Updated: Oct 16
Second Round Entry, 2020 NYCMIDNIGHT Flash Contest
Genre: Drama | Prompts: Ballet School, Clover
A man stops by the place where his heart lives to muster the courage to keep going. But should he?
I’ve got a rifle in my duffle today.
The world is cruel, and this is the only damn thing I can do about it.
I walked a half mile out of my way to come by at Miriam’s School of Ballet first. My wife started this school forty-five years ago, teaching until the day she died.
This square cement building is uglier than a battlefield, but beautiful to me. I heave out a sigh. After shuffling to the bench on the entrance’s grassy knoll, I slide my duffle underneath. I grip the arm for balance and lower onto the seat.
I’ll just stay a minute. Maybe I’ll feel Miriam’s presence, and it’ll give me the strength to fire this rifle one last time.
The school’s door swings open and a little girl, maybe four or five, comes flying out wearing a ruffled pink tutu. She’s still got her ballet shoes on, which is a big no-no at Miriam’s School of Ballet. Dirty slippers are prohibited on the dance floor.
Sure enough, a woman blasts out the door, yelling, “Silvia, your shoes!”
“Sorry, Mommy!” Silvia plunks down on the steps and yanks off her slippers before darting barefoot into the grass.
The mother groans, chasing the tot while lugging a purse, a backpack, and a lunchbox. Ah, the frustration of parenthood.
Something Miriam and I never got to experience. After our sixth miscarriage, Miriam said she couldn’t go through it again. Neither could I, God’s honest truth.
If there is a God, which I’m not so sure about, he’s cruel. How could a woman who adored children not have any of her own?
I bury my face in my palms. And why am I the one who gets to keep living? Miriam had the heart of an angel. My hands are covered in blood.
“This is for you.” Silvia punctuates each word.
I study my boots.
“For you, mister.” Her tiny voice grows even more insistent.
I look up to see the little ballerina holding a clover out for me to take. It looks like it has five leaves on it, but that can’t be. Not even the St. Patrick’s decorations Miriam used to hang on the ballet school’s windows had five-leafed clovers. And a real one? It has to be my failing vision.
I squint and lean in to study it.
Ah, this little girl is clever. It’s three clovers twisted together, a leaf from one likely plucked.
I push my duffle further under the seat with my foot as I shift my gaze in Silvia’s direction. “Are you giving this to me?”
She flashes a bright, dimpled grin. “Yup!”
“Well, you can’t do that, ma dear.” I point. “It has five leaves. It’ll bring you lots and lots of luck.”
She does a full-body headshake, as only kids can do. “Five leaves don’t bring luck, silly. They bring love, and you need love.”
Her words suck the breath from my chest. She’s right, I could use some love today. “I dunno what to say.” My jaw wobbles as I speak.
“Take it.” Silvia’s mother says, smiling at me. “She’s passionate about sharing, and she doesn’t give up. Trust me, she won’t leave until you take it.”
“Well, all right then.” I take the intertwined clovers, careful not to let them separate. “You’re very kind.”
“Do you live close to here?” Silvia asks.
I chuckle. “Yes, a few blocks south.”
Sylvia proceeds to tell me that she lives in a blue house two streets away with her dog, Bailey. I should stand and excuse myself, but I can’t bring myself to leave.
The longer I sit, the more I doubt my ability to carry out this job. I’m old, retired, and a coward. And this time, it’s personal.
Plus, I’m actually smiling right now. I haven’t smiled in...well, I can’t remember the last time.
Finally, Sylvia is dragged away by her mother, but she escapes and runs back to me. “I have to ask you a question.” She puts a hand on her hip. “Can you come back tomorrow?”
“Sylvia,” her mother cuts in. “I’m sure he’s busy. Honey, we don’t even know him.”
“I do.” Sylvia points to the pin on my lapel. “Look.” She focuses on me. “My daddy got that because he died being brave.”
Her mother covers her mouth, her eyes shadowed with pain, a feeling I know all too well.
My eyes mist, but I blink it away. Calloused old coots like me don’t cry.
Before I can respond, a familiar voice from behind says, “Well, hello.” Lieutenant Langston nods at Silvia and her mother, introducing himself before pointing to me. “I see you’ve met Captain Brennan. He was brave, too. He saved the lives of five people, including his best friend. That’s how he earned that Purple Heart.”
“I knew it.” Silvia smiles proudly.
Langston approaches me. “I thought I might find you here. I came to accompany you.” He clears his throat. “In case you needed it.” He turns back to Silvia and her mother. “Today, Captain Brennan is honoring that best friend with a three-volley salute.”
“Sorry for your loss,” Silvia’s mother says.
“Thank you.” After a beat of silence, I turn to Langston. “I can’t do it. The sound of gunfire…” I trail off, my hands trembling. “I can’t.”
Silvia approaches and grabs my arm. “At Miriam’s School of Ballet, we say, ‘When we think we can’t, we let our bodies do as they’ve been trained to do.’”
I meet Silvia’s big round eyes. “That’s sound advice, young lady.”
Oh, my sweet, wise Miriam.
Maybe that handmade five-leaf clover brought me my love after all. A tear rolls down my cheek as I pick up my duffle and stand. Saluting the little ballerina, I say, “Roger that. I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Silvia.”
* * *
A heartfelt thanks to Shelby Van Pelt, Katina Ferguson, Deena Short, Brenda Lowder, Jill Cobb, and Jenny Ling for being all around amazing help.