can. It threatens to drive her mad with longing.
She pulls a few more chords from the harp, but they cannot seem to overthrow the sound. She cannot weep, for she fears water will push the moon farther from Earth, just as the tides did so long ago, and the voices will get louder, as they always do, hurling through space to pierce her eardrums. Despite it all, she cannot pull away, because then she will lose whatever flimsy, stolen connection she still has with the Deaf One. Misery is better company than oblivion, so she drowns herself in it, listening to his gentle voice among a sea of mourning. It is all she can do, knowing that attempting to not listen is futile and that even if she could, she wouldn’t. His voice is all she has of him now so she keeps it close, allowing it to sheath itself in her heart. In this ache she at least feels something; a cathartic spearing at the hands of eternity with her stolen romance and ancient memories. The Moon spins on, the cries carry out, and the Woman of the Moon takes what little she can into the looming dark of infinity.
The following is an emulation of Anne Sexton’s poem The Room of My Life. For those who haven’t read the poem, I highly recommend it.
in the storm of my life
the world has been swallowed by a hurricane.
Gulls cry out.
Animalistic kinship draws dolphins and whales to breach waves,
whose crest is a kiss between water and sky.
Each time they touch a void of chaos lingers as aftertaste.
The salt spray: a means to rub dead skin from body.
The wind: a hand extended to sunken locker.
The water: waiting to gulp down a soup of ships and sailors.
Captain and crew, exhausted in an attempt to stay afloat.
The searchlight on shore: a blazing torch to call all home.
The doors of Heaven and Hell are blown wide open
until they catch in the crossfire and slam shut,
birthing the Void
that resides upon Earth
and within me.
I feed the rise and fall of waves,
offering up to stormclouds the feast that is my mind.
The lightning is the jolt of my heartbeat and thunder is my soul
crashing on and on in my chest.
My grandmother always told me that if I was quiet enough at night, I would hear mermaids singing out on the rocks in the bay. As she sat in her chair, rocking in rhythm with what I was sure was the tide, she’d beckon for me to sit on the footstool beside her and she’d whisper the same stories her grandmother had told her when she was a girl.
Up until I was eighteen, I spent every summer with my grandmother. I’d leave my parents behind the mountains in favour of the British Columbian coast. They were not always eager to let me go, but I always went anyway. The tradition of spending my summers this way had etched itself into my bones in such a way that to not go would be to fight against every fibre of my being. There was a kind of calm to that sleepy house that melted all the stress in my life away the moment I stepped through the front door. All the anxieties I had about school and my future were simply washed away to the back corners of my mind where I would not have to touch them again until fall. Instead, my mind could lose itself in the wonder of my summer world.
At the centre of it all was my grandmother. She was by no means a soft woman, but there was something about her that always managed to make me feel at home. Something about her voice, the way it bubbled as clear and cool as a mountain spring, that lulled itself inside me, until the stories she spoke became the center of who I was as a person. Some people live in a world where numbers and formulas define the chaos of the universe, but for my grandmother and me everything could be explained through stories of sirens and spirit bears.
My life became a world spun of the sailor lore passed down through the family. My grandmother had learned it her grandmother who had learned from her husband; a man who knew the stories of the sea as well as the callouses of his hands. Of course, my grandmother told me, he always told his wife a watered-down version. He was a lenient man in many ways she said, but harshness on a lady’s ears was something he would not stand for. As my grandmother told me this, she’d almost laugh, lean back in her chair, take a long draw from her pipe, and say she wish she’d been told the original version of the story. She said there was something to be taken harshness and vulgarity; that it built armour for the mind and thickness for the skin. And that taking such things as offence was a matter of perspective. I never truly understood what she meant at the time. I think she understand I couldn’t quite grasp the concept, because after she said it there would be a pause, an exhale of smoke from her thin lips, and she would just know it was time to tell another story.
The favourite for both herself and I were the ones about mermaids. And not just the pretty ones with long blonde hair and purple tails, oh no. My grandmother was many things but she was never mundane. In her stories, mermaids were creatures to be reckoned with. Their teeth were sharp, they had tails like sharks, and should they get the chance, they would drown you. Despite all this, she warned me, they were the loveliest creatures on God’s green earth. And it was the loveliness more than anything else that made them deadly. You would become so entranced you would not recognize that they were luring you out into the waves to drown you.
