The Ballerina in the Garden

Short Fiction

The new girl clutched her phone tightly and didn’t look up at him.

“Audrey…” the teacher repeated, “It’s your turn.” He motioned to the large display he had wheeled beside his desk and thought about what she told him, after class when he had assigned the class project last week.

“I don’t draw and can’t sing—I can’t make anything… Not like what you said.”

“You don’t have to do those things, Audrey. You can take pictures of people and places and tell us why you find them interesting,” he had told her then.

She was shaking her head now, “Why do you care—why ask us to do that?”

He pushed his glasses higher on his nose. In part, he had decided on this kind of project to reach the quiet ones in the class. To try and nudge them toward expressing themselves in a way that wasn’t quite voluntary, being a school project and graded, but might help them become more comfortable in front of their classmates. Before he could answer, she stood. He thought she was going to walk out on him.

“I don’t know anyone—and I don’t know this place.” Her arm swept the room, but he knew she meant the school and town. She’d only been there a month, and he had seen her sitting alone at lunch. Alone, even when around other kids.

“Even so… there are things you enjoy. Things that when you see or are around them you like them or they mean something to you. Just a few pictures maybe a short video clip and your words about them. That’s all I’m asking for.” She hadn’t seemed to buy into that but said nothing more and had not mentioned it over the past week. He looked at her. The rest of the class had given their presentations. He said it again, “It’s your turn.”

Audrey’s long wavy hair fell forward as she looked down. She didn’t brush it away as she walked to his desk and handed him her phone. “It’s ready.” He connected the cord to both the phone and display and looked at her. She nodded, and he pressed play.

The picture on the screen was of what looked like an overgrown, neglected, area full of weeds and brush. “Last month when we moved here I found this behind the house.” Her voice pitched lower. “It seemed sad.” The next picture showed some improvement—some of the area had been cleared, and remnants of what had been flowerbeds showed among the scrub brush. “I worked a little on it each day and on the weekends.” The next picture showed a flower, petals of a burnt-orange red, yellow and white that was formed like a dancer in a pirouette. “I found her on the other side of a scraggly bush. She was all alone.”

He looked at her. She had pushed her hair back from her face. The quavering voice belied nervousness, but her look at her classmates was steady. The next picture was a close up of the flower; arms raised, its chin up. “She was so pretty among what had grown so ugly around her. I read a story once that used the word forlorn… looking at her I knew what it really meant. She’d been forgotten, but she didn’t want to be. She wanted to be around others but didn’t know how she could. She wanted to dance but couldn’t because she was so crowded by weeds and the horrible bush that blocked the early morning sun.”

The image began to move. It pulled back to show a now open area around the flower. There was a sound of wind that swirled small bits of grass and lifted the petals.

The real ballerina in the garden

“I call her, The Ballerina.” The camera panned around her as she swayed in the breeze. The sky grew darker, and a drizzle of rain flitted past the lens falling to the ground with an occasional plop of a larger drop. The camera zoomed in close on the flower. Beads of water clustered on the petals, bowing her with their weight. A bit of wind tipped them spilling them off as a voice, Audrey’s, now accompanied in the video while she stood silent. “I like to read, and I remember something from an author that now makes sense to me. He wrote, a misty rain falls; not as the tears of a human but the kiss of life for a garden. It’s there, in its beauty, I find peace.” The camera panned up to a clearer spot of the sky and an instance of an image; a bit of rainbow color arcing overhead. Then the video stopped. “I know how The Ballerina felt in that forgotten garden where no one could see her. But now I can, and she’s beautiful.”

“That was wonderful, Audrey.” He detached the cord and handed the phone to her. She returned to her seat not noticing the thoughtful look on his face, and some of her fellow students.

* * *

The doorbell startled her. It had not rung since they moved in. Clarinda Stanton rose from the kitchen table and now heard steps on the porch outside the front door. She peeped to see a tall, lean, man with dark-rimmed glasses. She opened the door. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m–”

“Mr. Gardner, what are you doing here?” Audrey had come downstairs and was now beside her mother in the doorway.

“I hope you don’t mind. But I wanted to ask if I could see your flower—the ballerina—in your garden?”

“It’s funny,” Clarinda said with an over the shoulder look at Audrey. “My daughter has had two calls from classmates this morning asking to come over today.”

He saw a smile flicker on Audrey’s face and then settle into a grin. The first he’d seen from her. “Mom, can Mr. Gardner come in and can I show him…?”

“Okay,” Clarinda looked up at the man as he pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. “Sure.” She stepped back as he stepped in. He moved gracefully but seemed just a bit embarrassed. “Would you like some coffee, Mr. Gardner? We can take it out back with us.”

Among the green and fresh pastels of new flowers, the ballerina stood out so proud in the Saturday morning sunlight, he sipped the steaming coffee. “Your daughter’s project was impressive. I had to come see for myself.”

Clarinda looked at Audrey, who was sitting near the orchid, a smile on her face as she watched them drink their coffee. The breeze had swept her hair back to show how much she and her mother looked alike. Clarinda set her cup on the arm of the wooden slat garden chair. “It’s been hard for her, losing her father, and moving to a new town and new state.”

He cupped the mug in both hands and sat elbows resting on his knees. “I’m sure on you too.”

She expected him to look at her as he said that but he seemed lost in his own thoughts. She didn’t reply and watched him for a moment.

“They say time heals…” He straightened in the chair and looked over at her, but his eyes showed he was still looking at someone or something not there but very close to him. “A little bit each day…” he looked at the garden and smiled at Audrey.

A burst of birdsong made them look up at the nearby copse of woods. She sighed, “It’s beautiful here. Very different from the city where we’re from.”

“Mom, can Mr. Gardner come back again to visit her?” Audrey gently touched the ballerina’s petals.

“If he wants to.” Clarinda brushed a lock of hair back and smiled. He seemed a nice man and anything that got Audrey more engaged was a good thing.

“Saturday morning coffee…” he asked with a grin, “Next week?”

She returned it. “You bet.”

* * *

The tall man, dark hair now frosted gray at the temples, pushed his glasses up on his nose as he looked down at the young lady next to him. The puddle of her wedding gown train was cloth of antique ivory draped over the natural jade of the close-cropped grass. The dew dampened it, but that didn’t matter. In seconds, the music would start, and they’d walk to her new beginning. He shook his head; so many years and so fast they go by he thought as he looked around. It was the start of a beautiful day. The white chairs sat brightly on the emerald green grass. Each had a cluster of orchids at the end of its row full of guests.

“We’re here because of a flower.” He looked toward the group of people to see a woman sitting proudly in the front row watching them. A mother watching for that moment in a daughter’s life that holds so much meaning. A woman he would not have met if not for this young lady… and an orchid. He felt tears pool in the corner of his eyes. The music started and they took the first step. He hugged her arm tightly to him, and he felt her squeeze back. “I love you, Audrey.”

“I love you, Dad.” She smiled up at him and thanked the ballerina she’d found in this garden that day long ago.

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