a novel by
Robert N. Lawson
Bridge 1--SAMSON AGONISTES
We hold to the illusion we can see,
It was a balmy Sunday morning when I finally set out to visit the scene of the crime.
That was nearly three months after I'd casually opened the newspaper in a Tokyo hotel dining room, expecting to imbibe the world's miscellaneous mayhem with my after-breakfast coffee, to be confronted by the incredibly graphic photograph that had haunted me ever since, and the sensational story, under the headline "Yumeina Haiyu no Shinju," of Betty and Jordan's apparent double suicide at the cabin at Lake Arrowhead. In an eerie way that photograph did remind me of the publicity shot from the film of Chikamatsu's Shinju Ten no Amijima that Donald Richie had used as the cover for his book on Japanese cinema--the head of the one at the feet of the other, hands almost touching--as if carefully posed. As I sat staring at that picture, after having read the article, that had engaged in a little first-reaction speculation about what,
|beyond those gunshot wounds, had led to the scene there
depicted, but had only added to my own confusion on conceivable motives,
I thought, "None of this can be true, but, whatever led to this insanity,
my beloved, you retained your instincts for the dramatic to the end."
It had taken me nearly three days to get back to Los Angeles--barely in time for the funeral. I had spent a half day sharing the grief and bewilderment of Laura, Christine, Henry, Randall, Shoko, Thomas, and a few others, then, not even staying overnight, given the hectic arrangements I was forced to accept to make the trip at all, was back on an airplane for Japan, trying to get a little sleep while sorting out my own emotions. I'd been hard at work during the intervening weeks in Japan--in part to keep that newspaper image out of my mind. I'd actually seen Betty and Jordan lying in their caskets, which had been sobering enough, but it was the picture in the newspaper that would take possession of my imagination at the most unexpected times--and provoke a shudder.
Now I'd finally returned to California, and, after a couple of days spent taking care of loose ends at the studio, here came the weekend, when I could no longer find reasons not to drive up to the cabin and talk to Henry. I'd called Henry Saturday morning to tell him I'd like to come up, and he had reacted with an ambiguous mixture of enthusiasm and reserve-- perhaps picking up on my own vibrations--and had then asked me to wait a day. "To-morrow would be better, Jack. Sunday . . . afternoon . . . and I'll have a surprise for you."
Then I'd called New York again--still no answer--and my sister, Grace, to tell her I was back. She invited me over, but I told her, "one day next week." I also decided not to drive out to Shangri-La. Not yet. I'd talk to Henry first. He'd been there. So I took a fitful nap through most of the afternoon, went to a Chinese restaurant Laura and I had always favored
|for dinner, then, feet propped up on the sofa in
the apartment Randall's secretary had found for me, killed most of
the evening looking at magazines and switching back and forth between a
couple of old movies on television--pondering, in the interstices, people
and their passions, and wondering what Henry's surprise might be.
Henry had always liked surprises.
It wasn't a long drive up to the cabin, and I'd made it often enough, but never before under this pervasive sense of loss. "Look what they've done to Paradise," I thought, as I drove out the San Bernardino Freeway. "Where'd all these houses-- and the people to fill them--come from? And where've the orange groves gone? Where? Same place as those blue skies of my boyhood, I guess." Maybe I'd just dreamed those things.
I got to wondering why I couldn't talk to anyone at the funeral. There wasn't much time, of course, but, in the past, it would have been as natural as breathing to turn to Henry, or Laura, for comfort and support. "Not this time!" We didn't seem to trust ourselves to talk about it. I had tried to reach Henry by telephone from Tokyo later, two or three times, and couldn't, so had concluded he didn't want to be reached any more than I really wanted to reach him. "What could we say to each other?" And when I'd called Christine in New York, and talked to her and Laura, we hadn't even mentioned Betty or Jordan's death. I was mostly apologizing for not being there for Christine's graduation; still, as I reflected back on that call, and the three or four short letters we'd exchanged, it was as if we were conspiring to keep a secret.
