Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You

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Dorian Cirrone
Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You

In memory of my parents,
Eleanor and John Cirrone

Contents

Chapter 1

It isn't every day you walk into your sister's bedroom…

Chapter 2

I struggled as I slipped my arms through the straps…

Chapter 3

We were almost at the end of English lit when…

Chapter 4

I got to the kitchen just in time to watch…

Chapter 5

By the end of the week, thanks to Devin's big…

Chapter 6

As I read the note, which swirled from the pointe…

Chapter 7

“Wake up. Wake up,” a voice commanded. I opened my…

Chapter 8

By the time Paterson and I got to Farts on…

Chapter 9

By the time Gray arrived on Saturday night, my parents…

Chapter 10

Somehow my mother had managed to get an appointment for…

Chapter 11

Gray said his mother didn't mind if we used their…

Chapter 12

The first time the phone rang the next day I…

Chapter 13

Normally getting up in the dark was not my idea…

Chapter 14

I woke up the next morning with a feeling of…

Chapter 15

Paterson smiled and dropped a huge, thick envelope onto my…

I
t isn't every day you walk into your sister's bedroom and find a naked guy on her bed, especially when that guy is your best friend, Joey.

Now that I've gotten your attention—it's not what you're thinking. But isn't it amazing what happens when you hear the word
naked
? The thing I didn't mention is that my sister, Paterson, is an artist, and her bedroom doubles as a studio.

My parents named her that because she was conceived in a Paterson, New Jersey, motel room about eighteen years ago. When she was younger, she used to ask why she couldn't have a normal name, like Ashley or Christine.

“You were lucky,” my mother would say. “If your father had taken another road, you could have been named Secaucus Callaway.”

It turned out my parents did a good thing—she's definitely not an Ashley or a Christine. She's tall and thin and her wardrobe consists mainly of various shades of black, with an occasional pair of jeans thrown in for comfort. Sometimes her hair is pink. Other times it's orange. Lately it's Electric Blue. She draws the line at piercings and tattoos because of their permanence. She says her body is an ongoing work of art.

Not too long after Paterson was born, I was conceived. It's a picture I don't want to think too much about, but it must have taken place in a pretty ordinary location because my parents named me Kayla—after nothing in particular. Just a name they both liked, with a little bit of alliteration with Callaway to satisfy my mother's enthusiasm for poetic devices.

I'd almost forgotten that Joey was coming over to model for Paterson's senior art portfolio. I knew Paterson had chosen him because he has a body most guys would kill for, but I didn't expect him to be totally naked. Or is it nude? I mean, we're talking full-frontal you-know-what with Saint Rocco hanging out and everything. Saint Rocco, by the way, is what Joey calls his penis. It must be a guy thing. I once saw an actor on
The Tonight
Show
refer to his penis as Little Elvis.

Giving proper names to private parts is something I'm pretty sure most girls do not do. I have never once heard a woman of any age refer to her vagina as Mother Teresa or Little Madonna. It just isn't done.

Anyway, once I got a quick glimpse of Saint Rocco, I put my hands over my eyes and tried to navigate past the piles of canvases and sketch pads, as well as the pastels, pencils, paints, and paintbrushes strewn all over the terra-cotta tile floor. I finally made it to a rocking chair next to the bed, behind Joey. For some reason I didn't mind looking at his butt. I get a good view of that through his tights when he's dancing in front of me in ballet class.

Joey and I have danced together since I was four and he was five. My mom put me in ballet classes because I was born with a hip defect. I don't remember, but she says I wore a cast as an infant. The doctor suggested that early ballet training might be good for me, but I don't think my parents planned on having a ballerina in the family. It was just supposed to be therapy. Joey, on the other hand, originally started with karate classes. One of the other boys' mothers owned a dance studio, and when she saw Joey do a perfect straddle split with no wincing, she offered him free lessons. Good male dancers are always in demand, even when they're only five.

Now Joey and Paterson are seniors and I'm a junior at a magnet school for the arts called Florida Arts High School, affectionately known as Farts High. You'd think at least one of the school board members might have seen that one coming.

