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Mercury and the Red Shoes

Mercury and the Red Shoes

Only streetlights notice me…  

I close my eyes as the turn comes, and the drums add to the violins and piano.  

I talk in circles  

I remember the day I’d found his song. Sleeping at Last’s songs were basically poetry put to music, and “Mercury” was perfect. I’d listened to the lyrics probably a hundred times.  

I watch for signals… 

My song was apparently Daya’s “Hide Away,” and it was fitting for something Russ would pick out. But the fact that he had actually thought of me. And this song of all others… What could it mean? I was so excited to find him a song. And “Mercury” had been written for him. The real him. But that face he’d given me… My heart had fallen through my feet and shattered on the ground.  

“I don’t see how this is anything like me at all.”  

Like science fiction bending truth…  

He would never see it.   

I tuck my head and bend backwards as far as I can without losing my balance. The bells sound like they’re attached to my ankles because they chime and ding at every footfall.  

He would never understand. He couldn’t see into poetry like me. I didn’t know what he could’ve been expecting when tried to find him a song. He would’ve hated me if I had tried to explain it, so I’d only forced a smile.  

No one can un-ring this bell, un-sound this alarm, un-break my heart new…  

I hold my arabesque for too long, but this music isn’t fully lining up with the music in my head.  

I am desperate, if nothing else…  

I can’t help it. It reminds me too much of Russ’s song, too much for me to not think of it, and just that thought makes my stomach rise to my throat. The violins grow violent, and the bells and piano notes and drums pound against my head. I keep my eyes closed. Maybe I can hide it. The horns shoot straight through my thigh and over my knee, twining around my foot, and out through my toes, and my assemblé goes higher than it ever has before. My eyes open in surprise. I try to focus, but it’s no use. Everytime I close my eyes, I hear the drums and the horns going up and around and around and down into a plié then up again.  

“Did you ever figure out why he enlisted?”  

“He wants to fight.”  

“But there isn’t even a war! Did he say why?”   

“I think he just wants to get away.”   

I hadn’t been able to look Anne in the eye when I’d said it, so I pretended to re-adjust the ribbons on my shoes. I believed what I’d said, even though he’d told me that the real reason was so he could shoot someone, so he would know what it felt like to kill. But, the way he’d said it, with that huge grin and eyes all glazed over. He hadn’t meant it. He just liked to make people hate him.  

“What a jerk. All he cares about is himself. What did his parents say?”   

And he’s so good at it.  

I know, the harder I try, the further I go, only keeps my eyes closed…  

Why? Why? Why?   

My spins grow faster to keep up with the bells and drums, and I can barely breathe. I know that my pirouette is too fast. It doesn’t match the recital music, but I can barely hear that anymore. All I can see is his frozen expression, his wide, perfect smile and his lifeless, hazel eyes.  

I am desperate, if nothing else, in a holding pattern, to find myself…  

I bet if he listened to the song – I mean really listened to it, he would see it. He would understand.  

“You’re just messed up.  

“What’s with you, man? What are you doing?”  

“I feel sorry for everyone who has to put up with you  

“You won’t let people help you! I don’t know what’s happened to you.  

“It’s like you want people to hate you.”  

God knows, I am dissonance, waiting to be swiftly pulled into tune...  

The same smile. The same dead eyes.  

The voices join, and all of the violins and bells and horns and drums and pianos start going over and over again in circles of notes that my mind can’t keep up with. I’m spinning. I’m jumping. I plié then arabesque, but it isn’t high enough! How do I talk to him? How do I tell him? He just has to listen, but he won’t. He won’t listen! He doesn’t want to listen!  

You don’t want to know.”  

“Yes, I do want to know. What is it you think you’ve done?  

“It’s more than just one thingMarrissaI’m just a terrible person, okay? I really am. Let’s just leave it at that.  

“You say that, but I don’t believe you. No one else does either. You just… I don’t know. Everyone’s got something wrong with them. What’ve you done? Tell me one thing that you’ve done.”  

He had laughed and then given me his signature smile. But I never look at his smile. I only look at his eyes.  

