I watched her dance, her movements lithe and graceful, her body twisting and bending in perfect timing to the music. She wore tight black leggings and a Lycra tank top, her right arm in a long spandex sleeve. Her long brown hair had been pulled into a tight bun, though one lone strand had stubbornly freed itself and dangled in the middle of her forehead. Sweat beaded on her brow and you could see a dark trail of perspiration running down the back of tank top. Still, it seemed as if none of these elements even phased her, as she leaps into the air, her legs scissoring. The music played, approaching the crescendo, as the young dancer entwined herself. As the cacophony of strings and piano came to a head, she spun a circle, pirouetting in a frenzy of speed and beauty, until the last strum of the string slowly died and she lowered herself to the floor, completely spent.
I listened to the applause as the troupe of dancers cheered for her performance, though my hands stayed silent. I watched her from the shadow of my balcony perch, darkness around me. I wanted fervently to cheer, to tell her how wonderful she was, how proud I was of her, but I kept my silence, unable to form words. I watched as she dried off the perspiration with a towel and took a drink from a bottle of water. I could hear her laugh, even see the twinkle of her blue eyes and I knew pain again. I had made many mistakes in my life, though leaving her, leaving her was the only one I ever wanted to change.
I shadowed her movements across the upper balcony, mirroring hers as she moved across the stage. The towel lay around her neck as she thanked the choir and the rest of the cast. The director embraced her in a long hug and I shivered as a tinge of jealously ran through me. How I wished that hug was for me, how I longed but for one embrace, even just one lonely smile cast my way. But I knew that my chance for any of that had passed away a long time ago.
After the director broke his embrace, she stood by the edge of the stage. I looked down to her as she continued to wipe away the sweat and drained the last of the water bottle. She made some small talk with a few of the other dancers, far to soft for me to hear from my perch. I listened to the shudder and click of the lights in theater shutting down, casting long shadows throughout the theater. After about 30 minutes or so, the rest of the troupe drifted away, until she was left all alone on the stage.
The only lights still on were the runners along the aisle and a single spotlight shining down on the stage. I moved my vantage point so I was staring down to her on the stage from the spotlight. She got up from where she had been sitting on the lip of the stage and began slowly stretching. I watched as she loosened up, noticing the concentration masked on her face as she went through a shortened warm up. My memory fell back to that first lesson, oh so many years ago. She had begged me for ballet shoes, begged her mother for them. She had been relentless in her determination even then. I recalled the look on her face as she unwrapped them on her birthday, with the brochure for her first lesson.
I missed a lot of those early recitals, even more of the later ones. By the time she was 14 I was missing all of them. It was my fault, my weakness. If only I had been stronger, if only I had told her what I knew now. Back then though, I only knew what I wanted. Or at least thought I had wanted. No, I'd taken a much more cowardly route, a path away from her and towards bigger mistakes. Shaking my head sadly, I broke off my revelry and looked back down on my princess. She was so much older now, a young woman, on her own in the City. About to play her first lead. Knowing that, even after all these years, I knew I had to come and see her, one last time.
She had started going through the routine that she had been practicing when I started watching again, doing the dance over and over until she had it just right. I hadn't realized what she had meant to me until it was too late. My little girl. I waited until she had finished the dance before moving. She stood back up, uncoiling from the spinning flurry of the final movements and rubbed the soreness in her arms and legs. She walked over to her bag, reaching in to pull out another bottle of water. The light seemed even brighter in the room now, no longer from just the spotlight, but from all around, a soft white glow that filled the room, but she didn't seem to notice. I knew my time was almost up, far far to short. I felt the pull of the brightness, the fabric of myself melting into the shimmering mist. I moved in front of that spotlight and reached out to her, so far away and yet so very very close. I cast no shadow on her, the ether of my being dimming away, and whispered "Thank you..."
My last memory was of her looking to the spotlight with a tear in her eye.
End of Line.