Bridge 17

September 25th, 2010



Bridge 17–THE METAMORPHOSIS

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


And when you ponder your identity

How do you know if you’re awake . . . or dream?

Or who the dreamer who’s awake may be . . .

And whether he’s more real than he did seem

The time he dreamed he was a butterfly

(If not a cockroach . . . who was just as big

As many men–and seemed to want to die)?

Why dream of death?  (Are you prepared to dig

Your grave yourself?)  When dreaming, you should wish

That everyone would treat you like a king.

Still, as you dream . . . you turn into a fish . . .

For, sound asleep, you can’t control a thing.

No, if you want control . . . for sweet dreams’ sake . . .

Then I suggest you dream while you’re awake.

[Spring, 1963]

I looked at Henry and Shoko, sitting side by side as I told my story, and was struck by the strange irony that had brought them together.  Yet they seemed so well matched it was as if fate had designed them for each other from the beginning.

Then I looked out across the lake, reflecting on the  accidents that had gathered all three of us at this scenic spot–a Japanese woman, a blind psychologist, and . . . how to characterize myself?  The clown?  Then, there was the boat again, coming into sight on the far side of the lake. “Hey, that is our boat, isn’t it?  Who’s out there?  Are they coming in?”

“If they are, I’ll have to take your word for it, Jack,” Henry said, “and you’ll have to save some of your questions.  It’s part of our surprise, isn’t it?”  He smiled at Shoko.

“All these surprises.  Do you still like to fish, Henry?”

“Oh, yes . . . Shoko goes with me.  Is the better fisherman.  We’ll take you out . . . later today if you like.”


321




Thinking about many earlier experiences wit

h that boat brought to mind a dream Betty had related after lunch one day at Shangri-La.  I asked Shoko, “Do you remember the dream Betty told us . . . about being out fishing with her father?”

“Of course . . . though it turned out it wasn’t her father after all.  But I remember your dream about Betty even better.  Henry likes to hear about dreams . . . so why not tell him?”

“All right.  It was after we began getting serious about the script for the film on the countess’s life.  Betty, the countess, you, and I were sitting on the patio after lunch, almost dozing.  The countess had been telling us about European writers she’d known when she was young, lamenting that the great Russian novelists Turgenev and Dostoevsky had died before she was born, but telling how she’d visited Tolstoy shortly before his death, ‘when I was in my teens, but he  was older than I am now . . . and just as boring to younger people.’

“Betty remarked that one of her favorite authors was Franz Kafka, that she was sure he’d been strongly influenced by Dostoevsky, and wondered if the countess had met him.

“‘Why, yes.  I lived in Prague for a time, and, since he was only a few years older, took pains to go places where we might meet.  But he was reclusive, and not much interested in women, I think–at least not “pushy” women.  And he died very young, you know, before he was really very famous.’

“‘But you know his The Metamorphosis, don’t you?’

“‘Oh, yes.  I’ve read much more of his work since he died, about the time I settled in this country, than I did when I was living in the same city.  But he still seems as strange to me.’

“‘Well what do you think of that story?  I’ve always thought it must be the product of a dream.’

“‘Some elements, perhaps, as in almost all of his best known fiction, but much modified by his morbid imagination, and strongly colored by autobiographical elements–his terrible

322




relationship to his father, for example–but it also takes a lot of conscious work to fabricate a story like that.’

“Then Betty said,  ‘One reason I ask is that I had a strange dream last night–or early this morning.  It woke me!  You know that feeling, when you realize you’re awake, safe, no longer confronted by the terror you faced in the dream–pleased you haven’t really been turned into a cockroach.  I couldn’t have been more awake, lying there wondering what it meant.  I almost woke you, Jack, but you were sleeping so peacefully.  Maybe the three of you can interpret it for me.’

“‘Tell us, dear,’ the countess said, ‘and we’ll try.  We’ve all read enough Freud, I’m sure.  Kafka loved to probe these dark areas of the psyche, too, though Freud was at it twice as long, and his impulse was analytic, Kafka’s synthetic . . . the impulse of the writer of fiction . . . the impulse to myth and metaphor and symbol . . . though there’s plenty of that in Freud, too.

