Ellen’s Steps

Ellen strutted across her parents’ living room, counting silently, and executed four flawless high kicks before curtsying to her audience: Georgie, lounging against one of the wingback chairs in her tweed slacks, and Cathy, perched on the sofa with crossed ankles and a expression of delight.

Cathy burst into applause. “Ellen, you’re fantastic!”

“That’s the whole routine?” Georgie raised an eyebrow.

“That’s what I’m auditioning with,” Ellen said patiently. “They’ll teach us all the dances when practices start next month.”

“Oh, Ellen, I’m so proud of you.” Cathy patted the couch next to her and Ellen sat, rolling her ankles to stretch them. She was used to dancing in heels, but these were old, the soles about as comfortable as bare floor. With the war on, though, it had become a point of pride among her fellow dancers to see who could go the longest without replacing their shoes.

“Don’t be proud yet,” Ellen said. “I still have to get through the audition.”

“Well, you’re as good as in, in my books! You’ve been dancing for as long as I’ve known you.”

“I’m confused how this helps the war,” Georgie said, folding her arms.

“It raises funds for war bonds.”

“I understand the marching like soldiers – ”

Cathy rolled her eyes. “They aren’t pretending to be soldiers, Georgie.”

“Oh, so it has to do with troop movements, then.” Georgie step-ball-changed her way around the couch. “Do the dancers represent the Western front, or the Eastern?”

“Georgie!” Cathy pressed a hand to her mouth, but Ellen could tell she was giggling.

“What’s the significance of that hip movement?” Georgie wriggled in imitation of one of Ellen’s least-favorite moves. “Does that represent the rolling hills of France?”

Please, Georgie.” Cathy winked. “It’s to impress Steve next time he sees her.”

“Will you two knock it off?” Ellen jumped up. “It’s got nothing to do with Steve.”

Georgie grinned and leaned against the mantel. “Is it because you get a fabulous costume, then?”

“It’s for Emma.”

“Oh.” Georgie fell silent.

For a few moments, the only sounds were the curtains flapping in the spring breeze and the distant clatter of Mama’s sewing machine upstairs. Somewhere over the fields, the Albertsons’ Piper Cub was dusting their orchards. Every time Ellen heard the plane and knew it wasn’t Emma flying it, her heart ached like she’d been stabbed. Her sister had only been able to send two letters in the six months she’d been gone, and the house was quiet without her.

Cathy got up and closed the window. The sound of the plane faded.

“Do you know where she is?” Georgie asked softly.

Ellen snorted and sat back down. “They never tell us. Could be Detroit, could be Oahu.”

“She was very brave to go.”

“We both wanted to go.” Ellen clenched her hands, digging her fingers into the satin cushion. “But she’s the pilot, and the mechanic, and the only one of us who’s managed to knock down Tommy Buchanan, though we’ve both tried.”

Georgie snorted. “Haven’t we all.”

“Me, I’m just the pretty one.” Ellen gestured to her pink dance costume. “I’m not smart enough or well-connected enough for military secretarial work. Papa refuses to let me help with farm work or take a factory job. I can’t even keep Mama’s victory garden alive. The only thing I can do is dance.”

Cathy frowned. “You know that’s not true.”

“Maybe, but that’s what matters to Uncle Sam.” Ellen stood, smoothing her skirt. “And if dancing is all I can do, then I’m going to dance in a way that does some good.”

They fell silent again. Ellen poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the sideboard and drank, staring out over the fields. The Piper Cub hummed across the clear sky, its yellow wings glinting in the sun.

“When is the audition?” Cathy asked.

“Seven tonight.”

“We’ll come watch you.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“You’re doing this for Emma, and we’ll do this for you.” Georgie squeezed her shoulder. “It’s the very least we can do.”

“And we’ll help you do more, if you’d like.” Cathy came to her other side. “There’s plenty of ways we can help, if we put our heads together.”

Ellen watched the Piper as it flew over the roof and out of sight. “Thanks, girls.”

Her feet still hurt, but her heart was lighter. Maybe they wouldn’t let her serve, but she’d fight in her own way, with her own allies – for Emma.

10 thoughts on “Ellen’s Steps

  1. I love this! You have inserted the prompts seamlessly. I actually had to go back and make sure “hip movements” was even in there. I enjoy the twist that you put in. I was lulled into complacency that this was a homefront WWI or II story and then you dropped all of these lovely hints about some future conflict. I want to read more of this story.

    • Thank you! It was definitely a WWII tale – I’d love to know which parts sounded potentially futuristic! I normally write SF so maybe some of that slipped in!

      • I missed your hyper-link about female pilots in WWII, and I totally didn’t know women flew for that war (kind of sexist of me in hindsight). Also the line about not knowing if Emma is in Detroit or Oahu made me think that the front lines were on US soil.

  2. Reading your work often, I assumed this was futuristic at first but knew at the mention of “victory gardens” where I was in history. I could have used a hint at Ellen’s age earlier in the piece. Two people watching a dance in a living room made me think she was 7 years old or so. Just a quick mention of long legs or lipstick would have set me straight.

  3. I liked how the characters’ personalities came through right from the beginning. I wanted to know more about how they were related… all sisters? something else? Great incorporation of the prompt.

  4. This was wonderful. So many time specific tidbits like the Victory Garden. I liked the sewing machine and how the women grew silent at the mention of Ellen. I loved how determined the MC was to not be defined by her beauty and what people thought she should do, by golly she was going to help with the skill that she had. I loved that spunkiness. I presume the women were friends and not family? Not that it is terribly important, but it does change the dynamic a bit if they were friends rather than sisters/close cousins.

    This was my favorite line: With the war on, though, it had become a point of pride among her fellow dancers to see who could go the longest without replacing their shoes.

  5. For me, the mention of ‘tweed slacks’ was enough to give me a sense of period which you then expanded on. Like Nate, it wasn’t until later that I got a good sense of the MC’s age, but that didn’t matter much as far as enjoyment went.

  6. I love that you’re playing with historical fiction in this piece. You’ve captured the feel of the era very nicely and the connection between the girls (their shared history/experiences) is clear. I was a little confused about Emma initially, and it wasn’t until she was specifically described as the Ellen’s sister that it became clear what her relationship and significance was. Because of my early confusion and the ambiguity around her relationship with Ellen, I started to wonder what this story would look like with Emma as the love interest rather than her sister.

  7. Pingback: Welcome to YeahWrite’s Weekly Writing Challenge #418 - YeahWrite

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