Bridge 21

August 14th, 2010

Bridge 21–LOLITA

 

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  There’s that rare moment in a young girl’s life

  When she’s a bud that’s just about to bloom

  Into a woman (then into a wife,

  If, as that woman, she accepts that “doom”),

  When she projects, as femininity,

  The essence of pure innocence and joy,

  Personifying values you can see

  (And never see abstracted in a boy).

  That precious moment doesn’t last for long,

  A cherry blossom poised to touch your soul

  And lift it like the lyrics from a song

  Remembered from a dream that might console

  That lost idealist, bring back belief

  In something time has stolen . . . like a thief.

[Fall, 1968; Spring, 1969; Summer, 1973]

        “You’ve added so many Japanese books to the countess’s collection here in the bedroom, Jack,” Shoko said.  “Some I’d never read before.  Henry and I want to thank you for that.”

        “That’s what Shoko’s been reading to me most lately,  most often doing her own translation directly from the original, which she enjoys.  So we’re both getting an education here in the woods.  If I’ve been introducing her to more Milton, she’s been introducing me to Kawabata, that old man who got the Nobel prize a few years ago, and then committed suicide.”  He shook his head.  “In spite of that bad example, the Japanese seem to be better with the problems of getting old, with dealing with mortality, than we are.  And you and I are both getting older, aren’t we, Jack?”  He paused a moment.

        “Last night I had trouble sleeping, perhaps afraid I’d dream again, perhaps because I knew you were coming and was thinking about you and me and Betty and Jordan–but I’m


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often awake half the night.  So Shoko read me Kawabata’s The House of the Sleeping Beauties, short enough to read in one session.  As she did, I realized how useful it is to explore the meaning of mortality by having conscious age reflect upon unconscious youth.  It’s a nice metaphor, and addresses the need to purge the hurt of memory in the process.”

        “The House of the Sleeping Beauties.  I’m fond of that book, too.  In Nebraska, when we were doing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I liked to contemplate Betty while she was asleep.  She seemed a different woman in repose–if even more beautiful.  Then, when Christine was staying here with me, she might fall asleep on the couch watching television, and I’d sit and watch her breathe, thinking about the young woman she was becoming.  Not exactly a sexual provocation–with Betty either–and not exactly not.  My Lolita!  You know Joyce’s story, The Dead?  Reflections upon mortality provoked by a sleeping beauty.  Yes, Kawabata knew what he was doing.”

        “Your Lolita.  Not any more.  She’s become the young woman now.  That’s part of what Betty and Jordan were fighting over.  But the deep sense of growing old is sharpened by that contrast with the obliviousness of youth to mortality.  There’s still that with Christine.  It wouldn’t work to reverse the roles, would it?  Have the young woman contemplate the sleeping old man?  Can you imagine Christine watching one of us sleep?”  He laughed.  “I’m getting old enough to identify, if not with Shakespeare’s King Lear–I’ve given up raging against the elements–with Kawabata’s Old Eguchi.  I did last night.”

        “I’m no longer twenty, either.  I used to say I was saving Yeats and yoga for my old age, to sail to Byzantium, and to establish a physical discipline that would keep the house in order while I was away.  The countess believed that, too, that old people must become Platonic–from ideas, through ideas, to ideas–or, in more Romantic terms, must dwell in realms of 

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their own imagining.  To preserve their sanity.  Must learn to drink tea from an empty cup . . . and enjoy it more . . . must cultivate those memories from when they were twenty.”

        Shoko said, “The countess did that.  She could enjoy the things she was still able to enjoy–a good glass of wine–but she also knew how to enjoy the memories of a very rich life.”

        “And how to let her imagination work on her memories,” I added.  “It never seemed to matter how much was real.”

        “The way it is in dreams,” Henry said.  “The bridge of dreams . . . I like that concept.  From the last section of The Tale of Genji, isn’t it?  That’s what these books offer us.  We’ve talked about that.  Who’s the author of the short story by that title you read to me a while back?”

        “Tanizaki,” Shoko said.  “But Kawabata may do it best in The Sound of the Mountain, where dream mingles with memory and imaginative fantasy, each as real as the other.”

