"C ease your dancing, Nitza.” Mother’s voice was sharp and grating.

Nitza paused mid-twirl, reed broom in hand, and looked at Mother in surprise. Mother continued rolling out the flat breads and slapping them down on the heated stone in the middle of their home. Dickla, Nitza’s younger sister, sat beside Mother and rolled and slapped too.

Roll, slap. Roll, slap.

“But why, Mother?”

Mother looked up, the beginnings of a scowl on her face. “Why what?” she snapped.

“Why shouldn’t I dance?” Nitza said.

Mother rolled and slapped harder. Faster. “Nitza, you are entering your sixteenth year. Don’t you understand that you are a slave in this vast prison called Mitzrayim?”

Roll, slap. Roll, slap.

Mother was breathing hard now and her green eyes flashed. “Tell me daughter, what are you dancing for?”

Nitza sighed and continued sweeping the dirt floor of their home. She swept in careful straight lines. She didn’t risk even so much as a twirl. The silence in the room thickened, and Nitza felt like she was going to choke.

She finished sweeping and grabbed the wooden bucket from the corner. She would go down to the shadoof and draw some water. Mother didn’t go down to the Nile anymore. Not since Baby Chetzron was taken away.

Nitza left the house, pausing outside the open entrance — just long enough to hear Mother’s exasperated voice. “I don’t know what goes on in that girl’s head.” Father’s scraggly silver beard wagged a tired response.

“It’s vanity! Nothing but vanity!” Mother’s voice was rising. “All she thinks about are cosmetics and jewelry and chuppahs. Chuppahs! Can you imagine? At a time like this?”

Nitza didn’t wait to hear anymore. Swinging her bucket, she flew down the dirt path to the great river. (Excerpted from Calligraphy, Issue 704)