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Libellule

by Elodie Hollant 5 months ago in Short Story · updated 2 months ago
V+ Fiction Award WinnerV+ Fiction Award Winner
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French for 'dragonfly'

Libellule
Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield on Unsplash

You’ve always been a dancer.

You started when you were three. It was your mother’s idea. She’d always wanted to dance when she was little, but her asshole of a father never let her. Realize she’s been living vicariously through you this whole time, that she still tries to, but you’re too different now. She doesn’t recognize you. It’s a weird feeling.

Shake it off.

Mother keeps a photo of soft, round-faced, baby you, chunky arms and chunky legs stuffed in a powder pink leotard on her nightstand. You were all smiles and baby teeth. You can see her crouching reflection in the mirror of the studio you were posing in. She was twenty-something. All smiles and adult-teeth. She thought you were just so cute.

Dancing was more fun then.

Move away to a foreign country you say you’re from. You were much too little to remember being “American” anyway, but that’s what it says on your passport.

Learn that nine years old isn’t that little, and that it’s bizarre that you don’t remember that hunk of your life.

Don’t try to remember it. Everyone tells you a different story.

All you know is that you danced that whole time. And it was fun.

You’re ten in that foreign country you say you’re from and you’ve started dancing for real. Dance academy. You go to school all day just to go to another school all evening. It was never this serious in America, but you’re having fun nonetheless.

Try to remember that feeling.

The taste of it.

Its colors.

You don’t have that anymore. But it’s all you really want, isn’t it? The taste? The colors?

Months pass, and you’re eleven now and you’re actually getting kind of good. Your teacher tells you this. She wants you to be the opener for that year’s summer recital. Shimmer with happiness, smile with crooked teeth.

Let yourself be happy, because you won’t be happy for a long time after that.

I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve that.

You tell your mother you’re the first thing she’ll see on stage. All smiles and crooked pre-teen teeth.

You both shimmer with happiness at the dinner table, letting glitter fall into steaming plates of rice and beans.

Turn fourteen. Look at your body in the mirror. The big, big mirror in the bedroom of the house in that foreign country that’s your home now.

Fail to understand the hips, the thighs, the belly, and the breasts. Fail to understand why everyone looks at them. Why people think it’s okay to touch them. To touch you.

This is still something you don’t understand.

Cry as you write this.

Allow yourself to cry because you’re alone in your dorm room.

Fourteen was much too little for that.

Go to dance class and stare at your chunky arms and chunky legs stuffed in a black leotard in the mirror of the studio you’re practicing in.

Your mother doesn’t find you cute anymore. “You'd be so much prettier with a flat stomach,” she says. She doesn’t remember this, yet you never forget it.

At least you’re a good dancer now. A grade three. G3s are usually seventeen. Dancing is still good. Still fun. Although when you look in the mirror, you feel sick to your stomach.

Look away, look away, look away.

Don’t eat dinner tonight. You don’t need it.

Turn sixteen. Your mother asks what’s the matter with you. Tell her nothing, snatch your dance bag from the back seat and race down the twenty-eight steps (1.4 calories burned) to get to ballet class. You’re dizzy by the time you reach the bottom.

Hyperventilate to keep from passing out.

Your teacher asks if you can hang back for a minute.

You do.

She stands, tall and lithe. Belly hollow, caving at her ribs. You’re jealous. This jealousy makes your stomach hurt so badly, you can’t look her in the eyes. Look at the wooden floor. At the dents you left with the box of your pointe shoes.

Your head aches. It pinches at your left eye. Ignore it.

She asks you if you want to audition for Joffrey.

Say yes.

Your teacher beams, and hands you a thick pamphlet of guidelines, instructions, and requirements. Black leotard, low bun, must be at least sixteen years of age, blah, blah, blah. But you read this bible cover to cover whilst climbing up the twenty-eight steps (4.76 calories burned). You sit in the car and try to read it again.

Punch yourself in the stomach to stop it from growling.

Your mother asks if you’re hungry.

Say no.

Your mother drives you to the audition at 9:00 AM. You didn’t eat breakfast.

I get nauseous when I eat in the morning,” you said to her, and it’s a lie.

You just look thinner in the morning. This is important to you.

Break a leg,” your mother tells you. She’s trying to adopt stage speak. For some reason this annoys you. Fight the urge to roll your eyes and say thank you instead. Walk into the American audition hall, where all the dancers are pale and thin. Become aware of your curves and the color of your skin.

You’ve never felt black until now.

The other girls look at you weirdly.

Look down at the wooden floor.

Tell the receptionist your name. She looks at you, then at her sign-in sheet.

You don’t look like what I was expecting you to look like,” she says, and she laughs like this is a funny joke. Laugh politely. Be nice. Make a good impression. Be charming.

These are all things your mother told you before getting in the car.

Like she knew you’d have to be extra shiny to catch their eye.

You smile and contemplate slapping the apples of your cheeks so that they flush.

She smiles at your polite laugh.

Tells you that you’re beautiful (for a black girl).

Pretend this is a compliment. Pull a “Thank you so much,” from your ass, and walk into the studio, holding onto your pointe shoes so that you don’t just fucking whack her in the head with them.

Avoid all the curious glances from the other dancers and pretend not to notice you’re the only black girl there. Take a deep breath and a place at the barre. Let the cool metal quell the heat blistering your palms.

The music begins, and you dance. Remember your technique. Point your toes so hard that your calves burn. Plié as deep as you can and ignore the tremble in your thighs.

Drift like a leaf falling to the ground. Flit about like a dragonfly.

That’s what your dance instructor used to call you.

Her dragonfly. And in French (because that’s the language spoken in that foreign country you say you’re from), sa libellule.

Finish the audition. It wasn’t as scary as you thought. It was just like a regular ballet class. You did exceptionally well. The instructor told you this. He asked for your name. When you gave it to him, he smiled and wrote it down on his clipboard.

You’re so graceful for someone so curvy,” he says. This makes the budding flame of excitement extinguish. Two wet fingers pinching either side of a candle wick with a pitiful sizzle.

Smile. Be polite. Pull another “Thank you so much,” from your ass.

Your mother picks you up from the audition at 12:00 PM.

“How did it go?” she asks.

Tell her fine. Turn up the music on the radio so she doesn’t hear your stomach growl.

She asks if you’re hungry.

Say no.

Months pass. You get an email from Joffrey. You get in.

Shimmer with happiness and tell your mother.

She tells you that you can’t go.

Ask her why—dully, flatly.

You didn’t get a scholarship,” she says.

You never learned the real reason she said no. Hold this grudge. Think about where you could’ve been if she said yes. Think about it all the time. Think about it until regret burns your cheeks and lodges a lump of coal in your throat. Drink sparkling water (0 calories) to dissolve it.

Okay, Mom,” you say.

Your head aches. It pinches at your left eye.

Your stomach hurts. The last time you ate something was two days ago. One tablespoon of peanut butter (95 calories).

Go to your room. Take a shower in the dark so you don't have to look at yourself.

Dry off and shiver. Pinch your inner thigh when your stomach growls.

Curl up under the covers and look at pictures of skinny white girls on Tumblr with tears in your eyes. Think that you might’ve gotten that scholarship if you looked like them.

Know deep down that if this continues, you’re going to die.

This doesn’t scare you yet.

Check if you can feel the sharpness of your collarbone. Make sure your fingers still touch as they wrap around your wrist.

Go to sleep and hope you don’t wake up with a headache again.

Try to convince yourself dancing is still fun.

Short Story

About the author

Elodie Hollant

20

they/them

pratt writing ‘24

writer and enjoyer of fiction

<3

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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