Bridge 20

September 25th, 2010

Bridge 20–ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

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I dream I see her floating down the Nile–

The barge, the slaves with fans, the burnished gold–

As she approaches with that haughty smile,

Her splendid pageant awesome to behold,

The quintessential setting for a queen!

The gesture of her hand would master him,

Her will seduce the soldier from the scene,

Responding to his lady’s passing whim.

Of course she serves her own ambition first,

Manipulating men she can entice–

Another pillar of the world now curst!

Accepting each as one more sacrifice,

To be discarded then on land or sea

In her so infinite variety.

[Three Summers–1966,  1967, and 1968]

“I don’t see the boat,” I said.

“They may have stopped at the new marina on the south side of the lake,” Shoko said.  Henry squeezed her hand.

“They’ll be back,” he said.  “We still use that boat a lot, Jack.  Almost every day.  Just to get out on the lake–out on the water.  We may eat lunch in a patch of shade somewhere.  I’ll fish a little as Shoko reads to me.  But now I always wear a life jacket, and never dive from the boat.”  He laughed.

“I’m so fortunate to have Shoko.  She reads French as well as she does English, you know.  She recently read me Camus’ L’etranger–mostly out in the boat.  Remember how you and Laura and I liked to debate Meursault’s philosophy back at Wellington?  Well, this time I was in total agreement with Meursault.  Nothing really makes any difference.  Whether you’re living in New York, or California . . . or Tokyo.  In Algiers or Paris.  Whether you’re married or not.


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What difference does it make?  All that matters is enjoying the  present moment.  For Meursault, smoking a cigarette; for me, sitting here in the sunshine.  If it’s a sunny day, enjoy it.  If it gets too hot, move into the shade.  If it rains, move inside.”

“I might not go that far, Henry, but do think that enjoying  little things is more important than pursuing grand ambitions–which are first likely to be frustrating–then come to nothing.”  But I agreed that I, too, was enjoying the present moment, sitting there in the sun, looking out over that beautiful lake.

“You remember how we got that boat?” I asked.

“I should.  Christine and I paddled it across the lake right after ‘Old Man Benson’ had given it to her.  She insisted.”

“For helping him when the cement truck showed up but the guys supposed to help pour the foundation for his new boat dock didn’t.   James R. Benson.  His name was still on the mailbox for at least two years after we found him dead.”

“He lived over there, but you can’t see that boat dock from here.”  Henry was pointing, for Shoko’s benefit.  He moved his hand back and forth through a six-inch arc.  “Based on what?” I wondered, but, when he stopped, he had it right.  “Benson was standing there by the mailbox, with that big cement truck backed up into the drive next to his cabin.”

I nodded, then, remembering Henry couldn’t see me nod, said, “And I used to think of that afternoon every time I drove by there.  But there’s another name on the mailbox now.”

“Where the Carpenters live now,” he said to Shoko.

“With their three kids.  That’s one of the nicest cabins on the lake,” Shoko said.  “But what about the boat?”

“It was shortly after filming began on The Countess Rostovna,” Henry said. “I was up here for the weekend, and we were coming back from San Bernardino when there he was, standing in the road waving his arms.  Said he needed help before the cement started to set up.  Laura and Christine

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shoveled while Jack and I, and the cement truck driver,  hauled cement down the hill in two old wheelbarrows, and Benson did most of the trowel work for the foundation for a bigger dock for his new boat–already tied up next to this old one.

“Then he insisted on giving us the old boat.  We said we’d be glad to buy it, but he said, ‘For the little girl, then . . . for Christine, for working so hard.’  So she and I struggled to paddle that boat across the lake, while Jack and Laura drove the station wagon back.  It might have been Benson’s ‘old’ boat, but it was a vast improvement over the rowboat we’d been fishing from, with its “putt-putt’ of a motor.  Jack and Laura bought the bigger motor that’s still on the boat at one of the auctions they used to go to–so they could try to water ski.”

“But it has always been Christine’s boat,” I said, “as she’d frequently remind us.  We’d met Jim Benson–at the lumber yard, knew him to wave to–but had never been to his cabin before. Working with him that one hot afternoon made him a good friend.  He’d been coming to the lake summers for years, and was getting ready to retire here.  He became Christine’s buddy.  We’d see him coming across the lake in his new boat to pick her up to go fishing with him.  Until he had that stupid accident, that is.  And I was the one who found him.”

