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Mom's Cue

Mom's Cue

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Published by Maisha Z. Johnson
A fictionalized version of a lesson my mom taught me as a child
A fictionalized version of a lesson my mom taught me as a child

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Published by: Maisha Z. Johnson on Dec 18, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/12/2014

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Maisha Z. JohnsonMom¶s CueBefore I shoved the doll into my cubby for the last time, I stopped to wonder if my mom hadn¶tembedded her eyes into the thing, too. As ballerinas bustled around me, busy like pink ants slick with hairspray, the doll watched me with black beady eyes both dark and bright, in a way Ithought only my mother¶s eyes could be. As if they could see all, as I knew my mother¶s eyescould.She hadn¶t let the doll go by unseen. For all the other girls, the dolls were a treasure. We¶dmoved up in the Nutcracker world ± just last year, some of us were crawling around on the stage playing Babies or Mice. But we would be regarded as undignified babies no more. Now, asfourth and fifth graders, we were old enough to have a proper role, as the Girls who danced withthe star of the show. These dolls, our props, our pride, were our ticket to the world of ballet, aworld we¶d been crawling beneath as mere children ± now, we would point our toes and dance asreal ballerinas. Or something.It wasn¶t this way for me, of course. Not anymore. My doll was the only one of its kind, the onlyfreak. It wasn¶t like that the day I got it. I remembered being thrilled as the others that day,climbing into the back of my mom¶s van after rehearsal, stroking the doll¶s peach face, lookinginto her eyes, which seemed less bright then, and smiling until my mom looked over her shoulder at me and pressed her foot on the brake, in spite of the line of cars behind us.³What is that?´ she said, and immediately the doll felt wrong in my hands, like it was growingwarm, like a hot potato. Cars were honking behind us, waiting for my answer, since she wouldn¶tmove without it, and I was suddenly tempted to toss the doll out the window, though I wasn¶tsure why.³It¶s my doll,´ I said. ³For the show.´³That¶s the doll they gave you? You don¶t see anything wrong with that?´ She looked me in theeye as she said this, but this time she wasn¶t waiting for my answer. She turned the van around,right there in the middle of the road, and went back to the ballet studio to make a fuss. Mymother, always the only one to make a fuss.So there I was, the day of opening night, my mother¶s fuss replacing my pride with shame. Asmy mother explained with satisfaction after she returned from arguing with Miss Pierce, my ballet instructor, now the doll would look like me.I looked up, found a space in the mirror that didn¶t have a dancer applying makeup in it, frownedand touched my own face. Did this thing really look like me? Dark brown dye was sticking to its peach skin like tar on an unfinished road. It gathered in gobs at the corners of its eyes, asforgotten streaks of it dried in drips on the doll¶s backside. I couldn¶t help feeling that this dollwas destroyed, never meant to be seen on the grand Nutcracker stage.³Come on, we¶re on in two minutes!´ one of other Girls called to me as she rushed by.
 
Maisha Z. JohnsonI set the doll down in the cubby. It would have to stay behind.The warmth of the stage lights sizzled into the dark space back stage, our bodies sweatingalready as we fidgeted, waiting for our cue. No matter how much I mimed holding onto the dollonstage, I knew Miss Pierce would notice right away that it was missing, and I would probably be hearing about it as soon as we finished our dance. But she wasn¶t the one I was worried about.I knew where my mother would be sitting ± second row ± and I could feel her eyes on me even backstage.My heart forgot a beat, and our musical cue dropped in its place. I couldn't draw a smile from thedepths of my nervous energy, but I pointed my toes and glided onto the stage with the others,waiting a full eight counts before I let my eyes fall to where my mother was sitting.She wasn¶t there.Her red seat glowed in its emptiness. My mom knew my cue better than I did. She had to knowthat I was dancing. Where was she? I tried to breathe, tried to feel relieved, remembered that atleast now she wouldn¶t have to see that I¶d left the doll behind. But it wasn¶t working. Did I look as alone as I felt, the only one on stage without a doll? There was something else I was lookingfor as I fell a half-step behind, scanning the pale crowd for her face. I was searching for another face like mine. Now I was behind, and alone, and my mother wasn¶t even watching. The stage exit was just afew steps away, the building exit just a few feet from there. I could slip away now, let these people forget I ever tried to be a part of their show.Before I could, though, a door at the back of the auditorium opened, and there they were. Twofaces like mine. My mother, with unending determination gleaming in her all-seeing eyes,coming down the aisle toward the stage, holding above her head the dark doll I¶d left behind. Iwatched her soar toward me ± not my mother, who was more charging than soaring, but the dollgliding above her head. Maybe she did look like me, after all. Swimming through the school of white faces, her dark face aglow beneath the lights, she reminded me more of myself than ever  before.That was my mother, trying to add some color to this world. And that was my doll.Miss Pierce was in the crowd flailing her arms, trying to stop her. The only thing worse thanhaving a dollless girl in her show would be to have an interruption in it. But nothing could stopmy mom. She stopped where she was, lifted her strong arms and sent my doll flying toward me. Never mind that my doll didn¶t look like the others. Never mind that I wasn¶t the star of theshow, and to catch her I¶d have to step out of line with a leap, as if I was a star. Never mind thatthe crowd had never seen a black girl dance like this before, and they might never again, becauseno sane choreographer would put together such a routine.As I leapt into the air and my little dark doll and I moved toward each other, I understood who

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1 hundred reads
Daniel Essman added this note
Hey Women...if you can feel your mother's eyes judging your every move, this story is for you, this story is alchemical all the way to gold...
Daniel Essman added this note
The way you make transitions from one thought/image to the next is sooo cool and just right and invisible...your hauling the draught horse of language into a more graceful world...not of toll bridges but a different world entirely...of crossfades and seques...sooo smooth....!
Phantomimic added this note
Lovely story, about accepting our individuality.
Carl F Maulbeck added this note
Great thread - ³It¶s my doll,´ I said. ³For the show" ... "That was my mother, trying to add some color to this world. And that was my doll" ... "Let¶s start now, I thought. Let them see us smile, dark doll." - very good, maisha
Carl F Maulbeck liked this

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