There’s a ballerina your husband’s been fucking. While you’re at home, he meets her in hotels. She soaks her feet in oatmeal baths. Her feet are battered, torn. It would make you sorry to see them. Afterward, she wraps them in gauze. Your husband lolls on the hotel bed, watching Animal Planet.
While you’re at home, this is what your husband is doing. Lolling on the hotel bed, watching a special on bear attacks. He sees reenactments of a bear dragging a 10-year-old boy from a tent, a bear breaking through the window of a 91-year-old woman’s kitchen. He hears the word mauling, he hears encroachment, he hears territory. In the bathroom, the ballerina dries her feet with a hand towel, drains the bathtub. Bits of oatmeal cling to the base. The maids will hate that when they clean in the morning. The ballerina thinks, briefly, of wiping up the oatmeal with one of the towels.
The ballerina isn’t a bad girl. She is very young, a corps de ballet dancer. She’ll never be the prima ballerina, never dance Odette. She has an audition for a featured part tomorrow. She has practiced for months. Your husband tells her good luck when she mentions it to him hesitantly. The ballerina dips her head, nearly smiles. The ballerina is very beautiful when she nearly smiles. She wiggles her ugly toes before she wraps them in gauze.
While you are at home, the ballerina nearly smiles and becomes beautiful. Your husband kisses her chin, which she doesn’t like, kisses her throat, which she does. The ballerina sighs. The ballerina rises up on her wretched feet, falls back onto the hotel bed.
She doesn’t think of you, or, when she does, it is as an abstraction, the frigid wife. Your husband didn’t say frigid, but the ballerina thinks of wives as being cold things, thinks of ice and unyielding bodies.
You are at home. Your husband leaves the television on while the ballerina pulls her top over her head, while he kisses her navel, while they fuck. The television is the hum of park ranger chatter, statistics, bear growl.
The ballerina arches beneath your husband’s body, thinks of Prince Siegfried, thinks of swans, says yes, more. She knows your husband likes it when she says that. You know it, and all of his old girlfriends too, yes, more, such a simple little phrase. Such a nothing little phrase.
While you’re at home, the ballerina says yes, more, arches her body, and you trace your finger along the stem of a wine glass.
The ballerina rewraps the gauze around her feet after she and your husband are done, shy of him seeing her feet. She sips a glass of water, wonders how clean the cup could be, even with the sanitary seal over it.
Your husband kisses the ballerina’s wet mouth. Your husband says the usual things, makes the usual promises. The ballerina nods, says of course, of course. The ballerina isn’t holding her breath. The ballerina is familiar with the things men say.
She thinks of her aching feet. She thinks of her audition tomorrow, the shine of spotlight, the scuff of stage.
She says: I should go.
She says: I have a big day tomorrow, shoves her gauzed feet into some oversized sneakers, kisses your husband on the temple. He’s watching Animal Planet again, habitat, attack, bear, bear, bear.
Good night, says the ballerina.
Good night, says your husband, closes his eyes, listens to the delicate sound of her steps, the click of the door, the growl of a bear.
You are at home, tip over empty wine glass, watch it roll across the table, and wait for it to fall to the floor, and shatter.
Cathy Ulrich saves newspaper briefs on bear attacks because there is something really, really wrong with her. Her work has been published in various journals, including Little Fiction, Former Cactus, and Pithead Chapel.