“About a year later . . . not long before my own accident,” Henry said.  Shoko nodded, as if vaguely remembering.

“I guess he’d been climbing in the rocks trying to solve a drainage problem he’d told us about, tripped, caught a foot, fell, and broke a leg–then went into shock.  We’d wondered why we hadn’t seen him out on the lake, and assumed he must be down in LA with his daughter.  Then she called Brown, at the General Store, wondering why he wasn’t answering his phone.  Brown drove out to the cabin, which he found empty, but open, with Benson’s pick-up truck still there in the drive, and called in some of the neighbors to form a search party.”

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“And you were the one who found him,”  Shoko said.

“I did.  Some animal had been chewing on him, so he looked pretty bad.”  I tried to shake that image out of my head–like the newspaper image of Betty and Jordan.

“I didn’t get to know Benson all that well, Jack, but that boat still reminds me of him–solid, dependable, suited to the place–and it sure does everything we need a boat to do.”  Henry paused, seeming to stare down at where the boat was usually tied.  “It’s even pretty good for water skiing, if the skier is good enough–though it’s cured me of such things.”

“You were doing better than I was,” I said.  “But Betty was always the best.  She loved it.  I pulled her by the hour.  That boat doesn’t really have the power to pull someone as heavy as I am out of the water very cleanly.  I’d tell her it was her technique in starting up, but she’d say, “If you were just a little more graceful, Jack–like me, or Jordan–you’d do fine.”  And, it’s true, the few times Jordan came up here he had no trouble water skiing behind that boat, as graceful as a dancer.  So it really was me.  If I could get my rear end out of the water and get up on my feet I was all right–until I fell over.”

“Well you should try, try again, Jack.  But Shoko and I don’t plan to do much water skiing this summer, do we?  We’ll use the boat for more sedentary activities–to fish, to doze in the sun, or to let the water rock us into a state of serenity.”

“Like Laura, with her Edna St. Vincent Millay,” I said.  “But how do you square that with Meursault’s philosophy?”

“That’s Laura’s problem, not mine.  I’m not trying to identify with infinity, any more than Grendel is.  He likes to doze in the sun, too, don’t you, boy?”  The dog looked up, as if he knew we were talking about him.  “He’s not much of a seeing eye dog, but he does usually bark when somebody’s coming up the hill–and is especially good company in the boat.  And, fortunately, I’ve got a good seeing eye woman.”

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“How Grendel used to romp with Betty when he was a pup!  But she left him here–for Christine, she said–just as she did me . . . when she went off to conquer other worlds.”

“Well she’d conquered this one, thanks to you, Jack.  I never saw the final version of the movie you two made, but did see most of the pieces.  The rare style with which Betty portrayed the countess’s sexual adventures in those little vignettes–from Babe Ruth to John Barrymore to Admiral Yamamoto–was priceless.  A lust for life combined with amused tolerance for male foibles–a flamboyant female Don Juan.  She used to joke about how much of that had actually happened to the countess and how much was part of a glorious fantasy life she admitted she’d begun to share.  But the best scenes were those where the countess was Desdemona, patterned closely on her own early film, and Cleopatra, which Betty played as she had in New York–but you filmed as if performed in Tokyo in 1923.”

“Demonstrating again that Shakespeare is for all time.  And those two women really did meet there.”

“A seamless conception of a rare woman, embraced and projected by a rare actress.  I particularly loved the close-ups of Betty as the countess as Cleopatra.  That was our Betty.”

“And you even convinced Jordan to play Antony, though he insisted it was anachronistic to incorporate his New York performance into a film set fifty years earlier in Japan, then, after we only used two scenes he was in, said, ‘I did become the countess’s gigolo, as she said I would–at one remove.'”

“The countess would have been very pleased by the film you made for her,” Shoko said.  “That’s what Betty always said about the film, ‘We made it for her.'”

