Bridge 11

August 9th, 2010

Bridge 11–The Black Cat

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We see the supernatural in a cat.

Look in those eyes!  That power to hypnotize!

Control your dreams!  The strong suggestion that

The cat, by some black magic, must be wise.

You come into the room.  It’s in your chair–

Your chair!–curled up, and doesn’t make a move.

Just stares at you.  You blink, and leave it there–

Look for another chair!  Now what’s that prove?

To challenge it could bring its curse on you,

Those witches, warlocks, demons at its call.

And if the cat is black you know it’s true–

If it should cross your path, you’re doomed to fall.

Once heard a man say, “That’s pure foolishness!”

Have never seen him since.  Got him, I guess.

[1958-1962]

        Shoko started to get up to go after the beer, but Henry put his hand on her arm and said, “Stay put.  I know where everything is.  I’ll bring you each back a beer.  Will fix you a sandwich, if you want one.  I need to stretch, and it’ll give you and Jack a chance to talk about a few things you’d rather I didn’t hear.  Do you want Lucky Lager or Budweiser, Jack?”

 Neither of us asked for a sandwich, but when Henry came back he brought potato chips with the beer–and a treat for Grendel–and moved down the hill with more confidence than Shoko had.  In the meantime, she had told me enough of their story to show that she didn’t mean to hide anything from me.

        “You know how close I was to Betty, Jack.  I’d have given my life for her.  As you . . . or Henry . . . would have.  I should have been here.  I should have known.  Then . . . after Betty was gone . . . Henry needed someone.  Can you imagine him living up here alone?  I needed someone, too.  The 


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countess was gone.  Betty was gone.  What could I do . . . go back to Japan?  At first, I was just helping take care of things.  By the time we knew how much we really did need each other . . . we knew I was pregnant.  And we both want the baby.”

        Henry handed us the beer, and, as he sat down, said, “I heard that.  So Shoko’s told you about the baby.”  It seemed obvious that was why he’d decided to give us the chance to talk.  “Well, she’s right.  We’re very happy.  Would you have expected that of me, Jack?  Or of her?  I thought I was a confirmed bachelor, definitely not a family man . . . before Shoko led me out of whatever I had accepted as my identity with Betty . . . and Jordan.  I credit her with effecting my re-birth . . . and rescuing me from the chaos of what happened here.  But we can talk about that later.  There are other pieces to fit in, too . . . I’m saving a couple.  But first we want to hear about your success in the movie business, don’t we?”

        “And about Laura . . . and Christine . . . when you first came to California,” Shoko said.

        “Well, when we moved here from Las Vegas . . . in what? . . . the fall of 1958? . . . Christine was almost two.  We rented a little two-story house in North Hollywood–a house I came to think of as haunted, as I reflected back on it–and began to look upon ourselves as a movie couple, people with aspira- tions, nay expectations, in the film business . . . or television.

        “Everything went just fine at first, perhaps because we were too poor, and too busy, for it not to.  I believe that–that people get along best when they’re struggling together.  I think of it as the old pioneer mystique–though a friend of mine who’s an expert in frontier history tells me that most of the people who lived through those hard winters together came to hate each other.  But my own experience is mostly in theatre, where people do fantastic things on a shoestring, and come to, if not love each other, at least put up with an awful lot of 

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nonsense, so that the show will go on.  Then, once the show closes, particularly if it has made them prosperous, it follows, as the night the day, they have a falling out.  I can’t trace that as cause and effect with Laura and me–as I say, I think it may have been the house–but, on that more standard pattern, it did seem to work out that way . . . that our success did us in.”

        “I don’t believe that at all, Jack!  That might have been true for Betty . . . or Jordan . . . but not for you!  And especially not for Laura!”  I had touched a nerve with Shoko.

        “All right, I’ll tell you what happened–then you tell me what caused it!  We’d been living together for over a year before we got to California, so had come to take each other for granted, I suppose.  But by a kind of unspoken agreement, we never talked about Betty.  I’d heard nothing from, or about, her while we were in Las Vegas, and, by the end of that year, had no desire to . . .  I told myself.  And we both took a lot of pleasure in Christine, who was walking by then.  I was happy with Laura, and beginning to feel some confidence in my work, so we came to California on a wave of optimism.

