Authors: Carmilla Voiez
The Ballerina and the Revolutionary
by Carmilla Voiez
The right of Carmilla Voiez to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it was published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Cover art by: Nicola Ormerod
Edited by: Vanessa Knipe
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Carmilla Voiez.
All rights reserved.
This story is dedicated to everyone, whatever their gender identity and sexuality. May we all find beauty in our diversity.
Thank you to Vanessa, Karl, Sarah, Gabrielle, Ann and Trish for your help in bringing Crow's story to life.
(London, England - 2013)
My body was like flotsam, tossed about in the crowd. My throat, dry from shouting, felt full of razorblades. Where was everyone? The bodies, bouncing beside me, crashing against me, were strangers. All my friends scattered in the first surge, not long after the rioting started and the police descended. Above our heads, damp with sweat and water spray, towered a dozen mounted police. Glossy, chestnut mares gazed haughtily down at the crowd as their riders tapped batons against body armour, menacingly. The bodies of fellow anarchists and others pressed in around me. The tide was turning. We were moving back, retreating, scurrying away like frightened rats.
A sweaty chest crushed my face. As the man moved so my jaw and nose moved too, pinned between it and an arm behind me. I gasped for breath.
It was always the same. Two steps forward, one step back. Our comrades had been occupying the closed school for months, providing free education to adults and children alike in this deprived area of London, but the landlords wanted them out.
Answering their call for help, we stood with them. Dressed in black and red, we created a buffer between those grass-roots heroes and our moneyed oppressors with nothing other than property values, profit and fast turnarounds on their minds. Our stand-off displeased the Metropolitan police, and here they were again, determined to move us on. Comply or die – that should have been their motto.
Amidst the chaos, I heard a shout and recognised the voice. Jumping, I accidentally bludgeoned a man’s ear with my elbow as I rose. He yelped in pain and shock then acknowledged my existence, at last.
‘I need to see,’ I told him.
He supported my weight, lifting me above the crowd. Outside the tightening ring of protesters was Chrissie. She was being tackled by three policemen and wrestled to the ground.
The man withdrew his support and I slid between bodies and dropped to my knees. Beyond the forest of legs, Chrissie’s face was being pushed against concrete, a heavy boot pressed between her shoulders. Our eyes met. Wrapping my fingers around a rock from the ground, I rose to my feet, leaned forwards and pushed my way towards the front of the crowd, weaving between hot bodies. The smell of anger and fear tainted the air. Sweat and tears dripped like rain.
At last, my body fell clear of the crush of protesters. Chrissie craned her neck and stared back at me. My shout of rage was cut short as a riot shield slammed against my cheek and I crumpled on the ground beside her.
In the flashing lights of my dazed vision, her face faded. I reached out and grasped her wrist. A smile lit up her face and she mouthed one word, ‘Crow’, before all light extinguished and I passed out.
My name was Crow. I was nineteen years old and had spent most of my life trying to escape all forms of hierarchy, most accurately portrayed for me, by the image of the matriarch, i.e. my crazy mother.
Mother’s name was Vivienne. We didn’t look alike, we didn’t act alike and we certainly didn’t think alike. Vivienne was a prima ballerina before she gave birth to me and I had all the grace of an elephant. She wore long, floating skirts and big jewellery, while I felt more comfortable in combats and t-shirts and hated the long hair she made me wear as a child, a symbol of begrudging femininity that never felt comfortable. My head was shaved now, much easier.
As far as I could remember I had always hated her, and she me. I never figured out what she wanted from me and simply assumed it was my unhappiness. Once free of her oppression, I naturally transferred this simmering animosity to other unworthy authority figures, but things were rarely as simple as they seemed.
I survived the blow from the shield, although the crowd were moved on and the building cleared. A pity really, another community space handed over to the country's rich elite. It made my head spin. I never understood the principle of profit over people. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, but in the end I was a fighter and I guess I existed outside of society. It was easier that way, less complicated, and I could keep my priorities in check. I liked to think of myself as a freedom fighter, like my dad. The squat had everything I needed and I did a bit of this and that to make enough money to feed myself. All I had ever wanted was to survive and be free.
