Untying the calico bundle, I redirected my thoughts and handed Eleanor the fabric's loose end. "I had a letter yesterday from Arthur Brennan," I said. "Remember him, from our last trip to Atlanta?"
Eleanor frowned in concentration as she tried to form the start of the roll. "Was it thumbs under, or forefingers under?"
"Fingers. Arthur's people have been in cotton since before the Revolution. They've still got old slaves who never wanted to go, which Daddy says is proof that President Lincoln ruined the South for nothin'."
Eleanor made a few successful turns, then looked up. "Arthur's the boy with that green Dort car? The glossy one we rode in?"
"That's him. Wasn't it delicious? Arthur said Dorts cost twice what a Ford doesa thousand dollars, maybe more. The Judge would as soon dance naked in front of the courthouse as spend that kind of money on a car."
The notion amused me; as I continued feeding the fabric to Eleanor, I imagined a scene in which Daddy exited the streetcar in his pin-striped suit, umbrella furled, leather satchel in hand. Parked at the base of the broad, marble courthouse steps would be a green Dort, its hood sleek and gleaming in the sunshine, its varnished running boards aglow. A man in a top hat and tailcoatsome agent of the devil, he'd bewould beckon my father over to the car; there would be a conversation; Daddy would shake his head and frown and gesture with his umbrella; he would raise a finger as he pontificated about relative value and the ethics of overspending; the top-hatted man would shake his head firmly, leaving Daddy no choice but to disrobe on the spot, and dance.
In this vision I allowed my father the dignity of being at a distance from my vantage point, and facing away from me. In truth, I hadn't yet seen a man undressedthough I'd seen young boys, and Renaissance artwork, which I supposed were representational enough.
"Speaking of nakedness," Eleanor said, leaning across the table to take the end of the bandage from me, "last night at the movie house, an aviatorCaptain Wendell Haskins, he saidasked me was the rumor true about you parading around the pool in a flesh-colored bathing suit. He was at the movies with May Steiner, and asking about you, isn't that sublime? May was at the concession just then, so she didn't hear him; that was gentlemanly, at least."
Sara said, "I sure wish I'd been at the pool that day, just to see the old ladies' faces."
"Were you at the dance last winter when Zelda pinned the mistletoe to the back of her skirt?" Livye said.
"You should've been down here with us on Wednesday," Eleanor told them. "Zelda commandeered our streetcar while the driver was on the corner finishing a smoke. We just left him there with his eyes bulging and went rolling on up Perry Street!"
"I swear, Zelda, you have all the fun," Sara said. "And you never get in trouble!"
Eleanor said, "Everyone's afraid of her daddy, so they just shake their finger at her and let her go."
I nodded. "Even my sisters are scared of him."
"But you're not," Livye said.
"He barks way more than he bites. So, El, what'd you tell Captain Haskins?"
"I said, 'Don't tell a soul, Captain, but there was no bathing suit at all.'"
Livye snorted, and I said, "See, El, that's what I like about you. Keep that up and all the matrons will be calling you wicked, too."
Eleanor reached for a pin from a bowl on the table, then secured the bandage's end. "He asked whether you had a favorite beau, who your people were, what your daddy did, and whether you had siblings"
Sara said, "Might be he just wanted some excuse to make conversation with you, Eleanor."
"In which case he might have thought of one or two questions about me." Eleanor smiled at Sara fondly. "No, he's most certainly fixated on Miss Zelda Sayre of 6 Pleasant Avenue, she of the toe shoes and angel's wings."
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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