A Human Candle

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"I think you need to pick a different song."

"Nan, Ms. Anceps is letting me pick my own song this time. She even has the music on a cassette. Just the music without the words. It's too perfect."

Nan gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white. Her mouth had become a pale, thin line.

"Rachel, are you trying to be funny?"

"People only know one song from that show. Nobody even knows 'Think of Me.' Everybody just knows the phantom song."

"It's a little strange."

"But you like musicals, Nan!"

Nan shook her head, keeping her eyes straight ahead. She veered the vehicle into the parking lot of the dance studio.

"I don't think it's right for you to pay attention to that musical."

"Why not?" Rachel whined. "I really like Phantom of the Opera and you always get so weird when I talk about it."

Nan snorted out a dry laugh. "I wonder why that is."

"I already told Ms.Anceps that's the song I want to do."

She grabbed her dance bag from the floor and hopped out of the car, slamming the door behind her.

"So, it's next Tuesday night, Nan. Ms.Anceps says that she'll bring me if you want. Or we can meet her there. It's going to raise a lot of money for the victims of that fire."

Nan narrowed her eyes and said nothing. They made their way through the parking lot, gray storm clouds gathering above.

Once inside, Rachel watched her grandmother fall into a circle of mothers. They became engrossed in a heated conversation about the cost of the recital costumes. Nan doled out advice for cutting corners. Heading towards the changing room, Rachel heard Nan explain how to curl ringlets with tinfoil instead of buying an expensive Irish Step hair piece.

Rachel hung her bag and removed her sneakers, replacing them with jazz boots. Jazz was Rachel's worst class. She didn't enjoy it very much either, but Nan was adamant that Rachel study to become a well-rounded dancer. Rachel's favorite class was Irish Step. She loved the quick, frenetic movements and the delightful juxtaposition of a stiff upper body and a flurry of movements in the lower body. It was like her body was disjointed at the waist. Like she was one of those Barbie stencils where you could splice different torsos and legs together to mix and match outfits.

Entering the classroom, Rachel saw the clusters of other kids, milling about in tights and t-shirts, leggings and leotards. She made her way to the center of the room and stood at spot eight on the second line, her assigned place for warm-ups and practice dances. She stretched, eyes flitting over the confines of the windowless room, and the mirror that ran the length of the large space. Smiling kids, playing and chattering, filled the glassy wall. Then there was her, a one-eyed monster with marred and wrinkled skin. Her breathing hitched and she looked away. She wouldn't look at herself. She wouldn't compare her own image to those of the girls around her. She shouldn't do it, not when she'd always come up short.

Miss Deb entered the room then, twirling a long, thin finger in the air.

"Line up," she called. "Social hour over. Dance hour now."

She shuffled through a pile of cassettes stacked next to the stereo, keeping her back to the class.

"By the time I turn around, there are gonna be two lines. That's right, two lines today! We are doing the electric slide."

The music started and Miss Max took her place at the front of the room.

"Okay!" she called out over the pulsing music. "And...five...six...seven...eight!"

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