A pile of rags blocked the window of a theater. Two hands pressed against the glass, and a tin cup lay on the ground, slowly filling with snow. One of the chandeliers lit a bruised young face with the dead eyes that imply an alcoholic father. A woman wrapped in furs said something in a tone of pity. Then the lights dimmed and the woman forgot: the show was beginning.
A dancer stood at the center of the stage. Rows of chairs radiated from her feet in concentric arcs and sped away into the dark. She could not see to the rear of the darkened auditorium, but she knew that she stood at the point where every line of chairs converged and every arc bound its focus.
The first movement of her hand silenced five hundred spectators. She allowed her arm to float slowly to the ceiling, and her eyes followed it. Then she pulled her elbow to her side as if to snap an invisible rope. The joy from the action carried her across the stage and climaxed in an effortless leap. Her face and the tempo of her step projected the same confidence, as if that emotion had shaped her mind and body to live in a world where obstacles did not and could not exist.
The girl standing at the window trembled. She did not know if the cause was the cold freezing her skin or the awe burning in her stomach. If she had ever been taught the subject, she would have thought that the dance gave her the impression of a mathematical proof – a thing whose every element was chosen and, at the same time, an inevitable consequence of the one before it. This was a message from a world where fathers did not become alcoholics, where families did not fall into poverty, where daughters did not walk the streets to beg, where certainty could be captured and cast in flesh and warmed by the heat of one thousand eyes.
The girl no longer felt that it mattered that she could not fill her cup with change that night. She no longer cared whether her father bought his next case of beer. The figure clad in black swept all of the girl's desires away and replaced them with the imperative: become this. Her mind drew the implications from it in an instant, and she saw her life in front of her as a narrow path of light.
When the performance ended, the audience filed out onto the sidewalk in a mass of dresses, jackets, and pearls. They did not know why they parted for a pile of rags with burning eyes that walked past them, in a straight line, into the distance.