To the Wings – Francesca Moroney

SHE STILL takes him backstage every time, even though he rolls his eyes. “Adrian, don’t forget to look directly in their eyes, here’s more lipstick; put some more mascara on,” and she hums his music, but only two routines before they will leave the dressing room and he hasn’t let her work his feet yet. “How is your hamstring? I don’t know why you didn’t roll it out for longer, turn around, let me see, are your tights pulling?” She hums more loudly hoping to drag him out of his trance but the other mothers turn around and frown at her as they, too, are humming their own dreams into their children’s ears and still he is fiddling with the elastics on his shoes. “Don’t forget the emphasis on the beat, one-two-THREE, right after the balancé.” She used to choreograph his routines, used to dance beside him here in these dressing rooms, mothers and daughters gawking, and she has heard all of his complaints. “My arches hurt,” “I think I have tendonitis,” “my hip is popping,” “this leotard is too small,” “I need bigger shoes,” “I might want to try something else,” “my teacher says I need more emotion when I dance,” and so on; “there’s a new hip-hop class being offered,” “maybe I could try musical theater,” and she waves her hand in the air, in the space between them, reaches up to brush his hair off his forehead, licks her fingers and slicks it down to reactivate the hairspray, the mousse, the sticky gel. “Adrian, you were born to be a ballet dancer – look at those arches!” “Hip-hop is for the no-talents,” “Ballet is an art, a discipline, they know nothing,” and she flicks imaginary dust off of his costume, adds bronzer to his cheekbones, uses her pinky finger to apply lipstick to his bottom lip, exaggerating his pout. “One more song, are you listening?” “Give me your feet, yes, now sit down,” “Here, use this band to work on your shoulders – open them – heart forward,” “We only have a few more minutes,” and he sits and puts his feet in her lap and picks up the theraband and loops it around his wrists and licks the lipstick off his lips. And he hums his music, quietly, under his breath, and he stretches his hamstrings, his calves, and she works on his feet and their heads touch and they both have sweat on their brows and his back is long and lean and supple and hers has just the slightest hunch below the neck but aside from that it is straight and proud and she reminds him, again, to use the floor, to push it away when he jumps – his grande jetes and his cabriolets, his entrechats and tours en l’air. “Your jumps are your best feature, Adrian, well, that and your nice long neck, so use those feet, work through the floor, straight up to the ceiling, there’s that string attached to the top of your head.”

To jump ahead, though, they’re backstage. They’ve walked the long, cold, underground hallways, music piped in, and she is looking at the audition schedule, gauging how much time they have until his number is called. A group of girls walk toward them, all but one of them in tears, and she often says something to the girls that cry, something she thinks they need to hear. More than once, upon finding a girl sobbing openly on the floor in a backstage area just like this one, she has whispered loudly – “Oh, no. No, no, no. Did Baryshnikov cry? Did Rudolf Nureyev? Margot Fonteyn? No one wants to see your tears. You hide those tears, do you hear me, until you are home, until you are soaking your feet in warm Epsom salts, until you are peeling the bandages and skin off of your toes, and then, if you must, if you still need to cry, then go ahead and cry, but believe me when I say, no one here wants to see you crying” and he has looked at the floor and above the dancers’ heads and once he said “Mom, my god, please stop,” and she said, “Oh, now you have something to say.” Today he looks at the girls crying and then turns away, says to his mother, “Gosh, the judges must be really harsh today,” and she says “Yeah but aren’t they always hard?” and he says “Well, yes, I always think they’re hard but you always tell me I’m being ridiculous,” and she says “You go out there and you just do your best, you just dance your heart out and they stare at their clipboards and make check marks and you can hear them clicking their teeth even under your music and what do they know they never made it, either, look at them all smug and proper, and their arches don’t look anything like yours, and their necks aren’t as long, and they have the nerve to tell you next time,” and he says, “Mom, I haven’t even danced yet,” and she looks at him and smiles and she says, “Oh, I know, honey, I know” and they take their place in the wings and she hums and he stretches his shoulders.

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Francesca Moroney is a writer, anti-bias activist, and health advocate living and working in Edwardsville, Illinois, with her husband, five children, and three large dogs. She is currently unpublished.