Piano music flowed through the open windows of the Silver Steps ballet studio. Inside was a large open room with hardwood floors, the scent of lemon still lingering from the last polish. The giant mirrors hanging on the brick walls reflected a row of pink tulle skirts and tiny limbs bent at graceful angles. These little fairies flitted about the room, their eyes fixed attentively on every motion of their queen, Melonie Thatcher.
“Hold that arm just a little higher, Alice. Much better.” The teacher’s smile grew as her students practiced. Melonie’s class of 7 to 10-year-olds had made it through the hour without any injuries or tears, and only one student had fallen. Melonie considered that a success.
The old record player reached the end of the track, and the sound of piano keys halted. Melonie let her arms drift to her sides. She grinned at the red cheeks before her. “Well, girls, that’s all for today. Any questions before you go home?”
Giggles erupted down the line as all the girls shook their heads, and Melonie clapped her hands together. “Alright. Don’t forget to practice this week, and I’ll see you here on Thursday.”
The girls fluttered to the chairs where their parents and bags were waiting. Melonie moved toward the door to say goodbye to each of them as they left. As the students filed out with their respective guardians, some waved and some stopped to hug their teacher, but all of them sang out her name in their goodbyes. Melonie adored each of them, their sweet voices and innocent admiration. Every smile and hug warmed the heart of the young teacher who was fresh out of college and trying to make her way in the world.
Older students began to trickle in, arriving early for the next class, and Melonie headed to the locker room to grab her duffle and change.
When she came back out, she paused by the cork bulletin board just outside the door. Her eyes scanned over the familiar ads of local fundraisers, the announcements of upcoming recitals, and the reminder that the studio would be closed for a week at the end of the month for maintenance. She stopped her scanning when she noticed a deep blue flyer she didn’t recognize.
Her eyes widened as she murmured, “The East Atlantic Ballet is holding auditions?”
“Ah, you found the poster,” Rachel, the studio owner, said as she stepped up behind Melonie.
The young woman jumped at the sound of Rachel’s voice. Then she chuckled. “Hi Rachel. I can’t believe I didn’t know about the auditions!”
“They just announced them. I only printed the information today.”
“Can anyone try out?”
“Literally anyone. The auditions are open to all levels of experience. Plus, no agent necessary. It’s a rare opportunity,” Rachel brushed back a lock of her graying hair.
Melonie glanced back at the flyer. “Which means there’ll be a lot of applicants.”
“Oh tons of them, I’m sure. You best sign up soon and make sure your name is at the front. Wow them before they get tired of looking at applications,” the studio owner said with a wink.
“Rach, there’s going to be a lot of competition. It isn’t very likely that I’ll ‘wow’ anybody.” Melonie glanced at the dates on the paper. “Still, it’d be a shame to pass up the opportunity.”
“A shame? More like a crime. If you don’t at least try, I’m going to set you on cleaning duty for the next month.”
Melonie laughed. “Well, I guess I’d better go pull out my resume. Do you have another one of these?” She pointed to the poster.
“Take that one if you like. I’ve got a stack of them in the office. Now get going, I’ve got a class to teach.”
“Thanks, Rach.” Melonie took down the flyer, grabbed her bag off the floor, and shoved the paper into one of the pockets. As she hurried out, she was already envisioning her routine for the audition. She turned back to wave at Rachel, bumped her nose on the door frame as she looked forward again, and bounced into the street.
Rain dripped on her hair, and Melonie looked up. She beamed and stuck out her tongue to catch the water. The gray skies were still bright in the late afternoon, the April sun trying to push through the cracks in the clouds. Melonie paused to pull out her umbrella, a cheery yellow shield which she raised above her maple hair.
Walking down the street, Melonie watched images shiver in the puddles, vibrant red and blue umbrellas warding off the smoky backdrop. Cars sloshed past, horns blaring and exhaust mixing with the smell of cigarettes.
Melonie coughed at the smoke and crossed the street by the light. Her feet caught on the curb, sending her stumbling into the path of a hot dog vendor. She spun out of the way with a quick “sorry,” as she stood to the side. The man merely tipped his hat in acknowledgement.
The sidewalk widened, filled with gruff voices and rough jackets brushing against Melonie’s forearms. The rain pelting her umbrella picked up speed until it sounded like a drum.
