The following story is not intended for children.
About this story:
Years ago, my sister-in-law took me to see "La Sylphide" at the ballet. While I enjoyed the dancing, I was struck by the central ambiguity of the fairy tale. Was James an innocent victim of the sylph, or an unfaithful scoundrel? Was Effie making the best of a bad situation, or was she conniving with Gurn all along? The characters' motivations were a complete mystery, and it occurred to me that one could tell at least three different stories by shifting the blame for the tragic ending from the slyph, to Effie, to James, while keeping the basic plot the same. So I did.
This story has not yet been published; if you are interested in publishing it, please contact me.
by Rachel Zakuta
MUSIC Herman LovenskjoldCHOREOGRAPHY August Bournonville
Scene One: La Sylphide dances in James’s dream.
La Sylphide has no name. Names are human preoccupations. La Sylphide does not sleep. Sleep is a human obligation. La Sylphide dances. She dances in the woods, where the wind makes the leaves dance with her. She dances in the dark, where her music shines like the sun on water. Sometimes, as now, she dances in the dreams of a human who has fallen asleep in the sylphs’ wood.
Hers is not a human dance. La Sylphide dances the flash of the lightening and the pattern of the stars. Her dance is a dance of stillness, as well as motion, and it requires great strength, the still parts most of all. James, the sleeping human, has not the strength. His heart beats frantically and his limbs tremble.
La Sylphide likes dancing with James. For centuries she has danced only with her sisters. She had forgotten how she appears in human dreams: slender legs, pointed toes, crystalline wings.
James is waking. He has trouble standing, because his heart is still straining and his limbs are still shaking. Although he is awake, he is still dancing somewhere deep inside. This is as it should be; La Sylphide is always dancing, even when she’s not.
James stumbles in the direction of the village. La Sylphide follows, unseen.She will dance with James again.
Scene One: Silvio dances in Jaime’s dream.
Jaime wakes slowly, confused. He dreamed of Silvio, that kind of dream. They were dancing and then--he doesn’t want to remember. He reminds himself that he never touched Silvio, not once in four years as college roommates.Fiona is a long sheeted rise across the wide plateau of the bed. Jaime wishes he could slide his body alongside hers and trace her feminine topography with the back of his hand, but Fiona hates to be touched in her sleep.
Scene One: Sylvia dances in Jay’s dream.Sylvia slaps his arm. “You can’t fall asleep here, you know.”
Jay grunts, still waking. He smells of sex and sweat, or she does.“Come on,” Sylvia prods him. “It’s past five. You want to be home when Tiffany gets back from her bridal binge, don’t you?”
“It’s called a shower,” Jay says, though he’s refused to remember the name all week at home.
“So is this it, or what?” Sylvia sits up with sheet around her, leaving Jay bare. With practiced nonchalance, she reaches for the drink on her bedside table.
Jay lies with the complete unselfconsciousness of the beautiful. “I told you, once I’m married, that’s it. I'm a decent guy.”
“No arguments. Just wondering what your schedule’s like this week. Wedding’s not till Sunday.”
Jay lets out a guffaw, and finally finds the energy to swing his feet off the bed. “In that case, I’ll call you,” he says.
Scene Two: James encounters Effie, his intended, and Gurn, his rival.
Houses are human cages, and La Sylphide is free. She will not enter, but watches James and the other humans through the window.
“Best of the
morning,” Effie says. Then, “What’s
“Nothing,” James manages to stammer. “You look--you look beautiful.”
“You look ill,” says Effie.
Gurn enters with an
armful of green boughs. He has been in
the wood with his ax, hewing wedding decorations. La Sylphide cannot approve.
James cannot hear
what Gurn and Effie say to each other over the roaring of his blood. He puts a hand on the mantel to stay
upright. He must stay upright, though he
cannot remember how. He must be strong
for Effie, although he cannot remember why.
Something is wrong, he thinks.
Gurn is whispering,
“It’s not too late to change your mind.”
