Breathless Slippers

Like most girls, I was a bit obsessed with dance as a kid. I would have birthday parties at the theater and took ballet till I was twelve. I wasn’t very good. I still can’t do a split or even touch my toes. But I loved getting to perform with my friends! I very rarely get to see a ballet now, but when I do I always come away wishing I hadn’t given it up. It’s this wish that inspired today’s story.

It can happen faster than thought: this loss of breath. Not twenty-four hours before, the slippers had been breathing deep under the spotlight. The dancer leaped skillfully across the stage. Now, the battered apparel lay in a small box, staring breathlessly up into the young woman’s tearstained face. Slowly, the lid closes.

The darkness is immediate, pressing surprisingly heavy against the delicate satin. A musky smell, like old fur coats and mothballs, wafts through cracks in the box. They hear the creaking of the wheeled chair moving in the distance. Abandoned to this silent, stifling, dark, they wait for the time they might breath. Breath again in the spotlight. 

It’s not till a year later that the dark lifts. The suffocating slippers gasp in a desperate breath. The face above them is no longer tearstained. Instead, the dancer stares hollowly at the ragged mementos for several minutes, then sighs and closes the lid once more. Another year passes before the light shines in. The slippers find their breath hard to draw and the dark quick to return.

This ritual is repeated another year, and another, and again, until the slippers can no longer find the strength to breathe. They try to wait patiently. But after so long hiding in the dark, they begin to forget what life in the spotlight was like.

After nearly a decade, resignation settles so deep within the shriveled hearts of satin that they no longer try to breath. It takes a beat too long to notice the light’s return. Two beats too long, staring morosely up at watery brown eyes, to see the slight glimmer of hope within. But they notice immediately when long fingers gently lift them out of their dark prison. For the first time in a long time, their gasp is not born of desperation.

Resting comfortably on the soft cotton of their dancer’s dress, the astonished slippers look eagerly forward as she carefully wheels her way to a new room. There, a strange man lifts them up to hang high on a pink wall, just above a crib. Staring down at the sleeping baby, the slippers begin, very slowly, to find the strength to breathe.

The years pass. With each one, they breathe more freely as they watch the young girl grow. They watch and remember what the spotlight was like. Yet they are content to live out their days here, watching over this beautiful charge now grown into a strong young lady. They no longer wait in vain, longing for the bright lights and hard stage.

And so, they are startled by a sudden gust of wind as they are pulled down. The woman looks lovingly at them lying in her daughter’s hands and nods. The slippers hold their breath as smooth young feet slip into them once again. As the cool floor slips away under their quick movements, they finally breathe deeply. They breathe and live again in the spotlight.

It’s not “Happily Ever After,” but they live until new slippers can be bought to take their place. For them, it is enough. And the woman smiles.

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