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I could hear the rain pounding rhythmically outside the car's window, harmonizing perfectly with the blasts of thunder. I ran my fingers through my tangled hair dreading the dank afternoon that would come. Taking a breath of the thick, sticky air surrounding me, I sighed and waited.
This was my first visit to my aunts house, and I resented meeting her. Thinking about all my other female relatives made me want to gag. I could just imagine her house, small and quaint. It would be filled with all kinds of lace and delicate porcelain figurines.
“Here we are, Jocelyn,” my dad whispered, as if he were afraid to break the silence.
My hand reached for the car handle, and gently tugged it open. Gripping my luggage I stepped out of the car shouting goodbye as I raced for shelter. I stood hiding from the misty air, wishing I could go with, but I knew my dad was leaving for business. Tenderly, I examined the outside of the house, looking at the peeling paint, and rugged walkway. I took a step toward the door and silently pressed the unwelcoming doorbell.
Almost immediately, a shadowy figure stepped out of the darkness hidden behind the door and after a series of clicks, it revealed a middle aged woman clad in a modest dress. I couldn't help but gawk at her fair complexion and my family's signature gray eyes. For a second, I thought I was looking at a photograph of my mother, but something was different about my aunt. Unlike my mother, her eyes held sorrow and passion like I had never seen before.
“Come on in,” she said. Her voice reminded me of my mother's, tired but warm and sweet like honey. Memories of my mother flooded into my mind, and I struggled to keep a pleasant disposition. She motioned for me to enter, and I gingerly stepped in on to cold wooden floors. I looked around expecting frills and flounces and was surprised by the contemporary decor. The walls were smothered in a rich mustard yellow, and complemented by a sleek suede sofa in a modern zebra print.
“Hello,” I muttered shyly, looking down with my hands clasped behind my back. Ignoring my pathetic greeting, she silently lead me past the entrance room and into a chamber adorned with tropicals blues and many hues of chocolate brown. I glanced at the luxurious daybed covered in bohemian inspired pillows that was pushed against a backdrop of ocean blue paint.
“This will be your room during your stay. I recently updated the interior of my house, but still have to finish the attic. If you could help, that would be great,” my Aunt Gisella explained to me. I knew that even though she had said “if” it meant I would have to. Breathing in, I tried not to let my disappointment show, for it was summer vacation.
“I'd be glad to help,” I agreed, with false cheeriness.
“That means a lot to me,” my aunt replied. “You're welcome to keep anything you like from the attic. One woman's trash is another one's treasure.” A grin crept across my face, as she adapted the cliché expression to be her own. “I'll even pay you ten dollars once you finish.” To my astonishment, I began to think I'd get along with her.
I studied her as she reached up toward the ceiling and opened a small door. From inside this nook she pulled out a rusty ladder which stretched toward the sea of floor. Cautiously, I climbed up carefully placing my feet along each rung. I poked my head up through the entrance, and to my disbelief I came across a large room filled with objects of all shapes and sizes. A blanket of dust veiled stacks of books and photographs, and it was hard to see through the musty air. The walls were covered in spiderwebs, giving it the appearance of aged wallpaper. I hoisted myself into the vast attic and peered down at my aunt. She gazed up at me and smiled.
“Spend as long as you like up there. You have all summer, and I was thinking in free time, maybe you could enroll in some dance classes.” Aunt Gisella suggested cautiously as she walked away. Ugh, I thought as I rolled my eyes. How could anyone appreciate prissy little ballerina's jumping around in little tutus?
I set to work sorting through the various items. There seemed to be everything in this room, from trunks of clothing, to old scrap books with photos of my mom and her sister. Where to start? The thought was bouncing around in my head. I extended my arm toward a small basket overflowing with odds and ends. As I lifted the box, a velvet pouch fell from the random knick knacks. I reached inside the fabric bag and when I pulled out my hand, I found a pair of satin pointe shoes gripped in my sweaty fingers. While running my hand across the arch of the shoe, I scrutinized it's pale pink surface, trying to unravel how they had come here. As far as I knew, nobody in my family had ever done any dancing. I grasped the velvety pouch for I had been preparing to return the shoes to the bag. But as I held the bag, I felt something within it, even through the thick cloth . I reached into the delicate sack and revealed a piece of paper. After unfolding the piece of stationary, it unmasked beautiful brush stroke letters that seemed to glide across the aged parchment. The top of the letter was addressed with my name.