Scene Two: Jaime encounters Fiona, his intended, and Glenn, his rival.
The sound of a deep voice, much closer than any deep voice should be, jolts Jaime awake and upright. He quickly grasps the elements of the situation:
- The fussy, frilly room in which he finds himself is the guest room in Fiona’s parents house;
- His fiancé, Fiona, is standing in front of the bed, her hair still wet from the shower;
- Glenn, Fiona’s best friend, is talking from the open doorway, impeccably country-club as always;
- He, Jaime, is naked; and
- The sheet has slipped off.
Scene Two: Jay encounters Tiffany, his intended, and Gavin, his rival.
“What’s he doing here?” Jay drops his fork. It clatters on the plate, punctuating his displeasure. A bit of half-cooked egg yoke jumps up and fastens itself onto his shirt.
dress. He’s just taking me to pick up
the dress, because, you know, Maggie doesn’t have a car, and it would be bad
luck for you to see it.” Despite the
logic of her excuses, Tiffany’s appeal still sounds like the pleading of a
“You said I’d only
have to see him at the wedding,” Jay intones.
“I’m standing right
here,” Gavin says mutinously. He pushes
his glasses up his nose and stands as tall as possible.
Tiffany says breathlessly, pushing Gavin out of the apartment. “I promise I’ll make it up to you. You know I will.” The closing of the door makes further
communication between the lovers impossible.
Jay draws his cell
out of his pocket. “Sylvia? Looks like I do have some time. . . .”
He leaves the dishes on the table for Tiffany.
Scene Three: Madge, the village sorceress, predicts Effie’s marriage to Gurn.
La Sylphide recoils as a withered grandmother approaches the cottage. Madge stinks of human magic, magic made, not born. Fear is a human malady, so La Sylphide is not afraid. Still, she can’t bear the smell.
Once inside, seated
with honor by the fire, Madge sees with her eyes what she has already seen.
James is lost, gone, dead already.
All the pity in an old, battered heart cannot save him. She must try to prepare the unfortunate girl
for the blow. She takes Effie’s hands,
sighs, casts some herbs in the fire, smiles.
“You will be merrily married for many a year,” she says. “To Gurn.”
“No!” James lurches towards her, but Gurn easily holds him back.
Poor man, there is nothing else to do, except make sure the sylph takes no others.
Scene Three: Meg, the little sister, predicts Fiona’s marriage to Glenn.
“Fiona!” Jaime protests, grabbing the sheet and stuffing it where it matters most. “Can’t we have any privacy? I’m not--”
“Everyone’s up, right?” Meg pushes past Glenn and jumps onto the bed. Jaime winds the sheet tighter around his waist. He likes Fiona’s little sister--likes her best of the whole hayseed bunch--but he thinks there should be limits, and that bouncing on the bed occupied by one’s naked soon-to-be-brother-in-law should be beyond them.
“Fiona, we have to print out the programs and pick up the guest gifts and make the place cards. And those are just the things I’m supposed to say,” Meg finishes.
“And the only ones you will say,” says Fiona sharply.
“If you say so.” Meg shrugs noncommittally.
Jaime shakes his head to clear it of sleep, not that that will help. With Fiona’s family, he often feels like a spectator at an arcane sporting match.
“I’m off, then,” says Glenn. Jaime watches the other man peck Fiona on the cheek.
“I’m for breakfast,” says Fiona. Jaime doesn’t get a kiss goodbye. Wedding stress, he supposes.
Meg is the last to leave, and she pauses at the door to look back at him. “Not saying anything I’m not supposed to say, ‘cause Fiona would kill me, I just want to say, I like you better.” And she is gone.
Scene Three: Maggie, the maid of honor, predicts Tiffany’s marriage to Gavin.
In the parking lot, Maggie lounges against Gavin’s scratched and patched Volvo.
“What is this?” Tiffany asks angrily. She has exited the building alone; Gavin reported a sudden need for the toilet and insisted that she go ahead.
