The high parabolas of Schumann fell through the narrow brick court and splashed against the red walls in jangling crescendo. Alabama traversed the dingy passage behind the stage of the Olympia Music Hall. In the grey gloom the name of Raquel Meller faded across a door marked with a scaling gold star; the paraphernalia of a troupe of tumblers obstructed the stairway. She mounted seven flights of stairs worn soft and splintery with the insecure passage of many generations of dancers and opened the studio door. The hydrangea blue of the walls and the scrubbed floor hung from the skylight like the basket of a balloon suspended in the ether. Effort and aspiration, excitement, discipline, and an overwhelming seriousness flooded the vast barn of a room. A muscular girl stood in the centre of this atmosphere winding the ends of space about the rigidity of her extended thigh. Round and round she went, and, dropping the thrill of the exciting spiral to the low, precise organization of a lullaby, brought herself to an orgiastic pause. She walked awkwardly across to Alabama.
“I have a lesson with Madame at three,” Alabama addressed the girl in French. “It was arranged by a friend.”
“She is coming soon,” the dancer said with an air of mockery. “You will get ready, perhaps?”
Alabama couldn’t decide whether the girl was ridiculing the world in general or Alabama in particular, or, perhaps, herself.
“You have danced a long while?” asked the dancer.
“No. This is my first lesson.”
“Well, we all begin sometime,” said the girl tolerantly.
She twirled blindingly three or four times to end the conversation.
“This way,” she said, indicating her lack of interest in a novice. She showed Alabama into the vestibule.
Along the walls of the dressing-room hung the long legs and rigid feet of flesh and black tights moulded in sweat to the visual image of the decisive tempos of Prokofiev and Sauguet, of Poulenc and Falla. The bright, explosive carnation of a ballet-skirt projected under the edges of a face towel. In a corner the white blouse and pleated skirt of Madame hung behind a faded grey curtain. The room reeked of hard work.
A Polish girl with hair like a copper-wire dishcloth and a purple, gnomish face bent over a straw chest sorting torn sheets of music and arranging a pile of discarded tunics. Odd toe shoes swung from the light. Turning the pages of a ragged Beethoven album, the Pole unearthed a faded photograph.
“I think it is her mother,” she said to the dancer.
The dancer inspected the picture proprietorily; she was the ballerina.
“I think, ma chere Stella, that it is Madame herself when she was young. I shall keep it!” She laughed lawlessly and authoritatively—she was the centre of the studio.
“No, Arienne Jeanneret. It is I who will keep it.”
“May I see the picture?” asked Alabama.
“It is certainly Madame herself.”
Arienne handed the picture to Alabama with a shrug of dismissal. Her motions had no continuity; she was utterly immobile between the spasmodic electric vibrations that propelled her body from one cataclysmic position to another.
The eyes of the picture were round and sad and Russian, a dreamy consciousness of its own white dramatic beauty gave the face weight and purpose as if the features were held together by spiritual will. The forehead was bound by a broad metallic strip after the fashion of a Roman charioteer. The hands posed in experimental organization on the shoulders.
“Is she not beautiful?” asked Stella.
“She’s not un-American,” Alabama answered.
The woman reminded her obscurely of Joan; there was the same transparence about her sister that shone through the face in the picture like the blinding glow of a Russian winter. It was perhaps a kindred intensity of heat that had worn Joan to that thin external radiance.
The girl turned quickly, listening to the tired footsteps of someone hesitantly traversing the studio.
“Where have you found that old picture?” Madame’s voice, broken with sensitivity, would have you believe that it was apologetic. Madame smiled. She was not humourless, but no manifestation of her emotions intruded on the white possessed mysticism of her face.
“In the Beethoven.”
“Before,” Madame said succinctly, “I turned out the lights in my apartment and played Beethoven. My sitting-room in Petrograd was yellow and always full of flowers. I said then to myself, „I am too happy. This cannot last.“” She waved her hand resignedly and raised her eyes challengingly to Alabama.
“So my friend tells me you want to dance? Why? You have friends and money already.” The black eyes moved in frank childish inspection over Alabama’s body, loose and angular as those silver triangles in an orchestra—over her broad shoulder blades and the imperceptible concavity of her long legs, fused together and controlled by the resilient strength of her thick neck. Alabama’s body was like a quill.
“I have been to the Russian ballet,” Alabama tried to explain herself, “and it seemed to me—Oh, I don’t know! As if it held all the things I’ve always tried to find in everything else.”
“What have you seen?”
“La Chatte, Madame, I must do that some day!” Alabama replied impulsively.
A faint flicker of intrigued interest moved the black eyes recessionally. Then the personality withdrew from the face. Looking into her eyes was like walking through a long stone tunnel with a grey light shining at the other end, sloshing blindly through dank dripping earth over a moist curving bottom.
“You are too old. It is a beautiful ballet. Why have you come to me so late?”
“I didn’t know before. I was too busy living.”
“And now you have done all your living?”
“Enough to be fed up,” laughed Alabama.
The woman moved quietly about among the appurtenances of the dance.
“We will see,” she said, “make yourself ready.”
Alabama hastily dressed herself. Stella showed her about tying her toe shoes back of her ankle bones so the knot of the ribbon lay hid in a hollow.
“About La Chatte—” said the Russian.
“You cannot do that. You must not build your hopes so high.”
The sign above the woman’s head said, “Do Not Touch the Looking Glass” in French, English, Italian, and Russian. Madame stood with her back to the huge mirror and gazed at the far corners of the room. There was no music as they began.
“You will have the piano when you have learned to control your muscles,” she explained. “The only way, now that it is so late, is to think constantly of placing your feet. You must always stand with them so.” Madame spread her split satin shoes horizontally. “And you must stretch so fifty times in the evenings.”
She pulled and twisted the long legs along the bar. Alabama’s face grew red with effort. The woman was literally stripping the muscles of her thighs. She could have cried out with pain. Looking at Madame’s smoky eyes and the red gash of her mouth, Alabama thought she saw malice in the face. She thought Madame was a cruel woman. She thought Madame was hateful and malicious.
“You must not rest,” Madame said. “Continue.”
Alabama tore at her aching limbs. The Russian left her alone to work at the fiendish exercise. Reappearing, she sprayed herself unconcernedly before the glass with an atomizer.
“Fatiguee?” she called over her shoulder nonchalantly.
“Yes,” said Alabama.
“But you must not stop.”
After a while the Russian approached the bar.
“When I was a little girl in Russia,” she said impassively, “I did four hundred of those every night.”
Rage rose in Alabama like the gurgling of gasoline in a visible tank. She hoped the contemptuous woman knew how much she hated her. “I will do four hundred.”
“Luckily, the Americans are athletic. They have more natural talent than the Russians,” Madame remarked. “But they are spoiled with ease and money and plenty of husbands. That is enough for today. You have some eau de Cologne?”
Alabama rubbed herself with the cloudy liquid from Madame’s atomizer. She dressed among the confused startled eyes and naked bodies of a class which drifted in. The girls spoke hilariously in Russian. Madame invited her to wait and see the work.
A man sat sketching on a broken iron chair; two heavy bearded personages of the theatre pointed to first one, then another of the girls; a boy in black tights with his head in a bandana package and the face of a mythical pirate pulverized the air with ankle beats.
Mysteriously the ballet grouped itself. Silently it unfolded its mute clamour in the seductive insolence of back jetes, insouciant pas de chats, the abandon of many pirouettes, launched its fury in the spring and stretch of the Russian stchay, and lulled itself to rest in a sweep of cradling chasses. Nobody spoke. The room was as still as a cyclone centre.
“You like it?” said Madame implacably.
Alabama felt her face flush with a hot gush of embarrassment. She was very tired from her lesson. Her body ached and trembled. This first glimpse of the dance as an art opened up a world. “Sacrilege!” she felt like crying out to the posturing abandon of the past as she thought ignominiously of The Ballet of the Hours that she had danced ten years before. She remembered unexpectedly the exaltation of swinging sideways down the pavements as a child and clapping her heels in the air. This was close to that old forgotten feeling that she couldn’t stay on the earth another minute.
“I love it. What is it?”
The woman turned away. “It is a ballet of mine about an amateur who wanted to join a circus,” she said. Alabama wondered how she’d thought those nebulous amber eyes were soft; they seemed to be infernally laughing at her. Madame went on : “You will work again at three tomorrow.”
Alabama rubbed her legs with Elizabeth Arden muscle oil night after night. There were blue bruises inside above the knee where the muscles were torn. Her throat was so dry that at first she thought she had fever and took her temperature and was disappointed to find that she had none. In her bathing suit she tried to stretch on the high back of a Louis Quatorze sofa. She was always stiff, and she clutched the gilt flowers in pain. She fastened her feet through the bars of the iron bed and slept with her toes glued outwards for weeks. Her lessons were agony.
At the end of a month, Alabama could hold herself erect in ballet position, her weight controlled over the balls of her feet, holding the curve of her spine drawn tight together like the reins of a race-horse and mashing down her shoulders till they felt as if they were pressed flat against her hips. The time moved by in spasmodic jumps like a school clock. David was glad of her absorption at the studio. It made them less inclined to use up their leisure on parties. Alabama’s leisure was a creaky muscle-sore affair and better spent at home. David could work more freely when she was occupied and making fewer demands on his time.
At night she sat in the window too tired to move, consumed by a longing to succeed as a dancer. It seemed to Alabama that, reaching her goal, she would drive the devils that had driven her—that, in proving herself, she would achieve that peace which she imagined went only in surety of one’s self—that she would be able, through the medium of the dance, to command her emotions, to summon love or pity or happiness at will, having provided a channel through which they might flow. She drove herself mercilessly, and the summer dragged on.