        “And Laura did begin her career in television almost immediately.  But not as a soap opera queen.  She got small parts, through the influence of the man who had ‘discovered’ her in that Las Vegas restaurant, Randall Best, who was a film and film-for-television producer, and soon became a personal friend to both of us–as he still is.  After over a year of almost none, we also began to see a lot of amateur theatre, sometimes two plays a week, as our main recreation.

        “Then, in part because she’d had extensive college theatre experience, and in part because she was so dependable–and available–Laura began working for Circle Theatre, an amateur theatre company that did all of its plays in the round, until, after about six months, she became a paid office manager. And, though just a part-time job, she worked at it whenever 

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she wasn’t doing anything at one of the studios.  She gave them three or four hours for every one they paid her for–just as she did for us back at Wellington.  Still, during that first year here in California she again made more than I did, as, cheerfully supported by this hard-working woman, I was determined to make it as a screenwriter.  And, with important help from Randall, that was starting to happen, too.

        “Once we had the house, I established my ‘office’ in the spare bedroom–really just a desk with a typewriter on it–and went back to work on screenplays.  Then Randall got me kinds of script-writing assignments that I would never have been able to get by just driving into town with a smile on my face.  But I still had to serve a new apprenticeship, and wrote a lot more that wasn’t used than that was in the first two years after we arrived.  But, then, I still do.

        “I didn’t try to act, or direct, for fear it might take too much psychic energy away from my writing, but I enjoyed helping Laura with miscellaneous busy-work around ‘her theatre’–from selling tickets to working lights–especially on weekends.  I knew she and I had something special, and it made me reflect on what love is.  But that was another thing we made a point of not talking about with one another, as if whatever we had depended upon not analyzing it.  I would occasionally wonder what we would do if Laura got pregnant, but was still willing to leave that to chance–which does play so large a role in such things, it seems–so long as she was.”

        “It is funny how chance . . . or Fate . . . determines most important things, isn’t it, Jack?” Henry said, “while we’re so busy trying to change the shape of the world–so sure that everything depends on the decisions we make.  Like ants on the sidewalk–you or me–and all of our great plans.”

        “I think plans are important, too,” Shoko insisted.  “But some people try so hard to have children, and never do . . . 

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while with others they come as such a surprise.”  She laughed, a bit nervously, then, as Henry joined in, looked at me and stopped.  I decided not to comment, to stay with my story.

        “But Laura didn’t get pregnant.  And we had Christine.  We took her almost everywhere–though one of the neighbors would babysit occasionally–so she saw a lot of plays, and rehearsals, before she was old enough to understand any of it.

        “I did change my writing habits, and think that may have contributed to the ‘haunted house’ effect.  In Las Vegas, the evening offered the longest chunk of undisturbed time, but under our new routine I was usually up by 5:30, always by 6:00.  I learned that that hour or two before breakfast is twice as productive as the same amount of time at the other end of the day–for me.  I know writers for whom it’s just the opposite, so each one has to hunt for his own pattern.

        “Unfortunately, given that shift to the early morning, I still hated to go to bed early.  When we spent the evening at home, Laura usually went to bed right after the late news on television–and I should have. But I might stay up until midnight, or even after, though I never accomplished much.  I would watch part of a late movie, perhaps a little of Jack Parr, while I worked on something routine, sorting through old notes and manuscripts, or making out checks for our bills, thumbing through journals or magazines for things I thought I ought to read before throwing them away, dozing off in the chair, too tired to do anything–and, at a deeper level, just hating to give in to sleep . . . death’s second self.  How much better it would have been to have gone to bed, and gotten up at 4:00 or 4:30, say, since I knew most of my best work was done in those early hours.  But I know I’m not the first to point out that every man tends to be his own worst enemy.”

        “Your night-time habits are a lot like mine, Jack, though probably more regular,” Henry put in.  “If I’m really interested 

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in something, I might stay up all of one night, then go to bed early the next and sleep through till noon.”

        “When have you ever slept until noon?”  Shoko asked.