“‘So I’ll try Kafka’s method–then you try Freud’s,’ Betty said.  ‘At first I thought I was out in a boat with my father, evidently had been since before dawn, for I remember the rosy glow building in the East.  Then the sun’s rays began to filter between the trunks and branches of the pine trees.  By mid-morning its full brilliance would usually drive us from the lake.

“‘My father loved to have me go fishing with him.  Near home, in Kansas, we’d fish from the bank, for blue gill, mostly.  But I know we were in Minnesota, because the techniques we used in the lake fishing up there were different.  We’d cast in toward the shore from a boat anchored maybe a hundred feet out.  The vegetation was heavy in the water along the shore, and to fish from the bank probably was impossible.  So you could call it an exercise in extraction.  Using anti-snag hooks, and minnows or large worms as bait, we cast into the weeds and lily pads near the shore, then immediately began reeling in.  If we got a bite, we’d reel in the first five feet quickly, to get

323




the fish out of the vegetation, even at the risk of pulling the hook loose.  That was the art–the quick pull out of the weeds without losing the fish.  If the fish took a turn around the stem of a lily pad it was gone, could never be worked loose, but if it could be pulled out into open water it was in play.  My father caught some nice fish this way.  Bass and pike, I think.’

“I was surprised that Betty knew anything about fishing–or had ever been that close to her father.  As a little girl, she said, she’d gone everywhere with him, and for three summers in a row they’d gone up to Minnesota on vacation, because he liked to fish.  Sometimes one of the men who worked at the lake where they rented a cabin would go out with them, but most often they went alone.  Watching her father catch a fish gave her great pleasure, for he enjoyed it so much himself.  ‘I’d watch him play the fish, basking in the reflected delight, which warmed me more than that early morning sun.  But I’d catch fish, too, though I’d often lose the bigger ones, or get my line caught in the weeds–with which my father had great patience.  And how pleased he’d be when I did catch a good fish.  He’d brag on me to the men at the bait shop, or to anyone who’d listen.’  So that much of her dream, the happy days as a girl in the last years she’d known her father, wasn’t hard to explain.

“But she hadn’t seen her father’s face, or who was in the boat with her, at first.  She’d been absorbed in watching her own line bob.  It had seemed snagged, and she’d thought, ‘Oh, no, not again!  Those reeds are shaking–my fish has gotten in among them.’  But then it came through smoothly, and she knew, by the weight on the line, that it was the biggest fish she’d ever hooked.  But where was her father’s advice?  He should be coaching her by now.  No, someone else was in the boat with her.  Was it the guide, who’d seldom say more than a dozen words to her the whole time they were out?  If her father wasn’t there, why was she out fishing at all?  She

324




glanced around quickly, still concentrating on the fish, but ready to call for help.  What she saw surprised her.

“‘It was you there with me!’ she said to the countess, ‘in the other end of the boat, dressed much as you are now, sitting serenely, looking directly at me, not at the fish, and smiling what seemed to be gentle encouragement.’

“‘My advice on fishing wouldn’t have been of much value,’ the countess said.  ‘All I could do is smile encouragement.’

“‘I hardly had time to think about why you were there, for I had to give complete attention to the fish.  I began to see a form in the water, and was pulling, hard, thinking, “Don’t lose him now!”  Then I noticed my own skirt, fluttering against the side of the boat, a cocktail dress.  I saw the rings on my hands, and nail polish, so knew I wasn’t a little girl, but a woman, dressed, not for fishing, but as if for dinner here.  Still, there was the rough wood of the boat we had regularly used at the lake that last year we went there with my father.  And the line coming out of the water was getting the skirt of my dress wet.’

“‘Strange things happen in dreams,’ I said, ‘and so real!’

“‘Then I saw the face,’ Betty said, ‘at first indistinct, then suddenly recognizable.  It was your face, Jack, coming up out of the water at me as you would when we went swimming together before we were married.  You’d dive off the high board in one of your fancy dives, swim along the bottom to where I’d be sitting at the edge of the pool, then come up right there at my feet.’  Then she turned from me to the countess.  ‘It wasn’t a fish at all.  It was Jack.  And when I saw the  anguish on his face I woke up.  Then I looked at Jack, asleep there in the bed, and–as usual–saw perfect contentment.

