Thank you, Jamie Clark, for this seed sentence!
“As she listened to the clickety-clack of footsteps coming up the stairs outside, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, rested her face in her palm, and sighed.”
And so the story begins …
As she listened to the clickety-clack of footsteps coming up the stairs outside, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, rested her face in her palm, and sighed.
“One more day, Serrina. You can do this. Take a deep breath and perform.”
The quiet knock encouraged her to reach for her cane, push up from the faded chair and shuffle to the door, struggling to turn the great brass knob.
“Miss Serrina! I brought you yellow roses!” A slender girl slipped in, heading for the kitchen as she clattered by in glittery, silver high-heeled shoes far too big for her little feet. “A bee found the roses already! How do bees know where to find flowers? Sometimes I follow them just to see what they’re gonna find! I got a rose poke in my finger, though.”
Incessant chatter. But these days this bundle of energy was the only light in Serrina’s world.
“Can I put them in the flowery teapot? Pleeeze! They’ll feel at home with the pretty painted roses. There’s yellow ones on it that look ‘zactly like these!”
“I know, dear. Okay. Can you reach it?”
“Course! I’m the one who put it up there last time.” The girl carefully opened the glass door of the tall china cabinet, pulled a chair over and climbed up to reach the fourth shelf. Reaching in, she gently pulled out the delicate Dresden china teapot and handed it to Serrina. “I’m gonna leave the lid up here so we don’t lose it.”
So. Put the roses in the teapot. Set it on the broad windowsill behind the window seat in the breakfast room. Smell summertime for a few more days. Serrina promised to herself, as she always did, to live until Maribelle’s bouquet died. Fortunately for both of them, Maribelle picked fresh flowers for her often.
“Can I take the big red hat with pink feathers today Serrina?” Maribelle gazed down at her fancy shoes, hesitating. “Maybe sometime I can take along the shoes and a hat too? Or your white feathery shawl? I’d be real careful.”
Reseated in her worn gold damask chair, Serrina considered. Why not? Why was she limiting the girl’s joy? Lord knows, this girl needed all she could get. In a life wrapped in poverty, Maribelle still managed to glean out hope and promise.
“Go upstairs and get five things to take this time. I want to see them on you when you glide down the stairs, okay? Now scoot!”
Maribelle’s fancy shoes carried her up the broad winding staircase, this time more quietly as they trod on the faded woven carpet. Considering, Serrina added, “Go to the third floor rehearsal room and get the ballet slippers in the mirrored closet. You can keep them to wear around home but promise to not wear them outside!”
This would take a while. That girl would snoop. Serrina figured that by now Maribelle had been in every room on the two upstairs floors. She could hear doors quietly open and close. That was okay. The girl was curious and she never took anything. Just looked and dreamed.
Serrina understood dreaming. Her dreams had led her across the world. First to the New York City Ballet, followed by her first vaudeville shows. Then she saw Anna Pavlova dance and was transformed into yet another dream. Determinedly, she saved money to travel to Paris where ballet was a respected art. Performing as “Serrina the Sublime”, brazenly performing a self-styled ballet in the Montparnasse art district of Paris, she had created a sensation and was launched into fame. Existence became a whirlwind of performing, interviews, meeting the public’s demands, and a chain of torrid love affairs, all while nursing constant physical pain of her legs and feet being pushed beyond their capacity. She was smart though, setting money aside and investing in copper mines. Princes and playboys wooed her with priceless jewelry which she wore only long enough to please them and then secreted away for security.
Then Phillip came into her life. Twenty years older, he had managed life around her, softened sharp edges of publicity, tolerated her mood swings, and when she finally realized his value, she found him one morning in their upstairs master suite, his heart given out. She closed up those rooms, moved into another suite down the hall, and carried on.
She had longed to retire then but pushed on for two more years. Performing was what she did. It’s who she was. But a day came when, after completing an hour of grueling torment in her upstairs rehearsal room, trying to convince herself into one more hour of practice, she glimpsed herself in the wall of mirrors. She barely recognized the woman staring back at her. She didn’t want that woman in her life anymore; she wanted herself back. Sliding down onto the wooden floor, she had gently unwrapped the gauze wrappings encasing her bleeding feet. Softly patting the feet that had won her acclaim, that had created this grand life, that had carried her across the globe, she decided this was no longer living. This was torture. She put the slippers away and exited that room, too.
She hadn’t known how lonely it would be when fame no longer came to visit. It was as if a faucet had turned off, leaving her in a desperate thirst. Invitations dried up and phone calls dwindled. She had known fame was fleeting but hadn’t realized it could disappear altogether.
Years and days passed. Corey brought her groceries when she could no longer drive. Her only companion was Tukket, the Maine Coon cat who had shown up on her windowsill one rainy day. She invited him in and considered perhaps God had sent him. They discussed the weather, he occasionally brought her a gift mouse, attacked the golden tassel on the drapery swags, and she regaled him with stories of her travels. Tukket was satisfied to live a spoiled life indoors until the day he unexpectedly scampered out the kitchen door when Corey delivered a basket of fresh peaches. Serrina fretted for two days as loneliness seeped back into her life.
Then someone rang her doorbell.
