FICTION ISSUE #30

*Image: “Dervish” by Jeanie Tomanek, 20×16, oil and cold wax on cradled panel

 

The Italian Dance

By Emily Alice Katz

 

Outside the sanatorium library, Evie spies a notice for a theatrical gathering. The announcement is written neatly on thick vanilla card stock. Sunday afternoons from two o’clock to half past three, it says. The words slope across the page from left to right. English letters, not Yiddish. Evie calculates: only four days to wait.

*

Five months have passed, the winter and spring of 1916, since she first arrived at the san.

She spent three months in the acute hospital. Then she was well enough to move to her own tent-cottage. She was given leave to walk unassisted to the dining hall, and that’s when Evie vowed to herself to sit by the windows at every meal.

She sits looking out the window now, her oatmeal cooling on the table. She wants to see the mountains—or if not to see them, to feel that they are close. She has not decided yet what she feels about these mountains, even after three years in Denver looking out at them from a distance. Maybe the mountains watch her too. Like all the others, eyes grazing her for external signs of victory over—or surrender to—illness.

She had been feverish and hallucinating the day before she was taken to the sanatorium and then, again, for three days after her committal. That’s what the nurses told her, once she was getting better. She doesn’t remember the first three days in the acute hospital, back in February, months ago. But her arrival at the san she remembers. The cold of that winter morning had sharpened her, brought her back into her head.

She remembers noticing, as they approached the brick gateway marking the entrance to the sanatorium grounds, that someone had swept the snow from the stone benches on either side. Alts iz in ordnung, everything in its place. She had wanted to speak up and point out the tidy benches to her sister Rae, to reassure her, but not coughing demanded all of Evie’s physical concentration in the moment. She had coughed anyway. She tasted blood, brown and metallic, and Rae held Evie’s head against her shoulder.

“You’d have to walk this last part, usually,” the driver had said. “The streetcar stops at Colfax and Sheridan. Lucky to have the buggy today,” he said. He glanced back at the two of them.

“We’re lucky,” her sister agreed. She hid her accent well at times when showing it would do no good.

Now, the long wooden trestles of the dining hall shine caramel in the morning light. It is Sunday. The day of the first theatrical meeting. Evie can’t see the mountains from the dining hall windows—she never can—but today she imagines them as the long, broken body of a defeated Indian god, face up on the plains. Helpless. There’s no sense in being angry. At least she, unlike the mountains, can pick herself up and walk.

She makes a new vow: to reach the mountains, somehow. She has heard this might be allowed. Perhaps she can ask the nurses about a picnic; she is certainly almost strong enough to go. She can picture the doctor’s round face, perspiring, a great wide grin splitting his gray beard. The main doctor. She can hear him crying out to the wagonful of picnickers, “Go in good health and come in good health.” Waving them off with his hat, as he and his sanatorium and the brick-and-sandstone city behind him shrink to a dot on the horizon. She guesses that wild cherry trees grow on their own out there, in the mountains, without coddling. She can picture the aspens, their leaves a thousand tiny hands clapping in the wind.

Evie raises her eyes to the clock that hangs on the far wall. It is seven thirty-five and sanatorium residents eddy at the threshold. They take their seats, push the food around their plates. Not a look of bitterness among them. They know they are lucky to be here.

I, too, have washed up to this place, Evie thinks. Clinging like a silt deposit to a mile-high riverbed. No God hovering over the waters.

*

A Doll’s House,” the lady says, more slowly the second time. “Has anyone here ever seen it?” When none of the women answer, the young woman licks her lips again. Her chestnut hair hangs in tendrils around her shoulders. She represents the Dramatic Club of the University of Denver.

None in the little group has seen A Doll’s House, but Evie has read it. The Yiddish version. The lady—Miss Brosofsky—warns Evie that the Yiddish translator took all sorts of liberties. But Miss Brosofsky is pleased with her. She asks Evie her name and invites her to tell the others what she knows of the play. Evie obliges.

“And then Nora walks out of the house,” Evie says. The story had come back to her, more or less, once she started talking. “Leaves her husband and her children behind.”