“‘I didn’t know what to make of it.  I dream a lot, but it’s been a long time since I’ve dreamed about you, Jack.’  She looked at me and laughed, then addressed the countess again.  ‘And I’ve never dreamed about you before.  We’d been talking

325




in the library shortly before I went to bed, about Plato’s Symposium, but what did that have to do with going fishing?

“‘My father was important to me when I was a child–perhaps in Freudian terms.  I don’t know.  The fact he left us when I was young may have made him somewhat legendary.  I do dream of him . . . frequently.  But I don’t see him as a Socrates, or even a wise man.  I once did a paper in an English course on Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, and noted that my father seemed to me like Hemingway’s father had seemed to him, a basically weak man with admirable interests and values–which left him ineffectual.  Still, I always felt he loved me, and I’d loved him.  My most intense memories of him probably were from these fishing experiences.  But he wasn’t there in the dream, only the environment we’d shared.  When he might have helped me, he hadn’t been there to.  What did it mean for the countess to have taken his place?  Or was she taking the place of the guide?  Or of Socrates . . . or Diotima?

“‘What did it mean that I seemed to be catching Jack . . . wanted to . . . then was shocked by it?  What did the expression on his face represent?  I’ve never seen that expression on Jack’s face–though I believe him capable of such anguish.  But what does Jack stand for in the dream?  I need him to help me find something important to me, that the countess keeps saying is available through Plato.  Do you think that’s it?’

“Betty went on to speculate that, since she’d been a grown woman in the dream, not a little girl, it must be read as a metaphor.  She was fishing for something now, using methods learned as a child–and had caught me.  I said I should have been in the boat with her, helping to catch the countess, if the symbolism were to apply to the present situation.  She laughed again, and said, ‘You think I should try to go back to sleep and finish the dream–to see?  I’ve tried sometimes, but it never works.  And this time I was afraid to.’

326




I wondered how candid she was being, particularly in saying she was afraid to go back to sleep.”  I asked Shoko,   “Do you remember anything else about Betty’s dream?”

“No, Jack,” Shoko said.   “You’ve presented it well.”

“Do you think she actually had such a dream?”

“I think so,” Shoko said, with some hesitation.  “Betty could be devious–liked to play games with people–but I believed her.  I’ve had dreams like that.  I remember one I had years ago . . . in Japan . . . of a little girl whose face was horribly disfigured, like some of those at Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped.  It shocked me awake.  Though I don’t believe I’d ever seen that little girl before, I was afraid to go back to sleep for fear she might be waiting for me there.  But I never had that dream again.  Dreams are very strange.”

“The countess began to speak of dreams in literature, of subtle combinations of dreams, illusions, and hallucinations in Shakespeare, of Dostoevski’s profound use of dreams in Crime and Punishment, of ambiguity in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.  ‘But how do I know I’m awake now?’ she asked.

“‘That’s what I thought lying there in bed this morning,’ Betty said.  ‘”Suppose I look down and find I have turned into a cockroach?  Or, like the Chinese philosopher who dreamed he was a butterfly, discover I’m a butterfly dreaming I’m a Chinese philosopher?  I looked around at what I could see of the room in the dark, to reassure myself about where I was.

“‘It also occurred to me that the dream might have been provoked by what the countess had said about seeking my own identity in trying to recapture her youth–or by the sheer nervousness of psychic fatigue.  I looked at my hands, white against the covers in the dark.  I had no rings on, because I take my rings and watch off at night.  They were in my jewelry box, over on the dresser–the marriage and engagement rings you gave me, Jack.  But I’d especially noticed them in the

327




dream.  Then I began speculating about why the countess was in the boat, evidently as a guide.  I thought, “Well, I need her help, if I’m to recapture her lost youth.”  But it was all so confusing that I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I finally got up and took a shower–then, since I began to see signs of daylight, decided to take a walk out here in the garden.’

“‘Yes, I saw you out there this morning,’ the countess remarked.  ‘And I almost joined you.’

“‘I’m not usually an early morning person.  It’s hard to be if you usually get to bed after midnight, as you do in theatre.  But here I’ve been on “vacation.”   And a walk in the garden did seem to be what I needed.  But while I was in the shower–you’ll enjoy this, Jack–I thought about that movie, Psycho.  I couldn’t resist thinking about that girl being stabbed to death whenever I’d been taking a shower for months after I’d seen the film, would pull back the curtain to make sure no one with a knife was there . . . particularly at night.  I did this morning!’

