You sense the subtle secret in a glance
a bit and Henry reached down to pat him, then smiled and asked, "Do you
believe in reincarnation, Jack? Like Buddhists do? Jordan was
telling me that Mishima did."
|"But tell Shoko how Laura came into your life, Jack.
Then, more and more, into all our lives. She'll never believe it."
I laughed. "I don't believe it myself. Poor Laura! She came into my life as my Laura in The Glass Menagerie. I thought it a nice touch to cast a girl whose name actually was Laura. Laura Burns--as it still is--for, perhaps the most unbelievable thing of all, Laura has never married. Laura Burns . . . from Omaha. Her father was chief surgeon in one of the hospitals there, and he and her mother came to see the play . . . but opening night . . . so I wasn't there."
"I met them then," Henry said, "a distinguished couple, I thought. Very proud of Laura."
"And I met them two or three times later, when they'd come to visit Laura. Back stage the opening night of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I remember, when we had enough other problems, and I may have been a little short with them.
"I think her father's still alive, but I admit I never liked him much. I used to read his letters to her, and he tended to blame me for everything--and, worst of all, was usually right. I guess Laura's been back to Omaha half a dozen times, but I never went with her. I would have when her mother died--if I'd known. But her father obviously idolized his daughter, and I assume she'd always gotten anything she wanted from him, had learned how to deal with men practicing on him. And he never forgave me for leading her astray. Little did he know.
"She was a theatre major, in her junior year, so almost Betty's age, though Betty has always seemed older to me. I think she is . . . was . . . but only by about six months. Laura had had some substantial parts already, both in high school in Omaha and in her two years there at Wellington, and, in the transition from old director to new, had become Jill-of-all-trades around the theatre, first part-time secretary, then, as we got to work on the play, helping on sets, costumes, publicity--
|everything. I think we paid her for about ten hours
a week, minimum wage, and she put in about thirty.
"In outward manner she was accommodating, too, but just below that quiet, obliging surface there was an iron will at work, used to getting its way with 'authority'--which was fine with me, so long as she was my agent with higher authority. I accepted her help gratefully in the first month I was there, and was glad I could cast her without hesitation in the first play I'd be doing. But by the time we had the theatre pretty much to ourselves, as The Bald Soprano was over, I could see that I'd need to be careful with this girl. I suppose that, as you suggest, Betty must have sensed something of this early on. You'd already had Laura as a student, hadn't you, Henry?"
"In the beginning psychology class the year before--where she'd psyched me out of an A--and in an upper division class that semester. She'd been one of the girls, I guess the brunette, Hermia, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, too."
"Yes, Hermia. She still remembered it fondly, and most of her lines, I think, when Christine was Titania," I said.
"That's when she'd become more or less indispensable to Marvin Jones in the theatre office as well. She worked hard for him and he appreciated it, gave her the run of the office--so she was used to it by the time you got there. But I hadn't noticed her trying to seduce any faculty members. That came with your contribution to her education." Henry laughed. "But I've always been on Laura's side. She was an A student."
"I never gave Laura any reason to think . . . well . . . but I admit I was neglecting Betty. I'd let you and Marge take care of her while The Bald Soprano was on--when she was busy and excited--then paid her even less attention just when she needed me most, during that down period right after the play--and in the last days of her pregnancy--because I was so involved in my own play, and with teaching.
| "That's when
Marge and I became baffled by Betty, too," Henry said. "She'd been
so enthusiastic all the time we were doing The Bald Soprano,
and so easy to work with, but after that Marge could hardly get her to
go out to lunch. She became withdrawn, didn't even want to play bridge
any more--though, it's true, bridge never was her game."
"I know. She said she'd rather sit home and knit--though Christine certainly didn't have any booties to show for it--or read, or think about things. I thought she was thinking about the baby, but she didn't even want to talk about it, said, 'We'll worry about the baby when it's time . . . what good does it do now?' And, since she didn't seem to be having any trouble, I tried to accept that, and keep my own thoughts to myself.
"Then I began to be away every evening for rehearsal, and, though I knew Betty was brooding about something, didn't know what. She had come to a few of our rehearsals, enough to begin seeing herself in the role of Laura, but made no comments, beyond saying that she just felt like an outsider, and stopped coming. It never occurred to me that she might be jealous of Laura--over me, or as an actress--and I still can't really believe that. So, by a week after The Bald Soprano was over, I was a little concerned about how things were going with Betty, but was too busy to do much about it. I thought, 'Well, what do you expect? She's pregnant. Once the baby is here she'll be too busy to pay any attention to me.'
