Drenched in Light | Chapter 14 of 37

Author: Lisa Wingate | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1767 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 6
009
In the cafeteria, the dark-haired woman in the Jumpkids sweatshirt—Dell’s foster mother, I assumed—was ushering a few remaining kids off to the gym while a couple of elderly women cleaned and wiped tables. The kids hugged the workers with obvious affection as they passed. The last one, a little African-American boy with his hair shaved short, stood up in his seat, bounded from chair to chair until he reached Dell’s foster mother, and launched himself at her. She caught him and he wrapped his arms and legs around her like an octopus.
“I wub Dumpkids day!” he bubbled, a speech impediment making the words hard to understand.
“Me, too, Justin.” Stumbling backward, she collided lightly with the furniture. “But Jumpkids only walk on the floor. Never on tables or chairs, right?”
“Www-wite!” he exclaimed with a smile that overtook his face.
“Ohhhkay, then.” Peeling him off, she set him on the ground. “Now”—laying a hand atop his head, she spun him around like a puppet—“you’d better get over to the gym. Mrs. Mindia’s doing stretching exercises, and you want to do that. Today, we’re going to try some Latin dancing and learn some things about the mandolin and the mariachis. You don’t want to miss that, right?”
Justin twisted back and forth beneath her hand, swinging his arms at his sides like tiny pendulums. “Nope.”
Drawing back, she made a quick tsk-tsk through her teeth, looking shocked. “I just know you haven’t forgotten how Jumpkids answer a question. Remember, we talked about that a few weeks ago? When we speak to people, it’s important to show that we have respect for the other person, and for ourselves. We don’t want people to think we’re just any old kids. We want them to know we’re Jumpkids, right?” Justin nodded, and she prompted, “I bet you can show me how a Jumpkid answers a question, can’t you?”
Snapping to attention, Justin cleared his throat and said, “Yes, ma’am.” Then he grinned again, puffed his chest out, and added, “Dat’s how a Dumpkid does it.”
“You are right, sir.” She smiled back. “See, I can tell just by the way you answered that you are no regular old kid. I bet I’ll also be able to tell you’re a Jumpkid by how quietly you go across the hall to Mrs. Mindia.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Justin said again, then spun around and marched toward the door like a soldier. When he came to Dell and me, he stopped, gave Dell a hug, then stuck his hand out to me with great formality. “Good mo-wning, I’m Dus-tin.”
It wasn’t morning, of course, but the introduction was charming. “Good afternoon, Justin.” I shook his hand, which was sticky from something I didn’t want to think about. “I’m Julia Costell. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Narrowing one eye, Justin considered all those big words, then shrugged and said, “You a pretty wady. Bye.” He trotted off, and Dell and I laughed together as Dell’s foster mother crossed the room and introduced herself.
“Karen Sommerfield.” Her bemused expression told me she had no idea who I was or why I was there.
“Julia Costell,” I said as we shook hands. “I’m Dell’s guidance counselor at school.” Her confusion turned to worry, and she cast a concerned glance at Dell, so I quickly added, “Dell mentioned the Jumpkids program to me the other day, and she invited me to come by and see how it works. I hope I’m not disturbing anything.”
“Oh, gosh, no. We’re thrilled to have you.” Cocking her head to one side, she squinted at me. “You’re the guidance counselor at Harrington?”
I wondered if she thought I was too young or too blond to hold such an esteemed position, then realized that she was probably confused because until seven weeks ago, the guidance counselor had been old Mrs. Kazinski, Mrs. Morris’s evil twin. “Mrs. Kazinski retired at the end of fall semester.” Since taking over, I’d done a woefully poor job of getting out and meeting parents, or anyone else. I’d been completely overwhelmed with my own problems, the grant application, and the mess of incomplete student records Mrs. Kazinski had piled up during her last few months before retirement. I suspected that she had been combing through files, removing things she didn’t want anyone to see. I couldn’t imagine what—maybe evil spells and recipes for witch’s brew.
