Sylvi’s mom liked to stop at Jeff’s Seafood Shanty on the way to ballet, especially, it seemed, if the girls might otherwise get there on time. Sylvi wrinkled her nose at the smell, but Adrienne adored the sudsy docks and bloodied hose water, the seagulls wheeling at the boats amid feathery gusts of tide and gut. Jeff appeared to be several men at once, all wearing crisply triangular hats, and the clams clearly knew more than they let on.

Adrienne, in pink dance slippers, tights, and leotard, a hoody over her ponytail, walked the plank, feeling good to be small and in the middle of things. You had to be real, before you could be…what…unreal? Adrienne wondered, pausing near the door to greet the lobster in his sunglasses and Yankees cap. Then she and Sylvi helped carry the fish to the car, tiptoeing along past the slippery perfume of mollusks and seaweed stewing where it clung to the piers.

By the time they reached class the girls smelled like two halves of an oyster—kelpish and pearly, secretive. The powder room, they were expected to call the dressing area, nothing but hooks on one wall of the foyer. Also, the barre, never the bar, even though here they all were on Long Island.

“Baaahhrr,” Adrienne whispered in Sylvi’s ear to provoke her. She had learned that it was easy to get Sylvi to do things—small, thoughtless cogs in a mindful wheel. Today’s lumpy package of swordfish, for instance. All Adrienne had needed to do was slip the bag onto Sylvi’s lap in the car to get Sylvi to carry it up the crumbling steps to school, which was actually a house on a steep, wooded hillside, buttressed by timbers. The front porch was off bounds, and generally the pupils were to keep to the rear of the house, like balancing on a seesaw. In between was a bathroom featuring a scalloped black valance that turned out to be the shower rod draped with shrunken pairs of men’s tights, and a drearily carpeted stairway leading up to a bedroom nobody got to see. The whole mess would be worth a fortune if it ever got out from under the Diehls and was properly resuscitated, Sylvi’s mom, a county social worker, exclaimed on the way up, proud of not needing to catch her breath.

“Baaahhr baaahhr,” bleated Sylvi, loud enough to raise heads on the studio floor. Mr. Diehl scowled. Wearing yoga pants and slipper socks, he instructed the girls’ beginning-level classmates while gesturing extravagantly at the other half of the studio, where the far more advanced company members were practicing extensions. At Adrienne’s father’s age, he was at once more crude and more elegant, his long hair fashionably greasy, his fancy shirt cuffs unlinked. He promised to have no conscience, advertising this by not listing in the Yellow Pages (which meant he didn’t pay taxes), by requiring that you pay for each trimonthly session in cash in advance, and by reserving the right to dismiss you.

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