"Then a strange thing happened. She made a close friend of a next-door neighbor, and suddenly became cheerful. It's not so strange to make friends with a new neighbor--but the way it happened, and the effect it had, were strange enough."
"You mean Emma Brigot," Henry said.
"Yes. Betty was reading the evening paper, after dinner, as I was getting ready to go back to school. The blocking was pretty well finished and the interpretation was going well
|enough, but there were a lot of problems, and that's
where my mind was. It was early in November, two days after the first
heavy snowstorm. I was a little concerned about what the road conditions
were expected to be that night coming home and asked Betty to check what
the newspaper was predicting.
"Suddenly she gave a little gasp, then said, 'There's a story here about the man who lives next door. It says he saved a boy's life last night. He is State Trooper Kent Brigot, isn't he? Listen! "Dan Driscoll, a Wellington student who commutes from his father's farm eight miles north of the college, lost control of his 1947 Ford pickup truck on a slippery downhill section of US-81 just the other side of Four Corners, hit a bridge abutment, and turned over in the ditch, dislocating his left shoulder and fracturing his left leg. He had severed an artery in that fractured leg and was bleeding badly when State Trooper Kent Brigot arrived. Trooper Brigot applied a tourniquet, radioed for an ambulance, then accompanied Driscoll to the Wellington hospital." That's really something . . . to save another person's life. And he lives right next door. His wife's a teacher, or librarian, or something, isn't she?'
"'I think so--but, since the car is always there, we know he's a state trooper.'
"'We don't even know much about the people right next door, do we? I think I'll go over and get better acquainted.'
"We had met the Brigots, had borrowed lawn tools once, a pipe wrench another time . . . had said 'hello' in passing. But Betty was right. We'd lived there for almost two months and didn't really know our neighbors on either side. It was as bad as it might be in a big city. We knew a handful of people from the college. Mostly we knew you and Marge.
"I remember that news item that caught Betty's attention so well because, as you'll recall, Henry, in one of those stupid ironies that echo around human experience, that same kid
|killed Kent Brigot with that same 1947 Ford pickup truck
while we were rehearsing A Doll's House that spring.
He'd had enough time to get out of the hospital, and to get that truck
back on the road, but not enough time to learn how to drive it. By
then I knew Kent pretty well, and you remember we canceled rehearsals for
his funeral." Henry nodded.
I told Shoko the story. "Kent had stopped a fellow for speeding on State Highway 15, north of Wellington, given him a ticket, and was evidently checking on something at the back of the patrol car, when this kid came around the curve too fast, swerved onto the wrong side of the road, cut back too sharply and rammed into the back of the police car, killing Kent instantly. I guess he stopped--or his truck did. The guy Kent had given the ticket to was maybe half a mile down the road, heard the tires squealing and then saw the accident in his rearview mirror. He said he saw the boy get out of the truck. But, by the time he turned around and drove back there, the boy was sort of limping away in what was left of his truck--and what was left of him had to be picked up later at his folks' farm. No one could have helped Kent by then, anyway, but the boy was the one I felt sorriest for in the whole stupid affair. I think of how often something like that could have happened to me when I was a teenage driver. Life on those terms is frightening, isn't it? How would you ever apologize--to the family or to yourself--for anything like that?"
"Yes . . . I saw Dan at the funeral," Henry said. "I'd had him in class, and he was a likeable kid. He looked like he was still in a state of shock. He'd already dropped out of school, after the first accident. I should have tried to talk to him. But I didn't. Then we left. I wonder what he's doing now."
"Probably farming . . . with a new truck. Life goes on." But now, the image of that boy and his 1947 Ford truck in my mind as I stared across the lake, I wished that I knew, too.
| "Anyway, Betty got acquainted
with Emma Brigot that same semi-snowbound November evening--and had found
a friend. She was very distinctly pregnant--due to deliver almost
any time by then--and Emma responded to that like the good Nebraska farm
woman she was. It made me conscious of how much the rest of us had
been failing Betty. I would have been more considerate, but, particularly
given Betty's quixotic temperament, didn't know how. And you and
Marge weren't much better at dealing with the emotional currents of a pregnant
woman. Betty had been showing the strain ever since The Bald
Soprano was over, and I'd begun to attribute her mood mostly to
the comedown it must have been to move from center stage, Miss Campus Queen,
with football stars and leading men at your call, to Mrs. Faculty Wife
at a little college in Nebraska, to whom no one is paying any attention.
