The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Annie’s mother wanted her to be a clown. She told Annie that she had red curly hair just like Bozo, the most famous clown of all, but she could still wear the red cotton candy wig if she wanted. Annie could have yellow floppy shoes, a red rubber nose, and would be the only one in the Halloween Parade to have a completely painted face.
She could carry balloons and pick their colors, or a squeaker horn, or both. She could even wear a big pink bow so that she could be a girl clown. Her mother thought that Annie would be such a wonderful clown that she might even have a chance at winning the prize for the best costume in the fifth grade Halloween Parade. But Annie didn’t want to be a clown. She had been a teddy bear last year and a pumpkin the year before that. This year she wanted to be a ballerina, a pink one. She wanted to wear a pink tutu with matching ballet slippers that laced up her legs. She wanted to wear her curls piled on top of her head and dotted with small pink roses or maybe crowned with a shining rhinestone tiara. She would walk on her toes around the school building while all the mothers and teachers watched. Her left arm would be draped across her stomach and her right arm, fingertips curved gently downward, would be gracefully arched over her head.
The conversations about costumes for the Halloween Parade had started in early October. The bathing suits had been put away, the marble composition books had been bought, Mrs. Donovan had learned the names of all her students, and the first math test had been graded. The school bus, the classroom, and the cafeteria buzzed with talk of carving pumpkins, collecting candy, and decorating houses with fake spider webs, but mostly with chatter about choosing costumes for the annual Halloween Parade. Jackie and Debbie thought Annie should be a clown. “Because you’re always smiling,” Jackie said. “Because you could paint your own face,” Debbie said. Only Melissa agreed with Annie about the ballerina idea. Annie didn’t like Melissa very much. She didn’t like the way Melissa’s headbands always matched her clothes and how she made believe she didn’t see Annie on the playground. She didn’t like the way Melissa flipped her perfectly straight blonde hair whenever a boy was around and how she wrote her name with a little heart over the i. Melissa was going to be a princess in the parade. She said that Annie should be a ballerina because they would both be wearing pink and maybe Mrs. Donovan would let them walk together in the parade. Jackie and Debbie
During library period Annie checked out four books that had pictures of ballerinas. She studied their costumes, their hairstyles, and their poses. She practiced walking on her toes in the kitchen while her mother peeled potatoes and in her room before she started her homework. As her mother talked about the fun of being a clown, Annie dreamed of the magic of being a ballerina.
Two weeks before the parade Annie and her mother made their annual pre-parade pilgrimage to Party Village. As soon as her mother succeeded in maneuvering the family Buick into a nearby parking space, Annie bounded out of the car. Her mother, grabbing purse and keys, followed Annie into the store. The red and white checkered picnic gear and the Kiss the Cook barbecue aprons of just last month had been replaced with pirates, witches, and storybook princesses. Cinderella and Batman-clad salespeople formed the unlikely duo greeting shoppers at the front door. Annie strode past them, past Frankenstein surrounded by his scary friends, past Charlie Brown encircled by his comic strip buddies, and past Snow White escorted by her fairy tale entourage. She headed straight toward a pink oasis of tulle, ribbons, and spandex located at the rear of the store and zeroed in on one of the many plastic bags hanging along an immense white wall. Grabbing the bag, Annie stared at the picture of a tiny blonde girl dressed in an iridescent leotard that shone like the scales of some sort of magical fish. A pale pink triple layered tutu, slippers tied with satin ribbons, and shimmery tights completed the picture.
“I want this one,” Annie said.
“You haven’t even looked at anything else,” Annie’s mother examined the picture and looked at her daughter.
“I want this one.”
Cinderella walked over to offer her help. Her eyes darted from the costume to Annie to her mother. “We have more choices in the adult section.”
“I don’t want an adult costume. I want this one.”
“Well, a children’s extra large might work,” Cinderella offered.
After the purchase was made, Annie hugged the costume to her chest as her mother followed her to the car.
“You’ll have to try it on at home.”
But Annie was too busy envisioning herself as a beautiful ballerina walking next to Princess Melissa in the Halloween Parade to respond.
When they arrived home, Annie raced to her room. Carefully removing her longed-for treasure from its plastic covering, Annie lovingly laid each piece on her bed. Leotard, tights, tutu, and slippers… As her mother watched, Annie stepped into the tights and began to roll them up, over her calves, knees, thighs, and stomach. She stared down at her legs, glistening like the wings of a storybook fairy and didn’t mind the slight discomfort of the too-tight waistband. Annie then stepped into the shimmering leotard and struggled to pull it up high enough over her body in order to fit her arms through its sleeves.
“It looks a little tight, Annie.”
“Mom, it’s fine. It’s supposed to be tight.”
