"The bridge of dreams"--the phrase reverberates,
door opened and there she was, no longer in her mother's swimming
suit (nor in her new kimono, as I could easily imagine her), but a young
delight in spring cotton. I almost expected her to exclaim, "Oh Brave
New World." But it was hardly that to her any longer. She,
too, must carry the picture I only saw in the newspaper with her, haunting
her young dreams. As she came down the uneven steps, then the shaded
forest path, I didn't have to force the image much to see her mother coming
down the aisle of Baker auditorium. I'd have cast her in a minute--for
anything. As if speaking to Betty's ghost, as the spirit presiding
over us, I mumbled that line from Milton, "'Look homeward, Angel . . .
and melt with ruth' . . . for this your daughter . . . and for all of us."
|wondered what had silenced these gossips. We've
been talking to your father about your mother long enough, can stand a
change of mood. Come sit here by me. And tell Jack about your
plans . . . now that you're a woman of substance."
Christine did sit down next to Henry, who moved closer to Shoko. Grendel moved over, too, to settle at Christine's feet. We looked at each other for a moment, then both looked at the lake. But she was talking to me when she began to speak. "Uncle Henry says Mother left everything to me--Shangri-La, her apartment in New York, her interest in the theatre company, rights in the movie you made, her company's scripts, her bank account, her insurance . . . everything."
"That's right, Jack," Henry said. "As surviving spouse, you'd normally inherit property held by Betty in California, but, when you decided you wanted Shangri-La to be strictly hers after she inherited it from the countess, she had the papers drawn up so it would pass directly to Christine, knowing the countess would have wanted that. You may remember signing some things at that time."
"Yes. Also disclaiming any financial interest in what they were doing in New York, as I recall--and she signed some reciprocal papers disclaiming interest in things I owned here--like my clothes and car, I think. I don't remember the details, but told her that I didn't want to see myself as 'cashing in' on her success, just because I still happened to be married to her."
"Well, Betty's estate has become a lot more complicated in these last few years. She's been signing contracts on things with all kinds of contingencies. She'd named Christine as her beneficiary on insurance policies and such, but just weeks before her death, after the success they'd had with Romeo and Juliet on stage, and right after signing the contract to do it as the first film in this new series, she began to talk to me a lot about Christine as her natural heir. We drafted a new will,
|stating it as her intention that Christine was to inherit
her entire estate. It was one of the last things she did, as if she'd
had a premonition, or perhaps in response to the pressure from Jordan.
Shoko and I just got all the papers in the safe deposit box a day or two
before . . . Betty was shot. The theatre even holds the note on Jordan's
Ferrari, so, as long as she wants it, it's Christine's to drive--as a company
vehicle, I suppose. She's in very good position financially, could
retire to the countess's house now and never have to work a day."
"Yes, Betty felt she had Shangri-La on trust," Shoko said. "The most exciting thing in her life in the last few months had been this discovery of her daughter as her heir. In the will she and Henry worked out, she did her best to leave everything to her. Had she told you that she was planning to do that?"
"No, I didn't know any of that. I admit I hadn't thought much about your 'financial situation,'" I said to Christine. "But I'm pleased to hear this. It shows that your mother's special affection for you at the end of her life was real."
"I'm not sure about that . . . and I don't care," Christine said, very forcefully. "But I loved working with her in those last months. I was lucky, as a beginning actress, to work with her so closely in Romeo and Juliet. And with Jordan Simms, the greatest actor I've ever seen on stage. I loved them both. I can't believe . . . they're dead." She paused. I thought she might be going to cry, but she didn't. Then she said, "I don't care about the money. I've never had to worry about money, have I? But now I have the obligation. I may seem too young to think about business things, but I want to continue Mother's work. I think that's what she intended by leaving me everything. I've got to learn how, but I'm lucky enough to have Uncle Henry to help me. He handled everything for Mother. Didn't you?" She touched Henry's hand. He smiled, and just nodded, as if he didn't want to intrude on her presentation.
| "So I still
want to make the film of Romeo and Juliet. Uncle Henry
says that can be re-negotiated, that he could act as my agent--if
you're willing to sign as legal guardian." She paused. "Of
course, when we did the play, Mother was the nurse and Jordan . . . Mr.
