There was crying. There always was, on the first day. “Should I stay?” asked Helen, a thin woman who vibrated with nervous energy. She looked helplessly down at her wailing child.
Diana shook her head. “She’ll be fine once the lesson starts.”
“Okay.” Helen bent over her daughter, whose face was shiny with tears. “Darling, I have to go.”
The teacher shooed the other mothers out the door, softly touching the girls on the head. At her touch, the girls instantly sat down on the mat, staring at the mirror on the wall without fidgeting, holding perfectly still.
Diana came back and touched Sammy on the head, too. “Twelve,” the teacher said. “And I make thirteen. The perfect number.” Then, to Helen, “You may leave now.”
Sammy’s hands dropped away from her mother. Surprised, Helen backed up towards the door, waiting for a reaction. Her daughter sat down on the mat next to the other girls, ignoring her mother as if she weren’t even there.
“We’ll be fine,” said the teacher, pushing Helen out of the room and shutting the door in her face.
Sammy’s mom lingered outside the door. She had never seen her daughter so quickly listen to a stranger. Every single time at swimming class, Helen had to kneel on the edge of the concrete to convince Sammy to go into the water. Still, Sammy cried constantly.
Helen had hoped that ballet would be different, but had seen her daughter’s face crumple as soon as they entered the room. For Sammy to stop crying so suddenly like that—it was strange.
Her husband always said she worried too much. After all, she thought, what could be wrong with her daughter listening to the teacher?
Nothing, of course. Absolutely nothing.
When the door opened a little bit later, Sammy came running up to her mother, laughing.
“Did you have fun, darling?”
“Yes! I love Miss Diana,” Sammy said.
On the car ride home, Helen heard her daughter humming something. The sound was almost tuneless, but for some reason, it made the back of Helen’s neck itch.
“How about music lessons?” she suggested.
“No, Mummy. I like ballet.”
Between school, ballet and other lessons, the day of the final dance recital arrived lightning-quick. The morning of the performance, Sammy was humming throughout breakfast and during the car ride to the auditorium. The sound still bothered Helen, but what could she say? She turned up the radio, but her neck still itched uncomfortably.
The place was packed. Helen’s mother came up the stairs, trailing a cloud of Chanel, and kissed her on the cheek. “I’m so excited to see our little ballerina!”
The overhead lights flickered, and they found their seats. Diana walked out on the stage dressed in a black leotard and tights.
“The girls have worked very hard this season, and I think you will be surprised to see what they have put together.” She bowed and the families clapped.
Out walked a line of girls. Despite the differences in height and age, there was a similarity about the girls that extended beyond the pink gauze dresses. They marched in step, forming a perfect circle without a word being said.
The audience hushed. At the head of the circle stood the teacher, like a black blot in a sea of pink. The lights went out and everyone gasped at the suddenness of the dark.
Helen strained her ears. Yes—somehow, she had expected it. A chorus of humming, gradually rising in volume. As the sound increased, the stage began to glow with light. No, that was incorrect—the dancers glowed, each with an individual spotlight. Helen glanced upwards, wondering how they were doing the lighting, but couldn’t tell—the ceiling looked dark. Maybe it was coming from below.
The teacher began to speak, but not in English. The language sounded guttural, all hard stops in the back of the throat. The little girls bowed to the center of the circle with a graceful arc of their bodies. Diana raised her arms, but she did not bow. Instead, she leapt up into the air—and stayed there, hovering three feet above the ground. Helen looked for the cables holding her, but couldn’t see any in the dim light. The audience applauded as each of the girls leapt after their teacher and stayed suspended.
Suddenly, the teacher broke into understandable words. “And we call you, Lord, we bid you receive this bounty we set before you.”
The floor below the dancers’ feet fell in with a crash. Helen found herself on her feet, shouting in panic. Before she could rush down to the stage, something came out of the hole under the dancers’ feet. Something large and unimaginable, something that flowed up and over the audience in a wave.
The lights came up. The dancers bowed, the stage solid beneath their pink slippers, a row of little girls flushed with the success of their first show. As if rising from a deep sleep, the members of the audience began to clap slowly. Eventually the applause grew, and the families came to their feet, cheering.
Helen shook her head. There was something she should remember. Her chest hurt, as if there was a great hollowness inside of her, something that was now gone forever. She clapped and glanced at the other parents. No one else seemed to be affected by it—the father next to her put his fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly. Shrugging, she joined the stream of audience members heading towards the stage.
Sammy ran up to her. “Did you see? Miss Diana was right!”
“Right about what, darling?”
“We could do magic!” Sammy said.
Helen smiled tolerantly. “You certainly could, darling. Your performance was magical. I just worried at the… at the…” She rubbed at her chest, but couldn’t remember what she had been about to say.
Her daughter rolled her eyes. “Oh, Mummy, sometimes you worry too much.”
Alison McBain lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters. She has work published/forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, FLAPPERHOUSE, and the anthologies Abbreviated Epics and Our World of Horror, among others. You can read her blog at alisonmcbain.com or follow her on Twitter @AlisonMcBain.