TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 16 (EXCERPT).
Her first ballet recital, that’s when it happened. She never forgot. She was ten. Winter roared for its third month, especially cold and long that year. The ballet school buzzed with voices that could be heard from backstage. Dressing rooms chirruped with nervous girls’ chatter. The last preparations, the changing, the fitting of the costumes, the hair pulled into buns and sprayed with hair spray, the smell of it, the rustle of fabric, the clacking of shoe hills on the old creaky floor.
Olesya sat in the corner of the dressing room, on the bench, trying to ignore the looks and the whispers of the other girls and their mothers. Her mother was sick and couldn’t come, but her father said he would. He promised to go straight from the train station to her recital.
The weeks of preparation, of anticipation. How she waited for papa to show up, feverish, with a beating heart. Her fingers shook pulling up the white stockings, tight, smooth, to make sure there were no snags or creases. They had to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect. She pulled her long-sleeve leotard out of the plastic bag and stepped in it. White stretchy cotton fit snugly over her petite bony frame. She fluffed up every feather painstakingly cut out of sheer yellow muslin and sewed on by her grandmother, to make her look like a genuine canary. She danced the leading role of the four birds in The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks in their Shells, fifth movement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
The general murmur of jealousy made her focus intently on putting on her ballet slippers, also white, satin ribbons shining in the bright fluorescent light.
“Mama, look!—She’s not supposed to—It doesn’t fit our costumes—I want yellow feathers too, like hers—Why can she have it and I can’t? Mama, please!—Shhh, Masha, you have to wear what your teacher told you to wear. She’s dancing the main canary—But why does she get to have a different costume?”
Color suffused Olesya’s lowered face. Natalia Alexandrovna, their ballet instructor, gave her grandmother permission to adorn the leotard. She was the best dancer in class and a constant pecking target for other girls, more so because of her shyness and absence of any kind of reaction to their teasing, which only made them try harder.
(Painting by Anastassia Art.)