Simms . . . played my father, so their parts would have to be re-cast .
. ." Again I thought she might cry, but, when she didn't, wondered
if she might be playing this as a scene--as Betty might have. "And
now we can't do Antony and Cleopatra and the two Japanese
plays at all. I know I can't do Cleopatra the way Mother did--not
yet. But she wanted to do Romeo and Juliet first .
. . for me . . . to give me the chance. And I still want to do it!
I want to be an actress--like she was. I want to show that I am her
"You've already demonstrated that, Chris," Henry said, taking her hand for a moment.
"And I want to work with the New Age Players in New York, too. Most of them are my friends now, and I know how they all loved Mother. They won't take direction from me--an eighteen-year-old girl--like they did from her. And I don't know how to be a director." Then she looked straight at me, and they were Betty's eyes, all right. "But you do!" She looked away again. "And others in the company do. I'll need help. But it's my company now, isn't it? Mother . . . and Jordan . . . left it to me!" She looked back at me. "I could still play Miranda there." Again, she looked out across the lake. "I don't know who'd play Prospero--who could play Prospero like he would have. But I want to do it, for him, as I want to do Juliet for her. And I can do it!"
Thinking about it, she began to get excited, and her eyes sparkled. "I'd like to play all of Shakespeare's heroines--like Mother was doing. Jordan talked about that on our trip out here. I'd like to do Isabella in Measure for Measure next, then Ophelia in Hamlet . . . and work up to Lady Macbeth and
|Cleopatra when I'm old enough. And I'd like to
do the other Ionesco plays, in French, that Mother was planning to do.
I could start with La Lecon, since I'm already old enough
for that. I could do it with Uncle Henry. I'd like to do that.
Then go on to others." Henry was smiling. "And I want to do
Hester Prynne, in your Scarlet Letter . . . like Mother did."
"I wrote you that we'd seen Jordan and Betty do your version of that again last year, didn't I, Jack?" Laura said.
I wondered if Christine had any idea how fantastic all of this sounded--for an eighteen-year-old girl to be talking about producing Shakespeare and Ionesco in New York--and looked around at the others, none of whom were registering any particular surprise. They'd evidently heard this before. The surprise was for me. I looked at her again, at her earnestness, and became aware of just how pleased I was with this naive young creature--her mother's daughter. And my daughter.
Henry said, "It might sound crazy to you, Jack, but that was the surprise I was talking about on the telephone. I didn't know you thought Laura and Christine were still in New York until they got here this morning--then they decided to keep it a mystery, as a joke on you. But I think what Christine's talking about could work. The New York part might depend on how the film of Romeo and Juliet does at the box office, but the Romeo, Ben, is still available, as are most of the others--so a good film is still there. Your daughter does need help, however. Finally, we need you, Jack. She needs you.
"But it makes a great concept, doesn't it? Picking up the torch her mother has dropped, after she made it blaze so brightly in The Countess Rostovna and Antony and Cleopatra. And, if you're willing to work for your own daughter, it could provide a certain job security for all of us." He laughed as he swept his hand to include us all, then took Christine's hand again, smiled at her, and went on.
| "And why not
try it? Even if nobody buys tickets, what have we lost? Betty's
given Chris, first, this remarkable talent, then the resources to do something
with it, and, finally, with this film contract, entrée into infinite
possibility. If you'll support her by signing the necessary papers,
I'll continue to manage things--with Laura's and Shoko's help. But,
even if the film is successful, she'll need more help in the theatre than,
being her mother's daughter, she may think. I know Laura will help,
as she always has, and will provide moral support. But that's not
enough, not in putting a play together. She needs people with theatre
experience--most importantly, someone to stand as Betty, or Jordan, did,
It was Laura's turn to comment. "I still have the same reservation I had when Betty was pushing Christine so hard to do Romeo and Juliet. What about college? Won't this wait?"