Miss Brosofsky claps her hands together, once, to illustrate the heroine’s famous slamming of the door behind her. They all startle at the sound.

There is a scene, Evie now remembers, in which Nora Helmer, the heroine, prances wildly, practicing a peasant dance. Dancing recklessly, breathlessly. Evie can’t recall the name of the dance. She didn’t mention it just now in her summary of the play. She doubts any one of them could muster the strength to act out that particular scene, with all the dancing; she wonders if she should point this out to Miss Brosofsky.

“Acting is freedom. And truth,” Miss Brosofsky is saying. She looks at each one of them in turn: Evie, of course, and Bessie Scharfman and Luba Miller and several others, too, that Evie only knows by sight. Miss Brosofksy’s eyes are as wet as her lips. “I’m here to help you. To help you find that freedom.”

“When did he write it?” Bessie Scharfman has a pen out, poised over a notebook. She is a large-boned woman despite the illness.

Miss Brosofsky answers and they all watch as Bessie presses her pen hard into the paper, tracing the numbers “1879” with deliberation.

Bessie Scharfman makes a sound, guttural but approving, and lifts her head back up from the paper. She shifts her weight. “Not a new one, then. Played in the West End, probably, in its day?”

“It must have, of course,” says Miss Brosofksy. “You’re a Londoner? We’re a motley group.” She smiles conspiratorially at the women before her. “It is amazing, don’t you agree, that a play written nearly forty years ago could still be so…so vibrant. Revolutionary, really.” No one says a word.

“How many of us would be brave enough to leave our families behind, like Nora? That is,” Miss Brosofsky clears her throat, “brave enough to leave comfort and safety just for the sake of one’s own education. To seek out the truth about society, and the law, and…and religion, even. To inquire of our innermost feelings and desires.”

“We are lucky here,” Bessie Scharfman says. Her face is red with excitement and the warmth of the breezeless afternoon.  “Can’t buy schnapps in this town, of course. But the vote. For women! Vunderlekh. A miracle. To arrive at this place and time.”

“Probably Denver is dry because women have the vote,” Evie says. She sits back. “Church ladies,” she says. She can speak sardonically; she is among Jews, after all. “I’ve seen those ladies on the march.”

“You’re not from here, Evie, are you?” Miss Brosofsky asks.

“No. New York.” And Kovno before that, though Evie doesn’t mention it. She was six, her sister ten, when they docked in New York Harbor. It’s only a jumbled memory now.

“I thought I heard New York. My own parents came through that way.” Miss Brosofsky taps a finger against her upper lip and gazes at Evie, appraising.

“Ladies all across the states will have the vote soon, won’t they?” Bessie Scharfman’s words billow out in one enthusiastic gust. She must have been thinking of what to say next and hadn’t noticed the change in conversation. There is a murmuring of assent at Bessie’s words and nodding all around the circle. Except for one girl, who has crossed her arms over her concave chest and is deliberately examining the floor. Her face has turned red. She wears a giant bow in her black hair and it dwarfs her frail head, making her look even younger than she probably is. Sixteen, Evie guesses, only a little younger than Evie herself. Evie at least had made it through three and a half years of high school before coming to the san.

“Wouldn’t be a war on, would there, if ladies all had the vote,” says Bessie Scharfman.

“It was always my dream to play Nora Helmer,” Miss Brosofsky says. She draws their eyes to her with a shy curving of her shoulders. “But I am delighted to think of directing you—each of you in turn, I hope—as Ibsen’s heroine. His most inspiring heroine.”

Evie raises her hand, abruptly, and puts it back in her lap when Miss Brosofsky nods at her. “Will we be reading only? Or really acting out the scenes?”

She had been chastised, back when she was still in school, for calling out in class. But this is different; it isn’t really school. And she wants to know what lies in store for them. So she can decide whether to keep on with it.

“It all depends on if we’re feeling up to it. We must be on guard against overexertion, of course. But the medical staff fully endorses our activities. I hope we will be acting out the scenes and not just reading them aloud.”

