Anna Pavlova, costumed as The dying swan (1)

When they had toured France, he had made a special trip to the Paris Opera Museum to see Anna Pavlova’s child-sized satin ballet slipper.  Later, his granddaughter had told him that the thing she wanted most in the world was ballet lessons. Inexplicably moved, even thrilled, he had managed to finance the bi-weekly classes for her, though she lived too far away to attend her recitals. 

Now, on this visit, having offered to pick her up, he came early. He watched from the door as knobby girls bent and stretched in dubious grace.  In the uniform black leotard, pink tights and slippers, and bound hair, it was hard to pick her out, but he thought he did it by her refinement of gesture.

She didn’t see him, her face rapt at trying to manage both a tautly pointed foot and a Sistine hand while wobbling slightly on one leg.  Fingers touching wood, she steadied then brought up the barre hand to the other for a moment of what looked to him a perfect attitude.  Her face startled as she caught him in the mirror and she loosened into gangles again, then mouthed, “Just a minute.”

The teacher waved the girls into line and together they performed the classic bow, a deep reverence to an invisible audience that generations of ballerinas had done in exactly the same way.  Their motions were multiplied in the mirrors, the lights distancing until they looked like gas flames or even candles in the blur of sudden tears.  Away down there at the end, perhaps the tiny, precise form of Pavlova.


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