The last summer I spent with my grandmother I must have heard her stories of mermaids a thousand times over. The story was always the same and yet it never failed to pull me in with all the comfort of a hug from an old friend. That story told through the voice an old woman became my safe space. It transported me from a world where I was not ready to face the future and instead whispered promises of a land without suffering. I had been the kind of person people characterized as a dreamer; so, I dreamt myself a world without adulthood or independence. I wanted a space where I only had to be a child kneeling by my grandmother and listening to her speak of a world far more interesting than the mundane. It was a space which gave me exactly what I asked, and more. It was as life-giving to me as the waters of a mother’s womb. So life giving, that I was certain that without my grandmother providing escape to me, I would perish in this world that I could never seem to understand and never seemed to understand me.
Perhaps it was because of my certainty that life decided to test me. Two weeks before the summer of my nineteenth year my grandmother’s time on this world ended. Though she had never been a sailor, she went out with the tide anyway.
For the first time in my life, I was without an anchor. I had lost the only form of escape I had ever known. I was shipwrecked. Marooned. Nothing more than a lifeboat left adrift in doldrums. It was as though every horrible sort of fate a sailor could have had been cast upon me. And here I was, left to face it all alone.
To say I didn’t know how to cope would be to put it mildly. The first two weeks of summer I felt lifeless, as though I no longer knew who I was or where I belonged in the world. I stayed inside and talked to no one. And finally, in the end, I could not deny the calling of the mermaids or my bones any longer. I bought a bus ticket, packed my bags and headed for my summer home.
It was not the same as it had been when I had last left it. There was an anxiety to the air now. Something had polluted its purity. All of culture’s worries and sickness must have clung to my skin and followed me here, and without the magic of my grandmother there was nothing left to keep them at bay. I remember collapsing to my knees in despair.
I must have sent a ripple of force through the room because at that moment my grandmother’s pipe, previously invisible to my eyes, clattered to the floor, and with the noise breaking a silence so pregnant it gave birth to a universal truth, I felt my grandmother’s final act of kindness. In that moment, I remembered not just what she had to say about the realm of the imagination, but on reality as well. How harshness and cruelty were simply matters of perspective. That was when it hit me of how much of a mermaid I had made my grandmother out to be. I had taken her words and drunk them so deeply that I had been suffering of asphyxiation and did not even realize it. She had seen me drowning, done her best to save me, and then once she realized I did not want to be pulled to shore, she had thrown me one last life vest so I could swim myself to shore when the time finally came. In doing so, my grandmother worked her magic one last time.
That night, as I lay in my old room, I opened the bedroom window, swung it wide open. One of the last stories my grandmother had told me before she passed was that when a sailor returns home after a trip at sea, he should open his bedroom window because it allows good luck to grace him as he’s sleeping. As for myself, I had no desire to gain any sort of luck, good or bad. What I did want was to see if I could hear mermaids singing on the rocks by the bay and if their songs would tempt me. As I lay there, I swore I heard the faintest of whispers calling out to me. Promising me stories I could drown myself in until I was so deep in dream that I myself would practically be a fairy-tale.
Instead, I closed my eyes and pulled my bedsheets up around me, promising myself that when the sun rose tomorrow, I would come into reality as the tide came in.
The essence of Life is that it stops.
Like Sand in an Hour Glass
there is a finite amount of
Seconds, Breaths, Lungfuls of Air
that you as a Body get to take.
All grains of Sand.
We hold them in our fist,
and no matter how tightly or loosely,
no matter the amount of space between our fingers,
that Sand will fall.
Sometimes we will notice,
and sometimes we will not.
Sometimes we will clench our fists
in an attempt for some control,
in an attempt to joust with Fate,
but all that will occur is an increase of slipping.
And sometimes we will come across the shards
of a Broken Hourglass
take that Glass and Metal lying at our feet
christen it art, poetry, literature, and inspiration
but all it will ever be is part of a Corpse’s story.
The remnants of of a container for something bigger.
We need to remember that.