“Nora will have to dance,” says Evie, hesitantly, “in the one scene.” She looks at the big-bowed girl sidelong. She suspects the girl is a dour kind of religious, from her reaction to the notion of women voting; dancing will probably be out of the question for this one, even if it is just ladies watching. Evie herself tries to imagine dancing before the women here in the room and can’t.

“I don’t mind dancing,” says Luba Miller. She has moved her chair half an inch closer to Miss Brosofsky’s. “I’m quite good at it.”

Miss Brosofsky turns her smile to Luba and then to Evie.

“Have you ever acted in a play, Evie?” Miss Brosofsky asks.

“I used to recite poetry at school,” says Evie. And she and her sister often called out poems to each other from the Yiddish dailies, when they were younger, back in New York. They made up comic songs, too, as they walked to school, as they ran home again, as they hopped from one chalk square to another. The smell of cabbage wafting down to the sidewalk, as if the tenement building had belched it. How good it felt to run and to sweat and to sing. A thousand years ago, it seems to her now.

“Poetry. That’s a wonderful place to start.” Miss Brosofsky smiles warmly.

“Yes, me too,” says Luba Miller. “I just love reciting poetry.”

“Ah,” says Ruth. “Texas, I think. Is that right?”

Luba Miller’s mouth swings open in surprise. “San Antonio,” she confesses. “How did you know? You’re just like the professor in Pygmalion. I read the play. In English.” She looks demurely in Evie’s direction. “We have it in the library here.”

“Goodness,” says Bessie Scharfman, winking. “What fun we girls are in for.”

“Great fun,” says Miss Brosofsky. “I can’t wait to begin.”

 

"Dervish" by Jeanie Tomanek, 20x16 oil and cold wax on cradled panel

“Dervish” by Jeanie Tomanek, 20×16, oil and cold wax on cradled panel

 

*

Evie hoists the book with Ibsen’s play in it as if it is a platter—she likes to test her strength—and then places it down again upon her desk. The desk is one of two in her tent-cottage, one for each of the two patients residing there. Evie spends a good deal of time at her own desk every day.

Miss Brosofsky has procured several copies of Ibsen’s play, which the members of the group are meant to share. Each of them is to read the contents at least once before the next meeting. Or more than once, “if time and inclination allow,” Miss Brosofksy had said.

Evie snickers at that, thinking of it now, alone in her tent-cottage. Of time, they all have plenty. Nothing much to do aside from strolling, but to read and write. Well, there are moving pictures in the solarium on Saturday after Sabbath has ended, and lectures in the library. Meetings, too, like those of the dramatic group: for opera-lovers, for members of the Jewish Socialist Federation, for aficionados of Esperanto, even.  The strongest patients—those you might call cured, or nearly so—sometimes pick vegetables or gather eggs or milk cows on the farm at the edge of the grounds. Evie grows weary just thinking of all that bending and hefting among the weeds.

She had been transferred to the ambulant section of the san in May. When she awoke that first morning in her own tent-cottage she stretched her arms up past her ears and knocked her wrists against the slender iron rods. It was then that she realized that the bed was smaller than the one she had slept in at the sanatorium’s acute hospital all those weeks, and also lower to the ground.

Her bed in the hospital, designed to ease the task of disinfecting the floor and walls twice weekly, was so tall that her feet had dangled above the floor. Money for the san came to Denver from all over the country, and her particular bed in the acute hospital had been donated by the Paper Cigarette Makers’ Union of Chicago. The main doctor had told her that. He laid a basket of apples on the bedside table, there in the acute hospital that frigid week in February, and patted her hand. “Good souls,” he said, laughing from out of his gray beard, inviting her to smile along with him. “Tsebrokhn lungn.” She wasn’t used to jokes about ruined lungs, but she didn’t mind. Her fever had broken by then; she felt newly born.

