Fiction: “The Dancer and the Shattered Shell”

Another flash fiction challenge from Terribleminds, again working from a list of randomly-generated titles. Hope you like ballet in your sci-fi!

“The Dancer and the Shattered Shell”

Twelve years of ballet practice had ended with an abrupt crunch on a stretch of yellow beach in South Carolina.

Kiara didn’t remember much about that day. The fine grains of details fell through her fingers when she tried to grasp for them. She’d been practicing the espièglerie de Swanhilde from Coppélia – just the broad movements, she could hardly go up on point in her bare feet in the sand. But she’d wanted the lead role so badly; still yearned for it, nearly a decade later. Her feet had scarcely stopped moving to practice.

But no, no charming costume or bouquet of roses, not then and not now: she feels it more than sees it: a tour jeté, a blind landing, a sharp slash of pain. Red blood on yellow sand, a shattered seashell in its midst. Strong arms to pick her up and carry her to the car – whose? Mom’s? Uncle Isaiah’s? Too late now to remember, let alone to rewind that jeté.

Kiara remembers the days after that much more clearly, because each of them wore down a deeper tread in the exact same rut. From the selection of TV shows droning on in the background of the little apartment to the solicitous visits from the physical therapist .The PT, it turned out, was almost as good at dodging Kiara’s questions about when she’d be back to dancing as she was at reawakening the pain in Kiara’s foot. So it wasn’t the PT who finally told Kiara the truth: that was her mother’s job, in the end.

She could have dealt with the loss if it were just her own loss to deal with. But her mother’s disappointment flayed her to the core. When Mom left the room, Kiara stood up, half her weight on her good foot and half on the ruined one, and tore down every poster from her walls: the Bolshoi, the New York City Ballet, Sleeping Beauty and Giselle. Even the Misty Copeland and Precious Adams, though these she saved for last and didn’t crush beneath her mismatched feet. Some dreams didn’t deserve to be stepped on.

They said she would never dance the ballet again. They hadn’t said she would never dance again. It was just a matter of finding a way. And when Kiara was a freshman in college, she found it.

She had the grades. Madame had always been very strict on that point, and Kiara’s hadn’t slipped even when there was no longer a place for her at the barre. It would take an extra year of school, but her debts would be paid by the program when she was done. If she could stick with it. And she knew she could – had stuck through twelve years at the barre. Hadn’t she?

This time it was Kiara who had to, who got to, deliver the news to her mother. Her mother still cried. Happy tears mixed in with sad ones, Kiara thought. Enough happy to wash away all that old disappointment, she hoped. But it would be a long time away, there was no denying that.

The training was hard, hard enough that Kiara wanted to cry. And to thank both Madame and that damned physical therapist for all they’d already put her through. She already knew there was nothing her body couldn’t do if she asked it. Or rather: almost nothing.

No one in the program worked harder than her, and no one on the selected crew could say they deserved to go more than her. No one had needed it more, either.

There was a soft crunch when the capsule detached. If Kiara had looked out through the viewport, she could have watched as the lifeless shell of the first-stage rocket spiraled gently away. But she was already working her way out of the restraints. Her arms spread wide as soon as they were able – “Don’t mind us,” said Captain O’Brien as one gloved hand swept close to his helmet, but he was more amused than annoyed – and with her toes she pushed against the edge of the capsule and up into the dome. Time to make her mother proud. Time to turn back into herself, the self she’d put away a decade ago. She was ready.

And so she spun, floating, taking in the chalky-white face of the moon and the infinite stars. Her legs went wide; not enough room in here for a grand jeté even if her suit would have allowed it, but she made do. She still remembered the espièglerie, and there would be no more sitting on the shelf. Here she was among the stars; nothing left to do but shine.

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