“I know–before, during, and after.  And every time she did, it reminded me of our last meeting with the countess.  She had cast the right spell over us, as she knew.  Her death

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worked exactly as she said it would.  Betty went back to New York after the funeral knowing we were both committed, and I went to work on those memories the countess had left me.  I tried to use all the stories I could, but highlighted those she’d told me herself, projecting many of them as memory pieces, to keep as much of the ambiguity they’d had as she told them as I could.  I had a workable script for Betty to look at within weeks–one Randall accepted soon after that and that he, too, became excited about doing, ‘in Natasha’s memory.’

“We became ‘reacquainted’ when you moved out, Henry, to negotiate business details.  Then Betty took possession of ‘her’ house–settled at Shangri-La–then of the production and everyone involved, and finally, it seemed, even of this cabin Laura and I had built–at least for a time.  But, though I had the script by the end of summer, as promised, it was early the next year before actual filming began, because Betty wanted changes, including more use of Shangri-La.  We didn’t shoot many scenes there, however, only a few at the end, and as a frame, but she did live there for most of the two years we were in production . . . when she wasn’t in New York.”

Henry said, “I was doing most of the shuttling back and forth.  Betty made only two extended trips East–one for a revival of Miss Julie and the other to do Othello, because you were featuring it in the film, and she wanted to ‘feel it on stage.’  She reminded me that you ‘toured’ with that play the summer before you came to Wellington, with a pregnant Desdemona, in a very different temper from the one the countess projected in her early film.  Jordan was then running the theatre company to suit himself, confident Betty would come back when she saw that was where she belonged.”

“It surprised me, later, when you went back to New York with her, Shoko,” I said.  “If I’d wondered about your relationship to the countess, I was baffled by you and Betty,

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who, by then, you were treating as if she had indeed inherited you with everything else from the countess.  I’d expected you to resent her intrusion into your world much more.”

“I had resented Betty, from the first,” Shoko said.  “So ‘pushy,’ I thought, so selfish, willing to sacrifice anyone to her wishes.  How could a mother leave her child for others to raise?  When she left to go back to New York that first time, I felt the countess had been betrayed, too . . . had been abandoned . . . as Christine and you had been . . . again!

“Then I saw how the countess felt about her, as if she’d lost a daughter who’d run off with some rascal.  I suppose I felt like the daughter who’d stayed home while the favorite had eloped.  Convinced she was gone for good, however, I thought, ‘Good riddance!  The countess will get over her.’  But by the time we went back to see Betty as Cleopatra, it was obvious that she had become very special for the countess.

“So when, after the countess’s death, Betty came back to what was now her house, I didn’t expect to accept it.  I almost did go back to Japan.  But she convinced both Thomas and me to stay, telling us she needed our help in her search for the spirit of the countess.  She asked us to treat her just as we had the countess.  She imposed it as a kind of discipline on herself at first, in the way she talked to us, in what she expected, but, as she became accustomed to the role, she simply assumed the countess’s authoritative manner.

“Thomas found it natural to treat Betty as his countess, saying, ‘That’s what the madam wished,’ which made it easier for me.  He always addressed her as, ‘Madam,’ too, but she asked me to call her ‘Betty,’ as most people she worked with did, and I finally accepted that.  Still, I always did what she directed me to do, so I’m not sure what difference that made.”

“It really was remarkable how Thomas accepted Betty as having taken the countess’s place in his life,” I said, “perhaps

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as much from Betty accommodating herself to his ways, as he to hers.  But he’d always liked her.  It was her inherently aristocratic manner, I think.   He worked for her the same way, as chef, gardener, chauffeur–and took care of everything when she was gone.  I know he’s still there at Shangri-La, but it must be lonely for him now, without a lady of the house.”

“But he wouldn’t show it,” Shoko said.  “We drove over to see him, and Midnight, last week.  He has his own plans for the future . . . but I’ll let him tell you.  Anyway, for Thomas–and for me, too–before long Betty simply was our countess.”

“It was the same for all of us.  The countess’s legacy worked powerfully on Betty, and, by the time we began to film, the spirit of the one had taken total possession of the other.  It was a mystical experience to sense that merging identity, and to wonder which of those two strong wills was primary.  It seemed a natural development in Betty, in her maturity as an actress, for this film on the life of the countess to be the medium, as she gradually became what that grand old woman had been in her prime–at least in my imagination.  Yet it was as if the countess had willed it so strongly–was willing it from the grave–that she couldn’t have escaped it.  It  was even reflected in her interest in Japanese.  That was when she began the serious study of the language, wasn’t it, Shoko?”