At the time it had seemed interminable, but compared to some of the others, she hadn’t lived in the acute hospital for terribly long.  The other doctor had nodded, frowning, at the consultation at the end of April. “Progress, real and unmistakable progress,” he had said, while the main doctor smiled beatifically at all of them over his spectacles and his beard. Evie’s sister had burst into tears. She had only recently been allowed to visit again. She drank Evie in, unwilling to take her eyes off her. The other doctor, nervous by temperament, cast about in his desk drawer for a fresh handkerchief for Rae. At the time, Evie had imagined a small space inside herself, a place to lodge a prayer to no one in particular. Please, please, she thought. To never wake up in that bed again. In the acute hospital.

After that, Evie discovered that the san was more than a line of beds to her right and to her left. It was more than scores of toes pointing up toward the cloudless sky, rows of papery eyelids glowing apricot in the sun. There was regular, moderate exercise and the opportunity to read and think and write, mostly at times of her choosing. It had felt like freedom then.

Now she knows better. There is still the inking of her weight onto the clipboard page every day. The daily, weekly, monthly probings of nose and throat and teeth. The pushing of the thermometer under the tongue, hard against the inner gum. The pressing of the x-ray plate. The rubbing of the alcohol, the tang and cool flush of it on her arms and legs.  And other things as well, things that leave her hollowed out and sore, however gentle the hands that administer them. But there have been no surgeries for her, at least.

Even in reprieve, she imagines her body as a brimming cylinder of pus and stagnant blood. There is a small, stubborn snake nesting where her heart should be. It’s as familiar as her reflection in the mirror. The tight tickle, the cough, and the tickle again, as the snake curls and uncurls itself, restless.  The thought, at times, drips steadily as a leaking tap: I am dying, I am dying, I am dying. I will die. I will be dead. I will have died. Conjugations, like in grammar school. I am not dead.

Sitting at her desk in a circle of lamplight, rubbing the edge of Miss Brosofsky’s book with her thumb, she thinks of the play. She thinks of the doctor character with his diseased spine. Consumption. Easy to recognize; all of them understood what ailed him, immediately. She pictures him shaking, sweaty, his heart rattling like a tin drum when he looks at Nora Helmer in her peasant costume, dressed up for a New Year’s party. The doctor is in love with her, a married woman, a woman with children. He knows that he will die soon. But not soon enough to keep his heart from breaking.

Evie wipes her face with her handkerchief from the forehead down. It is only half past eight. As a matter of principle, to prove her good health, she likes to stay up at least another half an hour. But she finds, this evening, that she barely has the strength to walk the few steps from her desk to her bed. She had strolled that afternoon with her roommate for a full hour among the buildings, back and forth, back and forth. They examined the flowerbeds along the path and talked about the war in Europe. Evie hadn’t felt tired then.

Rae would tell me to be more careful, Evie thinks. For months, her sister’s twice-weekly letters have encouraged hope and cautioned against excess in equal measure. To guard one’s health above all, that is the thing about which Evie must always remind herself.

*

“The husband and wife, they deserve each other,” Evie says. She crosses her arms. It is the second meeting of Miss Brosofsky’s theatrical group.

So far they have only talked about the play; they haven’t even read parts of it aloud.

Miss Brosofsky laughs. “Oh dear,” she says. “We’re meant to sympathize with Nora as a character. It’s critical, in fact. Isn’t there anything about her that tugs at you, that wins you to her side?”

They are all sitting in a strange little room off the library. What joy it is, to encounter a forgotten corner of the san, one that Evie hadn’t known before. The jumbled assortment of old furniture, the broken-backed wooden chairs and the lounges with dangling slats. Like in a fairy tale, the room is a tiny kingdom that has escaped decrees. And she can feel the mountains out there, through the windows.

“We’re meant to see Nora’s home as a doll’s house,” Evie says. “But it’s also like a sanatorium, of course.”

“What do you mean, Evie?” Miss Brosofsky motions for her to speak again.

“She’s always watched. Always kept in line.”

“You’re right,” says Miss Brosofsky. “She’s not really free, even if she comes and goes as she pleases.”

“But she’s the picture of health, isn’t she,” says Bessie Scharfman. “With her creamy bosom and her lovely yellow hair.”

“I don’t think Ibsen wrote anything about her bosom,” Evie says. “Anyway, you see what I mean. The only difference between her and us, really, is that Nora thinks she’s owed something. That there should be more for her.”

