Produced by Suzanne Shell, Charlie Kirschner and PG
[Illustration: “HER BLOOD WAS POUNDING AND HER VOICE WAS IN FLIGHT”]
A Story of an American Girl
BY FANNIE HURST
Oh, the little more and how much it is:
And the little less, and what worlds away.
When Lilly Becker eked out with one hand that most indomitable of
pianoforte selections, Rubinstein’s “Melody in F,” her young mind had a
habit of transcending itself into some such illusory realm as this:
Springtime seen lacily through a phantasmagoria of song. A very floral
sward. Fountains that tossed up coloratura bubbles of sheerest aria and
a sort of Greek frieze of youth attitudinized toward herself.
This frieze was almost invariably composed of Estelle Foote, a
successful rival in a class candidacy for the sponge-and-basin
monitorship; Sydney Prothero, infallible of spitball aim; Miss Lare with
her spectacles very low on her nose and a powdering of chalk dust down
her black alpaca; Flora Kemble with infinitely fewer friendship bangles
on her silver link bracelet; Roy Kemble, kissing her yellow, rather than
yanking her brown, braids.
And then suddenly, apropos of nothing except the sweet ache of Lilly’s
little soul, the second movement would freeze itself into a proscenium
arch of music, herself, like a stalagmite, its slim center.
At this point, “Melody in F” veils itself in a mist of arpeggios, and
Mrs. Becker, who invariably, during the after-school practice hour, sat
upstairs with Mrs. Kemble in her sunny second-story back, would call
down through the purposely opened floor register.
“Lilly, not so fast on that part.”
Were it not that the salient spots, the platform places in experience,
are floored over in little more or less identical mosaics of all the
commonplace day by days, Lilly Becker, at the rented-by-the-month piano
in her parents’ back parlor in Mrs. Schum’s boarding house, her two
chestnut braids rather precociously long and thick down her back, her
mother rocking rhythmically overhead, were spurious to this narrative.
Yet how much more potently than by the mere exposition of it and because
you have looked in on the nine-year-old chemistry of a vocal and blond
dream in the dreaming, are you to know the Lilly of seventeen, who
secretly and unsuccessfully washed her hair in a solution of peroxide,
and at eighteen, through the patent device of a megaphone inserted
through a plate-glass window, was singing to—But anon.
There was a game Lilly used to play on the front stairs of Mrs.
Schum’s boarding house, winter evenings after dinner. She and
Lester Eli, who, at seventeen, was to drown in a pleasure canoe; Snow
Horton—clandestinely present—daughter of a neighborhood dentist and
forbidden to play with the “boarding-house children”; Flora and Roy
Kemble, twins; and little Harry Calvert, who would creep up like a dirty
little white mouse from the basement kitchen.
“Can’t carry cranky cats!”
“No fair, Snow; that doesn’t make sense.”
“Your turn, Roy.”
“No fair. Nothing begins with ‘Z.'”
LILLY: “Does so. Z! Z—zounds—zippy—zingorella—zoe! Zoe!”
By similar strain of alliterative classification, Mrs. Schum’s boarding
house might have been indexed as Middle West, middle class, medium
price, and meager of meal.
Poor, callous-footed Mrs. Schum, with her spotted bombazine bosom and
her loosely anchored knob of gray hair! She was the color of cold dish
water at that horrid moment when the grease begins to float, her hands
were corroded with it, and her smile somehow could catch you by the
heartstrings, which smiles have no right to do. How patiently and how
drearily she padded through these early years of Lilly’s existence.
There were rubber insets in her shoes which sagged so that her ankles
seemed actually to touch the floor from the climbing upstairs and
downstairs on her missionary treadmill of the cracked slop jar; the fly
in the milk; the too-tepid shaving water; the bathroom monopoly; the
infant cacophony of midnight colic; salt on the sleety sidewalk, the
pasted handkerchief against a front window pane; ice water. Towels.
And how saucily after school would Lilly plant herself down in the
subterranean depths of the kitchen.
“Mrs. Schum, mamma says to give me a piece of bread and butter.”
With her worried eyes Mrs. Schum would smile and invariably hand out a
thick slice, thinly buttered.
“More butter, mamma said.”