“Oh . . .” The wheels were turning in Karen’s mind. Scratching her head, she pushed strands of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m incredibly rude. It’s just that when Dell enrolled at the first of the year, I explained her situation and particularly asked that the school keep in touch. Since then, not one person has contacted me, except her music teacher. When we went in to ask about grades and things, Mr. Stafford and Mrs. Kazinski assured me that we shouldn’t worry, that all students are given only a passail grade their first semester at Harrington, and that Dell was passing. Am I correct in assuming that at the end of this nine-week grading period, she’ll be receiving an actual report card with letter grades?”
My stomach tensed up. I was terribly uninformed as to the current grading system, except that I knew the school was now operating under nine-week grading periods, rather than the traditional six-week blocks. There were grades for Dell in my folder, and they were not good. Why would Stafford or Kazinski have kept that from her foster parents? When the next report card came home two weeks from now, Karen would be in for a shock.
Dell’s gaze darted back and forth between her foster mother and me with genuine terror. Right now, in front of her, wasn’t the time to be talking about problems with the school’s grading system or lack of parent communication. “Yes, she should be receiving a regular report card at the end of this nine weeks.” My mind was racing through grades and percentages—trying to determine whether it was possible to bring Dell’s grades up to passing in two weeks. Tutoring? Extra credit? Divine intervention?
Oh, God.
“Good. We just want to be sure everything’s OK.” Karen was clearly relieved. Slipping an arm around Dell’s slim shoulders, she pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. “Dell’s had such a big transition this year. We want to be there for her in whatever ways we need to be. She’s a pretty special kid.” Her love for Dell was obvious, and so was the fact that, so far this year, she’d been given a snow job with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Laying her head on her foster mother’s shoulder, Dell cast a pained, pleading gaze my way. The message was clear; Please don’t say anything and mess this up.
Now I knew why she had returned to my office with another essay today, why she’d invited me here this afternoon, and why she’d insisted on confidentiality between us. She was desperate. She needed help. She couldn’t tell her foster parents that things weren’t wonderful at Harrington, because she was afraid that if she couldn’t be perfect, she wouldn’t be wanted.
I felt a stab of understanding in the part of me that had always felt empty, uncertain. The messy, hollow space marked BIOLOGICAL FATHER, where questions roiled endlessly, simmering like a volcanic pool beneath a cooled surface. No amount of love could ever completely rescue you from the scars of being abandoned by someone who was supposed to love you. No matter who else came along, or how devoted they were, there was always a part that feared everyone else would eventually discover the reasons you were left behind in the first place, and they’d leave too.
My dad had loved me unwaveringly for twenty-seven years, and still, I didn’t trust it. Because of a man I’d never met, and was afraid to ask about. I’d seen his name on my original birth certificate when I started college, punched it into Yahoo search, then closed the window before the results came up, worried that somehow Dad would find out. I’d even erased the history screen, as if going to Yahoo! People Search were a crime.
I understood exactly how Dell felt. If I caved on her now, the fragile connection between us would be severed. There wouldn’t be anyone she could trust with the truth. “Well, listen, I don’t want to hold you up,” I said to Karen, in hopes of smoothly breaking out of the conversation. “My door’s always open at the school. But today, I’m just here to watch.”
Karen smiled pleasantly. “The first rule of Jumpkids,” she said as we started across the hall, “is nobody just watches.”
“Ms. Costell’s a dancer,” Dell chimed in, regarding me with admiration and no small measure of gratitude. “She went to Harrington.”
Karen blinked in surprise, the way everyone did when they found out I went to Harrington and ended up back there as a counselor.
“Oh . . . well . . . I don’t dance anymore,” I stammered.
“It’s a cinch that you won’t get outclassed around here,” Karen said, just before we reached the quiet zone in the gym-slash-yoga studio. “Although some of our kids are taking a pretty serious interest in dance and voice, and a few in instrumental music. Instrumental is harder for us to accomplish, because we only have enough instruments to teach a few kids each week. Right now we’re offering piano and guitar, but I’d like to expand, if we can get equipment and teachers.” She shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’m giving you the full tour, whether you want it or not, aren’t I? I’ve only been with Jumpkids since last fall, so it’s all new and exciting to me.”
