Hands on hips, she ran a critical eye over the now shiny floor. A wet mop leaned against the door frame beside her, its job done. Sweat prickled on her back from the exertion and she could feel the beginnings of a mild heat rash. How annoying. She checked her watch and muttered an oath. She needed to get a move on or else she would be late. A blast of cold water at the end of her shower soothed the rash. Afterwards she stood naked as she combed her hair and followed her skincare routine.
Her phone rang.
“Hi, it’s me,” said her husband’s disembodied voice.
“Yeah, hi. What’s up?”
“Can you pick up some deodorant for me at the supermarket today?”
He worked in the city. Didn’t they have shops there?
She swallowed her irritation.
“Um, I’m not going shopping today. I’m working, remember?”
“Oh right, I forgot.”
Silence. Of course he did.
“OK well I guess the one I have will last a couple of days,” he sighed.
“Good.” Her voice felt wooden. “Well if there’s nothing else, I need to get ready…”
“Oh right. Sorry. Uh, have a good day. I’ll see you later.”
She could hear he was trying to be nice, so she forced a softer tone into her own words.
“Yeah, you too. See you later.”
She hung up before he could say anything else. Tension had invaded her body; her shoulders, neck and jaw were set and she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her eyes welled up. When had things gone so wrong between them? The man she had once shared everything with had become almost a stranger, albeit one that shared her bed. She blinked the tears back and straightened herself up. There was no time to wallow. She was already running late.
The rich caramel satin felt soft against her skin. The underwear was new, a matching set, a gift to herself. Gently she pulled on a pair of fine gossamer stockings. She loved the ones with the pretty lace around the tops that gripped the top of her thighs. It made her feel a little bit flirty when she wore them beneath her work clothes. These were relatively demure by comparison, a plain black skirt and silver-grey blouse. Only her shoes sparkled, with a small band of diamanté around the base of each heel. Small silver stud ear-rings completed the outfit.
The short drive to work stressed her out again. Why did people have to drive like such assholes when she was in a rush? She pulled into the gravel parking area with only a few minutes to spare. Her handbag swung heavily on her shoulder. The bottle of water it carried added the extra weight and it only added to the frazzlement she already felt.
Bloody men, bloody traffic, bloody sore shoulder.
Her heels clicked softly on the tiled patio and then she entered the hall. As she did so she drew a stage smile across her face and let it infuse her being. The transformation was instantaneous. More than an expression, the stage smile was a persona. It was happy, exuberant even, and filled with confidence.
She was no longer someone’s wife, sister, mother or daughter. Here she existed only as herself as if in a vacuum. There were no floors to be mopped, groceries to be bought or relationships to fix.
She had learned this trick early in life. It grew out of practicality. Even while they were still learning the choreography their teacher would badger the young dancers.
“Point those toes, Donna… and smile! The audience doesn’t want to see a grumpy fairy!”
After a while it became second nature, something she no longer had to think about. It felt quite natural to smile even though her feet hurt and her muscles ached.
She wore the persona like a suit now. Though she was no longer on the stage, it was useful in her line of work.
“You’re doing beautifully,” she would say. “Perhaps slightly smaller steps will help you keep time with the music.”
She sounded sincere, even though she knew damn well the couple simply had no sense of rhythm.
The thing was, the smile often felt genuine. For those few hours as she taught others to Cha Cha or Waltz she left her troubles outside and felt happy.
It never lasted, though. A few hours back in her daily routine and the smile was replaced by a scowl while irritation took over from the joy. She wished she could carry her stage smile with her all the time. But that was not real. The smiley, happy persona was a mask, a fraud. The real Donna was a nagging bitch with marital problems and a temper.
These thoughts flashed through her head in the moments it took for her to reach the table at the front of the empty hall. There her colleague greeted her with a smile, a reflection of her own.
If only the stage smile was the reality, she thought, the world might be an altogether happier place.
With that she clicked off her musings and turned to the task at hand. Her first students for the evening were getting married on Saturday. She made a mental note to remind them to smile while they danced.