I talk in circles. I talk in circles. I watch for signals. For a clue.  


The music stops, and so does my heart.  

It’s coming, but I should’ve known it would come. I turn to meet her glare. Her lips are parted somewhat, and her nose is wrinkled into a snarl. Every line in her face seems carved in the wood of a totem pole face representing death. She’s probably been holding it back for a while.  

Her disgusted expression dissipates with her sigh, but she tries to save face by tucking her head down and squeezing the bridge of her nose.  

“Marrissa… I know that you’re daydreaming, and unless it’s about being as light as a feather on a bed of clouds in front of four thousand people…” She sighs again. When she looks up, I drop my gaze to the floor and try not to bite my lower lip. “You want to be in the recital, don’t you? That’s what these private lessons are for.”  

I could tell by her tone that it was safe to look her in the eye.   

“Yes ma’am.”  

“Ok… Start again!” she snaps, and the music starts up again. “One two, three, turn out! One two three, pirouette!” She continues to orchestrate me with her hands and an occasional exaggerated nod.  

I close my eyes again. I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. I always get my best ideas when dancing.  

But no ideas come to my head. All I can see is the glimpse of his eyes drowning in pain. The moment plays over and over and over again. The drums beat steady beside my heart, and the voices flow through my veins like water. They’re too loose to be blood, and it’s suffocating me. I’m drowning.  

Why Russ? Why? Why? Why? I know I get annoyed, and I’m sorry. But I want you to know that I see through it. I see through all of it, and I know who you really are. (I think I do.) I wish I could tell you everything I tell you in my head. I wish I could explain why “Mercury” is your song. I wish you could see that pushing people away isn’t going to protect them. I see you, Russ. I see you hiding behind your Dorian painting – the one Dorian tried so hard to hide while you put it on display for the world to judge. I can see through your lies. (Can’t I?) Why are you running? Why are you afraid of people caring about you? Why do you think they need to be protected from you? I know that you care about them. You care too much. (And I really don’t think I’m wrong.)  

Once again, I’m pulled back to a humid, summer night. It was dusk, and a little boy took my hand and led me to the back of his uncle’s garden where the honeysuckle vines grew over the bench and faded white archway, nearly hiding our view of the sky, but we didn’t care. We could still crane our necks back and see them through the three limbs. When I glanced at him, I realized he’d been staring at me, even while fireworks lit up the sky. 

“Do you like this place?”   

I remember the tickle in my ear left by his whisper.  

“This is my special place.”  

“Why is it your special place?”  

I don’t remember what his answer was, or even if he did answer. That’s one of the only things I can remember of him, and it’s fading. It’s almost gone.  

“What are you doing, Russ? Why are you acting this way?”  

“Ah, you know.”   

He shrugs. Same smile. Same eyes. But when he moves away, that’s when it’s visible, but by that time, everyone else has already turned away. If only they lingered just a while longer, if only they watched his eyes, they would see in the green and gold mixture that stares back that there’s life. And it’s screaming.   

But a lifeless mask seals it up into a tomb.  

And somehow, all of this mess, is just my attempt to know the worth of my life…  

“Marrissa!” I snap back to the studio where Mrs. Leah is gripping the barre so tightly that her knuckles have turned from a pale Russian dance instructor to an unburied, three day old corpse. “What are you thinking about that’s so important!”  

“A boy.” 

“A boyeeesssshhhhhh” She start’s squeezing the bridge of her nose again. I can feel tiny pins traveling through my thighs and shoulders. Had I actually just said that? She slowly exhales into folded hands, and my face is burning enough to make my entire body start sweating. I brace myself for the lecture over my career and this scholarship and my parents and– 

She claps her hands once, and my gaze snaps back to her face where she’s glaring at me so intensely that I can almost see every vein in the white of her eyes. She painfully stretches a grin while digging and squeezing at her palms with skeleton fingers.   

“Ok,” she manages. “Let’s try this again. Starting from the top.”  

“Um, Mrs. Leah? I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can do this today.” 

“Boys.” The way she says it. Curt. With an edge sharper than a switchblade.  

