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Little Ballerinas

Corrie Greathouse

My father and I sat talking for some hours. The hours passed quickly, the way the years had.

I looked down at my hands and I remembered hers. They were always clasped, or her fingers were tapping … the sound of her fingernails was like music. I would tell her that her fingers looked like ballerinas. She would tell me to write her a story about ballerinas, then. I told her I would rather write her a poem about raindrops. “They dance too”. She laughed, as she often did when I said such things. She laughed and told me to keep writing my stories, whatever stories I wanted. I took her hand and told her I wanted happy endings. I would hold her hands like little ballerina fingerdolls in my child-sized grasp, pressing on the skin of her knuckles with my fingertips and telling her that knuckles were fingerballerina’s tutus. 

It was about to rain. Her knuckles would ache when it rained. “Maybe that is because god only wants one thing dancing at a time. If raindrops are dancing, ballerinas will have to wait their turn.” “God wants everyone to dance”, she said. I asked her how come god made it so that she had to be sick. I asked her why god made it so that she had to go see doctors then come home to me at night so sick she couldn’t sleep. She told me that when she was sick, somewhere, a little girl like me didn’t have to be.  She told me that when she was sick, we would both learn to be strong. I told her I didn’t want to be strong, that I just wanted happy endings.

When her hair began falling out, she let me shave it off while she tried to pretend she wasn’t crying. When I asked her why she was crying, she told me she wasn’t. Her tears were dancing. I buried my head in her lap told her that my tears were dancing too but mine felt more like crying.  We sat that way for a long time in our apartment near the oranges. It was just us girls, we would say, just mom and me. We would laugh and make stories and she would let me put my little girl feet in her grown-up shoes, even when her feet were already in them. I would ask her if I could be pretty someday, pretty like her. She told me I could be prettier. I would ask her if I could be smart someday, smart like her. She told me I could be smarter. I would ask her if she loved me, “yes” she would say. “How much”? I would ask. “Too many muches” was always her reply.

They became a part of our lives, these dances, my stories, the exchanges of “too many muches”. When she was sick, I would sleep in her bed so we would both feel less alone. I was only nine and I didn’t know what cancer meant. We would lie in bed and I would hold her hands, telling her stories until she fell asleep. In the morning, I would brush her wig, taking out the curlers I put in it at night. She never stopped smiling. I would ask her why she smiled and she would tell me it helped strangers see god. I asked her if she was going to see god.

“Not yet”
“Not ever”?
“Not for a long, long time. Moms get to live for a long, long time so they can see their little girls have happy endings.”

I asked her if I could still tell her stories when she was 100. She said I could tell her stories when she was 100 plus 100. I told her she would be very old by then and might not be able to hear so good, but I would tell her stories anyway, stories with happy endings.  She told me that I could tell her stories even when she was far away, that she would be sitting, right next to god, listening and smiling at strangers while I sit, writing happy endings with once tiny fingers, now grown into little ballerinas.