“Where is the young lady with the bow?” Miss Brosofsky startles with the realization that one of their group is missing.

They all turn their heads, peering around the circle, though it is clear that the young lady in question isn’t there.

“I heard she’s feeling ill,” says Luba. “The excitement here might do her harm.”

Or do her good, Evie thinks. A pious girl playing Nora Helmer. Evie smiles, despite herself, to think of it. Dancing around in a shawl and abandoning her children and husband to strike out on her own. What does God have to do with it, with any of it? she wants to ask the absent bow-haired girl.

But one did have to guard against exhaustion. The girl was right to stay away, Evie supposes. How was one to know, beforehand, the effects of playacting on a person? Best not to get all heated up, like Evie used to, reciting poems. She had just gotten started with the dramatic troupe at the Henry Street Settlement—Tuesdays and Thursdays after school—when she and her sister had to leave New York for Denver. For Evie’s cough. Best to be careful now.

“Poor girl,” says Bessie Scharfman. “I hope she’s feeling better soon.”

Luba Miller sighs sympathetically.

“Well, I’d be pleased to play Nora,” she says. “I’m feeling very well these days.”

And so it is agreed that Luba Miller will play Nora for the group’s first scene, to be performed the next time they meet, in a week’s time.

Perhaps Evie has shown something on her face, because she sees that Miss Brosofsky is watching her out of the corner of her eye.

“Everyone will have a chance to play Nora,” Miss Brosofsky says. “Never fear.”

*

Luba Miller drapes her body across the seat and arms of a chaise lounge and fans herself.

“Let’s try it sitting up,” Miss Brosofsky says to Luba. “But yes. Your house is comfortable, you are relishing a moment of quiet.”

Luba pantomimes wiping her brow; she sweeps her elbow and arm in an indolent arc.

“Let us remember,” Miss Brosofsky says to the group, smiling gently, “that this is Christmastime. Winter in Norway.”

In response, Luba Miller sits up and then inclines her torso toward an imaginary fire, extending her hands and rubbing them vigorously as if to warm them. She pretends to rummage through something on the floor beside her—an imaginary basket of yarn, Evie supposes. Luba sits up again and pivots her wrists back and forth. It looks like an exercise that one might teach to arthritic patients.

“Nora’s husband doesn’t like women knitting,” says Evie. “He thinks it’s ugly to look upon. Remember?”

Evie is right, they all agree. With some irritation, Luba mimes embroidering instead.

Miss Brosofksy reads the maid’s line and then there is a long pause. Evie discovers that Miss Brosofsky is looking at her, and then that everyone else is, too.

“Well, Evie? I thought…I thought we agreed you would play Nora’s friend. Kristina.” Miss Brosofsky looks at her encouragingly.

Evie cocks her bottom jaw back and forth, letting her lower teeth slide along her top lip. She knows the lines. The words circle her stomach and her heart; she can imagine the feeling of the words escaping like steam, up and out of her. But she shouldn’t do it. She really shouldn’t.

“Might I watch instead?” she asks. “I’m feeling awfully tired today.”

She isn’t tired. But one has to be careful. And to get herself all in a flutter, playing Kristina Linde—it isn’t worth the effort. A solemn and industrious young woman, Kristina Linde, as young women are expected to be. In Ibsen’s time and in Evie’s.

“Very well,” says Miss Brosofsky. She turns a benevolent smile on Bessie Scharfman.

“Kristina Linde is a good sight younger than me,” Bessie says. “But I will do it. I will do it.” She hoists herself out of her chair and inhales deeply in preparation.

*

At the fifth meeting, it is only Evie, Bessie Scharfman, and Luba Miller. And Miss Brosofsky, of course.

Now Luba is causing trouble. “We have done the same darn scene for two whole meetings,” she says. “I think I’m ready for something more dramatic.” She corrects herself. “I think we are ready.”

Miss Brosofsky wishes to spend more time on Nora and Kristina’s first encounter, seeing each other after a number of years have passed, no longer schoolgirls. “This is where we first understand that there is more to Nora than meets the eye,” she says. “That she’s got her mind on more than cookies and children’s games. The drama is latent. But it is there.” It seems to Evie that Miss Brosofsky is attempting to keep her voice calm and even.

