Song of Sparrows
I danced through the crowd, my hands deftly diving into pocket after pocket pulling forth wallets of all shapes and sizes. When the tourists went left towards the Empire State Building I continued straight. I plugged my earbuds into my ears and stuffed my hands into the pockets of my jacket. Just another New Yorker walking down the street. No one saw me, they weren’t looking.
The lock clicked as I closed the door behind me.
“That you Kailey?” asked Beth from the other room.
“Just me.” I called back as I hung up my jacket on its hook. I unwound my scarf from my neck and dropped my keys into the tray next to the ones with the Hello Kitty keychain.
Beth was in the kitchen, she had one leg up on the counter, an icepack on her knee as she stirred something that smelt really good.
I kissed her gently and she smiled to light up the drab little kitchen.
“Sergio work you too hard today?” I asked jerking my head in the direction of her knee. Her expression darkened as I pulled a grape off the bunch on the counter and popped it into my mouth.
“I fell.” She said as way of explanation and I took another grape to hide the frown that wanted to pull at my lips. “But you have an audition this afternoon right.”
I blinked at the sudden change of subject, “Yeah…Swan Lake.”
Beth laughed at the face I pulled, “You could always quit.”
She said it like a joke, we both knew I couldn’t.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror brushing my teeth, my feet moving into positions they knew better than my brain.
I pulled my blonde hair back next, so tightly that it pulled at my scalp. I rimmed my green eyes with eyeliner and then moved to the bedroom. Beth was on the couch, I could hear the TV in the other room.
I dumped my purse out over the bed.
Twenty or so wallets came spilling out, I ran my fingers over them and I couldn’t help the guilt that started to stew in my gut. I took the money anyway.
My father had been a street magician. He wore the same tattered hat for twenty years until someone finally bested him.
He’d been the one who’d taught me how to pick pockets. Mom had never approved, but it was hard to approve of anything as a can of ashes. Dad said that-
I heard Beth moving in the other room and I quickly scooped the now cash-less wallets back into my bag. She came into the bedroom just as I pulled my pointe shoes from under the bed.
“You better get moving, you are going to be late.” She had her arms crossed over her flat chest, her chestnut hair in loose waves.
I stuffed my shoes into my bag and smiled at Beth, “Try not to miss me too much.”
She rolled her eyes as I trailed my fingers over her shoulder as we crossed in the doorway.
“Good luck Kailey.” She told me as I put on my jacket and pulled open the door.
I walked down the street to the subway station. I dropped the wallets in the nearest postbox.
My father always said, never let them catch you with the evidence. Never give them anything that would make you sing little sparrow.
I walked into the theater and dropped my bag and coat with the others. Tiffany saw me first, she waved from the floor as she rotated her body all the way forward to lay across her split legs.
I slipped out of my street shoes and slid down to the floor, feeling the response of my muscles as I stretched out.
“Who else did Sergio send?” I asked and Tiff blew her bangs out of her face.
“You, me, Rachel and Sarah.”
Beth, Rachel and I had danced under Sergio since we were kids. I had always been better. Rachel had always wanted it more.
“Rachel is a joke.” I said and Tiff laughed, her ribs standing out under her leotard.
“Heard that Dawson.” Rachel walked in, her face still glistening from sweat.
Rachel’s lips puckered like she had swallowed a lemon. “I hope you fall like the laughing stock you call a girlfriend.”
She walked out before I could punch her.
Tiff touched my shoulder, trailing her fingers across my flushed skin. “Show her with grace, not with anger.”
She walked off to the stage and I was left having nothing to do with my hands.
My father used to call it restless hands, if you had restless hands you were bound to find them somewhere they shouldn’t be.
You have to make everything mean something little sparrow or you will fall apart.
He said a lot of stuff like that when Mom had been sick.
I moved my arms through the positions again.
I laced up my pointe shoes and went up and down on my toes as I listened to the music from the stage.
Sergio told me we’d be dancing “Odette's Dance.”
I remembered the first time I’d danced Swan Lake. I had been sixteen. That was the year Mom had gotten sick, the year I became unable to stop dancing.
Tiff came off the stage, her face flushed. I smiled at her. “Good luck, Kailey.”
I came even with the stage and stepped out onto it. The lights were all on in front, but the audience was thrown into shadow, I could barely make out the outline of the three judges.
“Name please.” An older male voice called out.
“You may begin on que.”
The music started and I waited, my feet and arms ready, every muscle tense.
Que came and I started to dance.
The world disappeared around me, the only thing that mattered was my body and the air surrounding me. I could feel the music move through me, urging me on.
When I had been three years old Mom had caught me copying dance moves off some TV special that had been on. Of course being three I had so wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up.