It’s why I left home when I did, at thirteen.
(Bristol, England - 2007)
There was barely enough space for my single bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers in my tomb-like room. Every inch of wall was covered with posters and ink drawings - faces whose features were twisted into grotesque parodies of themselves. I moved quietly around the room, dragging long, black hair back from my soft-brown skin. Muddled piles of clothes, books, and CDs waited in a stolen suitcase. The case was half full when the door opened and my mother strode across the room.
‘Where do you think you are going, Giselle?’ Vivienne asked.
I blushed and stared at the floor.
‘Giselle?’ Mother asked again, softer this time.
Her gaze dropped to the brown, leather suitcase, and she pushed the lid closed, hissing between her teeth. ‘What are you doing with my case?’ Her voice was quiet, but each word was pronounced carefully as if to avoid any misunderstanding.
I watched, wide-eyed and terrified, as she brushed invisible dust from the suitcase. Her neck twisted until it appeared as though her head was almost parallel with her left shoulder. It was her most unnatural, freakish and intimidating pose and she used it sparingly. Her eyes blazed with fury as I shuddered within the fragile armour of my skin, struggling to maintain eye contact.
‘I’m leaving? I can’t stand ... it anymore.’ I backed away towards the small window.
‘It’s those junkie friends of yours, isn’t it?’ Vivienne spat. ‘They’ve poisoned you against me. Well, you can’t leave. You’re only thirteen years old.’
‘Stop it! I keep telling you. They aren’t junkies.’
‘I knew you were up to something. Nanny told me.’ Vivienne jutted out her chin and pursed her lips.
‘Nanny’s dead!’ I screamed. ‘And you’re a fraud. She’d never have told tales on me, even when she was alive.’
Vivienne’s head snapped abruptly back to the correct position. She picked up the case and emptied my belongings onto my bed with a few sharp shakes. Suitcase tucked under her slender arm, she marched out of the room, leaving the door open behind her.
Exhausted, I fell to the floor. My hair covered my face as I sobbed. I spat strands of it out of my mouth, snarling as I tore at the roots. I kicked my bedstead then winced with pain. I kicked it again, harder.
‘I hate you,’ I whispered.
I stood up and pulled my hair back again, knotting it at the nape of my neck. I tiptoed across the room, clutched the doorknob in my shaking hand and pushed it closed without making a sound. At last it felt safe to exhale and I sighed, hugging my torso tightly with one arm for comfort. I chewed the fingers of my other hand and stood, swaying, for a few minutes then rushed across to the window and pushed it wide open. The lawn stretched out about twelve feet below. I climbed onto the windowsill and crouched there for a moment, crow-like in my dark clothing, then I jumped, rolling as I hit the ground. Testing my limbs and finding nothing broken I ran, away from Vivienne and away from home, empty-handed.
I glanced back at the dark windows of Vivienne’s house as I reached the end of the street and blew a goodbye kiss to my brother. I felt as light as air, free. Of course I wasn’t free. I could never be free. It was always the same. Two steps forward, one step back.
(London, England - 2013)
In a dark room, under a filthy blanket, my body stirred.
In my dream, I lay on the ground, next to a man with blue eyes; he was smiling. We were in a forest. A zephyr whipped up brown and red leaves, making a rotating fence around us. The circle of leaves grew tighter and tighter until they scratched my skin as they rushed past. Sitting up, trying to bat them away, I realised I was naked and wrapped my arms around my chest, pushing my flesh taut against my ribcage.
The wind stopped and the leaves fell to the ground, burying the blue-eyed man. I dug up leaves in handfuls, but the pile was too deep. Angry buzzing emanated from the mound. The leaves were alive with bees and wasps. I yanked back my hands and saw they too, were covered with hundreds of insects.
