Today’s post features my short story “Night Roses,” first published in Peacock Journal and featured in the journal’s 2017 print anthology. I’ve paired the story with George Gershwin‘s second prelude for piano.
“Night Roses” is one of my “Zelda Fitzgerald stories,” which I admit a little cautiously, because Zelda has been featured so exhaustively in biography, fiction, movies, TV, and more. She fascinates me, though, as a woman who lived in an unparalleled time and had a kaleidoscopic and chaotic life that’s difficult even to imagine. At the same time, her struggle with mental illness resonates deeply with me.
A lot of us are familiar with the basic lines of Zelda’s story: how she was an archetypal Southern belle; how the Northerner, Scott Fitzgerald, met her and was swept off his feet; how the two of them took New York by storm in the Roaring Twenties and became the defining faces of the Jazz Age (a term Scott himself created). We also know about her illness, which was diagnosed (maybe misdiagnosed) as schizophrenia; how she spent years in and out of mental hospitals, receiving all kinds of often ineffective and sometimes harmful treatments; how she and Scott became estranged and lived on opposite sides of the country; and how she outlived him and ultimately died in a fire at the Highland Hospital in North Carolina.
What I find most compelling about Zelda, though, is the image of a woman who always pushed, as hard as she could, against the limitations of the world she lived in. Women in the 1920s and 1930s were supposed to be housewives and mothers. Scott seems to have wanted Zelda to live in his shadow, and seems to have discouraged her from trying for an artistic career of her own (she had a remarkable number of artistic talents: dancing, visual art, writing). She was never satisfied to be his satellite. Though her struggle to build and sustain something of her own may have contributed to her mental illness, she never gave up on it, or gave up on her own clear sense of who she was.
“Night Roses” came out of one of the Zelda-and-Scott legends. When they were first married, with Zelda a fresh transplant from Alabama, they lived in New York City and became a much-admired, much-followed beautiful couple who lived the wild Jazz Age lifestyle to the fullest. Zelda apparently threw herself into this new life with enthusiasm. At the same time, though, given her later struggles, I find it easy to imagine a young woman who felt rootless and lost in a world so different from the one she had always known. The particular legend behind “Night Roses” is about a time when Scott and Zelda, driving through New York in the middle of the night, stopped at a fountain in a square and jumped in. The legend describes this as another example of their larger-than-life personalities and how joyfully they seized on every experience. In “Night Roses,” I’ve imagined something a little different: a woman who is trying to escape the world she’s found herself in, a world which doesn’t fit her, though she doesn’t fully realize that yet.
I’ve paired this story with Gershwin’s music because Gershwin was, of course, also an iconic figure of Zelda and Scott’s time. The piece I’ve used here, the second of his three Preludes for Piano, is one of my favorite piano solos.
As always, thank you for visiting the blog! The next post will feature one more excerpt of my own writing, and then continuing through the fall, I’ll be welcoming other writers to contribute. See you in two weeks!
Night Roses, as originally published in Peacock Journal
Writers! Would you like to contribute your work for the Storytelling and Sound series? (You provide the words, I provide the live reading and the music.) Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for info.
Also see my new online course on revising fiction. Spaces available now: registration through 9/8!