Fiction Fridays: Second Skin

By: Lisa

It was my father who bought me my first pointe shoes.

I always thought my father’s deafness made him a superior communicator. I could take a single glance at him for a fraction of a second and predict his whole mood for the day. It all had to do with the forehead wrinkles. That’s what I miss the most about him: his distinctive moods and his endearing tells.

On the cold November day when my father decided to give into the haranguing of my ballet teacher, Ms. Forgione, who insisted I was ready to stand en pointe, I was in a fierce battle with myself. On the one hand, I knew straight down to my steady, strong core that I deserved pointe shoes. I was the best in the class; I was amazing. It’s only natural that this expense—and a terrific expense it definitely was—be spent on me.

On the other hand, it was such a luxury. For my Ukrainian-born parents, born into strife and conditioned to struggle with poise and economy, luxury was completely foreign, even shameful. I was taught never to indulge in luxury. But is happiness a luxury?

But standing on the sidewalk just before entering the shop, I could read my father’s thoughts on his brow. It was straight and stern but the soft crinkles on the sides of his eyes gave him away. I read in his face that a part of him wanted to indulge in this luxury not only for me, but for himself. That day I learned that my excessive pride was genetic.

My father’s hands were quiet as we entered the sparkling 8th Avenue shop. It was a girly paradise, frills of tulle and lace poking out of every clothing carousel, shelves and shelves of rose-colored boxes that I knew held my future perfect pair of shoes. I could feel the anticipation concentrating in the space around my father and knew he felt isolated, overwhelmed. I hardly spared him a second thought. Walking up to a woman draped in folds of black, I said, “I need to get fitted for my first pointe shoes, please.”

“Really?” she asked, assessing me.

“Yes, my first pair. Could you help me?”

A tinkle of a small bell behind me signaled the entrance of my savior, the plush Ms. Forgione. I thrilled. I felt saved.

Ms. Forgione’s timely, significant appearance worked upon my father like a charm. His nervous, drawn demeanor instantly became open, charming, grateful. He greeted her in broken, distorted English that was no less enthusiastic for its clumsiness, and all I can remember thinking is that the grownups always take so long to do everything. I signed to my father and translated between the two of them, turning my father’s mix of Ukrainian, English, and sign language into something intelligible for my monolingual ballet teacher. Her dimples flashed in my father’s direction as she spoke to him, and he was fully won over.

The niceties concluded, Ms. Forgione quickly took the reins with the pointe shoe fitter, overcoming the salesperson’s inherent snobbishness.

“This is Kat,” she said, gesturing vaguely toward me. “Today she’s getting pointe shoes.” The saleswoman nodded and began to perform her own little dance.

“Nice to meet you Kat, I’m Annie. If you could please take off your shoes and socks.” I sat and did so, and then she knelt down, hovering over my bare feet. I didn’t know exactly what she was looking for, but I hoped she liked what she saw. For a ballerina, feet are everything. She touched my arches, my heels, tapped at the line my toes made, straight and even. Feet to be proud of.

“Stand there at the barre,” Annie said. I glanced at Ms. Forgione, who nodded her head. I held the bar with focus and precision, moving my feet according to the instruction of Annie, who was now being thoroughly scrutinized by Ms. Forgione.

“Rise to demi pointe, Kat,” Ms. Forgione asked. “Tendu to second.”

Finally, a buttery pair of pink pointe shoes appeared, and Annie encased my feet in them, stretching, stuffing, spacing, and tying my feet into submission. I performed the movements again, conscious of my father’s quiet attention. I felt his eyes on me, and I gave even these minute movements every bit of flair I possessed. And on the ends of my legs, my first pair of pointe shoes bent and flexed with me. A fire glowed in my chest. I felt free.

Of course, all too soon, my first shoes were soon removed and taken away, and I felt a little bereavement at the loss of such a true, close friend I had only just met. That evening, we tried on what felt like hundreds of shoes, from the fat, wide ones like Grishko, to the skinny Capezios, while Annie asked me dozens of questions about the fit. I fell in love with all of them, even the ones that hung off my feet like bits of pink elephant skin. I liked the way my feet elongated, the hard toe box transforming my common old foot into something powerful, as if I were slipping into a different identity entirely. My skinny legs ended in ballet, and it was the beginning and the end of my life.

Each time the haughty Annie came over with yet another pair of shoes, Ms. Forgione adopted a ridiculously serious manner and was more stern with me than she had ever been in class. She did all the serious things: pursed her lips, furrowed her brow, cocked her head to the side, all of it. “Plie, Kat,” she commanded in a tone much unlike her regular one, unembellished with that sparkling passion I was used to, the “t” clacking against the roof of her mouth. “Now second. Flex. First. Again.” I found the whole thing unbearably comical but I followed her orders and managed to catch my father’s eye. He smirked, I smiled.

An hour passed before I met my first pointe shoes, Bloch shoes that felt like a second skin in relevé, and I exulted. Ms. Forgione’s dimples once again made an appearance as my reflection twirled in the mirrors of the 8th Avenue store, cheeks flushed, hair sticking out from my sharp shoulders, finally, finally a ballerina. The shoes were a soft pink, subtle as a blush, but I thought again of my green tutu.

Outside the store, Ms. Forgione tousled my hair, clasped hands with my father and disappeared into the black night. Underneath a red awning, my father told me I had to be good, work hard, justify his purchase. I signed back, my hands a flurry of movement, my face still red and glowing. I assuaged my father with promises of determined work but I also saw through him. His hands spoke of responsibility, but his eyes twinkled in excitement. His American daughter was really something special.

I relished that day for months.

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We're Sarah and Kaitlyn, roommates from Milwaukee who started this blog to promote creativity and life.
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