"No!" Christine acted as if she were trying to take charge of the meeting, as Betty liked to do, but without quite knowing how, telling Laura, "We've talked about this so many times. I'm going to be an actress--like Mother was. I agreed to finish high school . . . and I did! I'll continue to work on languages, and other things, with Shoko. And we can re-schedule the plays we do, can't we? There are plays the actors could be doing that Mother wasn't in, or where she had small roles . . . that I could try now." Christine smiled, as if to herself, seeming particularly pleased by this idea.
"But you've always done so well in school, Christine," Laura said. "Are you sure you don't want to go to college? Pick a school with a good theatre program . . . anywhere."
"Think how long and hard you worked, how long and hard Mother worked, to get a chance like I've had given to me . . . because she's dead! Don't I owe her something? No! I'm going to try to do what she was doing--even if you don't want to help me. I can arrange with other people . . . I can . . ."
| Henry, who
evidently didn't want Christine to say anything, in her negotiating inexperience,
that might make it harder to get everybody to agree later, said, "Hey,
babe, we're all on your side, you know. But we've got a lot to think
about here. Particularly your dad does. So let's sleep on it.
Then, how about this? You and your dad take the boat out on the lake,
tomorrow morning. Then see what he thinks."
"I might even run some of Miranda's lines with you," I said. "Audition for Prospero." She looked at me as if trying to read some hidden meaning, and I changed the subject, as if to hide any. "Wasn't Henry planning to fix us some steaks."
"So you'll be staying here tonight, won't you, Jack?" Shoko asked.
"I hadn't expected to. Where would everybody sleep?"
Henry said, "Ask Laura. She may decide to throw us all out, and move back in herself . . . since this may very well be the best place in the world to live."
"No, no. I plan to stay in New York, or at Shangri-La, with Christine. This is perfect for you two. Let us come by once in a while to water ski, and I'll be satisfied. It's really Jack who's been dispossessed. But we can build another cabin here if we need to . . . over there." She pointed. Even Henry turned as if to look. "But we have room in New York for him, too, since he's used to households dominated by women."
All this long range planning is great," I said, "but I was thinking about where we'd be sleeping tonight."
"We'll figure something out. We still have the tent . . . and then there's the wagon." Laura looked at me and laughed.
Shoko said, "Laura, could you help me with other things for dinner, while Henry does the steaks?" The two of them went in, and were soon laughing together in the kitchen.
I offered to help Henry, but he said, "Not needed, Jack. You're the guest." Then he, too, made his way up the hill.
| That left me alone
with Christine. I told her I liked Henry's idea of tomorrow morning
out on the lake. As she sat there without saying anything, I was
struck by how much she already seemed in character as Miranda. I
said, "So you were already rehearsing . . . for The Tempest."
She looked at me as if appraising how candid to be with this relative stranger before she said, "Poor Jordan. I can tell you how much I did love him, can't I? You're my father. I'd have done anything for him. I wanted to do The Tempest this summer--though I knew that made Mother mad. I even suggested we could get married just so he'd get his way. I would have! He laughed at that. Then, after I'd confronted Mother with the idea, he used it to provoke her. To him it was more as if I were his daughter, though. He never put a hand on me . . . not like that. He could have. He let Mother think he had--even that I might be pregnant. I'm not sure why.
"Then the way they died was so horrible. So insane. And my fault! Why did I get that gun? I just wanted them to listen to me! But I've had time to think about what happened. At least Mother died with the man she'd always loved, too. I probably shouldn't say that to you. But it's true. You've watched them on stage. It was a special experience to be on the same stage with him. And they were perfect together. Yes, I loved him. I wanted to be his Miranda. And then . . . I don't know what I wanted. I know he didn't want me--as a woman. He wanted an actress, someone to be on stage with."
"Yes, but, as you say, Jordan had a special power over women. And I'm sure you're right about your mother . . . that she did love him . . . as much as she ever loved anyone. To be his Cleopatra. Well, that was something special, wasn't it?"
