Bridge 18

September 25th, 2010



Bridge 18–RENASCENCE

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What does it mean to say you’re “born again”?

To have the feeling that you’ve “seen the light!”

Or been miraculously cleansed of sin . . .

Awakened from some dream . . .  restored to sight?

We all believe we need a second chance

(And wish we had the money back we’ve spent)–

We thought that we were going to the dance;

Hung over now, we’re not sure where we went.

But “born again” may be a bit extreme.

The trauma of a lost identity

Leads us to hope it’s us that they’ll redeem

Not some new creature risen from the sea.

New birth could be as frightening as to sink–

“Woke up again” might be enough, I think.

[Summer, 1963]

“The countess was delighted,” I said. “She liked action, liked conflict.  She liked Jordan, immediately.”

“I did, too,” Shoko said.  “As handsome as a prince . . . and always so dynamic . . . always on stage.”

Henry nodded. “Everybody liked Jordan, but not because he was easy to get along with.  He was very opinionated–and had no tolerance for anything he didn’t like.  He never liked California . . . while you always have, haven’t you, Jack.”

“Well, yes.  California is home to me.  I feel comfortable here.  It’s New York to visit, California to live in . . . isn’t it?

“But New York was the center of the world for Jordan.  At the end, Betty became ambivalent, as with so many things.  She decided there was action for her both places.  She knew Jordan was going to be in New York, and you were going to be out here.  That became the choice–after rejecting Kansas and Nebraska–you and the movies and California, or Jordan


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and the stage and New York.  She wanted both, had about decided to spend half of her time, and energy, out here making movies. . . . and Jordan didn’t want to settle for half.”

“But I had no claim on her, by then . . . wasn’t even here.”

“True, but Betty was, arranging to put some of their plays on film.  And Jordan came here–to California–to take her back to New York again.  But this time she didn’t want to go . . . at least not right then.  Very different from that first time.”

“Yes, wasn’t it?” I said.  “It had amazed me that Betty–that any woman–could provoke Jordan to come after her.  But it was exactly what Betty had always wanted–she was beaming.  The countess responded to Jordan first, saying, ‘Well, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss this over dinner.'”

“I could give you a detailed menu of that dinner,” Shoko said, “since I helped Thomas prepare it, and we were instructed to take pains . . . as for someone special.”

“Well, Jordan was someone special.  He told us, over pre-dinner wine in the library, that he’d rented a car at the airport, gotten directions to ‘this place,’ and come to get Betty–to take her back to New York.  He announced this, pacing up and down with Higgins-like authority, looking from Betty to me to the countess, as if he were the husband coming to claim the wife some cad had run off with.  It seemed so reasonable to me I had no impulse to enter my own claims at all.  Jordan  must have sensed it would be the countess he’d finally have to deal with, for he ended by addressing her, standing over her imposingly as she sat in her favorite chair sipping wine.

“She just laughed, enjoying the performance, and said, ‘Well, you can’t just ride in here and carry off our fair princess that easily, young man.  Sit down!  And identify yourself!’

“Jordan looked at her as if appraising an adversary, then smiled and sat down, becoming, for the moment, another member of her entourage, telling her, and you, as you came in

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to tell us dinner would soon be ready, who he was, ‘Jordan Simms . . . an actor.  From New York . . . of course.’

“Then he announced, mostly to Betty, the opportunity that had brought him on this quest.  He hadn’t called because she must see that, ‘This is not a trivial matter, not a “leave a message” kind of thing.  It’s something new–Shakespeare in the park.  You’ve heard about it, haven’t you? Still off-Broadway, yes–but in New York!   And they’ve decided on Antony and Cleopatra!  What we could do with that . . . right?  But we’ve got to be there Monday to audition.  Henry has arranged it.  But we’ve got to be there!  How would you like to be Cleopatra?  To my Antony!’  He gave us all a broad smile, eloquently proclaiming what a rare chance this was.

“The countess smiled, too.  ‘But Monday?  That gives us a day or two, doesn’t it?  I’d like to hear you do a little Antony and Cleopatra.’  Then to Betty, ‘That should certainly bring back memories of my youth.  I might go as your acting coach.’

“I noticed that Christine turned to you, Shoko, as the one offering most security against this strange man, and was sitting in your lap.  Jordan gave her a long look.  ‘This must be Christine.  She looks like you, Betty.’   He held out his hands.  But Christine wouldn’t go to him.  She turned her face away.

