Ellen Tifft

Moon, Moon, Tell Me True 

ISBN 1-879378-25-6 (paper)
211 pages, $15



Cover art: "Balancing Act" by Mavin Ambrose

Set in the Finger Lakes region of New York, just after World War II, Moon, Moon, Tell Me True presents an unusual cast of characters: the personnel of an amusement park running downhill. Its heroine is Zelma Prokova, a young dancer in the Girly Show, poorly educated, full of hope, irrepressible in her desire to succeed. Her father is the carnival thin man, her motherthe fat lady, her friendsa hermaphrodite, a snake-charmer and other curious folk. Her nemesis is Dwain Slocum, manager of the floorshow at the restaurant, who is reputedly connected to big-city crime. When he asks her to dance for him, she knows that she must accept in order to advance her career. But what's the catch? Zelma hates Dwain and longs for the day that will give the answer to her stage song, "Moon, Moon, tell me true, when will I ever say I do?" At the same time she is haunted by the legend of Newamee, the Indian princess who lives under the nearby lake and lures her lover to his doom.
As Zelma's story unfolds, we begin to care about this heroine as though she were someone close to us—a sister, a daughter, a friend in need.


Author Bio | Reviews | Read Selection

Ellen Tifft (1916-2006) published her imaginative poetry and prose in prestigious magazines and journals such as The New Yorker, The Transatlantic Review and Lillabulero, but chiefly devoted herself to the people and institutions of her immediate vicinity. As a native and lifetime resident of Elmira, New York, she was active in nurturing the arts in the Finger Lakes region. She served as a consultant to libraries, museums and writers groups, encouraged young authors and brought known authors and artists to the area for readings and performances. She herself gave readings in schools, libraries and university auditoriums. Her single novel, Moon, Moon, Tell Me True, is written with an unfeigned innocence and charm that make it an irresistable romance.

A reader left the following review on the Amazon.com site:

"Tifft is a home grown-magic realist. Her characters, from Mister and Al, the side show's Indian fortune teller and hermaphrodite, to Raymond-Guy, the itinerant, foreign-born sidewalk chalk painting artist, who sweeps Zelma off her feet, inhabit a world in which the villainous Dwain Slocum, sideshow manager, attempts the rape and even murder of our heroine Zelma. Zelma dances herself into mystical trances, falls in love, gives birth on a river barge, and is almost lured into death by drowning in the lake at Aldridge Park. And all of this Tifft achieves through a language, half dialect, half poetry that captures the offhand way people talk better than anything I've ever read. But you really have to read this unique novel for yourself. It will take you on a journey through mythic realms to a resolution as satisfying as the end of The Tempest or The Magic Flute."

Chapter Twenty-Two
from Moon, Moon, Tell Me True:

Two weeks later I sit in the Doctor's office. I've been moved to an inside room. I thought this great at first but now I've sat here for Lord knows how long, a half hour at least. They've forgotten me. I get up, open the door and make myself seen by a nurse going by.

"Why, hello," the nurse says.

"It was yesterday when I came in."

She goes out. I slam the door. Crap with her. I look at the diplomas on the wall and a huge hypodermic needle on a shelf. I open the door suddenly again and nearly knock the doctor over. "Oh, sorry, I thought you'd gone home."

He laughs, his double chin quivering. "I'm Dr. Moore, I apologize for the delay." He examines the folio. "I see you're not married, Miss Prokova. Are you happy about your condition?"

"Well, see, it was a rape. That is, maybe it was a rape. According to my nightmares, it was."

"Oh, sorry again. You want to tell me about it?"

"Well, uh, no, I don't want to tell you and I want the kid anyways."

"Fine. Let's see now. First you have this gown on backwards. Let me get a nurse in here and get you all set. I'll be back." And he's gone again. Pshh!

The nurse comes next and makes me ready. I wait another age, knees in the air. I ought to just go on home. I sit up to start dressing, and in comes Dr. Moore. "Sorry again," he says.

He looks over his steamy glasses at me. Then, according to business, he pokes and prods, seems to take a long time doing it. "It says here you're three months pregnant."

