It’s that time again. Time for another First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF). Other free feature stories can be found on my Pinterest page (a shared short story board) and on the Freebies page of my site.
Today’s offering is part one of a two-part story. It will conclude in next month’s #FFFF.
A Lamentation of Swans
Her toes bled, her feet swelled. She wanted nothing more than to hobble to her apartment and soak in a tub. But Selina, her real estate agent, insisted she tour the property the second the sellers listed it. So, despite her aches and pains, Juliette went to tour the place.
“See, it didn’t take you long to get here,” Selina said.
It really hadn’t. It was close to the dance school, yet set far enough into the country that she could escape the bustle of the city with a short fifteen-minute commute.
“Let me tell you about the place before you look around. It’s ten acres of pristine landscaping. The gardener, Ramon, is willing to stay on, and his fees are quite reasonable. In addition to the house and gardens, this place has its own tennis courts and swimming pool.” Selina swept her hand toward the back of the property, but Juliette couldn’t see past the stately columns in the front of the house.
“Let’s go in,” Juliette said.
“You’re going to love it.” Selina hooked her arm through Juliette’s and guided her inside. “The rooms are spacious. Look at these windows.” Every room seemed to have a wall of windows facing another gardening delight outside. Natural light flooded the rooms, seemingly expanding the already generous spaces.
“And you have to see this.” Selina led her down the hall to a formal ballroom. Hardwood floors gleamed in the late evening light.
“The ballroom could easily be converted to a studio for you. You can add a wall of mirrors and a bar over there” she pointed across the room, “and a sound system. You could workout whenever you wanted.”
That room did have potential. Not that Juliette often danced at home. She spent too many hours dancing at the studio, dancing on stage. Home was for rest. But, still…
Selina guided her to the kitchen, which she’d likely never use for anything more than juicing, but she listened politely while the merits of the space were gushed over.
“Granite countertops, cherry cabinetry, and professional-grade stainless steel appliances. Think of the parties you could host here. And I know a woman who’s looking for a job as a personal chef. Anita. She specializes in healthy gourmet meals. I’ll get you her card. You’ll love her.”
It was a good thing she had a trust fund. Every word out of Selina’s mouth amounted to more money.
They continued exploring the home. The splendor of the master bedroom was eclipsed only by the grandeur of the master bath. The rest of the bedrooms were also generous and well-appointed. The library boasted floor-to-ceiling shelves, and as she already had an extensive collection in storage, filling them wouldn’t be a problem.
“I know it’s a bit large, but you’ll want the space when you settle down, start a family. I can get you the number of several cleaning services, or maybe you’d prefer a butler? I know a–”
Juliette tuned her out. It was a big decision. So much to consider. The house had everything she could possibly want. But was she really ready to commit to it? She had the funds, but she didn’t have the family to fill the place. What if she never did? She couldn’t make up her mind.
Then she saw the natural pond in the back of the property. Swans floated on the nearly black water, their graceful countenances a sign to her.
She was dancing the lead in Swan Lake at the time. Seeing the swans on the property—her property—made it seem like fate. She made an offer on the spot and decided the rest would fall into place later.
And the pieces did fall. Quickly. Soon after moving in, she married the premier danseur in her troupe right on the back lawn, the swans an elegant backdrop to the festivities.
When she decided to stop dancing and start a family, she was happy with the decision. She thought her husband was, too. But as she gained weight, her husband lost interest. And when she lost the baby, he didn’t grieve. He just put her on a diet.
It wasn’t long after until she lost her husband, too. And good riddance to him.
She fought to get back into shape. Fought even harder to earn her the lead in several ballets.
And never quite hit either of her goals.
* * *
Just her and her staff—Jeremiah the butler, Ramon the gardener, Anita the cook, and Roland the chauffeur. After the first five years of her self-imposed exile, she dismissed Roland.
It depressed her to lose him. After all, he was like family. But she didn’t leave her house any longer.
The house grew darker with her mood. She drew the drapes and stayed inside.
Occasionally she’d take a bag of bread cubes and stroll around the pond, feeding the swans. They trumpeted their joy at her offerings, but it only seemed to make her sadder.
Eventually, she stopped going to the pond.
Then she stopped watching them from her window, preferring to keep all the drapes drawn.
The only time Juliette was happy was when she danced. She wore out CD after CD of Swan Lake, dancing alone in her ballroom. But her feet didn’t move quite as nimbly as they used to, nor did she have any supporting dancers on the floor with her. Still, she felt light and carefree when she danced.
Then, one rainy afternoon, joints achy and muscles tight, she entered the ballroom and began her warmup. Too soon, she spun onto the floor and began the opening number to Swan Lake.
And she fell.
The pain was excruciating. Breath-stealing. It was moments, hours, days? She didn’t know how long she lay there before she had the strength and breath to call for help.
When Jeremiah found her, he rushed her to the hospital. She spent five days away from home, during which she endured countless tests and one surgery.
The doctors said she’d never dance again.
What they didn’t tell her was she’d never walk again.
I hope you found part one compelling. I’d love to know what you think might happen next. Are you rooting for a happy or sad ending? I’ll be honest–the ending I originally conceived is not the one I’ll be publishing next month. I completely changed my mind right before writing the end.
(Now that the conclusion has been published, you can read it by clicking here.)