Maybe I shouldn’t do the recital. Not with this music. Her lips are curled, and I rub my hands along the sides of my leotard. They’re cold and damp. I can see her teeth through her lips. How can her skin stretch itself so thin as to make every single bone in her face– 

“Since you’ve already taken up half of my evening, why don’t you enlighten me.” She crosses her arms, and I can feel my heart pounding like a battering ram against my chest. 

“I have a friend… He’s enlisted.” What else could I say? That my childhood best friend and the potential love of my life is ruining every relationship he’s ever had in some sort of self-destructive defense mechanism that pushes away everyone who cares about him?  

“Ugh.” She rolls her eyes, and I almost flinch. I can feel my insides swelling against my ribs. “And why does this concern you? To my knowledge, there’s not even a war.”  

I squeeze my hands together as tight as I can. She’s still glaring at me. Why is she still glaring at me? 

Is there?” 

“No ma’am.” 

“And is he flying off today? Or getting on a plane at this very moment?” 

“…No ma’am.” 

“Alright then.” She starts the music again. It’s the solo “Red Shoes.” The drums pound with a fury, and the violins are screaming with a desperation that moves all the way up their neck until they run out of room for voice. Victoria is dancing as hard as she can with all of her power while she’s grieving. There’s little chance of me getting distracted this time. I don’t have to think of Russ’s song because this is my song. He’d been wrong about “Hide Away.” This was the song – the story – that I could relate to.  

I jump then try not to fall as I have to throw myself in the opposite direction. My thighs and calves want to twitch, and I know that the bandages on my toes have come off. I know that my feet are bleeding, but I won’t stop. I won’t! I won’t think of Russ or his song! Or of “Mercury,” or the sun, or of any of the stars that make me think about wishes and dreams and the future life that I want so badly to have! He doesn’t deserve me! Why should I care about him? He will never care about me. 

I hear it now. The softening. The soft silence that comes after something has been broken, and all the pieces are lying on the ground. Victoria realizes that she’s lost everything, and I want to tell Russ that he’s losing everything. He’s losing me. But he’ll only laugh. He’ll give me that grin, but I’ll see it in his eyes. I’ll see the breakage, and he’ll try to harden himself the way a bone tries to harden after it’s been broken. I know that he loves me. 

“I’m going to marry you one day, Marrissa. I really am.” 

“Then you’re going to have to straighten up.” 

We’d both been laughing, but he’d been looking me straight in the eyes. I could see the life, and it wasn’t screaming. It was dancing. 

Marrissa, you need to let him go.” 

“I truly feel sorry for anyone who ends up with him.” 

He made his mother cry, Marrissa! Do you know what he said to her? When she came over to his apartment just to clean it for him? She was cleaning his apartment for him! And he made her cry!” 

“He made Beatrice cry today. Can you believe that? Nick was furious. Making his sister-in-law cry! He made me cry, too. Over James. Why would he say this stuff? He doesn’t talk like that around you, but one day I’m going to bring you a recording.” 

I realize the music has ended, and I’m lying on the ground where Victoria has fallen into despair and given up. My eyes are burning, but I can hear Mrs. Leah clapping.  

Marrissa, my greatest fear is commitment.” 

“Why would you tell me that, Russ?” 

“I don’t know.” 

He’d shrugged with a laugh, and it had been the fakest, most forced laughter I have ever heard.  

I guess I’ve been laying here too long. Mrs. Leah has taken my hand and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. 

“Well done, Marrissa! I haven’t seen someone dance ‘The Red Shoes’ that well in a long time. Keep this up, and you may get the part of Victoria.” 

“Thank you.” I wipe my nose and eyes. 

“You really got into character, didn’t you? Sometimes bad things happen in life that are really good for our art. Now, if only you could stay focused during the first few songs.” 

Was she trying to comfort me? This was probably the best Mrs. Leah could manage. I look at her and see… a smile? Had I, Marrissa Alexandria, caused the stone-hearted, Russian instructor to smile? 

“During the first sequence – the part you may not have to worry about – you must’ve been daydreaming about a different piece. You were adding your own choreography.” 