"And I say it doesn't bother me . . . now . . . that this is where they died. I expected it to, but I still feel more at home here than anyplace else. I grew up here, didn't I? I can do as
|Mother used to do, sit out here in the sun with Grendel
and paint pictures of the lake." The dog looked up as he heard his
name, and seemed to agree. "And go out in the boat. When she'd
come up here to discuss business with Uncle Henry they'd usually go out
in the boat. Then she could either stay here overnight or go back
to Shangri-La, which isn't a long drive. I could go back there
tonight, if it's too crowded here. Thomas would have everything ready
for me. He treats me just like he did Mother . . . just like he did
the countess." She looked at me as if I might question that before
she went on.
"And I hope it won't shock you if I say I didn't care what people thought about Jordan and me. I delighted in it, since I was in love with him. I guess I'd always been, even as a little girl. He was so glamorous--so confident. Once we began rehearsing for The Tempest, it was all I could think about.
"I heard that talk about him being my father, too. When I asked him about it, he laughed, and said, 'Ask your mother. She should know, shouldn't she?' I didn't see him that way at all. I didn't exactly expect him to ravish me, but just imagining he might was . . . ravishing." She smiled at me. "I'd have given myself to him if he'd asked. But he never asked. So I'm still a virgin. Not too bad for a high-school graduate, is it?"
"Pretty good, I'd say," I said.
"He liked to be with me, though. We went lots of places together that last month. He even let me drive his precious Ferrari. We'd go out along the ocean, and, once we left the city traffic, I'd drive. He said the ocean road was the best practice for a new driver--long stretches, plenty of curves, and little traffic. Then I did most of the driving coming from New York, while he read a Mishima novel. I loved driving that car across the open country--then he'd drive through the cities. That last day, coming from Arizona, as I was driving along Highway 40, he kept watching me, telling me how much I
|reminded him of Mother that summer he'd first met her--you,
too, I guess--back in college. When I said she'd have been a couple
of years older, he said, 'Well, you're precocious.'
"He analyzed my acting as Juliet, took me back through the big father-daughter scene, doing Capulet's lines, as if we were still rehearsing, said, 'If I do do a screen test, I'll do that scene, with you,' and laughed at that. He said I was the best Juliet he'd ever seen. He wasn't the only one who told me that, but to have him say it . . . was different. He talked about other things he'd like to do with me--Hamlet, mostly--but said all that was threatened by what Mother and Henry were doing. He wanted her just to stay in New York . . . with him."
"So he still wanted Betty, didn't see you as replacing her."
"Miranda isn't Cleopatra. I know that. He agreed I still have a lot to learn. He'd never shown any interest in me at all until last year, after A Midsummer Night's Dream . . . when Mother told that crazy story about being robbed in Oklahoma. So it was only a year . . . but an exciting year . . . for me."
"I've seen A Midsummer Night's Dream a dozen times, and that was the best Titania I'd ever seen, too . . . even if I am prejudiced. As I told Laura at the funeral, I did almost come back from Japan to see you as Juliet. I would have if I'd realized it'd be the only chance I'd ever have to see you on stage with your mother . . . and Jordan. But I thought . . ."
"That they'd do it again next year, keep it in their . . . repertoire . . . yes . . . so he probably was rehearsing me. And we were going to do it here in Los Angeles. He'd have done the film with us, too . . . I'm sure. He was just bargaining with Mother." She could have cried so easily.
"I know my Titania got me the part as Juliet--with him as with Mother. Then, as we were rehearsing, he began to show me a lot of attention . . . so I was surprised he never attempted anything with me. We'd be out alone, walking on some beach,
|and I'd think, 'Why bring me here if he doesn't mean
to . . . ?'" She laughed. "But he'd just give me advice, as
if he were my father--or director--telling me life in theatre was
the only life worth living. Yes, I was almost eager to be seduced
by him--but I wasn't. I don't believe Mother ever was, either."
She sat there for a moment, as if reflecting on two generations of lost
opportunity, then said, "I still consider him the most fantastic man I've
ever known. Ben, my Romeo--who was also to play Ferdinand--often
asked me out, but I never considered it . . . not so long as I had Jordan's
attention. Now . . . I don't know.