I knew I'd have to deal with that . . . but later.
"I suppose I might also have been feeling a little defensive about Laura--wondering if Betty was annoyed by the fact that I talked so much more about her than I did about the other kids in the play when I was home. I was spending a lot of time each day with Laura--more than with Betty if you didn't count the time we were asleep--and, while I did feel a little uncomfortable with that, took some pride in the fact that there really wasn't anything to apologize for.
"However, within three days of that first evening she spent with Emma it seemed clear that it was coping with the fact she was pregnant that had been bothering her, and that she'd met someone on the right wave-length. It wasn't just that Emma had had four children of her own--an oldest boy in the Navy, on the highway patrol there in Wellington now, I believe, like his dad was--an oldest daughter married to a farmer living about three miles south of town--a younger son in college at the University of Nebraska--and, the youngest of
|all, Peg, in her first year of high school--but that
Emma was the most genuinely maternal woman I've ever known. It really
was as if she were Betty's mother. Once we became better acquainted,
it was as if she were my mother, too. It wasn't by baking apple pies
or getting you to take your cough medicine (though she might do either),
but in the way you knew she felt as she brought her accumulated domestic
wisdom to bear on your problems. She hadn't run over as the 'welcome
wagon lady' the day we moved in, but Kent had told me that if we needed
help with anything to let them know. I suppose they saw us as needing
to get acquainted with 'those college people' first, so just waited until
we did need something.
"And when Betty went over there that evening, bubbling over about what Kent had done, Emma saw what she needed immediately. In spite of a late rehearsal, I got home before Betty did. Kent was on the night shift, and Peg had come home from a basketball game to turn directly to watching the late movie on television, while Betty had talked to Emma until after midnight, sitting there in that warm Nebraska living room, one of the most comfortable rooms I've ever been in.
"Betty spent almost half of her time with Emma from then until Christine was born. But Emma saw to it that she took proper care of me, too, that my dinner was ready when I got home and that she spent time with me when I was there. I appreciated that, and tried to show it, but mostly just took advantage of it, not even coming home to eat once I knew that I could count on Emma to look after Betty. I would go over to the Happy Scotchman, or whatever that hamburger stand across from school was called, usually with Laura, for a quick sandwich, glass of milk, and piece of coconut cream pie, as we discussed props, or publicity, or budget, or scheduling--then right back to work, on the lighting lay-out, or a special rehearsal to get her limp just right, or whatever.
| "But then I did
begin to become aware of another kind of problem with Laura, whether I
wanted to admit it or not. You read about these schoolgirl crushes
and think 'situation comedy,' right? Well, it's no joke when you're
there. You've both known Laura for years, but you knew her back then, Henry.
She was a good college actress--wouldn't you say?"
"When I think of The Glass Menagerie I think of Laura."
"She may not have been the natural that Betty was, but was good enough to play lead roles at bigger schools than Wellington. And she was willing to work. So, as I say, I worked with her by the hour, to get her own part polished perfectly, and to take care of all the other details of production. But it became apparent that some meetings, some special rehearsals, were being contrived by her--apparent to other members of the cast, too . . . apparent enough for you to start kidding me about it. So I stopped meeting with her alone . . . quite so often. I told her, one day, that I wasn't interested in any backstage romance, was only interested in the play. She seemed surprised that I'd think she had anything more than the play in mind, either, but then . . . just changed tack.
"Methinks thou dost protest too much, Jack," Henry said. "I've known Laura a long time--and can't see the designing woman. Think of what she's done for Christine. And for me."
"Well, she was there all of the time, working on costumes and props, doing the secretarial work in the office, and making it as clear as she could that she was a sophisticated woman of the world, who knew that people in the theatre were above the petty moral limitations that kept most people in Nebraska in the Middle Ages. She once remarked that the British or French or Italian actresses and directors that she read about in magazines understood 20th-century relationships between men and women. She never quite said, 'And I'm available,' but she was, after all, a pert and shapely 20 . . . tempting enough. I
|kept telling myself I knew better--enough so that there
was a wide insurance margin, I thought, not exactly in terms of being true
to Betty, but in terms of what you had to pay for what you got in affairs
of this kind. I say I've always been able to imagine, not only the
wild night, but also what we'd be talking about the next morning--not only
the party, but the hangover--which, I like to think, has kept me out of
a lot of trouble . . . or from leading the more exciting life I might have
"It seems to me that you've done all right with these girls, Jack . . . gotten in trouble enough to satisfy most men. They've just had to learn how to outmaneuver that Puritan opening of yours." Henry laughed, and, when I looked over, I saw that, while trying to hide it, Shoko was laughing, too.
