Alice K. Boatwright
Alice K. Boatwright
Alice K. Boatwright is author of three award-winning novellas about the Vietnam War, collected inCollateral Damage (Standing Stone Books, 2012), and of the Ellie Kent mysteries, which debuted with Under an English Heaven (Cozy Cat Press, 2014). She has also written dozens of stories, published in journals such as Amarillo Bay, America West, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mississippi Review, Penumbra, Stone Canoe, and Storyglossia.
On the brightly lit stage, a peasant girl flirts with her lover. He loves me/he loves me not/he loves me. Petals fall from the flower in her hand, and she looks dismayed as the last petal falls: he loves me not. Her lover grabs a fresh flower. He loves/he loves/he loves. He says. She laughs and together they dance, joy lifting their feet, lighting their faces.
No matter how often she saw Giselle, Sonya was shocked by what came next. His lies exposed. Her madness and death. His grief and then salvation through the power of her love.
As the curtain fell, Sonya strained for one last glimpse of Albrecht, prostrate on Giselle’s grave, the lilies from his hands scattered on the ground. His loss filled her eyes with tears.
Then the grave was gone.
Anna came out smiling, a sheaf of roses in her arms. As she curtsied, her white dress touched the stage. Servan, in a black tunic, stood at her side. His dark hair curled forward as he bowed, smiled, then took Anna’s hand and kissed it.
“Brava! Bravo!” the audience shouted with relief and joy.
The noise boomed up into the rafters of the theatre, and Sonya clapped until her palms were stinging. Anna curtsied again, her eyes cast down. From the orchestra pit, the Maestro blew her a kiss. Flowers showered down, littering the stage with color. Sonya thought the shouting and clapping would never stop.
# # #
Afterwards, there was the party. Holding bottles of Champagne, men in tails stood poised as palace guards. Guests shed their coats and drifted into the long paneled room. It was the last night of the season, and the air was fragrant with success.
Waiters moved through the growing crowd with trays of stuffed mushrooms, sausages in pastry, finger sandwiches, and butter crescents. The sheaf of roses stood on a table behind Anna in a porcelain vase. The scarlet flowers set off her dark hair and pale skin, the blue-green shimmer of her silk dress. Well-wishers crowded around her and Servan Magyar—people who wanted pictures, autographs, words of encouragement.
Sonya stood next to Anna, her hands in the pockets of her velvet dirndl and studied her mother’s face. Only moments before, she had gone mad and died for love. Now she was poised and elegant. In between there had been the hurried visit to the dressing room. She and her father stood outside until Anna appeared in a bathrobe. Anna kissed Sonya, her lips leaving the smell of makeup on her cheek, but she spoke angrily to Sonya’s father about drafts and bad lighting. The ghostly white dress had been tossed over an armchair, along with the peasant dirndl. A pile of ravaged toe shoes lay on the floor.
“Good evening, Herr Weisen,” she was now saying to an elderly man in a tuxedo. His small, shriveled wife reached for Servan’s hand, the same hand that had clutched the lilies as he crumpled with grief on Anna’s grave.
“You were exquisite, my dear,” said Herr Weisen, pressing Anna’s fingers to his lips.
“I simply wept,” said his wife.
“I’ll say. You really did it,” declared a man in a rumpled brown suit who pushed forward. “It was magic, Anna, pure magic.”
“And who is this little Giselle?” said the old lady, catching sight of Sonya in her dirndl.
“My daughter,” said Anna, her hand firmly between Sonya’s shoulder blades.
“What a lucky girl to have such a beautiful mother! Are you a dancer too?” the woman asked, but before Sonya could reply, she had turned to Anna and said: “Please come to see me. I’d love to give you some furs that I never wear.”
Anna was saying she would when Allen Spitz, the Artistic Director, called for everyone’s attention. He thanked the sponsors and the Board for their support then raised his glass to his prima ballerina, Anna Pellegrini, the loveliest Giselle in New York.
A cheer went up. Anna’s cheeks colored slightly, as she bowed her head. Sonya saw her father rise from his stool at the bar to join in, then sit down again.
More toasts were made.
“To Servan! To the company! To the ballet!”
Glasses clinked, were emptied, and as quickly filled again. Laughter filled the air like smoke.
Sonya moved closer to her mother and touched her thin, silk-clad hip with her fingertips.
“What is it, Sonya?” Anna asked, but she could not explain her desire to touch her. “Why don’t you get me some food like a good girl?”
Sonya nodded, knowing she was both needed and dismissed.
Alone in the crowd of adults, she felt lost in a forest with paths that closed up as quickly as they opened. Time and again she looked back to see the flicker of a blue-green dress, the splash of red roses, the curve of her Anna’s cheek.
At the banquet table, Sonya selected Anna’s favorite things—caviar, steamed shrimp, and plump black olives—then pâté sandwiches and cheesecake for Servan, cookies and chocolates for her father and herself.
Sonya went first to her father, who smiled at her from his barstool and took some chocolates, which he lined up next to his whiskey.
“Thank you, Bug,” he said. “This is just what I needed. Now don’t keep Anna waiting. We have to leave soon.”
Walking back, she had to be careful. The plate was heavy, and sudden legs and elbows jutted into her path. A man making a point with his cigarette almost knocked the plate out of her hands, but she arrived safely.
