By Joyce Jacobo
[Author’s Note: I posted, and then took down this fairytale yesterday due to a few different reasons. Mostly to do with self-confidence. Anyway, I wrote this tale for a creative writing course a few years ago, and certain elements of it have since wound up coming back in other stories I’ve done. It feels a bit rough, but I hope everyone enjoys it!]
From the window of Unique Gifts, a toyshop along Artisan Lane, a porcelain ballerina watched snow fall in graceful twirls. She stood atop a music box—crafted to stand un pointe with one leg lifted and bent at the knee, while her arms swept above her head like swan wings. A light brush stroke had formed her rose petal lips, and in the moonlight the silver gown she wore glittered like sequins.
Her beauty did attract the notice of passersby, on occasion. Maybe they even considered buying the ballerina. The problem was that sadness constantly haunted her face, and distraction filled her eyes; she never smiled. Anyone who gazed upon her for any length of time tended to grow uncomfortable, forlorn, and eager to leave.
It was a problem Mr. Gimble, the toyshop owner, had faced for more than a month now. Or, at least, ever since he had first found the ballerina broken and battered in the streets of Tinker Town.
Had the solution been as simple as fixing a broken spring, or another similar repair, he would have done so in a moment. And indeed, he had spent much time in mending all the parts necessary for her to function again.
But there were certain things even his deft fingers were unable to heal, for the true issue lay at the very heart of the ballerina.
“I used to perform The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies all the time,” the ballerina confessed to Mr. Gimble, after yet another passerby had hurried away. “It was my song, and I loved to dance it at every opportunity. Then one of the springs in the music box broke at the climax of my dance. I felt it snap. It hurt so much—almost as much as when my previous owner tossed me out afterwards.”
“But I would never, ever throw you away like that,” Mr. Gimble had insisted, his long white beard swishing from side to side over his large belly. “Everything in my shop gest treated with the greatest care, and I make sure each toy goes to a loving home.”
The ballerina sighed in regret, and several times, just for him, the ballerina had tried to turn on her pedestal. Yet the slightest clink of the music box melody made her tremble so much that she would stop almost at once. It was too hard to dance when dancing had caused her such heartache in the past.
Eventually, the ballerina gave up trying; a point even came when she began to wonder what had made dancing worthwhile in the first place. She stayed still and quiet.
It must be said, though, that Mr. Gimble continued to hope she would find happiness again.
One evening the ballerina awoke to find a teddy bear seated beside her. He was quite scruffy—with fur the hue of sawdust, a green cap atop his head, and a checkered scarf about his neck. Mr. Gimble said he had found him in a bargain bin, placed there since he lacked a mouth like the other teddy bears.
If the missing mouth or bargain bin experience had impacted the bear at all, he didn’t show it. He wobbled into a standing position and tipped his cap to the ballerina, a greeting she returned with a polite curtsy.
That might have been the end, with the ballerina returning to her usual snowflake vigil—except the bear kept his button eyes focused on her. Then he did something peculiar. Shifting onto what the ballerina assumed were his tiptoes, the bear lifted his pudgy arms in a pale imitation of her own pose. He raised his right leg. But the moment he tried to bend it (though he had no actual knee to speak of) the teddy bear flopped hard onto his face. His hard nose rapped hard against the sill, making the ballerina gasp and clasp both hands over her mouth in shock.
No sooner had this happened, though, then the bear had reached his feet once more (although he did take a moment to rub his snout)—and tried the same again. He flopped down again and again. He wouldn’t give up, and all the while determination shone in his face. It would have been easier for him if only he tried a different approach.
So the ballerina raised her arms above her head again, and slowly unbent her knee to stand on tiptoe with both feet. The teddy bear followed suit. Sure enough, he managed to stay upright. His button eyes twinkled, and his stich-work smile widened in such clear happiness the ballerina couldn’t help smiling herself. Yes, she said with a nod, you’ve done a good job.
Then the teddy bear continued to watch her, expectant, and the ballerina realized with a wavering sense of goodwill he was waiting for her to continue. She hesitated. Standing was one thing, but dancing… she moved ever-so-slightly, heard the springs tightening in the music box below, and shuddered. Yet the teddy bear continued at her with his bright button eyes.
At that moment, the ballerina realized she could be the one to break something this evening—the bear’s heart. By her rejection.
That was a thing she absolutely refused to accept.
The ballerina took a deep breath and proceeded to turn on her pedestal, trembling badly but keeping her glance fixed on the teddy bear.
Soon the small, terrifying clink gave way to a low soft melody from the music box. It had a wistful quality she hadn’t remembered before, and the ballerina felt the vibrations tingling up her legs. An odd warmth spread through her body as the teddy bear followed along. These were sensations the ballerina remembered. The movement of each graceful twirl, the arch of her arms at certain parts in the song, and even The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies itself were beautiful memories. The trembling eased after the first turn, which felt so wonderful the ballerina spun again and again. Meanwhile the teddy bear mirrored her as well as he could.
Ah, how the ballerina loved to dance! She wanted to keep doing it forever alongside her newfound friend, no matter what.
This idea stunned the ballerina and she stopped—squelching the music. The teddy bear also made a sudden stop, but it ended in him taking another tumble. He sat up, rubbed the back of his head with one paw in embarrassment, and tipped his cap to her.
The gesture was so silly, combined with everything the ballerina had just experienced, that she doubled over in laughter. The teddy bear’s eyes lit up in his own clear happiness, and soon the pair was off again, dancing until dawn (when all toys and figurines sleep). The ballerina curtsied and the bear bowed to each other at the end.
Wondrous times followed for the pair, filled with performances that went on for hours. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies mixed with the laughs of the ballerina, her spirit light and free as the snowflakes that swirled past the window. Sometimes they would even hold special shows just for Mr. Gimble, who often paused in his work to watch and applaud them—a grin on his face.
One evening the ballerina noticed a child. A girl with curly, gingery hair and eyes wide in wonder peered at the teddy bear and her through the window, bundled in a heavy coat and followed by her mother. Mr. Gimble invited them into his shop, asking if they might like to watch a performance. They did. In fact, the ballerina and teddy bear danced with such glee, even the girl was trying to twirl as they did by the end.
“Someday, I want to become a dancer too,” the girl told Mr. Gimble. “It’s my dream.”
“That’s a beautiful dream. Make sure to never let it go,” Mr. Gimble replied. Then he gently picked up both the ballerina and the teddy bear. “Would you like to take care of these performers for me, and to dance together?”
The girl accepted, and before long she carried both the ballerina and teddy bear to their new home, while Mr. Gimble bid them farewell with deep-throated laughter that sounded much like a dream itself.
From then on, they danced every night, merry as any companions could ever be.
The ballerina never feared breaking again, for dancing and friendship were well worth that risk.