Ode to Ballerinas

I always wedged the small plastic container of almonds in the cupholder of my car. It made reaching for an almond easy and accessible as I drove. Keeping my left hand on the wheel, I used my right hand to pinch the almonds with my fingertips. It was always sad to no longer feel an almond. I liked to know when I was eating the last one. It allowed me to savor it, to feel its woody flesh uncurl in my mouth.

I waited to eat my apple until I got to the ballet studio. It was safer that way, I thought. Although sometimes, feeling impatient, I would take the risk and secure my one handed grip on the steering wheel. I’d take a wet bite of apple and quickly lower the fruit out of sight. I didn’t want a police officer to see my occupied hand. I didn’t want to be ticketed on account of apple consumption. More than likely, however, I just waited until I parked my car on the new asphalt in front of my ballet studio. Windows rolled down. Engine silenced. I ate my apple and listened to a moody violin concerto on the radio. Sometimes I would cry. Sometimes I would think about how poetic it all seemed. 

Since high school got out at 2:10, I was always the first dancer to arrive. Besides my silver 2009 Fusion, the parking lot was empty. Most classes began at 4:30 so the gut of parking lot traffic didn’t begin until 3:45-ish. I always parked in the same spot, facing the road. Beyond the road was an open field of dead grass and drooping cattails. When cars drove by I watched whatever vegetation was closest to the road tremble and then resume stillness.

I never thought to park my car anywhere else until the ballet studio’s owner, a tall woman with a thin neck and sharp cheeks, hired a new instructor from Russia. The instructor had a round, pale face and wore peachy blush. Her lips were always colored with some spectacular rose hue. She was thin. Very thin. If she didn’t wear a long sleeve shirt and vest everyday I swear her protruding bones would have made some of the little dancers grow teary eyed. She seemed healthy though, always full of energy with long, strong nails. She used her nails as a tool in class to remind each dancer to activate their glutes. I remember the first time her nails tickled their way along the back of my thighs and up my butt. I thought she might rip my tights with how sharp it felt. She spoke no English. We interpreted her corrections through hand motions. Sometimes I would look down the bar at all the other dancers and see them nodding. I would smile to myself. I too liked pretending that we were in Russia. 

I started parking my car near one of the large tinted windows of the studio to watch her plan class. She used the wall for balance. Her limbs floated like dish soap bubbles. She seemed to exert no effort in elevating her leg above shoulder level or dipping so far back that her head tapped her bottom. And isn’t that the job of a ballerina? To make it look easy and irresistible. To make it look like absolutely no effort in the world is needed to extend your limbs to inhumane levels and all the while make it look enchanting, graceful. 

There was a queen size bed in the room with her. A brass frame arched on both ends. There was a mini fridge with a bowl of clementines on top. A pair of pajama pants hung on a chair. A bookmarked novel rested on the bed. By now she was jumping, warming up her ankles, increasing her heart rate. I then realized that she lived here. That the dead grass and drooping cattails were her morning view, observing how they tremble while drinking coffee. During the day, in the quiet long hours before anyone arrives, she probably counts the cars as they drive by. She probably knows just where the sunlight hits the floor. Everything smells like her perfume. And like me and all the other dancers, this ballet studio was her home. 

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