“The countess had been watching this.  ‘We never know what to expect from our little sprite, do we?  Give her a day or two to get accustomed to your deep voice and . . .’

“‘We can’t stay that long!  We’ve got to get back there.  If you need to pack . . . arrange things here,’ a sweep of his hand, ‘. . . I could come back for you in the morning, Betty.  But you must see what a remarkable chance this is.’

“‘I do, Jordan.  But I have commitments here, too, you know.  I can’t just leave.’  She almost sounded as if she meant it, but her eyes didn’t endorse her words.  She was testing him.

“‘What kind of commitments?’  He looked at me.  ‘Jack?’

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“The countess tried to regain control.  ‘You said you came directly from the airport, Mr. Simms, so must have your baggage along.  I’ve already heard a lot about you, but would still like a chance to talk . . . to make sure your intentions are honorable.  And to talk to Betty and Jack, too, to see how this sounds to them.  You might then sleep in with Jack . . . so you two could talk some.  That’ll be all right, won’t it, Jack?’

“I noticed she hadn’t asked Betty, who’d have to move back out to make room–but, seeing she evidently wanted it that way, said, ‘Just like back in college.’  I looked at Betty, but her smile wasn’t as obvious as yours, as you tried to hide it by burying your face in Christine’s hair.

“Jordan brought in his bag, and at dinner the countess was already negotiating.  She said she saw no reason for Betty not to go–given an opportunity like that–if she wanted to.  If the play in New York was a summer commitment, it’d be at least that long before there’d be a script ready for the film, and she should come back even more attractive to Randall, as a star he could promote, after a New York ‘triumph’–assuming they got the roles and the play went well.  ‘I just talked to Randall on the telephone, in fact, and he was pleased by the idea.  There’s many a slip between an audition and a triumph, I suppose, but if Betty does do the film later, she might even be able to arrange for a part in that for you, Mr. Simms.’

“‘Please, call me Jordan . . .’

“‘Jordan . . . perhaps as one of the handsome gigolos in my busy young life.’  She caught him on the rise.  ‘Or one of the leading men in the romance Jack will turn that humdrum life into.  You must be tolerant of an old woman’s perverse sense of humor.’  Then she looked at me.  ‘But what do you think of all this, Jack?  It is your wife he’s asking for, isn’t it?’

“I hadn’t really been thinking of it that way, but here she was, offering me the chance to ‘speak now, or forever hold my

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peace’–perhaps even to protest the room arrangements.  But I just said, ‘I encourage Betty to go.  Then I’ll have my work cut out for me, will have a goal . . . to bring her back . . . with another offer she can’t resist . . . but on this coast.’

“So it was settled, it seemed–as if I’d had the last word. They left the next morning.  Back to the airport in that rented car, then back to New York–hurry, hurry, hurry–before the world could stop.  Shakespeare’s play had been there for four hundred years, but their chance would be there only that next Monday.  The countess talked to Jordan for a long time, alone, in the library, after dinner, then to Betty as Jordan came up to go to bed, and we were alone, as she’d intended.

“I’d been speculating about what losing Betty now meant to me.  I was annoyed to have Jordan breeze in like that, so confident that she was his to take–from this very bed–off to New York.  But it wasn’t the first time I’d lost her to him–and I’d long since accepted that, if this was the test, she was not mine to keep.  She was an actress, and Jordan could take her from me any time he wanted to–because, as an actor, he shared the magic, was on her wave length, knew what made her tick.

“When he came in he said, ‘she’s quite a woman, Jack.  And this is like the old Pygmalion days–but better quarters.’  I thought he might mention dispossessing Betty, but he may not even have thought of it, caught up in the countess. ‘She knows how to pull me up short–and not many people can do that.  She should have been a director.’  He looked at the book he held.  ‘She gave me these plays by some Japanese author.  Five Modern Noh Plays, by Yukio Mishima.  Said I’d like them . . . and that you’ve read them.  What do you think?’

“‘You might.  Mishima has a flair for the dramatic . . . like you.  I see you’re driving a brand new Mustang Convertible.’