The buzzing became louder until the sound of an alarm clock woke me. My blanket fell away as I sat up, revealing my khaki t-shirt. I always slept fully dressed. Scratching my fuzzy, shaven head, I winced. A week after the beating and my bruises still troubled me. My entire body throbbed with pain. My face was scratched and sore and my right cheekbone bruised and swollen. As I glanced around the room the movement made my earrings jangle together; the sound soothed me.
Six other bodies lay on the floor, wrapped in blankets. Two pairs of bodies snuggled together, limbs entangled, sharing their heat. The remaining two slept alone, like me.
The alarm next to Matty’s body was still buzzing. I yawned, padded over, switched it off and checked the time – fourteen hundred hours. I shook Matty’s shoulders to wake him. He peered at me, through eyes rimmed with red. His sour breath made my stomach churn.
‘It’s time to wake up,’ I grunted and slouched out of the communal bedroom, into the kitchen.
With an exaggerated yawn, I pulled a saucepan out of the sink and rinsed it under the tap. I filled it then lit a camping stove to boil water for coffee. The two cleanest cups found, I rinsed them, half-heartedly, before spooning in coffee granules. By the time Matty joined me, there were two coffees on the windowsill and I was smoking my first cigarette of the day, inhaling the smoke and exhaling the memories of my nightmare.
We stood in silence, drinking and smoking until a knocking at the front door startled us.
‘Giz,’ my brother’s voice called through the letterbox.
I ran to the door and peeked through the opening. ‘Tom!’ I beamed. ‘Go round to the back of the house.’
Matty was already unbolting the back door when I returned. As usual he was late for work. ‘Bye, Crow!’ He saluted me, grinning.
I directed my wave at Matty’s retreating back. Tomas walked through the door a moment later. I smiled and took a step towards him. He grabbed and squeezed me, lifting me from the floor. At six feet tall, Tomas was almost a foot taller than me. His short, dark hair was carefully styled and his skin much paler than mine, with only the hint of a tan. His eyes were hazel. From looks alone, it was hard to see any family resemblance between us.
‘What you doing here, Tom?’
When Tomas stepped back from our embrace tears gathered in his eyes. My fingers tingled, as if they were directing me to comfort him, reach up and stroke his cheek. I couldn’t. Instead, I asked, ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Didn’t you get my letters?’
‘Vivienne again,’ I answered, stiffly, turning away to roll another cigarette.
‘She’s responding now. Most of the time she seems ... lucid.’ He sighed, wiping his face brusquely with the back of his hand. ‘But it’s hard, seeing Mum like that ... so weak.’
‘Oh. But, Catherine and Melissa are okay?’
He nodded. ‘I have to bring you home. Mum needs to see you.’
‘When Mum woke up ... she asked for you. She’s desperate to see you, to apologise. She never meant to hurt you.’
Anger made my arms shake. Trying to steady them, I reached out and squeezed my brother’s wrist.
He pulled away. ‘Giz, for Christ’s sake, it’s been six years. Isn’t that punishment enough? You know, Mum’s life wasn’t easy either.’
‘It’s Crow, and don’t do that. Don’t stand up for her. Yeah, maybe she loves you now, but she’s never loved me. I was always too clumsy, too ugly, too angry ...’
‘Look ... G-Crow ... it’s just ... come with me. Do this for me, please.’ Lines of pain, like spiders’ webs, were etched across his skin around his damp eyes.
‘I don’t know.’ I sighed. My shoulders dropped in resignation. I did know. I knew I would always provide the stability my brother needed, however unstable I felt myself and I knew I could never be free of his need for me. One step forward, two steps back.
‘Just for a couple of days, please,’ he begged.
I remembered how fiercely I shielded my big brother while we were growing up. He was always the sensitive one, too easily hurt. I realised how much he still needed me.
‘I’ll try,’ I whispered, shuddering.
Packing to leave the squat involved no more than picking up my backpack from beside my pile of blankets. My khaki rucksack had, for years now, contained my life: my clothes, my belongings, even my dreams – stored for travel, small and easy to transport.
I kissed Chrissie’s cheek and placed a note, beside her sleeping body, to explain where I had gone. I left the blankets where they were; I would be back in a couple of days.