Lilly Coleman’s Masquerade
‘I can remember you, and I want you to remember me, the way it was in the age of the rituals and normal time …’ my thoughts are interrupted by your movement across the room. This is part of the conversation that I plan to have with you later.
You stand beside me, staring at me. I saw your shape cross the shaft of light through the red vessels in my eyelids. I know where you are even when you do not speak. This is the way we have always been. Connected. Full of energy we chased each other around the house always managing to evade capture until we reached the bed, then we fell, laughing together in entwined limbs. Sensing the lightness below the surface and urging it out. But now, in this world of burnt orange I cannot see you anymore. Your eyes still speak the truth. I don’t want you to know me now. I am tired and weak. I was sick again in the night. I moved quietly to the bathroom to avoid disturbing your sleep. The doctor said that I would have pain; he didn’t say that you should share it too. I want you to see me then. Look back, please. That is where I am. There I nearly found freedom.
‘Lilly? Lilly dearest…’
I can hear you. But I will not answer.
It is not time to speak.
‘Lilly? Lilly?’ You refuse to be refused entry to my world. You wait for me. The sigh is unusual. It almost breaks my resolve. Maybe you can see my pupils dashing around under my closed lids. I will not view you. My dreams are my life. I have no other.
I am dancing. I am dancing.
In the wings I pant as I regain my breath. The orchestra soars. I take my position and am revealed.
Plié follows two grand jetés and I stand with attitude as the music breathes. Mercury approves. Seconds later my body responds on cue to the music that soaks through my mind. From centre stage I jump and twist. Electricity soars through my veins. No blood remains. The strength in my limbs is due to adrenalin manufactured by nerves. I am free.
As my dancing self I laugh: loud and long. Drinking champagne between rehearsals to remain focussed and relaxed. The future was far away then. We smiled through our eyes. Our ordered lives regulated by fixed music and performance schedules. Bliss. Tchaikovsky and Bach were never far away from our thoughts.
As my sick self I stay silent. The time has caught me. Present.
My beauty is gone. I refuse to wear the wig you bought me. You lie to my face. Aesthetics evade my bone-house. You are not blind. Neither am I. I choose not to see while you lie.
I am a rebel at 31; though not in the Cuban sense. My defiance may not fit with usual patterns. I am well acquainted with familial etiquette. This is not it. My parents still do not understand me. Father refuses to visit any longer and I am glad. I surprised myself when the diseased person took control. I let me do it. I had the choice and I accepted the invasion. I was suddenly tired and willing to rest. I am now a disappointment to my family, except for Jonathan, he smiled at me. He approves of dissent. He was the only one who confirmed that I existed as me, so I will not miss the withdrawing parents.
I know I still have you.
‘Lilly? Dear Heart … Please talk to me. I know you can hear m e. I know you are not asleep. Please Lilly!’ The sound of your desperation jars me for a smooth second. Why are you crying? I am well. I am not here. You are here with my sick self. I am dancing. I am dancing.
Only 10 days remain. Are your days longer than mine? Do your hours drag while you watch me appearing to be still? My hours have a different shape. They enthusiastically invite me to touch and be renewed by each moment… and the moments between moments.
I have no penance… except the sorrow I sent you.
Even though misery has made us strangers yet still you linger at my side taking my hand and my heart in hope. I only resist to save you from the dissension within my body. I alone will handle that. I am not used to doing things by myself.
Since we met at the dance academy, in the corridors between classes, 17 years ago, alone has been a thing of the historical past. Of course, neither of our families thought it would last; a teenage fancy was their definition on kind days. But we found each other and persevered. My ego bowed to yours and in reverse I accepted your praise. We made it this far, we made it this far. I love you.
It changed when you went for a walk 30 days ago.
‘Here you are my darling,’ you whispered as your lips brushed my ear, ‘it’s spring already.’
The daffodils were beautiful. The crystal vase was prismatic. And after the door had closed I opened my eyes and savoured them. I said ‘goodbye’ but you could never hear my voice behind my closed heart.
Your fingerprint was on the glass and I caressed it. We no longer touch each other. My body is an aberration to you. And to me. I saw the yellow reflected in your clear eyes the last time I looked at you. Your fear shows in my skin. I lay here matched by daffodils and the new bed cover.
You left the bedroom window open to give me some fresh spring air. Thank you. You changed my lives. My soul responded to the sound from a neighbour’s stereo. My body was invited to move. That was to be the last time.
Freewheeling around the bedroom I was engulfed by the immediate vatic power of this vibrant work of art. Redemption. It discovered me and I wondered why it left it so late. My senses were a pincushion to the fluid rhythms. Instinctively I responded. No thought was necessary; it was release and acceptance all within the moment between moments. I am now relentless for that joy. That fix has fixed my mind and my body always follows. I was suspended behind time, almost resistant when consciousness struck me with my true weakened image through the mirror, but the music continued to creep upon me with its sweet air. I closed my eyes and I moved by heart. I laughed myself inside out. My passion can no longer be held within my frame. New life has come to me.
The discovery shifts my memory to when I first met you. The same wonder and rightness mounts my heart.
But I know that you are with her right now. Do you walk together and drink champagne from the single glass as we once did?
Light on your feet you plunged into my heart.
‘Hello,’ you blushed as you pretended to retrieve the invisible dropped item from by my narrow legs. You forced me to stop and wait. I would have done that willingly if you asked. Your hair was damp from the exercise. At sixteen you were one of the oldest pupils. All the girls talked about you in the changing rooms, they had plans for you. I had you wanting me, without even knowing it. Instantly I reflected your glow. Petronia and Felicity giggled behind me. I did not know how to dream before you taught me how to see.
