Once there was a girl named Christina Rose who limped since the day she was born. From the time she was a small child, her parents made her wear braces on her legs to help her walk. After ten years of walking with braces, Christina worried she would need them her entire life.
“I hate these braces!” she said to her grandfather, a shoemaker in the local village.
“Put a rose in your hair,” he said to her. “No one even notices your clumsy legs!”
Grandfather Renato, who fibbed to her often, gave her roses every morning on the way to school. Christina’s father and mother ran a barbershop in town and never had time to spend with her. Years ago, Christina’s grandfather made her a wooden rocking horse named Sam—who was clumsier than she was.
Unlike other horses, Sam didn’t have feet, he just rocked back and forth in place, and Christina rode him.
“Sam thinks you’re beautiful, and so do I,” her grandfather said, pushing her out the front door of his shop.
Every day after school, Christina rode Sam for hours, putting roses behind his scraggily ears. Sam had become her best friend; maybe he was her only friend, because the other children never played with her.
“Sam, I can tell you anything,” Christina said to him, knowing that her braces didn’t bother the wooden horse.
“I love to listen to your stories,” Sam said to her.
Of course, no one but Christina knew that Sam could talk. It was a secret, and if she ever told anyone that Sam spoke to her, her parents would think she was lying.
“More than anything, I must be a ballerina,” Christina told Sam. “They’re so graceful. They can dance on their toes!”
“Why yes! I wish I was also a ballet dancer,” Sam said. “Then I could dance with you every night to the music of a harp.”
From all the years of Christina riding Sam, he had become scratched and scarred, and his saddle was worn.
“Someday soon, we’ll dance together,” Christina said to Sam, brushing his mane with her hands.
Then one day when Christina was walking home from school, she stopped by her grandfather’s shop unannounced.
“Grandfather, I must be able to walk without these braces!” Christina said. “How will any boy ever love me? I must be a ballerina with pretty slippers! I need to dance on my toes and pirouette in a tutu . . .”
“I love you . . . I used to be a boy, even though I am now a man,” her grandfather said, looking at her bruised legs.
“The only friend that I have in the whole wide world is Sam, and he’s a rocking horse!” she cried.
“Now that can’t be true,” her grandfather said, looking out the window at children playing ball in the street.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said to Christina, placing another rose behind her ear.
Christina stumbled home through the cobbled streets in her braces, tripping in the alley with her schoolbooks.
“Why?” she cried in the middle of the street with everyone watching her.
By the time she made it home, it was dark enough to only see the moon and the stars in the sky. She threw her books on the floor and walked to her room as fast as she could, throwing her arms around Sam.
“What’s wrong, Christina?” her mother asked, staring at her father in bitter silence as he turned from his daughter.
“Leave me alone,” Christina said. “It’s obvious what’s wrong. I’m a cripple, and no one loves me . . .”
She sobbed until she could no longer cry anymore and eventually fell asleep on the rocking horse. When Grandfather Renato heard what had happened, he stayed up all night making a pair of pink ballerina toe slippers.
He reinforced the satin ballet shoes with a box to shape the toe, constructing it of many layers of strong glue and material. The slippers were just Christina’s size, to fit her feet without any problem.
The next morning, Grandfather Renato took the shoes to the village priest asking him to bless the slippers.
“Whoever wears these beautiful ballerina slippers will rise again,” the priest said, praying over the shoes. He anointed the slippers with oil and swung his incense burner over the satin footwear.
“Thank you, Father,” Grandfather Renato said to the priest, leaving the cathedral with every good intention.
However, before he was able to give the shoes to Christina, the village necromancer stopped him on the street corner. The soothsayer, Sorceress Lucinda, spun spells in her cottage for the desperate people of the village.
“So, you think the prayer of that priest is going to give your granddaughter the ability to dance?” she said.
“What do you know about my Christina Rose and her ballerina slippers?” he said, holding the shoes close to his chest.
“I know that if you really wanted her to dance that I would have to cook the shoes in my brew,” the Sorceress said.
“Do you think that would really work?” Grandfather Renato asked. “My granddaughter is so sad . . .”
“I’m sure it will work, but she’ll never ever be able to take the slippers off her feet again,” the Sorceress said.
“Well, that would be better than wearing braces her entire life,” Christina’s grandfather said, thinking over his options.
“Take the slippers and cook them in your brew. I will come back for them before sunset,” he said, handing her the shoes.
