SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction … The Happy Store – On Pointe

By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY’S WORLD: Fiction …  The Happy Store – On Pointe

It wasn’t “Bring a Child to Work Day” for Clementine’s 40th adventure at The Happy Store, but...

 

Among the many things that Clementine had not known about Betty Davis, lead sales associate at The Happy Store, was that she had a fraternal twin named Robin Nash. Whereas Betty was a brown-eyed blonde, Robin was a blue-eyed brunette.

Also absent from Betty’s Happy Store biography was the existence of Robin’s daughter, a brown-eyed blonde like Betty who, as her aunt had been, was passionate about the ballet. If two photos – one of Betty’s niece at age ten and the other of Betty at the same age – were placed side-by-side, both in leotards and tutus, the only perceptible difference would be that one was taken with a film camera and the other with digital. Which is why, when she was nine-months-old, everyone in the family started to call the baby “Ditto.”

Robin laughed after she thought up the nickname, and felt a great surge of love for her older sister. And when Betty heard it, she laughed too, feeling honored, delighted, and amused.

As to Ditto herself, she didn’t care a whit, as she had just been launched on the easy and arduous process of growing up … as a daughter … as a school girl … and as a social butterfly (she had four best friends). Most of all, though, as a very young ballerina. For if all went according to the ten-year-old’s plan, her life in the foreseeable future would be nothing but ballet.

Now a few (very few. I promise) insights into the training of a young dancer.

From the minute she has seen her first ballet – usually The Nutcracker at Christmas – she longs to put on a pair of toe shoes and dance en pointe. However, keen as she may be to float like a fairy princess, she must study four to five years beforehand to master technique, balance, alignment, flexibility, etc. With regard to musculoskeletal maturity (essential to a young dancer), she must also wait until the growth plates in her feet have closed, which does not happen until she is at least ten-years-old.

If Ditto had been allowed to decide when to start dancing en pointe, it would have occurred at her first dance class. Robin, however, was too strong and too savvy to be bullied by an ardent six-year-old. So Ditto had to postpone that training until six weeks after her tenth birthday, when an x-ray confirmed that her feet were ready. The next day, Robin bought her a pair of pink toe shoes, and three days after that, when the action in this story begins, Ditto’s ballet teacher, Melba Cordova, gave Betty’s niece her first lesson en pointe.

That very same day, Robin’s hardware-storeowner husband Martin Nash tripped over a 40 pound bag of birdseed and broke an ankle. After he called his wife from the emergency room, she rushed to Ditto’s ballet

school to take her out of class. Although Robin had enough patience to let Ditto change shoes, this did not extend to her pink tights, pink leotard, and diaphanous pink skirt.

Robin then drove (more recklessly than she would later admit) to The Happy Store where, hand-in-hand, she hastened her daughter through the door. The first person she saw when they got inside was Walter Graybill, the store manager

“Hi, Walter!” Robin exclaimed, her eyes huge orbs of near-panic. “Is my sister here?”

Walter, who had known the woman as a customer for years, but did not know that she was also his lead sales associate’s sister, was not permitted the time to ask or answer any questions before Robin thrust a little girl forward and said, “Meet Ditto. Betty’s niece. Please tell Betty that my husband was in an accident and broke his ankle. I have to rush to the hospital, so …” She bent to confide in her daughter. “Sweetie, this nice man with the beautiful mustache is Mr. Graybill. He and your Aunt Betty will be babysitting you until I bring Daddy home.”

Robin looked at Walter, whose mouth had fallen open like a stumped student who didn’t know the answer to the question of who was buried in Grant’s Tomb. But before he could get his bearings, Betty’s sister disappeared. Poof. Like a genie in a magic lamp.

And she had gone without her daughter.

Glancing down, he saw a very small, very pink, very fairy-like little girl … and she was holding his hand.

Holding his hand!

He bellowed, “Clementine!”

Instantly, our favorite sales associate materialized at his side.

Walter unpeeled Ditto’s fingers from around his hand, transferred them to Clementine’s, and said, “This is Betty’s niece. Her name is Ditto. Other than that, don’t ask.”

Clementine knelt and studied the elfin child. She said, “You look exactly like your aunt.”

The girl nodded solemnly. “I’m her doppelganger.”

Walter continued, “Betty’s off today. Until I find her, she…” He nodded down at Ditto, “…is your responsibility. I’ll try to track Betty down from the office and tell her to come in and take the kid home.”

