Ballet of Dust

At first, it seemed to be nothing special. Just a desk lamp with a bent arm glowing in a dull room of striped teal wallpaper. My mind was elsewhere. Sitting in the side chair with my arms crossed, I was thinking as the shadowy form in the hospital bed tossed, mumbled and grunted.

I’d had this memory of riding my horse in the paddock in early spring. I remembered the way my legs felt around her, how my hands guided her, the way she grunted and the earthy smell of her fur. I’d been a practiced rider then, but I had not ridden in a long time, and in fact I did not know what happened to that horse after I left the farm. It was a dumb memory — the kind that is like watching a movie with commercial breaks. I don’t know why I’d thought of it.

My eyes came back into focus, and I was in the hospital room again, staring at the lamp. I did not know how long I’d been there. I must have been transfixed.

There was nothing else to do, so I looked at the lamp light again. The incandescent shafts formed a triangle from the top of the shade to the surface of the wooden desk. Within the cone shape were particles of dust. I leaned closer.

The particles were moving. I could not say what color they were; I could only see tiny specks dancing, twirling and swaying under the lamp’s light, like a troupe of ballerinas with outstretched arms, leaping, bounding. With thin necks thrown back, faces locked in permanent smiles, their slippered feet were soundless. There was no stage for their toes to strike, just the light around them. They danced to music I could not hear, but imagined to be Gnoissiennes peckings, strange and echoey. It was the kind of music that hardly believed its own notes. One hung on the other, then shifted into a related melody with stickiness, like a cotton dress in August.

As the ballet of dust floated in this universe of orderly beauty, I reached my hand out to touch the particles. No. I could not. I drew my hand back. I would only disturb the dance. How horrible they might feel — if they had feelings at all — to have their rhythm disrupted and not know why. I folded my hand back into my lap and continued to watch the dance unfold.

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