“Oh, I’d talked to her about the relationship of hiragana and kanji, and the pictographic form of some characters–for mountain, river, tree–while she was staying at the house the first time, as I worked with Christine–for Betty was curious about everything.  She was already fluent in French, as you know.  She and the countess and I used to speak French together, she wrote to the countess in French, and read French novels.  But while the countess was still alive Betty had begun working on Russian, to be able to talk to her in her native language.  She had a tutor back in New York, and wrote the

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countess letters in a child-like Russian that pleased her.  But, after the countess died, she said, ‘I don’t know any other Russians,’ and felt the little bit of Russian she had only got in the way of assuming the character–though, even later, I’d occasionally see her struggle to read a little Dostoevsky.

“Instead, she began to study Japanese.  It had less to do with the film than with the countess she’d known.  She said the language work also tapped off a nervous energy, gave her something to do on the set, and let her take advantage of the available teacher . . . meaning me.  The informality of daily language work–on my language–did bring us closer together.  Christine’s Japanese was always better, but Betty would have been able to get by in Japan, by the time . . . she died.”  Shoko looked up at the cabin, as if expecting to see Betty in the door.  I looked, too.  “She had a reading level of about 500 kanji, I think, and liked to say Japanese conversation was easier than French conversation for a native speaker of English.”

“It is . . . much easier.  And you had planned to come to Japan with her while I was still there, hadn’t you?”

“Yes, and to bring Christine.  The kind of trip we took to France.  We’d be going to the Noh and Kabuki with you now.”

“We’d have seen plenty of Shakespeare, too.  And Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams.  Tokyo is the greatest theatre city in the world.  All in Japanese, of course.”

Shoko nodded.  “Betty would have loved it . . . as the countess did.  And, probably because Betty honored the countess’s memory so, I came to love her, too–as I had the countess.  But Betty was my own age–so it wasn’t like a daughter’s love for a mother.  Nor were we like sisters.  We became close, particularly after she gained fluency enough for us to speak Japanese at home, wherever that happened to be.  But always on Betty’s terms.  At first I told her I didn’t want to go back to New York with her, you know . . . but I did.”

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“When she knew she’d be there for a while,” Henry said.  “And, when the film was finished, she went back on different terms, though Jordan didn’t quite realize it at first.  He became increasingly frustrated as she went into her experimental mode.  It became more and more obvious that she intended to be in charge, and Jordan wasn’t ready to accept that.”

“Betty didn’t mind taking possession of what Laura had built here, either.  But it might not have been so easy if Laura hadn’t conceded–me, and her cabin at the lake–to her.”

“Laura went to New York to help me, Jack,” Henry said.

“That’s true, Henry, but it had begun long before that, as Betty and the film came to absorb all of my energy–short term, I thought.  Then finishing The Countess Rostovna took more than two years . . . much longer than I’d expected.

“And when Christine went to live with Betty at Shangri-La as she began the fourth grade, that was pretty fundamental for Laura, too.  She strongly opposed the idea, saying Betty would neglect her, but finally agreed, because she’d begun to be away more with her own work, because the school was better in Encino, because Shoko was there to take care of Christine, because Betty was, after all, Christine’s mother and wanted her there–and, finally, because Christine wanted to go.

“That was surprising, because Christine loved it here at the lake, too, and got along fine at school.  She’d catch the bus down by the mailbox, where we parked the car.  Laura or I usually walked down with her, and would pick up the morning paper.  Then I’d walk back down to pick her up with the mail when we heard the bus coming up the road in the afternoon.  Laura worked with her on reading and arithmetic in the evening, and we had television as well as the woods and the lake–so it was the good life she was giving up.”

“But I thought Betty should be looking after the education of her daughter, which had been pretty irregular up

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to that time,” Shoko said.  “Those are important years.  So I suggested it.  I also wanted to work with both of them on Japanese.  Christine was so good . . . and so good for me.”

