Excerpt: 'Sugar Plum Ballerinas'

Ugh. I'll bet Phoebe Fitz never had to wear a tutu.

"Mama, you know we aren't supposed to wear this junk to class!" I yell down the hall. No response.

I march into her workroom, the tutu flopping up and down like it's trying to take off. There are moving boxes everywhere, but instead of unpacking, Mama's gluing huge feathers onto what was once probably a nice hat. She mostly makes costumes, but she's been on a hat kick lately. I know Mama is very talented—lots of people have said so—but to me, that hat looks like an ostrich's backside. Loose sequins in a rainbow of colors shimmer on the floor.

Mama doesn't notice me come in. Normal people hang out in jeans at home, but not her. She's wearing one of her creations; she calls it the Gold Mine Dress. She got the idea for it from a book about the California gold rush. The skirt of the dress is supposed to look like a mountain, so it flares out at the bottom. When Mama's standing still, the only colors you see are chocolate brown and gray, like soil and rocks, but when she moves you can see flashes of gold from the shiny threads and beads she's sewn deep into the creases. She loves it, but says it doesn't read well onstage. That means it looks good close up, but from far away you'd miss the interesting details. ("Interesting details" are things that make clothes special. I wish my tutu did not have so many of them.)

The hat she's working on would read well onstage even if the stage were on Mars and you were looking at it from Earth. "Fabulous . . . mm-mmm, perfect; maybe one more orange . . ." she says to herself as she chooses feathers and holds them up to the hat to see how they look.

The ballet school letter is lying by her sewing machine. I wave it in front of her face. "Mama!"

She looks up, a little dazed. I'd be dazed too if I'd been staring at purple and orange feathers all morning. "Why, Alexandrea!" she says, standing up to look me over. "You look wonderful. All ready for class?"

"Mama, listen to this." I read from the letter. "Students at the Nutcracker School shall wear standard ballet leotards and tights. Dress code shall be strictly enforced."

Mama puts down the feathers. "You are wearing a leotard. It's fabulous and unique. Can you imagine how it will stand out onstage?" She strikes a dramatic pose, as if an audience of 3,000 were watching her every move.

Sure, the tutu would look great onstage. However, I am not going onstage. I am going to a ballet class at a strange school in a strange city. Mama seems to have missed this critical point.

"And it doesn't say you can't wear a tutu over the leotard," Mama continues. "You are wearing those gorgeous tights I set out for you, yes?" She tries to peek at my behind, but I hold the tutu down. The tights I'm wearing are one of Mama's favorite creations. The legs look like normal tights, but the rear end is covered with shiny pink lightning bolts. You have to wear them over your leotard, not under, or you wouldn't be able to see the lightning (which would be fine with me). Mama calls the outfit Girl Power—Girl for the tutu and Power for the lightning. She says the contrast between the delicate tutu and the powerful lightning makes an interesting artistic statement. The dress code says we're supposed to wear tights, not interesting artistic statements. At least no one will see them under the tutu.

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