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Pirouette Like a Wallflower
I slip off my Pointe shoes and flex my toes. The crack of my brittle bones pierces the tranquil air in the studio. I notice a blush-colored bruise forming at the base of my foot from the harsh conditions of dancing. It will blossom into a purplish mark that will brand me for at least a week.
“It’s an unfortunate story, dear,” says my instructor, Madame, in hushed whispers. I turn around and see Madame talking with another woman.
“Well, we mustn’t let the other girls know. If they found out what happened to Annalisa, there would be uproar. Our reputation would be lost forever,” says the other woman.
Annalisa. Her name flows off my lips. Men used to speak her name in deferential tones. She left people yearning for more than the two brief sentences they heard. But now, she is gone and everyone knows it. Instead of the gray skies outside, all I want to see is a flash of honey-colored sunlight reminiscent of her hair.
“Some of the girls already know. We just need to make sure that this story doesn’t leak out to the press,” says Madame. “How could the girl be so irrational? We only wanted her to lose a couple of pounds. She took it too seriously, I suppose,” she murmurs as the two women walk out of the studio.
I want to leap up and shout to the world how insane Madame is. Annalisa didn’t choose to become that way. Dancing is the only way of life for us. It transports us into an ethereal world where no one can harm us. We pirouette and jeté across the stage while we cherish the feeling of being suspended in the air. Without ballet, I know I would just be the wallflower who blended into the monochrome walls at my former Texan high school.
Annalisa needed to shine and she would have let nothing stop her from securing the lead in the fall performance. Madame knows that, but she chooses to hold onto the façade that we are healthy and content ballet dancers. Yet, I know the secrets trapped in the cracks of the aging walls of the studio. The eerie whispers haunt me whenever I am trapped in the vacant stairwells. I may not be Annalisa, the emblem of the company, but I prefer the role of the wallflower. No one suspects me of anything.
I slip into a pair of uncomfortable shoes that will only worsen the blisters on my feet. Still in my leotard, I shrug into my woolen coat and place a cap over my hair. A couple of dancers remain in the studio stretching and practicing dance routines. I wave goodbye, but no one sees me, yet that doesn’t bother me.
While I make my way down the stairs to the building’s exit, I remember a time when Annalisa celebrated my birthday. She attempted to bake me a yellow cake with chocolate icing and rainbow sprinkles. However, the cake was merely liquid batter. To compensate, she fished around for extra money that lay buried in the sofa and bought me a cake from the nearby pastry shop. I had never really celebrated my birthday because I had no mother to fret over me, but Annalisa promised that I would experience this one thing. She even invited some of her friends to the makeshift party that she concocted in a matter of hours. There were presents, more cake, and birthday hats. I suppose when you’re six years old, brightly colored pieces of cardboard mean everything in life.
She made sure I was okay all my life and I should have watched out for her. I suspected she was ill, but I had no idea the extent of her problems. But I should’ve known. She was all I had left and Madame stole her away from me. What’s worse is that Madame, once a sinuous, petite woman who was the revered insignia of the New York City Ballet, abuses her disciples. She has always been jealous of the stardom that Annalisa attracted. Madame knew that Annalisa would be the new heroine of the professional company. Petty vengeance clouded her judgment.
I pause on the stairwell and pull my phone out of my pocket. I open a picture that a friend of mine sent two weeks ago. I recoil at the sight of my anorexic Annalisa wearing a child’s tank top and underwear. She has her arms spread out so that she forms a “T.” Her gaunt face stares doggedly at me and I shut my phone to expunge the image from my mind. Still, I see each rib pressed against Annalisa’s filmy skin and I want to rip Madame to shreds for causing this. How many girls had succumbed to the same fate here? How many more were going to continue to suffer? I look at the image again, type a determined message to accompany the picture, and press “send.” Everyone will soon know about Annalisa. People will remember how my baby sister suffered for something she was supposed to love. Sometimes, we love something too much that we become obsessed. I don’t want anyone to endure that horror. Especially the wallflowers who blend into the concrete walls.