“An intervention. You can’t marry him,” Maggie tells her, as if telling the madman on the roof, “You can’t fly.”
“You haven’t seen him at his best,” Tiffany says, forcing Maggie to meet her eyes. Begging comes naturally to her these days. “It’s difficult for Jay to be around you and Gavin. You’re so smart, and you’re in college-“
“Where you should be!”
“--you make him feel stupid. He’s intimidated by you.”
“He treats you like dirt,” says Maggie. “He took advantage when you were grieving. You would never have gone out with him otherwise.”
“You’re twisting things. He was there for me when I was taking care of Mom. I wasn’t much fun to be around, but he was there.” As always when she thinks of that time, the immensity of what she owes Jay overwhelms her. No matter how hard she works at loving him, she will never discharge that debt. “Who else would want me, anyway?”
“Gavin would,” Maggie says, but Tiffany knows it is a lie. Gavin is way too good for her.
Scene Four: Gurn discovers James with La Sylphide.
Finally, James sleeps. His fogged mind surrenders to the demands of his exhausted body, and he drops into a wooden chair. Instantly he is with her, the lissome beauty of his dreams. She arches as a willow might; he supports her back. She leaps; he catches her; they fly. James minds not his pounding heart, and he has forgotten Effie’s name. The shell slumped in the chair grows ephemeral, while the silhouette in the doorway gains definition. James and La Sylphide are one in the dance.
Gurn, returning with an armload of hopeful flowers, sees a sinuous outline hovering on the threshold. The shimmering figure is white as new snow in morning, so bright it brings water to his eyes. He reaches his hand out to touch that loveliness, but it vanishes on contact. There is only James, by the fire, asleep.
Scene Four: Glenn discovers Jaime with Silvio.
The airport smells uninviting. It reminds Jaime of his mother’s tidy cellar--plenty of space to play, but infected with the odor of disuse. Jaime yawns.
The rumbling of the baggage carousel brings him out of his slouch and onto his feet. A few people are trickling in through the glass door. Jaime feels a helpless and probably ridiculous-looking grin stretch his face as he catches sight of Silvio.
“The best man!” Jaime claps his friend on the back. The fog he’s been wandering in all morning seems to lift.
“Better than you deserve,” Silvio says, surveying their surroundings. “Do you know what they do to people like me in places like this?”
“Twilight zone, isn’t? No worries, though. Fiona’s family’s like royalty around here.”
“Ever so reassuring. Fiona just loves me.”
Jaime laughs. Even the sight of Glenn, come to pick up Fiona’s beefy brother, can’t shake Jaime’s feeling that the sun has come out.
Scene Four: Gavin discovers Jay with Sylvia.
There is only one way to be sure Gavin heard what he thought he heard while hovering outside the apartment door, giving Maggie time to work on Tiffany. So he follows Jay as he twists deeper into a maze of peeling duplexes with postage-stamp yards.
Tiffany’s lover walks with his head up but his shoulders curled, daring the world to put obstacles in his way. In his mind, he is already tangling with Sylvia, dancing their combative dance. Having sex with Sylvia isn’t really cheating; it is nothing like making love to Tiffany.
Not even Gavin's suspicions can prepare him for the sight of Sylvia, clad in her scantiest scrap of black lace, opening the door. Nothing has ever made him blush like the sight of Jay’s hand plowing between her thighs as he pushes her roughly back into the darkness. It takes Gavin a moment to process what he has seen, and what it will mean.
Scene Five: La Sylphide prevents the wedding.
James never truly wakes. Like his ethereal bride, he is now always, always dancing. He does not understand the clothes he is made to wear, the walk he is made to take, or the words he is asked to say. These are human rituals, outside the dance. It is a relief when La Sylphide materializes just long enough to snatch the ring meant for Effie’s finger and lead him away, away.
Scene Five: Silvio prevents the wedding.
They pull up in front of the house roughly together, and so meet in the hall as if following precise stage directions: Jaime, Silvio, Glenn, Fiona, and her brother. Now that Silvio is here, Jaime feels ready to dance conversational circles around Fiona’s brainless brother and provincial parents. First, though, he goes up to his girl and kisses her full on the mouth.
