The Ballet Shoes: A story for Darcey Bussell fans

A pair of pink ballet shoes

Enjoy this lovely story from our archives by Mhairi Grant

It was not until I was past the shop that I registered it. I walked back a few paces. Swan’s Feather, it was called, tucked between a craft shop and a book shop just off the central drag. I stared at their display and thought of my friend, Jean. Then I went in…

“Ballet shoes!” exclaimed Lisa. “Did you used to do ballet, Gran?”

“Just for a little while.”

It would be useless to explain. Lisa had so much – and I was partly to blame. I spoiled her and my other two grandchildren. My days were taken up with looking after them, to the exclusion of most other things… including my friends.

“Put them back, sweetheart,” I murmured now.

She tossed them aside and ran out to play. I picked them up and whispered, “At long last. I have a pair of ballet shoes.”

Jean would be the only one who would truly understand why I had bought them. We had once shared so much – but it had been ages since I’d seen her.

Her pleasure made me feel guilty

I picked up the phone.

“Alex!” she exclaimed. “It’s so lovely to hear from you.”

Her pleasure made me feel guilty. I had simply never got round to returning her previous calls.

“I was wondering if you would like to come round for a drink tonight. I’ve got something to show you.”

The ballet shoes stayed in their wrapping till she visited. Then I held them behind my back with fingers crossed.

“You’ll never guess what I’ve got, Jean,” I teased.

“No, what is it?”

“Taaa-raaa,” I exclaimed, holding them up by the ribbons.

She pirouetted around the kitchen table

As she reached out to touch, we were once again the two kids from the wrong side of town who’d had aspirations beyond our dreams.

“Oh, Alex,” she exclaimed. “What we would have given to have owned a pair of ballet shoes. Can I try them on?”

“Of course you can.”

She pirouetted round the kitchen table while I opened a bottle of wine.

“We could barely afford the half a crown for the lessons,” she said. “Never mind buy the shoes.”

“Do you remember Pamela Taylor?”

“I used to so envy her,” replied Jean, pulling a face. “She was so angelic – grace personified.”

“Not all elbows and knees like us.”

“We weren’t angels but angles,” agreed my friend.

“Our scabby knees didn’t help.”

We danced the evening away

By the time we’d finished our first glass of wine it was my turn to be pirouetting round the table in the beautiful ballet shoes.

“Hey Alex, do you remember the Hornpipe dance?”

“Of course I do. We were always shoved at the back.”

We giggled, reminisced and danced the evening away, taking turns with the ballet shoes. It seemed apt somehow, sharing the shoes. We had shared most things in our childhood – including the belt. We had been a couple of tearaways and forever bunking off school.

Why ballet lessons appealed to us I’ll never know. There was no chance of us ever acquiring ballet shoes.

“What got me,” confided Jean as we worked our way down the bottle, “was, that all the other girls’ hair was smooth and ballerina perfect –”

“And we looked like demented scarecrows with our hair corkscrewing all over the place.”

It was hard to have your dreams dashed

We had tears of laughter running down our cheeks when suddenly out of the blue, Jean sobered up.

“But asking us to leave… it was hard to have your dreams dashed like that.”

“But we kept on dancing,” I said defiantly. “Do you remember the Led Zeppelin concerts?”

“That’s true. We had a whale of a time. Talking of which, Manfred is on at the Rothes Halls on Friday. I have tickets – do you fancy going?”

Friday was my babysitting night – but for once my daughter would just have to get someone else.

“Of course I do. Brilliant! It will be like old times.”

It was later, as Jean was getting ready to leave, that I presented her with the ballet shoes.

“I bought these for you. Only fifty years too late – but all good things come to those who wait.”

She looked at them a long time and then shook her head.

“I’ve got a better idea,” she said with a twinkle. “Why don’t we share and have one each?”

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me