A TEXTUAL INTERVENTION OF SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET 138
Sonnet 138, by William Shakespeare
When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies;
That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth supprest,
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.
The heavy smell of the cindering remnants at the bottom of the bathtub filled her. It was a warm smell, alluring and intoxicating, and reminded her of hazy, heavy-headed nights full of drinking and laughing, of shouting and dancing. Those old nights where all she could see through her fluttering eyelids were the lights that shot across the black sky like falling stars, and Scott’s bright eyes that sought out only her. She glanced at the white porcelain tub, where her clothing designs had been burnt to a black-sooted pile of charred fabric. Another part of her lay destructed, insignificant and worthless as dust, waiting to be washed down the drain and out of sight.
Zelda wiped her cold cheeks, drying the angry tears that began to fall the moment his back had turned, before the door had even closed behind him. He had gone ‘out to dinner’. With whom, she did not ask; she simply nodded and smiled slightly and let him kiss her reddening cheek. And at the sound of the door handle sliding back into place she screamed, fury and sadness enveloping her. She paced through the apartment and ripped her clothing from the closet, her own designs she had worked on so tirelessly and passionately, and tossed them into the bathtub. The flames she ignited them with made the dress hems and sleeves blacken, and she just stood there, watching another of her dreams die, tears rolling down her neck.
She had not needed to ask whom Scott was meeting. Zelda knew who she was, whom he was to spend the night with. And she knew that ‘out to dinner’ did not simply mean dinner, but something else entirely. Something fast and new and undeniably whole. He had gone out for something exhilarating and young, fresh and exciting; something he must have decided Zelda could no longer offer him.
Zelda stared into the mirror hanging by the thin chain nailed into the washroom wall. Its curved edges and delicate shape encircled the reflection that seemed to have changed so much. Her hair, full of the heavy smell of smoke, hung around her round face, duller than it was when she had first met Scott at seventeen and so enraptured, inspired, and delighted him. Ten years on, and the fire that once burned within the seventeen-year-old child from Alabama had escaped, taking with it the spirit from her eyes and her laugh.
Scott had fallen in love with her fire, her spirit, and since he considered it extinguished he had gone to seek out another fire to inspire his writing and his life. And he found it, in the form of one young silent film actress whom he was ‘mentoring’ for the screen. A seventeen year old inspiration, a child, who had stolen what was left of Zelda’s fire and used it to further ignite her own.
How could she compete with a seventeen year old, she, whose years have run on into twenty-seven? Zelda thought of herself at that bright, foolish age, when troubles were laughable and she had everything she could ever dream for. She never questioned or accused or argued, for she was unlearned in the cruelties and deceptions of the world.
Scott’s silent film starlet Lois, at that unwise and unquestioning age of seventeen, would surely take everything he gave her, laugh loudly at all his flat jokes, and dote on him; an innocent child to be moulded and created by his literary imagination. When he swears to her that he is made of truth, young whimsical Lois will believe him, though Zelda knows now how oft he lies. If she were to survive this affair that was proving harder to endure than his past flings, she would have to reignite that youthful fire reality blew out. She would try to remind Scott of the girl he met at the troop’s social in that sweltering summer night in 1918. The girl who knew nothing of the world outside her Montgomery town, who was excited and willing for a bright young soldier to sweep her away and show her real life.
That was clearly what Scott wanted. For he must see everyday how much time has changed his muse, his Rosalind, his Gloria, his Daisy, his Zelda. And if Zelda were to recapture the youth Scott immortalises within his work, she would have to act like Lois. She would keep her eyes wide and mouth soft, denying any harsh words or accusations escaping it. Scott must think her unwise to his actions and innocent of the knowledge that he was betraying her. For love’s best habit is in seeming trust; a trust to disguise the hate and the heartache, to bring closer their souls which had drifted so far apart.