Bessie Scharfman taps her finger against the chair arm, looking from Miss Brosofsky to Luba Miller and back again, frowning sympathetically.

“Wouldn’t you like to do something new, Bessie?” Luba puts a hand on Bessie’s arm. “But if I am the only one, well, we can go back to the old scene again, I suppose. But I’ve taken a good look at Act Two and I think we’re ready.”

Evie knows the scene that Luba wants to play. In fact, she’s learned the whole thing, all the lines. Learning lines is the easiest thing in the world once you’ve read something through a few times. But Evie doesn’t say a word. It’s just as well that Luba’s ignoring her. Playacting isn’t worth the price of fatigue. Or worse.

“All right, then,” Miss Brosofsky says. She exhales and forces her mouth into a closed-lip smile. Evie coughs into her elbow; Luba smooths her skirt. For a moment after that, no one moves. The sun shines bright and gold outside. The very opposite, Evie thinks, of the milk-white light of a Scandinavian winter. As she imagines it.

Luba begins the new scene. She stands, clasping and unclasping her hands. She leans forward at the waist and cranes her head this way and that. It is a fair representation of looking out of a window from across a parlor, Nora’s parlor.

“In the letter-box,” Luba says, her eyes wide with manufactured terror. She too has already memorized the lines for the scene, even though the group hadn’t decided to act it out till now. She cringes and slouches and then lollops like an ailing horse across the floor to an imagined door and window.

“There it lies. The letter,” she adds, in the event that her audience does not understand the reference, though all present in the room do, of course, know what has transpired in the play. In the letter, the details of Nora’s forgery, of her illicit borrowings in the name of bourgeois domesticity. All there for her husband to read at his leisure.

“There is no hope for us now!” Luba cries. She flings herself to the floor, her face smashed into the crook of her arm.

She certainly knows how to make her voice carry, thinks Evie.

Bessie Scharfman, playing Kristina Linde as usual, has clutched her book to her chest, stunned by this evocation of distress. Bessie finds her page again. She is inspired. She proclaims the revelation that it was Mr. Krogstad who had lent Nora the money—Krogstad!—as if relaying news of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination.

*

“Evie! What are you still doing here?” Miss Brosofsky peers into the little room off the library.

Evie hasn’t moved from her chair, although the meeting ended half an hour before. Luba Miller and Bessie Scharfman left immediately upon finishing their scene, flushed with exertion.

Evie looks out onto the lawn, her hands in her lap. She tweaks her fingernails so that they click lightly in the sudden quiet. She coughs.

“I’m not sure that Ibsen can survive us,” she says.

Miss Brosofsky sighs. “I have always loved Nora Helmer. She is a wonderful character, a brave character. I will not stop loving her now, just because Luba Miller does a rotten job of playing her.”

Miss Brosofsky has singled Evie out for her confidences for the first time. It is too late, thinks Evie.

“I do feel sorry for Nora,” Evie says. She gazes out the window. “But I don’t love her.”

Miss Brosofsky sits down. “Why not? She’s a true heroine. Don’t you agree?”

Evie is silent.

“Think of what she renounces, in the end,” Miss Brosofsky says. “What she gives up. House and children. For the sake of knowledge. Honest knowledge about her own self.” Miss Brosofsky wants Evie to meet her eyes, Evie can feel it. But Evie resists.

“What she renounces,” Evie says, trying out the words, seeing if they fit. She straightens her back against the chair.  “What Nora renounces.”

Miss Brosofsky waits, her lips parted, an infinitesimal nodding of her head a signal to Evie that she is listening, that she will go on listening.

Evie looks at Miss Brosofsky. “How should I even know what I would want to—to renounce?” The word, in Evie’s mouth, is awkward, heavy.