I found the speedometer creeping up over the speed limit. "A California driver again. You can't get away with that in Japan. Maybe I'm more anxious to see Henry than I thought. Poor Henry! Perhaps I could have helped him. I should have thought more about that . . . about his loss."
| Henry had
frequently been mentioned in the news copy, since he'd been involved with
Betty and Jordan for years, even after he'd been blinded, and was there
at the cabin when the shooting occurred. And that haunting photograph
had been re-printed in several magazine articles. I had the early
article from Time in a folder in my briefcase, along with
a later piece speculating on motives, and mentioning that Henry Gordon
had moved back to the cabin shortly after the shooting. "But, a blind
man . . . he can hardly be living there alone, can he?"
As I took the turnoff from 189 to North Bay Road, I wondered if visiting this place, with all its memories, was such a good idea. I even felt a little anxious about meeting a blind man who'd always seemed to see better than I did, and talking to him about a woman we'd both loved "not wisely, but . . . too well." I also felt a morbid curiosity, however, to see how he was dealing with all of this, which, like a magnet, exerted more force as the paved road changed to gravel, and, finally, just as our end of the lake came into full view for the first time, the gravel ended at the lean-to carport I had built.
"And there it is! Our old wagon! Still was parked in the same place" Laura and Christine and I had almost lived in that Chevrolet wagon the summer we began work on the cabin. "Twelve years ago! And it was an old car then." I'd bought it in the days of our early film prosperity, "used, but low mileage," then put over 100,000 miles on it, before leaving it "to whomever . . . to Henry . . . to a blind man." .
But where was the woman who'd put her share of miles on that car, and whom I'd so often cradled in my arms on the three-quarter mattress in the back? "No mattress there now. Moved to the cabin . . . or thrown away? How strange the familiar can become, when you feel you're looking at it for the first time." As I pulled my studio-owned Ford into the space to the right of the old car, I noted the sleek, black Ferrari
|parked on the other side. "Now who belongs to that?
One of Randall's friends? Up here to talk to Henry? Maybe that's
why he suggested afternoon. Well, I guess I'll soon find out."
Laura and Christine and I hadn't exactly "lived" in the station wagon. We had pulled a two-wheel trailer full of camping gear and tools up from the city, had put up a tent, and built a shed we could lock on the cabin site. But we had kept the mattress, for which Laura had made a washable denim cover, in the back of the wagon, and preferred to sleep there--more secure, from man, beast, and bugs, than the tent. And slept better. I often slept in the car when I was traveling alone in those days, in fact--just threw my bags in on Laura's side of the mattress. I would simply pull off somewhere when I began to shake my head to stay awake, at say 2:00 in the morning, and get back on the road whenever I woke up, watching for a place to buy a cup of coffee. "Ah to be young again! But I can't remember a more comfortable bed. I could still sleep there--in perfect peace." But the mattress wasn't there. "And where's that trailer? Must be around somewhere. I'll have to ask Henry." We'd put a lot of miles on that, too.
Well, there the old car stood, like a ghost, in the Sunday morning sunshine. As I reached out to touch it, I noticed the front hubcap was still missing, though any junkyard would've had another--if anyone had cared. The same magnetized flashlight we'd had for years was still there on the door of the glove compartment. "The magnet still works, but I'll bet the flashlight doesn't. Never was much good." I started to reach in to test it, to see if a blind man kept new batteries in it, but then saw something else that made my hand jerk back, instinctively, as if I'd been bitten by a snake.
I laughed out loud. It was only a scarf, after all. The memories I was invoking were beginning to get to me. "You know what you're doing?" I said to myself. "Setting a scene.
|That's really self-indulgent. Like that guy in
Poe's The Raven. This isn't a screenplay you're writing.
Keep your emotional distance . . . before they pick you up running berserk
in the woods." But I didn't put that "snake-bit" hand back through
the window of the station wagon to pick up that scarf . . . or to test
that flashlight. Better to quit while I was ahead.
As I followed the path up to the cabin, it all looked the same--the three pine trees along the uphill side, the big rock a few yards beyond, the arroyo dropping off to the right--all as I might have sketched it the day before that photograph in the Tokyo newspaper had seemed to wipe this whole world away. "Henry must use these landmarks to guide himself now." I closed my eyes going from the last tree to the rock--feeling the gravel of the path with my feet. I had been from cabin to station wagon in the dark more than once. One could learn. But I would have carried the lantern . . . or that flashlight . . . and spare batteries. "Imagine, to live here, in the middle of all of this scenic beauty . . . blind! Yes . . . poor Henry!"