‘Zelda, darling,’ his voice was soft and distant, his warm hand enclosed around her wrist. Her eyes lifted, morning light flooding her vision; the dark galaxies painted across her closed eyelids disappeared and were replaced by Scott’s face. His hair was dishevelled; there were dark circles under his eyes and lines around his mouth. He clearly had not slept all night, and must have only just gotten in.
Zelda lifted herself off the lounge, with thoughts of Scott and Lois up all night, both with tired eyes but full of laughter and lust, hands and lips brushing over skin. Disgust rose in Zelda’s throat as she looked at her husband, whose loosened tie told her more than he ever would himself. He looked tired, but satisfied, content, and she knew his good mood would be ruined as soon as her accusing mouth opened. But just as she was about to throw abuse at him, something in her mind awoke.
She smiled widely at him, brushing her hair between her fingers and smoothing out her sleeves. She leaned back along the lounge, rolling her head to the side like she once saw Lois do. ‘How was your dinner?’ she asked, blinking lazily and smiling. She reached to the rolling bar besides the lounge and lifted the glass scotch bottle off it. Scott’s eyes narrowed.
‘It’s a bit early,’ he said, nodding to the bottle, his hands in his pockets.
Zelda laughed, a sound that rung throughout the quiet apartment. ‘Don’t be silly, you old man. Do you want one or not?’ she poured the golden liquid into a glass, walking over to the icebox to drop two cubes into the drink. They clattered against the glass as she made her way back over to Scott.
‘I’ve got to finish a chapter of Tender for Scribner,’ he said, kissing Zelda’s head briefly before turning to his study. He lifted his tie over his head and threw it onto the lounge. Zelda watched him leave her, her hand lowering by her side, the ice cubes clinking in the glass once more. She sat down again on the lounge, thinking of Scott’s arms entwined around young Lois. ‘Good luck, dear,’ she called softly after him.
She took a sip of the warm liquid and let it burn inside her mouth. The tall form of Scott quickly appeared through the study door once more, his strides long as he walked to her. With one arm he took the glass from her hand, and with the other he clasped her elbow and drew her up into his arms. He watched her face, and for a moment she feared him and what he was capable of doing to her sanity; this man who for seven years had been her whole life, and who now seemed to be its sole destruction. Scott took a sip of the scotch and then kissed her fiercely, a kiss that brought back all those drunken, roaring parties in New York, where moonshine and absinthe heightened their passion and obsession for one another.
But replacing her own face in the memories of their honeymoon years were the faces of those women who had stolen parts of Scott away from her: his attention, his laughter, his attraction, his love. All of Scott’s lies and deceptions flooded Zelda’s mind, the sound of his pleas of faithfulness and honesty drowning her and stabbing at her nerves.
Why won’t he admit he is unjust? How can I convince him I am the same girl I was ten years ago; he must know my days are past the best. Zelda pulled out of the kiss, questions waiting in her throat, but as she stared at him, she suppressed the truths she knew within herself.
‘My Zelda’s the only one for me,’ Scott whispered to her, his forehead against hers. Zelda’s lip trembled at his words, the same words he gave her the night they danced around a hotel ballroom in Paris, all those lifetimes ago, before any mention of Lois or her counterparts.
After a moment of silence she looked up into his eyes, forcing her face to soften and her mouth to stop trembling. ‘I know.’
Scott smiled at her and returned to his study, downing the scotch in one fast gulp. As the door behind him shut silently, Zelda walked to the washroom. She looked at her frozen smile in the mirror, and noticed at once the lines at the corners of her eyes. She decided that as long as Scott lied to her she would lie too, and try to find comfort in the falsehood that she was indeed all he wanted. She would hope he was satisfied that his twenty-seven year old muse remained the youthful, spirited inspiration she was at seventeen. For as long as they fooled and flattered one another, they could go on with their lives, ignoring their own faults that had doomed them from the first.
Note: This work is entirely fictional and while it depicts real people and events, it is not intended as a non-fiction account of the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre or Lois Moran.