Portrait of a Ballerina, Part Two

Previously, twin sisters become estranged when one of them does not correct a ballet director’s decision.
Upon La Vieja’s death, she willed the dance school to Nina. Jose became a master electrician and settled down into a satisfying prosperous life. They had two sons. Jorge played soccer and Miguel became a dancer. In the meantime, Nina continued to read stories in the newspapers about Maria’s successful career and her disastrous private life. Maria had several affairs with prominent men, but none of them married her. Maria’s lowest point was a miscarriage of a baby whose father was a local politician who refused to divorce his wife. Nina never shed a tear for her.
The years passed, and Nina took an assistant to demonstrate new steps to her students. Again she read in the papers about her sister when she broke her leg attempting a difficult leap. The ballet company urged her to teach, but she refused and instead retired to concentrate on her oil painting.
When he grew up, Miguel auditioned for the French National Ballet and was accepted. Jorge joined his father’s expanding electrical company.
Over time Nina’s students learned, grew and often returned to thank her for the training and for being like a second mother. Some of them actually became professional dancers, accepted by companies across Europe.
When Nina read Maria had a painting accepted by the national gallery, she only grunted and raised an eyebrow. She told her sons she was too happy being abuela to her own grandchildren to be concerned with her sister. Nina didn’t show any grief when she read Maria died, collapsed on the museum floor in front of her painting.
A few days later she received a phone call from the executive director of the Prado who informed her Maria put in her will that her sister and family be invited to a memorial service at her painting in the gallery. It was Maria’s wish, the director said, for the rope to be removed and for Nina to be the first to observe the painting up close.
Nina was adamant until her husband Jose and her grown sons hugged her and reminded her there was no reward in heaven for holding a grudge. They didn’t knew what the bitterness was, they told her, and that they didn’t want to know what it was. But, they added, her heart would heal if she relented and looked at the painting as her sister wanted. Against her will of steel, Nina conceded to call the museum and agreed to attend the ceremony.
On the day of the event Nina and her family arrived exactly on time. She didn’t want to be early and subject herself to questions that were none of the reporters’ business. With great pomp the museum officials removed the red rope, and the Prado director led Nina to the picture. She looked at it but only saw globs of black and white.
“Mama,” Jorge whispered, “Look at the face of the ballerina. It looks exactly like you.”
“Of course it does,” Nina snapped. “We were twins.”
“No, I’ve lived with that face for forty-five years,” Jose interceded. “That’s you, Nina.”
“Look again, Mama,” Miguel urged. “Look closer.”
As Nina focused on the face she had to admit it was her chin, her nose, her eyes, her mouth. There were the slight differences only a twin could detect. So, yes, it was she as a young ballerina, almost ten feet tall.
Miguel stepped closer to the shadows behind the ballerina. “Mama, look at this.”
Nina stood next to him and saw in varying shades of black, gray and dark blue, other dancers cowering, pulling away. The faces on them were that of Maria. The closest figure to the dancer in the spotlight was definitely Maria on the day of the audition. Her face bared shock, disappointment and shame.
As the spotlight’s glow faded more figures appeared, each of the same dancer, aging in despair the further she went from the star until she was a hunched-over vieja. Many of them cried. Others moaned. Still more pulled at their hair in loneliness and self-loathing. The last figure, in the farthest corner, was a barely detectable body, collapsed on the floor, like a pile of dirty rags.
Nina remembered reading in the morning newspaper that Maria was found with a small can of black paint and a tiny brush in her hand, as though she died applying the final stroke.
“Nina, my chica, will you finally tell us what all this is all about?” Jose asked in tenderness.
“No.” She clinched her jaw. “I have never spoken of it and neither did Maria. In all the interviews, if someone asked her about her audition for the ballet she would leave the room. It said so in the newspapers and magazines. So no, it is a secret we shall both take to our graves. And perhaps in death we may finally forgive each other.”
“But Mama,” Jorge begged. “We are your family. We have always loved you, respected your wishes, and will be by your side when you leave this life.”
“Yes, Mama,” Miguel took up the case. “Don’t you think we deserve to know? After all, we love you more than we can say.”
Nina smiled as her wrinkled face found grace and peace. She waved her shriveled hand across the vast expanse of the canvas.
“You want to know the truth. It’s all right there in front of you. All you have to do is discover what it means.”

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