“And we both agreed that we’d done the same, Shoko.”

“You realize how vulnerable you are!” Shoko said.

“‘And as I looked out this morning,’ Betty said, ‘I suppose I expected Jack to be standing there, with that anguished look on his face, ready to finish me off–though, by then, the first signs of daylight were coming through the bathroom window.  I knew I was just playing games with my imagination . . . as I do enjoy doing.  Again, I almost woke you, Jack, to come walk with me, but, instead, decided to think about Diotima and Socrates.  “A good exercise,” I thought, “and the countess will be questioning me about their relationship.”  Now, having purged myself of my dream–and the murder scene in Psycho–and having contemplated Socrates in the dawn’s early light, I’m ready for your questions.’  She smiled at the countess.

“But I was still reflecting on Betty’s dream, and said I thought it had been intended for me, with Betty only acting as

328




medium, because of her superior psychic sensitivity, that the obvious message was for me to get to work on the script, now that I was hooked.  ‘Hamlet was right about telling stories,’ I said, ‘at least about writing them, when he told Horatio to absent him from felicity a while.  That’s what I need to do.’

“‘That line always makes me feel sorry for poor Felicity,’ Betty said.  ‘And I suppose when Horatio comes back, and she asks where the devil he’s been, he’ll tell her yet another story.’

“Betty had begun to enjoy teasing me this way, putting me, and my literary allusions, in our place.  She never did it with the countess, so perhaps it was because she knew I enjoyed it, too.  And, now, it was always in good temper.  Betty could be charming when she wanted to be.

“‘But I should get to work.  I’ve been enjoying the countess’s library far too long.  Here I am now, expounding Betty’s dream . . . which probably has as much to recommend it as Bottom’s . . . when I ought to be working on that script.’

“The countess said, ‘Now, Jack.  There’s no hurry.  I feel sure the process itself is beginning to assert itself.  Does that sound mystical?  Do you think I may be a mystic?”

“‘No, just an optimist . . . and an idealist.  A Platonic, not Romantic, idealist.  I’ll be careful not to portray you as too Romantic.  I should tape interviews–what you remember about working on films, people you worked with, critical experiences of your life.  Then I need to temper what you tell me with realistic details, like those I’m drawing from the old movies Randall sent–particularly my favorite, your performance as Desdemona.  I need to get into studio records, and newspaper files, to build a sense of a character I can project, then perhaps work back to the ideal from those facts–for it to be true.  I might also ask you about your dreams.’

“‘They’d just destroy all your theories, Jack,’ the countess said.  ‘I’d like to hear more about Betty’s.’  She began to ask

329




for more details–indications of time of day and year, whether they’d already caught any fish, what color dress she’d been wearing, how I was dressed, in swimming suit or fully clothed. Then she questioned her on points in her own interpretation.

“We sat listening until she finished.  Then I remarked, ‘Yes, dreams are amazing.  Years ago Laura told me about dreaming she was riding a motorcycle up the escalator at Sears in the new shopping center in Wellington.  In some weird way, it seemed right for her at the time . . . and now I keep imagining her riding off with Tom on his motorcycle.  But what about your catching me?  Freud would probably say you were really expressing a subconscious lust for your father.’

“‘I told you how I met Sigmund Freud, when I was much younger than you are, and he was already . . . too old,’ the countess said to Betty.  ‘Some time I’ll tell you about my sessions with him.  Had he written about them, it might have been more shocking than his Study of Dora, though we talked more about his dreams than mine, some he’d described in his Interpretation of Dreams.  I tried to suggest ways he might improve his dreams.  But dreams are important.  I do often analyze my own.  You’d be surprised at the lust in an old lady’s dreams.  Shoko and I recently re-read Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain.  I like the old man in that book, who gets his dreams all mixed up with memories and experiences in his daily life . . . as I do.  You dream a lot, don’t you, Jack?’

“‘Yes, I do, waking and asleep, and have become a more active dreamer recently, perhaps stimulated by feeling that I need to get to work bridging the gap between what I’m coming to know about your past and Betty’s present.  I sit in the library, as dusk turns into dark, and hope to see these images begin to take shape–like Hawthorne in his moonlit study.  I wonder if he knew his Hester the way I did mine–a girl from down the street, or someone who ran off to Oregon

330




with a cousin, a wild farm girl from his college days–the imagination has got to have something to begin to shape.'”

