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Gabriel Shanks and Jacqueline Gaulin

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Gabriel Shanks
“A Lost Thing Found”

Created using Jacqueline Gaulin’s story (below) as inspiration

Excerpt From Girls Dancing
A Short Story by Jacqueline Gaulin

Madame Dupres Ballet Studio was on the third floor of a large turreted brownstone, which I passed on my way to the Blue Room, the exclusive gentlemen’s club in downtown Washington, D.C.  I stopped by every week or so just to remember how much I loved ballet. With an hour to spare before my exotic dancing debut, I climbed the wooden stairs to the studio, and peered in. I watched the little girls in pink leotards leap and twirl and longed to be them when Madame Dupre said, “Girls, take the bar.”

I wanted to take the bar like my mother did in the photos I found when I was five, hidden behind the boxes of Christmas stuff under the basement stairs.

That’s when I started dancing alone in my room, longing to be the beautiful girl in the fluffy costume that everyone adored. My mother curtseyed in one photo, the crowd at its feet. In another she held bunches of colorful flowers and grinned ear to ear. My mother never smiled at me that way — with a deep down happiness that covered her whole face.

For years I practiced the same routine when I heard my mother playing her classical music records on the stereo in the living room. First, I would pull my hair back into a tight bun like my mother’s hair was in the pictures. Sometimes I would put on white tights and belt a pink towel around my waist, before I lined up my dolls and stuffed animals in rows on the bed. Spinning and leaping, I felt pretty and perfectly poised. When I’d get dizzy, I’d bow before my audience, grateful they were all cheering for me. That’s when I’d smile my mother’s smile and wonder why I couldn’t take ballet lessons like all my other friends.

I slipped on a red g-sting and sheer red baby doll that grazed the end of my belly button and wondered if my mother would disown me if she knew I was dancing here. But I would tell her it was all a façade, like ballet, where girls like her danced fictional roles with love and passion, gracefully moving arms and legs, their elongated muscles making the dance an emotional display of physical beauty and strength.

The music was different here, but my motivation for dancing was the same  — admiration and applause. Even before I took the stage, the synthesized throbbing somehow transformed me into an x-rated fantasy for men who had probably left their manners at the door. Still I wanted to give them a good show.

Waiting for my turn backstage I watched the other girls who looked larger than life from a distance become real again as they passed me, leaving behind an airborne mix of sweat and antiperspirant; and I held my breath until the odor dissipated.

Exhaling, I stared at Marisa as she rubbed baby oil on her long bronze limbs and imagined her beauty was mine. I pretended my hair, like her hair, was long and straight and brown, my eyes, like her eyes, widespread with creamy beige cheekbones set high. Searching her body for the slightest flaw, I pulled a long curly blond wig over my red bob to become a caricature of my womanhood for the night. The curls fell more than half way down my back but they didn’t cover enough, nothing does, I thought, as I fumbled foundation and powder over my freckled face.

“Jamison, hon, what’s wrong,” Marisa asked.

“Nothing,” I told her as I fluffed my long curly blond hair with my fingers.

She touched my shoulder as her face peered over mine in the dressing room mirror.

My eyes checked the clock above the dressing room door. I took a deep breath before I strutted onstage. It was seven o’clock on a Friday when I peaked around the corner at the crowd of men who look eerily familiar yet unrecognizable. They all looked the same in suits and loosened ties: elected officials, attorneys, business executives, policy wonks, members of the fifth estate and all the others who were constantly drunk and horny with power and privilege. I longed for my chance to tease them.

My power trip began as soon as I stepped on stage. I thought about the deals being made. Jealous, I tried to seduce the attention back to me, caressing my body, moving my hips as though I was frolicking in bed with one of the men I eyed at the table closest to the stage. With one spin around the pole, I wondered whom this man was and if he had a wife or a girlfriend or daughters at home. Turning away from him, I spun around slowly before I bent over near the end of the stage. I writhed upright and lifted my chest until my back arched enough to enhance focus on my ass.  Easing myself onto the cold stage floor I felt as though I was climbing into bed next to the man watching me.