The heat of July beat on the studio skylight and Madame sprayed the air with disinfectant. The starch in Alabama’s organdie skirts stuck to her hands and sweat rolled into her eyes till she couldn’t see. Choking dust rose off the floor, the intense glare threw a black gauze before her eyes. It was humiliating that Madame should have to touch her pupil’s ankles when they were so hot. The human body was very insistent. Alabama passionately hated her inability to discipline her own. Learning how to manage it was like playing a desperate game with herself. She said to herself, “My body and I,” and took herself for an awful beating : that was how it was done. Some of the dancers worked with a bath towel pinned? around their necks. It was so hot under the burning roof that they needed something to absorb the sweat. Sometimes the mirror swam in red heat waves if Alabama’s lesson came at the hours when the direct sun fell on the glass overhead. Alabama was sick of moving her feet in the endless battements without music. She wondered why she came to her lessons at all : David had asked her to swim at Corne-Biche in the afternoon. She felt obscurely angry with Madame that she had not gone off in the cool with her husband. Though she did not believe that the careless happy passages of their first married life could be repeated—or relished if they were, drained as they had been of the experiences they held—still, the highest points of concrete enjoyment that Alabama visualized when she thought of happiness, lay in the memories they held.
“Will you pay attention?” Madame said. “This is for you.” Madame moved across the floor mapping the plan of a simple adagio.
“I can’t do it,” said Alabama. She began negligently, following the path of the Russian. Suddenly she stopped. “Oh, but it is beautiful!” she said rapturously.
The ballet mistress did not turn around. “There are many beautiful things in the dance,” she said laconically, “but you cannot do them—yet.”
After her lesson, Alabama folded her soaking clothes into her valise. Arienne wrung out her tights in pools of sweat on the floor. Alabama held the ends while she squeezed and twisted. It cost a lot of sweat to learn to dance.
“I am going away for a month,” Madame said one Saturday. “You can continue here with Mile Jeanneret. I hope that when I come back you will be able to have the music.”
“Then I can’t have my lesson on Monday?” She had given so much of her time to the studio that it was like being precipitated into a void to think of life without it.
Alabama felt great hot tears rolling inexplicably down her face as she watched the tired figure of their teacher disappear in the dusty fog. She ought to be glad of the respite; she had expected to be glad.
“You must not cry,” the girl said to her kindly. “Madame must go away for her heart to Royat.” She smiled gently at Alabama. “We will get Stella to play for your lessons at once,” she said with the air of a conspirator.
Through the heat of August they worked. The leaves dried and decayed in the basin of St-Sulpice; the Champs-Elysees simmered in gasoline fumes. There was nobody in Paris; everybody said so. The fountains in the Tuileries threw off a hot vaporous mist; midinettes shed their sleeves. Alabama went twice a day to the studio. Bonnie was in Brittany visiting friends of Nanny. David drank with the crowds of people in the Ritz Bar celebrating the emptiness of the city together.
“Why will you never come out with me?” he said.
“Because I can’t work next day if I do.”
“Are you under the illusion that you’ll ever be any good at that stuff?”
“I suppose not; but there’s only one way to try.”
“We have no life at home any more.”
“You’re never there anyway—I’ve got to have something to do with myself.”
“Another female whine—I have to do my work.”
“I’ll do anything you want.”
“Will you come with me this afternoon?”
They went to Le Bourget and hired an aeroplane. David drank so much brandy before they left that by the time they were over the Porte St-Denis he was trying to get the pilot to take them to Marseille. When they got back to Paris he urged Alabama to get out with him at the Cafe Lilas. “We’ll find somebody and have dinner,” he said.
“David. I can’t honestly. I get so sick when I drink. I’ll have to have morphine if I do, like last time.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the studio.”
“Yet you can’t stay with me! What’s the use of having a wife? If a woman’s only to sleep with there are plenty available for that—”
“What’s the use of having a husband or anything else? You suddenly find you have them all the same, and there you are.”
The taxi whirred through the rue Cambon. Unhappily she climbed the steps. Arienne was waiting.
“What a sad face!” she said.
“Life is a sad business, isn’t it, my poor Alabama?” said Stella.
When the preliminary routines at the bar were over, Alabama and Arienne moved to the centre of the floor.
The sad coquetries of a Chopin mazurka fell flat on the parched air. Alabama watched Arienne searching for the mental processes of Madame. She seemed very squat and sordid. She was the premiere danseuse of the Paris Opera, nearly at the top. Alabama began sobbing inaudibly.
“Lives aren’t as hard as professions,” she gasped.
“Well,” Arienne cackled exasperated, “this is not a pension de jeunes filles! Will you do the step your own way if you do not like the way I do?” She stood with her hands on her hips, powerful and uninspired, implying that Alabama’s knowledge of the step’s existence imposed on her the obligation to perform it. Somebody had to master the thing; it was there in the air. Arienne had put it there, let Arienne do it.
“It is for you, you know, that we work,” said Arienne harshly.
“My foot hurts,” said Alabama petulantly. “The nail has come off.”
“Then you must grow a harder one. Will you begin? Dva, Stella!”
Miles and miles of pas de bourree, her toes picking the floor like the beaks of many feeding hens, and after ten thousand miles you got to advance without shaking your breasts. Arienne smelled of wet wool. Over and over she tried. Her ankles turned; her comprehension moved faster than her feet and threw her out of balance. She invented a trick : you must pull with your spirit against the forward motions of the body, and that gave you the tenebrous dignity and economy of effort known as style.
“But you are a bete, an impossible!” screeched Arienne. “You wish to understand it before you can do it.”
Alabama finally taught herself what it felt like to move the upper part of her body along as if it were a bust on wheels. Her pas de bourree progressed like a flying bird. She could hardly keep from holding her breath when she did it.
When David asked about her dancing she adopted a superior manner. She felt he couldn’t have understood if she had tried to explain about the pas de bourree. Once she did try. Her exposition had been full of “You-see-what-I-means” and “Can’t-you understand”, and David was annoyed and called her a mystic.
“Nothing exists that can’t be expressed,” he said angrily.
“You are just sense. For me, it’s quite clear.”
David wondered if Alabama had ever really understood any of his pictures. Wasn’t any art the expression of the inexpressible? And isn’t the inexpressible always the same, though variable—like the X in physics? It may represent anything at all, but at the same time, it’s always actually X.
Madame came back during the September drouth.
“You have made much progress,” she said, “but you must get rid of your American vulgarities. You surely sleep too much. Four hours is enough.”
“Are you better for your treatments?”
“They put me in a cabinet,” she laughed. “I could only stay with somebody holding my hand. Rest is not commode for tired people. It is not good for artists.”
“It has been a cabinet here this summer,” said Alabama savagely.
“And you still want to dance La Chatte, poor?”
Alabama laughed. “You will tell me,” she said, “when I do well enough to buy myself a tutu?”
Madame shrugged her shoulders, “Why not now?” she said.
“I’d like to be a fine dancer first.”
“You must work.”
“I work four hours a day.”
“It is too much.”
“Then how can I be a dancer?”
“I do not know how anybody can be anything,” said the Russian.
“I will burn candles to St Joseph.”
“Perhaps that will help; a Russian saint would be better.”
During the last days of the hot weather David and Alabama moved to the Left Bank. Their apartment, tapestried in splitting yellow brocade, looked out over the dome of St-Sulpice. Old women hatched in the shadows about the corners of the cathedral; the bells tolled incessantly for funerals. The pigeons that fed in the square ruffled themselves on their window ledge. Alabama sat in the night breezes, holding her face to the succulent heavens, brooding. Her exhaustion slowed up her pulses to the tempo of her childhood. She thought of the time when she was little and had been near her father—by his aloof distance he had presented himself as an infallible source of wisdom, a bed of sureness. She could trust her father. She half hated the unrest of David, hating that of herself that she found in him. Their mutual experiences had formed them mutually into an unhappy compromise. That was the trouble : they hadn’t thought they would have to make any adjustments as their comprehensions broadened their horizons, so they accepted those necessary reluctantly, as compromise instead of as change. They had thought they were perfect and opened their hearts to inflation but not alteration.
The air grew damp with autumn maze. They dined here and there among the jewelled women glittering like bright scaled fish in an aquarium. They went for walks and taxi rides. A growing feeling of alarm in Alabama for their relationship had tightened itself to a set determination to get on with her work. Pulling the skeleton of herself over a loom of attitude and arabesque she tried to weave the strength of her father and the young beauty of her first love with David, the happy oblivion of her teens and her warm protected childhood into a magic cloak. She was much alone.
David was a gregarious person; he went out a great deal. Their life moved along with a hypnotic pound and nothing seemed to matter short of murder. She presumed they wouldn’t kill anybody—that would bring the authorities; all the rest was bunk, like Jacques and Gabrielle had been. She didn’t care—she honestly didn’t care a damn about the loneliness. Years later, she was surprised to remember that a person could have been so tired as she was then.
Bonnie had a French governess who poisoned their meals with “N’est-ce pas, Monsieur?” and “Du moins, j’aurais pensee.” She chewed with her mouth open and the crumbs of sardines about the gold fillings of her teeth nauseated Alabama. She ate staring out on the bare autumnal court. She would have got another governess, but something was sure to happen with things at such a tension and she thought she’d wait.
Bonnie was growing fast and full of anecdotes of Josette and Claudine and the girls at her school. She subscribed to a child’s publication, outgrew the guignol and began to forget her English. A certain reserve manifested itself in her dealings with her parents. She was very superior with her old English-speaking Nanny, who took her out on the days of Mademoiselle’s “sortie” : exciting days when the apartment reeked of Coty’s L’Origan and Bonnie incurred eruptions on her face from the scones at Rumpelmayer’s. Alabama could never make Nanny admit that Bonnie had eaten them; Nanny insisted the spots were in the blood and that it was better for them to come out, hinting at a sort of exorcising of hereditary evil spirits.