Shoko broke in with, “But, Jack, You haven’t told your dream . . . the one you told us that day.  That’s the one I particularly wanted Henry to hear . . . because of Christine.”

“I’d almost forgotten it!  But, yes, it involved Betty and the countess, too . . . and Christine.  I’ll see how much I can remember.  It may be open to a different interpretation now.”

“Go ahead and tell us your dream, Jack.  You’ve provoked my curiosity enough already,” Henry said.

“All right.  It began very peacefully and realistically.  I was in the garden walking with Christine, or I was walking and she was running here and there, playing her game with me.  She’d run and hide, then always give herself away because she couldn’t keep from laughing.  But here comes the bizarre part.  She began to laugh in different voices, as if trying to imitate people she’d heard.  Sometimes it would seem to be the countess laughing, or Shoko, or Laura, or sometimes Betty, but then the simple laughter of the child herself again.

“It was as if you were all playing the game, but, at first, whenever I traced the laughter to its source, it was always Christine.  Then the garden became huge, and turned surrealistic, the colors brilliant blues and oranges.  Shapes broke and faded, or flowed into one another, so that instead of finding her in a bush, or behind a bench, she’d be sitting like a bee in the middle of a flower, or enveloped in a drop of dew.  I knew it was a dream, then, as you do when it gets strange enough, but was happy with it–didn’t want to wake up.  Then Christine’s voice came from a long ways off, still laughing, and calling me, but not calling ‘Daddy,’ calling ‘Jack.’  It was her voice, though, and, while it seemed strange, it was also very charming.  I had no impulse to tell her, ‘Now, don’t call your father by his first name,’ as I might have if I’d been awake.

331




“The voice was coming from a distance, and was a little indistinct, but, while at first I’d let her play without looking too hard for her, I was now seeking her quite diligently as these transformations caught me up.  I soon seemed to be in a kind of forest, and was looking through trees in the direction from which I thought the voice was coming, but couldn’t see  far–or be sure about the direction.  If anything, the voice seemed to be coming from above.  I know I did not, in my dream, think in these terms, but, as I reflected upon it, it was as if I were the hero in Hudson’s Green Mansions, expecting an idealized Christine to appear through the branches like a beautiful bird, taunting me with a brief glimpse, or a short burst of song.  But I did not see her up above me, either.

“Suddenly there was a long straight path running through the forest as far as I could see–to where it became completely dark–and clear at the end of that path was a spot of white.  It was that spot that was calling me . . . first in Christine’s voice, then Shoko’s, then Betty’s, then Laura’s, then the countess’s, or in a mixture, or medley, for there was no order or chronological principle to the experience.  It was as if you were all playing the game . . . using Christine as medium.

“Now, I loved all those voices, found them all  melodious.  I wasn’t frightened.  But I was perplexed.  I concentrated on that white spot at the end of the alley of trees, as if it were a religious exercise, and the spot began to move toward me.  I didn’t move–unlike Poe to Ulalume–this living lady was to come to me.  And she was coming.  That white spot, which I took to be the little dress Christine has been wearing a lot this last week, and must have been what she had on earlier in the dream, got larger, and, bouncing the way a child would when skipping, began calling, ‘Try to find me . . . if you can, Jack.’

“Then, as she got closer, I could see the red hair.  But something was also happening to the forest trail. It was

332




changing into the aisle of a theatre.  Without looking behind me, I knew I was standing at the front of the stage in Baker Auditorium, and that the girl coming toward me, red hair flashing, in pristine innocence, was Betty, or, rather, the Betty I saw coming down that aisle when she came to audition for Pygmalion, the first time I ever saw her.  I know I recognized the dress she was wearing that day, though I couldn’t tell you what color it was.  It should have been white, for I didn’t notice any change as the spot got close enough to be sure of the identity of the dancing girl . . . Elizabeth Fredricks, co-ed . . . still calling to me, in her medley of voices, to try to find her . . . as, somehow, I had never managed to do.

