It’s 8:05 as TCM begins “Top Hat” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Sally sits the width of the stuffed armchair, propped up like an old cactus in dry dirt.
Mechanically, she shovels the M&Ms into her mouth, while she dissects every dance step on the screen.
Her steel stare critiques the paces that parade in front of her as the reflection of their black and white images flutter in her damp grey eyes.
The credits swell, and again, it’s another happy ending movie, just like the one she watched the previous night.
Shutting off the television set, she heads for the weary banister that barely supports her, her body moving forward like rolling lava, formless and fatigued.
She lumbers up the stairs, and makes her way into the bathroom, looking into the mirror at her cobweb of hair. She gave up coloring it long ago, and now, make-up isn’t even a consideration. The crow’s feet beneath her eyes have deepened into riverbeds, the under-eye bags are dark, like charcoal crescent moons.
As she heads toward her bedroom, she steals one last glance into the mirror. The image before her shows a round mass of plaid, one of the few house dresses that still fits her. Her weary gaze travels to her dresser to the studio portrait of her mother in the ‘50s — ethereal and lithe in her evening gown, the camera’s eye in adulation of her.
Envy and jealousy begin to engulf Sally as her mind reels backward to earlier times when her future lay before her like a flat highway road. Back then there were no obstacles. School, dance class, homework, and endless practice measured her days.
Her beautiful mother had married well, and Sally was the progeny of their union. Sally thought she should feel lucky going to a private school with pretty friends, ballet lessons and dressage, but dancing never really agreed with her. But her mother was insistent.
Tight and high strung, her mother was haunted by dancing dreams that were severed by a marriage to wealth and propriety. She was intent on being successful at something. She focused on her only child, determined that Sally should fulfill her own dancing dreams. With enough diligence, her mother hoped that she would also be propelled to stardom through her daughter’s victories.
Four times a week Sally was carted to the studio. At times Sally’s legs would pain her, but when she complained, her mother would re-emphasize how lucky Sally was to have such advantages. Ice packs would end the evening, and the routine would repeat itself the following day.
Sally exhaled and heaved her way up the stairs. She gazed around her disheveled room. Although her Shih Tzu was impeccably groomed, dog hair littered everything.
Perhaps she should pick up some of the clothes and papers that lay strewn about like some collage on the floor. Perhaps someday, when her leg didn’t hurt, and her mind was still, she could create some order out of her chaotic life.
She set the clock for 5:30, forty-five minutes earlier than usual. It was the first day of the semester, and the parents were anxious to get their little darlings into the right dance classes. Sally will be firmly planted right there behind her mahogany desk like some monument, assuaging those parental fears that naturally arise when their children begin to venture out on their own.
She’d help them pick he right classes like her mother did with her more than 50 years ago before Sally’s “accident,” the result of an argument with her mother that took place at the top of the stairs.
Sally’s mind rolls backward to that fateful evening at 15, when her mother, diluting her sorrows with another round of gin, insisted her daughter needed to “try a little harder” if she wanted to pursue a professional career in dance.
“You know, M&M’s aren’t going to do you any favors…. You really have to watch your weight,” she began, cigarette in one hand, tonic in the other. “And your form…. Your posture is really an embarrassment,” she continued, drawing circles in the air with her cigarette. “Let me show you how it’s done.”
Setting her drink down, she grabbed Sally’s wrist and began to twist her into an acceptable position.
“I hate dance, and I hate you!” Sally struggled to break away, but the runner at the top of the stairs had other ideas. By the time she broke free of her mother’s grasp, it was too late. Sally tumbled down the stairs, her body a crumpled mess of broken bones and spirit. A shattered ankle made any dancing dreams impossible.
Sally never completely lost her limp, the memory haunting her in quiet moments.
Sally shudders, rolls into bed and dims the light.
Mary McGrath is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in a number of publications including:Chicken Soup for the Soul (Jan. 2019), Newsweek, Wall St. Journal, Betterafter50.com, Purpleclover.com, LANG Newspaper Group, and Good Housekeeping, Please find her work at www.marymcgrathphotography.com