The crowd was chanting as I moved my hips but I only heard my mother opening the door to my room. The man’s face was closer to mine but I only saw my mother’s face. Her eyes were wide and her nostrils flared when she saw me dancing like the ballerina she once was before my father made her stop. That day I wasn’t prepared. She grabbed my hair and threw me to the ground. Ever since then I knew that dancing was forbidden but never stopped  — even as the man shoved wads of dollar bills in my g-sting. One by one their clammy touches made me cringe. But I didn’t pull away even as one man’s hands lingered on my hip. Instead I rotated my lower body and touched the top of his hair to make him think I wanted him.  Turning away from all of them I swayed, my backside on display, concentrating on the tickle of sheer mesh fabric against my skin.

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Gabriel Shanks_INSP

Gabriel Shanks
“The Parlor”

Inspiration piece provided to Jacqueline Gaulin

The Parlor
By Jacqueline Gaulin

History couldn’t hide in this place, where Harriet Millstone had lived for more than fifty years. I knocked on the front door for several minutes as huge flakes of graying white paint covered my shoes before she opened the door.

“Good afternoon. Mrs. Millstone.”

“Good afternoon, my dear. Have you come for tea?”

She was not as I had expected. Neither frail nor frumpy, Harriet Millstone with her dyed-black hair in a perfect bun, her neck adorned with a double-strand of pink pearls, seemed out of place in her dusty parlor, where a once ornate window treatment, was now soiled and tattered. Neighbors had reported that she spent hours standing solidly–or sometimes rocking–at the window, waiting.

“Mrs. Millstone, my name is April. April Whitaker. I’m with the Department of Social Services. And I’m going to take you to your new home.

“My dear, I cannot leave just yet. He is coming home today.”

“Who, who is coming home, Mrs. Millstone?”

“Why, my husband, Samuel, of course. He said he was coming for me. I lost the letter he wrote me with the exact date and time, but today must be the day. I took a lovely bath with rose water, and put on the yellow crepe suit he loved. I only wear it on special occasions. Every time I wore it, Samuel always told me I looked as sweet as a buttercup. You know, he called me buttercup.”

“That is very sweet, Mrs. Millstone. My husband, Ben, called me sunshine.”

“That is lovely, dear. You must be married to a wonderful man. How long have you been married, dear?”

“Well, actually, Mrs. Millstone, we are no longer together.”

I didn’t want to bring up Ben’s name. It had been two year’s since the divorce. But his recent marriage to the women he left me for, triggered the delayed grief that I had suppressed with hopes that he was coming back. As much as I now wished I could erase him from my memory, everything seemed to bring him to the surface.

“Oh, my, when is he coming home, dear?”

I felt the parlor’s emptiness each time Harriet Millstone took a step. Her low-heeled and wide-toed shiny yellow shoes echoed against the dull, scratched and faded wood floors that looked as though they hadn’t been polished in years. Whenever her feet moved, sadness gnawed at my insides.

“He’s not coming, home. Mrs. Millstone. We’re divorced.”

“We used to dance here in the parlor, Samuel and I. He was such a lovely dancer. You know that is how we met?”

“No, Mrs. Millstone, I didn’t know that. Was it a church dance?”

“Oh no dear. Samuel didn’t go to church. It was a school dance. I was such a young girl back them. Fourteen. And Samuel was sixteen.”

“Here, dear. Please help me with this frame.”

Harriet Millstone walked across the parlor and pointed to a large picture frame that was hidden behind the bathroom door. I dragged it out a bit and then turned it around, revealing a collage of pictures, glimpses of her life.

“This is my darling Samuel,” she said, pointing to several pictures of a tall, fit man, whose thick wavy brown hair thinned out only a little bit as he aged in the various photos, transformed to a stately gray. His smile radiated sincerity through the yellowing photographs, something I can’t even recall seeing in Ben’s smile. Ben also had blue eyes. But Samuel Millstone’s blue eyes were honest and I could tell his love for Harriet Millstone was deeper and truer than Ben’s love for me.

“Mrs. Millstone, are you ready to go now?”

