Taking the Floor by Claire Barnard

Sarah lay on the floor, the varnished floorboards smooth against her skin. She let herself lie still in the warm patch of sunlight. This was all she wanted. She’d given up. No more fighting. She told herself she didn’t have to make an effort to be here. She didn’t have to do anything to stay alive. Her autonomic nervous system would keep everything ticking over whilst she absolved herself of all responsibility. Nothing else mattered.

Outside the sun glared. Reggae music pulsated from the house next door, the bass notes vibrating beneath her. It was another laid-back summer day, right for doing nothing, for being unemployed. But Sarah was having trouble just being. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She’d already spent next month’s rent and there was no sign of any more work. All her appointments had been cancelled. She’d had another grant application turned down. She hadn’t even been offered an interview for that job. It all had ended in nothing. Her life seemed to have disintegrated and now she had ground to a halt. 

She couldn’t keep trying, pushing, forcing herself to have another go. She’d had enough. But at least she didn’t have to make herself breathe, her heart beat, or her mind think. Although little seemed to be happening in her mind. She’d run out of ideas. All she wanted was to stop and stay stopped. Her body was agreeing with her. The last thing she wanted to do was move. As for dancing that seemed laughable.

What was the point? As a dancer what was she but a gnat tracing patterns in the air?

The other day she had seen a cloud of midges whirling beneath the Eucalyptus tree in the back garden as dusk was falling. She could, if she had enough patience, chart their individual trajectories and perhaps see the pattern in the whole. Had any scientific research been done?

Maybe they were communicating by dancing like bees do.

There was too much movement in dance. Too many acrobatics and too much gratuitous spinning, as if the dancers were afraid of stillness, like a garrulous person is scared of silence.

They had to fill the space, to keep moving, on and on: as if fearful that the audience would realise, if they stopped, that the preceding flurry of choreography had been empty, signifying nothing. Only the stillness, the silence was full, was inhabited. Then the dancer could be seen.

How many dancers could truly stand still? She remembered a performance where, amidst a stage full of moving bodies and with one dancer constantly running a figure of eight around him, a man had stood with his back to the audience for a full half hour without moving a muscle. Not at all effortful, it was as if he had just arrived and had neither the intention of moving nor standing still. He was just there. It was simple and beautiful and arresting. His presence repeatedly drew the viewer’s eye back to him, elegant as if he was practicing Zen and the Art of Standing, without drama, without histrionics, without spectacle. Sheer grace.

This is a dance, she thought, even if it is motionless. Did she have the nerve to do her own still-life show? After all it was still life. How long would an audience wait expectantly before one of them shouted, ‘Get up and dance you lazy cow!’

Five minutes? She imagined herself prostrate on the stage against a video projection of clouds moving across a cerulean sky. Exhausted dancer. Depressed dancer. Dead dancer. Or was she just resting?

No, she was still moving. Her mind was still conjuring up images of movement. Still telling her onwards, onwards. And her body knew of these ideas. Even though she meant to be still, her muscles were primed for action. She couldn’t keep secrets from them. She tried to stop thinking, to sink into emptiness, to give up everything. She didn’t need plans. She didn’t need choreography. She didn’t need hope. She just needed to stop.

The reggae thrummed, moving her sympathetic nervous system with the force of its beat. She didn’t want to hear music, to be driven by its rhythm. She needed her own motivation back, her own direction, but for now she would just stay here.

As she lay there, wondering if it were possible to think of nothing, she focussed behind her closed eyelids and the pink and black there developed into clouds of a soothing violet-blue.

She’d forgotten about this. It always made her feel peaceful. But even here there was movement, the blue swelling and receding and deepening in hue. It began to hypnotise her, to put her in a trance as if she were meditating. She became more relaxed and thought she might fall asleep. Although that wouldn’t help anything - everything would still be the same when she woke up.

Time passed. She finally stopped thinking, fretting, and wondering. She drifted into a kind of suspension, barely aware of where she was, the music enveloping her in an aural blanket.

She awoke at twilight, to the sound of the front door slamming and footsteps in the hallway.

Karen, her housemate, was home. Sarah sighed. Would she really have to deal with Karen’s depression about being caught in a job she hated? There was some comfort in their camaraderie of misery but Sarah really wanted someone to look after her.

Her stomach growled loudly - she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She sat up without realising she had intended to. Surprised at herself, she stretched her aching limbs like an awakening cat. It felt good. It all still worked, if somewhat reluctantly. She remembered it was

Karen’s turn to cook. Soon there would be the enticing aroma of frying onions. Her stomach rumbled again. Her appetite was telling her that she still had a responsibility to herself.

She went downstairs to meet her future.

Published in Issue #9

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