“And Betty never took care of Christine–you did.  I believe Betty’s main reason for wanting her there was that the countess had–so you could turn her into a lady.  You saw that Christine got her homework done–as any good Japanese mother would–then worked with her on the language, on flower arranging, on the tea ceremony, and on the graces of a young woman.  But, in following the countess’s advice, Betty was bringing a second woman closer to Christine than she was.  You and Laura had both read her bedtime stories, gone with her to buy school clothes–and seen they were washed regularly.  Betty had never done these things.  And I believe Laura felt the loss of Christine more than she felt the loss of me!  I didn’t fully appreciate that when she left, because her main reason for leaving was so obviously the accident that left you blind, Henry.  About which I think she felt responsible.”

“Perhaps because she was trying to teach Christine to water ski on too windy a day.”

“Laura still lived here at the lake after Christine moved to Shangri-La, but did begin to share expenses on an apartment in town with a friend, and accepted more acting roles which required her to be gone for longer periods.  I noticed she’d also spend an occasional evening with you when you were in Los Angeles, Henry.  I wondered if you might be plotting something together–like Laura had warned me you and Betty were at Wellington–though I knew you must both be at loose ends while Betty and I were working on the movie.  Then you and Betty began to spend more time up here, though it was still Laura’s home–her clothing hung in the closet with mine.”

“I know Laura was always pleased to see me,” Henry said, “but it did bother her when Betty started coming up here,

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first for an occasional script conference, then for a day of swimming or fishing, and, later, to water ski.  She told me she had learned to handle the idea of Betty at a distance, but felt that she was gradually intruding into her world on purpose, to challenge possession, to show that she could manipulate both of you if she wanted to–just for the sadistic pleasure of it.”

“I felt something of that,” I said, “but Laura never said as much to me, nor, I’ll bet, to Betty.”

“As I was living with Betty,” Shoko said, “it was obvious she did take a perverse pleasure in complicating things for you and Laura.  She’d say, ‘I need Jack right now!  Laura can have him back when I’m done with him.’  She was concerned about Henry’s accident, but delighted when Laura decided to go to New York with him.  She even asked me if I thought something might be going on between them, saying, ‘I’ve always wondered about them.  Laura’s such a seductive woman, you know!’  Then she laughed.  I often wondered what her motives were.  But I’d wondered about the countess’s motives, too–she, too, could be ruthless, if her pride had been provoked.”

Henry listened with amusement, then said, “Betty hadn’t out-maneuvered Laura, though.  I’ve come to know Laura well enough to know how she read Betty.  She’d had all that practice in Nebraska, after all–and, in her mind, Betty hadn’t changed a bit.  But she evidently decided to let you and Betty worry it out for a while.  If I can be candid, Jack, we both agreed that, even if you wanted to keep Betty here after the film was completed, she’d never stay–and wouldn’t bring you with her when she came back to New York.  When she went with me, I told Laura I’d have her back in California by that time.  Then, later, when we started talking about filming some of the plays, I suggested she move back out here as our agent, negotiating for the New Age Theatre company.  She seemed to be the logical one . . . so it surprised me when she refused.”

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“Well, by then she had Christine back there,” I said.  “And I know that they’ve both come to love New York–for the theatre, and the museums.  They go everywhere together.”

Henry nodded.  “And you know there was never anything between me and Laura, Jack.  I might spend the weekend here, was occasionally alone with Laura, but, while I never felt that way with Betty, I, too, always thought of Laura as your woman–as she did.  I enjoyed her company, but would usually bring Christine, and perhaps Shoko, along, and you and Betty were often here.  Laura and Betty were both water skiing well by that summer, and so, of course, Christine wanted to learn.

“The day of the accident it was Laura and Christine and me out in the boat.  I’d been ‘at the controls’ while Laura was skiing, but when she started instructing Christine she decided she should take over.  Christine suddenly tumbled and seemed caught in the tow rope, was pulled under water.  Sitting there in my trunks, I jumped up and was diving from the side of the boat when Laura abruptly cut the power.  Thrown off balance by the change in speed, I dived too deep and must have hit my head on a submerged rock, which knocked me unconscious.

