Sunday, June 27, 2010

A story inspired by "At the Ballet"

I posted this writing challenge last week and someone decided to take on this activity. It is a well-written story and I hope you all will read it and feel free to leave feedback. You're welcome to try it yourself, as well.

Thank you Rachel, for taking on this challenge and allowing me to post your story on this blog.

If you'd like to see future writing challenges or possibly a contest, please let me know.

Now, without any further ado, I present to you....

Up a Steep and Very Narrow Stairway
by Rachel Fox

Up a steep and very narrow stairway, the smell of stage make-up, the sound of our tutus rustling, we make our way to the wings. With a million shushes, Mrs. Rebecca guides us into the rolling cage that is Mother Ginger’s skirt. At the top of the cage all we can see of Mr. Jeffrey is the bottom half, standing on a little platform. He balances on the tiny platform and wiggles his toes. Above the cage, Mr. Jeffrey emerges, transformed into a white-haired, rosy-cheeked woman. His bright yellow dress cinches at his waist and then expands to cover the cage. All the way to the floor it falls in grand rivulets of silk. Inside, we stand on the unfinished wood, squished tight together. We watch as the two stagehands in the center lean heavily on the crossbars. With a jolt, Mother Ginger begins to roll towards the stage. My heart begins to beat wildly in my chest as the familiar music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker comes rushing across the stage.

Summer and Virginia, the two oldest gingerbread children, begin the count.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Two, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Three, two, three, four . . .” they chant in unison.

We follow along in our heads, keeping time to the rhythm of the music. At the end of the fourth eight count, Summer and Virginia pull back the curtain at the front of Mother Ginger’s skirt. We file out, eight little gingerbread children in olive green tutus. Each of us a mirror of the others: long hair pinned in a bun atop our heads, wide eyes fighting the spotlights, circles of rouge at our cheekbones, bright red lips, perfectly-tailored green silk covering undeveloped bodices, a sharp jutting of tulle at the waist, smooth pink tights, and unscuffed pink ballet shoes.

Only the audience can see the one inconsistency marring the expertly choreographed dance. If you were sitting in the back of the theatre, you would wonder why the small dancer at the left of the stage had two bright white feet. If you were in the first several rows, you could distinguish the bright white as a pair of small white socks. You might ask yourself why this single dancer wore the glaring white socks rather than the soft pink slippers worn by her sisters. When she slid her left foot up, toes pointing, to rest at her right knee, you would notice the grimy grey on the bottom of her feet. You would see the gritty dirt left from playing backstage for hours. She would pirouette in perfect time, but you would not enjoy her skillful execution. The spell of repetition will have been broken.

With a final series of pas de bourrĂ©e couru the gingerbread children return to their mother’s skirt. I look up in time to see Mr. Jeffrey’s wild face. He pantomimes an expression of love. With his large fan in one hand, he makes a wide gesture to welcome his little children back to the comfort of his skirt. I am always surprised to see him in drag and wonder what a spectacle it would be to see him, in full make-up and wig, plant a large kiss on the small lips of Mrs. Melanie, his wife. I enter the skirt, snagging my sock on the edge of the rough wood. My mouth drops and I let out a tiny gasp. Summer quietly shushes me. She looks down at my sock clad feet and repeats my gasp. We roll back into the wings. Between the strong legs of the stagehands, I watch the stage floor roll beneath me. I cannot look up and face my fellow dancers, my friends. Quickly, Mrs. Rebecca ushers us out of the cage and back towards the stairwell. As I run toward the heavy door, a teardrop lands silently on my bright white sock. It soaks into the absorbent fabric and disappears, leaving only a light grey spot. I watch my feet as they follow pink slippers down the stairway. Without a word, I enter the dressing room, noisy with the excited chatter of little girls. I begin to shed my costume, starting with the offending socks.

“You wore your socks on stage?” Summer says. “How could you forget to take them off?”

I do not answer. Instead, I wiggle into my jeans and keep my eyes on the floor. I wad up the socks and stuff them into my bag. I slip on my tennis shoes on my bare feet and cross the room to the door. My mother stands waiting in the dimly lit hall with my winter coat held open. I turn and fit my arms inside. She zips me up.

“Did you hear? One of the girls left her socks on during the performance. Poor thing.” I overhear a whisper. One of the other mothers. My stomach begins to turn and I wrap my arms around my waist.

My mother and I exit the theatre and walk slowly to our car. We are carful not to slip on any of the icy puddles that speckle the parking lot. Inside the car, waiting for the heater to warm our numb fingers and toes, my mother gives me a knowing look.

“It’s okay, Jenny. No one was looking at your feet. Instead they were watching you dance beautifully across the stage,” Mother says.

I cringe and finally let the tears flow that I have been holding since my sock snagged on the rough floor of the cage. A shudder runs through my petite 12-year-old frame and I lose my breath. I gasp for air and my mother places her hand on my back. She rubs in a small, soft circle.

When the crying has stopped, I realize that the car has warmed. My face is red and hot. I kick off my sneakers and put my left foot in my mother’s lap, careful not to nudge the steering wheel. She puts the car into reverse and backs into the parking lot. Driving slowly through the lot, she reaches into the little compartment on her door, fumbling for the lotion. Something sharp sticks her index finger and she wraps her hand around the culprit. She jerks her hand up. Between her index finger and her thumb dangles a long ornate earring. It’s post is sharp and the backing has gone missing. The gold catches the light of the street lamps and tiny diamonds sparkle in the dark. I have not seen this look on my mother’s face before. It is foreign the way her eyes droop beneath the round lenses of her glasses. Her complexion goes pale for just a moment. I turn my eyes to my mother’s unpierced ears, knowing instinctively that I should stay silent. My mother tosses the earring back into the compartment and brings out the bottle of lavender lotion. As she pulls the car out onto Main Street, she flips the top and squirts a cold glob onto my sore foot. I wince. Mother begins her practiced massage and another shudder quivers in my chest.

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