Margaret Erhart

It was Nureyev and Fonteyn, and I was twelve years old in a scratchy blue dress. My formidable grandmother Florence sat on one side, her terrifying sister Agnes on the other. For the entire first act of Romeo and Juliet I had a terrible itch below my collar, but between those two matrons I dared not raise a hand to my chest, or lick my chapped lips, or breathe. The Gayley girls, the Gayley sisters, were fierce in their Victorian manners. They had lived the greater part of their lives without husbands—early deaths due to leukemia and the flu—and tolerated no nonsense from anyone younger than sixty-five. I believed, at the time of the ballet, that the Gayley girls were witches. Their coven-mates were dashing older ladies, always with books under their arms, wearing jodhpur trousers and jaunty berets. I had seen and even met these suffragists at various Christmas parties and summer picnics, and now two or three of them sat behind me as we swept through Romeo and Juliet on the toes of Dame Margot and her handsome Russian escort. They clapped wildly, raucously, as the curtain came down, and I in my scratchy blue dress felt a surge of adolescent pique and embarrassment.