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"The Natural" – Finalist in The New Guard's 2012 Machigonne Fiction Contest

Short story placed as a finalist in The New Guard's 2012 Machigonne Fiction Contest, judged by Rick Bass. Subsequently published in The New Guard (Volume III) and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2013. Website link here.

Excerpt from opening:

THE FIRST TIME I WAS DECLARED “UNFIT” was when I was eight, slouching in a too-tight tutu, pointing my right toe out and to the side in a poor attempt at the second position. Miss Lu, a woman composed entirely of lines: thin horizontal lips, long narrow eyes and a tailbone permanently tucked for a posture so vertical she'd tip over if somebody were to poke the mole between those eyes, pronounced the word in an unapologetic tone to my father.

“Unfit.” She circled around me, elbows splayed, hands resting on non-existent hips. “She is completely unfit for ballet.”

“Please, Comrade Lu. She just needs more practice.”

Miss Lu reached out with her baton and rapped twice on my tailbone. I held my slouch. The elastic waistband of my tutu pinched terribly but I fought the urge to tug or scratch. Through the mirror, I could see my father drawing back his sloped shoulders to stand taller.

“Look at her spine. Twisted. An ill-formed sapling will never stand tall. And her legs.” Miss Lu hinged forward to tap my calves as if we didn't know what legs were. “Much too short.” She snapped back to vertical.

“But she's only eight, surely we can-”

“Not everyone is meant for this art, Comrade Chen. Your daughter should find other pursuits. It would be criminal of me to take any more of your money.”

With a tight one-eighty swivel, Miss Lu was off, her skinny rear twitching from side to side as she headed toward the practice barre across the room, where a girl from my preschool was gazing smugly at her own reflection as she stretched one unnaturally long leg up and over her head. I stared at my father staring. Eventually, he grabbed my hand and led me out of the studio and straight home without a word. My shell-pink ballet slippers turned the color of green mud as we trudged through the park. When we walked through the door, my mom noticed my slippers at once and began to chastise me for not changing into my walking shoes. A tear, wobbling free and dribbling down my face, stopped her mid-sentence. Father dropped my hand. He thrust the satchel with my walking shoes and regular clothes toward Mom, and, in a strange monotone that I would become accustomed to, said: “Don't fuss about the shoes. No more ballet. She's unfit. The teacher said so. Unfit.” After a beat, he added: “Too fat.” He went into their bedroom and closed the door on us both.




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