“Nora has everything,” Evie says. “This is what I have.” She gestures with her chin, an accounting of the room in which she sits, the battalion of brick buildings that line the path outside the windows, the flat earth stretching toward the edges of the sanatorium grounds. She thinks of the young woman with the bow in her hair who came to the first meeting of the dramatic group. She has landed in the acute hospital, that’s what Luba Miller said. It could happen to any one of them at any time.

Miss Brosofsky says nothing. Her head is bent forward, and she seems to study the upturned palms of her hands in her lap. Evie is glad Miss Brosofsky isn’t looking at her; Evie doesn’t want to see the wetness of her eyes. She imagines seizing Miss Brosofsky by both shoulders and shaking the tears out of her.

“I’d like to give Nora a good shake!” she says, instead.

Miss Brosofsky laughs and wipes her eyes. “Probably even Ibsen wanted to, sometimes.”

“And yet it’s Nora we’re meant to feel sorry for, and only Nora. She wants us to feel sorry for her. But others suffer too. And they don’t get to be so lovely as they do it.” Evie is standing now. She feels heat prickle across her chest and neck.

“Others suffer,” Miss Brosofsky says. “But Nora sacrifices all.”

“To the devil with her! I don’t care about Nora or her heroism,” Evie cries out. She can see that she has shocked Miss Brosofsky with the violence of her exclamation, with the sight of her fists in the air, the sight of her face contorted.

She thumps back into her chair. She feels giddy now, almost feverish. The memory comes to her unbidden: riding a bicycle to Elitch Gardens from their flat off Colfax Avenue, fast as she could. They had come by train to Denver only weeks before. Rae was furious with worry, Evie riding off like that, but Evie laughed so hard afterward that she lost her breath.

Miss Brosofsky is silent; her eyes are round. Evie recognizes her sister’s watchfulness in this young woman’s eyes, the urge to placate and subdue. Yes, yes, I’m exercised, thinks Evie. All stirred up.

“You wish for us to feel, don’t you?” she asks Miss Brosofsky. “Isn’t that the point?”

Miss Brosofsky looks away.

Evie decides right then and there that she won’t come again. In any case it must be nearly time for Miss Brosofsky to return to the university for her studies. The meetings will end soon enough. With or without Evie in attendance.

*

Evie wakes up in the middle of the night. She has almost fallen out of bed. She knows that something in her has erupted, that something has changed. She feels the presence of invisible others with her in the tent-cottage. Some part of her understands that the fever is making her see things that aren’t there. Yet she can’t keep herself from being urged along. They are waiting for her. They’ve risen from the pages, from the book upon her desk, to greet her. Even Nora Helmer’s there. She has forgiven Evie for the things that Evie said.

Evie lets the door sigh shut on its hinges behind her. She lurches toward a dark patch of trees beyond the tent-cottages, to what passes for a thicket in Denver. Beyond the knot of cottonwoods lie the cowshed, the hennery, the vegetable plots. There is no moon tonight, and Evie can barely make out her own arms and legs in the shadows. The mountains are there, she knows, out in the distance, though she can’t see them in the echoing dark.

She remembers a few social dances from her life before the san, but she doesn’t know this one, the one from the play. The Italian dance. She had heard stories as a girl of that other world, Lithuania, a place she can barely remember, not the Jews and not the peasants. Stories of leaps across the threshing floor, wheeling throngs seen in passing from a horse and cart or glimpsed from the grimy window of an ancient country inn. She can picture it. Not so very different, probably, from Nora’s Tarantella. Peasants sweating out spider venom or whisky. Sweating out death.

It has been a long time since she has hopped from one foot to the other, or raised a whole arm up and down, slicing a hand through the air. Her bones feel different now. Light, foreign, unruly. Her breath comes fast, sweat rolling into her nostrils, but she doesn’t care. For now, no doctor is watching, no nurse, no friend, no sister. For now, there is no one to stop her from doing what she wants.

Emily Alice Katz

Emily Alice Katz lives in Durham, North Carolina. Her first fiction publication recently appeared in Kindred, and her short story, “Cannula,” was awarded an Honorable Mention by Glimmer Train in fall 2016. She is also the author of Bringing Zion Home: Israel in American Jewish Culture, 1948-1967 (SUNY Press, 2015).

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