When Newman had gone off to France in the fall to fight with General Pershing, Tootsie came back home to live until he returned. "If he returns," she'd said glumly, earning a stern look from Daddywho we all called the Judge, his being an associate Alabama Supreme Court justice. "Show some pride," he'd scolded Tootsie. "No matter the outcome, Newman's service honors the South." And she said, "Daddy, it's the twentieth century, for heaven's sake."
Now I told her, "I'm light a layer, according to Her Highness."
"Really, Baby, if you go out with no corset, men will think you're"
"Maybe I don't care," I said. "Everything's different now anyway. The War Industries Board said not to wear corsets"
"They said not to buy them. But that was a good try." She followed me into my bedroom. "Even if you don't care about social convention, have a thought for yourself; if the Judge knew you left the house half-naked, he would have your hide."
"I was tryin' to have a thought for myself," I said, stripping off my blouse, "and then all you people butted in."
Mama was still in the kitchen when I clattered back down the stairs. "That's better. Now the skirt," she said, pointing at my waist.
"Mama, no. It gets in my way when I run."
"Just fix it, please. I can't have you spoiling the Judge's good name just so you can get someplace faster."
"Nobody's out this early but the help, and anyway, when did you get so fussy?"
"It's a matter of what's appropriate. You're seventeen years old"
"Eighteen, in twenty-six more days."
"Yes, that's right, even more to the point," she said. "Too old to still be a tomboy."
"Call me a fashion plate, then. Hemlines are goin' up, I saw it in McCall's."
She pointed at my skirt. "Not as high as that."
I kissed her on her softening jawline. No cream or powder could hide Time's toll on Mama's features. She'd be fifty-seven on her next birthday, and all those years showed in her lined face, her upswept hairdo, her insistence on sticking with her Edwardian shirtwaists and floor-sweeping skirts. She outright refused to make anything new for herself. "There's a war going on," she'd say, as if that explained everything. Tootsie and I had been so proud when she gave up her bustle at New Year's.
I said, "So long, Mamadon't wait lunch for me, I'm goin' to the diner with the girls."
Then the second I was out of sight, I sat down in the grass and pulled off my shoes and stockings to free my toes. Too bad, I thought, that my own freedom couldn't be had so easily.
* * *
Thunder rumbled in the distance as I headed toward Dexter Avenue, the wide thoroughfare that runs right up to the domed, columned state capitol, the most impressive building I had ever seen. Humming "Dance of the Hours," the tune I'd perform to later, I skipped along amid the smell of clipped grass and wet moss and sweet, decaying catalpa blooms.
Ballet, just then, was my one true love, begun at age nine when Mama had enrolled me in Professor Weisner's School of Dancea failed attempt to keep me out of the trees and off the roofs. In ballet's music and motion there was joy and drama and passion and romance, all the things I desired from life. There were costumes, stories, parts to play, chances to be more than just the littlest Sayre girllast in line, forever wanting to be old enough to be old enough.
I was on Mildred Street just past where it intersected with Sayrenamed for my family, yeswhen a sprinkle hit my cheek, and then one hit my forehead, and then God turned the faucet on full. I ran for the nearest tree and stood beneath its branches, for what little good it did. The wind whipped the leaves and the rain all around me and I was soaked in no time. Since I couldn't get any wetter, I just went on my way, imagining the trees as a troupe of swaying dancers and me an escaped orphan freed, finally, from a powerful warlock's tyranny. I might be lost in the forest, but as in all the best ballets, a prince was sure to happen along shortly.
Excerpted from Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler. Copyright © 2013 by Therese Fowler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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