“This your cat, Miss Serrina?” A little slip of a girl stood holding Tukket who looked immensely smug and pleased with himself.
“Oh, my! Yes! Tukket, where have you been off to?” Tukket struggled to escape the girl’s arms and ran into the house, leaping up onto his favorite green velvet armchair.
“Thank you, my dear. And you are…?”
“Maribelle. We live over by the river. I found your cat sitting under Momma’s okra plants in the shade. I’ve seen him in your window so knew you wanted him back.”
“How sweet of you to bring Tukket home. Would you like a cookie?”
“Yes! I always like cookies. Anything sweet. Momma says ‘much as I like sweets, I’m gonna’ grow up to be a sugar bowl.”
Serrina laughed in delight, and then started in surprise. She hadn’t known she had laughter in her anymore. She didn’t want to stop.
“Come on in, then. Let’s go to the kitchen and have a cookie.” Excited with a visitor, Serrina blurted out, “Want to have some tea, too?”
“I’ve never had tea. Is it good?”
Serrina grinned. “I suppose it is if you add enough sugar. Ever seen a sugar cube?”
So a friendship began. One shared life experience led to another. First it was how the Mayor of Dresden bestowed the tea set upon her as an honorary resident. Then stories of having tea with a Maharaj in India. This led to them traipsing upstairs to see the pink and yellow silk sari which hung above pearl-studded satin shoes. It wasn’t long before Maribelle was trying everything on and parading around as Serrina clapped.
Over the following months, Maribelle’s visits were regular as clockwork. Much to the girl’s delight, Serrina insisted she take at least one item home at the end of each visit, knowing the girl would need to return it and she would get to see her again. Maribelle’s mother came over occasionally to chat and for the first time in months, Serrina felt as a real hostess again. From Maribelle’s stories, she knew the family struggled, so she always insisted she had extra plums, or cake, or ham that she couldn’t eat fast enough and would they please take some home.
The day came when Serrina couldn’t force her shaky legs up the sweeping stairway anymore, so Corey and Mirabelle’s brother Reece carried her bed down to the smoking-room on the first floor. That is the last time Serrina went upstairs. Now, it was up to Maribelle to fetch what she needed, laugh at her stories, bring vitality into her home, and to care. Most of all, to care.
Maribelle pranced downstairs carrying the hem of a long lavender gown, with a gold velvet cloche hat, black patent strap heels, and draped in a white feather boa.
“Dahling Serrina. Would you be a dear and order the car around? I can’t be late to the ball again or the Prince will marry another, and I shall be ruined!”
“Forget the Prince. Marry a lumberjack and let him build you a treehouse.”
“But whatever shall I wear in a treehouse?”
“Maybe nothing at all if he builds it deep in the woods.”
Laughing, they collapsed onto the sofa, slowly chuckling down into matched sighs.
“Go ahead and wear these clothes home, Mirabelle. They aren’t doing any good stuck in a closet. Take them out into the world and give them life again.”
“Miss Serrina! I love you!” The little girl threw her arms around Serrina, kissing her soundly on the soft parchment of her cheek. “Tomorrow I’ll bring them back. And I’ll bring you blue Larkspur this time. You can stick it in with the roses!”
As Serrina listened to the clickety-clack of footsteps going down the stairs outside, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, rested her face in her palm, and sighed. Life was nearing its end, but it was still good.
Phillip visited her that night. Not quite the Phillip she remembered, but an eager, younger version. Begging her to come with him, he held out his hand. Serrina considered. Oh, how she longed to join him and to leave her weary body behind. But Mirabelle would be coming tomorrow with Larkspur and she mustn’t disappoint. Phillip listened to her calmly, as he always had, and then assured her Mirabelle would understand. So Serrina the Sublime, the prima donna of ballet, thanked her dancing feet, her newfound friend, and reached for Phillip’s hand.
When Mirabelle’s eager feet clattered up the stone stairs the next afternoon, no one was home to take the flowers from her little hands. Four days later, Momma pushed her way to the front of the hordes of visitors to hold Mirabelle up so she could lay a fresh handful of Larkspur on top of the gleaming mahogany casket.
The next day a man knocked at their door, carrying Tukket and a briefcase. After a brief discussion on the porch, Momma invited him in to sit at the kitchen table.
“Do you want Tukket, Mirabelle?” Mama asked. “He can live with us now.”
Mirabelle picked up the cat and burrowed her face in Tukket’s fur. It smelled like Miss Serrina’s house. She carried him to the window where they could both look out at the birds chirping in the azalea bushes. Then she heard Momma exclaim, “My Lord, my Lord! Oh, the blessing! For Mirabelle? Everything? All of it? Oh, my Lord, my Lord!”
She didn’t know why Momma was so excited. Maybe the man had brought them Tukket’s china food dish and favorite green chair. Maribelle held Tukket close as they watched a bird fly up into the pale blue sky. She was sure it was soaring up to let Miss Serrina know that Tukket was okay. Miss Serrina would want to know.
– Ellie Hadsall, May 9, 2018
From the author: “This story is part of my “Random Sentences; Random Stories” series. Individuals have contributed random sentences from which I write a short story. I never know what the sentence will evoke until I begin writing. The results are greatly varied and take me on adventures of insight. I hope you enjoy them!”
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