This may, more or less, have been what Robin Nash intended: that Ditto spend the afternoon under Betty’s eagle eye. Probably sitting on one of The Happy Store’s papasan chairs ($99.99 including base, bowl, and

a selection of cushions in nine different colors), reading one of the children’s books that, in her haste, Robin had forgotten to put into her daughter’s polka dot pink ballet tote bag.

However, as things stood, there was no book. No Aunt Betty. And even Walter had retreated to his office to distance himself further from the situation.

Which left Clementine in charge of Ditto. An unusual child whose every thought, breath and heartbeat – particularly on the day of her very first en pointe lesson – was ballet, ballet, ballet.

At the time – and not unusual for the comparatively affluent area where The Happy Store was located – there were six customers in the store who had once been associated with the world of classical ballet.

The youngest of the six were Ashley and Kim, mid-to-late twenties, who had taken lessons as girls. Ashley until she became a gymnast in high school, and Kim until she was denied a scholarship to the NYC School of Ballet. Next were Julie and Christina, ages forty and forty-one. Neither was a dancer, but both had religiously taken their daughters to class, hand-sewn costumes, attended recitals, dried tears, and tempered their dreams with as much reality as the children could bear. Last of the generations represented were two grandmothers, Gloria and Joy. Both had been professional dancers; Gloria a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, Joy a chorus girl, and both had taken ballet lessons well into middle age. They, too, had children and grandchildren, had attended their offspring’s recitals, and dreamed the very same dreams that have filled the hearts and minds of dancers from the moment Terpsichore took her first breath.

So, after a slender child sat down on the floor of The Happy Store, took her pointe shoes out of a tote bag, wrapped her toes in lamb’s wool, and expertly tied the satin ribbons around her instep and ankles, six heads – blonde, brunette, auburn, salt-and-pepper, and two silver – simultaneously stopped inspecting merchandise and began to watch Ditto dance.

It was quite a spectacle. And terribly, terribly sweet.

What they (and Clementine) saw was a delicate flower of a girl with a pretty face that was serious and joyous at the same time. She was dancing on her tippy toes up and down the aisles, a diaphanous pink skirt flaring around her small body as she twirled, kicked, floated, and leaped between huge vases, piles of pillows, and even a display of wind chimes that tinkled gaily as she flew past.

Little by little and inch by inch, the six women moved closer to Ditto, unaware that in doing so, they were cutting off her access to the aisles and corralling in the wide open area at the front of the store.

As Ditto passed a blue corduroy armchair ($199.00, final sale), she grabbed a long-armed stuffed sloth (The Happy Store sold many plush animals), and began to dance with it as if she were Aurora and it were Prince Charming. With the ease of an old pro, she glided through pirouttes, fouettes, and God knows what

else until finally – was it half-an-hour later? A full hour? An hour-and-a-half? – that marvelous child (Clementine thought of her as a vest pocket Betty Davis), executed one last jeté, and ended her performance with a deep, elegant, confident, prima donna-like bow.

Everyone in the store (except Walter, who was hiding) applauded ferociously. Ditto arose gracefully. Clementine took her hand and led her to the papasan chair. She tucked the sloth behind the little girl’s head (it was very soft) and within seconds, Ditto was asleep.

Two hours later, that was how Betty Davis found her, looking like a puddle of princess in a bowl-like chair, with an ugly stuffed animal clutched in her impossibly thin arms.

Betty turned to Clementine. “Everything okay?” she asked, nudging her niece awake, and then leading the still-sleepy child toward the front door.

“Hunky-Dory,” Clementine replied. Then she called out after Ditto. “Thank you, darling child.”

Ditto raised her eyes to Clementine and smiled a blissful smile.

“What are you thanking her for?” the girl’s aunt demanded suspiciously.

“Oh, nothing.”

Betty narrowed her eyes.

Clementine added, “Just the pleasure of her company.”

Nor did Clementine (or Walter, who pretended that he hadn’t seen what was going on at the time, but as usual, missed nothing) make any effort to explain why, that day, they broke sales records for the entire quarter. Even though they both knew that after Ditto’s performance, the six lady shoppers bought much more than they had intended, lost in a misty, hazy, reminiscent gratitude for an impromptu performance that brought each of them back to the dreamily happy dancing days of their youth.

 

 

Copyright © 2020, Shelly Reuben - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.

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