“I want my name in lights,” Anna told her mother.
“I’m leaving this one-horse town,” Anna told her father.
“I’m going to be rich and famous,” Anna told Jimmy, kissing him good-bye.
She changed her name from Anna to Almira.
Other girls paged through movie magazines. Almira learned lines from Euripides and Shaw by heart. Other girls painted their toenails. Almira analyzed gestures in silent movies. Other girls baked brownies. Almira practiced Russian ballet and studied herself in the mirror.
Her mother read her a story about a vain and pretty girl who danced in her red shoes until she died. As a child, Anna thought that wasn’t a bad way to go, dancing till you wore out. But at fifty-five, Almira had questions: what did the girl miss? Did she have regrets? Was it too late?
Jimmy and his wife of thirty years came to the Big Apple. Almira brought out a tray on which were arranged porcelain cups of chai and plates of madeleines and petit fours. Jane put up her hand. “Thank you, but I have diabetes.” Jimmy took two of each sweet.
Jimmy had passed on the hardware store to their sons, and now intended to travel the world, free as a bird. “We’re flying to Spain.”
Almira set down her teacup. “I traveled there--years ago, I visited the caves of Altamira. Now tourists are not allowed because their breath would damage the paintings.” She had thought that “Altamira” sounded like her name. She had stared at the ceiling, understanding how the artist had worked in that dark cave, so that eighteen thousand years later their bison and deer and horses, some leaping, some dying, would be applauded.
Jimmy brushed Jane’s hand gently.
Almira could practice this gesture later.
Almira rearranged the curtains to let in the late afternoon sun. “It’s been lovely, but I need to prepare for tonight’s performance. Perhaps champagne after that?”
“We have to catch a plane.” Jane rose, smoothed her silk skirt. “What a beautiful apartment you have. I love the light.”
Almira walked with them down the hall to the elevator. Jimmy turned and waved to her as the doors closed.
She had been on the cover of Life in 1974. “The gaze of a Byzantine empress,” one reviewer wrote. “A face like a medieval madonna,” wrote another. She had been the toast of Broadway and had husbanded her gifts carefully--never drank, except champagne, did not smoke, went to bed by one a.m. and to her ballet class in the morning.
She stepped inside her apartment. The golden light slid across her trophies and down to her Persian carpets. Down to her red ballet slippers.
She spoke to herself out loud: “Tell me that story again,” she said. “But I want another ending.”
published 14 November 2012