Words for International Women’s Day 2021
Dancing Out of Line
‘You look…different, Shelly.’
‘In a good way, of course,’ Jemima continued, nudging Annabel, who nodded in unison.
‘New hairstyle over summer? Or is it your teeth?’
Jemima’s daughter stumbled into the changing room, where they were waiting, interrupting the interrogation; nothing light-footed about that girl, and any excuse to get out of the lesson. Jemima packed her off with the ‘forgotten’ water bottle and took centre stage once again, alerting the rest of the troupe at the same time.
‘Don’t you think Shelly looks different, ladies?’
Maybe she’d had Botox or an acid peel – she looked fabulous, shiny even. Obviously, they couldn’t tell her that, but they wanted to know her secret. After all, they shared their lotions and potions, surgeons, and tips and tricks with each other – most of them anyway.
Shelly knew the routine, but she hadn’t expected to be selected for the limelight treatment as the first one that season. Oh, why had Becky wanted to continue? The others would do anything to get out of it.
‘It’s all the same – no new hair, teeth, lifting or implants,’ Shelly signalled, waving a hand from her head to her toes. They were only interested in the exterior.
‘So, everything is the same with you?’ Jemima was on form tonight.
Shelly felt stronger than she ever had, but she still had to wait with them, and she felt compelled to give an answer. She wasn’t good at lying.
‘Well, not everything,’ she conceded. ‘My husband left.’
She felt the ripple in the room, almost like they’d all gone up on tiptoes, there was discomfort too but also glee: she doesn’t look good enough to keep her husband.
‘Oh god, poor you! So sorry.’
They tried at least, but sincerity wasn’t their thing.
‘Please, don’t be. I told him to leave. Becky and I are great. We hardly ever saw him anyway. He was always at work, and, when he was home, he was a miserable tyrant. We did a girls’ holiday this summer, reclaimed the remote control and jazzed up his office for our use. We’ve never laughed as much since he went – maybe that’s why I look different: I’m happy.’
Shelly knew their husbands were no better: a tango in every town they tripped into on business, away for long stretches and moody and controlling when at home. They put up with it, and put on a front, for the money, the lifestyle and the surgery: to keep them looking, at least, young and happy.
The girls swanned in on their break. Becky was last.
‘Mum,’ Becky whispered. ‘Would you be angry if I switched to hip-hop? I’m not sure I like ballet, after all.’
Shelly didn’t whisper.
‘I’d be angrier if you stuck at something that was making you unhappy, my angel,’ she replied.
As they waved goodbye, all eyes were on her again, but something had changed.
Originally from the UK, Claire Schön now lives in Austria. She studied German and Spanish, and recently started writing fiction in her mother tongue. Claire has stories in the Pure Slush Birth anthology and on Every Day Fiction. She has stories upcoming in further Pure Slush anthologies and on Fudoki Magazine. She has been shortlisted for Flash500, longlisted for flash and short stories with Cranked Anvil, and longlisted for flash with Retreat West Micro and Blinkpot. Twitter: @SchonClaire