I loved every moment dancing with Anita: the grass beneath our bare feet, the buzz of bees in the fragrant rose bowers, the freedom of moving out doors in loose silken tunics, the commands of the music and the repetition, never boring to me, as we learn what we are trying to do. And, then Anita is so beautiful: raven haired, graceful in flowing pastel gowns. I don’t have fantasies of being a princess. I know a real one.
Between dances we do summersaults, handstands, and cartwheels. I practice handstands at home. I am giddy with throwing my legs farther and father up until one time I can hold it a few seconds. Annie, a skinny girl, pretty, with short hair, unlike most of us, was the best. I watched her do handstands over and over eager to copy her rhythm. One day a cry went up from the crowd around her. Her wrist had broken and she went off in a car. I don’t stop practicing, but watch my arm wondering if it will collapse.
Our diligent dance efforts culminate in an end of summer recital that people sit in chairs and pay to attend. My family doesn’t go to church or temple so seeing so many grown-ups in flowery dresses, shoes and stockings all clapping in admiration is memorable.
The heat of August brings other events that make that summer indelible. We get sick, first, my brother and I, then my mom. Eventually my brother and I recover. My mother is still sick. Aunt Nat tells me that I will stay at Anita’s for the last two weeks of her summer program. I know my cousin is there, Nada, with her long brown hair in braids like mine, but I am far younger than any of the other girls. I don’t stay in the dorm with the rest. I sleep nearby in a room by myself. I mind less when Anita herself, candle in hand, comes to wish me goodnight.
“I am right next door, Beth,” she says.
The plain grey and white of the room with my cot under the eaves, an open window and the vision of Anita in my doorway are comfort enough.
In the city we go to Mt. Sinai Hospital where my mother is in a bed. My father is there too. Bright lights make the white sheet covers look immense. We all fit on the bed, my baby sister, my brother and me. My brother is happily unraveling a surprise ball. This is a colorful crepe paper wrapped ball filled with trinkets to be found as the ball unspools. I am disdainful feeling far too grown up to find that amusing. I don’t know when, or how we learn that the Polio my brother, mother and I contracted left my mother unable to walk. I am so grateful when our Nanny takes us to the Rose Garden across from the hospital.
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