"Anyway, as I began to shy away, Laura changed her approach--made sure she was essential. The real confrontation didn't come until dress rehearsal night. We were still doing the first act when I got a call from Emma that Betty's labor was finally beginning and I'd better get her to the hospital. As I told Christine in New York last year, my first reaction was, 'Why now?' It's terrible to admit that my play was more important to me than her birth . . . but she should have come at least a week earlier. You could probably tell how upset I was when I told you I'd try to get back if I could.
"Emma went with us to the hospital, assuring us that everything was perfectly normal, and, with the vague notion that labor usually went on for hours, I thought I might be able to get back to the theatre for an hour or two of the hard work that play definitely needed and still be back at the hospital by the time the baby was born. So, feeling pretty guilty about it, but, with Betty's groaning consent, and Emma's somewhat tight-lipped assurance that she would be there, back I went.
"Everyone was on edge, and I thought the rehearsal went very badly. Then, in the last scene of the play, you may recall,
|Laura threw a tantrum, over some minor piece of business
she had never liked. I thought that she was going to break all the
glass animals we'd borrowed for her menagerie. The fact she didn't
break a single one should have been a clue. But, already tense, I
moved in on that behavior hard--threw a tantrum of my own. Then she
went contrite, but insisted that we work out something she could feel comfortable
with opening night.
"Pretty distraught by then, I said, 'All right everybody--that's the best we can do. Make-up call at 7:00 tomorrow night. I probably won't be here--so Professor Gordon will be in charge. From this point on the director is just a nuisance, anyway--like the father when the baby is born--right? Which means I had better get back there.' There were some strange looks as you all left, but then Laura and I were there alone.
"I don't think it's overstating it to say that I was literally attacked by a very emotional young woman. She declared herself to be in love with me, said she'd been struggling with it--thinking about my wife and the baby--but needed to know my feelings about her before she could go on stage the next night. It came across as straight blackmail, at the worst possible time. I knew I needed to get out of there. I began to think she was much more experienced at this kind of game than I'd given her credit for--or than I was--and that, what with the play opening the next night, and with my wife in the hospital giving birth to our child, this was more bizarre than anything in The Bald Soprano. I resisted her advances--my footwork alone would have qualified the scene as high farce-- and launched a quick counter offensive, grounded in ambiguity. I told her that I could understand the tension she was under, facing opening night, but that this was just not the time to . . . worry about our relationship . . . after the play was over, we'd have to consider . . . and so on. I finally drove her back to the dorm and disengaged. But it was after midnight."
| "That surprises
me, Jack, for, as well as I knew--and know--both of you, I can't picture
that scene," Henry said. "I remember fussing around about the glass
animals, and that you were upset, which seemed natural enough . . . with
the baby being born. But aren't you exaggerating? I'll bet
Laura doesn't remember it as such a tempestuous confrontation."
"Or think she was trying to blackmail you," Shoko added. "Love . . . is never easy."
"Well, already feeling guilty about having left Betty, I may have over-reacted, then provoked Laura to over-react, but it was tempestuous enough for me. And when I got back to the hospital, Emma was very upset. 'Where have you been? I've been trying to call, but . . .'
"'I'm sorry. I should have moved the phone to the theatre connection . . . but . . . has Betty had the baby?'
"'Yes . . . and I'm afraid there were complications. The doctor will have to tell you.'
"I found the doctor, and he told me, 'No, the baby seems fine . . . was more than full term. But it was a difficult delivery, and we decided on surgery late. It finally involved a kind of hysterectomy. I can show you what I mean.'
"'Just tell me what it means . . . to my wife.'
"'Well, to put it simply, it means that your wife won't be able to have another baby. We'll watch her for the next couple of days for other complications, but that much is certain.'
"Surprising myself, I began to weep as the doctor told me this, which he probably saw as reflecting my desire for more children, a thing which had never entered my mind. Looking back, I think I was weeping mostly for the state of my own soul, because I hadn't been there with her when she faced that kind of trauma. And I never did forgive myself."