“Oh, no, it’s interesting,” I whispered as Mrs. Mindia moved the kids into a downward-dog position, then had them slowly stretch upward. “Like trees,” she said, “rising toward the sun.”
Karen handed me a towel from a basket near the door. She and Dell kicked off their shoes, and I stood awkwardly looking at my pastel print dress with the flowing fluttery skirt. “I didn’t exactly come dressed for this. . . .” I felt like the nerd who’d forgotten her gym suit in PE class.
“I don’t know.” Lifting her hands, Karen grinned, pretending to spread an imaginary skirt. “As soon as the kids finish their ballet positions, we’re doing flamenco. Looks like you’re the only one with the right dress on.”
Dell butted me playfully in the shoulder, something I couldn’t imagine her doing at school. “Come on, Ms. Costell, nobody just watches in Jumpkids.”
I gave her a mean face, my imitation of Mrs. Morris. “You should have told me that before you invited me.”
“If I told you that, you wouldn’t of come.” Fanning her towel like a Latin dance dress, she hurried across the gym.
Karen smiled after her. “It’s so good to see her happy and acting like a normal kid,” she said, as I took off my shoes and blazer, and we started after Dell. “She’s come out of herself so much in these past few months.”
You wouldn’t know it if you saw her at school, I thought. Fortunately, we’d moved into the silent zone, so I didn’t have to answer. I had a feeling that Dell’s foster mother knew nothing about the girl in the river, and she wasn’t going to find out, if Dell could help it.
As we laid our towels on the floor and began transitioning through the combination of dance stretches and yoga positions, my thoughts slowed and wound inward, like a wobbling gyroscope finding its center, finally spinning effortlessly, in motion yet silent. There was an inner joy, a poetry of muscle and mind as my body stretched then tightened, weaving and swaying, filled with a lightness of rhythm, and air, and memory. Closing my eyes, I moved through the ballet positions, barely hearing Mrs. Mindia directing from the front of the room. I was far away, in the studio warming up before rehearsal—going through the basics like dance class students. Brian McGregor, the artistic director at KC Metro Ballet, insisted on first things first. “No matter how great your talent,” he said, “without the basics, you are nothing.”
In my mind, Mrs. Mindia’s voice became his as he directed the cast, rehearsing the Dance of the Four Little Swans. “Technically correct,” he said, “but this is professional ballet. It is a level beyond. You must feel the magic of your art. You must think like dancers. Give me the opening sequence on three. And one, and two, and three, and . . .”
I felt myself begin to move as one of the Four Little Swans, the dancer I was to replace on the afternoon of spacing rehearsal. Music filled every corner of my soul until it spilled out into the theater, into cavernous empty space, so that no emptiness remained. In my soul, in the theater, there was only a perfect marriage of melody and motion. No questions, no answers, no problems of the world. Only beauty, only the sense of transcending gravity and taking flight, like the swan itself . . .
Mrs. Mindia paused to help a student, and my mind rocketed back with an elastic snap. When I opened my eyes, Dell was watching me with amazement. I flushed, feeling as if I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t. Dancing. The forbidden obsession. After my stint in the hospital, I’d promised my parents I would give it up and everything that went with it. The doctors agreed that I should steer clear of “that environment,” as if I were a drug addict staying away from the local crack house, or a compulsive gambler avoiding proximity to a casino. A studio full of mirrors and willowy dancers with perfect body lines was no place for a woman with an eating disorder.
But then, the Simmons-Haley Elementary School gym was about as far from a professional ballet studio as possible. There were no mirrors, and none of the dancers here were over four feet tall.
Smiling, Dell gave me the thumbs-up and mouthed, Cool!