“I’m afraid the back seam might split.” Annie’s mother peered closely at the stretched fabric of the leotard.
“Annie, I think…”
“It won’t split and if it does, the tutu will cover it.” Annie claimed the last word and pulled the tutu up around her hips. She stepped into the slippers. “Mom, will you help me lace these?”
Annie gazed at the beautiful pink ballerina reflected in the mirror mounted on her closet door and smiled. Her mother bent down to tie the laces of Annie’s slippers.
The forecast was for sixty-five degrees and sunny, ideal fall weather and perfect for the Halloween Parade. Annie had woken up early so that her mother could transform her usually wayward curls into an elegant and complicated arrangement of spirals accented with tiny pink rosebuds. Much hairspray and many bobby pins later, Annie surveyed her mother’s handiwork. With an ecstatic whoop, she clapped her hands and launched into a joyful pirouette, landing in the embrace of her mother’s outstretched arms. Snatching up her precious costume-filled plastic bag, Annie ran to the bus stop.
While Philip led the class in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Annie focused her eyes just to the right of the flag, on the big white-faced clock with the slowly moving black hands. While Mrs. Donovan wrote the spelling words on the dusty green blackboard, Annie slipped her hand inside her treasured plastic bag and caressed the slippery smooth fabric of her pink leotard. And while Thomas read his report on dinosaurs to the class, Annie thought of the Nutcracker Suite instead of the tyrannosaurus rex.
Annie fidgeted and daydreamed through the morning. At ten o’clock the long-dormant public address system began to hum, then to crackle, and finally to transmit the sounds of a cough and a sneeze followed by a throat being cleared. “Teachers, please assist your students with their costumes in preparation for the Halloween Parade. All classes will meet at the school’s front entrance at a quarter to eleven. Parents and invited guests will be observing from the parking lot. The parade will commence promptly at eleven o’clock. Thank you.”
Chairs were scraped across the floor and books were shoved into desks. Mr. Novak, the boys’ gym teacher, newly transformed into a lasso-toting cowboy for the occasion, strolled into the classroom and remained there to help the boys with their costumes. Mrs. Donovan, after donning a huge black witch’s hat, escorted the girls into the art room, which had been temporarily equipped with several large mirrors. Plastic bags were ripped open and the room exploded into a riotous display of masks, wigs, hats, and costumes.
Yanking off her shoes and socks, Annie pulled on her shimmering tights. Taking off her dress and standing in her underwear, she stepped into her pink leotard and stretched it up over her body, sweating a little as she struggled to fit her arms into its narrow sleeves. After putting on her tutu, Annie moved on to her slippers, enlisting Mrs. Donovan’s aid with the laces. Before seeking out Jackie, now trapped in a sheet which had been clumsily arranged into a toga, and Debbie, almost hidden beneath her brother’s football helmet and jersey, Annie caught a glimpse of the beautiful pink ballerina staring back at her from one of the art room’s newly added mirrors. After oohing and aahing over each other’s costumes, the three girls sat on a bench and waited for instructions from Mrs. Donovan. Just before the “Line up girls” came, Melissa, crowned with a shiny tiara and wearing a cascade of pink chiffon, grabbed Annie’s elbow. “C’mon, I’ll walk right behind you.” Annie found herself at the head of the line with Melissa and the other girls behind her. Following Mrs. Donovan’s big black hat, Annie walked into the sparkling sunshine of the perfect autumn day and led the girls to the school’s entrance. Joining the firemen, monsters, astronauts, and superheroes that the boys of the class had become, Annie spotted her mother amidst a sea of familiar maternal faces in the parking lot. Annie caught her eye and waved.
At eleven o’clock the principal announced, “The Halloween Parade may now begin.” Annie stood up on her toes, positioned her left arm across her stomach, raised her right arm, and stepped forward. She heard it first…a vaguely irritating noise that sounded like a page being ripped out of a wire bound notebook. Then, she felt it…the sensation of a gap which hadn’t been there before, followed by a slight chill. The lower part of the back seam of her leotard had given way. Remembering her mother’s concern and her own response “…the tutu will cover it,” Annie continued to walk on her toes, right arm curved gracefully above her head. As Annie passed her mother’s now stricken face, she began to hear whispers, then giggles, and finally laughter. When the chant began, Annie and her mother both realized that the split was much bigger than they’d expected. “I see London. I see France…”
That evening after eating dinner, Annie headed up to her room. She took one last look at the plastic bag containing her balled-up pink costume and kicked it under her bed. She changed into her pajamas and walked into the bathroom. Remembering a movie that she had once watched with a babysitter, nine year-old Annie Morgan leaned over the toilet and stuck her index finger as far as she could into the back of her throat.
© Francine Garson July 2011