At Farts we get to study our own individual disciplines for a couple of hours each day in addition to the usual subjects. At first my parents were afraid a high school for the arts might be a little too crunchy granola. My mom's a third-grade teacher and my dad's a psychologist, so they're both pretty traditional when it comes to education. I think they were afraid we'd forget how to add and subtract and not learn enough about the real world—whatever that is. But Paterson begged them for a whole year to let her go. They finally gave in. The next year I auditioned and was accepted into the dance program.

Paterson's a born artist. She's been drawing almost since she popped out of the womb. I don't even want to tell you about her first art project, but I'll give you a hint. It involved the inside of her diaper and the wall of her bedroom. She's always been full of surprises.

That's why I shouldn't have been too shocked to find a bare-naked Joey in Paterson's room that Saturday morning. I uncovered my eyes and made myself comfortable in the wooden rocker. Paterson, who had been
watching me, poised her charcoal pencil in the air and chided, “Kayla, you are
soooo
Victorian. It's just a body.”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “Just flesh, blood, arteries, kidneys, intestines…” We'd been through this before when Paterson wanted me to pose for her figure-drawing class.

“You can wear a leotard and tights,” she had said. “It'll be a good opportunity for the class to draw a body like yours.”

What she meant was, with breasts like yours. From the neck down and the waist up I look a lot like Dolly Parton, though I read in a tabloid that hers were artificial, something I could never understand. Why would anyone pay for these things? It's like walking around with two quarts of milk hanging from a necklace. I have to wear three bras to dance class just to keep from hitting myself in the chin during
changements.

There was no way I was going to pose for Paterson's classmates and let everyone stare at my body. Artists or not. Besides, I had to go to that school too, and I didn't like the idea of looking at myself in various poses hanging up in the school cafeteria, where the art students display their work. There was no way some guy was going to salivate over my breasts while scarfing down a salami-and-cheese sub.

I was imagining one of the more Neanderthal guys in
school with vinegar-and-oil dressing dribbling down his chin when Joey broke in: “How's the view from back there?”

“Not bad,” I said, noticing Joey was one pale color from the top of his neck to his heels. No tan line at all. Only his dark brown hair broke the monotone.

“You've got to get out in the sun,” I said. “You look like the Pillsbury Doughboy with muscles. You could never be in one of those Coppertone ads where the dog pulls down your towel—there'd be no difference.”

“Too bad,” Joey said. “If I don't get into a ballet company next year, I'm hoping to be the first gay Coppertone guy. I can see it on billboards now,” he said, holding up an imaginary bottle of suntan lotion and coyly pulling up an invisible beach towel behind him. “When you come out of the closet, make sure you bring your Coppertone.”

I laughed and leaned back in the rocking chair. Joey had come out a few years before, and it hadn't been that big a deal for him. I'm not saying all male ballet dancers are gay, because they're not. Or that Joey's family was happy about it at first. But his parents and friends had had a pretty good idea about it all along. At a place like Farts, being gay is not all that unusual.

I was starting to get bored after a while, but I didn't have anything better to do. We were having auditions for
Cinderella
in a few days, and I couldn't concentrate on anything else.

I put my feet up on Paterson's paint-splattered denim bedspread, inched forward, and poked Joey in the back with my big toe.

“Yow! Your toe feels like sandpaper,” he yelled.

“Yours would too if you had to dance in pointe shoes for hours.”

Joey squirmed. “I am
so
glad that's never caught on for men.”

“What about the stepmother in
Cinderella
?” I reminded him. “That's almost always played by a man on pointe. You may end up with that part next week.”

“I'm more the Prince Charming type,” Joey said.

Paterson, who usually doesn't talk much while she's sketching, broke in. “You know, in an early version of the fairy tale, women actually cut off their toes to try to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper—just so they could marry the stupid prince.”

“Gross,” I said. “It's a good thing it wasn't a satin pump. Can you imagine how it would have looked by the time he got to Cinderella?”

Paterson smiled as she swept her pencil across the paper.

I picked up one of her art books and flipped through it. The book was filled with pictures of nude women, but
hardly any men. In fact, the only men I could find seemed to be Satan and Adam. In one of the pictures, Satan was looking pretty good. I flipped to another before things got too weird.

“Look at how fat these women were,” I said.

“No one thought they were fat,” Paterson said. “They were considered beautiful with all that flesh. No offense, but they probably would have thought all those muscles of yours were ugly.”