“It was up to the women to rescue me.  Christine could swim well for a ten-year-old, and had her life preserver on.  Once the boat stopped, she got untangled, then helped Laura, who’d jumped in, too, to get preservers she’d thrown from the boat around me.  Laura got back in and maneuvered the boat slowly back to shore while Christine kept my head out of water.  They towed me to the beach here, then called an ambulance.  I woke up in the ambulance–but  couldn’t see.

“It was a month later, as I got out of the hospital here and my condition was becoming clear, that I asked Laura to go back to New York with me, for a while, to be my eyes at the theatre, and in the office.  I expected to have to turn most of my duties, and clients, over to others, so expected Laura to be

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back out here in a month or so.  But she just settled in to do what she’s done ever since.  She was so good at the business end of the theatre activity that I soon turned almost everything  over to her I couldn’t do on the telephone.  She represented herself as working for me, but I came to feel as if I were working for her.  Given the telephones, I hardly had to go anywhere, and began seeing that eye surgeon in New York.  I had three operations before it became plain that I’d never see again.  It would have been useful if Laura had made some business trips out here even then, but she said she preferred not to, preferred to stay there, and let me call out here, which I did, to you and Randall and Betty, pretty regularly.”

“Yes, I expected Laura back.  But Betty did begin to spend more time up here after Laura went East with you.  Then, after school was out, Christine joined us, while Shoko went back to Japan for a short visit.  So it seemed Laura might just be avoiding Betty, and I thought, ‘I need to talk to Laura, but . . . well, we’ll work it out.’  I was more surprised when she didn’t come back after Betty moved back to New York.”

“She probably didn’t want to see her every move as being determined by Betty.  But Betty brought Shoko with her, and, since Shoko began to take me places when I needed that kind of help, Laura soon moved out into the larger sphere of the New York theatre business . . . her world now.”

“When Laura went East with you, I knew it was because you needed her help, but it did bring back memories of Betty going with you ten years earlier.  Then, ironically, Laura found her place there more quickly than Betty had.  But she’d at least kissed me goodby, and left in a very different mood than when she’d gone off with Tom–though she was, if more philosophically, again offering me up to Betty’s abiding seduction.

“I continued to live here at the lake, didn’t move to Shangri-La, but, as we finished the picture, Betty moved up

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here–and I didn’t object.  We went into a kind of monastic retreat, during which, I admit, I wasn’t thinking much about when Laura was coming home.  It wasn’t so much that Betty and I had found one another as that each of us had found something of him-, or her-, self in seeking the countess.  We’d meditate on that–out in the boat, walking hand in hand along the shore, or before the fire on those chilly spring evenings.  By then, Betty liked to theorize about the theatre–and I did, too.  For a while, we were as close as we’d ever been.

“Then, as Christine moved up here for the summer, we were like a family on vacation, took long hikes, swam, fished–and, yes, water skied.  Betty was good, and Christine was getting better–better than I was.  Betty had Grendel by then, and took him everywhere. Christine–and even Midnight–soon made friends with him.  But, even here, Betty always kept busy.  She began painting, trying the same scene at different times of day, like Monet did with his haystacks and views of Rouen cathedral.  One of the memories I had coming up the path this morning was of Betty, wearing that thousand crane scarf I’d bought her for the film–as a gift from Captain Yamamoto–sitting there painting, with Grendel at her side.

“The scarf that she wore in the film?” Henry asked.

“Yes.  We’d hoped to go to Japan to shoot the Cleopatra and Captain Yamamoto scenes, but our budget wouldn’t allow it, so we’d had to create the Tokyo milieu on the back lot here, with the help of contemporary earthquake footage.  Betty embraced the Japanese mystique–so that scarf became her favorite–but I didn’t expect to see it on the seat in the station wagon as I pulled in today.”  I looked at them, but neither Henry nor Shoko volunteered a comment.

