Picture a late-June morning in 1918, a time when Montgomery wore her prettiest spring dress and finest floral perfumesame as I would wear that evening. Our house, a roomy Victorian on Pleasant Avenue, was wrapped in the tiny white blooms of Confederate jasmine and the purple splendor of morning glories. It was a Saturday, and early yet, and cloudy. Birds had congregated in the big magnolia tree and were singing at top volume as if auditioning to be soloists in a Sunday choir.
From our back stairway's window I saw a slow horse pulling a rickety wagon. Behind it walked two colored women who called out the names of vegetables as they went. Beets! Sweet peas! Turnips! they sang, louder even than the birds.
"Hey, Katy," I said, coming into the kitchen. "Bess and Clara are out there, did you hear 'em?" On the wide wooden table was a platter covered by a dish towel. "Plain?" I asked hopefully, reaching beneath the towel for a biscuit.
"No, cheesenow, don't make that face," she said, opening the door to wave to her friends. "Nothin' today!" she shouted. Turning to me, she said, "You can't have peach preserves every day of your life."
"Old Aunt Julia said that was the only thing keepin' me sweet enough to evade the devil." I bit into the biscuit and said, mouth full, "Are the Lord and Lady still asleep?"
"They both in the parlor, which I 'spect you know since you used the back stairway."
I set my biscuit aside so as to roll my blue skirt's waistband one more turn, allowing another inch of skin to show above my bare ankles. "There."
"Maybe I best get you the preserves after all," Katy told me, shaking her head. "You mean to wear shoes, at least."
"It's too hotand if it rains, they'll just get soaked and my toes'll prune up and the skin'll peel and then I'll have to go shoeless and I can't, I have my ballet solo tonight."
"My own mama would whip me if I's to go in public like that," Katy clucked.
"She would not, you're thirty years old."
"You think that matter to her?"
I thought of how my parents still counseled and lectured my three sisters and my brother, all at least seven years older than me, all full adults with children of their ownexcept for Rosalind. Tootsie, we call her. She and Newman, who was off fighting in France, same as our sister Tilde's husband, John, were taking their time about parenthoodor maybe it was taking its time about them. And I thought of how my grandmother Musidora, when she lived with us, couldn't help advising Daddy about everything from his haircuts to his rulings. The thing, then, was to get away from one's parents, and stay away.
"Anyway, never mind," I said as I went for the back door, sure that my escape was at hand. "Long as no one here sees me"
"Baby!" I jumped at Mama's voice coming from the doorway behind us. "For heaven's sake," she said, "where are your stockings and shoes?"
"I'm just goin'"
"right back to your room to get dressed. You can't think you were walking to town that way!"
Katy said, "S'cuse me, I just remembered we low on turnips," and out she went.
"Not to town," I lied. "To the orchard. I'm goin' to practice for tonight." I extended my arms and did a graceful plié.
Mama said, "Yes, lovely. I'm sure, however, that there's no time for practice; didn't you say the Red Cross meeting starts at nine?"
"What time is it?" I turned to see that the clock read twenty minutes 'til. I rushed past Mama and up the stairs, saying, "I better get my shoes and get out of here!"
"Please tell me you're wearing your corset," she called.
Tootsie was in the upstairs hallway still dressed in her nightgown, hair disheveled, sleep in her eyes. "What's all this?"
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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