"That last day, Jordan said to let him handle things, that I didn't understand the real issues, and would have to learn to ignore stupid gossip if I was going to be a serious actress. But I couldn't just go 'sit in the other room,' like Mother told me to. Then, when I heard Mother and Uncle Henry accuse him of all those things, and they began talking about me as if I weren't even there, I really got upset. I knew where your gun was kept. I was angry when I fired it. Then Mother grabbed for it, and it went off again . . . and then . . . it was terrible!"
"Having that gun here at all was my fault. What Henry described was a series of ridiculous accidents."
"Uncle Henry's blind! He heard shots. He didn't see . . . all the blood. When I saw Jordan bleeding, I went out of my mind. Then Mother was lying there dead, with Uncle Henry still talking to her! And it was my fault. I dream that I killed them both. I see Mother . . . covered in her own blood."
"I wish I knew how to drive such dreams away, Christine. The gun shouldn't have been there," I said. Then, to change the subject, "But, hey, you said you'd like to do Ionesco's La Lecon in French, with Henry, the way your mother did La Cantatrice chauve. So I had this idea. How about doing it in Japanese, too? I've seen it done, several times. I could try doing it with you. Shoko might do the housekeeper. Then
|you could do it back in New York on three nights, in
English, French, and Japanese. You know
ha ga itai."
"Sure, 'I've got a toothache' . . . or j'ai mal de dents."
"See, you already have your lines for the last half."
She laughed. "I'd like that. And I'd like to go to Japan--if you'll take me. Mother wanted to. And back to France--to Paris--to do something in the theatre there. Like Mother did."
"Tokyo's an even greater theatre city than Paris, or London, or New York--the greatest in the world. Since your Japanese is getting pretty good, how'd you like to do a play by a young Japanese playwright, Betsuyaku Minoru? He's still in his thirties, but won the Kishida Kunio award, Japan's equivalent of the Tony, nearly ten years ago, for Machi-uri no Sho-jo, and has turned out maybe two plays a year ever since. I'm working on a translation of that play, as The Little Match Girl. You know the Hans Christian Anderson story?"
"Where the little girl sees lights and presents through the windows on Christmas Eve, then freezes to death?"
"That's right. Betsuyaku uses the whole story, in voice-over--as if it were being told to you by someone in the next seat--to counterpoint what's happening on stage, the story of a young girl abused by her parents during the worst days of the American occupation--perhaps as an allegorical criticism of the Imperial system. It's an interesting play, and since most Americans know the Hans Christian Anderson story, it'd be a good play to use to introduce him to New York. But think of doing it in Japanese, maybe here in Los Angeles! There's a whole generation of interesting young playwrights in Tokyo. We should go see some of them--with Shoko, and Laura, and Henry, maybe. Then we could talk about what we might do."
"I'd like to."
"We could climb Mount Fuji, go to the Kabuki-za, visit the Snow Country, go down the Tokaido road--evoke the
|spirit of Ono no Komachi. There are many things
I'd like to show you in Japan. The youth hostel system. How'd
you like a raw egg on hot rice with smoked fish for breakfast--in Kobe,
or Hiroshima--after sleeping on a futon on a tatami floor."
"And visit Kyoto and Mishima's Temple of the Golden Pavilion, where your play was set. Jordan would have liked to do that. He was also reading a new Mishima biography."
"Yes, he identified with Mishima very strongly. We might do a Mishima play, too. I've seen three of his Modern Noh plays in Tokyo, and he wrote many full-length plays."
At that point Laura came out to see how we were doing, and asked Christine if she was going to help Henry. Christine said, "Sure, I'd be glad to," and went off to where we could already see the smoke rising, as Laura came to sit next to me, saying, "You seem to be getting along well enough with Christine. How about me . . . after all that has happened?"
I said, "I'll promise to take you on a nice trip, too. This cabin has been through a lot since we built this bench . . . back when Christine was such a curious little girl . . . hasn't it?"
"And now she's so much like her mother that I wonder how I can still love her so much."
"I always loved her mother, too--in spite of everything."