Soar little sparrow
I had been tall for a three year old. I excelled from the beginning.
There was never anything else I did, I went to school, I did my homework and then I went to dance. All my friends were dancers.
Some had gone away, those who couldn’t take it anymore. They washed out of my memory, they mattered less than dance.
Mom died. Dad became someone else, still I had ballet.
I spun around and around, half breathless as the song ended.
“Thank you. Call backs will be held next week.”
Beth was sleeping by the time I got home. I spread my new collection of wallets on the kitchen table and relived them of their monetary possessions. I admired them for their individuality.
Picking pockets is like a dance little sparrow. You have to use your head as well as your body. It’s all just a game.
A well-worn black leather wallet dropped a photo onto the table. I picked it up cautiously. The center was white where it had been folded and unfolded countless times. It was a portrait of a woman and a baby. I turned the wallet over to see the middle aged man named Walter Grim. He was an organ donner from Kentucky. He looked nice. I put the picture back.
I hid the wallets and crawled into bed.
“Your feet are cold.” Beth mumbled as she turned away from me.
I laid on my back, eyes open as I stared at the ceiling.
Was I a bad person?
Good or bad doesn’t matter little sparrow, it only matters if you win or if you lose. Now do it again.
Dad got on well with Sergio.
The bed was cold when I woke up. My phone said it was 6:00am.
I found Beth sitting her back to me at the kitchen table, an untouched cup of coffee sat in front of her. My heart sank into my stomach as I saw the wallets spread across the table. Her long fingers caressed the worn, black, leather one.
“I thought you weren’t going to do this anymore.” She didn’t turn around, she wouldn’t even look at me.
“Beth…” I put my hand on her shoulder, she went ridged.
“Kailey we talked about this…I wanted you to stop. Did you even listen to anything I said?” Beth was crying now. She turned to stab me with her eyes.
“I did stop. I listened until…”
“Until what?” her voice raked across my skin.
“I went to see him.” The sound was barely a whisper as it left my mouth. Beth’s lips softened for a moment. I wanted to kiss her, to make her forget why she was mad at me.
The wallets sat silent witnesses. They reminded me.
I wiped at my own eyes angrily. “I know you don’t like him. I know you hate it when I see him. It was the anniversary and well.”
You are better than that little sparrow, you are faster, smarter, stronger. You don’t need that girl. You don’t need anyone.
“The reason I don’t like him is because he upsets you. You don’t need his attitude in your life baby. He is no good for you.” Beth reached out for me, but I pulled away.
“He’s still my Dad.” Suddenly livid, I surged forward and gathered the wallets, dumping them into my limp bag hung from the edge of the chair.
“Yeah and he got caught doing exactly what you are doing now. He’s in jail Kailey. Is that what you want to happen to you? What about us, what about your dancing, what about everything in your life that really matters.” Beth was hysterical now as she pushed away from the table. Her hands grabbed at me, pinching my skin through the fabric of my shirt. “Look at me. Look at me Kailey.”
I turned my eyes to look at her. She really was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was kind and gentle.
People like us little sparrow don’t get to be happy. We get to serve as entertainment for someone else. They laugh at us, they clap for us, but they never really see us. All they see is the act…the show.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.” I hung my head. Beth’s hand cupped my chin, her touch licking like fire across my skin.
“I want you to stop seeing him. I want you to promise me that you’ll stop.”
“I…” I paused.
The only people who can hurt you are the people you love. Come little sparrow we don’t need to be here anymore, we don’t need her anymore.
My hands clenched into fists at my sides.
I looked almost involuntarily over Beth’s shoulder to where the picture sat. Dad said we didn’t need her anymore, but I did.
Beth saw me looking. We were standing so close I could feel the warmth wafting from her skin. She was right here with me, she was the one who was always there for me.
Her hand reached up and drew my eyes back to hers.
“We could go see her together. Would you like that Kailey?” her voice was soft. I put my hand over hers on my cheek and pulled it down.
“What would she think of me now?”
Beth laced her fingers though mine, I felt stronger.
“She would be sad to see you so lost. She would want you to come back. Come back Kailey.”
“What if I don’t know the way.” I whispered and Beth leaned in close, her head almost resting on my chest.
“I will guide you.”
We stood hand in hand in front of the wall full of plaques. It was drizzling as Beth snuggled deeper into her scarf. I hardly felt the cold.
Sometimes it felt like a million years ago.
Sometimes it felt like yesterday.
Don’t cry little sparrow, don’t let them see you cry.
Beth didn’t say anything as I set down the bouquet of flowers we’d bought.
I looked at the quote etched under her name, “Sing as though none are listening, dance as though none are watching, and fly as if you are unafraid to fall.”
“I promise.” I told the plaque quietly.