Dance With Me
Author's note: Originally, Stella's mother wasn't sick with cancer. The storyline was that Stella went into a... Show full author's note »
Stella:I am a village girl. Plain. Dark-haired and blue-eyed. My name feels like dust between my lips. Overused and worn out. But it sticks to me like honey.
My village sits on an island known as Crete. During the day, the small population works in the fields to collect wheat for bread. I tend to the animals with my brothers sometimes, if they allow me. The blazing sun overhead often leaves my skin red and my eyes fazed. Often, I will stay with Mama in the kitchen to knead dough and cook. My sisters, Cassandra and Aphrodite would sew our clothes for us.
Passersby might spare my family cloth and my sisters would make dresses for us and trousers for our brothers. We do not have shoes, so spots form on our feet from walking barefoot outside. Our underwear is made from spare cloth and tied around our waists with string. Those are the only clothes we have.
Inside of our cottage, we have three rooms: the kitchen, a small living room, and a bedroom where we all sleep together. In the kitchen, we have a small cupboard with broken dishes, a sink, and an oven. There is no running water, any heat, or electricity.
If we are lucky, we can sneak away from our work and go down to the small beach near our village. There, we can wash our hands and feet, or play in the water until we are caught.
At night, when everyone else is sleeping, I leave the cottage and visit the olive tree that grows thick and wild beside our home. I will pick an olive and let the salty bitterness cover my tongue.
When the milky moonlight glows like a spotlight above my head, I dance. I dance all of my worries away. And just before the sun comes out, I sneak back into the bedroom. No one in my family will ever know.
I knead dough in the heat of our kitchen, tears of sweat forming on my forehead. Adjusting the cloth wound tightly around my frizzy black curls, I wipe the sweat away with the back of my hand. Cassandra comes into the room with her schoolbooks. When I was little, I wanted to go to school with the other girls and learn. But after I saw Cassandra’s homework, I never asked again and instead helped with the cooking.
“I am going to school now,” Cassandra tells me.
“Okay. I will see you later,” I reply and she leaves.
Cassandra is the most beautiful of my sisters. She has long waves of light brown hair and coffee-colored eyes. Me and my other sisters would braid her hair for hours until Mama would tell us we had to go to bed. All of the boys want her and she is to be married soon.
Unlike Cassandra, I am short and more round. My black, curly hair is like a jungle. Normally, I tie my hair down with a cloth or braid it until it stretches far down my back. The only thing I ever liked about myself was my blue eyes. Papa says they are like the Aegean Sea when the sun sparkles upon the water. Even though I have pretty eyes, no boy has asked me to dance. I am not planning on falling in love though. Yet.
Aphrodite helps me fix the seams of my dress after I tear the fabric, tripping on a rock while looking for seashells for my collection. She cleans my scratched knee with a damp cloth. The blood crusts over. For the next hour, I amuse myself by picking at my scab.
My brothers, George and Basilios come in later from plowing wheat. George is strong and very manly; he used to go to school until he turned eighteen. Now, he helps Papa in the fields every day. Basilios is a few years older than me and he always makes me laugh. I love my brothers a lot, and I spend most of time with them, working and cooking. They do not think that just because I am a girl, I cannot do what they do. Whenever I come home with scratches on my legs or dirt on my face, Mama asks me what I was doing this time.
“Nothing,” I would say. “I was just helping George and Basilios.”
“You must be more careful, Stella. I do not know what I would do if you got hurt very badly. Now go clean yourself up before we eat,” she would answer.
“Do not worry, Mama,” George says sometimes. “She is in our care.”
“I do not know why that frightens me,” she will joke, making George laugh and ease his tired eyes.
Mama and I boil some potatoes on the stovetop, and I set a loaf of bread on the table. Cassandra comes in from the bedroom where she does her homework when school finishes. She teaches me how to read when she has time. I know how to spell my name and read simple sentences, but I am lazy and do not want to learn sometimes so I do not study as much. Cassandra is very smart and she has patience with me, and I hope I can be like her one day.
After she comes to the table, we sit down and say a prayer. We are quiet as we normally are during meals. We eat with small appetites and make small comments about our days. Cassandra is learning about history in school. Today, she learned of America, where everyone dreams of going one day. There is a very tall monument of a green lady holding up a torch called “Lady Liberty.” She greets immigrants who come from all over the world. I never want to go to America.
Mama leaves before we finish our meal, claiming she is exhausted and needs to lie down from the heat. I worry about her sometimes. She is always complaining about her head aching and her bones feeling week. Once we finish eating, Papa goes to the bedroom to talk with Mama and comfort her. Me and Cassandra soak the dishes in the bucket of water George brought in earlier. I sit on the cold, stone floor while scrubbing the grease away with my finger tips. My brothers slip away with Aphrodite from the kitchen to go outside to count the stars.
“Cassandra?” I say after they are gone.
“Hm?” she says, glancing over at me and laying a clean dish down.
“What are you going to wear on your wedding day?” I ask suddenly.
Cassandra dunks another dish into the bucket. I notice as she looks down at her long, creamy dress that has been stained several times. It is the only dress she owns. Her bottom lip quivers, and I feel bad for asking.
“I am sorry,” I mumble and return to scrape the grease away from my plate.
“It is fine,” Cassandra sighs. “I knew we would not have a big wedding, but Demetri said he could help pay for the dress when the time comes. His family has more money, so they want to make our wedding as special as possible.”
“That is nice. What is it like being in love?” I say. Since I am the youngest of my sisters, I like asking them hard questions. Especially Cassandra because she is the oldest and smartest.
“It is beautiful,” she answers plainly. “Demetri and I were best friends. He loved me and I loved him.”
“And now you are engaged . . . it seems too simple,” I comment.
“You will understand when you get older,” she smiles.
By then, we have cleaned all of the dishes and we decide to join our siblings outside. While we count the glittering stars one by one in the deep blue sky, I try to imagine what it is like to be in love. But I cannot.