by Kirsten Kaschock
Clef made her way up the five flights to the chamber. The paint was coming off the pipe banister in large red flakes. On the way back down, sweaty from class or rehearsal, she often came out of the stairwell looking as if she’d just murdered some vagrant clown. Some balloonman. Today she wasn’t winded when she reached the top, but she was no longer used to the climb. It had been over a month. She took out her keys and undid the door and the deadbolt. No one would be there this early—she would have a chance to regroup.
Clef undressed in the cramped anteroom and slipped her shoes, coat, and sweats into one of the cubbies against the wall. She dropped her bag onto the floor, unzipped it, and pulled out an architecture she’d designed during her injury. She’d adapted it from one of the more involved structures in Lark’s book. The shape was an inversion—its center could rotate to the periphery and vice-versa. The mechanics had kept Clef up nights, but she’d finally wrought it. She thought its novelty might help her ignore the unavoidable pain of re-entry.
In the chamber, mirrors lined three walls. There was a small diamond-shaped window on the fourth, and two structural beams interrupted the room’s flow. It was small for a sleight chamber, but that was because Monk, unlike so many other troupes, had maintained its urban presence—with chambers on Avenue A since the 1940s. Clef had been to other troupes’ larger, more welcoming spaces, but there was something about grit and obstacle and a low ceiling that felt true to her field. Her art wasn’t about expanse or breath. It had irritated Kitchen when she’d said it aloud, but she had come to see sleight as a death practice.
Clef placed her architecture on the Marley floor and curled her body around it. She lay there for a few minutes, eyes closed, to memorize the configuration of sharp lines and wires with the nerves and muscles of her thighs, inner arms, breasts and abdomen. Keeping the architecture folded into her, her body protecting it from contact with the ground, she began to work her way back and forth across the floor of the chamber. This was kitten-play, Clef’s preferred method of getting to know an architecture. She embraced it, scrapped with it, twirled it above her with feet and hands when she rolled onto her back. Then the play elongated, and when Clef went backward over a shoulder—she extended and arched her body, guiding the architecture down her spine in a spooling motion as she controlled the descent of her legs to the floor. She never allowed her movement to cease or gave the architecture over to static. For a half-hour, maybe more, Clef used the rhythm of her breath to maintain energy. And then stopped.
Clef curled into her body again, without the architecture. This time the contraction was not maternal but fetal; the air—living, resistant tissue. When Clef released the position, her small frame expanded into an x that seemed to disengage her joints and send her extremities unbounded to separate quadrants of the room. Clef repeated the combination several times, inner withdrawal followed by the peaceable quartering of the body. Finished, she rolled onto her right side—this was called ‘relieving the heart’, and slowly made her way into the vertical plane.
Clef rearranged her leotard. She adjusted the elastic along her hipbones, tugged at her spaghetti straps, then bent over to gather up the architecture. During performance she wore no leotard beneath her web, but in rehearsals the women wore them and the men—athletic belts or biker shorts. She looked in the mirror. Her hair, though pulled back, was coming undone around her face—which was growing somewhat red. She could already see blood pooled where a few bruises would be forming: one beneath her left knee, one on either hip. A throb told her of a fourth on her shoulder. It felt good—her—moving again. Tender.
Clef began to rotate her tubes and wires.
She started slow, using mostly her hands, testing the limits of the architecture’s flexibility, watching mirrors to the front and side to determine how best to accompany the shapes that came. Soon she was entering into the figure, inserting arm or head or leg through openings in the revolving form. Clef, during manipulation, felt as if each architecture were a symphony, and she—again a child, dancing in the grass at Piedmont Park during a Sunday concert. It was never only limbs. She pushed again and again her self through the architecture—when it was good, that was how it felt. With the ones she invented, she felt also a strange possessiveness. And the not-wholly-oppositional senses of entrance and ownership clashed within her.
This one, though, allowed no conflict: each time she moved it into a form, there was only one way out—and that new form also coerced. The architecture yoking her shoulders demanded next to be swaddled-in-arms then extended into a weapon-form that required a telescoping downward, inward. The architecture—the instrument—in this way possessed itself of a willing Clef. As its shapes accelerated, sweat began to fly from the pools above Clef’s collarbones, spattering floor and mirrors. She partnered the figures, leaning hard into thought until thought merged with skin and nerve and reflex, and all trained upon the architecture: how to maintain its escalating metamorphoses, how to offer it flight or escape, how to best exploit Clef as catalyst. And then, unexpectedly, and for what must have been a remarkable duration, she wicked. In the chamber, Clef was no longer.
Clef ate an apple as she walked toward the subway. The apple was a world. The wind that whipped a lock of wet hair into her mouth was inside the apple. She sucked salt from the hair before pulling it from her lips. Above her the blue pressed down coldly. She was taller now, and could pierce it. Clef cut a swath from the air as she moved down the street. First, someone noticed her passing. Then, someone else. Scraps of newspapers and neon-hued flyers drifted down to settle in her wake. She tossed the apple core into a wire trash can and peeled some red paint from her palm. It had the irregular shape of a continent. Some vagrant continent—brightly bloody.