        “Betty seemed to want to institutionalize that impulse,” I said.  “Once back in New York, she settled in to transform your little theatre company.  That’s where she said I should come if I wanted to do my adaptation of the Dido episode from Virgil’s Aeneid.  I’d been working on it while she was here, even had her read some of Dido’s speeches, to get them in my ear, and she’d said she might be willing to do it that first season if I got a script to her in time, ‘since it’s got such a nice part for me, Jack, and Jordan should enjoy being “pious” Aeneas, leaving me on the beach to kill myself over him.’  I’d been thinking of it as a screenplay, seeing her as Dido, but she now intended to do everything first in New York, ‘Do it whole, and live.  Then, if a film can be made . . . well, maybe.’

        “Then she’d left Christine and me alone here at the lake.  I enrolled Christine in that school in Santa Barbara known for its strength in languages, as best option, and she went there for about two months–without much enthusiasm.  I thought,

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‘She’ll start making friends with other girls–then coming to see me will be a nuisance.’  But, while she was still mine, I offered to take her to New York at Thanksgiving.  She could see all of you, I could talk to Betty about Dido, and an idea I had for doing a film together in Japan, we could see Betty and Jordan in Antony and Cleopatra, and, I’d just learned, Betty and you, Henry, in Milton’s Samson Agonistes–and we could both see the sights in New York City for the first time.

        “So there I was, forty years old, on my first trip to New York, with Christine, who’d just turned twelve.  Thomas had prepared a special dinner for her birthday, treating her as the lady of the house.  I was the only ‘family,’ except Grace, she had left in California, and, if she’d made any young friends at school, she elected not to invite them.  So it was just the two of us, but when I showed her the tickets to New York, and the luggage I had bought her for the trip, she was delighted.  Nor was she concerned about missing a little school–then or ever.

        “We’d read that Betty and Jordan’s Antony and Cleopatra was sold out, but I told Christine we had influence, so I was sure we’d get good seats.  But I was especially looking forward to seeing you and Betty in Samson Agonistes, the first play she was directing under the aegis of your newly re-organized company.  She’d never directed before, but had told me on the phone that, intending to be experimental to test her own capacities, she had proposed the Milton.  Jordan opposed it, as in conflict with Antony and Cleopatra, which he was directing, but she’d told him that, since she already had Cleopatra’s lines, she needed something to keep her occupied.  He’d accepted that, but still opposed the Milton, because he thought it unstageable–and didn’t want to play Samson.  So Betty said she’d do it with you–which she’d probably decided before she’d suggested it–said she liked the idea of a blind man playing a blind man.  Christine and I saw that play first.” 

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        “Betty’s first step to out-maneuver Jordan,” Henry said.  “She never gave me a choice, said, ‘Of course you can do it, Henry.  Milton was blind when he wrote it, wasn’t he?  What else can you do now?  If you’re going to be a full partner, you’ll have to.’  And she laughed.  She knew it’d be good for me.  That’s when I began to work closely with Shoko, learning lines from Milton.  So while you’d lost all three of your women, Jack, I was working with each of them every day.”

        “Casting comes first, and Betty was right.  I began to think that Milton had been a dramatist after all.  Playing against her you seemed the tragic vision incarnate–as I told you then.  You’d have been pleased to see the effect it had on Christine.  And Betty was already building a company of her own people, wasn’t she?  I met the choreographer and costumer, and considered them a couple of weirdos, but Betty  got some nice things from them.  And they probably had their doubts about me.  ‘What’s all this Virgil stuff?’–you know.”

        “Since I was working so closely with Betty, I knew what she was doing,”  Henry said, “but, if it was devious, at that point, she never told me.  I certainly didn’t feel I was being disloyal to Jordan–who knew my first loyalty was to Betty anyway.  She was providing exciting opportunities for others–and, now that I was blind, was making me much more of a full participant than I’d ever been before . . . which I appreciated.”

        “That’s when I think Christine really began to fall under her spell,” I said.  “She’d watched us film many of the scenes in The Countess Rostovna, and had then seen the film, so knew Betty was pretending to be the countess–whom she’d known very well, if not looking so young–but Betty had gone to see the movie with her, so she didn’t quite know what to make of that.  The night we saw Samson Agonistes was the first time she’d seen Betty on stage, however, and, afterward, I heard her say to Laura, ‘When I was watching that play, I 

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really believed she was Dalila!  How can she do that?  And Uncle Henry really is blind now . . . so that was real.’