"It wouldn't have made any difference at all, Jack," Henry said. "You know that."
| "It would
have to me . . . and who knows about Betty?
"But, be that as it may, it was in those next few days that I really began to appreciate your friendship." I turned to Shoko, saying, "Henry assumed all the director's duties, which allowed me to spend my evenings at the hospital. The play had been scheduled to run Friday and Saturday evenings for two weeks. I could have visited Betty in the afternoon, after classes, some of which I canceled anyway, and gone on to the theatre in the evenings, if there had been any real need, but I preferred to avoid any more awkward confrontations with Laura, afraid she might get temperamental enough to walk out on the play. I knew that I'd have to face her eventually, to settle things in the office, so avoided even going in there for a day or two, expecting her to be there when I did. But Laura made it easier by not showing up during the day at all, at the office or in the class she had with me--as if we had agreed on this. I began to suspect that she was waiting for me to come to her, like a spider in her web, on stage, surrounded by her glass menagerie, where the advantage would be all hers. Henry made it possible for me to avoid that."
Henry was laughing out loud by this time, much to Shoko's bemused bewilderment. So I continued to speak to her, "Yes, there Henry was, at that critical moment, standing between the designing woman and his beleaguered friend . . . just the beginning of a series of friendly gestures on his part."
"You give me much too much credit, Jack. Like Laura's father, little did I know. I sympathized with you and Betty over this complication, but didn't see it as a great catastrophe. Both Betty and Christine seemed to be doing pretty well--it's hard to imagine a healthier or more charming baby than Christine was. It seemed to me that you must've had ulterior motives for not coming to the theatre at all, and, from that last rehearsal, did assume that they probably involved Laura.
| "But I didn't care.
Standing in for you allowed me to spend more time around a play that I
admired--after you'd done all of the work. And Laura was just a dream,
almost stage manager in addition to lead actress, taking care of
everything. I wouldn't have had to be there either. I had no
sense of how tense things were between you two--any of this 'spider woman'
stuff--though I knew something was going on, which isn't surprising in
college theatre--or theatre anywhere. People get involved during
a play, then uninvolved afterward. But I saw no temperament
from Laura--none at all. She had always been a model student for
me, and, so far as the play was concerned, was two steps ahead of me on
everything--a fine young actress, and a very bright girl. I would
have given her an A+ for her work in the play. And she was still
coming to my class. I didn't know about yours." He laughed
again. "Ah, college girls! She must laugh about it herself
"Yes, she must. And, if anything, I was more awkward at the hospital than I would have been at the theatre. I just sat there, with a magazine in my hand and a vague smile on my face, feeling healthy and helpless, as I always do as a visitor in a hospital. I did talk to Betty, a little, but not about anything central to what either of us must have been thinking--though we sometimes exchanged looks that seemed to communicate more, perhaps the unsettling recognition that we seemed to share that each of us was looking at a total stranger.
"But I was delighted with Christine, from the first. I would hold her more than Betty did when she was in the room, and would frequently go down to look at her through the nursery window, which, at the time, I found to be a kind of philosophical exercise. But I could only spend about so much time doing that, so spent much of the time--while the play, and your mid-week rehearsals, would have been going on--talking to Emma, who seemed to come to the hospital just
|so I'd have someone to talk to, or to listen to, as she
carried on active conversations with Betty, or with the nurses, since she,
in striking contrast to the bewildered husband, knew just the right things
to say and do in a hospital room.
"I thought Betty might have been taking the hysterectomy harder than she wanted to admit, but she never said so--then or later. I didn't know what ideas she'd had about eventually having children, just that she'd have preferred to wait until she had tested her youth in the professional theatre. I felt that it must strike at something pretty fundamental for any young woman to find out she can no longer expect to have babies, but Betty wouldn't talk about it. And I don't remember ever seeing Betty cry over misfortune--any misfortune--especially when you knew how intensely she must be suffering--though she could cry very easily, on command, on stage.
"But I remember very well that Betty was never more beautiful than near the end of that week in the hospital, when she had some of the bloom back in her cheeks, but still looked a little ethereal, with that melancholy mode of 'sorrow under control' adding its bitter-sweet touch. In spite of feeling so awkward, I wanted to be near her then, felt she was indeed the center of my life, if a mysterious center, and felt increasingly guilty about having unintentionally neglected to be with her in her time of greatest need. Even given all that has happened since, I am still swept by an all-embracing love, enhanced by sub-conscious guilt, whenever I think of Betty in her hospital room . . . contemplating me, without a word of reproach."