The scarf on the passenger's seat in the station wagon had intruded another note. It was Betty's scarf--the one with the thousand-crane pattern I'd given her for the film. She often wore it when she was staying here. Back then, I'd have taken it back to the cabin for her, hoping to see her toss her hair the way she always did as she put it on. What was it doing there?
As I reached the little clearing just before the last rise up to the cabin the sense of stepping back in time became overwhelming. It was more than shortness of breath that provoked me to sit down on the stump we'd left for that purpose and look at the lake. "Yes, I still like this view best," I thought. The way the lake was framed by the trees made it truly picturesque. I always liked to pretend I was seeing that picture for the first time when I got here. Serenity in the abstract. The road over on the other side, where the lake
|swung out in a sharp bend around the point, looked like
a little white ribbon, which then dipped down to be lost in the pines.
It would take almost an hour to drive around to that point, but you could
be there in maybe twenty minutes in the boat.
"The boat!" I looked down to where I expected to see our old boat tied. "Not there!" I saw the bright orange of two life jackets, hung, as always, on the post under the eaves of the boat dock, but the boat wasn't there. Had Henry sold it? "Never! I'll bet he still fishes." Was he out fishing now? How does a blind man fish? I remembered loading fishing gear into the boat, with an impatient Christine running back and forth, trying to get Laura to hurry up, calling out, "Let's go!" Since we'd had four life jackets, I deduced that two people must be out in the boat. Henry and who else? "Whoever he's living with, I guess. Or his visitor." I'd almost suggested coming up early to go out fishing with him myself. It would've been good to talk out on the water, with lines lying slack. "But then one of us might have drowned the other. Try it on land first.
"Well, better move on." Another few steps would bring the cabin into view. How I'd have loved to find Betty sitting there, easel set up under the big pine, working on one of her "landscapes," and say, "Here's your scarf, kid. You left it in the car." But Betty had seldom ridden in that wagon and the image of her lifeless body that I carried in my briefcase--and in my mind--would no doubt keep her from making such appearances out here in the bold sunshine . . . like her scarf could. Even for Betty there must be some rules.
I wondered if she were haunting Henry, too, and in what form, since he couldn't have seen that mesmerizing photograph. I didn't think I could keep from going mad if I were living up here--at night, when the moon made a streak of light across the lake, for example. But Henry could be immune to such influences. Still, wouldn't he have strange dreams?
|Probably not. That was the kind of power Betty's
ghost might exercise over my impressionable spirit, not over that of the
man who'd stolen her away from me--that errant "soul mate" to my errant
wife. Perhaps what qualified him to run off with her was that she
couldn't haunt him in quite the same way.
"Haunt me in the daytime, babe, when it has this delicious, bitter-sweet flavor, this 'dying fall'--not at night. I'm too easily frightened in the dark . . . if you remember."
I was talking out loud to myself more these days. I've always talked to myself when I'm alone--working on a script in the middle of the night, driving the lonely highway from Reno to Los Angeles. I just seem to be alone more often now. Maybe the habit had been reinforced in Japan--wanting to hear more English, or more I could understand. I wondered what the psychological difference was between talking to yourself and talking to a ghost, and found myself looking around, to make sure I really was alone, out there in the woods.
That's when I first heard the chopping. Then a dog barking. Betty's dog, Grendel, the dog she'd made so much of, then left here. "People do leave things here, don't they? But who'd be chopping wood? Especially this time of year?"
I doubted that Grendel was barking at me yet. I was still too far off, and there wasn't an ounce of watchdog in him. He might have seen a squirrel, or a bug. But now I was anxious to see him, too, and moved quickly up the path and around the outcropping of rock that hid the cabin from view. The dog saw me first, and bounded out to meet me, barking unevenly.
Then I saw Henry, standing by a pile of small pine trees, trimming the branches from one, probably with the same hand ax we used to practice throwing at one of those big pines on summer evenings. He turned toward me, as I was greeting the dog, evidently puzzled for a moment, holding the ax in the air as if to shade his eyes. Then he called out, "Jack, is that you?"
| "Sure is,
old buddy. Or what's left of him. The place is looking great.