"Yes, Jack . . . as I very well knew. And as Betty always knew . . . well enough to take every advantage of it."
"From the time I first saw her, I loved, hated, despaired of, adored, pitied, and was in awe of that fantastic woman. I was passionately obsessed with her in the early days--if that's what love is. I had a rare confidence in the high order of her abilities in these last days--if that's what love is. I'm not sure when I felt more drawn to her, thought about her more often."
"Well, if I've had to deal with your abiding love for Betty all these years, the last two years it's been Christine's love--first for Betty, and then for Jordan. But we still got along
|pretty well, living together . . . doing New York together.
She's still my little girl. But the tension was increased
by the heady things appearing in newspapers and magazines about her performances
in those Shakespeare plays."
"You and Shoko sent me some of the reviews, like the item in the Sunday supplement about Romeo and Juliet, on the remarkable performance of Christine and Betty together-- you know, the handing on of the tradition from mother to daughter. Betty must have been taking that seriously."
"But there was also a lot of anger, Jack," Laura said. "There've been times when I'd have been willing to shoot Betty myself, for things she'd done to you, and me, and Christine. I used to think of her as demonic, and we never exactly became friends. I was bothered by the influence she had over Christine those last few months--when, for all those years, she'd never paid her any attention at all, and was now raising expectations about a glorious career in theatre likely to lead to disenchantment and frustration. Yes, I might've been willing to shoot Betty, in defense of Christine--if I'd been here.
"I was mad at Jordan, too, for using Christine to get at Betty. But Betty could be just as infuriating to him. He may have shot her, provoked by that anger, whatever Henry says." She shook her head. "But I heard the police came looking for you, in Japan? I'd have suspected you myself if you'd been here, for you had the strongest motive--to shoot the man who kept luring the woman you loved away--then shoot her, too!"
"I've never had the slightest inclination to violence against either one of them--the good early memories are too strong--and I hadn't been the least bit jealous of Jordan since we'd made the film. Betty had left him before, too. I'd come to feel sorry for him in these last few years, as Betty's ambitions began to overwhelm his own. And I definitely sympathized with him at the end, as she was planning to leave him again."
| "I saw it as a confrontation
between two major egos," Laura said. "Jordan had the leverage in
the early years--had Betty in awe of him, was in position to reject or
embrace her. Later--with the confidence and financial leverage her
film fame gave her--she could reject him. That was hard for him to
take. So he might have had a stronger subconscious impulse to shoot
her than he knew. But, as I've reflected upon it, Jack, I think it
may have been a fortunate fall for both of them. Like Romeo and Juliet,
they die in their mythic prime, and so become legendary. They were
older, of course--will always be remembered as Antony and Cleopatra.
But that's better--for them--than gradually getting too old and fading
away, isn't it?"
"That's an interesting way to think of it--particularly after it has happened that way. Make the best of it--mythologize them in their death, as Mishima mythologized himself in his."
"Henry and Shoko may even write a joint biography. It was hard for Shoko to lose Betty, but I was surprised to learn that she was already pregnant at the time of Betty's death. Some had even suspected a kind of lesbian relationship between the two of them . . . living together as they did."
"Oh? Well, it was hardly that. I'd call it a kind of sisterhood, both trained by the countess in a Stoic discipline, with Shoko the senior priestess in that common religion--though, again by training, always ready to subordinate herself to Betty. But I, too, had wondered what she would do with Betty gone . . . until I saw her here with Henry."
Shoko came out of the cabin and looked down at us, then came slowly down the stairs, then down the path. I asked Laura if she'd thought it could've been a lesbian relationship.
"No, Jack--it was just an interesting idea. But I might question the paternity in this case if you hadn't been in Japan the whole time . . . except for the day of the funeral . . . and I'll give you both the benefit of the doubt there." She laughed.
| "She seems
happy with Henry, doesn't she?" I asked.
"Yes, and I wish them both well. Now how about us?"
As she got close enough, Shoko said, "Everything's just about ready, and Christine is helping Henry, so may I join you two . . . or is this a private conversation?"