“Whenever I asked about her future, Betty would wax philosophical, would talk about Plato–as if that were talking about her future.  She said Plato was right about wisdom

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being available only in dialogue, but that the imaginative dialectic of the theatre was far superior to the rational dialectic of philosophical discourse, involved all the capacities of the human spirit, not just the intellect.  She was sure Plato’s first impulse had been to theatre, for he’d grown up exposed to one of the most intense theatrical traditions that ever existed, and myth and metaphor were central to his mode of teaching.  The greatness in his dialogues was in their drama, in the character creation of Socrates, first, but in half a dozen characters in The Symposium–which had become her favorite dialogue, too.  I had sketched out a dramatic adaptation of that dialogue at Shangri-La while the countess was still alive, and worked on it some that summer.  When I finished it, two years later, Betty did a set of staged readings–casting all women.  The countess would have been delighted with her pupil.

“But, beneath the surface, I had the feeling Betty was just marking time, almost as if she were waiting for an Academy Award nomination–though she never said so.  I think she deserved one, for her portrayal of the Countess Rostovna had been magnificent–she had the presence, the depth, even the air of mystery, and, as you say, some of those scenes were priceless.  But that was the year that Katharine Hepburn won for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Betty was brand new in Hollywood.  The film had provoked enough interest for people to wonder who she was, however–and where she was.  I suppose that, again, she was using me, to help her hide out for a while. But I accepted this pastoral interlude with my sometime wife as a gift, even if I knew she wouldn’t be able to resist the lure of the public stage for long.  Randall was pleased that she was now a film presence worth speculating about–in part because of her mystery–but it was really Betty who had decided to stay out of sight, for reasons that had me speculating, too–as I wondered how long it would last.

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“She’d talk to you on the phone, about a range of offers, but did seem happy here, spending a little time each day working on Japanese with Christine or me, or, surrounded by dictionaries, reading for hours–again saying it was in memory of the countess, that finishing the film hadn’t finished that.  She wanted to be able to read Mishima and Kawabata in the original–as the countess could–said she wanted to go to Japan to meet them, as the countess had Tanizaki and Admiral Yamamoto–then laughed at that idea.  She worked alternately on Mishima’s Shio Sai and Kawabata’s Izu no Odoriko, but I don’t know how fluent she was by the time of her death–long after both of those authors were dead.  When Mishima committed suicide, it was a shock, for she’d really wanted to meet him, said, ‘I should have gone with Shoko, Jack.’  Kawabata’s suicide bothered her less–for he was an old man.  After you returned from Japan, you recall, we’d  read together, or agree to speak nothing but Japanese all day–here or at Shangri-La.  That practice stood me in good stead in Japan.”

“I probably enjoyed it more than you did, Jack,” Shoko said,  “having three good students.”

“But, not long after you returned, Jordan called, asking Betty to come back to do a revival of Antony and Cleopatra–for which he said the film was generating a demand–and, again, the temptation was too great.  I knew when she left that the idyll was over–particularly since she took you with her.”

“Randall was always offering roles in other films,” Henry said, “but nothing as attractive as the things she was soon able to do in New York.  She came back in experimental mode, assuming that her new film reputation would provide sufficient leverage for her to get her way with Jordan.  She came back as Cleopatra, in fact, ready to take on her Antony–in Rome!”

“But, from then on, part of her spirit was always here in California, which she liked to call her ‘Egypt’,” Shoko said.

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“She especially liked talking with Thomas, there in Encino, about the house and garden, and would say, sitting in the countess’s chair in the library, ‘This is more my home than any other place I’ve ever lived.  I will retire here, as the countess did.  But not yet.  You must preserve it for me, Thomas.'”

“So the countess had finessed us all, by making the most of her death . . . like Mishima did,” I said.  “She knew Betty would come into possession of Shangri-La, and what it represented, in the process of making the film, and Betty accepted that idea from the first.  I got some of the books we’d talked about most, Yeats and the Japanese authors–and the memories.  And I think she anticipated that Betty would become closer to you, Shoko, than to any of the rest of us, as if she depended on seeing herself reflected as the countess in your eyes for the magic to work.  If at first I was surprised when you went back to New York with her, it was perfectly natural.  What else would you do?  Betty had become dependent on you, as she still was on Jordan in some ways, on Henry in others–and had been on me–but was no longer.

“So she took you, but left me–with Christine, my memories, and this lazy dog.”  I looked over to where Grendel was lying at Henry’s feet, asleep.  “So, counting Midnight, that left four of us here.  Deja vu!  And this time I was left without either you or Laura to console me.  Betty joked about going out to find me another girl, but, all in all, we parted on good terms.  In fact, she, too, kissed me goodby–this time.”