“But no sooner was I sure who was coming toward me, and where we were, than the picture began to change again.  The scene became the path leading up from the sea as Desdemona arrives on Cyprus in the film version of Othello the countess made in the early thirties.  The woman was that Desdemona, the countess as she appeared in that film, and I was Cassio waiting for her to arrive.  Still the red hair, still the white dress, still the pristine innocence, but generating new lines of force as she approached.  Finally, she was close enough to touch, and held out her hand to me.  That happens in the film–I watched it again later to make sure.  And, as she held out her hand, she said, ‘Try to find me, Jack.’  But the voice was not the countess’s voice.  It was Betty’s voice . . . not the voice of that co-ed from years before, but the voice of the woman who sat there at that moment, the mature actress with her years of theatre experience.  I reached out my hand–like this–to take the hand offered by the woman in the vision, and woke up.  Now what do you make of that dream?”

“You remembered it better than I thought you would,”  Shoko said.  “But I agreed with Betty then–and still do.  As I recall, she took your hand and said, ‘That’s charming, Jack,

333




and proves you’re just as much an idealist, or Romantic, as  ever.  But it makes too much sense to be a dream, has too strong a plot line, compared to my dream.  So I think you’re putting us on, just made it up to amaze and amuse us.'”

“Then the countess said, ‘Even if that’s so, Jack, I like the way your imagination is beginning to work with these images, beginning to believe that you can bring us together as one, that, in the image of Desdemona, you might find the key to our mystery, drawn in its essence from the spirit of Christine, as the eternally feminine, in its quintessential innocence.’

“‘I like that idea, too,’ Betty said to the countess.  ‘But how to get from that girl coming down the aisle to me, and get Desdemona from Cyprus to the Hollywood she was living in–that almost strangled her–as the sophisticated woman who was still able to assume the innocence of a Desdemona.'”

“I listened to these comments with great interest,” Shoko said, “for everyone seemed to be feeling what I was feeling, that it was going to work . . . that Betty could be believable as the countess as she once was . . . as Desdemona.”

“And I began to believe that my dreams, and daydreams, embracing those women, could inform a narrative, which, as if the countess were prophetic, has come to have a mystical quality for me, now that Christine is old enough to play Desdemona herself . . . and those other two redheads are gone.”

“And you did create a script that used that Desdemona scene, didn’t you, Jack?” said Henry.

“Yes, but that afternoon was only the beginning of a long process in which two women struggled to become one for me. It did begin in physical appearance.  The similarities between the Betty of our film and the countess of her early films was remarkable, but I didn’t have much to do with that–that was Betty and the make-up man.  Then it was in the voice, again Betty’s achievement, a certain worldliness, or sophistication,

334




but including that illusion of innocence.  And finally it was the ideal that informed the identity–having something to do with the abiding reality of innocence–embodied by Christine.

“Betty then asked, ‘But how are we to see my dream in terms of yours, Jack?  It seems I’m being coached by the countess to catch you . . . with Plato, on a hook baited with your own idealism.  Isn’t that a cynical exercise?  It doesn’t seem very “innocent.”  How can we reconcile the two?’

“Then the countess broke in.  ‘Not a one of us is really innocent, my dear–except in the ideal.  We each want to take something from the other, or catch him in some way, turn him to our purposes.  We seek . . . especially in our dreams . . . power over, as well as the love of . . . those closest to us.’

“‘Actually, I’ve always hated to fish,’ Betty said, ‘to put a worm on a hook.  You must remember that from the early days of our marriage in Nebraska, Jack.  I hate to catch a fish if that includes the responsibility of cleaning it, hate the smell of fish on my hands.  What am I to do if I catch you, Jack?’

“‘You threw me back once.  Will you keep me this time?’

“‘I’ll have to think about our new relationship.  Even with the countess as chaperon.’  She gave me a look I couldn’t read.

“The countess began to laugh, and Betty joined in, leaving you and me looking bewildered for a moment.  Then all four of us were laughing, loud enough that Christine, who’d been ‘helping’ Thomas in the garden, came to see what we were laughing about–which made us laugh all the louder, knowing we wouldn’t be able to explain it to her innocence.  We had entered the countess’s world, and were all caught up in it.