“He laughed. ‘Yes, rented at the airport.  More expensive, but I like its lines.  And what a pleasure to drive!  Girls go for

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cars, Jack . . . even Betty.’  He paused to look at me.  ‘But how’ve you been?  You’re looking good.  And write for the movies now?  That’s great!  Betty told me about Nebraska.  And Henry . . . I now know Henry well.  He negotiated this audition for us.  But tell me about what you’ve been doing.’

“Then he did give me a chance to talk, and I gave him a short sketch of my life since I’d last talked to him, as he threw in his comments.  ‘You were lucky to have . . . Laura? . . . weren’t you?  Betty said so.  Henry said she was just the kind of woman you needed.  But where is she now?  Not here, is she?’  When I told him about Tom and Laura, he said, ‘Ah, Jack . . . well I suppose that’s the kind of girl you do have to watch with football players.  Sorry to hear it.  I see you still have the little girl, Christine.  Sure has Betty’s eyes . . . and hair . . . doesn’t she?  It seems you’re members of the family here.  I can see the countess likes you, and when she speaks of Christine it’s as if she were her own grandchild.  And the Japanese woman . . . a good looking woman . . . must be her best buddy.  You’ve been living here ever since Laura left you?  And you’re writing a film script based on the countess’s life?”

“‘Expect to.  Should have a script ready by fall.  And when Betty comes back out . . .’

“‘I didn’t tell the countess this, but I wouldn’t count on that, Jack.  Movies are all right, but Betty’s an actress . . . not a starlet . . . not a movie queen.  She should be on Broadway . . . with me.  This summer is just a stepping stone.  Live theatre is the heartbeat experience.  Films are . . . are made in pieces . . . with technical people standing around–no audience, no feedback, no sense of the dynamic of the action.  And most of the material is fluff . . . not Shakespeare . . . not classical theatre.  Betty knows that as well as I do.’

“‘I understand what you’re saying, Jordan, but, on the other hand, film has the advantage of being permanent, and of

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reaching a much, much larger audience than can be packed into any single theatre for one night’s performance.’

“‘From the audience’s point of view that may mean something–though even an audience member knows a live actor is real, while a film is a shadow on the wall.  Didn’t I hear you’re reading Plato here, with your countess?  Well, movies are for people satisfied with being chained in a cave–with a box of popcorn!  It’s the actor’s experience I’m interested in anyway–“this above all, to thine own self be true”–then the audience should . . . get its money’s worth.  It’s an intense experience to work with Betty on stage, Jack.  Better than in bed . . . I would think.  Would it be in a film?  Maybe for the director.’

“‘There’s passion in movies, too, Jordan.  The patterns are just different.  It’s less repetitious.’

“‘I wonder about you, Jack.’  He paused for a moment.  ‘And then there’s Henry back there, you know.  She has a thing with him, all right.  I don’t understand it.  And don’t need to.  She seems to need him, though.  He’ll do anything for her, from acting as her agent to ironing her blouses, I guess.  They live together, part of the time, so she already has a place in New York.  She just came out here for this movie test, with Henry’s blessing it seems, because I was in England and nothing much was happening, for her, there.  I don’t know why Henry didn’t come with her.  He usually goes wherever she goes . . . to do things for her . . . to negotiate.  But at least this way he was working on things for both of us in New York.  He has plans for us to form our own theatre company, in fact . . . and it makes a lot of sense.  Did she tell you?’

“So that was Jordan’s profile of you, Henry.  But he said you knew the business end of theatre, had taught yourself to be a PR man getting people to pay some attention to Betty, ‘without becoming obnoxious, like most of those PR people.  And he likes to talk about books, and tell stories, doesn’t he?’

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“Jordan laughed.  ‘That’s what you liked about him, too, wasn’t it, Jack?  At first, I wouldn’t have had as much time for Betty as I did if I hadn’t come to enjoy Henry’s company.  And he knows how to keep out of the way when you’re busy.  Maybe he is a psychologist, after all.  He called me in England to tell me he’d set up this audition.  Then said they definitely expected Betty, too . . . after our Macbeth.  You should have seen that, Jack.  We were good . . . pretty good Shakespeare!’

“I told him I’d come get her.  Never been to California before, Jack, and won’t be here long now.  As I told the countess, we’ll leave in the morning.  I’ve been to many strange places in the world, but never California.  I’m a little afraid of the place, and its seductive qualities, for an actor.  I expect to stay in New York, not become some countess’s gigolos.’  He paused, then added, ‘I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with California for you, Jack . . . for a writer . . . but not for an actor.  No offense intended.’