I looked down at my right leg, pointed my toe, and watched my calf bulge into a little ball. I was proud of my muscles. I had worked hard for them. How many times a day had I done
pliés, relevés, tendus
? Hundreds. Sometimes I wondered if it was all worth it. I never seemed to get a lead role. For two years I'd landed parts in the corps, the group of dancers in long skirts dancing in between the principals' spectacular solos and their
pas de deux
.

I hoped things would be different this year. I was a junior now, and I had spent the entire summer perfecting my technique. While a lot of the dancers at Farts had taken class only a few hours a week, I'd spent eight weeks in New York, studying six hours a day at the American School of Ballet.

I was imagining myself in a tutu, dancing a solo, when Paterson announced, “You know, I've never sketched an uncircumcised male nude.”

I dropped the art book on my big toe.

“Uh, thanks for noticing?” Joey said. “My parents were ex-hippies when I was born, and my father thought it was a barbaric custom.”

“He did have a point,” Paterson said, adding, “Oops, sorry for the pun.”

I picked up the book, rubbed my toe, and began leafing through the pages again. I didn't want any part of this conversation, puns or no puns. It was just way too much information.

Things were quiet for a few minutes, and I could tell Paterson was thinking. “You know,” she said, “I could circumcise you.”

I dropped the book again.

“Excuse me?” Joey said. “But it sounded like you said you could circumcise me, and that couldn't possibly be what I heard.”

Paterson looked up from the sketch pad. “Not literally, of course.”

“Of course,” Joey said.

Paterson put down her pencil and clapped her hands. “Let's have a bris.”

Joey sat upright and crossed his legs. “A what?”

“It's when a Jewish baby boy is eight days old, and they do the circumcision in front of everyone at a big party,” I explained.

“Whoa.” Joey's voice raised an octave. “You're kidding. A party?”

Paterson opened the top drawer of her dresser and pulled out a small white object and a huge purple scarf. She threw the scarf around her shoulders and unfolded the white silky thing, which I recognized as a yarmulke she had taken from our cousin's bar mitzvah. At the time I had reminded her they were just for the men. “Why should they get everything?” she'd said, reaching into the basket at the temple.

She put the yarmulke on her head. “It's a few years late,” she told Joey, “but, hey, it's never too late for a party.”

Joey covered his crotch with a pillow. “This is one party I could do without. And, by the way, don't you have to have some training in this? And aren't you supposed to be Jewish at least?”

Paterson leaned toward her art box to get something. “My father's mother is Jewish. That makes me one…” She thought for a second and shook her head. “One-somethingth Jewish.”

“One fourth,” I said. I've always been a little better in math.

Paterson lifted a huge eraser in the air and announced. “Behold, the holy instrument.” She turned the easel toward us and began erasing Joey's penis.

Joey curled into a fetal position. “The pain, the pain,” he cried in a voice that was supposed to sound like a baby's, but sounded more like a really bad opera diva. I was laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes. I doubled over in the rocking chair and screamed, “Stop, you're killing me.” Then I grabbed a pillow from the back of the bed and beat Joey over the head with it.

Meanwhile Paterson remained unfazed by the performance, lost in her world of simulated surgery. When she finished, there was a blank spot on the sketch pad where Joey's penis had been.

Joey stopped screaming to see what she'd done. “Please,” he shouted, “fill it in, quick. It hurts to even look at it.”

Paterson picked up the charcoal pencil and quickly sketched a circumcised penis in place of where Joey's had been. “There,” she said, pointing to the sketch. “And now I present you with a boy who is a cut above the rest.”

I groaned as Joey yelled, “Ouch! That hurts even more than the fake circumcision.”

“Thank you. Thank you,” Paterson said with a bow, ignoring our lack of enthusiasm for her jokes. “Applause will do fine. No tips, please.”

Joey was rolling on the bed, moaning and laughing at the same time, when I spotted an old sketch Paterson
had done of me. “Hey,” I said. “Can you do that for me—you know, plastic surgery by charcoal pencil?”

Paterson picked up the sketch. “Sure, why not. What do you want me to do?”

“Make my boobs smaller.”

Paterson laid Joey's picture on the floor and sat mine up on the wooden easel.

“I'm warning you,” Joey said. “It'll hurt.”

I laughed and watched as Paterson waved the eraser over my chest. She made a few scribbles on the paper and…

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