Henry nodded.  “And, by then, Betty had sufficiently assimilated the spirit of the countess that she could take it with her.  In subtle ways at first, but very firmly, she insisted on making decisions.  Within six months she had, in effect, taken direction of our theatre company–reconstituting it as the New Age Players–which became increasingly frustrating to Jordan.  Ironically, the less she needed him, the more he wanted her,

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but as the actress he’d known in college, or the one who came to New York looking for him, the rare young talent he could shape to his own will and purposes.  She was that no more.”

“That was no doubt one of the things that then made Christine so appealing to him,” I said.

“Then Betty’s own relationship to Christine became more complicated,” Shoko added.  “The changes in their attitudes these past two years pleased me, but were very confusing.”

“When she went East, she left her here with me, again.  So Christine had lost all three of her female role models–to New York–and I was left with a rather sensitive eleven-year-old girl–after I had lost the support of all three of you, too.

“I did hate to leave Christine,” Shoko said.  “When Betty  said, ‘You trust Jack to look after her, don’t you?’ I wasn’t sure I did.  I felt like I was abandoning her . . . half educated.”

“I shared your concern,” I said.  “I’ve always been able to live alone pretty well, and this is a good place to do it, so I was not concerned about myself.  I was more concerned about Betty, going back into the cave we had escaped for a time, and wondering how those who took those shadows for truth would treat her.  But I was most concerned about Christine.  We could spend what was left of the summer here as if still on vacation.  She had grown up with me here in California, after all–with significant help from obliging females–but it was as if she were fated to continually lose the women closest to her, and be left with me.  First Betty, then Laura, then the countess, then Laura again–and now finally Betty had left her with me . . . again.  And took you.  Perhaps Laura had been the hardest one for her to lose, for, over the years, she’s been closest to her emotionally–as they’ve laughed and played together–but, when Laura left, Christine was going to school in Encino, and had you.  Then she’d never been sure what to make of Betty here at the cabin.  There was little overt show

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of affection, but she’d spent hours with Betty, playing with the dog, out in the boat, arranging to be near her as she was reading, or painting . . . or whatever.  She knew this was her mother, but I wasn’t sure how much she’d miss her.

“And living here at the lake would begin to pose problems for us by winter.  I’d have to be away at times, and couldn’t leave a, by then, twelve-year-old girl here alone.  I took her with me if I went to town to get groceries or a haircut.  Then there was school.  Though her schooling had been irregular, Christine was bright enough to compensate for that–and had the advantage of what she’d learned from you–but just getting to and from school from up here would have been awkward.  So I finally decided to enroll her in a private boarding school in Santa Barbara.  She didn’t like the idea, but, when I explained the options to her, soberly accepted it.

“She’d become a very pretty girl, and I was even a little frightened of her.  I’d cared for her since she was a baby, so had a strong physical attachment, but now she was taking care of herself.  And, as she approached twelve, I began to think I was seeing her anew, as Genji must have seen Murasaki.  I’d watch her from across the room, playing the piano there at Shangri-La, reading a book, or just looking out of the window here at the lake, and my heart would melt.  It was the eyes, perhaps, her mother’s eyes, or the way her hair hung down across her neck–pristine, innocent beauty.  I’d willingly have faced death to keep anyone from putting a rough hand on her.

“So I discovered I had this Lolita thing for my own daughter–harmless enough, no doubt–but I preferred not to spend the winter alone in the woods with her.  We’d both been disillusioned by her mother at times, though, like me, Christine still seemed fascinated by her–a Broadway actress–a movie star.  But I had yet to be disillusioned by Christine . . . and didn’t want her to be disillusioned by me.

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Assignment for Bridge 21:

You might read Vladimir Nobokov’s Lolita (which is a great novel) or see the James Mason, Sue Lyon 1962 movie, but the early Murasaki images from The Tale of Genji would be more to the point.  It’s that image of the bud about to bloom into something special, not the precocious sexual activist, that we want for Christine.  You might also now read Milton’s Samson Agonistes, for Betty and Henry will be doing it in New York in the next chapter.

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