David bought Alabama a dog. They named him “Adage”. The femme de chambre addressed him as “Monsieur” and cried when he was spanked so nobody could ever house-train the beast. They kept him in the guest room with the photographic likenesses of the apartment owner’s immediate family peering through the fumes of his salete.
Alabama felt very sorry for David. He and she appeared to her like people in a winter of adversity picking over old garments left from a time of wealth. They repeated themselves to each other; she dragged out old expressions that she knew he must be tired of; he bore her little show with a patent mechanical appreciation. She felt sorry for herself. She had always been so proud of being a good stage manager.
November filtered the morning light to a golden powder that hung over Paris stabilizing time till the days stayed at morning all day long. She worked in the grey gloom of the studio and felt very professional in the discomfort of the unheated place. The girls dressed by an oil stove that Alabama bought for Madame; the dressing-room reeked of glue from the toe shoes warming over the thin blaze, of stale eau de Cologne, and of poverty. When Madame was late, the dancers warmed themselves by doing a hundred releves to the chanted verses of Verlaine. The windows could never be opened because of the Russians, and Nancy and May, who had worked with Pavlova, said the smell made them sick. May lived at the Y.W.C.A. and wanted Alabama to come to tea. One day, as they were going down the steps together, she said to Alabama that she could not dance any more, that she was quite sick.
“Madame’s ears are so filthy, my dear,” she said, “it makes me quite sick.”
Madame had made May dance behind the others. Alabama laughed at the girl’s disingenuousness.
There was Marguerite, who came in white, and Fania in her dirty rubber undergarments, and Anise and Anna who lived with millionaires and dressed in velvet tunics, and Ceza in grey and scarlet—they said she was a Jew—and somebody else in blue organdie, and thin girls in apricot draperies like folds of skin, and three Tanyas like all the other Russian Tanyas, and girls in the starkness of white who looked like boys in swimming, and girls in black who looked like women, a superstitious girl in mauve, and one dressed by her mother who wore cerise to blind them all in that pulsating gyroscope, and the thin pathetic femininity of Marte who danced at the Opera Comique and swept off belligerently after classes with her husband.
Arienne Jeanneret dominated the vestibule. She dressed with her face to the wall and had many preparations for rubbing herself and bought fifty pairs of toe-slippers at a time, which she gave to Stella when she’d worn them a week. She kept the girls quiet when Madame was giving a lesson. The vulgarity of her hips repelled Alabama but they were good friends. It was with Arienne that she sat in the cafe under the Olympia after their lessons and drank the daily Cap Corse with seltzer. Arienne took her backstage at the Opera where the dancer was well-respected, and Arienne came to lunch with Alabama. David hated her guts because she tried to give him moral lectures about his opinions and his drinking, but she was not bourgeoise: she was gamine, full of strident jokes about firemen and soldiers, and Montmartre songs about priests and peasants and cuckolds. She was almost an elf, but her stockings were always wrinkled and she talked in sermons.
She took Alabama to see Pavlova’s last performance. Two men like Beerbohm cartoons asked to see them home. Arienne refused.
“Who are they?” asked Alabama.
“I do not know—subscribers to the Opera.”
“Then why do you talk to them if you’ve never met them?”
“One does not meet the patrons of the first three rows of the National Opera; the seats are reserved for men,” said Arienne. She herself lived with her brother near the Bois. Sometimes she cried in the dressing-room.
“Zambelli still dancing Coppelia!” she’d say. “You don’t know how difficult life is, Alabama, you with your husband and your baby.” When she cried the black came off her eyelashes and dried in lumps like a wet water-colour. There was a spiritual open space between her grey eyes that seemed as pure as an open daisy field.
“Oh, Arienne!” said Madame enthusiastically. “There’s a dancer! When she cries it is not for nothing.” Alabama’s face grew colourless with fatigue and her eyes sank in her head like the fumes of autumnal fires.
Arienne helped her to master the entrechats.
“You must not rest when you come down after the spring,” she said, “but you must depart again immediately, so that the impetus of the first leap carries you through the other like the bouncing of a ball.”
“Da,” said Madame, “da! da!—But it is not enough.” It was never enough to please Madame.
She and David slept late on Sundays, dining at Foyot’s or some place near their home.
“We promised your mother to come home for Christmas,” he said over many tables.
“Yes, but I don’t see how we can go. It’s so expensive, and you haven’t finished your Paris pictures.”
“I’m glad you are not too disappointed because I had decided to wait until spring.”
“There’s Bonnie’s school, too. It would be a shame to switch just now.”
“We’ll go for Easter, then.”
Alabama did not want to leave Paris where they were so unhappy. Her family grew very remote with the distention of her soul in stchay and pirouette.
Stella brought a Christmas cake to the studio, and two chickens for Madame that she had received from her uncle in Normandy. Her uncle wrote her that he could send no more money : the franc was down to forty. Stella made her living copying sheet music, which ruined her eyes and left her starving. She lived in a garret and got sinus trouble from the draughts, but she would not give up wasting her days at the studio.
“What can a Pole do in Paris?” she said to Alabama. What can anybody do in Paris? When it comes to fundamentals, nationalities do not count for much.
Madame got Stella a job turning pages for musicians at concerts, and Alabama paid her ten francs a pair for darning her toe shoes on the ends to keep them from slipping.
Madame kissed them all on both cheeks for Christmas, and they ate Stella’s cake. It was as much of a Christmas as she would have at their apartment, thought Alabama without emotion—that was because she hadn’t put any interest into their Christmas at home.
Arienne sent Bonnie an expensive kitchen outfit as a present. Alabama was touched when she thought how her friend probably needed the money it cost. Nobody had any money.
“I shall have to give up my lessons,” said Arienne. “The pigs at the Opera pay us a thousand francs a month. I cannot live on it.”
Alabama invited Madame to dinner and to see a ballet. Madame was very white and fragile in a pale-green evening dress. Her eyes were fixed on the stage. A pupil of hers was dancing Le Lac des Cygnes. Alabama wondered what passed behind those yellow Confucian eyes as she watched the white sifting stream of the ballet.
“It is much too small nowadays,” the woman said. “When I danced things were of a different scale.”
Alabama looked incredulous. “Twenty-four fouettes, she did,” she said. “What more can anybody do?” It had physically hurt her to see the ethereal steely body of the dancer snapping and whipping itself in the mad convolutions of those turns.
“I do not know what they can do. I only know that I did something else,” said the artist, “that was better.”
She did not go backstage after the performance to congratulate the girl. She and Alabama and David went to a Russian cabaret. At the table next to theirs sat Hernandara trying to fill a pyramid of champagne glasses by pouring into the top one only. David joined him; the two men sang and shadow-boxed on the dance floor. Alabama was ashamed and afraid that Madame would be offended.
But Madame had been a princess in Russia with all the other Russians.
“They are like puppies playing,” she said. “Leave them. It is pretty.”
“Work is the only pretty thing,” said Alabama, “—at least, I have forgotten the rest.”
“It is good to amuse oneself when one can afford it,” Madame spoke reminiscently. “In Spain, after a ballet, I drank red wine. In Russia it was always champagne.”
Through the blue lights of the place and the red lamps in iron grilles, the white skin of Madame glowed like the Arctic sun on an ice palace. She did not drink much but ordered caviar and smoked many cigarettes. Her dress was cheap; that saddened Alabama—she had been such a great dancer in her time. After the war she had wanted to quit, but she had no money and kept her son at the Sorbonne. Her husband fed himself on dreams of the Corps des Pages and quenched his thirst with reminiscences till there was nothing left of him but a bitter aristocratic phantom. The Russians! suckled on a gallant generosity and weaned on the bread of revolution, they haunt Paris! Everything haunts Paris. Paris is haunted.
Nanny came to Bonnie’s Christmas tree, and some friends of David’s. Alabama thought dispassionately of Christmas in America. They did not sell little frosted houses to hang on Christmas trees in Alabama. In Paris the florists’ were filled with Christmas lilacs, and it rained. Alabama took flowers to the studio.
Madame was enraptured.
“When I was a girl, I was a miser for flowers,” she said. “I loved the flowers of the fields and gathered them in bouquets and boutonnieres for the guests who came to my father’s house.” These little details from the past of so great a dancer seemed glamorous and poignant to Alabama.
By springtime, she was gladly, savagely proud of the strength of her Negroid hips, convex as boats in a wood carving. The complete control of her body freed her from all foetid consciousness of it.
The girls carried away their dirty clothes to wash them. There was heat incubating again in the rue des Capucines and another set of acrobats at the Olympia. The thin sunshine laid pale commemoration tablets on the studio floor, and Alabama was promoted to Beethoven. She and Arienne kidded along the windy streets and roughhoused in the studio, and Alabama drugged herself with work. Her lie outside was like trying to remember in the morning a dream from the night before.
“Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three—but I tell you. Monsieur, you must give me the message. I occupy the position of the adviser of Madame—fifty-four, fifty-five—”
Hastings surveyed the panting body coldly. Stella lapsed into a technically seductive attitude. She had often seen Madame behave just so. She stared into his face as if she were in possession of some vital secret, and awaited his application for an introduction to the mystery. Her petits battements had been well done. She was quite “rechauffe” for so early in the afternoon.
“It was Mrs David Knight that I wanted to see,” said Hastings.
“Our Alabama! She will surely be here before long. She is a dear, Alabama,” cooed Stella.
“There was nobody at home at the apartment, so they told me to come here.” Hastings’ eyes roved about incredulously as if there must be some mistake.
“Oh, she!” said Stella. “She is always here. You have only to wait. If Monsieur will excuse me—?”
Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine. At three hunded and eighty Hastings rose to leave. Stella sweated and blew like a porpoise making believe she hated the difficulties of the self-imposed bar work. She made believe she was a beautiful galley-slave whom Hastings might possibly be wanting to purchase.
“Just tell her I came, will you?” he said.