This I believe; people come into our lives with definitive purpose. They come to be a lesson, a blessing, or sometimes they come to be both. The philosophy may be clique and perhaps a bit overzealous, but nonetheless it is mine. I honestly believe that there are no accidental meetings. I believe that every single individual we encounter in this life has something to offer us. We may not always like what is being offered, but there is always a value and necessity to it. I believe that the best way to see this offering is to look at everyone who enters our life with kindness and with love in order to best appreciate what is being given. And that it is those who are willing to take this offering who are the ones who grow to reach great heights.
When I was in sixth grade I read a book series that changed my life. Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy impacted me in many ways, such as inspiring me to be a writer for instance, but one quote in particular has always found a place in my mind:
“To those who will see, the world waits.”
Over the years this phrase has had many meanings to me, but time has evolved to a place where these words speak of seeing what is not always obvious. It speaks of looking for the value we do not always see at surface level, finding that value, and then celebrating it. Now I will be the first to offer that the moment a writer puts a thought to paper, something is lost in translation. I am fully aware Ms. Bray’s quote can have an infinite amount of meanings, but to me her words have come to mean the above. And it is this philosophy that has come to drive me in life.
Now I have always been an extrovert who loves people, but what has changed since I have obtained this philosophy is that I find myself looking at people with kinder eyes. I have, or at least I hope I have, become someone who is gentler, softer, and radiates love in everything she does. And perhaps this is why I believe what I do. Perhaps I want people to see that it is love that drives me to reach the emotional extremes that I do, be it happiness or anger. Perhaps it is because I want people to see me and the world I hold within me.
Of course, I’m fully aware I’m not always perfect. There are days when I don’t want to look beyond the surface or see the value that everyone has to offer. There are days when I get miserable and fed up and deteriorate to a mindset which says ‘I can do things better than anyone else and don’t need anyone else’s help.’ I use the word deteriorate because I know this is a lower level of thinking. Life is very much a team sport and to go it alone, especially when one is an extrovert whose happiness is brought on by people, is to condemn oneself to a lifetime of stress and misery. I’ve come to realize I cannot do everything by myself, as much as I’d sometimes like to. So in order to succeed I must be willing to share the proverbial ‘load’ as it were, and this act of sharing starts with getting to know those around me. It starts with me being ready and willing to look for the value in others. It starts with me using love to overcome apathy.
Such love does not come easy. It a channeled, focused thing that thrives with determination. It is a love that breathes best when given purpose, so I feed it with a philosophy built upon just that. I love best by getting to know those around me, and I know people best when I am in the mindset that our meeting is a purposeful, planned one.
I believe every person brings something to be learned and to be loved into the paths of every individual they encounter. I know it is not always easy to see this, but I also know love can overcome selfishness and pride and apathy should it be channeled properly in order to see the value of everyone. I know I am capable of this and every day I grow better at finding that value. I know others see the value in me. But most importantly, I know every day I can choose whether or not to look for this value, and it is the act of choosing to see purpose and to live with love that will propel me forward to be the best version of myself that I can be.
Author’s Note: Penelope Thloloe is a very real, very incredible individual. This short story is nothing more than a fictionalized version of her life based off a prompt (the first picture shown) I was given in English Class. This was written based on the facts solely given from the prompt and is merely an attempt to show my appreciation to a woman who I found inspiration in.
She stands on a precipice. On a point somewhere between balance and a fall in slow motion, almost as if she were moving through water rather than air.The lights of the stage catch and glitter in her eyes; the ballerina holds every breath in the room in the palm of her slender hand.
However, she sees none of this. Nor does she feel the awe the theatre holds for her. Instead she is only aware of the fact her feet and back ache in such a way that she had not thought possible. Instead she is acutely aware of the drops of sweat pooling on her forehead and how this might distract from her painted on smile. After all, people go to watch ballet to see dancers walk on air, not drown in their own perspiration. Of course, the sweat can’t be helped; the bright lights of the theatre are scorching and the unnatural positions she must hold herself in only manages to burn her insides as well. But despite all this, the ballerina remains poised. She does not move to wipe her brow and instead only smiles wider.
This is her one and only chance, and she will not lose it to something as trivial as physical discomfort. Not when the outcome of this audition will determine whether or not she holds a spot at the National Performing Arts School of London, a place she has dreamed of attending since her first proper plié.
