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Marta stretches, she bends, she pliés on the dusty crossroads. The grey pre-dawn air is chilled and the hills in the distance are soft purplish shadows, bruises on the far off horizon. There are a few minutes yet until the sun rises from behind the eastern ridge and the temperatures begin to soar. Pink streaks in the sky banish the last night stars and Marta goes through her routine.

At 56, most ballerinas have long since given up en pointe and the barre, but not Marta. Jaw set firmly, eyes steely, mouth perfectly lipsticked and dark hair pulled back in a immaculate, shining bun, she goes through her moves slowly, gracefully, determinedly. It’s a routine she has followed every day since she was a teenager. A lifetime of dancing and discipline make it impossible for her not to. Marta straightens up and narrows her eyes. She looks to the east, to the west, the south and north. Nothing is moving in any direction as far as her eyes can see. Not another living soul to be seen or heard. And even if a car should approach, it would take at least thirty minutes to reach her. She has time. She has all the time in the world. She looks down and kicks away a stone. Her cream satin ballet shoes are looking a little scuffed and her white tights a little dusty, but her pastel pink tutu is still flawless. Since her twenties, Marta has not put on one ounce in weight and all of her old dance clothes still fit her exactly. Marta is inordinately proud of this fact. 

Up en pointe, her arms at first above her head, then as she begins to turn, one arm is thrown across her chest and the other extends at a right angle to her body, straight as an arrow. As she spins, she fixes her eye on the broken window of the old borax mine administration building, set back from the road a little and thoroughly dilapidated. She flicks her head around with ease. But today she only completes a dozen fouettés – there was a time when she could do as many as thirty. She takes a breath. The sky is lighter now – pink and gold dominate the space above her, giving Marta and the abandoned borax mine a gorgeous, soft glow. Marta is always aware of her lighting. The rosy glow heralds the sun’s imminent appearance. 

A coyote emerges silently from behind the ruins and stares at Marta for a moment. They are both motionless until Marta gives him one of her ‘looks’ and he slinks away behind the crumbling buildings. She glances about her – still no cars, no people. The old adobe building across the way, three sided and single storeyed, reflects the early morning sun. It needs a new coat of white paint but in this light it looks just fine. She will turn it into a motel one day. Unfortunately, there aren’t many visitors to this inhospitable part of the world, what with its searing heat, its lack of water and its wildlife that consists only of coyotes, scorpions and the occasional psychotic hippy. But Marta has a plan – a plan that will bring audiences flocking to this desolate corner of the desert. Once her Opera House (capital ‘O’, capital ‘H’) is completed, there will be weekly shows – song and dance revues, music and poetry. Marta is going to bring culture to this god forsaken, dried up corner of California, whether it wants it or not.

But first she must complete her routine. She clears a few more stones away and the dusty road is ready for her. Adjusting her feet, with grace, with control, she descends slowly on straight legs until, there on the crossroads, she is doing the perfect splits, one leg pointing north and the other south. Her arms, above her head form a heart shape with the fingertips creating the pleat. Marta’s back is straight, her chin high, her expression imperious. She holds the position for one minute, maybe two. Let them come, she thinks. If a car were to come hurtling out of Nevada now, she has no doubt that she could stop it, halt it with her commanding glance and her unusual pose. There in the road, split, pressing against the dusty ground, Marta imprints herself on this ancient landscape, on the hot sands.

The sun is fully up now and the temperature is rising. Marta stands and arches her back, hands on hips. She sniffs the already hot air. Still no cars in sight. No audience, not yet. As Marta makes her way back to her room, the only space in the adobe building that is habitable, she checks in through the big old doors of the hall. Her Opera House now has a stage, it has renovated curtains. It even has lighting made from old coffee cans. All she needs now is an audience and today she will begin the work of gathering them together. With her brushes, with her paint she will fill her auditorium in the desert with kings and queens, courtesans and jesters. All the characters that inhabit her head will join her on her opening night, join her in her dances upon the sands.

And as she closes the door to her room, at the back of the old mine a dust devil springs up, whirling and turning and dashing across the hot sand, watched only by the coyote, hiding in the shade. Taking on the shape of a dancer, it makes a single fouetté and then twirls its way north, towards the Funeral Mountains.

This story fiction inspired by Marta Beckett

Pubs. Artificium Journal of New Writing & Poetry, Issue 2