Wrestling her head into her pillow and pulling the blanket up tight to her neck, Monica was desperately trying to get to sleep. But sleep had no chance.
This time tomorrow she would be living her dream. A name change? No problem. To Monique, naturally. But she would have to step up to fluent French to fully embrace her destiny.
She knew that sleep would clear her mind, but the slightest thought about tomorrow only increased her adrenalin level. New pictures kept bursting into her imagination, almost keeping time with her pulse and crashing against each other in a chaotic kaleidoscope.
Would dawn ever come? Had he actually spoken to her? Would he return as he promised? Was she crazy for believing – or even hoping – that he would?
Tomorrow, at the cliff, she would know.
And while tossing and turning, she retraced the day’s events…
It had started quite normally; waking from dreams of being a prima donna ballerina – just like her childhood storybook hero, and entering an obsession that ballet was her destiny.
Breakfast had been light and fast, for the top of the cliff was where this obsession demanded her attendance.
From childhood she had one story book; about Mlle Mimi Dubois, a petite French ballet artiste who rose from similar poverty to conquer her musical world. Monica’s family had a wind-up gramophone and a fragile ceramic cylinder* of a waltz from Swan Lake, and ballet had become her unattainable obsession.
Out of reach, but not out of sight; for every day she sat atop Dover’s famous White Cliffs. Gazing across the unpredictable, treacherous waters of the English Channel towards Cap Griz Nez in France - where she knew all the ballet dancers lived - she dreamed of becoming Mimi Dubois.
The White Cliffs were clearly visible from France. But no one over there could see her. Or feel her obsession.
But yesterday, gazing out across the sea, she had felt gentleness as the breeze caressed her hair and lightly ruffled her flimsy cotton dress as it skittered over chalky precipice rising from the sea so far below. In sharp contrast to the normal gusts that scoured the Kentish coast, it was as if the elements understood her wistfulness.
Monica knew wistfulness – and frustration – only too well, with Swan Lake’s waltz echoing in her mind. But something broke her tearful melancholy.
“Why are you crying, little girl?”
Without looking up, she rehearsed her obsession, her heartache, and how she felt tempted to end it all.
“You want go to France? You shall! Tomorrow!” said the voice.
Monica sat bolt upright. And looked up to see …. a pigeon!
But before any human source for this voice could show itself, the pigeon spoke again: “Come back here tomorrow at nine o’clock, and you will eat your lunch in France.”
And he was gone.
Was this too good to be true? Or was she for the birds?
Dawn came; then full sunshine; and Monica readied herself for her date with destiny.
By eight o’clock she was there, waiting. For what did she have to lose?
At nine o’clock the sky grew dark and a wind suddenly whooshed her way, from the beating of thousands of wings. Pigeons! Pigeons everywhere - and then landing all around her.
Most importantly, her pigeon pilot was back, in charge of proceedings; with a wooden box and a long rope.
“Monica, if you get into the box and hold the rope; we will all grip the other end in our claws and pull you across to France,” he told her.
She clambered aboard and held the rope tightly, excitedly watching the pigeons take disciplined formations along its length, before their wings extended and carried them all skyward. And France-ward.
Monica’s ecstasy knew no bounds as the cliffs grew smaller in the distance.
But the Channel’s malevolence could not resist an opportunity to steer a vicious Atlantic Ocean storm through from Le Havre, which forced them all the way back to Dover.
Monica survived, but she learned a bitter lesson: no ballet career will ever get off the ground if you are pigeon-towed.
Author’s technical note: Cylinders offered consistent speeds for reproducing sound as needles traced their grooves. Records and CDs would later provide more efficient storage, once technology overcame the inherent sound distortions of discs, which rotate more slowly towards their axis.
And for I-pod generation readers wondering what records or CDs are, ask your parents.
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