As the witch walked away with Christina’s ballerina slippers, Grandfather Renato ran back to the church to pray. When he arrived at the Sorceress’ cottage at sunset, she handed him the previously pink slippers, which were now black.
“Give them to your granddaughter, and she’ll dance forever!” the necromancer said, cackling.
Grandfather Renato hurried to find his granddaughter—who was of course sitting on Sam, her faithful rocking horse.
“I made these beautiful ballerina slippers for you last night,” Grandfather Renato said, handing them to Christina.
Before her grandfather could even explain that the slippers could never be removed once put on her feet, she grabbed the shoes and shoved them across her toes and tied the black ribbons as tight as possible.
Then the braces fell off her legs, and she danced across the bedroom floor with tears in her eyes.
“Grandfather, I can’t believe that you made such beautiful ballerina slippers just for me!” she said.
“Yes . . . but I forgot to tell you that you will never be able to take them off . . . it’s the only condition,” he said.
“I will never take them off!” she said. “Why would I ever even want to take them off?”
“Of course,” her grandfather said, looking at Sam, the wooden rocking horse that had loved her even with her braces.
As days turned into weeks and months, Christina put a blanket over Sam and shoved him into the corner. She danced her way through the village to much acclaim and had forgotten that she ever rode Sam and told him secrets.
Soon after that, the Sorceress—full of jealousy for Christina’s dancing—hung a black silk tutu on her window at night.
“It’s only because of me that you can dance,” the witch whispered, angry for never receiving credit for the slippers.
“This dress is for you, child,” the necromancer said, sticking her head through Christina’s bedroom window.
“Wear the dress with the shoes, and you’ll dance like never before,” the Sorceress said, cracking a smile.
“Why thank you!” Christina said. “I believe we’ve never met . . . such kindness from a stranger . . .”
The next morning, Christina danced through her grandfather’s shop in the black tutu with her ballerina shoes.
“I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she said to her grandfather, as she did an arabesque.
She stood on one leg and raised her other leg behind her body and extended it in a straight line. Before she knew what happened, she felt like she was suffocating and collapsed to the floor, breaking both ankles.
“Child!” Grandfather Renato cried, running to her in tears. He exchanged the black tutu for a red robe with roses on it.
“This is all my fault. The witch cursed the shoes. The tutu must be cursed as well,” he said, scooping Christina in his arms. “I thought the slippers would help you dance. I didn’t know what I was doing. God, forgive me.”
Grandfather Renato carried her to the priest’s cathedral in tears, praying that her ankles would be healed. With the broken ankles came a high temperature, and her grandfather feared she had an infection and would die.
“Please save my Christina Rose,” the grandfather said. “Sorceress Lucinda cursed her. It’s all my fault.”
“Your faith has made you well. Go in peace,” the priest prayed with confidence, anointing her with perfumed oil.
“What faith?” Grandfather Renato cried, carrying Christina out of the church. “I have no faith. That’s the problem.”
“But I have faith, Grandfather,” Christina whispered. “I have faith that I can still dance . . .”
As Grandfather Renato tucked Christina into her bed at home, her parents wept at the thought she might die.
“Why didn’t you just leave well enough alone? What if God meant for her to wear those braces?” Christina’s mother said.
“She was fine just playing with that clumsy, old rocking horse all day. She didn’t need to dance,” her father said.
“I am the only one who has ever really loved her,” said a loud, brave voice from the corner of the room.
“What?” Grandfather Renato said, pulling the cover off Sam, Christina’s wooden rocking horse. The voice was so loud that Christina sat up in bed, pulled off her covers, and stood up.
“Sam, I love you!” she cried to the clumsy, wooden rocking horse, remembering how she wanted to dance with him.
The moment she kissed him on the cheek, she was transformed into a tall slender woman, wearing pink ballet toe shoes. Then Sam changed into a tall fit man in a blue body suit wearing his own gentleman ballet slippers. Sam grabbed Christina, put a rose in her hair, kissed her, and danced with her across the village.
When the Sorceress heard what had happened—that a clumsy rocking horse had answered the priest’s prayer—the witch collapsed dead in the street with remorse, and Grandfather Renato never doubted his faith again.
The parents of sweet Christina finally decided to love her and accept her for the graceful person that she had always been.
Christina Rose and Sam Danseur danced together in beautiful ballerina slippers for the rest of their lives, and so did their children.
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Waters
Dedicated to Great Uncle Charlie Grim for the "clumsy" wooden rocking horse that he carved.