Dear Jocelyn Lacroix,
Every item has a history, some greater than others. These pointe shoes have met the greatest choreographers and danced with prima ballerina assolutas, but now they are being entrusted in your hands.
The birth of these shoes occurred long ago. A sincere damsel by the name of Genevieve Valdeau held a very low rank in her dance company. It was a wonder this girl had even made it into the company. Due to financial circumstances at home, she could not afford many of the necessities to a dancer. With only the bare minimum, she tried to let her dance shine through her frumpy clothes. However, because of her demure personality and pleading gray eyes, everyone was very willing to help her. This girl had only ever owned one pair of dance slippers. Their soles were worn and what used to be feathery white satin had dulled to a forlorn, splotchy gray. Yet everyone realized that she held so much passion and talent, more than she even knew. So, when the subject was brought upon the head mistress of the dance company, it was clear that the shoes needed to be replaced.
“New shoes of the finest satin are to be made at once!” the dance mistress commanded in her firm accented French.
With one wave of her graceful hand, everyone in the room sprang off their feet, grabbing tape measures, wood and fabric. They immediately set to work measuring and cutting materials. An experienced seamstress began to sew the blushing satin, making stitches so small they seemed to disappear in the plushy fabric. The faithful committee worked diligently through the lengthy night, and when dawn greeted them with rosy skies, they produced the pair of pointe shoes with pride.
The head seamstress, scurried over to Genevieve and placed the slippers in her palm, clasping her hands around them. For a second, all she could do was look at them. But after a long moment, Genevieve nodded gratefully and accepted the shoes with a flourish of her hand. She thanked the crew and during the fragile silence that followed, gently slipped the shoe onto her dainty feet. The very substance of which they had been constructed seemed to mold to her porcelain-like flesh.
Genevieve was the first owner of the shoes among hundreds. She spent years with them, as they never seemed to age, and with them she rose to the top of not only her dance company but of all dancers. Genevieve earned the title “Prima Ballerina Assoluta”, the highest title in all of ballet. Even with fame, she remembered her roots and the people who had helped her along the journey. But as every dancer must, after years of performing she retired, and gave the slippers to her beloved niece.
So the shoes continued their journey through the history of ballet. Rewarding those who were kind with fame and fortune, and punishing those who were cruel, with injury.
“Daddy! I want new shoes! Not these used ones,” the youth exclaimed in a heavy British accent that cut through the the serene sound of the piano like a knife would through butter.
“But honey,” her father consoled in a leathery voice while trying not to groan, “these shoes are made of the finest materials in all the land.”
“Fine, daddy. I guess you don't love me enough to buy me new shoes!” the girl shrieked in her father's face before running off to her daily ballet lesson.
Almeda Edge was the daughter of Genevieve's brother, and she was known for her shrill voice and nasty personality. At a youthful ten years old, she was already performing pointe as a soloist, and was constantly reviewed for great foot work. Her father had forced her into dance at a young age, and she was trained for over six hours each day. Framed by soft blond curls, Almeda's face seemed hardened with stress and ambition. She was a strong girl and would work her way to the top of dancers, even if it meant crushing those who were weak.
Like Genevieve, Almeda noticed a change in her dancing once she received the shoes. Now, her energy seemed to last longer, and Almeda practiced longer and harder hours each day. An important performance was coming up and she hoped to perfect her fouttes by the show. The most difficult dance step in all of pointe, she had been working them until her feet were sore and covered in bright cherry red blisters.
“Good luck,” one of Almeda's companions murmured as she readied herself for the show.
“I don't need luck,” replied the ballerina in a voice marked with a haughty tone. She rolled her eyes, ignoring the girl's further comments as she began to lace the rosy ribbons on her satin ballet slippers.
She stood and waited in the wings of the stage, waiting for her name to be announced. Her heart raced like the steady beat of a fast paced song. Following her name came the first few bars of the song, and on cue, just as she had rehearsed, Almeda entered onto the vast stage. All her steps were impeccable. She landed pirouettes with precision, and her kicks flew to the sky. Her movements were those of a swan, yet her extensions made others green with envy. When it came to the fouttes, she took a deep breath and began the many consecutive turns. One, Two ,Three, she began to count in her head. Four, Five, Six, so far so good. Seven. Suddenly, a sharp pain sliced through her left foot. A deafening crack met her ear, but she tried not to believe what was happening. She tried with all her will to continue her dance. She stumbled on arabesques and tripped over her injured toes. She was determined to end her dance, and when it came to a grand leap that was supposed to end the number, she was going to try. Almeda chasséd to prepare for the leap, and felt herself being lifted off the ground in a weightless jump. But her feet could no longer bare the weight of landing, and upon the return to the stage, she collapsed in a heap on the floor.
