The Balloon Equalizer

It was titled “The Dance of the Planets”. Only the girls who could afford their own balloons were featured as planets. All the other children stood as stars, background for the dancing planets. Balloons were not in my mum’s budget. The money pop sent home was just enough for our flat and for food. The leotard I wore was a hand-me-down; the lessons, a gift from my aunt.

I wanted to be a planet. Instead I became the Balloon Equalizer. Mathilda, the mayor’s daughter, led the other girls whose fathers ran the industry and shops that exempted them from military service. When she and the other planets in their stiff tutus danced near me, their balloons went Pop! Pop! Pop! The audience loved it.

“We know it was you,” Mathilda hissed at me later. I didn’t care. Pop could fight the Japs where he was; I’d fight the enemy at home.