“I laughed, and took the lead, as a way out of the awkwardness I was feeling.  ‘Some people think it’s just as seductive for writers,’ I told him, ‘tempting them to prostitute their talents, too.  But I grew up out here, you know, from the time I was ten years old.’  Jordan nodded, as I went on.

“‘I remember the trip out here from Northern Illinois very well, in February . . . 1939.  My mother had died the year before, and my dad, who’d divorced her when I was two or three, then opened an appliance business out here in Glendale, had come back to Ohio because his father’d had a stroke, and had stopped in Woodstock just out of curiosity, visiting old friends, when one of them told him Mother had died.

“‘He hadn’t heard, since they hadn’t exactly parted friends.  But he came to pick me up in Batavia, about fifty miles west of Chicago, in an old ’34 Ford sedan that used more oil than gas.  We had planned to drive through Colorado, but hit a

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blizzard in Iowa, and slipped into a ditch that took an hour to dig out of.  I learned a lot about my dad in that hour.  I’d been close to Mother–who’d taught me how to read–and she’d never even mentioned his name . . . or existence. She had a temper, too. The weather got so bad by the time we hit Topeka that we finally turned south, to pick up old Route 66.”

“That must have been quite an adventure,” Henry said.

“What I remember best of all about that trip is coming down into San Bernardino–not so far from here–out of the mountains into a land of milk and honey.  Or sunshine and oranges.  We were down to our shirt sleeves, and did buy a sack of oranges–that had just been picked right off of the trees.  In February!   That made quite an impression on a boy from Illinois, who might get a single orange in his stocking at Christmas, and who’d been plowing through snow drifts in that same car three days earlier.   Even the car sounded happier.  All of California seemed so crisp and new to me . . . back before the war, before all of the other people came out here.

“It was the next summer that Dad first brought me up here to the lake, to fish.  I thought, ‘If there’s any place on earth more beautiful than this lake, here in these mountains, I wonder where it could be.’  I still feel that way, even after the population explosion ruined Los Angeles and Glendale–the places I grew up in.  I look out at that water skier out there and wonder how the few people in the country who haven’t moved to California can stand to live in Chicago, or Pittsburgh, or wherever they live . . . especially in the winter.”

“So you never wanted to move to New York.”

“I would have, for Betty, if she’d ever asked me to.”

“And you told Jordan how you felt about California.”

“Yes, but looked over when I’d got about this far, and he’d fallen asleep.  ‘Well, it’s been a long day for him,’ I thought, ‘and my life story won’t even make a good movie.’

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“So Jordan and Betty left the next morning, with our best wishes.  The following week Betty called the countess, excited to tell her they would be Antony and Cleopatra in the park, but, by then, I was living back in North Hollywood.  When you called to tell me, Shoko, you said the countess was ailing, at least was spending more time in bed . . . but reading.”

“Or being read to.  She obviously missed having all of you in the house . . . to talk to and provoke.  But, yes, I was  concerned about her health.  She began to be an old woman.”

Henry added, “Jordan was right about what that play could do for their careers.  It gave them their first real star credentials, and linked them together in people’s minds.  After that they got a lot of offers,  and most frequently as a team.”

“Yet Betty came back to do the film, too, to re-capture the countess’s youth–if much later than we’d expected, not at the end of summer, and not in time for the countess to see it.

“I wasn’t at Shangri-La when Betty called, because a couple of days earlier I’d gotten a call from Laura.  Christine and I had driven in to visit Grace, and I’d told her about Betty and Jordan.  She said she was sure Tom had left for New York, too, and Laura was probably feeling as lost as I was.  She said they’d been having problems anyway, since he still ran around with some of his old girl friends when he was out of town, particularly back in New York–there’d even been pictures in the paper.  She didn’t suggest that I call Laura, but late in the morning the next day Thomas came looking for me to say there was a woman on the telephone asking to speak to me.  I thought the line was dead for a minute, then heard, ‘Jack . . . this is Laura . . . I hear your wife has left you again.’

“I knew that Grace and she were as close as thieves, but said, ‘Oh?  Where did you hear that?’

“‘Never mind.  But . . . well . . . I want you to come back.’