With both delicacy and deliberation, the ballerina maneuvers her body and spins. She has long since disciplined the dizziness away and the confusion it can bring, but as she does so, she swears she hears her mother’s voice from long ago whispering in her ear…
“That’s my good girl. You are as graceful as a bird. You make me proud.”
She was ten and living on the opposite side of the equator when her mother first said this. And as her mother spoke these words with a smile as big and bright as the South African sun, Penelope Thloloe knew she wanted to be a dancer. She didn’t care that she had taken to the sport far later in life than most who grow to dance professionally. She felt nothing but drive and lightning sparking in her toes, all which pressed her onwards and upwards without fear.
She stands on a precipice. The outcome of her feathery movements carries the weight of her entire future. One wrong move, one joint or muscle out of place, and everything she will have worked for will be over. At the age of 21, Penelope feels as though she has spent infinite lifetimes on this stage, both dancing with and dueling the unspeakable horrors conjured by her doubts. She feels fear snapping at her heels and its breath, hot and heavy, on the nape of her neck.
Penelope knows at first her mother never truly understood why her daughter wanted to be a dancer. The field was competitive amongst women who trained for this their entire lives by the finest of instructors, let alone a girl who learned from community classes she had taken up on a whim. But how that whim had grown. Of course, not everyone could see that. She knows that when she stayed at the studio after hours, dancing with only her reflection in the mirror for company, her mother would have been sweeping the floor and shaking her head. Wondering why her daughter put more work into dancing than helping keep house. And yet, every day her mother would come to meet her at the community dance hall, and it would be her mother’s silhouette burned into a red sky that would greet her as she swung the doors of the studio wide open.
But what Penelope didn’t know is that even though her mother never understood the dancing, she did speak the universal language of hard work. And so, she took her daughter’s smooth hand into her own callused ones and whispered…
“You must fight for what you want, and for what you deserve. Nothing in this life is given for free Penelope. God’s reward system is measured in water. If you are unwilling to sweat you will spend your life walking through a desert. But if you are willing to put in the work, He will lead you to an oasis to drink from. And if you wish to be a dancer, a dancer you will be, but you must never let fear overtake you.”
And she never had. Until now.
Penelope can feel the seconds she has left on stage. Time seems to be melting around her, turning the air thick as honey. She can practically feel it sticking to her skin.
The last time she had felt anything remotely close to this, she was twelve and caught in the path of a bushfire. The deadly inferno devoured the world around her, leaving her in the eye of that hurricane of smoke and heat.
She can recall with distinction the startled caws of birds, all of whom soared far and high above the wall of crackling orange and into a sky of blue so clear that Penelope swore she could see her reflection in it. Just before her mother’s desperate voice and hands would pull her from the flames, she had had a moment where she swore she could follow the birds on their pilgrimage to the heavens. The fire did not seem half as real as that patch of blue that grew fainter and fainter as it was strangled by smoke. The world of the pastm seemed to freeze for that moment .
The world of now seemed to be on fire. The blackness of the empty theatre seats like smoke, choking her and weakening her knees. The eyes of the judges at the panel hot and burning into her soul. The sweat was running down her face now. Penelope can feel her muscles tensing, refusing to obey in the midst of the silent roaring of the theatre.
She swears she can hear the scribbling of pens above it all; a muffled sound accompanied by a voice she could only just detect but not distinguish.
And just as she is about burst with fear and shame, the words of her mother come back to whisper in her ear once more…
“You are as graceful as a bird.”
Birds which did not just flee from smoke, but rather rise above it. Birds that sail high to the clear blue of the sky.
Penelope is a bird.
The heat from the theatre is nothing more than a thermal updraft for her to rise upon.
This dance is nothing more than her first flight.
Penelope bends her legs and springs upwards into the ending of her dance. She leaps then lands, silently and gazes out to all the world before her. Instead of fire, she sees all three judges on their feet, clapping vigorously.
She stands on a precipice. Before her lays a future unclouded, beyond the reaches of any kind of smoke, and now it is hers for the taking. She has seen this place since she was a child, has always seen it, and its presence drives every step she takes. Though her mother remains on the other side of the earth, she can already feel the warmth of her smile at the words she will soon tell her.
Penelope Thloloe has found her way out of the fire and taken her place among the birds in the sky.