Second Position

Lucia had her eyes fixed on the television screen when I tiptoed into her room, and her expression momentarily flickered to one of childlike joy at having a visitor.

It had been two weeks since I last stopped by, though I had seen Giulia twice in that interval. My new approach, since the home was so close to my own, was to swing by immediately after work for lengthy one-on-ones, figuring that the longer visits would have more of an impact.

The pain associated with visiting Lucia, along with the disjointed nature of our conversations – more monologues, really, since Lucia was starved for people to listen to her reminiscences – meant I really had to gird myself to turn left out of the elevator, rather than to the right. I was ashamed to recall the evenings spent laughing over wine with friends and afternoons savoring the wind off the Hudson that had beckoned more enticingly than her room of late.

I resolved to become a more constant visitor.

Lucia had not shrunk visibly since our last visit, but she looked considerably worse cared for. Dried food was crusted to her nightgown and both stuffed dogs, and her face was in need of sponging. Her spirits were higher than usual, though, and she launched hungrily into an assessment of Russian ballerinas versus the “Orientals.” (Bearing in mind that she is an elderly woman from Kansas, I tried not to flinch her choice of words.) Whereas Russians command the stage with harsh superiority, according to Lucia, the Orientals are able to bend in ways the other dancers simply could not. Having seen one too many an acrobat camp in China, I was inclined to agree here.

One young Japanese dancer, she said, had the most beautiful port de bras Lucia had ever seen. She lifted one arm in an arc, and I was amazed to observe that her former grace was still discernible among the tremors. It was the first time I had realized she could still actually lift her arms.

Lucia was on a roll now. She danced her right arm in the air once more, this time attempting to convey the meaning of a pas de chat. This time, her feet twitched ever so slightly under the covers.

I jumped up, dredging the five basic positions from my memory, ready to play puppet. I moved my feet obligingly from first position to second. Like this?, I asked.

Lucia narrowed her eyes at me, trying to conjure the tiniest air of delicacy to attach to my motions.

Shoulders down. Lengthen the neck, she coached. I obeyed, triceps seemingly bulging.

We worked our way through the positions, once, twice, before she blurted, Pirouette!

It was futile. I apologized for my clumsiness and blew her a kiss goodnight.

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