‘Hello,’ I responded to your call. Despite the heat surrounding us the coolness of surety pierced me, as it has never done since that day: 25th July 1981. It became our first anniversary. We had so many firsts to celebrate together. ‘Our firsts’ we called them. Who will celebrate them now?
My heart is cold … The moment that held almost two decades of life has passed.
The week that Mother stayed, while you were away for that important meeting in Moscow, that was when I decided. I boxed up the pink satin pointe shoes that I wore for the final performance of the Nutcracker in September. They had been mocking me from the stand.
My only possession, my body, has failed me. I am used to perpetual motion but the sacrifice was too great. The kingdom of dance gave me no reward for my years of barre work, for my precision arabesques and pirouettes. I eat now, but my bones and liver do not care. My efforts are too delayed. My body belongs to my sick self now.
I spoke to her. I told her that I knew. The shock that sat on her jowls was fleeting and painful – for us both. She cried for me. She cried for herself. The sun moved in the sky as we saw each other for the first time. We had never had a conversation before. That afternoon my mother and I began to know each other, but it will always be too late.
Mother never missed a performance. Her bridge group accompanied her to her act in the stalls: proud mother. She was always magnificent and kept all the reviews. I was on stage. So were you.
Together – then.
Mother understood and promised never to breathe a word. She sat scarred by comprehension of history’s joke.
‘Father was the same,’ she paused, ‘is, Lilly; Father is the same.’
‘The increase in flowers are usually the sign…’ she continued, ‘then he wants to talk. Something we are not practiced at. He constantly asks me how I am. Who have I seen recently… he wants to know my solitude is in tact.’
‘Yes, Mother. I see the signs,’ then reluctantly I added, ‘and I knew about Father.’
The gasp escaped before she could control it. Behind her rouge the blood vessels reddened. Quickly she walked to the window. Always so elegant, my mother. I admired her as I sat up in the bed. I wondered how long she had known and performed so well. I would never know.
‘How long have you…?’ hesitantly she did a half turn to me, not daring to finish the question.
‘Not long,’ I lied. I am used to lying. You both taught me so well. I have only known of three of Father’s ‘friends’, but I guessed there were many more; belief created many shadows. He began to get careless when I was at home on rare visits. The study door was not always closed and I have constantly walked quietly. Nancy, Clarissa and Charlotte: the names of the shadows. Charlotte. Father whispered your name and the surprise brought me to a halt outside the door. When I heard him speak so gently I believed you had fallen in love for the first time. But you were in the conservatory when I bounced through the house. Although seeing you reading while the sun freckled your face through the window made me sad, I pasted on my performance smile for your continual loss. You wear oblivion well, Mother, you wear it so well. It must have been easier for him to finally have someone with the same name as you. Pretence comes naturally to us all.
You will never leave him; I know that. I will never leave Stephan. Not today, at least.
I danced to forget. To avoid it all. To avoid you, yes, even you Mother. You took away my life and gave me ballet – it was your dream. I hated every position and combination until they suffocated me with routine and I forgot. Then I could really smile. Forgetfulness is like madness; you live as a different person. Eventually the exercise became my drug and it took me over giving me a new dream: if I was thin enough I could disappear. Away from you all. Food was difficult to control at first, but envy and hatred were stronger impulses. I desired to be the leanest dancer, to be like Marie Carmago: perfect.
Jonathan was sent to boarding school. His letters were short and infrequent but he remained closer than you or Father. He knew too. I missed him more than he missed me; he soon replaced his void with others. He was also natural. Naturally disobedient, you said, although with a penchant for sports. Always running, as if to escape. The holidays at home were too long for him; he preferred to stay with friends. He had his friends. I had my competition from the age of three. Before I went to school I could bend and stretch better than Mrs Cuthbert’s daughter, Amanda. You appreciated the status that I gave you. You prompted me each day to practice. You said I was born with this ‘natural ability’ to be a ballet dancer: I was thin and small. I expected to like it, as you did. I missed that inheritance. I was weak and afraid to disappoint so I complied without complaint. There were years of moonshine in your eyes when you watched me dance. I did it for you.
‘Mother,’ I think this because I can never ask you, ‘Mother, what were you afraid of? What was absent in your life? Did I succeed in making you happy?’
I am doing this for me now. I am dancing. I am dancing.
Stephan, my long love, you gave me my last first: the freedom in my soul. You did not intend to deceive me with your tears; I sense that. You have found a different future. I am now exiled from our unity. I thought we were for keeps. But tomorrow will go like yesterday. There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me. But Lilly is a love memory from your distant past. I am not her. The teardrops have started as I unhook your heart. My sensibilities prevent me from denying you your responsibilities to yourself: be happy, my love. I am. Now, I am.
Thank her for me; your new premiere danseur. Without her taking you for walks, I would never have known that I was understood and belonged. This is a new language that I identify. I know certainty and am safe inside this sound, this world of measured recklessness. I have become me. I claim myself.
I thought I knew music until my contaminated frame heard and understood ‘The Dream’ of David Sanborn. I comprehend and am no longer a divided person. My parents chose the music that had framed my mind for these past 30 years. I was not independent. This new life is pleasure. My mind accepts. I believe because I feel the proof …and still the wonder grows. I will share with you, my darling Stephan, the conviction. This is my destiny: jazz. My light has arrived to snuff out the darkness of my sick self. I don’t feel lost any longer.
There are no further collisions as my first and last carnivals combine. With joy I realise that I am impenitent for my other life. My masquerade is complete. There is life after life…
I am dancing. I am dancing. I am dancing in my head.