“‘I didn’t leave . . . you did.’

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“‘Well, then, I want to come back.  Tom has left me, too . . . I guess you’d say.  He’s being traded back to New York, and I told him I wouldn’t leave California.’  She paused for several seconds, as if waiting for me to say something . . . but I didn’t.  Then she said, ‘I made a mistake, Jack.  I’d have left Tom anyway.  I’ve had enough of football and motorcycles.  I’d like to see someone reading a book again.  And, most of all, I miss Christine.  You understand?  I really do miss her.  When I heard about Betty being there with you, I thought she might have come back to claim both of you . . . which bothered me a lot, though I really knew better.  What she wants doesn’t involve a little girl.  But . . . maybe somewhat the worse for the wear . . . you still have faithful Laura.’

“That line had become a joke with us, but seemed so appropriate that I broke out laughing.  That helped.  I told her I’d bring Christine in to see her, and we could talk.  I did, we did talk, and then we stayed the night.  I left Christine there the next day as I went back to get our things.

“When I told the countess I was going back to my old girl friend, she said, ‘They’re all deserting us, Shoko, first for fame and fortune, now for other women . . . fickle, fickle, fickle.’

“I began to apologize.  ‘Well, I . . .’

“‘I’m just teasing, Jack.  You may well get more done back home than in this “seductive” environment.  You have plenty to work on.  It’s up to your imagination now.  But please come back.  Bring your Laura, if she’ll come.  And, please, let us have Christine for a few days now and again.  We’ve come to think of her as our own, haven’t we Shoko?”

“You agreed with that,  ‘Yes, I’ll miss her,’  but I don’t believe you said anything about me.

“Then the countess got quite serious.  We talked, through the afternoon, through dinner, late enough into the evening that I called Laura to tell her I’d be staying over–and still we

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talked.  I talked about the screenplay in some detail, and she responded, telling stories, suggesting people to talk to, where to find records.  ‘Call me, Jack, about anything.  And come talk.’  We were both exhausted by the time we went to bed.

“You had listened to much of this, off and on, but had gone to bed long before we did.  Still, it was you I was thinking about as I turned out the light in my room.  I wasn’t sure where my loyalties were at that moment, and wouldn’t have gone to your room–I never had–but felt it was a kind of magnetism, exercised by my spirit on yours, when you slipped quietly into mine, then stayed most of the rest of the night.”

“You tell these stories on me, Jack.  But Henry knows that’s part of my past.  I hadn’t met him or made any promises  . . . at that time.”  It was as if she were explaining it to herself.

“But for a man constantly getting rejected by women, Jack,” Henry said, “you seem to have been doing much better than I was . . . back in those days.”  He patted Shoko’s hand.

“I just gratefully accepted what I was given.  But, along about daylight, as we were basking in those last few minutes before she’d have to leave, Shoko raised a question, coming out of her silent thought, but as if from simple curiosity.  ‘You had your wife, Betty, in this bed while she was here.  But I never felt we’d been cheating on her.  Then she took you back, as she could.  Then I knew about her . . . which was all right.  But this other woman?  Laura.  You’re going back to her now.  You have already.  Don’t you feel that we’re cheating on her?’

“‘No.  She’s been sleeping with a football player, so this is more like balancing the books.’  You gave me a strange look, and, as I realized what I’d said, I tried to recover by adding, ‘That’s terrible, isn’t it?  I should be more sensitive to your feelings.  You’re the one who must feel betrayed.’

“I remember how seriously you took that.  ‘How can I feel betrayed?  You’re not mine to possess that way.  I like you

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very much, Jack, as I like Christine.  But she’s not my daughter, and you’re not my husband–or I’d feel very differently.  I’m comfortable with you.  I know you are with me.  But I’m also very careful not to become with child.  And not to become trapped emotionally.  Such a relationship is not  uncommon.  The countess is my life, where my giri lies.  You were here for a time . . . are here now . . . that’s all it was to be.  The countess and I will live here forever.  Not forever, of course, but . . . forever.’  Then you went back to your room, and, a little later, we both had breakfast with the countess.”

“And so much has happened since,” Shoko said.  It’s hard to believe how simple it all was then.”

