The Little Ballerina

Lucy Bauer
The Little Ballerina
Alf slid the lace curtain aside and peered out at the rain-soaked street. Cathy Brown from number 12 came hurrying along, huddled under her umbrella. She hesitated as she drew level with Alf’s window and he raised his hand in greeting. But Cathy, intent on negotiating the large puddle that always formed outside Alf’s door in heavy rain, was oblivious to his presence. Alf tutted and shook his head. How long had the council been promising to get that pavement repaired? Cathy skirted the dark pool and went on her way without a sideways glance. Alf watched her disappear round the corner. Janet and Cathy had been good friends.
The rain bounced off the street and streamed along the gutters. There would be no trip to the shops today. There had been a time when a spot of bad weather wouldn’t have kept Alf inside. Come rain or shine, the walk to the town square to buy a stamp at the post office or a pint of milk at MacKay’s had provided a welcome opportunity to get his old bones moving. If he was fortunate, he would bump into an acquaintance and exchange a few words. Nowadays, though, trips to the shops were few and far between and reserved for mild, dry afternoons. It took him longer now and he needed his walking stick.
Alf lifted the little ballerina from the windowsill and drew the curtain again, adjusting it with fastidious little tugs. The appearance of curtains had been a thing of great importance to Janet. She seemed to have a notion that people would judge her character by the hang of her curtains and the shine of her ornaments. As if hers was a character that needed gilding! No sweeter person than Janet had ever walked the earth as far as Alf was concerned; she had meant the world to him. Alf took the soft, white cloth from the drawer in the sideboard and started polishing the ballerina.
She was made of blue and white porcelain and came from Denmark. Alf had spotted her one day in the window of the charity shop next door to MacKay’s and, with Janet in mind, had gone in to enquire about the price. The lady behind the counter had turned the delicate piece of china this way and that and then agreed to let it go for a tenner – a bargain. It was in immaculate condition and the name on the bottom was one Alf recognized from Janet’s collection.
Janet had adored the little ballerina. Alf didn’t care much for ballet himself but Janet had often spoken of her childhood dream of becoming a dancer. As a girl she had imagined herself in the spotlight, pirouetting and prancing across the stage in a frothy tutu. But, of course, ballet lessons were out of the question: it wasn’t just the cost; ballet wasn’t for the working class, it was only for posh girls. And yet, Alf thought, Janet would have made the perfect ballerina – so dainty, nimble, graceful. At the end she had grown so fragile and slight, she was almost intangible. She had slipped away from him before he even really knew what was happening.
Gently, Alf passed the cloth over the folds of the ballerina’s skirt. Stiff joints were making chores – and life in general – tiresome these days. He rubbed dust from the ballerina’s glazed eyes and, emerging from under the cloth, her smooth, pearly face smiled up at him. He cradled her in his hands: a featherweight. He admired her straight back, her slender waist, her shapely legs, the curve of her arms, arched effortlessly for all time. She had always had pride of place on the windowsill while the other ornaments jostled for position in the china cabinet. Dear Janet and her ornaments!
A sudden jangle made Alf start out of his reverie and the ballerina swooped from his grasp. To his immense relief she came to rest on the carpet, unscathed, cushioned by the cloth. Alf felt giddy at the turmoil. Who on earth could be ringing his doorbell? Leaving the ballerina where she had fallen, an angel reclining on a cloud, Alf made for the door as fast as his protesting knees would permit to get there before the caller, whoever it was, got tired of waiting.
It was Cathy Brown. She squinted up at the sky, then shook raindrops from her umbrella and closed it.
“Cathy!“ The sound of his own voice was unfamiliar to him.
“Hello, Alf. Just passing and happened to notice the little ballerina wasn‘t in her usual place so I knew you must be about your housework.“
“Come in, Cathy,“ Alf said, then added hesitantly, hopefully, “… cup of tea?“
“Can’t stop today, Alf, but what about tomorrow afternoon? I could drive you down to MacKay’s to do your shopping and then we could go to that new place for a coffee. It‘s very good, so they say. Lovely home baked scones apparently. They won‘t be a patch on Janet’s, of course.“ Cathy smiled and raised her eyebrows in expectation of his reply. “Pick you up just after three?“
“Yes, Cathy, yes please. I’d love to, Cathy. Thank you.“ The words sounded awkward when they came out. It had been so long since there had been an invitation to accept.
When Cathy had gone, Alf at once made his way back to rescue the little ballerina. Somehow he felt lighter on his feet now – had his knees really been giving him so much bother only minues before? He bent down carefully and picked the ballerina up. Having swept the duster over her one last time, he planted a kiss on the top of her pretty head, lifted the curtain and replaced her on the windowsill.
Outside the rain had stopped and a watery sun was lighting the ballerina’s stage. She stepped into the spotlight, tilted her head on her swan-like neck, pushed up on to her toes, arched her arms and, with that ghost of a smile playing across her porcelain features, she floated to the music that was playing in Alf’s head. Alf looked across at himself in the living room mirror, grey, bulky, heavy jowled and stooping. Then he straightened his back, lifted his arms as far as they would go, tilted his head and mimicked the ballerina‘s angelic expression. The pirouette he attempted cost him his balance, however, and he slumped clumsily on to the sofa. But the image of himself in ballet pose disappearing sideways from the mirror made him chuckle. And the chuckle turned to laughter and he laughed and laughed until he had to dab the tears from his eyes. His heart was light, as light as the little ballerina, balanced for ever on the tips of her toes, defying gravity with studied nonchalance. It had been a lucky day for both of them.
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