        “I can’t imagine that, either,” I said.  “Up all night, yes.  My trouble is that I try–then fall asleep.  But I especially like early morning. The whole atmosphere is different. Even at those times of year when it’s still dark outside at 6:00, if you stand at the window looking out you know it’s early morning, not late night.  It looks different–feels different.  The mood of the house is different.  Sounds are different.  Even before the birds begin to sing.  Is that true for you, Henry?  Do your senses tell you it’s morning without seeing the sun come up?”

        “Yes, for a blind man, too, the early morning is best.”

        “I think it is mostly the sounds.  You become conscious of the little sounds, the drip of a faucet, the creak of a board as you walk across the room, the perk of the coffee you’ve put on.  They have a special reality, provide existential points of reference in those early hours.  It may be subjective, but the older I get the more I find early morning the especially delicious time, not to be wasted on sleep.  I contrast the perverse pleasure I find in going up the stairs in the dark, late at night, the mild psychic apprehension of the climb–as if evil spirits might be waiting at the top–relieved by then burrowing into bed, with the more wholesome pleasure of coming down the same stairs in the dark in the early morning, to the mystery of a new day.  Why should it be so different?”

        “I like to go out walking just as dawn is breaking,” said Shoko, “especially here in the woods, or along the lake.  Sometimes Henry and I do that together, but sometimes I go alone.  I may like to be alone better at dawn, though I prefer to be with him at sunset.  Why would that be?  I don’t know.”

        “It is strange.  For years I’ve intended to arrange things so that I could go out for a walk just at dawn, a fine and philo- 

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sophical habit–which I admire in those who have it, but can’t seem to acquire for myself.  I always have too much reading or writing to do–a serious distortion of values, I know.”

        “I don’t think it makes much difference, Jack,” Henry said.  “You need something to look forward to doing each day–important enough to get up early for.  Whatever it is is an illusion, of course–nothing really is worth getting up early for.  We all know that as we consider other people’s enthusiasms–as they do as they consider ours.  But whenever we see such enthusiasm–whether for learning the saxophone, studying yoga, going out for a walk along the lake at sunrise, or writing a novel–we know it’s right.  And if a man is quite conscious of how trivial his pursuit is, and still gets up with that kind of enthusiasm–every morning–he may be a wise man.”

        “I agree.  In my late teens, I used to run three miles at dawn most mornings–in training for long distance running, then for boxing–so I know how exhilarating it can be to be out of doors at that hour, breathing the clear morning air, but, by longer habit, it is now indoors in the early morning that I know best.  And it was indoors, in those early hours in those early months in California, that I developed my special kinship with Midnight, our black cat . . . Christine’s black cat.”

        “Yes, we know that cat very well,” Shoko said, “your Midnight . . . our Midnight . . . but Christine’s Midnight.”

        “Christine and I brought her with us when we first moved in at Shangri-La, didn’t we?  Well, she’d been a stray, probably abandoned by someone who’d wanted a kitten but not a cat.  We lived close enough to the edge of town to seem out, but where there was a scattering of new middle-class housing, so that those wanting to get rid of a pet–but ‘give it a good home’–frequently chose our neighborhood.  Laura had found the cat, about supper time, curled up on the top of our air- conditioning unit on the shady side of the house.  That air- 

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conditioner always made strange noises, but, after hearing something stranger than usual, and going out to investigate, she came back with Midnight, no longer a kitten, but still a young cat.  It had had an owner, for it still had a little blue collar around its neck.  We decided we’d feed it while advertising for the owner in the lost pet column: ‘Black cat, blue collar.’  By the time nobody came, it was our cat.

        “We’d heard things about cats and babies, and were a little concerned about Christine, who was walking but not yet running in the yard much, still taking long naps, and, we thought, still pretty vulnerable.  But we soon saw there was no problem, at least not with this cat.  At first the cat held aloof, maybe having heard things about babies and cats’ tails, but by the end of a week they were inseparable, playing hide-and-seek, or chase-the-string.  It became obvious that Midnight was going to be Christine’s cat.  Too late to get rid of her then.