“I left later that morning, in time to have lunch with Laura and Christine at Laura’s apartment.  Within three days, we’d moved back into the house in North Hollywood, and were almost back to normal.  I was putting in long, hard days on the film script, and never felt better.  Occasionally, in those first weeks, I’d call the countess about something.  She’d answer my questions, but, when she wasn’t sure, would say, ‘You go ahead and make it up, Jack, the way any scriptwriter does.  I make up half of what I tell you anyway.’  And she’d laugh.

“And Laura was more serene . . . all tension gone.  She said she’d found peace in poetry.  ‘You know, Jack, the best times I had with Tom were at his property up on the lake–that I was so opposed to getting involved in.  He had electricity brought in, on a pole, and graveled a ramp so we could back a trailer down and put his boat into the water–and that was all he got around to.  He liked to ride his motorcycle on the roads up there, too, so I might drive the jeep and pull the boat.  He had plans drawn to build a nice cabin–just like he talked about–but then he got traded back to New York, and lost all interest in the lake.  He even sold his fancy boat to a team member.  But he rode his motorcycle back to New York.

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“‘I still like Tom . . . but I fell in love with the lake.  Do you know Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, Renascence?’  I nodded.  ‘Well, I had an experience like the one she describes in that poem.  Whenever we went up there I’d stand all alone where Tom planned to build the cabin.  It reminded me of the opening lines of that poem, for there are those “three long mountains,” and then the woods.  I would scan the horizon across that marvelous lake, “the things that bounded me”–and that I did feel I could reach out and touch.  I loved it up there.  Once or twice, I read the poem to Tom while we fished, and he liked it, too.  I don’t think he was just humoring me.

“‘So the last time we were up there, when Tom took off on the motorcycle again, I decided to follow her lead as far as I could.  The lake was calm, and I took the boat out alone.  I put our big double sleeping bag in the bottom of the boat, lay down flat, and looked up at the perfectly blue sky.  It took a while, as the boat, rocking gently under me, put me into a kind of hypnotic trance.  Then I had that experience.  I knew that the sky went on forever, but still thought I could see the top–could reach up and touch it.  So I did it–reached up and touched the sky.  I didn’t scream out loud, but it was like a scream of the spirit, as I really did feel that “infinity came down and settled over” the finite me.  And the gentle rocking of the boat seemed “the ticking of eternity.”

“‘A sublime experience,’ I said, ‘reaching out from your finiteness to identify with infinity, like Henry talked about in contemplating the stars, or mountains, or the vast sea, when encouraging us to read Immanuel Kant back at Wellington.’

“‘That was part of it . . . a sense of becoming one with all.  But it was more than that–as it is in her poem.  It was as if “I suffered death but could not die,” as if nothing else mattered any more–then as if I were re-born . . . without any problems.  I thought of all the hate, and greed, and misery in the world.

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But out there on the lake it didn’t matter.  I was wrapped in serenity.  That’s what I associate with the lake now . . . thanks to Edna St. Vincent Millay.  And I’d like to try it on you.’

“‘But what I remember most about that poem is the long rain falling on her grave.’

“‘No, I didn’t have that.  Nor did I feel I’d seen God.  But I did have “the sense of glad awakening.”  I wanted to hug the rocks and trees, for I felt I belonged in that world, under that sky, as I never had in any other.  When Tom and I were alone at the lake, fishing, sleeping in his army surplus tent, I felt good with him.  But it wasn’t the same when he brought other fellows up there.  Then, at the last, he seemed to forget about the lake . . . and really about me.  He did ask me to go to New York with him, but I never considered it.  Go to do what?  I have my work here . . . and friends I’ve worked with for years.

“‘Tom certainly makes enough that you wouldn’t have had to work in New York at all.’

“‘So what would I do?  I’ve had enough football to last a lifetime.  And Tom never offered to marry me . . . as he did Betty.  Strange as it seems, I think he always thought of me as your woman.  And, after that experience at the lake, I do, too.  I’ve come back to prove it.’  I nodded, and smiled.

“But Laura also went back to work with new enthusiasm.  When Christine and I came for our first overnight visit there at Shangri-La, Laura didn’t come–because she was working.  But I still didn’t spend the night with you.  I was prepared to explain that I was operating under a new moral pact, but it seemed you understood that–probably better than I did.  A month later, when the countess asked to have Christine and Midnight for a week before Christine started in first grade, Laura did go along, however, as if to inspect things, see if it was safe to leave her child . . . and cat.  She didn’t know what to make of the countess, but got along very well with you, and

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was quite comfortable about leaving Christine, as we did many times, particularly after we began to build the cabin.”