“I was?” 

“It wasn’t bad. It just didn’t match the music very well. But you’ll have to cut all that nonsense out if you get a leading role. I think you should dance Victoria at your audition. Then you won’t have to worry so much about the slip ups during the first few songs…”  

I sit down, untie my shoes, and wrench them off. Mrs. Leah continues talking about my solo and the recital and everything that should be consuming my life but isn’t because what I love and what I want don’t fit together. I stare at the bloody wrapping on my feet. That doesn’t make sense. What I want should be what I love. Something inside of me doesn’t make sense, and I don’t know why I would force myself to choose. Russ would never choose me. I’m probably one of the reasons he’s running away. 

I know, the further I go, the harder I try, only keeps my eyes closed. And somehow, I’ve fallen in love with this middle ground, at the cost of my soul… 

Maybe “Mercury” is my song. 

“…and the turn out needs to be a little quicker. You were behind half a beat.” 

“Yes, thank you.” 

“Maybe you can invite this boy to the recital before he gets shipped off.” 

I look up at Mrs. Leah, and I see a smile.  

What if I did invite Russ? He would never come. But, I could try. I’ve never been too afraid to just try. Maybe if he saw me dance Victoria – maybe if he saw me dance period. Has he ever seen me dance? Maybe if I got Victoria, and he came, I could find him in the audience. I could keep my eyes on him, and he would be able to understand when I said with my movements, I don’t want to give up on us. I don’t want to let you go, Russ. Everyone else will let you push them away until you’re left all alone, until you realize what a mistake you’ve made and how it will all be too late then. But, I won’t give up on you. I’ll keep praying and thinking of you every time I hear your song and how you are just messing your life up for God only knows why. And you’ll finally recognize that someone else sees you drowning. But I’m going to do my best to not let you drown, Russ.  

If I stepped aside, released the controls, you would open my eyes… 

Yes, maybe if he sees me dance, he would see what I want to say. Probably not. He couldn’t even understand “Mercury.” Russ can be so stupid sometimes, but maybe if he sees the desperation of Victoria, maybe if he hears that music, and the grief, that powerful grief that tears apart someone’s soul when they lose everything, and nothing is left but broken pieces… Maybe he will feel something too powerful to ignore. 

I smile and nod my head as I walk. Mrs. Leah has gone to her office, and the violins in my head grow louder. 

I’ll go anywhere you want, anywhere you want, anywhere you want me. 

Published in Edify Fiction, Fall 2018
Photo by Adam Littman Davis 


Eyes Closed

Eyes Closed

The sky is so blue. She closes her eyes and imagines that she’s falling. Falling. Falling, from very far away. Clouds surround her, and she starts to sing. The ground looks like her great aunt’s quilt. The air is so pleasant up here. 

A noise disturbs the silence. She opens her eyes to see a helicopter approaching from one side. It looks like a slowly approaching dot, but she knows what that almost see-through line on top of the dot represents. Spinning blades that will tear her apart. Her heart starts pounding, but she calms it. 

Surely they will see me. 

She’s falling so fast, but the helicopter is following. Struggling to keep up, yet still following. Pointed right at her in a slanted nose dive. Soon she will outfall it, and it will pass her up and be unable to catch her. 

Sure enough, the helicopter passes slightly overhead. She feels like laughing. 

But wait! Someone’s jumped out!  

It’s one of those smaller carrier helicopters that don’t have doors on the sides. She would have noticed if the door had opened. 

Now, the person is free-falling beside her, all adorned in white except for the black visor on the helmet. They have a parachute backpack on. They don’t have wings like her. 

She smiles, knowing she could outstretch her wings at any moment and let the person fall right past her. Strange how they manage to stay beside her, but slowly, slowly, they creep past her, falling just slightly faster because she hardly weighs anything. The helicopter circles around and is struggling to catch them again. The ground no longer looks so much like a quilt. 

The person outstretches their hand. 

“We’re here to help!” comes the muffled sound of a woman’s voice. 