        “It was Laura’s idea to call her Midnight, since she was absolutely black.  But she was never around at midnight.  I wasn’t worried about stepping on her on the stairs in the dark going up to bed, only in coming down in the morning.  But she had few predictable habits.  She might sleep upstairs with us, at our feet in the bed, or, more likely, in Christine’s room.  She might sleep in the chair in my study downstairs, or on the couch in the living room, or crowded into the card-board box we kept for her in the kitchen, that seemed too small for her except when she was in it.  Sometimes we wouldn’t be able to find her at all, for maybe half a day–would joke about the magic of disappearance, and witches and black cats–but then she would turn up in the closet, or in a tree in the back yard.  In an honored tradition among cats, she was very independent.

        “I could always depend upon her being up and around early in the morning, though its patterns still varied.  Sometimes she would be up before I was.  I’d hear her in the kitchen before I 

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was out of bed, where she had learned how to open the cupboard and might have a potato out on the kitchen floor, rolling it around with noises that were very puzzling the first time I heard them.  Sometimes she might be crying out, as if it wanted something, and even wake Laura–who was harder to wake up.  More often she would make her presence known after I was up, and already working.  Or she might be there in my favorite chair when I came down, but not sleeping, and would just sit and look at me. At such times I’d let her keep the chair, as a matter of principle, and read in the office chair I usually used for typing, with my feet propped up on the desk, until she moved.  Other times, I might just have gotten settled with a book when she would come bounding down the stairs with a noisy clatter, not what you’d associate with an animal that could move without a sound if she wanted to, then come peeking around the corner as if she were sneaking up on me as her prey.  She seemed to delight in surprising me.

        “Frequently, however, she chose to settle some place where she could look right at me, in that confrontation that cats specialize in.  It was that ritual that came to be at the center of our relationship.  I could, and regularly did, go on with my work with Midnight staring at me, but occasionally, as I would perhaps come to the end of a paragraph in something I was writing, I would return the stare, and fall into a kind of hypnotic trance.  As men must have done over the ages, I would wonder whether that cat’s thoughts were deeper than my own.  Always impressed by that aristocratic independence, I would marvel at the way it was concentrated in those eyes, as if the cat’s spirit comprehended and thereby mastered my own.  We even used to converse.  I would try out my profoundest insights on the cat, as if reporting to a Zen master, or, in Egyptian terms, to a priestess, most often just in my mind, but occasionally out loud, so that a time or two 

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Laura asked me who I had been talking to, and looked at me as if she thought I was losing my mind when I told her the cat.

        “So Midnight was soon part of the family, and a strange kind of a catalyst for such a condescending creature.  When Christine started to talk, her first word wasn’t ‘Daddy,’ but ‘Kiddy . . . Kiddy,’ and Midnight would look at me, with that same superior look, as if saying, ‘Well, what did you expect?’  And if I had fallen into the habit of talking to the cat in those early morning hours, after I got a regular job at the studio, so was spending part of most days there, I might hear Laura talking to her as I came back home . . . just as seriously.

        “That was a major turning point, in the second year out here, when I began to think of myself as an employed screen-writer at Randall’s studio.  I had done a lot of work on scripts for TV westerns, and had learned a lot that helped as I began to do re-write work for Randall, for most of it was on his western films.  They were much more popular back then.

        “At about the same time Laura began to get more regular series bits on television, first as next door neighbor to that widower who had four sons.  She’d be on the show about once a month–almost steady work.  She was working with Sam Prichard, the director for that series, and the one who more or less decided just how much screen time the neighbor lady, with her designs on the hero, was going to get.  So Laura cultivated Sam, and Sam cultivated Laura, and, whenever I happened to be with them, it made me nervous.

        “It wasn’t that I was jealous of Sam–at least, I didn’t think so–because he was such a jerk!  I couldn’t imagine him taking Laura away from me, but did start to think about what kind of hold I had on her, and how long it was likely to last.  Part of the problem was that, because we were both working more, we started to have more money–for clothes and cars–found we needed separate cars for our increasingly separate lives.

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That’s when I bought the Chevy wagon parked down below.  And we began to talk about whether we wanted to move.  We could buy into more style if we wanted to, we told each other, each probably wondering what style the other might have in mind.  Laura had had to give up the Circle Theatre job, too, so we weren’t spending as much time together doing anything–started having to fit things into our ‘busy’ schedules.