“In the next days, as always with Betty when she became enthusiastic, she boiled on ahead of me, speculating about the psychology of the countess, past and present, and how she’d be able to comprehend and embrace it in her portrayal.  She talked about the countess as Plato might have talked about

335


Socrates, seeing her now as a spiritual and professional guide and teacher, a deep personal influence, as well as a character whose essence she was challenged to discover as an actress.

“But we also began to be more candid about our earlier experience together and what we’d been doing since, about Jordan and Laura–and the two of you.  Betty was amused that Laura had run off with Tom, but said, ‘I’ll bet they’re already having problems, Jack.  Tom has that roving eye, while Laura  must already be tired of riding on the back of a motorcycle.’

“And I had a lot of questions about the plans she and Jordan were making.  She told me much of what you told us earlier, Henry–that Jordan had had a traumatic year or so finding his way in New York, but more recently they’d been working together–thanks to you–and that you had plans for them to open their own theatre.  She felt Jordan still took her too much for granted, however, hardly listening to her input, and knew he was opposed to her coming to Hollywood.  But she’d decided to come anyway.  ‘He’ll get over it,’ she said, and you could see she enjoyed the idea of the state of mind this left Jordan in–probably the same way she’d felt when she left me.

“We even talked about the vagaries of sexual attraction, and what the future might offer two people fate had insisted upon bringing back together as husband and wife.  We began making jokes about who might betray whom with whom, but knew we were using these jokes to mask exploration.  Betty even asked about my relationship to you, Shoko, whether you had replaced Laura, and was amused when I stuttered a little in weak denial.  ‘Do you think it’s fair of me to come steal my husband away from her . . . even if I promise I’ll give him back when I leave?’ she asked, needling me as much as she could.”

“Well, I had never claimed any rights of possession, Jack,”  Shoko remarked–but she wasn’t making a joke of it.  Then she added, “And soon after Betty arrived I could see that

336


the countess had decided she wanted you two back together . . . so,  as far as I was concerned, that was that.”

“And, even that early, Betty had begun to work with you on Japanese, hadn’t she?”

“Yes . . . a little . . . with Christine and me . . . and it was clear that she had a special aptitude for language.”

“I think I can say my intentions were honorable.  I was taking every advantage of Betty’s willingness to talk about things we’d pretended we didn’t even think about in Nebraska, which was probably part of the countess’s game plan.  But I didn’t feel my motives were as devious as when I was chasing girls in those Air Force years, for example.  It was all in the service of my film script, after all, and the countess, presiding over the process–even at its most intimate–should approve.

“But, living and working so closely with the real woman, I didn’t want to lose the idea–so how was I to reconcile the woman from my dreams with this ever-present reality?  I tried to explain this problem to her, lying in bed early one morning, adding, ‘You may have the reverse problem–how to work again with someone you once rejected as an encumbrance.’

“‘That’s too much, Jack.  It’s more like visiting a brother I left on the farm when I went off to the big city, who went the other direction to do things on his own.  You know the story of the boy who comes home from college to be surprised at how much his father has learned in four years.  My situation is like that.  And you have to idealize the countess before I can take possession of that idea–so I have to depend on you.’  As usual, I couldn’t tell how much she was just making fun of me.

“‘So now, among your other sins, you’re engaging in an incestuous relationship with your enlightened brother.  Hester  would never have stooped to that.’  Betty enjoyed that idea.

“And she constantly brought my theorizing back to the task at hand, developing a concept of what the countess must

337


have been like when she was her age that projected an image she could comprehend.  I could see Betty, herself, puzzling with  this affinity she felt for the old woman.

“I was getting very comfortable with my reincarnated wife . . . there in Shangri-La.  And I wasn’t the only one.  One evening, as Betty and I sat in the garden talking, Christine came running out to tell us dinner was ready.  I watched the two of them tease one another as we moved back toward the house, and became especially conscious of how easy it was to see her mother in the little girl.  I asked Betty about this.  ‘Do you see yourself as a child when you look at Christine.  Does she have traits that you remember?’  They both looked at me, and smiled the same smile, but neither said anything, just leaving me to reflect upon the mystery of reproduction.

“But, by a week or so after Betty had so casually seduced me, I had sketched out a plot outline, and sent it in to Randall, so she knew how to cut through all the theory and get some useful work out of me.  A few days after that Randall called and asked me to come in and talk.  As I entered his office, he jumped up to meet me, with that habitual big smile on his face, saying, ‘You see, Jack, I knew that old woman would bring out the best in you.  And how about our Betty?  How are the two of them getting along?  Great . . . right?  I knew it!’