“I’m fine!” she calls out and smiles, but the mystery woman continues reaching, moving as close as she can. 

It’s rare for someone to approach her in the sky. It’s hard to notice a falling speck. 

This person is running out of time to release her parachute. 

“Take my hand!” says the muffled voice. 

The mystery woman grabs her arm. She twists it back, but the woman’s got her. Her heart jumps to her throat. What is happening! Who is this! 

A sky fight. She hasn’t had one of these in a while. And never against a wingless person. 

Mystery woman grabs both her arms, and they spin. Spinning. Faster and faster. Her hair gets in the way, and all she can see is orangey-red that whips against her cheeks and eyes, forcing them closed. 

The woman has to deploy her parachute soon, and the jolt will allow her to escape. Yes! No need to panic. 

The wind is spinning in her ears too fast. She can’t hear the helicopter.  

“Margot…” She hears. The woman knows her name. Why isn’t the parachute deploying? What is that?  “Margot!” The woman’s got some kind of weapon. This evens the fight, but they’re too close to the ground. If she lets go to get away, the woman will probably fall to the ground and– 

“Margot! Supper is ready, c’mon!” 

She opens her eyes to the blue sky. It takes a minute for her eyes to adjust, then she rolls over and tumbles to her feet. She’ll have to finish the sky fight later. 

Photo by Johnny McClung 




My brother bought me a necklace for $75, and it’s probably the tackiest thing I’ve ever seen. A plain golden chain with tiny cursive letters spelling out the word dreamer. I actually laughed out loud when he gave it to me, and fortunately, he thought it was because I loved it. 

I wear it all the time, just because it is so expensive, and tacky, and not even remotely worth the price. It suits me, I think. I find it so basic that I actually like it. Maybe my brother knows me better than I thought. 

Yesterday, I saw the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my life. It was on the subway, and I had to look twice. I don’t think I would have found him beautiful had I not been in a certain mood, but yesterday was one of those days where the world is beautiful, and anything’s possible.  

I glanced at him, then my heart started pounding, forcing me to look back. He had dark hair, a smooth face, wearing a jean jacket and straight legged pants rolled up a couple of times to reveal about half an inch of his socks. He had headphones on, and he stared out the windows at the blackened tunnels with a look of wonder. 

A basic, beautiful boy. Perfect for me. 

And so, I decided that I was in love. 

I’m nineteen, so it’s about time that I have my first love. 

I’m normally a very timid person – sits in the middle of the classroom to avoid attention, never speaks first, breaks eye contact first – type of person.  

But, I’ve always wanted a first love, and yesterday was one of those days. It took some convincing, but I took out my phone and, very obviously, took a picture of this beautiful boy. He saw me, just like I knew that he would.  

I instinctively grabbed my dreamer necklace when I felt my face burning. I forced myself to look at him and smile. He looked freaked out, just like I would be if someone had randomly snapped a pic of me. 

Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea, my mind kept informing me, but I shrugged it off and told it, Oh well.  

It was too late. 

The middle-aged business woman sitting across from me snorted, having seen it all go down, but quickly covered her mouth.  

I know, business woman, I know.  

There are two types of awkward – the kind that makes everyone laugh and blush and naturally love. And then there is the kind that makes everyone uncomfortable to where they don’t know if they should laugh or cry, so they just look away. Unfortunately, I’m the second kind. 

My dream boy did not shuffle over and speak to me. Instead, he spent the rest of the time staring uncomfortably out the subway’s darkened windows, refusing to look in my direction. 

I laughed softly. I hate myself. 

No I don’t. 

I actually love everything about myself. I just wish everyone else did too. 

That’s the story of my first love. 

I think I will download the picture of this boy, print it off, and stick it in a notebook somewhere with the date just so I can look back at it one day and laugh. 

Today is a beautiful day. Just as beautiful as yesterday, but there isn’t as brave a feeling coursing through my veins.  

I’m sitting in my room listening to the most beautiful, empowering remixes of love songs. Most people would probably find them stupid, just as my brother does, but I like them. The sun is shining through my white translucent curtains, and I swear, I want to travel. I want to go running; make a difference; love someone; read a book; rule the world. But I won’t. I’ll sit right here in my room dreaming of doing all of those things until chills travel up my arms because, for me, the idea of something is so much more attainable than the actual thing. 