        “But, beyond Randall’s routine writing jobs, I gave some time to more abiding ambition.  I still aspired to write ‘real’ short stories, and, perhaps under the influence of Midnight, took Poe as my example for a time.  I consider his story, “The Black Cat,” a masterwork–quite serious, yet almost a take-off on itself.  There’s a recording by Basil Rathbone that catches that ambiguity nicely–as Lowell said, ‘three-fifths genius and two-fifths pure fudge.’  I still have some of the stories I wrote back then in a drawer somewhere–and still like them.  But working on such stories, in the pre-dawn silence, with your own black cat watching, can be an eerie experience.

        “I’d also decided to do a film script version of The Scarlet Letter–and that’s when the spirit of Betty began to haunt me.  I worked on that off and on for about three months, and, of course, could never think of Hester Prynne except as Betty.  But, though I told him how well the dramatic adaptation had done in college, and how compelling Hester Prynne had been, Randall wasn’t enthusiastic about its prospects as a film.  He made two or three other suggestions, if I wanted to do something ‘literary,’ but I think I gave up on it mostly to exorcise Betty from my imagination in those early morning hours.  But when, instead, I began to work on a blank verse adaptation of the Dido episode from Virgil’s Aeneid, I found I was casting Betty as Dido as well.  I finally stopped work on both–and any other projects where that started to happen–for Betty was starting to invade my dreams, too, and I didn’t want that. 

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        “Meanwhile, Christine was growing up–walking, talking, and running in the back yard, like a regular human being–and becoming a very perceptive little girl.  She could get anything she wanted from either of us.  But more and more often we both needed to be away at the same time, so had to find someone else to care for her.  As it happened, I had a half- sister, Grace–on my mother’s side–I hadn’t seen for years, until she’d married and moved to California shortly after we had.  Since we trusted her, we’d ask her to watch Christine.  They lived on the other side of LA–but it was worth the drive.

        “It had happened so slowly that neither of us had noticed, but our careers were now making conflicting demands.  I’d find myself watching Laura on television and think how much better off she’d be without Christine and me.  She was young, good-looking, talented, and had the connections–so far as her career was concerned, we were just a burden.  I had my own ambitions, but my success didn’t depend upon Laura, either.  We were simply not as mutually dependent as we had been in Las Vegas, and, since I knew I couldn’t help her, I suppose I was expecting her to find someone who could–probably not Sam Prichard, but one of the directors or producers or actors she worked with, who might then steal her away from me.

        “Not that Laura ever threatened such a thing, or ever talked that way, herself.  She was still happy to read anything I wrote and offer comments–and any suggestion that she could better herself by leaving us would make her mad in a hurry.  ‘You think I’m capable of doing what Betty did?  No, Jack.  I came with you, and I’ll stay with you . . . until you leave me.’   So maybe that’s what she was thinking–that it was just a matter of time until I’d want some other arrangement.

        “Well, then we did hear something about Betty, that she’d  done Miss Julie in a small theatre, off Broadway–with Jordan Simms!  That was the show that you arranged for them, wasn’t it?” 

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        “Yes it was, Jack . . . another interesting story.  It posed some special problems, bringing those two back together.  But it turned out to be very successful.  And from then on . . .”

        “She had played Miss Julie in high school, you know.”

        “As you told us . . . and as she told me often enough.  Well, she was a natural for the part.  But Jordan still stole the show.  By then I had become very high on Jordan myself.”

        “And, much as we used to kid Betty about her ‘high- school Miss Julie,’ I, too, have a special affection for that play.  I once had the part of Jean myself, in the acting class I took the first semester back from the service.  The teacher was the director of the university theatre I told you about–the one who’d planned the new theatre, and then got the student prima donna in one of the operas he directed there pregnant.  Talk about a surprise.  He was an Austrian, knew modern European drama well, had worked with Max Reinhart back in Germany, and collaborated with the music department in staging an opera each year–which seems to have been his undoing.

        “He was the one who got me reading George Bernard Shaw that first time, so was the most important influence on me as I was coming back from the service, a little bewildered about where I was going.  I remember him saying my Jean was the best thing I’d done that semester, was almost type-casting.  I’m not sure how he meant that, since Jean is so weak, but it gave me a special feeling about the play.  I’d like to hear about what Jordan did with the role.”