"Please do. We'll save our private conversation for later."
She smiled. "Of course." Then she paused, as if not sure of her topic. "Perhaps what I regret most is that Betty and Christine and I missed going to Japan together. Betty said after Christine graduated, but before they started work on the film--while you'd still be there--for a month or so. The only time she'd ever been out of the country was when we took Christine to France. That had gone so well that she said, 'Why not Japan? We'll see a Chikamatsu play, and visit Hakone, where the countess had her infamous affair with Admiral Yamamoto.' Betty's Japanese was pretty good--if never as good as Christine's. Christine would get along fine in Japan."
"Did Jordan know about those plans?" I asked. "That certainly would have interfered with his doing The Tempest."
"He must have. Betty felt it'd be another way to follow in the countess's footsteps. She said Jordan might like to go with us. Since Mishima's death he'd been reading his novels as fast as they became available in English. I think she even told Jordan she might try to do something in theatre in Japan, too. But he seemed determined to bring Christine more strongly into the theatre company, expecting that to bring Betty back to him, I suppose. Then, the most ironic thing of all, he did provoke something close to a Japanese shinju, didn't he?"
Henry was coming down to tell us it was time to eat, and heard this last comment. "It's been hard for Shoko," he said. "She's lost everyone--except me, a poor blind man. She reminds me that there's a tradition of the blind poet in Japan, like Homer with the Greeks. She read me a fabulous Tanizaki
|story recently . . . and what? Some of the Heike
Monogatari. So I might try to become a poet. We could go
to Japan, if she wants to. On the other hand, I'm comfortable here."
Shoko said, "I am, too. Henry has given me the kind of security I haven't had since the countess died. I loved Betty. Though I may have seen her as a rival for the countess's affection at first, in the years I lived with her I became hers. But it was always pretty hectic with her, little real stability. Now that she, too, is gone, what I have I have with Henry. Yes . . . I feel secure . . . comfortable . . . with him . . . here."
I asked Henry, "And so what about you? Saying that, do really want to try to do these things with Christine?"
"I've brooded over that, Jack, about what's left after Betty, who was such a strong influence of my life, too. For me, she's not gone yet. I still see her. She still talks to me. I'd like to be able to shift my allegiance to Christine as completely as Thomas seems to have done. I do want to help her. But she's so young in her enthusiasm, trying to affirm Betty and Jordan's idea that all the world's a stage--while, for me, more and more, it tends to be a book. I think I'd like to work on that biography of Jordan and Betty--with Shoko--our Antony and Cleopatra. We can do that here . . . can be comfortable here. Just as we have been. That's part of the problem."
"For me, too," I said. "I guess a writer shouldn't be too comfortable . . . for too long. Something needs to get under your skin, be irritating you, if you're to produce a pearl."
Christine called down from our old picnic table, "Dinner's ready!" As we found places, she said, "Uncle Henry gets credit for the steaks--but I'll take credit for the salad."
I was surprised at how hungry I was, and how much I still enjoyed eating out in the open . . . at this familiar table.
While we were eating, Shoko raised the question she and Henry and I had talked about, of all reading The Tale of Genji
|later in the year, to finish--to cross "the Bridge of
Dreams"--on New Year's Day, as she and the countess and I had thirteen
years earlier. Christine liked the idea, and even Laura agreed, saying,
'If Japanese literature is going to insist on being in my future, I'd just
as well begin with the best.' Christine and I also agreed to try
Tanizaki's modern Japanese version, though, if it became too much, we could
fall back on Waley's translation.
As we were finishing, Henry said, "It must be getting dark, Jack, what with your interminable stories. Surely you do plan to stay overnight. You could sleep in that hollow tree."
"You told me that the mattress we used to have in the back of the station wagon is still here. That was always very comfortable for two," I said. Laura just looked at me.
Shoko said, "It is. That's what Christine usually sleeps on when she stays here overnight, but we can make up a bed for her on the sofa . . . with Grendel." Christine laughed at that.
"I'd like to carry it down to the station wagon, and sleep there. That's what Laura and I were used to--in the old days."