Jaime hears a groan, and the play begins.
“I’m sorry, Fiona, I just can’t keep quiet any longer. I saw Jaime and that--that person kissing in the airport. I thought you should know.”
Jaime turns to face Glenn, uncomprehending.
“Oh, Jaime, you told me it was over!” Fiona wails, pulling back from him.
Fiona’s brother has turned the color of boiled beets. “Are you telling me that Jaime is some kind of a--a pervert?” he asks Fiona. “And you knew?”
Fiona has tears in her eyes now. “He told me he was cured!”
“Why are you saying that?” Jaime asks, but as he looks at her, and at her fuming, moronic brother, he knows why she lies.
“Get out,” says Fiona’s brother. “Get your things and get out of my house.”
Jaime looks around for Silvio, but his friend, having played his unwitting role to perfection, is already gone.
Scene Five: Sylvia prevents the wedding.
Tiffany doesn’t believe Gavin’s story. She simply can’t think ill of Jay; she has poured enormous effort, over the last year, into not thinking ill of him. She has also half-suffocated herself under a blanket of passivity, so it is easy for Maggie to put her in the back seat of the car. Gavin is too distressed to drive; he must sit next to Tiffany and try to comfort her, even if he is cruelly forbidden to touch.
Maggie retraces his steps, and even rings the bell.
“Tell her who you are,” Maggie prompts, when Sylvia answers half-dressed.
“My name is Tiffany,” says the half of Tiffany that can still breathe.
“Too bad,” says Sylvia. “He just left.”
Scene Six: Madge seals La Sylphide’s fate.
James stumbles through the forest. There is pain in his chest now, the pain of a breaking heart. The dance is fast, as fast as the fall of a raindrop, and he has fallen behind. La Sylphide dances with her sisters, who never tire. He can feel them on ahead, and must follow, though his pulse stutters and his muscles clench.
Madge catches him as he falls over a gnarled root. She speaks quickly. There is no time for pity, neither for the young man nor herself, forced to play the role of the murderess. James must be an instrument of his own revenge. He must take the magic scarf she has enchanted to La Sylphide, out of love or hate. Madge must make him understand.
Is there a man inside who grieves for what he has lost? Is there a beast who will follow his mistress to his last breath? Madge does not know, but James’ hand closes over the fabric. It will have to be enough.
Scene Six: Meg seals Silvio’s fate.
Jaime finds Meg sitting alone in her room. It takes him a moment to find his voice.
“How long?” he asks.
Meg shrugs miserably. “When you came home with Fiona last week, she told me she wasn’t going to marry you. I told her it was too late to cancel the wedding, but she said she had a plan so no one would be mad at her or Glenn.”
“Where is Silvio?” he asks.
“He told me not to tell anyone.” A tear rolls silently down her cheek.
Jaime takes her hands. “Sweetheart, I need to find him, to make sure that he is alright. He’s very, very important to me, and I really messed up.”
Meg sniffles. “If you feel that way about him, what were you doing with my sister?”
They are both still for a while, holding hands, sorting things through. Jaime feels like her brother. She is the only one he’ll miss.
“No more secrets?” Meg asks finally.
“He went to the inn by the airport. I called him a cab.”
Scene Six: Maggie seals Sylvia’s fate.
Jay can’t get Tiffany to answer his calls, so eventually, after flushing the ring her mother left Tiffany down the toilet, drowning her precious books in the bathtub, and writing her a letter telling her exactly what kind of worthless, frigid bitch she is, he calls Maggie.
“What did that maggot do to her?” he asks.
“Oh, it wasn’t Gavin,” Maggie takes great pleasure in saying. “It was Sylvia. You made your own--”
He is gone.
Scene Seven: James and La Sylphide reach their ending.