“‘You knew about Betty and me all along, didn’t you?’

“‘Part of it, Jack.  But you’re both professionals, right?  And given your situation . . . now, I don’t mean to intrude.  You know how I feel about Laura, but . . . well, this is starting to work, isn’t it?  Betty and Natasha . . . don’t you agree?’

“‘Yes, I agree.  And the countess is touching her in other ways, too.  We’ll all be different people coming out of this experience, I think.  I hope changed for the better.’

“‘How not?  Our art . . . all art . . . should work that way.  But who ever knows what will come of anything.  You have

338


to go on faith.  So let’s look at what you’ve got so far.’  He made some suggestions about what I’d sent him that showed that he’d thought about this film a lot more than I’d suspected.  I left feeling pretty good about the project.  Randall was right.  You had to have faith . . . and his faith had been the strongest.

“Then I went by to talk to Grace and she told me that Tom was going back to New York–but Laura wasn’t.  Arthur showed me the article in the paper saying that Tom had been traded back to the Giants as a back-up quarterback, and said, ‘If that doesn’t work out, he thinks he’ll become an assistant coach.  They like him in New York . . . and he likes it there.’

“‘And Laura isn’t going with him,’ Grace added.  ‘They weren’t getting along all that well anyway, but he did ask her.  Laura knows that your wife . . . Betty . . . is there at that countess’s place with you, too.  She just seems frustrated by everything right now.  I feel sorry for her.  I think you both ought to realize that you two belong together, and quit this nonsense . . . but then who am I to give advice?’

“That gave me plenty to think about on the drive back to Encino.  Hearing that Laura was unhappy had cast a shadow over my sunny day.  I was conscious of the irony of lying in bed with Betty that night thinking about Laura–if careful not to say her name–wishing it were in my power to comfort her.”

“You may not be entirely hopeless, Jack,” Shoko said, with a gentle smile.

“But that was just a passing impulse, I’m afraid.  The countess had the sense that things were starting to come together, too, and began to keep me busy telling me things, mostly scandalous, related to story segments I’d shown her, trying to help me flesh them out.  I appreciated this, but was beginning to be concerned about how much my own imagination was being preempted.  Then, on another one of those sunny afternoons, the whole mix was suddenly changed again.

339




“If you recall, you were the messenger, Shoko.  The countess, Betty, and I were in the garden when you came out of the house and told us that we had a visitor, that you had let a man into the library who said he wanted to see ‘Betty Fredricks’ . . .  and also wanted to talk to ‘Mr.  John Curtis.’

“‘Well, bring him on out here by all means,’ said the countess.  ‘He can see both at once.’

“Betty and I had just begun speculating on who it might be when you came back with Jordan in tow.  She gasped–and I almost did.  ‘My God . . . Jordan!  There you are!  Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?’  I realized I hadn’t seen him since before Christine was born, and now here she came running, a six-year-old, looking bewildered.  In spite of the shock of the surprise, I instinctively looked at the two of them . . . as I frequently did when she was walking with Betty now . . . to see if I could see his eyes, his manner, anything, developing in the child . . . almost as if I wanted to.  But I didn’t.”

“You’re so perverse, Jack,” Shoko said.  “Look in the mirror some time.  But that was the first time I’d met him.  I’d heard you talk about him, then read enough about him in theatre magazines to have thought I recognized him–but was still surprised to see him there in person.  The countess wasn’t awed by his presence, however.  At least she didn’t show it.”

“But she was, as always, the gracious hostess, and, while Jordan was as cordial as he could sometimes be in response to her hospitality, he got right to the point.  ‘Yes it has been a long time, Jack.  It’s good to see you looking so well, and prospering out here in the movie business.  But I won’t beat around the bush.  I’m here to take Betty back to New York.’  Then, looking at her, ‘Back where she belongs, working with me in theatre.’  He smiled.  ‘How’d you like to be Cleopatra?  Now, who do I have to fight?’  And, with that, he looked directly at the countess, as the one obviously in charge there.

340




Assignment for Bridge 18:

Read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence (as often as you like).





  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.