I spy Ivy slurping steamy noodles from in between the half torn paper lid of a Cup Noodle. The wooden waribashi chopsticks move quickly between her mouth and styrofoam cup. Sauce splatters onto the white desk with each noisy noodle. Her daily routine has become like a game of connect-the-dots. Jumping up from her bed after hearing the alarm - dot - speed walking ten steps to the kitchen to grab breakfast - dot - back ten steps to her desk, aka school - dot - back to the kitchen to grab lunch - dot - back to her room to get ready for online ballet class - dot. Her unruly hair was strangely half up and half down, in an attempt to put it into a bun.
Wiping her greasy mouth on the back of her hand, Ivy rises from her desk, walks four steps to arrive at her dance studio. She makes a square shape with her forefinger and thumb and looks through it, checking the background frame for her Zoom ballet class. In the frame are piles of clothes floating, like islands on the rug, school books bobbing around the islands, together with other random parts of her daily quarantine life. Her Zoom background definitely was not clear! Ivy scrambles to gather all the islands and things and shoves them into an already overflowing closet. By the time she has her tights and leotard on, she has only one minute to spare, just enough time to get her hair into a bun. She was about to start ballet class, if that is what you can call not understanding the ballet teacher through Zoom, while attempting not to break the lamp in your room when turning. She clicked her touch pad twice, once to join Zoom and second to mute herself.
Only thin streaks of light from the outside shine into the overstuffed closet. The rays of light shift gently, as Ivy’s body moves back and forth doing the barre exercises. I never thought the lukewarm bright orange seats and the sticky floor covered in pistachio shells would become something I would miss. It was only two weeks ago that I was last on SEPTA, gazing down at the bumpy yellow tiles, waiting for the Market-Frankford Line to go to ballet class with Ivy. Now I can’t even recall the unique smells of the subway that I thought would be embedded in my fabric forever. The ballet studio closed on the same day the email from Ivy’s high school came, stating an emergency shut down. I liked the routine I had until this Coronavirus barged into our lives. The front door used to click open as Ivy arrived home from school, and she would shout “Tadaima!”, which means “I’m home” in Japanese. She would grab her stained gray backpack where I was tucked into, alongside her ballet skirt, tights, and leotard. I would bounce inside the backpack as she ran out from the apartment, into the elevator, down to SEPTA - making her way to the ballet studio four times a week. Once there, she would wrap me around her feet to dance. Now, those days are just memories. Now, I am left caged in the messy closet. All because the shaggy carpet in Ivy’s rooms does not allow me, her pointe shoes, to be worn during her new Zoom ballet class.
At the beginning of last year, Ivy suffered a foot injury that forced her from dancing ballet as frequently as she was accustomed to. Her doctor specifically forbade dancing en pointe, which meant not wearing me. She had to watch the other girls sitting, their legs naturally in a split, entwining the ribbon of their pointe shoes up their ankles, while I remained tied up in her bag. All she did was watch, watch the other dancers. Some days, she could not bear to look at me. So I grew used to the dark inside of the closet. Finally, two weeks before her ballet school shut down, the elastic of her shoe bag opened up in ballet class. She had fully recovered and her unstable ankles began to dance en pointe again. But now the Coronavirus has put me back into my cage again.
A shadow covers the slits of the closet, as the door cracks open and light floods in. Ivy throws a single white sock that had been camouflaged in the furry white rug covering the entire floor of her room into the closet. The rug was like an insatiable animal, it ate anything and everything. There were bobby pins woven into the depths of the rug, a long forgotten scrunchie, a pencil, and much more. Ivy leaves the closet door cracked open, just enough for me to see her move her computer to the small rectangular area between her bed and her desk. She then swiftly yanks the computer charger from the wall. Zoom eats up battery like a leech sucking blood.
“Can anyone do any turns?” I hear the ballet teacher’s voice ask from inside Zoom. Ivy blinks a couple of times staring into the screen, that allows a glimpse into other dancers’ rooms. She scratches her hair, causing a strand to fall out onto her sweaty pink cheek. I see envy in her eyes, as she looks at the beautiful wooden floors that the other girls have to dance on.
“If you can’t do the turns, then you can just modify it,” the teacher says. Ivy looks down at her feet that are embedded into the strands of the furry rug, pinning her toes down. I notice how she places her feet very deliberately, quietly back on the rug when jumping, probably to stay quiet for her downstairs neighbors in her apartment building. The classical music crackles from the speaker, as Ivy tries to push off the rug for another turn. The rug sucks her feet down like quicksand. Eventually she just stands still, making a simple balance position, while she watches the other girls’ bodies in Zoom turning elegantly in circles in their big rooms.
“Okay girls, good work! I’ll see you all next Thursday,” says the ballet teacher. The pointer glides over to the red button that says leave meeting and Ivy closes her computer, leaving her ballet studio to sit cross legged on her bed. On some days, I would see Ivy staring out the big window in her room, but her expression looked as if she saw nothing. Not the city skyline, the shimmery glass of the skyscrapers reflecting William Penn, or the beautifully lit up buildings at night. Everything seemed far away now, school, ballet showcase, friends, Grandma, summer trip to Japan. The outside was beautiful, but it is rotten now. It used to be lively, but is deadly now. Life is on hold. The only thing moving forward, time. Time keeps flowing, at times slower and at other times faster. Time is a thief hiding behind the ticking hands of the clock. The virus is stealing lives, working alongside time.
Ivy closes her eyes for a moment and suddenly like something awakened inside of her, she yanks open her computer. A K-pop song starts playing full blast, echoing in all corners of her small room. She stands up, at first only moving her head to the beat, then gyrating her entire body, blurting out Korean lyrics where she can, moving all over, the rug unable to constrict her, forgetting the principles of ballet. She dances around until her hair tie flies off, her long hair loose, free. After her dance party, she bows to an invisible audience. I then realized she has a wide smile on her face, the same smile that would be lit up by the spotlight after a ballet performance on stage. But this time her smile lasts only until the song ends. No curtain call.
Night has come. The white blanket wrapped around Ivy captures fragments of moonlight shining through the window. The full moon looks identical to the sun. The days and hours dissolve into each other. All I do is wait and watch. But that smile today, makes me want to wait just a little longer. Until that day when I am wrapped around Ivy’s feet again, dancing to classical music en pointe, and carrying her gracefully across the wooden floor. But for now, this closet will be my home. Time will always be a thief, but memories will always be locked up out of its reach. Ivy will dance to reverse the clock and we will be on the stage together.