“Thank you, Sonya. This looks good,” said Anna, taking an olive, while Sonya helped herself to a cookie.
Servan was deep in conversation with a woman whose ample breasts were draped with pearls.
“You must see my granddaughter dance,” she was saying. “She has perfect turnout, extraordinary musicality.”
“I would be delighted,” he replied. “It’s always a great joy to discover a gifted young person.”
The woman beamed, but Anna, who had turned her back to them, made a face for Sonya, and Sonya laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Servan asked when the woman had gone.
“You, Prince Albrecht,” said Anna, lighting a cigarette. “It’s always a great joy to discover a gifted young person,” she mimicked.
Servan took her match with a graceful move and blew it out. His breath was like a kiss floating through the air to Anna’s lips. In an instant, her frown melted away.
Then he turned to Sonya. “Did you enjoy the ballet tonight?” he asked.
She nodded. “But one of the girls was here,” she said, pointing her toe to the left, “when she should have been there.” Sonya moved her foot out to the front.
Servan laughed. “So you know every step now?”
Sonya nodded again.
“You’d better watch it then, Anna. Your replacement is in training.” He touched Sonya’s dark hair gently.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Anyone can be a critic.”
Sonya wanted to say she was not a critic. She was a dancer, already taking three classes a week; but Harry Buehl, their manager, was moving toward them, his starched white belly leading the way.
Sonya hated Harry. He was one of those adults who pinched her cheeks instead of saying hello and then acted as if she didn’t exist.
“My dear,” he said, kissing Anna and preening. “You were magnificent tonight, and by tomorrow you and Servan will be the most sought-after team in the world.”
Anna smiled, her usual composed smile, but her cheeks flushed. “Thank you, Harry,” she said. “I hope you are right.”
“No doubt in my mind,” he repeated, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. “And seldom is success so well-deserved.”
“Thank you for the roses, too.”
Harry patted his hard shirtfront and said: “Yes, I thought they would add the right touch.”
Sonya frowned at the enormous, triumphant bouquet. She had assumed it came from her father. An admirer. Anyone but Harry.
“Seriously, Anna,” Harry continued, “any company would be glad to have you guest.”
Anna took a cigarette from Servan and said coolly: “You know, there is some place we want to go.”
“You name it.”
“London,” she said, her voice eager. “We want to spend next season in London.”
Sonya stiffened at her mother’s words. What could she be thinking? They couldn’t go to London for a season. They lived in New York.
But then she saw Anna and Servan, their hands touching, their eyes intent on Harry, and she understood: she was not a part of we.
It was what she feared every time Anna went away. The plane would move down the runway, and she would grow smaller and smaller in her mother’s eyes until she could not be seen at all.
“I’ll get on it,” said Harry, and Anna embraced him.
Sonya recoiled at the sight and bumped the table behind her. It rocked, and the vase of roses teetered then fell with a crash, scattering flowers and the broken plate of food at her feet.
Anna whirled. “Now what have you done?” she said, eyes flashing.
Sonya stared, her own eyes filling with tears. What had she done? What had she done?
“Come on, Anna, it was an accident,” said Servan.
“Accidents happen when people are careless,” said Anna; but a waiter had already materialized to clean up, and she turned back to Harry, forgetting Sonya and the roses.
Servan picked Sonya up out of the spreading pool of water, lifting her like the lightest of ballerinas. “Don’t mind Anna,” he said, sitting down with her on his lap. “She’s just tired. You’re a dancer. You know what we’re like after we dance. Animals.” Then he growled in her ear, becoming the playful Servan. The one who acted out all her favorite ballets with her in the living room at home.
But for this very reason he should have realized that she knew the comfort of his arms, the warmth of his thighs, were not real. She’d seen it tonight: Giselle runs from side to side, tearing her hair, but she can’t escape the truth. She is not loved enough.
“I don’t know anything about that. All I know is you are liars,” she said, struggling to her feet. Then she ran to find her father, who slapped his money on the bar and stood up when he saw her coming.
He didn’t ask her what made her cry. He buttoned her coat with such grave courtesy that she couldn’t have told him even if he had asked. Maybe he already knew. In the taxi, watching the streetlights flicker across them, she wished they could ride forever through the New York night.
In a ballet, it could happen that way, but this was not a ballet.
The taxi stopped at their building on West 97th Street, and Sonya waited on the stoop, her scarf blowing in the cold wind, while her father paid the driver. They entered the building, their shoes clicking across the marble floor, and listened silently to the snore of the elevator as it took them up. Sonya watched the familiar numbers light up one by one and sighed.
At home the scent of her mother’s perfume greeted them and her long kid gloves lay wilted on the dining room table. Her father went into the kitchen to fix her some hot milk.
Sonya took off her dirndl, letting it fall to the floor, and put on her nightgown. In her room, glass doors overlooked the snowy, sleeping park and black river. She could see herself reflected in the glass, a shadowy white figure against the dark.
She raised herself onto her tiptoes, lifted her arms and began to twirl, her face still and pale. She twirled and twirled and wondered if she, like Giselle, would have to die before the one she loved would ever come seeking her. And, if she did, would she forgive her? Would she be willing to save her life?