17. Frozen Swan

My singular focus on Giulia had started to attract attention, and the team leader pulled me aside Tuesday to politely but firmly suggest that I visit Lucia, a former prima ballerina crippled by Parkinson’s disease.

Alight at the prospect of meeting another master of the arts, I followed her down the hall, past the door of the woman who shouted hateful slurs at anyone who crossed her threshold.

I wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted us. The first word that came to mind was ossification; her body was devoid of muscle, and seemed to be entirely composed of skin and bone. Not bones, just bone – as in, one solid mass.

Lana introduced me and pointed out two stuffed dogs on either side of Lucia. These are her children, she whispered to me, and she gets terribly upset when she can’t reach them.

With false cheer, I asked a couple of questions about the dogs to get her talking. Her voice was very faint and the cadence was jerky, but I could follow the basic thread of her monologue. Though her ballet days were many years gone, I talked to her about Black Swan, which I had seen just the week before.

This sent her off onto her dancing career, and I could actually see her mind receding back to those endless days in front of the barre, and the cheering crowds that served as her reward. She had danced Swan Lake many times, she said; it was her favorite. I scrutinized the back of the television mounted on the wall to see if she would be able to watch a Black Swan DVD, to no avail.

As she talked, my own thoughts wandered to the terrible tragedy of a woman who had spent half a lifetime communicating through her body now trapped so irrevocably within her head. It seemed the ultimate torture, a fate too cruel for anyone but Khalid Shaikh Mohammad.

I snapped back to the present as Lucia began recounting her reviews. The New York Times critic had said of her dancing: Lucia Minetta dances like a beam of light bending to form a rainbow.

If this was what she had left to hold onto at the end of her life, surely she had a scrapbook of her career. I asked if this was the case, and if I might go to her apartment and bring it to the nursing home, but Lucia could not recall her address. Her apartment was gone anyway, she said, and her things were in the basement of the building, located somewhere near the United Nations headquarters.

Back at home that night, I ran searches through the NYT archives, trying to track down any mention of  Lucia Minetta in the past 70 years. Not a single result popped up on my screen.

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