        “That whole trip was a revelation.  Christine wanted to see everything.  We took the city bus tours and learned how to use the subway to go to museums, Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty.  My own experiences were reflected in her delight–just twelve, and, to my mind, the rarest sight of all.  Caught up in that fresh young appetite, I wondered if, once satisfied, it could ever have that special quality–the essence of innocence, with just the suggestion of full and infinite female potential–again.  ‘Decay will begin to set in, in subtle and insidious ways, as soon as she begins to blossom . . . then age,’ I thought.  ‘This magic is so ephemeral.’

        “I know that Laura was going many of those places with you,” Henry said.  “Was that her ‘decay’ you were reflecting upon, as you compared the two of them, bud and blossom?”

        “That’s good, Henry.  So much for my sweeping generalizations.  Yes, Laura went with us.  She met us at the airport, then, when she discovered we had no plans to stay with one of you, insisted we stay with her in her Greenwich Village apartment.  It was obvious Christine and she had missed each other, as they laughed and gossiped together.  She went as many places with us as she could, sometimes taking Christine to museums, or movies, or shopping, while I was doing other things–like sitting in the apartment exhausted, watching television.  But evenings we went to see Betty, in whichever play she was in–and, after the first time, Laura let us go alone.”

        “She had to make time for you anyway, Jack, was pretty busy by then,” Henry said.  “She’d learned the business well, by doing everything for us–as I learned how much I could do on the telephone.  She even stage-managed a play for Jordan– Rope, I believe–and they got along fine.  Jordan always trusted her–as we all did.  She took small parts in a few plays,

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but decided she didn’t really want to act, once she knew Betty was coming back.  She told us she wanted to develop a consulting business of her own.  I helped her, giving her advice–and a few clients–but everyone she worked for recommended her, so she no longer depended on me by the time you were there.  We’ve all changed since those Nebraska days, Jack, but Laura has grown most–in capacity of spirit.”

        “That’s what you said then, Henry, and I agree, but I’m not sure why.  Laura said she still felt that your company’s business had first claim on her time, ‘and the biggest irony of all, Jack, is that, thanks to Henry bringing me here, I’ve fallen in love with New York.’  By the time we’d been there three days, she asked us to move back there with her.

        “I told her that my commitments were here, with Randall, who was negotiating something in Japan.  I then asked her, as I’d intended to all along, to come back ‘home’ with us, but she said she now had her commitments, too, and liked what she was doing.  ‘Besides,’ she said, ‘our cabin at the lake may still be too strongly attuned to Betty–or you may be, since you’re going to see her on stage every night–and those vibes might be hard to live with if I don’t have plenty of other things to do.’

        “I knew she was right.  Since I’d been working on the script for Dido, Betty’s voice had been in my head most of the time . . . though she was 3000 miles away.  On the other hand, there I was in the same city, and she’d agreed to do the Dido, but, since she wouldn’t be working on it for months, Betty had no immediate use for me.  I had nothing to do in New York.

        “So I called Randall and told him I’d take the assignment in Japan.  I’d spent some time there during the Korean War, but now, thanks to the countess, I knew a little bit about what I’d be seeing, and, thanks to Randall, I’d be working on a World War II film script.  When I told Laura about this she asked about my plans for Christine.  I said I’d thought of 

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taking her along, but had finally decided she’d be better off in that school in Santa Barbara, where she was already settled.

        “That’s when Laura got to what was really on the top of her mind, saying, ‘No, Jack! I agree she shouldn’t be bumming around the world neglected by a busy father, but, more than an education, she needs somebody at home who loves her.  So let her stay here with me, and learn to know New York as I’m coming to know it.  She can stay here and go to school–every day, just like she should–and I’ll have company going to the theatre, and the museums, and the parks.  We’ll even go to Betty’s plays–though perhaps not every night . . . as you have been.  She should get a more sophisticated education, given New York’s cultural resources, she can see Shoko and work on her Japanese some here, and she can still spend part of each summer at the lake with you.  I might even come along.’

