“Awkward Charli”

This story is inspired by, and dedicated to my sister Shelley, who was a gifted dancer, but the twists and turns of life took her down a different path,….but a dancer’s heart never unlearns the desire. Though limbs may grow stiff, the suppleness of the heart only expands with time….so glide and bend, reach and spin with your dancer’s heart….!

Charli woke up slowly, stretching her arms up to play with the dust that danced in the morning sunlight. She noticed the boney knobs on each side of her tiny wrists, and the fingers so long and thin, like a stick insect, as her brother Trent mockingly liked to compare her to. Charli kicked back the covers and stretched one leg up beside her arm, frowning at the knobbly knee with its array of pink scars. Every time she played netball she fell over, no matter how hard she tried to stay upright. Saturday was netball day, and she could hear the rest of the family awake and eager downstairs.
Trent played footy, Dad coached footy, and everybody watched the footy! Mum played netball too, and three times a week she went to aerobics. Charli often imagined that she must be adopted. She was sure her real parents must be knobbly like her, and never went to the football at all.
“Charli!” she heard her father bellow from the foot of the stairs. How she hated her name. It was a boy’s name to begin with, and it was just another thing that made her feel different. The only Charli she knew of was a prince in England somewhere, and if she remembered rightly, he had rather large ears! She wished she had a princess’s name like Elizabeth or Margot, or some other name equally as interesting or enchanting.
Her mind wandered through the tales of royalty and heroic adventures, the pictures in her mind captioned by inspirational words. She suddenly remembered she must find her word for the day. It was a little private ritual Charli enjoyed greatly. ‘Filtered’,like the sunshine through the dust. The dust ‘flittered’ between the rays of light, both ‘floating’ above her. Down in the kitchen, with the toast popping and the kettle steaming, she told everyone her special words.
“See Mummy, I’m flittering, filtering, floating,” sang Charli as she spun and twirled around the table. Mum laughed, Trent groaned, and Dad growled.
“I don’t know about ‘filter’, but I know I’ll ‘flatten’ you if you don’t get a wriggle on,” he said, with a hint of laughter in his voice.
Charli tried to concentrate on the game, but most of the time the other girls avoided throwing the ball to her. She didn’t blame, because she wasn’t a very reliable catch. She watched as the breeze filled the tiny pleats of her skirt, and it was quite a shock when the ball bounced off the side of her head with a deafening thud. Between the gasps of concern, Charli could hear the careless laughter, but she had learnt to live with those embarrassing moments.
Riding the bus to school on Monday, Charli rubbed the bump on her head, reluctantly remembering the humiliation. She turned her attention once again to the lady sitting across the aisle, her dark hair pulled back into an elegant bun, a few silver streaks sparking in the sun as she turned her head to smile. She was tall and graceful, her skirts bouncing gently around her calves as she glided from her seat.
“I bet she is a duchess,” imagined Charli. She was on the bus each weekday and Charli fantasized that she must have a daily rendezvous with some extremely handsome and rich gentleman. Charli sighed as she imagined a suitably romantic and tragic ending.
The following Saturday morning Charli proudly presented her new word as they all sat around the breakfast table. It was ‘moustache’, appropriately pronounced ‘moostarsh’.
“You mean ‘musstash’,” Trent said, curling his lip sarcastically.
“No!” answered Charli indignantly. “Janet’s dad has the most wonderful ‘moostarsh’. It curls up at the end like on Sherlock Holmes! Why don’t you grow one Daddy, you’d look exquisite,” Charli suggested excitedly.
“Oh no I wouldn’t, I’d look ridiculous! And you’re being ridiculous Charli. Just get ready,” Dad said impatiently. “And since when does a bloke look exquisite?” he said as an afterthought, shaking his head.
“I don’t want to go,” Charli muttered with a pout. “I’m no good at netball.”
“You have to go. One can’t let one’s team down girl; it’s just not cricket,” Dad said importantly.
“It’s netball,” Charli said quietly, knowing she was being impudent, and Dad let her know about it!
This time she hurt her wrist. Charli nursed her arm in a sling made from one of Mum’s floral scarves. She retired to her room to sulk, and she couldn’t even ‘imagine’ herself out of her bad mood. Mum came in and sat quietly on the bed for a minute.
“This can’t go on. What will we do with you Charli?” she mused. As if answering her own question, she revealed a photo of a young girl around about Charli’s age, standing in the sunshine, her arms flung wide and smiling broadly. Mum explained it was her younger sister. Charli looked puzzled for a moment.
“Aunt Kate?” she questioned.
“No. This is Charlene. She died when she was only twelve. I named you after her Charli,” Mum said distractedly. Charli noticed her mother looked sad.
“She’s beautiful Mummy. She looks like she belongs in heaven. Charlene is such an angelic name.” She smiled up at her Mum and put her tiny hand over hers. “I think I would have liked her.”
“Oh Charli, for once I think you’re right,” Mum said, pulling her close. “And I think she would have liked you.” Mum straightened then, and looked like she had made up her mind about something.
“Tomorrow I’ll pick you up from school. There’s somewhere I want to take you,” she said, patting Charli gently on her head.
That night Charli noticed that Charlene’s picture was carefully placed beside the family photo on the T.V.
To Charli’s surprise and delight, Madame Isabelle, of Madame Isabelle’s Dance Academy, was the imaginary duchess from the bus! “You may remember my sister Madame Isabelle, although it was many years ago now,” said Mum, sounding a little embarrassed.
“I never forget a student!” assured Madame Isabelle.
“Charlene,” continued Mum. “Charlene Tibbet?”
Madame Isabelle threw her an imaginary kiss from her crimson lips. “Oh oui! Belle!” she exclaimed. “It was a sad time, non?” she added respectfully, placing her hand over her heart. Charli noticed her fingers were long and expressive, much like her own, and was enthralled by her subtle sense of drama.
“This is Charli, my daughter. I think she might be like Charlene. Would you teach her?” Mum asked, and only Charli would have noticed the slight quiver in her voice.
“Oh oui! Sharli!” said Madame Isabelle, gently clasping Charli’s hand between her own.
Sharli! Even her name sounded beautiful when Madame Isabelle said it.
At Madame Isabelle’s Dance Academy, Charli could twirl and jump and float to her heart’s content, her chiffon skirt billowing like pink mist around her. The ballets were even more dramatic and romantic than Charli could even imagine herself. And the words for every movement were like music to Charli’s ears. Charli thought that French must be the language of heaven! She thought that Charlene must be quite at home there. Charli never had any trouble finding a new word for the day.
“This is called a ‘pirouette’,” she explained as she spun across the loungeroom.
“I thought it was called ‘annoying’,” said Trent sarcastically.
“Oh be quiet Trent!” Dad said sternly. “That’s real interesting pet,” he added, folding his arms and nodding, looking somewhat awkward in his gentleness. Dad was more accustomed to appreciating a great mark!
“And this is an ‘arabesque’,” Charli continued excitedly, stretching her leg as high as she could behind her. Charli realized with warm satisfaction, that unlike netball, she never fell over when she was dancing, and no one ever laughed.
Charli danced as a sugarplum fairy in the end of year concert. Apart from the joy she felt finally doing what she loved, she felt an equal sense of joy watching her family smiling and clapping in the audience.
“You were cool!” said Trent with a gentle shove to the ribs. “For a stick creature,” he added, with a wink.

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