“Of course, and that you went away. I am sorry that what I can do is not more interesting for Monsieur. There is a class at five if Monsieur would care to—”
“Yes, tell her I went away.” He stared about him distastefully. “I don’t suppose she’d be free for a party, anyway.”
Stella had been so much in the studio that she had absorbed an air of complete confidence in her work like all the pupils of Madame. If people who watched were not fascinated, it must be some lack in themselves of aesthetic appreciation.
Madame allowed Stella to work without paying: many dancers did the same who had no money. When there was money they paid—that was the Russian system.
The crash of a suitcase bumping up the stairs announced the arrival of a student.
“A friend has called,” she said importantly. It was inconceivable to the isolated Stella that a visit could be without consequence. Alabama, too, was forgetting the old casual modulations of life. Against the violent twist and thump of tour jete nothing stood out but the harshest, most dissonant incident.
“What did they want?”
“How should I know?”
A vague unreasoning dread filled Alabama—she must keep the studio apart from her life—otherwise one would soon become as unsatisfactory as the other, lost in an aimless, impenetrable drift.
“Stella,” she said, “if they should come again—if anyone should come here for me, you will always say you don’t know anything about me—that I am not here.”
“But why? It is for the appreciation of your friends that you will dance.”
“No, no!” Alabama protested. “I cannot do two things at once—I wouldn’t go down the Avenue de l’Opera leaping over the traffic cop with pas de chat, and I don’t want my friends rehearsing bridge games in the corner while I dance.”
Stella was glad to share in any personal reactions to life, that side of her own being an empty affair boxed by attics and berated by landladies.
“Very well! Why should life interfere with us artists?” she agreed pompously.
“Last time he was here my husband smoked a cigarette in the studio,” continued Alabama in an attempt to justify the clandestine protestations.
“Oh,” Stella was scandalized. “I see. If I had been here, I would have told him about the awfulness of smells when one is working.”
Stella dressed herself in the worn-out ballet skirts of other dancers and pink gauze shirts from the Galeries Lafayette. She pinned the shirt down over the yoke of the skirt with big safety-pins to form a basque. She lived at the studio during the day, clipping the stems of the flowers the pupils brought Madame to keep them fresh, polishing the great mirror, repairing the music with strips of adhesive, and playing for lessons when the pianist was absent. She thought of herself as councillor to Madame. Madame thought of her as a nuisance.
Stella was very conscientious about earning her lessons. If anyone else tried to do the smallest thing for Madame, it precipitated a scene of sulks and weeping. Her dreamy Polish eyes were faded to the yellowish green of scum on a stagnant pool by the glaze of starvation and intensity. The girls bought her croissants and cafe au lait at midday and called her “ma chere”. Alabama and Arienne gave her money on one pretext or another. Madame gave her old clothes and cakes. In return she told them each separately that Madame had said they were making more progress than the others and juggled the working hours in Madame’s little book so that her eight-hour day sometimes held nine or ten one-hour periods. Stella lived in an air of general intrigue.
Madame was severe with the girl. “You know you can never dance, why do you not get work to do?” she scolded. “You will be old, I will be old—then what will become of you?”
“I have a concert next week. I will have twenty francs for turning pages. Oh, Madame, please let me stay!”
No sooner had Stella the twenty francs than she approached Alabama. “If you would give me the rest,” she pleaded, persuasively, “we could buy a medicine cabinet for the studio. Only last week some one turned an ankle—we should have means to disinfect our blisters.” Stella talked incessantly about the cabinet until Alabama went with her one morning to get it. They waited in the golden sunshine crystallizing the gilt front of Au Printemps for the store to open. The thing cost a hundred francs and was to be a surprise for Madame.
“You may give it to her, Stella,” said Alabama, “but I am going to pay. You cannot afford such an extravagance.”
“No,” mourned Stella, “I have no husband to pay for me! Helas!”
“I give up other things,” Alabama replied crossly. She couldn’t feel resentment against the misshapen, melancholy Pole.
Madame was displeased.
“It is ridiculous,” she said. “There is not room for so bulky an affair in the dressing-room.” When she saw Stella’s frantic eyes, gluey with disappointment, she added, “But it will be very convenient. Leave it. Only you must not spend your money on me.”
She delegated to Alabama the job of seeing that Stella bought her no more presents.
Madame argued over the dried raisins and liquorice bonbons that Stella brought to leave on her table and about the Russian bread she brought in little packages; bread with cheese cooked inside and bread with sugar pellets, caraway bread and glutinous black tragedian breads, breads hot from the oven smelling of innocence, and mouldy epicurean breads from Yiddish bakeries. Anything Stella had money to buy, she bought for Madame.
Instead of curbing Stella, Alabama absorbed the aimless extravagance of the girl. She couldn’t wear new shoes; her feet were too sore. It seemed a crime owning new dresses to smell them up with eau de Cologne and leave them hanging all day long against the studio walls. She thought she could work better when she felt poor. She had abandoned so much of the occasions of exercising personal choice that she spent the hundred-franc notes in her purse on flowers, endowing them with all the qualities of the things she might have bought under other circumstances, the thrill of a new hat, the assurance of a new dress.
Yellow roses she bought with her money like Empire satin brocade, and white lilacs and pink tulips like moulded confectioner’s frosting, and deep-red roses like a Villon poem, black and velvety as an insect wing, cold blue hydrangeas clean as a newly calcimined wall, the crystalline drops of lily of the valley, a bowl of nasturtiums like beaten brass, anemones pieced out of wash material, and malignant parrot tulips scratching the air with their jagged barbs, and the voluptuous scrambled convolutions of Parma violets. She bought lemon-yellow carnations perfumed with the taste of hard candy, and garden roses purple as raspberry puddings, and every kind of white flower the florist knew how to grow. She gave Madame gardenias like white kid gloves and forget-me-nots from the Madeleine stalls, threatening sprays of gladioli, and the soft, even purr of black tulips. She bought flowers like salads and flowers like fruits, jonquils and narcissus, poppies and ragged robins, and flowers with the brilliant carnivorous qualities of Van Gogh. She chose from windows filled with metal balls and cactus gardens of the florists near the rue de la Paix, and from the florists uptown who sold mostly plants and purple iris, and from florists on the Left Bank whose shops were lumbered up with the wire frames of designs, and from outdoor markets where the peasants dyed their roses to a bright apricot, and stuck wires through the heads of the dyed peonies.
Spending money had played a big part in Alabama’s life before she had lost, in her work, the necessity for material possessions.
Nobody was rich at the studio but Nordika. She came to her lessons in a Rolls-Royce, sharing her hours with Alacia, who had the same essence as a Bryn Mawr graduate, she was so practical. It was Alacia who took His Highness away from Nordika, but Nordika hung on to the money and they made a go of it together some way. Nordika was the pretty one like a blonde ejaculation, and Alacia was the one who had moved Milord to pity. Nordika was tremulous with a glassy excitement that she tried to repress—they said in the ballet that Nordika’s excitement ruined all of her costumes. Nordika couldn’t go around vibrating in a void so her friend managed to anchor her feet enough to the ground to keep the car. Both of them threatened to leave Madame’s studio because Stella hid a half-eaten can of shrimp behind their mirror, where it slowly soured. Stella said to the girls that the smell was dirty clothes. When they found what it really was, they were merciless to poor Stella. Stella liked having the chic Nordika and her friend in the class because they were almost the same as an audience.
“Polissonne!” they said to Stella. “It is bad enough to eat shrimp at home without bringing it here like a stink bomb.”
Stella had so little room at home that she had to keep her trunk jammed out the attic window half in the open. A can of shrimp would have asphyxiated her in the small place.
“Don’t mind,” said Alabama. “I will take you to Prunier’s for shrimp.”
Madame said Alabama was a fool to take Stella to Prunier’s for shrimp. Madame could remember the days when she and her husband had eaten caviar together in the butchery fumes of the rue Duphot. For ever, to Madame, a presage of disaster lay in the conjured image of the oyster bar—revolutions would almost certainly follow excursions to Prunier’s, and poverty and hard times. Madame was superstitious; she never borrowed pins and had never danced in purple, and she somehow thought of trouble in connection with the fish she had loved so well when she could afford it. Madame was very afraid of any luxury.
The saffron in the bouillabaisse made Alabama sweat under the eyes and turned the Barsac tasteless. During the lunch Stella fidgeted across the table and folded something into her napkin. The girl was not as impressed as Alabama would have liked with Prunier’s.
“Barsac is a monkish wine,” suggested Alabama absently.
Secretively Stella extracted whatever it was she dredged from the bottomless soup. She was too engrossed to answer. She was as absorbed as a person searching for a dead body.
“What on earth are you doing, ma chere?” It irritated Alabama that Stella was not more enthusiastic. She resolved never to take another poor person to a rich man’s place; it was a waste of money.
“Sh—sh—sh! Ma chere Alabama, it is pearls I have found—big ones, as many as three! If the waiters know they will claim them for the establishment, so I make a cache in my napkin.”
“Really,” asked Alabama, “show me!”
“When we are in the street. I assure you it is so. We will grow rich, and you will have a ballet and I will dance in it.”
The girls finished their lunch breathlessly. Stella was too excited to make her usual senseless protestations about paying the cheque.
In the pale filtrations of the street they opened the napkin carefully.
“We will buy Madame a present,” she crowed.
Alabama inspected the globular yellow deposits.
“They’re only lobster eyes,” she pronounced decisively.
“How should I know? I have never eaten lobsters before,” said Stella phlegmatically.
Imagine living your life with your only hope of finding pearls and fortunes and the unexpected stewed in the heart of a bouillabaisse! It was like being a child and keeping your eyes for ever glued to the ground looking for a lost penny—only children do not have to buy bread and raisins and medicine cabinets with the pennies they find on the pavement!
Alabama’s lessons began the day at the studio.