        “When I hesitated, she finally phrased it as an appeal, ‘As a favor to me, Jack.  I’ve missed her so much.  Don’t you think it’s my turn?  That you owe me something?’  I laughed at that–knowing I owed her more than I did anyone else, much more than she owed me.  Christine, who felt she had nothing to go back to Santa Barbara for anyway, got so excited when we told her about the idea that I really had no choice.  And I knew it was the right thing to do–for all three of us.

        “We got along fine the two weeks I was there, extended a few days once we’d decided that Christine would stay.  I was relieved to have her there with Laura–as I went off to Japan–for, as I say, much as I loved Christine, I didn’t want to be living alone with her up here in the hills . . . or anywhere, I guess.  As I told Laura, she already managed me as easily as Betty did, and, however perversely, I’d sometimes imagine I saw touches of Jordan, or Tom, in her, in the range of moods and emotions she was capable of expressing–which I didn’t know how to deal with.  Laura made fun of me about that.

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        “That’s when she told me she’d asked Tom if he thought he could be Christine’s father, and he’d said, ‘I know for sure I couldn’t be, because I never made it with Betty–ever–though I’d have been willing to.  Still would be.  I don’t think anybody but Jack slept with her at that time.  She just wanted him to think I did, or Jordan did.  I was surprised he had–but she did get pregnant, so somebody must have.’  When Laura told me that, she said, ‘Don’t you think that if Tom had thought he was Christine’s father, he’d have given her the lake property instead of me.  And you’ll get a kick out of this.  He didn’t think Jordan could have been her father, either, because he was sure that “Jordan only likes guys”–that he was gay.  “You know he’s never even lived with a girl,” he said, “while look at me!”  And he smiled, as I did.  He liked girls.’

        “So Christine stayed with Laura.  They came out here for a couple of weeks each summer for the next three, no four, years–so I saw Christine growing up as a sharp young lady,  open with Laura, but shy with everyone else, including me.  She’d talk to me about what she was learning in school, and all the places she was going with Laura, we’d speak a little Japanese, and I’d hear how she was spending some time around your theatre company, as she did everything from taking tickets to working on sets, I guess.  Laura said she hadn’t been in favor of it at first, but that Christine wanted to, and was very trustworthy, that you and Shoko looked after her, and Betty didn’t seem to care much one way or the other.

        “But by the summer before last I was spending half my time in Japan.  I tried to work out a joint vacation, but, while I came up here once in a while to check on things, work for a few days, or sit in the sun and read, when I was ‘home’ I was sharing an apartment near the studio, so the cabin  had become a second home for me as well–and Grendel had become Thomas’s dog.  Laura said she might be able to come out for 

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a while, but Christine would be going to Europe with the two of you, and Betty–so I rented the cabin to a friend for the summer, and, after the two weeks I spent back there with Jordan working on my Mishima, which I wrote shortly after Mishima’s seppuku, I went back to Japan to work on the project I’ve just finished, filming Mishima’s Forbidden Colors.

        “But, as you know, I was back in New York the spring after I left Christine there with Laura for almost a month, too, theoretically to direct Betty and Jordan in my Dido–at least to watch Betty run a range of passions as Dido I hardly knew existed.  By then Betty and Jordan were a weird kind of Lunt and Fontaine, each with his or her own projects–just happening to meet in my Dido.  As Jordan said, it was ‘like being back in college doing Pygmalion and The Scarlet Letter, except that Betty now sees herself as the professor.’

        “It surprised me what they could do on a bare stage, and we used as many classical touches as we could, but with modern choreography, and highly stylized costuming.  It was largely the same company that had performed the Samson Agonistes, with the same choreographer and costumer, so, however avant-garde, was becoming a traditional repertory company, with primary loyalties to Betty.  I could see that she was thriving on the action, knew she’d been right to come back to the city.  She needed people to work with, to work her imagination against theirs–then give birth to what had been so engendered–in the spirit of Plato’s Symposium.  So, for that short time, I was part of that mix–and it was exciting.

        Then, after the show the night Dido opened, I spent the rest of the night talking to Betty and you two, then Jordan–since I had to fly back to Los Angeles in the morning, having stolen a week as it was–in that small walk-up apartment Betty and you shared, Shoko, with Henry’s right next door.  Both seemed austerely furnished, but Henry at least had chairs, 

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while you women had gone completely Japanese in New York–low tables and cushions–with books, and scripts, and sketches piled everywhere.  As usual, you served as hostess.