“Laura and I have been friends ever since we met.  She so obviously loves you and Christine.”

“Driving back to town Laura became philosophical about our new relationship.  ‘I think separations are good for us, Jack.  Even leaving Christine this way helps us appreciate her more, while it’s good to have an evening or two to ourselves.  But, even more, I think our separation, threatening as it then seemed, has made me appreciate you more, too . . . willing to make allowances  . . . even for the other women in your life.  I think my attitudes have ‘matured,’ and I hope it has worked that way for you . . . that you’re more tolerant toward me.’

“‘What are you preparing me for?’ I asked.  ‘Do you have other sins to confess?  Or are you going to leave me again?’

“That tickled her.  ‘No, I think you know the worst.  I just want to say I have no hard feelings . . . none at all, Jack . . . about any of your other women . . . even the countess.’

“‘Right now, she’d be the one to be jealous of, all right.  So what do you think of her?  An unusual lady, isn’t she?’

“‘I’m more concerned about what she thinks of me, as here I am taking you and Christine away from her.  It’s strange.  I think I know where I stand with Shoko–though she’s very Japanese.  I’m sure she wishes us all well.  The countess?  I don’t know.  She sat there for an hour asking me questions, as if she were interviewing me for a job.  Why did she want to know so much about me?  Where I’d grown up.  What plays I’d been in.  What books I’d read.  Why?’

“‘That’s just her way with anyone who interests her.  She did the same thing with me . . . with Betty . . . with Jordan.  It shows that she’s taken an interest in you.  That’s good.’

“Laura had a full shooting schedule, and I spent much of the week in libraries, newspaper morgues, and studio archives,

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looking for anything on the countess.  We were both tired in the evening, would go out to eat, then come back home and  read or just watch television together.  But, by the weekend, we were lonely,  ready to go get Christine.

“Laura was reading some of what I was writing, so was coming to know the countess of forty years ago pretty well, and, all in all, liked her.  Now, she’d try to see that woman in the one we’d be meeting again when we picked up Christine.  ‘It’s not easy, Jack.  People change a lot after a certain age.’

“‘Like after about three years old.  Think how Christine is changing . . . will soon be a schoolgirl!’

“And late that summer we learned that Tom had made Laura a gift of this property.”

“It was from Tom we first heard that you and Laura were back together,” Henry said.  “He called Betty shortly after they opened in Antony and Cleopatra to tell her he was back in New York, too, and wanted to talk to her.  They arranged to meet for lunch, and he said, ‘bring that agent of yours along.’  She said, ‘fine . . . but why? As chaperon?’  He said, “No, because I want some financial advice . . . about Laura.’

“As I say, I’d met Tom before, but briefly.  I knew him  better as a television performer.  He came with a girl he introduced as ‘the light of my life,’ then paid almost no attention to.  He wanted advice on what he could do for Laura.  He said it was over between them–between California and him.  If he left New York again it would be to go back to Kansas, probably to coach.  He said it bothered him that he’d come between the two of you.  He even encouraged Betty to divorce you, so you could marry Laura.  Betty laughed and said she’d think about it . . . but I’m not sure she ever did.

“He said he wanted to do something for Laura.  ‘Jack can take care of himself, and would be insulted if I tried to give him anything.  I would be in his place.  But I owe Laura

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something.  I don’t think money . . . or a car.  When he suggested giving her this property at the lake, ‘free and clear,’ that sounded good to both of us.  And once he’d made the suggestion he seemed sure, too.  ‘She really loves that place,’ he said.  I handled the paperwork for him shortly after that.”

“Yes.  He sent Laura the papers, and a letter–really to us both.  The letter said something like, ‘Even though you opposed Jack buying half of this property, I know you like it up there.  I’m not coming back, and think it’d be perfect for you two.  But I’m giving it to you–not Jack–so sell it if you want to.  This is for everything, Babe.  Not because I owe you–though I do–but because I really do love you–after my fashion.  You’re one of the good ones–and I should know, shouldn’t I?  Think about building there at the lake.   It’s not that far out, and should be great for a writer.  I’ll come visit you there after you’re settled.  Love to both of you.  Tom.’

