“En Pointe” by Jay Faulkner
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week a young ballerina dances her bravura performance.
We present our Feature Story: “En Pointe” by Jay Faulkner
Personal space was a distant memory as everyone was forced into uncomfortable proximity; little more than cattle. They huddled even closer – for warmth and comfort – pressed together despite the fetid smells that pervaded the air. Sweat, vomit, urine and other bodily excretions stained clothing and floor alike as people languished in their own filth. Three days inside the wagon, without food or water, had taken its toll mentally, physically and emotionally. Blank faces stared ahead with unseeing eyes. Low moans of despair were muted by deprivation and the never-ending cacophony of the shriek of metal on metal as the miles of track were eaten up.
Only the change in light, moonlight that filtered through the gaps in the wooden walls, marked the passage of time since leaving Westerbork. Then they had kept themselves separate — family units protective of each other and fearful of everyone else; brought together now simply by a common heritage and the yellow star sewn roughly onto their clothing.
Amongst them all one man was alone. An oasis in the desert of bodies, he sat apart, back against the door that creaked and rattled as the train sped along. His eyes stared ahead, watching but not seeing; ignoring and ignored.
He pulled a small packet, wrapped in simple, coarse brown paper, from his pocket. The noise as it opened ripped through the silence. No one reacted; no one moved. He pulled a crumbling bit of hard cheese from within and took the smallest of bites, savouring the flavour as it hit his tongue. His second bite was stopped before it could begin as, from within the press of bodies, a small form moved towards him.
“What is that?” the young girl asked him, eyes wide – cheeks sunken hollows beneath them. She stared at him, her hands clutching at the bright pink bundle crushed against her grime-stained dress.
“It is cheese,” he answered sharply, looking around the sea of faces, but relaxing as he saw that no one else had moved. “It is my cheese.”
“Can I have some?” Her voice quavered as she moved forward, unconsciously reaching out a small, dirt-encrusted hand towards him. Her bundle slipped, falling until the laces of the ballet shoes tied around her wrist halted the drop.
“Are they yours?” he asked, pointing with the cheese towards the shoes.
“Yes,” she answered with the shadow of a smile. “Papa said I could take them with me. They are my favorite.”
“So, you dance?”
“Every evening, before my prayers, I practice.”
“That is a good girl,” he nodded. “My daughter likes… liked… to dance, too.”
“Where is she?”
He looked down at the cheese, his face falling into deeper shadows. “She is gone, little one.”
“I can’t find my Papa,” she said softly, looking around the still forms in the wagon. “Some of them say that he was on a different train…”
“Don’t worry, then.” He looked up at her, his face still. “You will be with him soon.”
“We all are, child,” he said, then held the cheese towards her. “But, if you dance for me, if you show me what your lessons taught you, then you will have this as reward.”
She stared at the lump of hard cheese then, without a word, sat on the floor and pulled the small shoes onto her filthy feet. The train swayed, wood creaking and metal grinding; the moonlight streaming, sending slivers of light weaving around the shadows. Laces were tied tightly across and around her ankles before — finally — she stood again.
And then she danced.
Gaunt arms softly rose, sweeping in front of her with movements that were hesitant at first but, as music that only she could hear took her in its grip, became graceful and assured. With feet flat on the floor she bent her legs, dropping into a low plié before rising up — her left foot resting against her right calf — and turning a slow, measured circle. The pirouette finished and she paused, taking a breath, then extended her arms towards the man as her body seemed to lift itself; toes took her weight — slight though it was — calf muscles straining, insteps curving, she became en pointé. Her body stilled, then stopped completely and, for a perfect moment, she stood there; the ballerina she could become clearly seen. The train juddered and she fell forward, the moment lost.
Brushing hair from her flushed face, she readjusted her dress; one small hand toyed with the star sewn across her heart. The man looked away, his hand mimicking her movement as he toyed with the sign on his own lapel, against his own heart. Without a word he held out the cheese then watched as she snatched it, vanishing from sight into the press of bodies as the train shuddered to a stop, brakes squealing.
A murmur from the outside got louder as the door was pulled open; moonlight flooded inside the wagon. The man scurried to one side as voices shouted, demanding that everyone move to the platform. When they didn’t – couldn’t – move fast enough the men from the outside, eyes hard, jumped in and started pulling and shoving until, finally, the carriage was empty – apart from the man. He stared at the hard-eyed men who nodded back as they started pushing the people away from train; into the night.
Wiping the crumbs of cheese from his hands, the man stood up, muscles protesting. He adjusted his uniform – hand catching on the swastika on the lapel – the other hand on the rifle that had never left his grasp. As he jumped down from the wagon, he saw a flash of color back inside and peered in to see the ballet shoes lying alone; forgotten. He moved to retrieve them but, as the moonlight reflected of the sign on the platform, ‘Auschwitz,’ he simply closed the door.
She wouldn’t need them.
Jay Faulkner resides in Northern Ireland with his wife, Carole, and their sons, Mackenzie and Nathaniel. He says that while he’s a writer, martial artist, sketcher, and dreamer, he’s mostly just a husband and father. His work’s been published widely and was short-listed in the 2010 Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition. He’s currently working on his first novel.
Jay publishes ‘With Painted Words‘ – a creative writing site taking inspiration from monthly image prompts, and ‘The WiFiles‘ – an online speculative fiction magazine, published weekly. He can also be found as a regular co-host and contributor on the Following The Nerd radio show. For more information visit his website.
Tags: jay faulkner, metro fiction, short stories