by Katy Carl
Honorable Mention – Flash 405, February 2022: “Routine & Ritual”
Unhappy families, happy families: consider. Who knows the difference; who can tell from a distance? From up close? Look all you like, only tell me: on which side of the divide do the Torinos stand or fall? (Which is it we do—stand or fall?)
After the girls emerged premature, survived sepsis, anemia, croup, they turned three, four, five. Tiny Persephones, back from the underworld. I gloried in their glow. Their sudden health felt miraculous; their brown bodies lithe with muscle, uncanny. They stepped like herons, floated like dragonflies, leapt and hung aloft. Sign them up for dance, whispered their grandmother. I’ll pay, she added.
So I signed my life away. Not that I knew this at the time—do we know, beforehand, ever? Why else do we hedge, backtrack, complain, afterward? I didn’t sign up for this. Except: I did. When children bring gifts, we accept. When the teacher whispers Juilliard, whispers little potential Copelands, the mother is sold.
Consider years of servitude, predawn wakings to wash and fold skirts, leotards, tights: theatrical pink, toast, jet. Spangled costume changes in sweaty curtained stalls, green rooms, marquee-bulbed mirrors. Meals blended, iced, drunk on the run. Protein powders, vegetable juices, kefirs, yogurt tubes, nut butters. Banana after banana (my God, the shopping: carts and carts). Hotel rooms. Homeschool, eventually. Secret drive-through chicken sandwiches eaten, en route, in the dark. Waffle fries in ranch: uncompetitive, indulgent, irresistible.
Consider little lives fueled, schooled, this way. Consider where their father fit in—or didn’t. Where friends. Where knowledge. Where laughter. Where acceptance.
Today, hours spent typing into Excel to pay for gas to fill the car to drive, after lessons, two hours to the city (should we move to the city?), to sit in the green room drowsing over a popular novel, never finished. Someone sporting home-bleached highlights and spray tan impertinently asks, But what are you doing for YOU these days? For whom? Packing, unpacking, scrubbing, taping, icing, wrapping, massaging, painting, powdering, combing, braiding, straightening, lacquering, lining, pinning, unpinning, stitching, ripping, mending. Screaming, sometimes. Driving, always.
Consider the goal to which we are driving, attainable only three minutes at a time in any hushed dark auditorium. In tandem under incandescent heat, under pressure, the girls fly, glow: the girls solo: poetry, their flow. Consider their glory. Consider the substrate in which it grows. Are they happy? Are we happy? How can I tell you? Would I even know?
This story is compact, graceful, and muscular, just like the three ballerinas at its center. It has a mythical, epic feel—triplets, born premature, “tiny Persephones, back from the underworld,” who seem destined for competitive ballet. Just under 405 words, the language is lush and generous with detail, down to the colors of leotards and tights—“theatrical pink, toast, jet.” It’s especially musical in the last paragraph, where “the girls fly, glow: the girls solo: poetry, their flow. Consider their glory. Consider the substrate in which it grows.” The author hints at a more complex world outside the bounds of the story (“Consider where their father fit in—or didn’t. Where friends … Where laughter.”) but keeps the narrative taut, focused on the expertly honed, never-ending routine.
Katy Carl is the editor-in-chief of Dappled Things magazine and the author of As Earth Without Water, a novel (Wiseblood Books, 2021). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Belle Point Press’s Mid/South Anthology, The Windhover, Vita Poetica, Belle Ombre, Across the Margin (Best of Fiction 2021), Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry, Genealogies of Modernity, and St. Louis Magazine, among others. She is currently pursuing her MFA in fiction at the University of St. Thomas—Houston. Her short story collection, Fragile Objects, is forthcoming.
Photo Credit: Kazuo ota