She paused under the awning in front of the bakery, and the percussion above her head quieted. Breathing in the scent of fresh bread and rosemary, she glanced in. She looked over the cakes and pastries basking under the yellow light. Taking a quick whiff for the journey home, Melonie pushed her way through the crowd and escaped to a clearer patch of street. This stretch of silver buildings boasted balconies and planters, the blooms in the flower boxes bright in the warm rain. The trees planted along the sidewalks were strung with lights, setting the wet leaves sparkling.
The young woman entered the last building before the corner and shook her umbrella at the door.
Melonie hurried to the elevator, avoiding the small puddles riddling the lobby floor, and pushed the button for floor six. The 47-second ride gave her time to form a game plan for the evening: grab last night’s leftovers. Pull out her audition tapes and decide which ones to send—Or maybe she should make a new one? Double check the resume—Perhaps she should buy new letterhead?
Ding. Melonie jumped at the opening of the doors and hurried out. Skipping down the hall, she shook her head. The paper she had would be fine.
She fumbled with her keys at the door. Though she was able to slide it in, try as she might, she couldn’t get the key to turn. Realizing she was using her studio key, Melonie corrected herself and entered the apartment.
Once inside, Melonie dropped her duffle on the blue armchair and clicked on the standing lamp at the chair’s side. It illuminated the wooden floors, side table, and brown couch overlooking the wide room. The only other furniture was a T.V. on it’s stand, pushed against the wall to leave maximum floor space. Across the room, a glass door led out to a small balcony. Melonie waltzed into the kitchen, pulled out her food, and stuck it in the microwave. After grabbing a glass of water, she headed back to the living room to fish out the audition flyer.
Then she moved to the bedroom to grab her demo DVDs out of the drawer. For the next several hours, she was glued to her computer, poring over the East Atlantic Ballet website. Melonie read every word of their registration requirements, thrice for good measure. Then she pulled up information on the current company.
The website had clips of recent performances, which Melonie studied carefully. She popped in one of her own DVDs. As she watched, she analyzed her movements and compared them to the troupe she was hoping to join. Just watching herself glide across the stage reminded her of why she loved dancing. Her normal klutziness vanished when she performed, her feet suddenly sure, her arms always in the right spot as opposed to in the way.
Melonie squinted. This routine wasn’t smooth enough. She switched discs. This one was better, but those turns . . . her spins just didn’t seem as effortless as the East Atlantic dancers. One by one, she sorted through all her samples. But none of them seemed quite right.
Eventually Melonie remembered to take a sip of water and paused her analysis of videos to work on her resume for a while.
By the time she remembered her food in the microwave, it was already 11:30 pm. It was midnight before she considered going to retrieve it. It was 1:16 am before her stomach demanded that she did or that she at least grab a banana.
Melonie rubbed her sore eyes and stood, reaching her arms into the air and stretching her stiff back. She stepped into the hall, rubbing her neck and paused.
A faint rustling sound echoed from the kitchen. Melonie’s eyes narrowed. There it was again, a light scratching, a soft scuffle.
Melonie pulled back into the bedroom, looking for her phone. Her hands shook as she sifted under papers and through her bag. With a sigh of relief, she found her cell in one of the side pockets. If there were mice in her apartment again, she did not want to be without a way to call for backup.
Armed with her Samsung (her landlord’s number on speed dial), she crept soundlessly toward the kitchen. Her steps slowed at the end of the hall as she listened to the scratching stop, start again, and stop again. The lines in her forehead deepened at the quiet munching, the tiny nibbling noises, and a shiver ran up her spine. She hated rodents. Their itty-bitty feet, their black, beady eyes, their gross droppings all over her white counters and yellow cabinets, their—
“Pull it together,” she muttered under her breath.
Melonie shook her head, bracing herself for the worst, and peered around the wall.
Her phone slipped from her frozen hand as shock etched its way across her face.
There, in her kitchen, with its trunk reaching into a box of cereal was a. . . a. . . baby elephant? Maybe?
The animal continued to softly munch away, his fluffy tail flicking happily through the air. Melonie stood in confusion, wondering if she was awake. The elephant-like creature dropped a cheerio. It rolled across the floor, and he quickly turned, chasing after the lost treasure. He plucked it up, raising his head to eat it, and, for a brief moment, his eyes met Melonie’s.
The creature stalled, and Melonie’s breath caught. Before she could blink, he shifted his weight to the side and vanished, leaving a tipped cereal box and a wide-eyed Melonie glued to the ground in his wake.