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Authors: Adèle Geras

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BOOK: Little Swan
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I glanced at Weezer. Her eyes were as wide open as they could be, and her mouth was open too. This was exactly the kind of competition that my sister loves, and I just knew that she’d already set her heart on being one of the chosen four.

AFTER THE CLASS
, Weezer almost flew over the pavement. She was swinging her pink suitcase backwards and forwards.

“Oh, Annie,” she said. “It was great. Wasn’t it great? And there’s going to be a show! A real show! I wish it was next week. Hurry up! I have to practise after supper. Come on!”

Weezer was walking so fast that she nearly knocked over one of our neighbours, Mrs Posnansky. She is a thin, small woman who wears her grey hair in a bun. Her dresses are mostly black, but you can tell she loves pretty scarves and lace collars and long necklaces. She was walking out of someone’s drive and Weezer only just missed her.

“Oh, Mrs Posnansky,” she cried. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Mrs Posnansky smiled. “You are hurricane. You are not girl.”

“I’ve been to my first ballet class,” said Weezer. “I’m so excited. I feel like running and running. I don’t think I’ll ever sit down again.”

“Aah!” sighed Mrs Posnansky. “The ballet! How beautiful is it! How I love! In Russia, of course—”

Weezer interrupted her. “I’m sorry, Mrs Posnansky, I have to go now.”

“Of course, of course,” said Mrs Posnansky. “Your mother waits to hear all about class. I tell you stories from Russia on other day.”

She set off across the street. Her house was just opposite ours. At her door, she turned and waved. Weezer had already rushed into our house, but I waved back to Mrs Posnansky.

Later I said to Weezer, “You should listen to Mrs Posnansky. She was born in Russia. Lots of famous dancers come from there. Maybe she knew one of them.”

“I bet she didn’t,” said Weezer. “Anyway, I can’t listen to her. We hardly know her at all. We’ve never even been in her house.” She disappeared upstairs to do exercises in front of the mirror, and I thought about how much fun it would be to visit Mrs Posnansky. I like seeing how people decorate their homes, and Mrs Posnansky’s was sure to be full of interesting things to look at.

Weezer had wanted to be a ballet dancer ever since she was four years old. That Christmas, Mum and Dad took us to see
The Nutcracker
. I had a book with the story in it, and I’d read it
to Weezer over and over again. She knew it by heart. She was longing to see Clara, the little girl who is given a gift of a magic Nutcracker that turns into a prince. She couldn’t wait to see the snowflakes, the flowers, and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

On the day of the performance, Weezer woke up at six o’clock and pulled me out of bed. She wanted to put on her party dress right away and said that I had to help her. Then she made me plait her hair.

“We’re not going till tonight,” I said. I was cold and cross and sleepy.

“Don’t care,” said Weezer, pushing out her bottom lip. “Want it now!” Weezer said that a lot when she was small: “Want it now!” Dad used to tease her about it all the time.

Dad was living with us then. He doesn’t live here any more. He and Mum are divorced.

“Annie,” he’d said to me, “you’re the grown-up one. Will you help me tell Weezer? Mum and I feel we’d be happier living apart, but we both still love you very, very much. And I’ll still see you. Even though I’m moving away, I’m still your Dad. I’ll always be your Dad. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” I said. “I understand.” I didn’t really,
but I could see Dad was sad. I wanted him to look happier.

“And will you help me tell Weezer?”

“Yes,” I said. Telling Weezer wasn’t easy. At first, she pretended she didn’t know what we meant. When Dad left, she cried and cried.

“Don’t cry,” I said, over and over again. “Dad loves us very much.”

Weezer’s face turned red with fury. “No, he does not! He doesn’t love us enough. He’d stay here if he did.” I couldn’t think of anything to say to that.

In the end, we all got used to it. We see Dad at weekends sometimes, and during the holidays. We talk to him on the phone a lot, but everything is different now that he’s gone.

Dad was still living with us when we went to see
The Nutcracker
. After he left, Weezer talked about that evening all the time.

“Curtains,” she’d say. “Remember the red curtains?”

“Yes,” I’d answer.

“Draw me the Sugar Plum Fairy,” she’d say. I did the best I could. Weezer started twirling about in front of the mirror. She pointed her toes. She walked about on tiptoe. She took our nutcracker out of the kitchen drawer and wrapped it in a napkin. She carried it everywhere.
She began to keep a scrapbook, and we all looked out for photos of ballet dancers. When we found them, in magazines or newspapers, she would cut them out and stick them in. If there was a ballet on TV, Weezer would be sitting in front of the set fifteen minutes before it started.

By the time she began nagging Mum about classes, Weezer had been mad about ballet for years.

FOR THE NEXT
three Tuesdays, Weezer went to her class after school. When she wasn’t at class, she practised and practised.

“I’ve worked really hard at everything,” she told me.

“I know,” I said. I’d even seen her using the school railings as a barre during lunch break. Almost every day Tricia and Maisie came to our house. First they would turn our living room into another studio. Then they’d spend hours at the kitchen table discussing Miss Matting’s special dance. What could she be planning this year?

“My sister went to Miss Matting’s,” said Maisie. “They did a Sailors’ Hornpipe. They had blue pleated skirts, and little hats with pom-poms on them.”

“Maybe we’ll be flowers,” Tricia said.

“What about snowflakes?” Weezer suggested.

“Maybe,” Maisie and Tricia nodded. “She does keep telling us how light we must be.”

“Well,” Weezer said, “we always have to be light. You can’t have heavy ballet dancers.”

“Maisie’ll be heavy,” said Tricia, “if she goes on eating so many biscuits.”

Maisie blushed. “I only had four . . . they’re very small.”

“Never mind about that,” said Weezer impatiently. “Finish up and we’ll go and practise a bit more.” She left the table and ran back to the living room. Maisie and Tricia followed her obediently.

When the day of the auditions came, Weezer was very quiet. All the way to St Christopher’s Hall she hardly said a word. She wasn’t swinging her pink suitcase. She just walked along next to me, dragging her feet.

“What’s the matter, Weezer?” I said. “Don’t you feel well?”

“I feel funny,” said Weezer. “I feel sort of fluttery inside. But I’m not ill.”

“Butterflies in your stomach,” I said. Weezer giggled. “I suppose you’re nervous. Are you?”

“No, I’m not,” said Weezer. Then she
paused. “Yes, I am nervous. What if something . . .” Her voice faded away.

“What if what?” I asked. “Come on, Weezer. At least speak properly.”

Weezer looked down at her feet. “What if I’m not chosen? For the special dance. What if Maisie and Tricia are and I’m not? What then?”

“Then you’ll be in the chorus,” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve only just started. Maybe you’ll be chosen next time. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, Weezer.”

Weezer snorted at me. “Honestly! You don’t say ‘chorus’ in ballet,” she said. “You say ‘corps de ballet’.”

I could tell just by looking at her that she thought not being chosen would be the most dreadful thing that could ever happen to her.

After a few exercises, all the children sat down on the floor. Miss Matting said: “I can see you are all as jittery as can be. I know why. You all want to be chosen as soloists. You’re all nervous. I know you are all going to dance as well as you can, but I’d just like to say one thing. In ballet, what matters is the whole dance, not just certain people’s parts. The corps de ballet
is just as vital as the most famous ballerina. Real professional dancers try as hard as they can, no matter what they are dancing. Please, all of you, remember this: If you are not chosen this time, you may be chosen next time. I am proud of all of you. Just do your very best.”

Everyone was smiling, except Weezer. She wanted to be chosen. Nothing I said, and nothing Miss Matting said, made any difference to her at all.

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