"Well, see, I keep nightmaring a rape took place on September 27th."

"I see. Hmm. Did you have any sexual activity in the month after that time?" His chubby face tilts sideways, eyebrows up.

I'm annoyed, what business is it of his? I wait a good three minutes. "Yes, soon after that I met the man of my life, after I'd skipped my first period."

"Well, you look two months pregnant to me, not three. I'm almost positive that the father is your lover, then." He presses his hands together, fingers up. His head tilts and eyebrows lift. "You see, I'm an expert at this. It's my specialty. Getting older, one learns to ignore nightmares, illusions."

I flip up and he ducks back. I wave the gown like wings. "That is wonderful. The father of Fishy-babe is not Dwain the rapist, but Raymond-Guy then. Oh, Lord, Dr. Moore, you don't know what a gift you've given me! You don't know! Scrumptious! Dwain was sorta bald with pikey tufts of hair, and I saw a red flea come out from under his wig once, and he's mean and awful. He insults me, my mother, women! Raymond-Guy is the living water of my life, its bread. Now I can be sure my nightmares are wrong."

"Well, good." He writes a phrase in the folder and dots it heavily. "Living water, I wrote. Are you eating right, carefully, not smoking or drinking too much? You're pretty skinny. Do you like vegetables?"

"No, but my roommate Winny sees to it that I eat them. Honest to God, she can dream up dishes with all that green stuff."

"Great. Do you want to enroll in the baby-care classes at the hospital?"

"No, I guess I can read about that from the Hoboken Library. I got me a card."

"You've got stars on your breasts." He examines me. "Good. You certainly look to me to be in an earlier state of pregnancy than you figured. I mean you're not as far pregnant as you think you are. You're very young. Do you have any experience with a newborn?"

"Nope. I wonder if you can do anything about nausea. I don't actually throw up much, but I feel as if I might, and I'm around food all the time at my job at the Lackawanna Sycamore Restaurant. I have the dry heaves. It's a wonder the baby survives."

"You may feel lousy but your baby is probably okay. Can you come back to me every month? Popcorn is filling and easy to digest, ginger ale, bouillon and for supper fresh fruit, veggies and meat. It may go away soon, too, the nausea I mean."

"Oh, I hope so. I'm glad you're my doctor, you just gave me the best news of my life. Sure, I'll come back every month. You should meet Raymond-Guy, the love of my whole life."

"Thank you." He makes an elegant bow and goes out. "There's a good patient," he says to the nurse going past me, "living-water woman."

I'm alone. "Rejoice!" I stand up, do part of the Big Apple dance, then I sit back on the place where I came from. I put my head in my hands and weep.

The nurse comes in. "Now, that's all right, dearie, worse things have happened for centuries to other girls. I'll give you a poison-dart gun and you can pip it into your raper where it'll hurt him."

"Oh, no, you misunderstand me, I'm crying for joy. Raymond-Guy is the father of my kid. I was never so happy in my life! Now it's sure. Doctor said. I just dreamed that rape horror. I've never never never been so happy. About anything, even dancing. Dwain touched me is all. Ugh!"

"Well, good, you must weigh yourself now on the way out. Stop dancing and get dressed, honey."

I dress, weigh. "See, I've lost in my pregnancy. And my mother is the Fat Lady of the Sideshow."

"That right?... You didn't inherit that fat, did you, Pummykin? You weigh one-o-three and you're five feet three."

"Hey, I grew lately. You know what? That nice doctor said I have stars on my bosoms."

"Oh, he tells that to all the girls."

I go out quickly not quite all done up.

After four more weeks the nausea clears up, or almost does. Winny and I kid each other a lot. Winny is a Mormon and goes around spreading the good word. She has made two new boyfriends this way, but they remain just friends, nothing serious. I tease her about that. "I really was working for God," she says, "so that time wasn't all wasted."

I have many more friends than I ever had before. They believe what I said about the so-called rape and what followed. After all, she thought she was pregnant, they decide.


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