Characters: Don Flack Jr., OC (sister)
Summary: Don accompanies his sister to dance classes.
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The dance teacher, Mrs. Ivanov, had her severe black hair arranged about her face in limp curls, like all the fight had gone out of her. Her small eyes were pocketed in the sagging expanse of her face, skin layered in weathered folds along the curve of her jaw. She clutched the bar for support as she swayed on her bad leg, and Don could see her knuckles rising like stacked spoons against the web of varicose veins. She still grasped the vestiges of her former figure (lithe and slender in one continuous line) like a private memory, although it was hidden beneath this old woman: plump and tired, with cigarette-stained teeth and a shapeless dress stretched ungainly across her hips and chest.
There was a framed photograph in the drafty hallway of a young woman: ebony hair tied up in a strict bun, leaping halfway through the air. Her face, thin and prominent in youth, glanced uninterestedly at the camera. Her feigned indifference belied only by her curious, half-lidded look, alluring and captivating and smoldering with kohl. (And Don always marched quickly past, never looking directly at it because it was unnerving).
(Russian mobster, tha husband a' hers, his father said gruffly at the dinner table, and his ma placed a warning hand on his wrist and looked pointedly at Ellie. Ellie, only seven at the time, twirled her spoon across her plate.) Don doesn't know anything about any mobsters, but he likes to peek into the dance room cos it reminds him of the funhouse his dad took him to once at Coney Island: mirrors, and stretching hallways, and haunting music crackling out of the stereos.
Don always stopped at the studio's open doorway a few minutes before the lesson ended. A thin, wiry man plays the old piano, his long fingers flying over the keys, shaping sounds like he could pluck them from the cracked ivory. He sees Don sometimes and smiles nervously over the top of his creased sheet music. Don will never admit it, but the music is nice. It seeps into the peeling walls of the studio, so that when he sits in the folding chair outside in the hallway and presses his side up against the wall, he can feel the notes in his ear, along his shoulder, and down his side. It's pleasant, and reverberates in his mind the entire way home. Swan Lake, he thinks absently and hums along.
Some days he stands at the door, his nose pressing into the wooden frame as he watches surreptitiously. Mrs. Ivanov stands imperiously in the middle of the mirrored room, commanding pirouettes with each flick of her dying cigarette. Each mirror bares and magnifies the droop of her painted lips, her large, hooked nose, the awkward stumble of her gait (and Don thought she must have broken her leg cos he had broken his too before, but that was from playin' baseball and not dancing; dancing was for girls).
"Aw, ballet's for sissies, Ellie," he tells her with all the wisdom of an older brother. It's cold for a New York October, so he turns the collar of his coat up around his ears as they walk the requisite three blocks from PS 78 to the ballet studio.
Ellie glares at him peevishly. "It's beautiful," she says arrogantly, stumbling only slightly over the words. When he smirks at her, she huffs impatiently, drawing her small frame up to full height as she balanced on the tips of her ballet shoes. "It's grown-up," she asserts. Then, in exasperation, "Oh, you're just a boy. You wouldn't understand."
"All's I know is I gotta wait an hour for you after school so that you can dance," he says, grumbling and sticking his hands further into his pockets, a futile measure against the cold.
"I can walk by m'self then, Don," she snipes, and even then she's smiling -- the light grin that spreads across her face like a joyous secret -- because she knows that he will still walk her to dance class, every Friday, without fail. And he knows this too; he nudges her playfully with his shoulder and keeps walking.
She swings her white leotard (complete with the ruffles their ma had lovingly stitched on) over her arm and skips lightly ahead of him, performing a nearly-perfect pirouette on the deserted sidewalk. The fading afternoon light curved over her skinny legs and knobbly knees, outlining her slight frame and saturating it with grace. "I," she declares haughtily, "am a ballerina. You'll see 'Eleanor Rose Flack' in curly letters on all the programs. I'll be in Swan Lake -- you'll see Don."
She sniffs and tosses her thick black hair over her shoulder as she falls into step beside him, his black sneakers and her pink ballet shoes making their way past buildings and houses and bodegas and streetlights, together. Don covers his mouth with his jacket-sleeve to smother his smile. He doesn't doubt her at all, not for a minute.
An hour later, just before he walks down the hallway with his sister, he hesitates and turns back for no apparent reason. Mrs. Ivanov is standing at the wooden bar, cigarette in hand and one leg extended, encased in a brace. Her smile tugs painfully at her face and Don thinks she could have been beautiful, once. Ellie tugs on his sleeve impatiently, so he turns and closes the studio door behind him.