THE FURBELOW (EXCERPT)

          Alice Le Nguyen had lost the bombastic energy she’d exhibited in the first half of the show. In fact, she seemed to be flagging more by the minute. After a run of sautés that appeared to be executed in half-time and a lurching streak of pirouettes that almost took out a set piece, Lydia turned to me.

          “Is she drunk?” she said.

          “Of course not,” I hissed defensively, although it was possible. Alice was reportedly a drinker, at least recreationally. I’d heard rumours about her ability to knock back the better part of a bottle of vodka and do the 32 fouéttes from the Black Swan pas de deux without flinching.

          Midway through a series of staggering leaps, Alice stopped. She turned to the audience, blinked, opened her mouth, and vomited profusely in the direction of the orchestra pit. Then she crumpled.

          Half the orchestra gamely attempted to keep the thing alive, presumably on the off-chance that this was a sort of daring avant garde improvisation. The brass and percussion sections were already on their toes with their backs to the audience, straining to see Alice’s small body.

          The house lights went up, and a voice came over the PA.

          If there is a doctor in the house, it said, please make your way to side stage. If there is a doctor in the house, please make your way to side stage.

          “Lydia,” I whispered, “you’re a doctor now.”

          “Shh,” Lydia said, her eyes wild.

          I didn't know what she was talking about. I waited. No doctor appeared; no one in the crowd stood up.

          “Fuck,” she said, and grabbed my hand. “How do we get to the stage?” I tried not to betray my excitement. Alice Le Nguyen was my favourite dancer, maybe even more than Kelly, but this was easily one of the most thrilling things ever to happen to me. I knew exactly how to get to the stage.

          “I’ll go just in case,” Lydia muttered, as I hauled her down the aisles, past the sulfuric exit lights and into the dusty backstage area, “there’s probably someone more equipped, but just in case…”

          We pitched onstage, and the group of people standing around Alice whipped around and stared. My excitement faded at once, but the instant Lydia saw Alice Le Nguyen up close, spasming intermittently on a fanned semicircle of crimson netting and jet beads, something changed in her face.

          “I’m a doctor,” she said, and the crowd backed respectfully aside. Lydia crouched down. She still looked pale, but there was an uncompromising solidity to her jawline that I recognised from the time a man berated her for not dancing with him at a nightclub.

          Geraldine Swain, glimmering in baby blue organza and clinging to Kelly Adebayo’s majestic bicep, made eye contact with me. I gave her what I hoped was an appropriately grimacing smile that acknowledged both familiarity and the fact that her colleague was presently convulsing at her feet.

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