How are you doing?" He didn't move. "How'd you know it was
me? Are your eyes getting better?"
He seemed to be looking right at me, then a little right, a little left, as if gauging where to throw the ax. He'd been pretty good at it. Then he laughed, and said, "That's a lot of questions, Jack. No, I'm blind, all right. Reconfirmed just last week. But I'm getting used to it." He came down along the fence, to where a broken top rail was lying on the ground. Evidently he was working on trimming a replacement.
"But of course I've been expecting you, Jack . . . thinking about what I'd say to you. Still, it took me a minute to 'recognize' you. Grendel beat me to it. He's my eyes now." Henry was walking toward me, holding the hand ax. Then he stopped, eight or ten feet from me, the fence between us, at a post he reached out carefully to touch, saying, "Come here, boy." The dog went to him, and he bent down to pet it.
"You seem to know your way around this hill pretty well, at least here by the cabin."
"You'd be surprised how quickly that sense develops. I take a lot of pride in what I can do in spite of being blind." He did throw the ax this time, all of a sudden, so it stuck in a tree not five feet behind me. I gasped, then noticed there were several ax-blade marks in the tree, where he must have been practicing from that spot by the post. He laughed again, more comfortably this time, and held out the hand that had held the ax. "But I still need a lot of help, Jack . . . a lot of help."
Grendel sat there beside him, but looked pretty incompetent as a seeing-eye dog, too. And, again, I felt that Henry was looking right at me--or perhaps right through me. The irony was it had always been that way with Henry. As long as I'd known him, he might be looking right at you without seeming to see you--if he was thinking about something else.
come on, Jack, 'A little onward lend thy guiding hand to these dark steps.'"
As I moved across and took his hand, he took mine in both of his and shook
it warmly. "I've often wondered how you were doing these
last few months."
"Well, I've been busy. Just got back from Japan Tuesday night. But about a week earlier than I'd expected."
"It may surprise you to see me mending fence, but it's good exercise. And good therapy. We all need good therapy, don't we? And exercise. Sounds like you're puffing a little, after that climb. I can feel your pulsebeat. So let's sit down, on that bench you built for just sitting and looking at the lake. You can tell me how it looks." He pointed to the split log I'd set into two stumps where it provided the best view of the lake from in front of the cabin. "But if I'm feeling the sun right," and he pointed directly up to it, "you're early, Jack. I said afternoon. That complicates my little surprise."
"Well, I got up early and, since it was such a nice day, thought I'd come on up . . . might walk in the woods . . . then could help you . . . mend fence. What's this surprise?"
"You'll see. But now you'll have to wait. It is a beautiful day, isn't it?" He smiled, and expanded his arms, taking in the whole scene. "It's been raining up here, off and on, for the last two weeks, so we've been cooped up. This was a chance to work outside. Mending fence . . . where no fence is needed. Didn't Frost say something about that? You're the student of literature, Jack. Tell me why we do these crazy things."
I thought I heard something, and looked up at the cabin. "Well, everything's sure looking good," I said, again. But Henry just smiled, as we both sat there quietly soaking up the sunshine. Again I heard the noise, coming from the cabin, all right. This time I was sure. I looked again, and thought I caught a glimpse of someone passing the window, though the breeze could have moved the curtain a bit, changing the
|pattern of the shadows. It might have been that.
But I didn't imagine the noise. Did Henry have a cat here?
I looked back at Henry, who was smiling more broadly. He cocked his head as if he, too, were listening to the noise in the cabin. "Well, Jack, as I said, I have to have help. She wanted to write and tell you . . . everything . . . but I asked her not to, not sure how you'd feel about it. Shoko is living here with me. Is taking care of me."
Then he breathed a sigh of relief, as if he had cleared a hurdle. "She came back up here with me shortly after . . . the funeral. She didn't have anybody else either, and I was used to her . . . helping me. It's worked out pretty well. I can do more than you might imagine. But I still depend on Shoko, and she depends on me depending on her, I think, like her countess, and then Betty, used to do. She even goes fishing with me, and I think she enjoys it more than I do!"