        “All in good time, my friend.  But I can tell you that it was easier finding work for both of them after that.”

        “Anyway, we then knew that Betty was indeed in New York, evidently making a place for herself in the theatre, and must have made contact with Jordan, which, I suppose, provoked us both to contemplate comparative careers.  I found myself thinking about it a lot, and I finally went out of 

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my way to find a couple of reviews of the play, neither proclaiming the arrival of new Broadway stars, but both glowing, and, as you say, perhaps more enthusiastic about Jordan than Betty.  I brought copies home for Laura to read, which no doubt raised her consciousness on Betty as well.

        “And then, into this increasingly haunted house, came another ghost out of the past–as Tom Hazen was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.  By then Tom had been playing professional football for four years–ever since he’d graduated from KU–for the New York team, as you were telling us, and, at first, I hadn’t paid much attention.  But he’d become a star quarterback, and had newsworthy arguments with people in New York–sports writers, coaches, other players.  It was hard not to identify when people you worked with, or met casually, would be talking about this guy that you knew personally, and thought you knew pretty well.  I began to glance at the sports page regularly, which I’d never done before, to follow Tom’s career, and tried to catch him on television when I could, even bragging to Laura about how well I knew that guy who’d just thrown that touchdown pass.  I remember her once muting that enthusiasm with, ‘Yes, yes . . . your old football buddy.  But didn’t you tell me that Betty knew him even better?’

        “Still, Laura had gone with me to see him play when he’d played against the Rams that previous fall, and beat them–two touchdowns on passes and another on a quarterback sneak–which must have made an impression on the Rams’ management, too.  I’d gotten through to Tom on the phone and he seemed delighted to hear from me, suggested we meet after the game at a place near the hotel where he was staying.  The three of us sat there over coffee and Laura listened to Tom and me talk about our college days and . . . of course! . . . that must have been when we first heard about Betty and Jordan doing Miss Julie.  I guess Betty had sent Tom tickets.” 

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        “Yes, she had.  And he came backstage afterward, with his wife, maybe . . . some beautiful woman I never remember seeing again.  That was the second time I met Tom, briefly, in those high-flying days . . . but he was very pleasant to me.”

        “That may have been his second wife.  He told us he had talked to Betty and Jordan after their show, just as we were talking to him after his game, and promised to come back again later.  But he never had, evidently.  He said he thought Betty and Jordan were planning their own company–and that you were involved.  At first he didn’t realize that we knew you, but we recognized you immediately as ‘this almost bald-headed guy that seems to be their manager.’  That set Laura to laughing, and then we told him the Nebraska story.  But what was most interesting to me at that point was what your involvement with Jordan might be, and, when I asked him about that, he said you seemed to be getting along fine, ‘as well as anyone ever did with Jordan,’ and he laughed at that.”

        “By then Jordan and I were friends, Jack.  I had arranged for renting that theatre and had handled the entire budget, so that was actually the first play that we produced, as well, and, within a year or so, I was negotiating a repertory theatre contract for them.  We learned a lot doing Miss Julie.”

        “Tom’s report was the first clue we had that you’d become a member of the team–had taken my place as one of the three musketeers, so to speak.  I guess that made me jealous of you, too–of all of you.  And that evening definitely renewed my interest in Tom, so that, for a while, I was looking at the sports page first, checking to see if there was something about my ‘buddy in big-time football,’ as Laura called him, that I could then brag about.  But the Giants didn’t win the championship that year, so Tom probably got into fights, and had affairs with women, that weren’t even reported–and got divorced from his second wife, I think.  Then it was off-season 

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for football, and no more Tom Hazen news at all, until suddenly there he was on the front page, when the Rams traded two all-pro linemen for him.  The Rams really did need a quarterback, had lost two that season to serious injury.”

        “I remember Betty lamenting that trade.  She said she was sure sorry to lose Tom, but, to my knowledge, he’d never come back to the theatre,” Henry said.  “He’d seen the one play . . . so I’m not sure what she thought she was losing.”