In the cold barracks the maid scrubbed and coughed. The woman rubbed her fingers unfeelingly through the flame of the oil stove, pinching the wick.
“The poor woman!” said Stella, “she has a husband who beats her at night—she has showed me the places—her husband has no jaw-bone since the war. We should give her something, perhaps?”
“Don’t tell me about it, Stella! We can’t be sorry for everybody.”
It was too late—Alabama had already noticed the caked black blood under the woman’s fingernails where they were split by the stiff brush in her freezing pail of eau de Javelle. She gave her ten francs and hated the woman for making her sorry. It was bad enough working in the cold asthmatic dust without knowing about the maid.
Stella broke the thorns from the rose stems and gathered the shattered petals off the floor. She and Alabama shivered and worked quickly to get warm.
“Show me again how Madame has shown you in your private lessons,” urged Stella.
Alabama went over and over for her the breathless contraction and muscular abandon necessary to attain elevation. You did the same thing for years, and after three years you might lift yourself an inch higher—of course, there was always the . chance that you wouldn’t.
“And you must, after the effort of launching your body is accomplished, let it fall in mid-air—this way.” She heaved her body with a stupendous inflation off the floor and came to rest limply, like a deflated balloon.
“Oh, but you will be a dancer!” the girl sighed gratefully, “but I do not see why, since you have already a husband.”
“Can’t you understand that I am not trying to get anything—at least, I don’t think I am—but to get rid of some of myself?”
“To sit this way, expectant of my lesson, and feel if I had not come the hour that I own would have stood vacant and waiting for me.”
“Is your husband not angry that you are so much away?”
“Yes. He is so angry that I must be away even more to avoid rows about it.”
“He does not like the dance?”
“Nobody does, only dancers and sadists.”
“Incorrigible! Teach me again about the jete.”
“You cannot do it—you are too fat.”
“Teach me and I shall be able to play it on the piano for your lessons.”
When anything went wrong with the adagio, in silent and controlled rage, Alabama blamed the girl.
“You hear something far away,” said Madame, suggesting.
Alabama could not manage to convey hearing with the lines of her body. She was humiliated to listen with her hips.
“I hear only Stella’s discords,” she whispered fiercely. “She does not keep time.”
Madame withdrew herself when her pupils quarrelled.
“A dancer’s supposed to lead the music,” she said succinctly. “There is no melody in ballet.”
One afternoon David came with some old friends.
Alabama was angry with Stella when she saw him there.
“My lessons are not a circus. Why did you let them come in?”
“It was your husband! I cannot stand in front of the door like a dragon.”
“Failli, cabriole, cabriole, failli, soubresaut, failli, coupe, ballonne, ballonne, ballonne, pas de basque, deux tours.”
“Isn’t that „Tales from the Vienna Woods“?” asked the tall chic Dickie, smoothing herself over.
“I don’t see why Alabama didn’t take from Ned Weyburn,” said the elegant Miss Douglas with her hair like a porphyry tomb.
The yellow sun of the afternoon poured a warm vanilla sauce in the window. “Failli, cabriole,” Alabama bit her tongue.
Running to the window to spit the quick blood, she was overwhelmingly conscious of the woman beside her. The blood trickled down her chin.
“What is it, cherie?”
Miss Douglas said indignantly, “I think it’s ridiculous to work like that. She can’t be getting any fun out of it, foaming at the mouth that way!”
Dickie said, “It’s abominable! She’ll never be able to get up in a drawing-room and do that! What’s the good of it?”
Alabama had never felt so close to a purpose as she did at that moment. “Cabriole, failli” — “Why” was something the Russian understood and Alabama almost understood. She felt she would know when she could listen with her arms and see with her feet. It was incomprehensible that her friends should feel only the necessity to hear with their ears. That was “Why”. Fierce loyalty to her work swelled in Alabama. Why did she need to explain?
“We’ll meet you at the corner in the bistro,” said David’s note.
“You will join your friends?” Madame asked disinterestedly as Alabama read.
“No,” answered Alabama abruptly.
The Russian sighed. “Why not?”
“Life is too sad, and I will be too dirty after my lesson.”
“What will you do at home alone?”
“Do not forget the pas de bourree.”
“Why can I not have the same steps as Arienne,” stormed Alabama, “or at least as Nordika? Stella says that I dance nearly as well.”
So Madame led her through the intricacies of the waltz from Pavilion d’Armide. and Alabama knew that she did the thing like a child jumping rope.
“You see,” said Madame, “not yet! It is difficult to dance for Diaghilev.”
Diaghilev called his rehearsals at eight in the morning. His dancers left the theatre around one at night. From the requisite work with their maitre de ballet they came direct to the studio. Diaghilev insisted that they live at so much nervous tension that movement, which meant dancing to them, became a necessity, like a drug. They worked incessantly.
One day there was a wedding in his troupe. Alabama was surprised to see the girls in street clothes, in furs and shadow lace as they congregated at the studio. They appeared older; there was a distinction about them that came from the consciousness of their beautiful bodies even in their cheap clothes. If they weighed more than fifty kilos, Diaghilev protested in his high screeching voice. “You must get thin. I cannot send my dancers to a gymnasium to fit them for adagio.” He never thought of the women as dancers, except the stars. An allegiance to his genius as strong as a cult determined all their opinions. The quality that set them off from other dancers was his insistence on their obliteration of self to the integral purpose of his ballet. There was no petite marmite in his productions, nor in the people that he produced out of ragged Russian waifs, some of them. They lived for the dance and their master.
“What are you doing with your face?” Madame would say scathingly. “It is not a cinema we are making. You will please to keep it as expressionless as you can.”
“Race, dva, tree, race, dva, tree—”
“Show me, Alabama,” Stella cried in despair.
“How can I show you? I can’t do it myself,” she answered irritably. She was angry when Stella placed her in the same class with herself. She said to herself that she would give Stella no more money to teach her her place. But the girl came to her tearfully smelling of butter and the mechanics of life, offering an apple she had bought for Alabama or a sack of mint tips, and Alabama gave her ten francs anyway, to pay for the apple.
“If you were not here,” Stella said, “how could I live? My uncle can send me no more money.”
“How can you live when I have gone to America?”
“Other people will come—perhaps from America.” Stella smiled improvidently. Though she talked a great deal about the difficulties of the future, it was impossible for her to think further ahead than a day.
Maleena came to give Stella money. She wanted to open a studio of her own, and she offered Stella the job as her pianist if she could get enough pupils away from the classes of Madame. It was Maleena’s mother who wanted to do the dishonest thing—she had herself been a dancer but not a big one.
The mother was as bloated as the delicatessen sausages that kept her alive, and half-blinded by the vicissitudes of life. In her pudgy, greasy hands she held a lorgnette and peered at her daughter. “See,” she said to Stella. “Pavlova cannot do „sauts sur les pointes“ like that! There is no dancer like my Maleena. You will get your friends to come to our studio?”
Maleena was chicken-breasted; she performed the dance like a person administering lashes with a scourge.
“Maleena is like a flower,” the old lady said. When Maleena perspired she smelled of onions. Maleena pretended that she loved Madame. She was an old pupil—her mother thought Madame should have got her a job with the Russian ballet.
In watering the floor before class the watering-can slipped in Stella’s hands and drenched the parquet over Maleena’s place in line. She did not dare complain imagining that Madame would suspect her hostility.
“Failli, cabriole, cabriole, failli—”
Maleena slipped in the puddle and split her kneecap.
“I knew our chest would be useful,” said Stella. “You will help me with the bandage. Alabama.”
“—Race, Dva, Tree!”
“The roses are dead,” Stella reminded Alabama reproachfully. She begged for the old organdie skirts which would not meet across her back and gapped scandalously over her dingy tights. Alabama had them made with four ruffles on a broad band that bound her hips—five francs it cost to get them ironed in a French laundry. There was a red-and-white check for weather like Normandy, a chartreuse for decadent days, pink for her lessons at midday, and sky blue for late afternoon. In the mornings she liked white skirts best to match the colourless reflection on the skylight.
For the waist she bought cotton bicycle shirts and faded them in the sun to pastel shades, burnt orange to wear over the pink, green for the pale chartreuse. It was a game to Alabama discovering new combinations. The habitual flamboyance expressed in her street dress flowered in this less restricted medium. She wore a chosen colour for every mood.
David complained that her room smelled of eau de Cologne. There was always a pile of dirty clothes from the studio dumped in the corner. The voluminous ruffles of the skirts wouldn’t fit in the closets or drawers. She wore herself to a frazzle, and didn’t notice about the room.
Bonnie came in one day to say good morning. Alabama was late; it was half-past seven; the damp of the night air had taken the stiffening out of her skirt. She turned crossly to Bonnie. “You haven’t brushed your teeth this morning,” she said irritably.
“Oh, but I have!” said the little girl defiantly, angry at her mother’s suspicion. “You told me to always before I did anything in the mornings.”
“I told you to, so you just thought you wouldn’t today. I can see the brioche still on the front ones,” Alabama pursued.
“I did so brush them.”
“Don’t lie to me, Bonnie,” said her mother angrily.
“It’s you who’s a lie!” flared Bonnie recklessly.
“Don’t you dare say that to me!” Alabama grabbed the small arms and slapped the child soundly over the thighs. The short explosive sound warned her that she had used more force than she had intended. She and her daughter stared at each other’s red reproachful faces.
“I’m sorry,” said Alabama pathetically. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Then why did you slap me?” protested the child, full of resentment.
“I meant to make it just hard enough to show you that you have to pay for being wrong.” She did not believe what she said, but she had to offer some explanation.
Alabama hastily left the apartment. On her way past Bonnie’s door down the corridor she paused.
“Did Bonnie brush her teeth this morning?”
“Naturally! Madame has left orders that that is to be tended first thing on rising, though I personally think it spoils the enamel—”
“Damn it,” said Alabama viciously to herself, “there were nevertheless crumbs. What can I say to make up to Bonnie for the sense of injustice she must have?”