At first, her dance was followed by applause, as the ignorant audience had assumed the leap had been intended to land on the ground. But after many moments of waiting for the youthful dancer to arise, the wiser of the hundreds of spectators realized something was amiss. A ripple of gasps spread through the auditorium as each observer realized the injury that had come to the famed child.
For her negative attitude, Almeda was punished. These shoes could become the best thing that ever happened to you or the worst. After months of pain, Almeda did regain the ability to walk, but not the capability of dancing. Dancing can be punishing, and even when rewarding it is a difficult and strengthening sport.
As you can see, these pointe shoes have been through a lot, but they are still not ready to retire. I hope that you will allow their spirit to live on through you, but if not I would understand.
I stared at the elegant signature, aware that I had heard the name before. My mind was completely engrossed in the pointe shoes and their accompanying letter. Grasping the velvet bag, I gently placed the slippers and the mysterious note into the fabric pouch. Caressing the bag in my arms, I hurriedly proceeded down the ladder and raced over to the sofa where my aunt was reclining. My feet pounded on the floor as I rushed over, and the stampeding noise aroused my restful aunt.
“Aunt Gisella,” I insisted. “Who was Colette Bernot?” At the mention of the name, my aunt's eyes seem to glisten with surprise.
“I haven't heard that name been used for many years,” she murmured with a slight movement of her head. Although she appeared to be looking in my direction, my aunt was staring past me. I tried to find what she was looking at, but found an ordinary wall, a blank canvas of possibility. “Why do you ask?”
Quickly, I told her about finding the pointe shoes, and the accompanying letter. In my excitement, I stumbled over words, and mixed up details making it almost impossible to comprehend. Miraculously, she followed my account, nodding to show her understanding.
“Could I take ballet lessons?” The words burst from my mouth, surprising me. I had always thought of dancing as a prim activity, but now I found myself longing to experience what it was like. I could just imagine what it would be like to express yourself and perform for huge crowds. Plus, I understood the sacrifice and strength it took to be dancer. The letter depicted them as athletes not proper ladies.
“I'd love to enroll you in dance classes,” my aunt stated with a flash of snow-white teeth. I gazed into her gray eyes and I could see pure ecstasy in them. “Colette Bernot would have loved for you to follow in her foot steps,” she whispered.
“You never answered my question,” I realized pausing to think, “ Who was she?”
“Jocelyn,” Aunt Gisella addressed me, her clear, sagacious eyes meeting mine. “Colette Bernot was your mother's stage name when she was a dancer.”
Realization hit me as I became aware of why I had recognized that name. I remember as a child, my father had told me stories of a ballerina named Colette Bernot. I had never payed much attention to them, for they were all about a girl's adventures in dancing. Never before had I realized these anecdotes had been about my mother. Now, years later, I wished I had paid attention to those stories of her.
“So, my mother used to wear these shoes.” I mulled over the thought. It warmed my heart like rays of sunshine. I had never gotten to know my mother, but she had left the ballet slippers, perhaps her most prized possession, in my care. I took the velvet sack and hugged it close to my body, harboring what I had left of my mother.
Over the steamy summer days that followed, I began to take dance classes. I tried many different styles but I always found myself pulled to ballet like the moon is to Earth. As my muscles began to strengthen, I prepared for the end of summer show.
One humid evening where the daylight seemed to burn like a candle, I prepared for the performance. Crickets were chirping, and fireflies buzzed around me making a tranquil scene. I peered at my reflection in the mirror, admiring how strands of my hair cast a shadow across my gray eyes. Taking a deep breath, I entered onto the small outdoor stage. I heard the sweet opening notes of Allegro and began my dance. My body and mind were one, as they moved together in one fluid movement. As I danced I could marinate in the joy, and express myself through the various steps and combinations. In the back of the audience, I spotted my father his eyes gleaming with pride. I could tell in his mind, that he was remembering my mother, and how alike her I had become. I performed for both my father and myself, purely out of happiness, and was not competitive like the former owners of the pointe shoes. Finally, the pointe shoes with it's blushing satin had been given a rest.