So this was his surprise--and quite a surprise. Shoko and Henry. Well, each of them had lost Betty.
"But she's not out fishing now, is she?" I asked.
"No, no, she's in the cabin. That's what you hear. But let's don't go in yet. Let's let her come out."
I hadn't thought much about how Betty's death would affect Shoko, though I should have, since I'd often thought of her while I'd been in Japan--wishing she'd been there to explain some odd custom, or share an experience. So she had been at the window, and must have seen me. I imagined her in there, preparing to come out and "confront" me, as, just as apprehensively, I waited to see the impact all of this had had on yet another of those closest to Betty--perhaps the closest.
I turned back to Henry, and said, "You were here, Henry, weren't you? When the two of them . . . "
"Not only here, Jack. I consider myself responsible. I killed my Dalila . . . in my blindness."
I read that the police finally decided that it was a double suicide.
How could you have been . . . ?"
"I'll tell you the whole story, Jack . . . later."
For a long time I just sat there gazing at the lake and waiting, as Henry seemed to be doing. It was a beautiful day. Finally, he broke the silence.
"Just consider what a random event this is, Jack, the two of us sitting here . . . and what has brought us to this place."
"I often have that experience. Eating a hamburger at the Tokyo McDonald's I might wonder, 'Who am I? What brings me to this set of coordinates . . . at this moment in time?'"
"Yes, but in cosmic terms it's even more profound, Jack. Our very existence is so accidental. The chance meeting of a man and a woman . . . one sperm among millions . . . at one stage in the evolution of one species on a tiny speck of a planet at the edge of the universe. Then we take ourselves, and our 'relationships,' so seriously, become jealous and resentful, willing to kill, or to die for, one another . . . think that one woman, another random product of chance, is so rare a creature that she couldn't be duplicated in this whole wide universe. Isn't that insane? Life goes on. Or doesn't. What difference does it make in the grand scheme of things?"
"But we have to act as if it does make a difference, don't we, Henry? Then patterns of memory, like those I have for this place, build their narrative fabric. When I noticed the boat was gone, for example, I began to wish it would show up with you and Betty in it. Knowing that couldn't be, I began to speculate about whether you might have sold the boat."
Henry laughed. "No danger. I love that boat. I've just 'loaned it out' for a while." He mused for a moment. "You've always had an affection for familiar things, Jack. Well, I do, too . . . now. A blind man's passion. I can repair the engine on that boat myself. Lay out all the pieces." He paused.
| I looked
up and saw Shoko coming out of the cabin. She smiled when she saw
that I saw her, waved, and called out, "Hello, Jack!" As she came
down the steps, I noticed the little extra care she took, and, though she
was almost running as she approached us, the difference in her walk.
"The way a pregnant woman walks," I thought, and caught my breath.
I rose as she approached, but she stopped a few feet away, and we just looked at each other. Then she held out her hands, bowing slightly, in that strange combination I knew so well, polite in both American and Japanese conventions, and said, "It is good to see you again, Jack." I closed the gap and embraced a friend. She hugged me back, comfortably.
"If Henry now has Shoko, he has a very good woman," I thought. "I envy him that." I led her over to him, remarking, "So much has happened since our Shangri-La days, hasn't it?" She sat down between us, Grendel never even stirring.
"Henry told me you were coming. But you're early, aren't you, Jack? He said in the afternoon, and we . . ." She gave Henry a searching look. "Have you told him about . . ."
"No. I'm saving it for a surprise." He reached out for her hand. "Don't spoil it." Shoko looked a little bewildered, as Henry went on to say, "We're planning to charcoal-broil some steaks, Jack. In your honor. But later. Are you hungry now? For some bacon and eggs, or . . ."
"No, no. I had breakfast. Do you do the cooking, too?"
"You bet . . . at least today . . . to get the steaks right. But Shoko usually does. If you go catch the fish she might fix sashimi for you. You actually like that raw fish, don't you?"