Although I was a court appointed guardian charged with removing Harriet Millstone–an elderly woman with no family–from her beloved home, I couldn’t bear to listen to her ramble on and on about her life. I couldn’t bear to hear the stories that were captured in the series of select photos gathering dust in her desolate parlor, a parlor that reminded me all to well of the void in my life.

“Why, dear, you just arrived. Let us enjoy a cup of tea. We have plenty of time.”

While Harriet Millstone went to the kitchen to make the tea, I tried to silence my steps as a made my way to a vintage wicker baby carriage in the corner of the parlor by the window. I wrapped my hands around the dingy white handle and moved the carriage back and forth, imagining the baby Ben and I had lost a month before he left. The rusty wheels squeaked with age each time I moved the carriage. Back and forth. Back and forth.

“My dear, is everything Ok?”

Sobbing as the wheels squeaked, I never heard Harriet Millstone enter the parlor.

“Samuel and I were expecting a baby. He bought that beautiful carriage for our baby. But the baby never came. I just couldn’t ever part with that carriage.”

“I’m so sorry Mrs. Millstone. This is such a beautiful baby carriage, though. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore,” I said between sobs.

“Come, dear. You’ll feel better after some hot tea.”

She motioned to the large antique wood trunk in the middle of the room. Goodwill had come earlier in the day to remove most of Harriet Millstone’s belongings from her house, including the couch. I’m here to take Harriet Millstone to an assisted living facility that her husband had arranged for her long before his death, a gesture of love and devotion that Ben will no longer make for me.

I watched Harriet Millstone sip her tea. She smiled contentment as I inhaled an anxious fear. I worried that I would end up alone, like Harriet Millstone, shuffled off to a nursing facility by a stranger, allowed only a few pieces of my life.

“Are you feeling better, dear?” She asked as we sat side by side on the trunk sipping mint tea.

“Samuel will be here soon. Everything will be fine. Just you wait and see. Everything will be fine.”

I wanted to believe that everything would be fine. But looking around Harriet Millstone’s parlor, with its water-damaged and grimy blue walls, the paint puckered and peeling in places near the window, and seeing her whole life reduced to a baby carriage, a trunk, a headboard, a bookshelf, a table and few pictures in a large single frame and a blueprint, I was not convinced.

“Mrs. Millstone, what’s this,” I said, picking up the blueprint drawing that was partly unrolled on the table.

She rose slowly from the trunk, set her teacup on the table and sighed.

“Oh, my dear. This is our house. Samuel designed everything. He drew it all out. Every room. Even the outside. All the landscaping. Everything. He built this house for us.”

“It is beautiful house.”

“Yes, dear it is. It’s a bit old and run-down now, but it was a lovely home. Samuel loved to sit here in the parlor. He had a big chair by the window. He would just sit there for hours reading or watching the neighborhood kids play outside. Those kids are all grown and moved on now. And the house hasn’t been the same since Samuel left. Everything changes.”

“Yes, it sure does Mrs. Millstone.”

When the movers arrived Mrs. Millstone excused herself and went to the bathroom to freshen up.

“Dear, please let know when the men have gone. I prefer to stay in here while they do their work.”

As the movers loaded the old trunk, the antique table, the dusty picture frame, the wooden headboard and bed frame, the white bookshelf and the last few boxes of Mrs. Millstones belongings, I felt the same overwhelming sadness that I felt when I moved out of the brand new house that Ben had built for us.

“This is our dream house, “ he said. “We’re home now and we’re never moving again.”

And just like on our wedding day, I believed him.

We lived in our new home less than six months when Ben told me he was moving out.

“Oh, no dear. Don’t let them take the baby carriage.”

“Mrs. Millstone, you can certainly bring the carriage to your new home. It’s perfectly fine.”

“No, dear. I want you to have it. Please, dear. You are young and you can still have a baby. Please, I can see how much you adore that carriage. You remind of myself at your age when Samuel gave me that carriage.

“Thank you Mrs., Millstone, but I….”

“Take it. Please. It’s my gift to you. Samuel won’t want it in the new house, anyway.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Millstone, “ I said straining to hold back the tears as we watched the moving truck leave.

Clutching the rolled-up blueprint, Mrs. Millstone smiled at me.

“Dear, are you ready to go now?”

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