Christine turned to Laura, and said, "I'll bet that's where I left my scarf . . . in the wagon."
I thought to myself, "So she's the one who left Betty's scarf on the seat. Of course. But now, like everything of Betty's, it's her scarf." I said, "Yes, you did, on the seat. I almost brought it up here, but, because I remembered it as your mother's, it spooked me."
I asked Christine to help me carry the mattress down to the station wagon. Then she could get the scarf. We stopped halfway to rest and look out over the lake. There were three boats moving out there now, and the sun setting behind us was reflected off the water's profound tranquillity. Finally I said to her, "and miles to go before we sleep," and we moved on down the hill to where the cars were parked.
"So this is your Ferrari now."
| "Not mine. It belongs
to the Players--and the bank, I guess. Uncle Henry says we may have
to sell it if we do The Tempest. Who needs a car in
New York anyway? But it's nice out here. I've named it Midnight
II. Midnight likes to go riding with me. I'll let you drive
it--once you agree to direct for us. I drove it clear across the
country, you know, while Jordan read Mishima's Runaway Horses,
using that three- dimensional postcard of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion
you'd sent him as a bookmark." She smiled. "He loved this car."
She put her hand on the fender. "Thomas does, too, says he drove
one in Europe for the countess . . . long ago."
"But Betty's . . . your . . . scarf is here in the station wagon. Why is that, if you've been driving the Ferrari?"
"Because we took Shoko and Uncle Henry to Katie's Cafe for breakfast. That was Laura's idea, and she drove. She'd rather drive the station wagon, says it knows how to behave here at the lake . . . after all these years. Then I forgot the scarf when we got back." She reached in and got it.
I had a strange feeling of confusion as Christine put Betty's scarf around her neck and tied it.
She must have read something of that in my face. "Yes, this scarf was still here after the police left, and I claimed it--inheritance or not. There may even be some of Mother's blood on it . . . see these small stains. I like to think so. I'll never wash it. Her blood is my blood . . . inside and out."
"It is, isn't it?" I replied. I let her walk ahead of me as we went back up the hill.
Later, after we'd sat around an open fire for a while, Laura and I went down the hill. I said, "You know I'm not a married man any more . . . but my young daughter still seems to need a mother."
Laura laughed. "Doesn't she? So I suppose you're both coming back to 'faithful Laura' again."
| Settled in
the back of that old station wagon, Laura just let me talk about Christine's
plans. "It's strange," I said, "but, shaving this morning,
I thought about Christine, wondering if she were still the innocent creature
who left me here six years ago. Looking in the mirror, I thought
that, life being what it is, she must not be, but that if it were still
a brave new world for her, her father was probably more the Caliban than
the Prospero in it. Now I'm wondering if she might let me play Prospero--if
my daughter might cast me in the role of her father. The last time
I had a lead role on stage was as George in Who's Afraid of
Virginia Woolf--now I wonder if I could play Prospero, in New York.
Take Jordan's place. Preposterous, isn't it? But I like the
idea. What do you think?"
"Well, Jack," Laura said, "it's something for you to dream about." She laughed as she said it, a comfortable laugh in the dark. What more could any man want . . . in this life?
It had been some time since I'd slept here with Laura, but that laugh made me remember how comfortable it had always been. Still, I couldn't shake Betty from my memory. It's true, that image was not of the woman as I'd last seen her--but as I'd first seen her, then held her in my arms, at the base of the scaffold. Then, in the middle of that fantasy, suddenly Betty's face was superseded by Christine's, framed in Betty's scarf. I was so shocked that I shuddered. Laura shuddered, too, and moaned, "Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry," which brought me back to her, and an appreciation of her generous nature. I wanted to ask her to forgive me. But it seemed she already had.
Later, all passion spent, Laura lay there in my arms, holding one of my hands in both of hers, and I whispered into her ear, not sure whether she was still awake or not, "Yes, I still have faithful Laura. Take my hand and help me walk into that future . . . our future . . . across the bridge of dreams."
|Copyright © December 2001||Robert N. Lawsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Topeka, Kansas 66621|