I looked at Shoko and said, "Yes, I do. It's what I'm used to, in fact. You know, I've almost never gotten a bad meal in Tokyo. Because I love rice and fish . . . all kinds. The price is right, too. They may even have the best pizza in the world, just around the corner from the Kabuki-za."
| I was
looking across the lake. "Hey, someone's out there water-skiing.
I'd think it might still be a little cold for that. Is that our boat?"
They were maybe two miles away, too far off to tell for sure. Then
they were out of sight again. "But, if not you, if not Shoko, who
is out there in the boat? Since two life jackets are gone, it must
be two people."
"And it takes two to water-ski. That's pretty good, Jack. You should have been a detective. All part of my surprise. If you'd just come when you were supposed to. We'll be having a late lunch . . . but, think about it, steak a la Henri!"
Shoko suddenly broke in with, "It was such a terrible thing, Jack." Henry reached over to take her hand again.
I looked at her, trying to read her eyes. "Yes, terrible." Then I looked back at Henry, who showed no particular emotion, almost as if he hadn't heard. "You know I'd have done anything for Betty," I said, "as I know you would have." Shoko's eyes met mine; then she looked down. "But, after the shock of seeing that picture, I didn't want to talk about it. Not when I was here for the funeral. Now it seems I do."
"I understood that, Jack," Henry said. "It was so unbelievable. I knew that you'd tried to call later--once when I was in the hospital--and thought about trying to get back to you. But I finally decided to leave it up to you. And here you are."
"Yes, here I am. Three months too late. But what could I have done? It's like speculating about what you might have done to prevent an automobile accident. If you prevent it you don't even know what you prevented. Catastrophes seem fated. Still, I don't feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for myself . . . for having lost them. But we're still here. So, what now?"
"We go on living, Jack," Henry said, still holding Shoko's hand, in a way which did suggest they planned to do that together. She just nodded. "And enjoy our steaks. Are you writing? That's probably the best way for you. Sublimate the
|experience, my friend, and write a masterpiece . . .
about them. Are you done with the movie you were working on?"
"More or less. You're never done until it opens in the theatres." I found myself grinding a heel into a soft spot in the ground. "Oh, I've got a number of projects piled on my desk. But nothing I'm excited about. I'm afraid it may be a case of all passion spent . . . at least for a while."
"'All passion spent.' That's a good line, Jack. I begin to identify with Milton even more strongly now than I did when Betty and I did Samson Agonistes. I hated him in college-- considered him the most pompous son-of-a-bitch who'd ever lived." He chuckled, and said to Shoko, "Excuse the language. Now I'm a blind man myself. 'When I consider how my light is spent' . . . 'I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night' . . . 'They also serve who only stand and wait.' I've had Shoko reading a lot of Milton to me recently."
"Yes, we re-read Samson Agonistes one rainy day last week. Henry likes to speak of Betty as his Dalila, says he feels she took his strength with her . . . and left him . . . blind . . ."
"I'm no real Samson, though. I had no desire to pull the temple down . . . certainly not on Betty."
"But did she cut your hair?" I asked, laughing. "I think you do wear it shorter than you once did." I thought about it. "Yes, your Dalila . . . and that of every man she knew."
"An interesting theory, Betty as Dalila to all of us. I think that's when I was closest to her--when she was my Dalila. A blind man responding to beauty. But Betty never cut anyone's . . . hair . . . though Shoko cuts mine now, don't you?"
Shoko nodded. "And I'd be glad to let it grow."
"Betty was wonderful as Dalila. And as director. But, far from blinding anyone, she enlightened us all. I see her as a mystic, opening up areas of the spirit for anyone lucky enough to touch her. Since she was an actress, you never quite knew
|who you were touching, but--in all her permutations--she
was a shaman . . . or a witch. A good witch. She helped me
in every way she could when I was first blinded, in fact. She knew
how. I don't blame her for anything. Do you, Jack?"
"No. She was the most remarkable person in my life."
"Well, then--since we seem to be gathered here in Betty's memory--let me tell you about a dream I had . . . again . . . the night before last. I told Shoko it might be that dream that was bringing you here--so you could tell us what it means."
"You're putting me on, Henry, but, yes, I'd like to hear your dream. I probably take dreams more seriously than you do, with your cynical attitudes toward Freud. So don't just make a game of it . . . as Betty liked to do."
