Daddy used to say it before he moved away to live with Vanessa.
“Your mother is a party and a half,” he would say. “But I’m not much of a partying man.”
My sister Anna and I knew how to party, too. We knew which shoes were party shoes and which were meant for rainstorms or school.
Daddy said we did a different kind of partying, but we believed what Mommy told us.
“If I can see your toenails, I’d better see that sparkle polish we bought last week,” Mom would say. “When we dance, we’ll see those tootsies twinkle!”
She taught us how to light up the floor and wag our fingers at spectators. She said we should have so much fun dancing, we should encourage others to join in the fun. Mom could get people off their feet with a wink and a twirl. She told us we could learn to do that, too, if we had enough fun and spark in us, which she knew we did. Most days were practice days—so we could learn how to share our spark.
“Where does the spark come from?” Anna asked once.
The answer was simple. It had to do with the fairies.
One morning just before Anna’s birthday, Mom told us to get dressed in our best church outfits. Matching hats and gloves, our pretty puffer coats, and closed-toe shoes. The black patent leather ones with the straps and bows we’d learned to fasten ourselves when we became “big girls.”
Anna wanted to know why we were dressing for church if we weren’t going to church.
“God sees you wherever you go. So, he’ll know that you did your best to look nice,” Mom said.
Anna whined. She wanted to wear red glitter shoes and pink tights.
“God knows if you’re trying to ignore him for a party outfit,” Mom said.
Anna didn’t argue. I knew she was still upset, but she changed and I helped her with her black shoes. She wore sparkle underpants with The Little Mermaid on them and figured since no one could see, that was OK.
Mom took us to a building we’d never been to before.
“Do we get to dance when we’re inside?” I asked.
“Do you dance in church?”
I smiled because I knew the answer. It was an easy one.
“I can dance inside my heart at church.”
Mom nodded and took Anna by the hand when we walked through the parking lot.
“These fuckers’ll run over anyone,” she said. Then she added, “Don’t repeat that.”
Anna looked at me and mouthed the words “run over” and tucked her chin to her chest for a muzzled giggle. I smiled at her and followed Mom’s footsteps. Her clicks and clacks were tighter than usual, closer together. But I kept up. I knew how to keep up with Mom.
Inside the building was an elevator, which was our favorite game to play. We’d race in one elevator and Mom would guess which floor we picked. If Anna was choosing, she’d always pick the fifth floor because she was five and said it was her favorite number. Mom told me it’s polite to let your little sister have the pick of things sometimes, because I’d usually do things first in life. Mom would race in another elevator and would always be sitting, waiting, on the floor we’d chosen. She was really good at the game.
That day, Mom walked through the heavy gray doors and pushed a button. Anna wanted to say something—I could tell. But I stared at her with eyes of ice, certain that almost anything might upset Mom today.
When the elevator doors slid open on our floor, two glass doors stood in front of us, covered with writing, like a grocery list.
“Mommy, what does it say?” Anna said.
Mom stared at the door for a long time before looking down at us. I wondered if she was translating the writing. Maybe it was in another language.
“It says, ‘Danger ahead! Only the brave shall pass!’” Mom said. “And how do the brave prepare for danger?”
Anna rubbed her hands together and spread her stance. Then she said, “Elika zelika belika zoo!”
I needed to think on my feet, like Anna. So I rubbed static electricity between my hands and hair and stretched my fingers wide in front of us.
“I’m passing electricity through the glass door,” I told Mom.
She smiled and told me that was a good idea.
She closed her eyes and told us she felt the fairies in her stomach. Fairies make you brave because they eat your fear. I’d forgotten about that, but Anna said she’d already thought about the fairies. They reminded her of the words to her spell.
We walked through the door, which opened to a room lined with chairs and tables stacked with magazines. The glossy covers had big writing and pregnant ladies on them.
That’s when I knew we were in a doctor’s office, but I didn’t know what for. I told Anna not to ask any questions because “all would reveal itself in time.” That was the creed of the fairies.
We waited in chairs, sitting like perfect princesses on thrones while Mom spoke with a woman behind a desk and wrote things down on papers we couldn’t see.
We waited all together some more. I wasn’t sure why, but everyone in the room was quiet.
That’s when Anna figured it out. Our job was to be the special people in the room. The people who could make a difference—turn some frowns upside down.
She stood in the middle of the room and got up on her tiptoes. She started to twirl very softly at first, waving her hands gently through the air, and I hummed the music from Swan Lake. She pretended to be the swan and glided over the floor in soft sweeps, lifting her toes at the right moments for the perfect arabesque, the pique turns, and all of the pirouettes we’d practiced at home.
“You’re perfect,” Mom said. “I can see your feathers!”
“They’re in your butt!” I said, seeing the sprouting tail myself.
Anna spun with bigger swooping hand motions, and Mom started to laugh. She knew the fairies were helping Anna, and I knew that, before long, others would join in the dance.
But they didn’t.
A woman walked over to the lady sitting behind the desk and whispered some things. Another joined her not long after that.
Then the woman from behind the desk walked over to Mom and told her that her daughter’s behavior was inappropriate, given the sensitive nature of their office.
“Well, it’s very dangerous here,” I told the woman. “Anna is coaxing out the danger.”
The woman raised an eyebrow, and a young woman sitting in a chair in the corner rubbed her stomach and shuddered.
I didn’t understand. Anna’s dance was perfect. It was sure to develop our bravery and make other people want to dance.
But Mom motioned for us to come close.
“The ladies in this room are delicate. Not anything like us. Your dancing reminds them of their own fear. They’re scared,” Mom said.
“What should we do?” I said.
“Well, I need to go into that room back there in a few minutes. It will take a little while. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30. I need you girls to be good and sit here quietly. You can say your spells and talk to each other, but no dancing, no playing on the floor, OK?”
“But what about the fairies?” Anna said.
“I need you to tell the fairies to go to Mommy’s stomach. I need them there. Can you do that?”
When Anna didn’t answer right away, I gave her a shove and told her I’d pick her nose later if she didn’t agree.
“I’ll put the boogers in your ears,” I said.
We nodded our heads, and a few minutes later the woman behind the desk called Mom’s name. She walked through a door, and we waited for a long time.
When Mom came back out, she looked white and tired. Her eyes were puffy and she didn’t look like she had any fairies in her at all. She picked up her coat and wound her scarf around her neck a few times before telling us it was time to go.
When we got into the elevator, we were all quiet.
“Are you OK?” I said to Mom.
She looked down at me, and I thought she might cry. I wondered if Anna’s dance had failed. If we’d lost our ability to make others want to dance. Anna looked scared, and I thought she might cry, too.
Mom slid her index finger up and down the button board in the elevator, lighting up each number.
“Come on,” she said. “We’re fairy hunting today. Let’s check every floor. They could be anywhere by now!”
Anna jumped up and down and so I did, too, and the elevator shook just enough to tell us the fairies were close.
“There they are!” Mom said. “They’re following us to every floor! I feel them in my toes!” And she started to tap her foot just slightly.
“If I dance too hard the fairies will fall out!” she said, and she asked Anna and me to dance for her, to conjure the fairies from each of the floors and into the elevator with us.
So Anna and I danced until we could hardly catch our breaths. And Mom told us if the dancing made our feet hurt, we could take off our shoes.
Kimberly Emilia has been previously published by Weave Magazine, Defenestration Moderator, Spirit Magazine, and Blue Lake Review. She holds an MFA from Arcadia University in Creative Writing and presently teaches writing and cultural studies for Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. She resides in Chester County with her supportive husband.