        “Well her loss was our gain.  I sent Tom a letter telling him he was welcome to stay with us for a few days while he was getting settled.  Laura was opposed to that, but I really didn’t expect him to take me up on it, since he had his own connections here in Los Angeles, and the team would probably want him available to the press in one of the fancy hotels.

        “So I was surprised when he called and said that, if I meant it, he’d like to come stay with us, probably for about a week, as he wrapped up terms on his contract and scouted things out.  That way he could avoid the press, wouldn’t even give the Rams’ front office our address.  I asked Laura while he was on the phone, and she shrugged agreement.  I also asked if he’d told Betty about seeing us in Los Angeles, and he said he hadn’t, but could.  I asked him not to, saying I had personal reasons, and, because he’d broken up with enough women to know that personal reasons were miscellaneous, he said  he’d honor my request–which I guess he did.”

        Henry nodded.  “While it wouldn’t have surprised me, I never knew you were in Los Angeles until Betty told us later, Jack, and I think I would have if Tom had told Betty.”

        “For all the trouble Tom caused me, through the women in my life, I’m sure he never intended to cause me any.  He was basically a man’s man, in fact, very good to spend an evening with.  So I enjoyed having him at the house. He might sleep until noon–then be gone all afternoon–but we’d

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sit and talk in the evening, watching TV and drinking beer, laughing about things back at college and what had happened to us since.  He told us what he knew about Betty, and Jordan, and you, as we asked him, but it wasn’t much more than he’d told us that night after the game.  ‘You know, Jack, I meant to check up on all that, but never got around to it.  I know people back there who could find out, if you want me to ask.’

        “I told him, ‘No, that’s all in the past,’ and, if I didn’t really mean it, when he said, ‘Yeah, all in the past,’ he clearly did.

        “Christine was a little stand-offish at first, but soon calling him ‘Uncle Tom,’ and jumping into his lap.  And Midnight took to him immediately, sleeping in the room with  him more than with us, though that was where she’d often slept before.

        “But during the whole time he was there, about ten days, Laura never did make friends.  She was polite, and did everything she could to make him comfortable and adjust meals to his schedule, but wasn’t friendly, never seemed comfortable in the same room with him.  That puzzled me, because Laura was generally gregarious, and most people found Tom easy to get along with.  I thought it might be because Tom had known Betty, had been her high-profile boy-friend in college, as I’d told Laura often enough, and that she was trying to shut out anything connected with Betty.  And I watched to see if Tom showed any special interest in Christine–though I was especially careful not to make any suggestions in that area.”

        Shoko shook her head.  “I would hope not, Jack!”

        “By the end of the ten days, Tom had his own apartment, and new friends with the Rams’ organization, so we only saw him occasionally after that–though I almost always went to the home games, usually with Laura, and/or Christine.  And, as I was out of town more often, was seldom even thinking about Tom by the summer of 1962, when I went on location to make another one of those westerns that only I will never 

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forget, Hostages on Horseback . . . this one memorable mostly as marking another critical moment in my own life.”

        “Making that movie?  In what way?” Shoko asked.

        “Well, I might never have met you if I hadn’t worked on the script for that movie.  I’ll tell you about it.   First, though, there was one episode in that earlier period . . . involving Tom and Laura . . . that I often came to reflect back upon later.

        “One evening, while Tom was still staying with us, we were sitting in the living room, each with a beer in his hand,  when Tom casually remarked that he had proposed marriage to Betty, down in Miami, right after the Orange Bowl game.  He remembered it, he said, as he might one of those close games he had lost, as involving a sort of ‘quirk of fate.’

        “‘I guess I was riding pretty high on all that national celebrity, and got to thinking of Betty as one of the prizes,’ he said.  He stopped and stared off into space, then chuckled wryly, as if to himself.  ‘No, that’s not true.  I knew Betty was something special.  And she is!  Would you believe me if I told you she still haunts me in my dreams?  No other woman I’ve ever known does that!  But I did expect her to say, “Yes,” maybe even cheer a little.  I thought I had a lot to offer any girl.  You know, I actually envied you when you married Betty, though–don’t take this wrong–I’d’ve been surprised if you could’ve held on to her, particularly at some little college in Nebraska.  She already had her sights on New York . . . the big time . . . no doubt about that.  But she didn’t just tell me “No,” either . . . not then.  She pulled away from me, as if I’d tried to bite her, and then clammed up.  It really puzzled me.’