"I'm absolutely serious about this one, Jack. You'll see. I've already told Shoko the dream, so she can confirm it."
"Then she and I will collaborate on the interpretation. How's that?" Shoko just smiled, and shook her head a little.
"Fine. First . . . I dreamed that I was chained to a post."
"From having read Milton's play so recently," Shoko said.
"Or from having played the role so often the way Betty staged it," I put in. "And were you blind?"
"No. It's strange, Jack, but I can still see in my dreams--even if I shouldn't be able to. I could see everyone. But I couldn't touch them. Because of the chains. And they were careful to stay out of my reach. First came Jordan. Then Betty. Then you, Jack. Like in Milton's Samson. But you all stayed, all appealing to me to do something. But what? It seemed I was being accused of 'the crime.' But what crime? Like in a Kafka novel. Betty was like a creature from another world . . . a ghost. Jordan, too, had a remote, otherworldly quality. Both desperately needing something . . . from me."
"Perhaps, like a ghost in a Noh play, seeking release from the cares of this world carried with them into the next, or like
|the ghost of Hamlet's father, seeking release from purgatory.
Or do you think they were seeking revenge, for their death?"
"Revenge? Revenge against whom?" Shoko asked. "Each other? Certainly not Henry."
Henry paused, as if reflecting. "You weren't a ghost, Jack, but, still, you joined in their appeal. I struggled with the chain that held me, trying to get away from this chorus of voices. I even tried to pull the post down. But I couldn't. So I was no Samson. Shoko said my thrashing about woke her up. None of you had left . . . she just woke me up. Then I told her the dream. What were those restless spirits expecting from me? You're here now, Jack. Tell me what you wanted."
I looked at Henry closely, trying to read him, as he sat there with Grendel, there at his feet, looking up as if he, too, were waiting for my answer. Henry's eyes were still his most striking feature. I was hardly conscious of the fact that he was blind. But I knew, from the back of the hand that still held Shoko's, that he was now closer to fifty than to thirty.
"Shoko's probably right that it was Milton's influence, that you were using his pattern to purge unwelcome memories of the death of Betty and Jordan. So they came to you as you slept, for those memories to be purged."
"And you, Jack? Why were you there, then?"
"Perhaps to help exorcise those tenacious spirits. Did I seem to be acting as a priest?" Not even a smile, so I changed tack. "You can see the danger in reading provocative books."
"Yes, I can." Then Henry laughed. "And Shoko has been reading me a lot of provocative books lately. Many Japanese things. Last night, in the middle of the night, she read me a Kawabata novel."
"Yes, Kawabata can be provocative. I usually read until I fall asleep, but to have someone read me to sleep would be even better. I should move back up here." I smiled at Shoko.
| "You'd just
have to take turns reading to me, the poor blind man. Sometimes I
try to remember an experience I've had, or a story I've read, or heard,
and dictate some of these things to Shoko, to become a blind poet myself,
like Milton or Homer--or a medieval Japanese poet, like the one in Tanizaki's
Blind Man's Tale. But not often. And Shoko doesn't
mind reading in the middle of the night, do you?"
"No. Especially if it's something I want to read. I don't read English very fast, anyway, even to myself, and can translate from Japanese into English almost that fast now."
"And it doesn't make any difference to me whether it's night or day. We can sleep until noon the next day if we want to. But I begin to feel old, Jack . . . and begin to feel mortal."
"That may be what the post in your dream represents--mortality. We're all chained to that. But Betty and Jordan have escaped, haven't they? Perhaps they came back for you."
"What a terrible thing to say," Shoko said, very soberly.
"I dream of Betty, too, you know. Often. But not as a ghost. Nor is it the Betty in that photograph that haunts me during the day. It's the Betty I knew as a college girl that still has most power over my deepest sub-conscious imagination."
"Perhaps she could work for you the way that Laura--his Laura--did for Petrarch. He kept writing sonnets, on creative inertia, right on past the fact of her death. She was good enough to die young and beautiful, instead of living until she became old and ugly. But you say you're haunted during the day by the Betty you saw in the picture in the paper, and you must have memories of Betty in Nebraska, here at the lake, and back in New York. Well, if Betty was one, which one was she . . . now that she's dead? Does she exist only in the realm of pure ideas? And having lost your ideal woman, must you be lost? It should be interesting to try to determine what Betty, or the idea of Betty, now means to you, Jack."
| "At least
it might be therapeutic, a cathartic exercise."