"You must have loved her very much, Jack," Shoko said.
"I did . . . but she never responded the way I expected her to. I'd have preferred a little anger . . . or signs of frustration.
"Henry came to the hospital, too, to cheer us up, and tell us how well the play was doing. That pleased me. When the review came out in the Wellington Weekly it went so far as to
|herald a new era in local theatre, which was good to
read, if pretty conventional. I knew a friend of Marge's had written
it. But as we talked about individual cast members, you led me on,
extolling everyone else first, one by one, hinting, by this delay, there
might be problems with Laura, then, after setting me up that way, made
a point of telling Betty that the main problem with Laura was believing
the Gentleman Caller could pass her by. And Betty nodded and smiled
to herself, as if some private joke were involved. Am I remembering
Henry laughed again. "Probably. I remember joking about it one day in the office, wondering where Laura was, and suggesting that we rewrite the ending for closing night so that they'd run off together, leaving Tom and Amanda behind to continue to badger each other the rest of their lives."
"You said the play should end that way, that it would satisfy everyone much better . . . then you gave me that studied pause and sly smile that I 'had come to know and love' before adding, 'than if she ran off with her director.'
"But we didn't pursue the subject at the time, Jack, though I thought about it later . . . and wondered if you did."
"Then, in spite of my resolve, I couldn't resist going to the final performance, slipping in just as the play was beginning."
"I saw you come in, and had been expecting it . . . was surprised that you held off that long."
"I had taken Betty and Christine home the day before, and Emma and Peg offered to stay with them if I wanted to see my play. Emma was beginning to forgive me, and Peg was already in love with the baby. Betty encouraged me to go, too. She was feeling well enough by then that she might have gone along, I suppose, but said, 'No . . . too long to sit. I saw some of your rehearsals. But invite them all to come here, to see the baby, afterwards, if you want.' Emma echoed this, and said, 'Peg and I will fix some cookies and things.'
| "I was as
caught up by the play as any spectator might have been. I've often
had that experience as a director, watching a play I've directed and thinking,
'Did I do this?' But I've seen half a dozen productions of
Glass Menagerie over the years--and it's a great play, hard to
do wrong--but that was still the best. I watched Laura carefully,
trying to read the 'real her' between the lines. She was better than
I'd remembered--better than I'd expected--and for that I could forgive
a lot of foolishness. I found myself anticipating your ending.
But The Gentleman Caller missed his chance, leaving Laura with her dreams
. . . and her glass menagerie.
"I felt proud of the whole cast, and more deeply relieved than I can remember being at the end of any other play I've been involved in. I went backstage to tell them all just how good I thought they were, and to extend Betty's invitation for a meet-the-baby 'cast party,' which they could then take elsewhere and extend into an orgy if they were so disposed. They were all elated, caught up in the excitement of having performed well in a good play--all except Laura, that is.
"I hadn't seen her face to face since I'd left her at her dorm the night Christine was born, but the minute her eyes met mine they almost froze me in my tracks with their accusation of cowardice in avoiding her for the whole run of the play. I knew she was right, but then made a special point of inviting her, thinking that this might help bring the reality of Betty, and my situation, home to her, as a basis for future negotiation. 'In as a coward, out as a coward,' I thought.
"Most of the kids were delighted to see, and, under Emma and Peg's careful supervision, to hold, the baby, telling me how happy they were for us, and what a pretty baby Christine was--which she was--and expressing sympathy for what they only partially understood about the complications with Betty. But Laura had to add her touch of drama.
| "She came,
and left, with the young business major who had played The Gentleman Caller,
and you could see that he thought they might get more going off stage than
they had on. Now why, I thought, should I resent that aspiration.
I should be saying, 'Please! Take her!' What could be more
natural--a college boy pursuing a college girl. But then I looked at Laura,
the Laura I had seen on stage that evening, and felt more like her father
might have about such boys in pursuit."
"Did you ever tell Laura that, Jack?" Shoko asked.
"No, I don't believe I did. And she definitely had her own agenda that evening. She found the occasion to be alone with me in Christine's room--or not alone, since she was holding the baby, while Peg went for a bottle or something--and to come on low and hard. I could have avoided it, but, in what I admit reinforces my image as a cad in this whole affair, had decided that, now that the play was over and she had lost any blackmail leverage, I should be able to handle whatever some young college girl had to throw at me. And, again, I had underestimated a woman . . . the story of my life.