Is anyone else like that? 

I smile and roll over onto my back and instinctively grip my dreamer necklace. 

Photo by Jordan Whitfield 




Why the ice? Why the tundra? Why the middle of nowhere you ask? Because it’s barren. Because I don’t want to look for Beauty in an obvious place. 

Josh clutches the ad between his forefinger and thumb. Why did he agree to do this?  

Wanted: 10 – 12 individuals who want adventure and are willing to risk their lives to get it. (I’m just kidding. Austria is fairly safe.) 

Why couldn’t he be a normal kid who got a basic-paying job in the short transition space between high school and college? He didn’t even want to go to college. His older brother Stephen just got promoted to CEO of JanGlass, and he agreed to fund a trip for Josh. Not college. But a trip. Because Stephen wasn’t going to pay for Josh to go party and mess around and eventually drop out because Josh never wanted to be there in the first place and so he wouldn’t care about his classes, and he would end up working at some ho hum job in a JanGlass warehouse after wasting several years of his own life along with thousands of dollars’ worth of Stephen’s hard-earned money. 

I’m a photographer, and I‘ve made journeys like this before. But I’m not as young as I used to be. Plus, I love the company, so long as your hard-working, respectful, and a bit on the curious side. Otherwise, you won’t like this job, and I won’t like you. 

There was a typo in the ad. A freaking typo. Oh well. This guy was supposed to be a professional photographer, not an English major. 

This job doesn’t pay so much in money, but it does pay in adventure, experience, and the chance of a lifetime. 

Stephen made a face when Josh first showed him the ad, and then he started laughing. He asked if Josh was serious, and Josh didn’t know what to say because, frankly, Josh didn’t know. He still doesn’t know. He’s made half-hearted decisions his entire life because they were the decisions he was supposed to make. Play this sport. Ask out this type of person. Go to this or that university, so long as you go to university.  

Stephen stopped laughing and said he was proud of how mature Josh was becoming – going someplace new as more than just a tourist and going with the intention of discovering what he wanted to do with his life, being a leader and not a follower.  

Josh still didn’t know what to say because he hadn’t even thought of that. He just couldn’t think of a place to go, and time was running out when he found this ad. 

Places we’ll be going: Across a few of the Alps (mostly in High Tauern) and anywhere else we need to go, depending on what we encounter or have yet to encounter.  

How long we’ll be gone: Around a month and a half. I’ll try not to make the trip any longer.  

Type of person: You need to be strong enough to carry your own weight on this trip, that includes carrying your own equipment like food, clothing, and camping supplies. You may need to carry a few other things as well, and be prepared to walk for several miles in a day’s given time, rain or snow, up or downhill. 

Josh wasn’t sure he was strong enough to do this, and he wanted Stephen to talk him out of it. Instead, Stephen made him come to the gym with him for the three weeks leading up to the trip, talking to Josh everyday about the story of a famous man who went to Antartica and wrote a similar ad to convince men to come with him, and how Tolkien used that story as part of the inspiration for The Hobbit.  

This Daniel Jackson reminded Stephen of the photographer from the Walter Mitty movie, and the more Stephen thought about it, the more Stephen liked the idea of sending Josh to Austria to find himself. 

Disclaimer: It’s very unlikely that you will die (unless you do something incredibly stupid), but I’m writing here to let you know that any who answer this ad do so at their own risk. I will interview all who respond and decide for myself whether or not you would be a good fit for this team. 

The interview is in Grossglockner, exactly where Josh in now, and he’s not going to purposely throw it despite how his stomach is churning and curling away from the rest of his insides. He will try his best because his brother paid for him to come all the way out here. And maybe he’ll get to join the adventure team with world class photographer Daniel Jackson. And maybe he’ll figure what he should do for the rest of his life, or at least develop enough of a spine to say no to whatever he doesn’t want to do. 

Photo by Jakob Owens