by Julie Eason
The peacocks tripled in size that summer.
I’m told it was quite a sight, the cocks strutting and chasing the hens. The piglets never quite able to scramble out of the way fast enough – like a colorful dance played out in the tall grass.
I always loved the animals, especially the peacocks. Once upon a time, I would spend hours on a sunny summer afternoon perfectly balanced on the top fence rail. The mud caked around my bare feet from chasing them just to watch their plumes wave in the wind.
Rocky was a stowaway.
I never intended her to join me that night as I nimbly climbed down the trellis outside my window. I’d done it a hundred times, but this time was different. Final. The crumpled audition notice lodged safely inside my coat pocket. But she was so small, completely unnoticed curled up inside my bedroll. The city was no place for a cat. But then, it was no place for an under-age farm girl either.
It didn’t matter. The city called me – a siren song of shining lights, rushing people, and the stage. A stage so big it echoed with thunder of the company’s satin-wrapped toes. You never noticed it when the house was full, of course. The orchestra swelled and drowned out the exertion of the dancers on stage. Our costumes glittering like glass sparkles on the water.
Sometimes I could see up to the boxes, and the beaded dresses and jeweled tiaras of our audience far outshone our lesser stones. But I wouldn’t trade places. Not for a hundred million diamonds.
People still tell me I don’t look much like a dancer. But I know better.
I know the heart that soars when the music starts and the legs that lift and the long graceful neck that cranes, pillowing itself on the notes. These arms were meant for more than ricking hay and rocking babes. They were meant to glide and soar and do their best to reach heaven each night under the amber lights.
The other girls laugh at my short hair and plain clothes. They say I’ll never catch a man this way. But I can live cheaply at the boarding house. No one looks twice at Rocky or me. We fade into the background by day. And a husband is the last thing on my mind.
Mrs. Twee said I look sad and tired when I came home at night, but I know it’s just the smeared greasepaint and eyeliner round my eyes. It never came off, not completely. Looking rough suited me; it deterred unwanted attention.
I look at this picture she took of us so many years ago, and I can feel Rocky sleeping heavy in my lap. I don’t see the scared girl I was, finding my way in a strange dark city. I don’t smell the exhaust fumes and smokestacks of the city. I barely remember the exhaustion of working a full shift in the factory, then rushing to make rehearsal before the doors closed.
I see determination, courage unbound by any convention or traditional role. I see a farmer’s daughter who had to be a dancer. And I smile. Because I know.
Papa would be proud.