"And consider this. Since I've had this obsession with Milton I've had his poetry read to me by a woman, as he evidently had more reluctant women, his daughters, write it down for him. And Socrates turned to a woman, Diotima, for the profoundest truths about Love, didn't he? So perhaps we need the female as medium, not just for physical ecstasy, but at our most intellectual, to enter that exotic realm somewhere between thought and imagination."
"Yes, ideal beauty! That's what Betty was for me, Henry. And I blame myself for letting it get away . . . for her death!"
"I once blamed you, too, Jack, thinking you let her get away too easily, that she'd always mean more to me. Later, as I'd hear someone was being divorced by Elizabeth Taylor, or Marilyn Monroe, I came to understand that no one can hold such an abstraction. I once heard a relatively indifferent actress say, 'It makes sense to give up a guy for a good part, but not a good part for a guy.' That's the way Betty thought, too. Who was she? Whatever role she inhabited at the time.
"I should have known better than to have married her. It was like trying to domesticate starlight."
I got up from the bench and, putting one foot up on the bottom rail of the fence, leaned my arms on the post to look out over the lake.
Shoko spoke, slowly and carefully. "I was with Betty for a long time, and she was much more complicated than that. At the end, she was really most concerned about Christine. We were here in California for her to work out details about the movies she would make. Jordan came to talk her out of it, to take her back to New York. But she was inflexible . . . as she usually was once she'd made up her mind. When she told me she was going to meet him here at the lake, I had an awful premonition. I'm the one who should have done something."
| I stood
there watching that boat on the far side of the lake as it came into view
again, the sound of its motor drifting across faintly and intermittently,
there being little other noise to interfere. It seemed to be the
only thing out there on that huge expanse of water, and, at that moment,
the wake behind the person who was water-skiing formed a huge arrow pointing
directly at us.
"Betty and I were out on the lake when Jordan got here," Henry said, "and he was angry . . . as he often was in those last days . . . weeks. On the phone that morning, he had asked me to talk to Betty for him. 'Why me?' I asked. 'Because she trusts you,' he said. 'And you can see . . . can tell . . . how she distrusts my motives. Explain to her that she belongs in New York--with me.' Then he said, 'I wish Jack were here to talk to his fair lady. But he's not. So you talk to her. Tell her I'll see her tonight.' I tried. But mostly she talked to me."
"That was usually the way with Betty," Shoko added.
Those comments set up other echoes from the past, and a sudden idea crossed my mind. "What is today? June 1st, isn't it? This is the anniversary of my first meeting with Betty. 1954? No . . . the summer of 1955. It was twenty years ago today that Betty first walked into my life, coming at me just as directly as that water-skier is doing right now--with the same determination she always projected, down that long aisle in Baker Auditorium to be my Eliza . . . to be my fair lady."
"The boat . . ." Shoko looked out over the lake. "Yes, it looks like they may be coming . . ."
"But not for a while, I'm sure," Henry said. "Why not tell us about that first meeting, Jack? Before I knew either of you, and long before Shoko did. We'd both like to hear your earliest memories of Betty, wouldn't we?"
Shoko nodded, but I wasn't sure she meant it. Japanese often say "yes" when they mean "no."
|Assignment after Bridge 1:
Read Milton's sonnets on his blindness, and (why not?) Beethoven's "Heiligenstadt Testament," then Milton's Samson Agonistes--though you may prefer to wait to read it until Bridge 21, when Betty and Henry will be doing the play in New York, and might substitute Judges 13-16 (or Cecil B. Demille's 1949 film adaptation of that as Samson and Delilah, with Victor Mature and Hedi Lamar).
In preparation for Bridge 2, "Pygmalion," where Jack first becomes acquainted with Betty by directing Jordan and her in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, you might read that play, or see the recently restored film version of My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.
|Copyright © January 2000||Robert N. Lawsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
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