Le Cygne

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Le Cygne

Photography by Michaela Jones

Photography by Michaela Jones

Michaela Jones

Photography by Michaela Jones

Michaela Jones

Michaela Jones

Photography by Michaela Jones


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The dance is mesmerizing – rhythmic, the music seemingly coming from the sinuous lines of each performer, the soft notes of the piano a gentle river below the strengthening waterfall of the cello.
And the man in the maroon overcoat and black suit stands off to the side, only glancing at the performance every now and then. He’s a particularly handsome figure, his thick dark hair left without product, blessed with smooth olive skin and well-defined features, but he remains unnoticed through the near-complete stillness of his body and the refusal of the other attendees to pay attention to anything outside of their immediate vicinity.

As crowded as the ballroom is, it isn’t difficult to keep track of every glass of champagne overflowing onto the too-expensive, too-extravagant gowns of women bumped into passing waiters, or the man at the far corner by the food-and-wine table, his white suit crisp and well-tailored as an indication of his own wealth. He moves like the swans of the performance, all carefully cultivated grace and poise. Instinctively, the maroon-coated man’s lip curls down into a sharp frown, shoulders tensing as he attempts to dissolve further into the curtains that match his own ensemble.
It’s a futile endeavor.

“Fancy seeing you here, brother mine.” The white-suited man appears at his side, hand placed firmly on the left shoulder and head bent down to whisper quietly in his ear. There’s a tense note in his low voice.
He restrains a protest, a growl, a scream. He isn’t entirely sure which. His brother – who is entirely too similar in appearance; one would think them twins were it not for the lack of wrinkles by his eyes and mouth that marked him as noticeably younger – seems entirely unbothered by a lack of response.
Or not.
“Hey, come on, talk to me,” the switch in tone gives him whiplash, his voice is almost pleading as he pulls at his brother’s elbow, and his dark eyes are brimming with worry when he turns to look at him.
“What for?” The first man scoffs, shaking him off.
“Don’t do this, Antoine. Don’t be like that.”
“Like what, Carlisle?” He whispers back harshly, trying to avoid bringing any attention to the brewing argument.

Carlisle glances around briefly before pulling him behind the curtain and opening the window to the balcony, hauling him out into the frigid night air. Antoine takes a moment to thank himself for not allowing the butler to take his coat at the door.

“Antoine, this is ridiculous. You can’t keep ignoring me. You can’t keep going from party to party thinking that you can excise your grief on tasteless company and cheap champagne.”

“Oh, is that so? Excuse me while I continue to do so, brother mine.” The last two words fall off his tongue like venom – the mocking tone inlaid with bitter molten gold and the anger of wronged gods.
Carlisle takes a step back, face stricken. “I’m not your enemy.”

It’s truly fascinating to watch the minute adjustments each man makes to his posture – a shift of the eyes downward, a twist of Carlisle’s right-hand fingers towards his estranged brother, the rotation of Antoine’s feet further towards the edge of the balcony leading back into the ballroom, towards escape. Their faces – expressionless to most outside viewers, but I’m not most, now am I? – are kaleidoscopes of emotion, evident in the minute twitches of their eyes and mouths.

“Are you sure of that?” Fingers tighten on the railing. Body remains deceptively calm. Jaw tenses, imperceptibly. “Because I’m not sure what I do and do not know anymore. I had one job, and I failed.”

“Antoine. Look at me.” He does look, somewhere around his brother’s left ear, holding every muscle in place to avoid breaking out in rage or grief or some unholy concoction of the two. Carlisle grabs his shoulders and forces their eyes to meet. “Don’t torture yourself like this. Helena made her own choice. It’s not your fault.”

“Not my fault that my baby sister is dead? Not my fault that I let you go with her? Not my fault, Carlisle? Nothing could be further from the truth,” he spits, his movements like that of a viper – quick and sharp, prepared for a killing strike.

“Don’t tell me it wasn’t my fault that I nearly lost both my younger brother and sister in the space of a breath because I let her go. I should have been there. You were hospitalized for months. If you had died… I can’t keep losing people. I can’t keep losing family.”

“She made her choice, Antoine. There was nothing either of us could have done that would have stopped her.”

“And now she’s gone.”

Carlisle sighs, pressing the heels of his palms to his eyes to ward off the pressure building in his skull. “Yeah. She’s gone.”

It’s at that point that Antoine crumples slowly – a sight to my curious gaze, watching impassively from a nearby cloud. His black eyes go first, the hard facade softening before overflowing with tears. The rest of his face follows very quickly, but his hand comes up to cover his nose and mouth before I have time to categorize each individual feature. His arms are next, braced on the railing as the upper half of his body curls over them, shoulders shaking. What a curious thing, witnessing the breakdown of such a strong figure.

Carlisle slowly approaches, lays a gentle hand on his shoulder before firmly tightening his fingers. His thumb rubs circles into a close, tense knot.

“We’ll be alright, brother. It’ll be okay.” Antoine lays his hand over his Carlisle’s, rests his forehead against the cool marble balcony, and heaves a few painful, shuddering breaths. Carlisle just stands there, a silent pillar of comfort. They’re quite the pair, these brothers. Their roles have been switched for the briefest of moments, in a space rife with potential for rumor yet hidden by the self-absorption of the wealthy. But in this liminal setting, where time has slowed to standstill and the world is not one so daunting as their own, it is possible for them to grieve as they must.

Inside, the dance comes to an end, the bodies striking their final intertwined pose, and the cello rings out a long, solemn note.