Nanny brought Bonnie to the studio one afternoon when Mademoiselle was out. The dancers spoiled her dreadfully; Stella gave her candy and sweets, and Bonnie choked and sputtered, rubbing her hands through the melted chocolate that plastered her mouth, Alabama had been so severe about her not making a noise that the child tried not to cough. Stella led the little red-faced, gasping girl into the vestibule, patting her over the back.
“You will dance also,” she said, “when you are bigger?”
“No,” said Bonnie emphatically, “it is too „serieuse“ to be the way Mummy is. She was nicer before.”
“Madam,” said Nanny, “I was really astonished at how well you do, really. You do nearly as well as the others. I wonder if I should like it—it must be very good for you.”
“Lord,” Alabama said infuriated.
“We must all have something to do, and Madam never plays bridge,” persisted Nanny.
“We get something to do and as soon as we’ve got it, it gets us.” Alabama wanted to say “Shut up!”
“Isn’t that always the way?”
When David suggested coming again to the studio Alabama protested.
“Why not?” he said, “I should think you would want me to see you practise.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she answered egotistically. “You will just see that I am given only the things I can’t do and discourage me.”
The dancers worked always beyond their strength.
“Why „deboule“?” Madame expostulated. “You do that already—passably.”
“You’re so thin,” said David patronizingly. “There’s no use killing yourself. I hope that you realize that the biggest difference in the world is between the amateur and the professional in the arts.”
“You might mean yourself and me—” she said thoughtfully.
He exhibited her to his friends as if she were one of his pictures.
“Feel her muscle,” he said. Her body was almost their only point of contact.
The saillants of her sparse frame glowed with the gathering despair of fatigue that lit her interiorly.
David’s success was his own—he had earned his right to be critical—Alabama felt that she had nothing to give to the world and no way to dispose of what she took away.
The hope of entering Diaghilev’s ballet loomed before her like a protecting cathedral.
“You’re not the first person who’s ever tried to dance,” David said. “You don’t need to be so sanctimonious about it.”
Alabama was despondent, nourishing her vanity on the questionable fare of Stella’s liberal flattery.
Stella was the butt of the studio. The girls, angry and jealous of each other, took out their spite and ill-temper on the clumsy, massive Pole. She made such an effort to please that she was always in the way of everybody—she flattered them all.
“I can’t find my new tights—four hundred francs they cost,” flared Arienne. “I have not got four hundred francs to throw from the window! There have never been thieves before in the studio.” She glared at the dancers and fixed on Stella.
Madame was called to quell the rising insults. Stella had put the tights in Nordika’s chest. Nordika said angrily that she would have to have her tunics dry-cleaned; it was unnecessary, her saying that; Arienne was immaculate.
It was Stella who placed Kira behind Arienne that she might better learn by imitating the fine technician. Kira was a beautiful girl with long brown hair, and high voluptuous curves. She was a protege—nobody knew of whom, but she was unable to move without supervision.
“Kira!” shrieked Arienne, “will spoil my dancing! She sleeps at the bar and sleeps on the floor. You would think this is a rest-cure!”
Kira’s voice was cracked. “Arienne,” she wheedled, “you will help me with my batterie?”
“You have no batterie,” stormed Arienne, “outside of a batterie de cuisine, perhaps, and I would have Stella know that I form my own protegees.”
When Stella had to tell Kira to move farther down the bar, Kira cried and went to Madame.
“What has Stella to do with where I stand?”
“Nothing,” answered Madame, “but since she lives here, you must not notice her more than the walls.”
Madame never said much. She seemed to expect the girls to quarrel. Sometimes she discussed the qualities of yellow or cerise of Mendelssohn. Inevitably the sense of her words was lost for Alabama, drifting off into that dark mournful harvest of the tides of the sea of Marmara, the Russian language.
Madame’s brown eyes were like the purple bronze footpaths through an autumn beech wood where the mould is drenched with mist, and clear fresh lakes spurt up about your feet from the loam. The classes swayed to the movements of her arms like an anchored buoy to the tides. Saying almost nothing in that ghoulish Eastern tongue, the girls were all musicians and understood that Madame was exhausted with their self-assertion when the pianist began the pathetic lullaby from the entr’acte of Cleopatra; that the lesson was going to be interesting and hard when she played Brahms. Madame seemed to have no life outside her work, to exist only when she was composing.
“Where does Madame live, Stella?” asked Alabama curiously.
“But, ma chere, the studio is her home,” said Stella, “for us anyway.”
Alabama’s lesson was interrupted one day by men with measuring rods. They came and paced the floor and made laborious estimates and calculations. They came again at the end of the week.
“What is it?” said the girls.
“We will have to move, cheries,” Madame answered sadly. “They are making a moving-picture studio of my place here.”
At her last lesson, Alabama searched behind the dismantled segments of the mirror for lost pirouettes, for the ends of a thousand arabesques.
There was nothing but thick dust, and the traces of hairpins rusted to the wall where the huge frame had hung.
“I thought I might find something,” she explained shyly, when she saw Madame looking at her curiously.
“And you see there is nothing!” said the Russian, opening her hands. “But in my new studio you may have a tutu,” she added. “You asked me to tell you. Perhaps in its folds, who knows what you may find.”
The fine woman was sad to leave those faded walls so impregnated with her work.
Alabama had sweated to soften the worn floor, worked with the fever of bronchitis to appease the draughts in winter, candles were burning at St-Sulpice. She hated to leave, too.
She and Stella and Arienne helped Madame to move her piles of old abandoned skirts, worn toe shoes, and discarded trunks. As she and Arienne and Stella sorted and arranged these things redolent of the struggle for plastic beauty, Alabama watched the Russian.
“Well?” said Madame. “Yes, it is very sad,” she said implacably.
The high corners of the new studio in the Russian Conservatory carved the light to a diamond’s facets.
Alabama stood alone with her body in impersonal regions, alone with herself and her tangible thoughts, like a widow surrounded by many objects belonging to the past. Her long legs broke the white tutu like a statuette riding the moon.
“Khorosho,” the ballet mistress said, a guttural word carrying the sound of hail and thunder over the Steppes. The Russian face was white and prismatic as a dim sun on a block of crystal. There were blue veins in her forehead like a person with heart trouble, but she was not sick except from much abstraction. She lived a hard life. She brought her lunch to the studio in a little valise: cheese and an apple, and a Thermos full of cold tea. She sat on the steps of the dais and stared into space through the sombre measures of the adagio.
Alabama approached the visionary figure, advancing behind her shoulder blades, bearing her body tightly possessed, like a lance in steady hands. A smile strained over her features painfully—pleasure in the dance is a hard-earned lesson. Her neck and chest were hot and red; the back of her shoulders strong and thick, lying over her thin arms like a massive yoke. She peered gently at the white lady.
“What do you find in the air that way?”
There was an aura of vast tenderness and of abnegation about the Russian.
“Forms, child, shapes of things.”
“It is beautiful?”
“I will dance it.”
“Well, pay attention to the design. You do well the steps, but you never follow the configuration : without that, you cannot speak.”
“You will see if I can do it.”
“Go, then! Cherie, it is my first role.”
Alabama yielded herself to the low dignity of the selfless ritual, to the voluptuous flagellation of the Russian minors. Slowly she moved to the protestations of the adagio from Le Lac des Cygnes.
“Wait a minute.”
Her eyes caught the white transparent face in the glass. The two smiles met and splintered.
“But I will do it if I break my leg,” she said, beginning again.
The Russian gathered her shawl about her shoulders. From a deep mysticism she said tentatively and without conviction, “It is not worth that trouble—then you could not dance.”
“No,” said Alabama, “it’s not worth the trouble.”
“Then, little one,” sighed the ageing ballerina, “you will do it—just right.”
“We will try.”
The new studio was different. Madame had less space to spare; she gave fewer lessons for nothing. There was no room in the dressing-room to practise changement de pieds. The tunics were cleaner since there was no place to leave them to dry. There were many English girls in the classes who still believed in the possibility of both living and dancing, filling the vestibule with gossip of boat rides on the Seine and soirees in the Montparnasse.
It was awful in the afternoon classes. A black fog from the station hung over the studio skylight, and there were too many men. A Negro classicist from the Folles-Bergere appeared at the bar. He had a gorgeous body but the girls laughed. They laughed at Alexandre with his intellectual face and glasses—he used to own a box at the ballet in Moscow when he had been in the army. They laughed at Boris, who stopped in the cafe next door for ten drops of valerian before his lessons; they laughed at Schiller because he was old and his face was puffy from years of make-up like a bartender’s or a clown’s. They laughed at Danton because he could toe dance, though he tried to restrain how superb he was to look at. They laughed at everybody except Lorenz—nobody could have laughed at Lorenz. He had the face of an eighteenth-century faun; his muscles billowed with proud perfection. To watch his brown body ladling out the measures of a Chopin mazurka was to feel yourself anointed with whatever meaning you may have found in life. He was shy and gentle, though the finest dancer in the world, and sometimes sat with the girls after classes, drinking coffee from a glass and munching Russian rolls soggy with poppy seeds. He understood the elegant cerebral abandon of Mozart, and had perceived the madnesses against which the consciousness of the race sets up an early vaccine for those intended to deal in reality. The voluptes of Beethoven were easy for Lorenz, and he did not have to count the churning revolutions of modern musicians. He said he could not dance to Schumann, and he couldn’t, being always ahead or behind the beat whipping the romantic cadences beyond recognition. He was perfection to Alabama.
Arienne bought her way free from laughter with gnomish venom and an impeccable technique.
“What a wind!” somebody would cry.