        “I wanted to talk about doing a film together in Japan, but got a bland response on that, a ‘Maybe next year, Jack,’ as Betty was excited about things she’d done, was doing, and was planning to do there.  It was obvious that she was working much more with you, Henry, than with Jordan, to re-structure that theatre company as a medium for her experiment.”

        “Jordan still controlled the top half of what we were doing,” Henry said, “directed most of the major productions, including the Shakespeare, but came to have less and less to do with the overall schedule and daily operations.  Betty was directing a lot of the incidental things herself, or with the author as director–much as she had with you on Dido–in doing what she called ‘searching for the truth of the text.’

        “And she didn’t always star–might play her way through all of the parts of a knocked-down version of Uncle Vanya, for example, on consecutive nights, men’s roles and women’s, old and young–so people wouldn’t see the same show twice if they came every night.  She took chances with such things as closed audience nude performances, extempore theatre with audience participation–drawing a small audience, mostly of theatre people, interested in such exploration.  In the process, she built a company of devoted fellow players, mostly young and anti-establishment, and attracted some interesting young playwrights, white, black, and yellow, helping them find their way.  But always on her terms–she was very dictatorial.  Things she talked about that night sounded fantastic, but she was just laying out what she intended to do–and then did.”

        “But she also did your version of The Scarlet Letter . . . with Jordan . . . as they had in college,” Shoko said.  “Laura, Christine, and I saw that together.  Christine had worked on 

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costumes and publicity some for that, and I remember her saying, ‘And my dad wrote that . . . before I was born.’

        “And, as Betty was lost in her ‘art,’ you and Laura handled the business–public relations, contract negotiations, and so on–well enough for the company to survive in New York.  She no doubt used both of you as shamelessly as ever, but Laura said you didn’t mind, would do anything for Betty, as you found that you could still work effectively in that world as a blind man.  And Laura would do anything for you.”

        “I even acted some, Jack,” Henry said.  “Jordan cast me as Tiresias when he did Oedipus the King–probably the high point of my career–but Betty used me frequently, often in a scene where I could be on stage from lights up to lights out, so someone could help me find my way on and off.”

        “And she began calling me more often–just to talk,” I said, “treating me as a colleague.  Then, as you were making plans to come to California to work on film versions of some of the plays, I thought I might be working with her again . . . had more or less cleared this coming fall to do that.

        “But on that flight back to the coast six years ago I was reflecting on the fact ‘my Dido’ would be on stage in New York that same evening, and, staring out of the window at the clouds, thought, ‘I wish I had that kind of enthusiasm for anything!  And she’s got plans and projects to last a lifetime.’

        “It wasn’t until I began talking about the Chikamatsu plays that I really got her attention that night, however.  Both Betty and Jordan planned to do their signature play, the Antony and Cleopatra, on a regular repertory basis, and I told her it was traditional, in Japan, to compare Shakespeare’s early and late love-suicide plays with Chikamatsu’s, and, when Shoko agreed with that, she became quite interested.

        “That was about when Jordan arrived.  His first comment   was, ‘Talking about things Japanese, I just saw a fascinating 

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movie this afternoon, Mishima’s film version of one of his short stories–Rites of Love and Death.  It’s only about a half hour long, but received some kind of award in Europe.  The action is pretty simple.  This lieutenant comes home deter- mined that his honor requires that he take his life, takes a bath, has sex with his loyal wife, then spends about ten minutes cutting open his stomach.  What do you call that, Jack?”

        “‘Seppuku . . . yes, I’ve heard about that film.  And then the wife commits suicide, too, right?’

        “‘Right, but quickly.  Stabs herself in the throat, and the film’s over.  But Mishima did everything: adapted the story to the film script–your job, Jack; directed the film–now yours, Betty; and acted the role of the lieutenant–my job.  He may even have done the English sub-titles.  Now that’s “all in all sufficient.”  You know I read his modern Noh plays some time ago–the collection your countess gave me.  Well he stages this as a Noh play–then, in the last scene, he has the dead wife fallen over the dead husband posed as the large rock in that famous rock garden scene, with the sand raked all around it.  So he’s presenting graphic sex, and bloody suicide, as poetry.  Impressive.  I’ll have to go back and look at those plays.  You should see that film before you go back to California, Jack.’