I fell into the rhythm of the warm-up again, enjoying the muted drumbeat of feet softly striking the floor in unison and the feel of fabric swirling around my legs. By the time we’d moved to demi plié, I realized that not only Dell, but some of the other kids were watching me each time Mrs. Mindia gave an instruction.
“If you cannot see well from the back,” Ms. Mindia said, “you may watch Dell, or Mrs. Karen, or the beautiful ballerina in the flowered dress.” She regarded me with interest. “I don’t believe I know her name.”
“Ms. Costell,” Dell piped up, pleased that the instructor had noticed she’d brought a friend.
“Greetings, Ms. Costell. Welcome.” The teacher delivered a wise, slow smile, and everyone turned to look. “I see that we have a professional in our midst.”
My heart lurched, and for a fleeting instant, I was afraid that she’d recognized me, that we’d met sometime in the past, perhaps worked together on some performance long ago. What if she knew the truth about how I’d ended up here? If word got around, Mrs. Morris would have all the ammunition she needed to bury me. When I’d applied for the job at Harrington, I hadn’t mentioned my hospital stay, or the back-stage collapse that ended my dancing career. I’d simply acted as if, now that I’d obtained my master’s degree, it was time to stop dancing and get a real job—as if that had been the plan all along.
Mrs. Mindia wheeled a hand gracefully in front of herself. “I can see that you are well trained,” she explained, and the tension melted from my body as quickly as it had come.
“Oh, not that much,” I stammered, skirting the subject so as not to pile a new lie atop old ones. Better just to offer fewer details.
“She’s from Harrington,” Dell interjected, with a note of pride that surprised me. When she was actually at Harrington, she didn’t seem nearly so positive about the place.
Mrs. Mindia studied me from beneath her headdress, her face stern with some hidden meaning I could only wonder at. “Well, we’re glad to have someone from Harrington joining us. Welcome to our dance, Ms. Costell.”
“Julia,” I corrected, wondering if it was my imagination or if Mrs. Mindia had become less delighted with me as soon as Harrington was mentioned.
“Ms. Julia.” Presenting me to the class with a queenly wave of her hand, Mrs. Mindia brought the lesson to order again. Every student fell silent, and all eyes immediately faced forward. A young dancer scooted to a boom box nearby and changed the CD, cueing up a soft, slow Latin rhythm.
“Now,” said Mrs. Mindia, clapping her hands over her head, “because we have all been so attentive and done such impressive work in our yoga stretches and our study of ballet, and because all of you have been so perfectly quiet . . .” She paused to look at Justin, who was vibrating like a windup toy in the front row. Her smile widened, white against mocha-brown skin, as she went on. “We will have time to continue our around-the-world tour of dance. Because we know that as dancers, it is important to study all cultures. When we understand all cultures, we understand all things, and all people, and the world becomes a smaller place. When we think of the world as a small place, we see that there is not so much difference between ourselves and other people. Not so much distance between here and there.
“So now, let’s close our eyes and listen to the rhythms of Mexico. Perhaps you are a young child who lives in a tiny village where the wind is hot, and the streets are made of sand. Can you feel the warmth between your toes as you walk many miles to Mexico City for the días de fiesta? Or perhaps you come from a wealthy family, and you live in a big hacienda where the rooms have colorful clay tile, and wide wooden doors swing open to the courtyard. Today, you run to your balcony and listen, because it is no ordinary day. Can you hear the music of Cinco de Mayo coming from the plaza? Girls, will you put on your new china poblana dress or, boys, your handsome traje y sombrero de charro, and come with me? Can you hear the zapatillas de baile on your feet, tapping against the brick streets as we run along? Are you ready to join jarabe tapaí, the hat dance?”
On cue, the students opened their eyes and cried, “Yeeesss!”