“It is Arienne turning,” was the answer. Her favourite musician was Liszt. She played on her body as if it were a xylophone and had made herself indispensable to Madame. When Madame called out ten or so consecutive steps only Arienne could put them together. Her rigid insteps and the points of her toe shoes sliced the air like a sculptor’s scalpel, but her arms were stubby and could not reach the infinite, frustrated by the weight of great strength and the broken lines of too much muscle. She loved telling how when she had been operated on the doctors came to look anatomically at the muscles in her back.
“But you have made much progress,” the girls said to Alabama, crowding before her to the front of the class.
“You will leave a place for Alabama,” corrected Madame.
She did four hundred battements every night.
Arienne and Alabama split the cost of the taxi each day as far as the Place de la Concorde. Arienne insisted that Alabama come to lunch at her apartment.
“I go so much with you,” she said. “I do not like to be indebted.”
It was a desire to discover what they were mutually jealous of in each other that drew them together. In both of them there was an undercurrent of disrespect for discipline which allied them in a hoydenish comradeship.
“You must see my dogs,” said Arienne. “There is one who is a poet and the other who is very well trained.”
There were ferns, silvery in the sun, on little tables and many autographed photographs.
“I have no photograph of Madame.”
“Perhaps she will give us one.”
“We can buy one from the photographer who made the proofs the last year she danced in the ballet,” suggested Arienne illicitly.
Madame was both pleased and angry when they carried the photographs to the studio.
“I will give you better ones,” she said.
She gave Alabama a picture of herself in Carnaval in a wide polka-dotted dress which her fingers held like a butterfly wing. Madame’s hands constantly surprised Alabama : they were not long and thin; they were stubby. Arienne never got her picture, and she begrudged Alabama the photograph and grew more jealous than ever.
Madame gave a house-warming at the studio. They drank many bottles of sweet champagne that the Russians provided, and ate the sticky Russian cakes. Alabama contributed two magnums of Pol Roger Brut, but the Prince, Madame’s husband, had been educated in Paris, and he took them home to drink for himself.
Alabama was nauseated from the gummy pastry—the Prince was delegated to ride with her in the taxi.
“I smell lily of the valley everywhere,” she said. Her head swam with the heat and the wine. She held on to the straps of the car to keep herself from throwing-up.
“You are working too hard,” said the Prince.
His face was gaunt in the passing flares from the street lamps. People said he kept a mistress on the money he had from Madame. The pianist kept her husband; he was sick—almost everybody kept somebody else. Alabama could barely remember when that would have offended her—it was just the exigencies of life.
David said he would help her to be a fine dancer, but he did not believe that she could become one. He had made many friends in Paris. When he came from his studio he nearly always brought somebody home. They dined out among the prints of Montagne’s, the leather and stained glass of Foyot’s, the plush and bouquets of the restaurants around the Place de l’Opera. If she tried to induce David to go home early, he grew angry.
“What right have you to complain? You have cut yourself off from all your friends with this damn ballet.”
With his friends they drank Chartreuse along the boulevards under the rose-quartz lamps, and the trees, wielded by the night over the streets like the feathery fans of acquiescent courtesans.
Alabama’s work grew more and more difficult. In the mazes of the masterful fouette her legs felt like dangling hams; in the swift elevation of the entrechat cinq she thought her breasts hung like old English dugs. It did not show in the mirror. She was nothing but sinew. To succeed had become an obsession. She worked till she felt like a gored horse in the bull ring, dragging its entrails.
At home, the household fell into a mass of dissatisfaction without an authority to harmonize its elements. Before she left the apartment in the morning Alabama left a list of things for lunch which the cook never bothered to prepare—the woman kept the butter in the coal-bin and stewed a rabbit every day for Adage and gave the family what she pleased to eat. There wasn’t any use getting another; the apartment was no good anyway. The life at home was simply an existence of individuals in proximity; it had no basis of common interest.
Bonnie thought of her parents as something pleasant and incalculable as Santa Claus that had no real bearing on her life outside the imprecations of Mademoiselle.
Mademoiselle took Bonnie for promenades in the Luxembourg Gardens, where the child seemed very French in her short white gloves bowling her hoop between the beds of metallic zinnias and geraniums. She was growing fast; Alabama wanted her to start training for the ballet—Madame had promised to give her a debut when she found time. Bonnie said she didn’t want to dance, an incomprehensible aversion to Alabama. Bonnie reported that Mademoiselle walked with a chauffeur in the Tuileries. Mademoiselle said it was beneath her dignity to contest the supposition. The cook said the hairs in the soup were from the black moustachios of Marguerite, the maid. Adage ate up in a silk canape. David said the apartment was a pest house : the people upstairs played “Punchinello” at nine in the morning on their gramophone and cut short his sleep. Alabama spent more and more time at the studio.
Madame at last took Bonnie as a pupil. It was thrilling to her mother to see her little legs and arms seriously follow the sweeping movements of the dancer. The new Mademoiselle had worked for an English Duke; she complained that the atmosphere of the studio was not fit for the little girl. That was because she couldn’t speak Russian. She thought the girls were Fiends Infernal jabbering in the cacophony of a strange tongue and posturing immodestly before the mirror. The new Mademoiselle was a lady neurasthenic. Madame said Bonnie did not seem to have talent, but it was too soon to tell.
One morning Alabama came early to her lesson. Paris is a pen-and-ink drawing before nine o’clock. To avoid the thick traffic of the Boulevard des Batignolles, Alabama tried the Metro. It smelled of fried potatoes, and she slipped in the spit on the dank stairs. She was afraid of getting her feet crushed in the crowd. Stella waited for her in tears in the vestibule.
“You must take my part,” she said, “Arienne does nothing but abuse me; I mend her shoes and piece her music and Madame has offered me to gain money by playing for her lessons and she refuses.”
Arienne was bent over her straw chest in the dark, packing.
“I shall never dance again,” she said. “Madame has time for children, time for amateurs, time for everybody, but Arienne Jeanneret must work at hours when she cannot get a decent pianist to play.”
“I do my best. You have only to tell me,” Stella sobbed.
“I am telling you. You are a nice girl, but you play the piano like a cochon!”
“If you would only explain what you want,” pled Stella. It was horrible to see the dwarfish face red and swollen with fright and tears.
“I explain at this instant. I am an artist, not a teacher of piano. So Arienne goes that Madame may continue her kindergarten.” She, too, was crying angrily.
“If anybody goes, Arienne,” said Alabama, “it will be me. Then you may have your hour again.”
Arienne turned to her, sobbing.
“I have explained to Madame that I cannot work at night after my rehearsals. My lessons cost money; I cannot afford them. I must make progress when I am here. I pay the same as you,” sobbed Arienne.
She turned defiantly to Alabama.
“I live by my work,” she said contemptuously.
“Children have to begin,” said Alabama. “It was you who said one must begin sometime—the first time I ever saw you.”
“Certainly. Then let them begin like the others, with the less great.”
“I will share my time with Bonnie,” Alabama said at last. “You must stay.”
“You are very good,” Arienne laughed suddenly. “Madame is a weak woman—always for something new,” she said. “I will stay, however, for the present.”
She kissed Alabama impulsively on her nose.
Bonnie protested her lessons. She had three hours a week of Madame’s time. Madame was fascinated by the child. The woman’s personal emotions had to be wedged in between the spacings of her work since it was incessant. She brought Bonnie fruit and chocolate langue-de-chat, and took great pains with the placing of her feet. Bonnie became her outlet for affection; the emotions of the dance were of a sterner stuff than sentimental attachments. The little girl ran continually through the apartment in leaps and pas de bourree.
“My God,” said David. “One in the family is enough. I can’t stand this.”
David and Alabama passed each other in the musty corridors hastily and ate distantly facing each other with the air of enemies awaiting some gesture of hostility.
“If you don’t stop that humming, Alabama, I’ll lose my mind,” he complained.
She supposed it was annoying the way the music of the day kept running through her head. There was nothing else there. Madame told her that she was not a musician. Alabama thought visually, architecturally, of music—sometimes it transformed her to a faun in twilit spaces unpenetrated by any living soul save herself; sometimes to a lone statue to forgotten gods washed by the waves on a desolate coast—a statue of Prometheus.
The studio was redolent of rising fortunes. Arienne passed the Opera examinations first of her group. She permeated the place with her success. She brought a small group of French into the class, very Degas and coquettish in their long ballet skirts and waistless backs. They covered themselves with perfume, and said the smell of the Russians made them sick. The Russians complained to Madame that they could not breathe with the smell of French musk in their noses. Madame sprinkled the floor with lemon-oil and water to placate them all.
“I am to dance before the President of France,” cried Arienne jubilantly one day. “At last, Alabama, they have begun to appreciate La Jeanneret!”
Alabama could not suppress a surge of jealousy. She was glad for Arienne; Arienne worked hard and had nothing in her life but the dance. Nevertheless, she wished it could have been herself.
“So I must give up my little cakes and Cap Corse and live like a saint for three weeks. Before I begin my schedule I want to give a party, but Madame will not come. She goes out to dine with you—she will not go out with Arienne. I ask her why—she says, „But it is different—you have no money.“ I will have money some day.”
She looked at Alabama as if she expected her to protest the statement. Alabama had no convictions whatsoever on the subject.
A week before Arienne danced, the Opera called a rehearsal that fell at the time of her lesson with Madame.
“So I will work in the hour of Alabama,” she suggested.
“If she can change with you,” said Madame, “for a week.”
Alabama couldn’t work at six in the afternoon. It meant that David dined alone and that she couldn’t get home until eight. She was all day at the studio as it was.
“Then we cannot do that,” said Madame.
Arienne was tempestuous. She lived at a terrible nervous pitch dividing her resistance between the opera and the studio.
“And this time I go for good! I will find someone who will make me a great dancer,” she threatened.
Madame only smiled.
Alabama would not oblige Arienne; the two girls worked in a state of amicable hatred.
Professional friendship would not bear close inspection—best everybody for herself, and interpret things to conform to personal desires—Alabama thought like that.