"She said she probably should feel sorry for Betty, and for me, but didn't, 'not at all, since you have this beautiful baby.' And she rocked Christine in her arms to keep her from interrupting. 'I don't even feel sorry for myself--just taken advantage of!' She said it was worse than if I'd seduced her, which, and she looked me straight in the eye when she said it, I might easily have done--and I thought, 'Like Dimmesdale seduced Hester--I remember it well,' and, looking at Christine there in Laura's arms, it seemed that our little Pearl winked at me. But, since she was only nine days old, that must have been Hawthorne working on my imagination.
"Laura accused me of having grossly abused her obvious affection for me, said I'd deceitfully cultivated it to get her to do a tremendous amount of work, on-stage and off, then had
|tricked her into staying in the play when she should
have dumped it all--by running away and hiding behind my wife and baby.
She told me she had lain awake at night thinking about what to do--under
the tension of the most demanding role of her life--had identified with
the Laura in the play, left by the man she loves to amuse herself with
her glass menagerie, and had finally decided that wasn't important.
The important thing was to reaffirm her
love, to remain true to
herself, even if I was a dirty skunk who didn't deserve it. And sooner
or later I would see that, too. As I watched her, standing
there with the baby, I thought, 'What a good little actress she is!'
"It turned out to be just the right way for her to handle it, putting the burden of initiating sexual overtures on me (while, for my part, I'd begun to feel like an innocent bystander who'd been hit by a truck). I not only thought more of her for the aggressiveness of this outburst, but decided that this whole thing would probably work itself out. I'd been concerned that I'd have to break with her completely if she tried to become a clinging vine, that I wouldn't be able to wade through sentimental emotional currents of that depth around the office. And, since she did do most of the work, I knew I'd miss her. But now it was all up to her to decide what she wanted to do.
"Since I no longer felt threatened, I even found her new stance engaging, a step ahead in her development as an actress, the sort of thing Betty might have done on purpose (though I've never suggested that to Laura, either), and, with the kind of impersonal abstraction I've often experienced at anti-climactic moments in my life, thought that not only could I live with this, but it might be edifying to watch a bright young college girl work this kind of emotional overload out of her system. Surely she couldn't sustain it long.
"Not that she took any of it lightly at the time, however. When I inadvertently laughed at one point, when she was
|explaining the sublimation of her emotions into the role
in terms that would have done credit to a Renaissance sonneteer, I thought
she was going to hit me--was lucky her hands were occupied with Christine.
I was responding with conventional remarks about Betty's condition, the
new baby, my obligation not to get involved with students, all of which
she dismissed as irrelevant, hitting me with the comment, 'Solomon had
a thousand wives . . . John!' Not 'Professor Curtis,' not 'Jack,' but precisely
'John,' and not exactly delivered with a sneer, but definitely from a morally
superior position. Laura could always manage that tone nicely.
I had no idea what she meant by the Solomon reference, but she delivered
it as if it were profound, following with, 'But it still comes down to
you and me . . . and that's not over yet. You'll see.'
"Then we heard her Gentleman Caller calling her name, ready to take her off to the real party, and, as that caught our attention, I saw Betty standing quietly at the door, smiling. Laura handed Christine to me, and was telling Betty what a fine baby she was when the young man came in with her coat. I wished him good luck, or some such thing, as they left, and Laura gave me a dirty look. Betty just continued to smile, and remarked on how good Laura seemed to be with the baby.
"'I think she said she worked her way through high school as a babysitter,' I said.
"'How nice. Maybe she'll be available for us. She seems to be such an accommodating girl . . . and will have so much time on her hands now that the play is over.'
"'It seems I'll be surrounded by women with time on their hands,' I thought, 'all plotting against me.' But I didn't say anything, as I wondered how much Betty might have heard.
"Then I looked down at Christine. She'd heard it all, and seemed to be smiling. 'And you, too,' I thought, smiling back. But I did love the baby . . . even if she was 'one of them.'"
|Assignment for Bridge 7:
Read Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or see the 1966 movie version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. (I know that I have my characters doing the play in Nebraska almost five years before it opened on Broadway, but I didn't know that when I wrote the chapter--then liked it too much to give it up.)
|Copyright © June 2000||Robert N. Lawsonfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Topeka, Kansas 66621|