​​​Kathryn Craft author

The Art of Falling


Chapter One


      My muscles still won’t respond. It’s been hours since they promised a doctor but no one has come. All I can do is lie on this bed, wishing for some small twinge to tell me what’s wrong. My body: a still life, with blankets.

      Right now I’d settle for inching my foot back beneath the covers. I can’t tell if it’s really cold, or if I just don’t want to look at it any longer. The skin has taken on a bluish tinge.

      I refuse to be so helpless and command my foot to flex. To point. To burrow beside its mate. It ignores me, as do my hands when I tell them to tend to the situation.

      Why has someone covered me so haphazardly? Or—could it be?—that in my dreams, I had somehow moved that foot? I will it to move again—now.

      It stays put.

      This standoff grows more frightening by the moment. If my focus weakens I’ll fall prey to larger, hungrier questions. Only motion can soothe me; only sweat can wash away my fear.

      From somewhere to my right I hear an old woman’s crackling cough. My eyes look toward the sound, but I am denied even this small diversion; a flimsy curtain hides her.

      I close my eyes against this new reality: the bed rails, a constant beeping over my shoulder, and the device clamped to my index finger. In my mind I replace the flimsy curtain with a stretch of burgundy velour and relax into its weight. Sink. Deep. I replay each sweep, rise, and dramatic dip of Dmitri’s choreography. My muscles seek aspects of motion: That first impulse. The building momentum. Moments of suspension, then—ah, sweet release. When the curtain rises, I will be born anew.

*  *  *

      “Is time. Merde.” The half-whisper I remember is intimate; Dmitri’s breath tickles my ear. With a wet finger he grazes a tender spot on my neck, for luck, then disappears among the other bodies awaiting him. My skin tingles from his touch.

      The work light cuts off, plunging me into darkness. On the other side of the curtain eleven hundred people, many of them critics and producers, hush. We are about to premiere Zephyr, Dmitri’s first full-evening work.

      I follow small bits of fluorescent tape across the floor to find my place. The curtain whispers as it rises. Audience expectation thickens the air.

      Golden light splashes across the stage and the music begins. Dmitri stalks onstage. I sense him and turn. Our eyes lock. We crouch—slow. Low. Wary. Mirror images, we raise our arms to the side, the downward arc from each shoulder creating powerful wings that hover on an imagined breeze. One: Our blood surges in rhythm. Two: A barely perceptible plié to prepare. Three: We soar.

      Soon our limbs compress then tug at the space between us. We never touch but are connected by intent, instinct, and strands of sound from violins. I feel the air he stirs against my skin.

      Others enter and exit, but I don’t yield; Dmitri designed their movements to augment the tension made by our bodies.

      I become the movement. I fling my boundaries to the back of the house; I will be bigger than ever before. I’m a confluence of muscle and sinew and bone made beautiful through my command of the oldest known language. I long to move others through my dancing because then I, too, am moved.

      Near the end of the piece the other four dancers cut a diagonal slash between Dmitri and me. Our shared focus snaps. The music grows dissonant as we perform dizzying turns.

      The music slows and our arms unfold to reduce spin. Dmitri and I hit our marks and reach toward one another. We have danced beyond the end of the music. In silence, within a waiting pool of light, we stretch until we touch, fingertip to fingertip.

      Light fades but the dance continues; my energy moves through Dmitri and his pierces me. The years, continents, and oceans that once held us apart could not keep us from this moment of pure connection.

      Utter blackness surrounds us and for one horrible moment I lose it all—Dmitri, the theater, myself.

      But when the stage lights come up Dmitri squeezes my hand. His damp curls glisten.

      Applause crescendos and crashes over us. Dmitri winks before accepting the accolades he expects.

      I can’t recover as quickly.

      No matter how gently I ease toward the end of motion it rips away from me. I feel raw. Euphoria drains from my fingertips, leaving behind this imperfect body.

      I struggle to find myself as the others run on from the wings. We join hands in a line, they pull me with them to the lip of the stage—and with these simple movements, I am returned to the joyful glow of performance. We raise our hands high and pause to look up to the balcony, an acknowledgment before bowing that feels like prayer. My heart and lungs strain and sweat pushes through my pores and I hope never to recover. I am gloriously alive, and living my dream.

      The dance recedes and the applause fades, but I’m not ready. My muscles seek aspects of motion—where’s the motion?—I can feel no impulse. Momentum stalls. I am suspended and can find no release.

      The curtain falls, the bed rails return, and I am powerless to stop them.

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Excerpted from The Art of Falling. Copyright 2014 by Kathryn Craft. Reprinted with permission from Sourcebooks.