        “‘I remember how strange she was acting when you came back from Miami,’ I said.  ‘That must have been why.’

        “At least I’d have thought that was why if I had known it at the time, for marriage to Tom should have seemed an attractive option.  What did I have to offer?  A part in a play. 

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I knew she’d hoped Jordan would take her to New York–that had been her first choice–but, when that was at least delayed, you could see why she might seriously consider Tom’s offer as next best.  No wonder she’d seemed to be in such a maze.

        “But Tom said she’d finally told him she’d decided she couldn’t marry him, might never get married, was determined to become a professional actress.  He said she was so serious when she gave him back his ring that he could hardly believe it.  I asked if he still had Betty’s ring, since I didn’t think she’d gotten it back, and he said, ‘You bet your life!  Right there in my trophy case between the Orange Bowl ring and that one of mine Betty returned that night, which I’d won in high school.’

        “‘Symbol of the one that got away?’

        “‘You could say that, Jack.’  He laughed, and then fell silent, staring at the television. ‘But that ring won the Oklahoma game for us, didn’t it?  Don’t you believe that?  And I’ll tell you something else.  I’d still be willing to marry Betty.’

        “‘Well, Jack’s still married to her,’ Laura threw in, and I looked around to see her standing  there in the kitchen door, where she’d evidently been listening to us.  She came into the room and brushed the cat from her chair.

        “‘Are you, Jack?  I thought you’d be divorced.  She’s been in New York . . . with that psychologist . . . and you out here . . . with Laura . . . for how long now?  Four years?’

        “‘Three and a half.  Christine will be four in November.’

        “‘I’d think you’d get a divorce.  Hasn’t she asked for one?’

        “‘I’ve never talked to Betty at all . . . not since she left me.’

        “‘Strange people!’  He laughed.  ‘I’ve been divorced twice, you know.  It gets written up in the paper enough.  And it’s expensive.  Yet I still talk to both of them–way too much.  But listen, I’ll stick to my word.  I’ll marry Betty, if you’ll divorce her.  I’ll even move back to New York, since that’s her scene.’  He paused to think about that, and smiled.  It was as

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if he were talking to himself.  ‘I can’t play football for ever anyway.  And I know a lot of people in New York.’  Then his mind came back into the room.  ‘And that’d leave you free to make an honest woman out of Laura here.’  He laughed at that, looking at Laura.  She made a face, but didn’t say anything, as he’d evidently expected her to, just sat there very reflectively for most of the half hour the news was on, then went to bed, leaving Tom and me to watch the late movie.

        “I probably would have married Laura if I hadn’t been married to Betty.  By the time we moved to California I was  comfortable with her, so I’d have been willing, as I think she would have.  And I really had thought that, over three years after Betty had abandoned us in Nebraska, I had managed to let go of her emotionally.  But evidently I hadn’t.  Betty, or the memory of Betty, seemed to have followed us out to the coast, and continued to cast a spell, which worked in unpre- dictable ways.  Laura, too, must have begun to wonder why I hadn’t filed for divorce, and, after Tom started talking about what Betty was doing in New York, she began to haunt us in earnest.  Her spirit seemed to pop up everywhere, when least expected, until it was brooding silently over our relationship, finally providing the strange dramatic catalyst I associate in memory with that film, Hostages on Horseback, that led directly to Laura leaving me . . . that first time.”

        I looked off across the lake.  “It’s also memorable because a friend of mine disappeared making that film.  Like the water-skier who was out there.  You think they stopped for lunch?”

         “Probably pulled in at the public boat dock over on the other side of the lake,” Henry said.  “There may be a bunch of skiers out there later . . . by the middle of the afternoon.”

        “But not all using your boat.”

        “That’s true.  But just go on with your story, Jack.”

        Shoko smiled at me, and nodded. 

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Assignment for Bridge 12:

Do read Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia, for it comes a little closer to being thematically related–and is my favorite Poe story.

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