Helen McClory


Helen McClory

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There was an emblem on the floor upon which she stood, a charm that tired her unbearably. In the fireplace, the fire hissed. Down the chimney, a storm was spitting on it. The walls of the room were mirrored and the ceiling was a painting of the man she would marry, standing in the grounds of his home. When the roof came off she had to spin. The lawn beyond her own room was endless. She was supposed to be wealthy, she was supposed to be a princess. That’s what the girl told her. But she didn’t have a tiara, and no one came to remove her clothes at night or put peas under her mattresses to test her. She didn’t leave, she didn’t eat, and when there was a sky, there was only the navy-blue lunges of ‘swan lake’ playing on an endless loop and her furious dancing with her hands held above her head but otherwise no grace to her at all.

Toys cannot be cruel. That’s a lie as much as aspirational princesshood is a pre-capitalist relic but amounts to much the same hunger for contemporary soothes of prettiness and worship as is buying an imitation dress of the one your favourite film star wore. But anyway the ballerina was not a toy. The ballerina was a part in the clockwork music box. She only wore one dress and it was her skin, too. She was, then, a metaphor. Or a tension before the metaphor is fully realised, since metaphors are a form of violence; smashing two or more parts of the world together that would not otherwise touch. A metaphor is a hybrid in language. A monster impossible in a world where things are just as they are. A creature of a world of ambiguities. Who was the ballerina made to harm?

Or, who is to be cruel, then? It is not possible for a budding metaphor to think for itself, and therefore it can be useful for only as long as a point needs to be made, task to be done, or a hunger fed. When the girl was fourteen, too old even to play the music box out of lazy nostalgia for the song, she left it under a chair and let the dust turn cover it, soft as grey snow. The ballerina felt inside herself a heart where there had been none before, tears on her face where they had never once flowed. She pulled herself up from her emblem – at great cost to her feet, which from that day on would be irredeemably cracked and ugly. She stood up on her bed, upon which she had never slept, and pushed at the tin roof until it opened up a crack.

She had been made real by the force of a story. Its need for a central figure. She had been made to harm herself with humanity. Is that also what the monster is, in part. This question is not rhetorical, because it needs to be read. Rhetorical questions do not need to be recorded, they are just that good. The ballerina, unaware of any of these discussions of selfhood, fable, and monstrousness, climbed out of her room and stood stiffly upright if slightly crooked, tiny and hopeful and humble and brave, looking about with her dainty black eyes: the story, as it needed to, had stapled her to the world with adjectives. The desire was to find out what a roomful of ballerinas all dancing the same way looks like when spread across the surface of an endless lawn. The desire was to hint at the promise that there would be love and a place to find some kind of scarring emotional denouement and then a place of rest, as there might be for any of us.

But the ballerina was too tiny a thing to make a story of. In any case her story has been elaborated upon and told with great wit and precision and faith many times elsewhere. Hence the mirrors which penned her in, in case you missed that – an Easter egg also overlooked: the Toy Story logo on the plastic blanket on her bed. And so she lay down, helplessly meta, helplessly outmoded as a metaphorically commentary on reality or fiction, discarded, in fact, upon the lawn that was actually a rug, in the world that was actually a rather pleasant fictional teenage girl’s room, pointlessly animated and unable to will herself to further life, or make appeals to the story or the reader of the story (hello, can you help me?). And at last waiting quietly, dumbly crying those brand-new, impossible tears, the ballerina fell without moving towards the inevitable shutdown of consciousness, as the story dropped off altogether.

Helen McClory

Helen McClory is a writer based in Scotland. Her fiction has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Smokelong, and The Toast, among other places.Last year she was an Artist in Residence at the Banff Centre, Canada. She has recently completed a flash-fiction novel about art, grief and failing as an immigrant in NYC and New Mexico. She tries to live in 1,000 words or less.