“Then let’s dance!” Picking up her yoga towel, Mrs. Mindia held it around her shoulders like a shawl and said, “But first, ladies, we must have our rebozo, our fancy shawl made of Spanish lace so fine we could pass it through the space of a wedding ring. Jarabe tapatío is about color, and movement, and fabric, as much as it is about dance. It is a feast for the eyes and the senses. Young men, you may tie yours around your waist. Perhaps later, you will use it as a cape, to face the bull in the Monumental Plaza, the bullfighting ring. But, not to worry, we will never hurt the bull. We will only join him in a fierce dance, then send him on his way to smell the flowers, like Ferdinand.”
The children giggled, and Mrs. Mindia turned sideways, stomped her foot, and clapped her hands over her head. “Our jarabe tapatío begins like this.”
Following her lead, the children began joining her in the dance, learning the basic steps slowly at first, then more rapidly as the tempo increased. Dell, Karen, and I joined in, but this time I was no fine example. The only Latin dance I knew was a smattering I’d learned while dancing in the living room with my father, and some flamenco taught to me by my grandmother’s housekeeper, Carmen. Even though my Mexican hat dance left something to be desired, at least I was appropriately attired. My filmy flowered dress might not have been right for Red Day, but it was perfect for jarabe tapatío in the grade school gym.
When the dance lesson was finished, most of the kids went to the cafeteria to write about the day’s experiences in their Jumpkids journals. A few older kids proceeded to instrumental music lessons in various rooms around the school.
“I wish we had more to offer them,” Karen commented as we stood in the hall watching kids pass by. “Some of these children have real talent, and if they can’t develop it in the after-school program, they can’t develop it at all. School funding being what it is, the music and art programs here were cut long ago. The sad thing is that these kids need it more than most. In large part, they come from deprived home environments, and they go to underfunded schools. Music and dance and art open doors in their minds, but you can’t make state legislators see that.” She winced apologetically. “Sorry. I’m on my soapbox again. Coming from the corporate world, where you do what has to be done to get results, I’ve found the politics of public education a little shocking.”
“I’m just beginning to deal with that,” I said. And it’s driving me crazy. Nothing in my formal education had prepared me for the frustration of school bureaucracy. “How did you go from a corporation to after school arts, anyway? That seems like a huge switch.” It was hard to believe Karen was new at her job. She seemed so competent with the kids, so into her work.
Lifting her palms, she shrugged, as in, Search me. “It just kind of happened. The company downsized in Boston. I was laid off. I came out to Missouri to visit my sister, and the next thing I knew, I was a Jumpkid.” Her brown eyes twinkled in a way that told me there was more to the story, but in the cafeteria, the natives were getting restless. “Better watch out,” she teased. “It’s addictive.”
Laughing, I rubbed the small of my back. “I don’t think I could do this very often. Mrs. Mindia has me twisted up like a pretzel.”
“You get used to it.” Karen grinned as Mrs. Mindia came out of the gym, carrying her boom box and yoga towel-slash-flamenco skirt. “Thank you, Mrs. Mindia.”
Pausing in the doorway, she nodded, seeming regal in her turban and a long African-print dress. “As always, it was my pleasure. I must hurry off to rehearsal now, but I will see you again tomorrow,” she said to Karen. Then, turning to me, she added, “Come again and join us, Ms. Julia. I have enjoyed dancing with you very much.”
“Thank you.” I felt as if I’d been invited to tea by the queen of England. “I’ll try to do that.”
“Some Ben-Gay will help that sore back.” A wide grin spread on Mrs. Mindia’s face as she turned away and started down the hall. “Ben-Gay and regular exercise. A dancer of merit should never allow her gift to wane.”
I gaped after her, taking in the compliment. A dancer of merit. I hadn’t thought of myself that way in months.
“That’s high praise,” Karen commented. “Mrs. Mindia directs and dances in the Kansas City Black Dance Theater. She knows what she’s talking about. We’re really lucky to have her as a Jumpkids volunteer.”
“Wow. I guess so,” I breathed as Karen and I stood transfixed, watching Mrs. Mindia walk down the hall, her disappearing figure casting the shadow of an African queen, floating through the long beams of evening light, until she finally vanished altogether.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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