Arienne was intractable. Outside the province of her own genre, she refused to execute the work of the class. With the tears streaming down her face, she sat on the steps of the dais and stared into the mirror. Dancers are sensitive, almost primitive people : she demoralized the studio.
The classes filled with dancers other than Madame’s usual pupils. The Rubenstein ballets were rehearsing and dancers were being paid enough to afford lessons with Madame again. Girls who had been to South America drifted back to town from the disbanded Pavlova troupe—the steps could not always be the tests of strength and technique to suit Arienne. It was the steps that moulded the body and offered it bit by bit to the reclaiming tenors of Schumann and Glinka that Arienne hated most—she could only lose herself in the embroiling rumbles of Liszt and the melodrama of Leoncavallo.
“I will go from this place,” she said to Alabama, “next week.” Arienne’s mouth was hard and set. “Madame is a fool. She will sacrifice my career for nothing. But there are others!”
“Arienne, it is not like that that one becomes one of the great,” said Madame, “you must rest.”
“There is nothing I can do here any more; I had better go away,” Arienne said.
The girls ate nothing but pretzels before the morning class—the studio was so far away from their homes they couldn’t get breakfast in time; they were all irritable. The winter sun came in bilious squares through the fog and the grey buildings about the Place de la Republique took on the air of a cold caserne.
Madame called upon Alabama to execute the most difficult steps alone before the others with Arienne. Arienne was a finished ballerina. Alabama was conscious of how much she must fall short of the fine concision that marked the French girl’s work. When they danced together the combinations were mostly steps for Arienne rather than the lyrical things that Alabama did best, yet always Arienne cried out that the steps were not for her. She protested to the others that Alabama was an interloper.
Alabama bought Madame flowers which wilted and shrivelled in the steam of the overheated studio. The place being more comfortable, more spectators came to the classes. A critic of the Imperial Ballet came to witness one of Alabama’s lessons. Impressive, reeking of past formalities, he left at the end on a flood of Russian.
“What did he say?” asked Alabama when they were alone. “I have done badly—he will think you are a bad teacher.” She felt miserable at Madame’s lack of enthusiasm : the man was the first critic of Europe.
Madame gazed at her dreamily. “Monsieur knows what kind of a teacher I am,” was all she said.
In a few days the note came:
On the advice of Monsieur —— I am writing to offer you a solo debut in the opera Faust with the San Carlo Opera of Naples. It is a small role, but there will be others later. In Naples there are pensions where one can live very comfortably for thirty lire a week.
Alabama knew that David and Bonnie and Mademoiselle couldn’t live in a pension that cost thirty lire a week. David couldn’t live in Naples at all—he had called it a postcard city. There wouldn’t be a French school for Bonnie in Naples. There wouldn’t be anything but coral necklaces and fevers and dirty apartments and the ballet.
“I must not get excited,” she said to herself. “I must work.”
“You will go?” said Madame expectantly.
“No. I will stay, and you will help me to dance La Chatte.”
Madame was noncommittal. Looking into the woman’s fathomless eyes was like walking over a stretch of blistering pebbles through a treeless, shadeless August as Alabama searched them for some indication.
“It is hard to arrange a debut,” she said. “One should not refuse.”
David seemed to feel that there was something accidental about the note.
“You can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve got to go home this spring. Our parents are old, and we promised last year.”
“I am old, too.”
“We have some obligations,” he insisted.
Alabama no longer cared. David was a better person at heart than she to care about hurting people, she thought.
“I don’t want to go to America,” she said.
Arienne and Alabama teased each other mercilessly. They worked harder and more consistently than the others. When they were too tired to put on their clothes after classes, they sat on the floor of the vestibule laughing hysterically and slapping each other with towels drenched in eau de Cologne or Madame’s lemon-water.
“And I think—” Alabama would say.
“Tiens!” shrieked Arienne. “Mon enfant begins to think. Ah! Ma fille, it is a mistake—all the thinking you do. Why do you not go home and mend your husband’s socks?”
“Mechante,” Alabama answered. “I will teach you to criticize your elders!” The wet towel fell with a smack across Arienne’s rigid buttocks.
“Give me more room. I cannot dress so near to this polissonne,” retorted Arienne. She turned to Alabama seriously and looked at her questioningly. “But it is true—I have no more place here since you have filled the dressing-room with your fancy tutus. There is nowhere to hang my poor woollens.”
“Here is a new tutu for you! I make you a present!”
“I do not wear green. It brings bad luck in France.” Arienne was offended.
“If I had a husband to pay I, too, could buy them for myself,” she pursued disagreeably.
“What business of yours is it who pays? Or is that all the patrons of your first three rows can talk to you about?”
Arienne shoved Alabama into the group of naked girls. Somebody pushed her hurriedly back into Arienne’s gyrating body. The eau de Cologne spilled over the floor and gagged them. A swat of the towel-end landed over Alabama’s eyes. Groping about she collided with Arienne’s hot, slippery body.
“Now!” shrieked Arienne. “See what you have done! I shall go at once to a magistrate and have it constate!” She wept and hurled Apache invective at the top of her lungs. “It is not today that it shows but tomorrow. I will have a cancer! You have hit me in the breast from a bad spirit! I will have it constate, so when the cancer develops you will pay me much money, even if you are at the ends of the earth! You will pay!” The whole studio listened. The lesson Madame was giving outside could not continue, the noise was so loud. The Russians took sides with the French or the Americans.
“Sale race!” they shrieked indiscriminately.
“One can never have confidence in the Americans!”
“One must never trust the French!”
“They are too nervous, the Americans and the French.”
They smiled long, superior Russian smiles as if they had long ago forgotten why they were smiling : as if the smile were a hallmark of their superiority to circumstance. The noise was deafening yet somehow surreptitious. Madame protested—she was angry with the two girls.
Alabama dressed as fast as she could. Out in the fresh air her knees trembled as she waited for a taxi. She wondered if she was going to take cold from her soaking hair under her hat.
Her upper lip felt cold and peppery with drying sweat. She had put on a stocking that wasn’t her own. What was it all about, she said to herself—fighting like two kitchen maids and just barely getting along on the ends of the physical resources, all of them?
“My God!” she thought. “How sordid! How utterly, unmitigatedly sordid!”
She wanted to be in some cool and lyrical place asleep on a cool bed of ferns.
She did not go to the afternoon class. The apartment was deserted. She could hear Adage clawing at his door to get out. The rooms hummed with emptiness. In Bonnie’s room she found a red carnation such as they give away in restaurants fading in a marmalade pot.
“Why don’t I get her some flowers?” she asked herself.
A botched attempt at a doll’s tutu lay on the child’s bed; the shoes by the door were scuffed at the toes. Alabama picked up an open drawing-book from the table. Inside Bonnie had designed a clumsy militant figure with mops of yellow hair. Underneath ran the legend, “My mother is the most beautiful lady in the world.” On the page opposite, two figures held hands gingerly; behind them trailed Bonnie’s conception of a dog. This is when my Mother and Father go out walking,” the writing said. “C’est tres chic, mes parents ensemble!”
“Oh God!” thought Alabama. She had almost forgotten about Bonnie’s mind going on and on, growing. Bonnie was proud of her parents the same way Alabama had been of her own as a child, imagining into them whatever perfections she wanted to believe in. Bonnie must be awfully hungry for something pretty and stylized in her life, for some sense of a scheme to fit into. Other children’s parents were something to them besides the distant “chic”, Alabama reproached herself bitterly.
All afternoon she slept. Out of her subconscious came the feeling of a beaten child, and her bones ached in her sleep and her throat parched like blistering flesh. When she woke up she felt as if she had been crying for hours.
She could see the stars shining very personally into her bedroom. She could have lain in bed for hours listening to the sounds from the streets.
Alabama went only to her private lessons to avoid Arienne. As she worked she could hear the girl’s cackling laugh in the vestibule raking over the arriving class for support. The girls looked at her curiously. Madame said she must not mind Arienne.
Dressing herself hurriedly, Alabama peeped between the dusty curtains at the dancers. The imperfections of Stella, the manoeuvres of Arienne, the currying of favour, the wrangling over the front line appeared to her in the moated sun falling through the glass roof like the grovelling, churning movement of insects watched through the sides of a glass jar.
“Larvae!” said the unhappy Alabama contemptuously.
She wished she had been born in the ballet, or that she could bring herself to quit altogether.
When she thought of giving up her work she grew sick and middle-aged. The miles and miles of pas de bourree must have dug a path inevitably to somewhere.
Diaghilev died. The stuff of the great movement of the Ballet Russe lay rotting in a French law court—he had never been able to make money.
Some of his dancers performed around the swimming pool at the Lido to please the drunk Americans in summer; some of them worked in music-hall ballets; the English went back to England. The transparent celluloid decor of I.a Chatte that had stabbed its audience with silver swords from the spotlights of Paris and Monte Carlo, London, and Berlin lay marked “No Smoking” in a damp, ratty warehouse by the Seine, locked in a stone tunnel where a grey light from the river sloshed over the dark, dripping earth and over the moist, curving bottom.
“What’s the use?” said Alabama.
“You can’t give up all that time and work and money for nothing,” said David. “We’ll try to arrange something in America.”
That was nice of David. But she knew she’d never dance in America.
The intermittent sun disappeared from the skylight over her last lesson.
“You will not forget your adagio?” said Madame. “You will send me pupils when you go to America?”
“Madame,” Alabama answered suddenly, “do you think I could still go to Naples? Will you see the man immediately and tell him that I will leave at once?”
Looking into the woman’s eyes was like watching those blocks of black-and-white pyramids where there are sometimes six and sometimes seven squares. Looking into her eyes was to experience an optical illusion.
“So!” she said. “I am sure the place is still open. You will leave tomorrow? There is no time to waste.”
“Yes,” said Alabama, “I will go.”