La Sylphide dances. Freed from the constraints of a human dream, she dances the rush of the river and the fall of tree. It is good to be free. But it was good to have legs and wings and fingers, too. La Sylphide will find another human to dance with, and perhaps he will want to come home to the sisters with her, and dance with them forever. The first one didn’t want to. He stopped dancing halfway through the wood, and what other reason for that could there be? One does what one wants.
James can hardly see the sisters as they flicker round the clearing, but his sylph shines clearer than ever, lithe and winsome as she was in his dreams, dressed in diamonds and white.
She is his bride. He marries her with a ring of cloth.
In the dark, La Sylphide feels no fear. She feels only pain, rending, tearing pain, until the end.
Scene Seven: Jaime and Silvio reach their ending.
“I’m sorry,” says Jaime, closing the door and leaning back against it.
“You sure can pick ‘em.”
Jaime can see the hurt in the slump of Silvio’s shoulders, hear it in the weak joke. He hates it. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “Not just for today. For knowing how you felt about me and pretending I didn’t.”
“God, Jaime, haven’t we had enough melodrama for one--“
The sentence ends in a ragged breath; Jaime has stepped into Silvio’s arms.
Silvio doesn’t say anything, and he doesn’t move. He just breathes next to Jaime’s ear, and it is the dream all over again, they are dancing. Slowly, because it is incredibly frightening, Jaime turns his face towards Silvio’s and kisses him, just lightly.
“So, I suppose it wasn’t a completely wasted trip,” Silvio says.
There is a knock on the door.
“No, don’t open it,” says Silvio, but Jaime has the unconscious reflexes of one who’s lived his whole life in a safe and civilized world.
Fiona's brother carries a baseball bat. It’s a mystery why he has bothered, since he is the size of Jaime and Silvio put together.
Scene Seven: Jay and Silvia reach their ending.
Jay has a strong stomach and pedestrian tastes, so it is nearly impossible for him to drink himself unconscious. When he is about as far gone as he can get, he rings the bell at Sylvia's. He has a vague idea of making her feel that her life is over, as his is without Tiffany.
“Knew you’d come back,” she greets him, with more of a smirk than a smile. She ushers him in with barely concealed eagerness; she thinks that he's hers now, that she's won.
He shows her the gun.
“Jay, please,” she begs, crouching on the ground like an animal. “You know I always loved you. It’s her that left you. Don’t hurt me, baby. I’ll do anything you want--“
In the end, he shoots her just to shut her up. He hadn’t planned to, and it only takes him a second to realize that now he is well and truly fucked. He figures he’ll do the smart thing for once, and shoot himself, too.
Scene Eight: Effie and Gurn begin their life together.
Gurn is the happiest man alive. He has his Effie, and he must deserve her, for has not the whole world conspired to deliver her up? Surely, it was like a fairy tale: the witch’s prophecy, the ghostly apparition, the prevention of an inauspicious joining, the disappearance of the rival, and the triumph of true love. Now he leads his bride from her father’s cottage, though the woods, to the village square, where there will be drinking and dancing.
There is something in that clearing; it is difficult to see through the trees, but it almost looks like a man lying dead on the ground. Gurn quickly alters the path of the procession, angling his body so that Effie does not see.
Scene Eight: Fiona and Glenn begin their life together.
Glenn stretches lazily in his honeymoon bed. This week's edition of the local paper is quite satisfactory. Coverage of Glenn’s wedding begins on the front page, and the other story--the gay-bashing incident--fills only the bottom right corner of page five. Fiona's brother really is an idiot.
Glenn turns back to the rather good portrait of himself on page two. He shakes Fiona awake to show her how much their town loves him, though he knows she hates to be touched in her sleep.
Scene Eight: Tiffany and Gavin begin their life together.
Gavin curls his arms around Tiffany. The murder-suicide is all over the news, and though he’s suggested that maybe she shouldn’t watch, she says she needs to.
“So I know I escaped,” she explains. She still feels that most of her is dead and buried.
Gavin doesn’t understand, but he holds her, and loves her, and doesn't kiss her yet.