“‘We parted on friendly terms,’ Laura said, ‘but he’d  moved on to other women even before he left California–just couldn’t resist.  It surprises me that he thought of me at all once he got back to New York.’  But neither of us had any hard feelings toward Tom.  Why blame him for being Tom?  And she didn’t refuse the gift.   She was delighted.  It was only the two lots, a pole with an electrical outlet, and a parked camper trailer chained to it  . . . with some tools and fishing gear locked up in it.  But the lots were already valuable.  As Tom had said,  ‘How can you go wrong on that real estate?’

“We came up to look at the property the following weekend, with Christine, and, from then on, we were hooked.  After Tom had made such a point of giving the property to Laura, the lake began to look inevitable to us.  He had intended to have a fancy cabin built, but we did everything we could ourselves.  As I look around, I remember setting those stone steps . . . while Laura was trimming windows, I think.

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“We spent the next two years working on this property.  We picked up a boat, built that dock, and, first, began fishing and swimming here–then, within six months, had built enough of  a cabin to move in.  It was perfect for us.  I’d only go into LA, to see Randall perhaps, about twice a month, and Laura became semi-retired.  When she was working, she might stay  with a friend–then invite the friend up here for the weekend.  But she was mostly wife and mother–and carpenter.  She taught Christine to swim right down there in front of us.

“I would’ve liked Tom to see what we built here–to fish with him, cook a steak for him–but, before we could, he was killed. We heard about his motorcycle accident on a newscast first–sitting out here with the portable radio–then saw it headlined in the Los Angeles newspapers.  It said he’d been riding in the Catskills, and somebody taking a wide turn hadn’t allowed him room to pass.  I was sure it wasn’t Tom’s fault–he was too good on a motorcycle–but there was speculation that he might have been drinking, had been acting pretty wild, as his career seemed to be coming apart.  The Giants weren’t likely to use him much as quarterback that next season, were mostly trading on the fact he had so many fans–though fans are fickle, too.  He’d also evidently had an argument with his most recent girl friend.  He had a substantial estate, I guess, most of which went to his ex-wives and his parents, who still lived on the farm in Kansas–but the transaction giving this property to Laura had cleared over a year before that.

“When we first moved up here I was writing as much as I was working on the cabin, but more and more on projects to make a living,  less and less on our film script.  I’d sort of gotten stuck.  I don’t know why.  No doubt psychological.  The countess could tell, I knew, but didn’t badger me about it, as she would have if I hadn’t been reading my Yeats in those early days.  That’s probably what I needed, a good taskmaster.

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“A year went by, as Betty and Jordan were busy doing other things in New York, and I could tell myself, ‘I’ve got plenty of time.’  Then, as it moved into a second year, I thought Randall might want another writer–but the countess wouldn’t hear of it.  Betty did come out that second summer, in part to see why I’d stalled out, but mostly to see the countess, and returned to New York without even coming up to the lake that time.  When she got here the countess called and suggested that I come out to Encino.  I did, and promised to get back to work, but nothing was resolved.  What troubled me most were passing comments by the countess suggesting that she didn’t ever expect to see the film herself, as if it had only been a dream.  I left promising myself she would.”

Henry said, “I was working closely with Betty and Jordan by then.  After the success with Antony and Cleopatra, other roles were everywhere.  I’d been on the phone and corresponded with Randall Best before Betty ever came out here, and negotiated the contract that finally led to the filming of The Countess Rostovna.  But before the countess died it wasn’t at all clear how that was going to work out.  By then Betty wanted to do both–wanted to star in motion pictures, and have her own theatre company in New York, too.  From then on, that ambition never changed.

“She had come back from that first trip out here a changed woman–which I attribute mostly to the influence of the countess.  Jordan noticed it, too, said, ‘She’s become just like that old woman . . . imperious!’  And, in terms of those new vibes, she became the definitive Cleopatra–was superb.  They did the play several times under the aegis of their own company, and could have run it constantly, if Betty hadn’t had so many other things to do.  It was always in demand.”

“I know, but it was years later before I finally saw it . . . when I took Christine  back to stay with Laura.”

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Assignment for Bridge 19:

Read Plato’s Phaedo, and, why not?, the Apology and Crito as well.  (You should also have half of The Tale of Genji read by the end of June.)



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