Draconian

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“Madam Jocylene Depardieu will not be with you today…”

Large pairs of eyes in small faces focused on Mademoiselle Rivka whose hands were growing a paler shade of white from the way she was tightly clasping them. She seemed tinier than usual. Her frame was already slight, but now it seemed gaunt in the Saturday morning light. Her eyes looked tired and red. Never one to handle stress well, she mostly processed paperwork and payments for the small studio, even though she was easily a better ballerina than Madame Depardieu.

Where Rivka was graceful and light, Madam Depardieu was exacting and forceful. They were both talented, but watching them dance was like watching a knight and a fencer in their respective battles. Both moved with passion and precision, but one poured their passion into something more of a physical poetry–light and moving, easy yet strong.

“Mademoiselle Angela will take over for today’s class–” Mademoiselle Rivka’s voice hitched in the back of her throat as she gestured to Angela, her thin frail hands changing from white to splotchy red as blood rushed back into the tips.  She seemed to be debating whether she should say more, but declined, leaving the room without further elaboration.

Angela Cross was the newest addition. A decent dancer, but phenomenal instructor, she led the stretch classes and was the opposite of Madame Depardieu in a different way.

“Okay girls, let’s get to the barre and warm up…and please just call me Ang,” she said, waving off the formality with a casual toss of the wrist. “Let’s see what our bodies feel like doing for us today, shall we?”

Bets were being placed as to how long she would last. Where Madesmoiselle Depardieu was all business, Anglea was chatty, relaxed, and given to gossip. In her first two weeks of her arrival, they’d learned more about the staff than many had learned in years.

One by one they moved toward the barre, adjusting easily to Angela’s loose hand.

“Where’s Mademoiselle Depardieu? What happened to her?”

Jenny’s large green eyes beamed with innocence, care and concern coating her voice.  She sounded as worried as Mademoiselle Rivka had appeared.

Angela looked toward her pointe shoes, before gazing out the large window, slowing biting her lip. The girls counted the seconds before she would crack.

“Well…” Here it came.

“Don’t let this get around just yet…” Their small bodies leaned toward Angela like plants toward the sun.

“But she won’t be in this week.”

Audible gasps escaped some girls. Madame Depardieu never missed a day. Rivka had to convince her to close the studio for Christmas.

“Her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident last night.”

The room was silent. Every girl stood speechless, searching the recesses of their minds. The news of anyone’s untimely death would be shocking, but their shock came not from the news of Mr. Depardieu’s death, but the news that there was a Mr. Depardieu.

As each one thought about it more, it did make sense–to be a Madame there had to be a Monsieur–but they had extracted the meaning from the word, taking it as her first name rather than a title of personal significance.

It never crossed anyone’s mind that their teacher might also be a person.  Each student tried to come up with facts they knew, but they were thin strands of ideas, conjecture pieced together from observations and rumors.

Natalie thought she’d seen her with a tall man once, after their Christmas performance last year. He had been on a motorcycle. Kate thought she might’ve seen Madame Depardieu place a simple silver band on a thin chain that she sequestered in the pocket of her cardigan once.

On a normal day Isabel was sure there were tiny nubs hidden beneath the perfectly coiffed red bun atop Madame Depardieu’s head, based solely on her draconian practices. But today, she felt a sympathy she rarely extended toward her instructor.

Each one employed well-trained muscle memory, as their thoughts were divided between dance and the idea that something could break

With every encouragement to take it easy and just flow with the music, each girl pushed themselves harder, knowing that’s what Madame Depardieu would want–perfection. Each turn was tighter. Every extension held just a bit longer. Their arms much more graceful–Madame Depardieu would be proud enough to not yell at them and instead, simply nod and shrug as if to say their perfection was sufficient.

Naja led the line of girls across the floor, sweeping her arms gracefully overhead, before stopping abruptly, falling out of form.

“But…what if she never comes back?”

Everyone stopped, pondering what would’ve been an absurd question 24 hours ago.

“Um… how about we shorten class today? Maybe it’s better if you guys go home and rest…” Angela paused the music coming from her phone.

Each girl looked at each other in turn. They knew Madame Depardieu would never let them leave class early.

“No,” Naja said, shaking her head calmly. She rose on pointe, moving into a series of pirouettes, each girl following as they had hundreds of times over, filling the silent room with music from their memories and the sound of  Madame Depardieu’s voice as she clapped the count, expecting perfection until the end.

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