She counted twenty-five faceless heads in the dimmed house. At the Liberty Theatre in Jerome, Arizona, the seats rose steeply. Each row held a dozen, and the house held a hundred people comfortably. Upstage, two Kliegl lamps lit the back screen blue. In the wing, she locked arms with her dance troupe, the Copper Cuties, while Leo tapped the piano keys to the song, “Ain’t She Sweet,” his long thighs bouncing. Sally nudged her four dance partners on the third beat of the reprise. The yellow tutus rustled and their black-hosed legs crossed and kicked. This was the first performance of the new routine she choreographed inspired from a recent article in McCall’s magazine. She seared the picture of the kicking squad of precision dancers, a line of long-legged symmetry, chins up, poised, into her memory. They were called the Rockettes and were growing so popular, the article claimed, they were taking their show to New York City. The ache to be in the front row to see them kick, to hear their tap shoes click-clack on the stage, and to listen to an orchestra, Oh! her heart ached. She thought she might break down and ask her mother to pay for a ticket to see them. She refrained. Her mother would interpret the request as a sign of reconciliation and would want to travel with her. The two hour show would be heaven but not worth journeying across the country on a train with Connie Vandenberg. She’d be trapped in a private car and forced to suffer the kaleidoscope expressions of her mother’s face. First the tears, then the wail of the tantrum, followed by the threats, and finally, the sullen dismissal that told her to “Go to hell.” Yes, Sally decided, better to imagine the show and skip the train ride.
Sally designed a routine based around the melody of “Ain’t She Sweet.” Her heart leaped anytime she heard it on the radio. She gave Leo the money to buy the sheet music to Ben Bernie’s new song and then forced him to play it until she had memorized the lyrics. The ensemble from Jerome agreed to her idea that they would imitate the Rockettes. Sally bartered yellow netting and cheap silk fabric from Mr. Sang’s store in exchange for a pair of opal earrings, gifts from her mother two years ago. The Chinese tailor and his son would turn the material into five costumes, which, Sally realized when the Copper Cuties put them on, they looked like bumble-bees. Shit.
Opals! What did she care about opals? She wanted rubies and emeralds and diamonds. How many years would she have to wait before her mother died to inherit her grand collection? Sally’s tap shoes smacked the wooden floorboards harder. All of these thoughts spun in her mind in rapid succession during the first turn on the stage.
She imagined the Rockettes. Her grin grew wider. The house was dark, and the fog of cigarette smoke reflected off the two spotlights aimed at them. One of her dancers was too short and waddled more than pranced. A couple of the girls were fair, but Sally was disappointed they couldn’t kick high with their toes out in front of their chins. She looked to her left, and she looked to her right with the footlights hot at her feet. The song ended and some of the men clapped. One stood up and whistled. “Let’s see ya shimmy!” Sally recognized Luke Foster. He came every Wednesday to see them dance, zozzled after drinking for hours beforehand.
Leo began a long introduction meant to showcase Sally’s tap dancing abilities. She was the only one who had formal training, five years of dance lessons in Chicago. The girls heel-stepped and circled Sally, hiding her behind their tutus while she stripped down to a black corset and black silk shorts. Folded like a fan, she pulled out from her shorts Indian feathers of various colors glued to a head band and slipped it on. The Copper Cuties opened the circle, passed Sally’s tutu behind their backs to the wing, and Sally click-clacked the triple buffalo downstage. She stood there with a leg stretched to the side, her arms high, her wrists flexed, and grinned with enthusiasm. She was particularly proud of this onstage dress change. She saw it two years ago in New York City when her mother took her to see the Ziegfeld Follies. That’s when she gave Sally the opals as an apology. The whole week getaway was designed for Sally to forgive her mother. How ridiculous to think keeping her father from her most of her life could be whitewashed by a pair of milky earrings? She wanted to spit at Connie Vandenberg. Watching the Ziegfeld Follies was a ruined experience and one more reason for Sally to run away from Chicago to her wild Aunt’s boarding house and saloon in Arizona.
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