Sunday, June 23

Russian Ballet

BEFORE I EVEN lit up, I had noticed her. It wasn’t long until she came over and asked in a polite eastern European accent if she could have a cigarette. I handed her one.
We were outside another bar in the city. It was late; most punters had gone to a club, or retired home. All you had left was gentle chatter and the sound of music, fainting over itself in the air. There were some lights buzzing, office lights still burning. We had a drink each. I was most surprised when, after she received her cigarette, she stayed to chat. I was feeling low, of course, and had no expectations left in me. There were other groups around us, but because I had strayed away from them, she and I were mostly alone. In her flats, she was the same height as me. Out in conversation: she was Russian, a ballerina, only recently arrived in London and full of hope, ambition, drive. (If she was so full of hope, would she spit in my drink so that I might catch some?) It was a good conservatoire in Russia but she wanted to perform in the capital of England. She was somewhat impressed by my meagre knowledge of ballets –
‘Most people just know “Swan Lake,”’ she said.
‘I only know “Petrushka” and “The Rites of Spring” because I like Stravinsky.’
She was eastern European to the eye; the unmistakable skull structure. Maybe that’s why the others stayed clear of her, yet she was perfectly beautiful to me. Her fine blonde hair was tied back and she was in no way dressed for the city; casual garb, jeans, scrappy t-shirt, but of a fine class when she smoked a cigarette. As one finished, so we had another; chain-smoking and getting to know each other. Perhaps she was looking for a rich man to fall in love with her, but all she got was me – and I only had a few cigarettes left. Under her clothes. What did she look like? Ballerinas. All muscle and sinew. A class of women who master elegance and grace. ‘Her pectineus must be amazing,’ I thought – ‘Especially when she spreads her legs.’ We talked and I was very interested that she was in London, in London now for her future, travelled from far away and had wound up talking to me. I wished to know more.
However, I needed to empty my bladder. I had tried to ignore it but could no longer. If it exploded I would probably die right there on the spot. By our feet were a dozen extinguished cigarette butts. I had to go; there was no escaping it; I had to leave her for a moment.
‘You’ll have to excuse me,’ I said – ‘I need to go to the toilet.’
I rushed off, but while I was in there – back in that miserable bar where nobody stood out and the more one tried to stand out the more one faded away – I realised that I could not go back to her. It was foolish. It had been a test and I had failed. I could not pee and then return to her; filthy shenanigans. I felt very sorry for myself and for her, the beautiful Russian ballerina. I zipped up and went back to my colleagues. That was that. I would not see her again; she had a future in this new city and she would blaze through it and would perform on stages for people I knew nothing about. The pile of butts stood out to me. Her skull stood out to me. Her pectineus stood out to me. That was that. ‘Where’ve you been?’ ‘Just went to the toilet … does anyone want a drink?’

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