        “I told him that I had a flight within hours, but was sure I could see it here in Los Angeles–which I did.  Then Jordan and I rented it–from Grove Press, I think–while we were doing my Mishima . . . to borrow what we could.”

        “Jordan took Betty and me to see that film, too, Jack,” Shoko said, “and I’ve never forgotten it.  Many people left half way through.  But not Betty!  She said she had to ‘get to Japan to meet that man,’ and wished more of his books were translated.  I stayed, though I hate the idea of seppuku, and felt he was just sensationalizing it–until his own seppuku the next year–which made it too late for Betty to go meet him.” 

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        “I was in Japan when he killed himself, and few Japanese approved.  But I think that short film is important in understanding him–and from then on Jordan was a Mishima addict.

        “But he then turned to that night’s play, saying, ‘Dido’s another version of Hester, isn’t she, Jack?  Or Cleopatra.  Or Dalila.  The eternal Eve.  Woman as temptress.  You seem fascinated by the type–and for Betty it’s type casting.  She just gets better as she gets older.  Even I can’t resist her now, as I did back in our youth, when you thought I was corrupting her, enticing her to run away to New York.  Now she’s corrupting me–and  New York–with what she’s doing to its theatre.’

        “Betty said, ‘Jordan can be so peevish when he doesn’t get his way.  Just because I don’t want to do Ophelia to his Hamlet.  I think it might do permanent damage to my self esteem . . . whatever it might do for his.’  She gave him a dirty look, as he then sat on his cushion quietly observing the rest of us.  It had been a while since I’d tried to read his motives.

        “The discussion turned back to the Chikamatsu plays, but, if Betty was interested, Jordan wasn’t.  Even later, when he was reading more Mishima, and had looked at translations of Chikamatsu as well, he said, ‘I did Dimmesdale and Aeneas for you, Jack–and will do Socrates if you get your version of the Symposium ready–but a Japanese shop keeper?  Betty’s the one who’s for these bizarre experimental things–talks about doing plays in French!  So why not Chikamatsu in Japanese?’

        “But that night he said, ‘Betty’s found her world now, Jack–doing bizarre things here in New York.  And you seem to have found yours.  She often talks about what you’re doing–how wonderful it is to live there at the lake.  Says she was tempted to stay there, to do more movies.  But I know she needs live theatre.  And I’m worse than she is.  You’re probably uncomfortable here.  So, ironically, I got Betty–perhaps too much of her–by default.  But she likes to talk of 

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you two as the Countess Rostovna’s disciples, says the countess was your Diotima–did I pronounce that right?–and that spatial proximity has nothing to do with it.  She has a Donne poem she likes to quote . . . about a pair of compasses.’

        “I looked at Betty, who was listening quietly, and smiled.

        “‘She says you’re the hermit, and she’s the evangelist–like Thoreau and Emerson–embracing the doctrine you learned from that dear old Russian countess.  Is that Russian Orthodoxy she’s talking about, Jack?  She’s doing her part, even reads a little Russian, while you’re there in your monastic retreat, trying to capture the vision, or whatever you’re doing there.’  He looked at me.  ‘Not that I mean to make light of it.’

        “Then he looked over at you, sitting by Shoko even then, and said, ‘But, Jack, let me ask you about Henry.  He’s the one I have most trouble with, especially since he came back blind–then did that Samson thing.  Is he going to pull down the temple on me?  I don’t think he’s into Russian mysticism, but he’s definitely Betty’s disciple.  And now neither one of them will tell me what they’re planning to do next.’

        “Betty responded, ‘You usually say we talk to you too much about these things.’

        “Jordan just kept looking at you.  ‘He’s a psychologist, right?  Probably knows what I’m thinking without asking.  Then became a PR man, a theatrical promoter.  Is pretty good at it.  But still Betty’s man.  And she’s more faithful to him, after her fashion, than to any of the rest of us.  Now that he’s blind, he does everything for her, including acting.  Still, though he lives across the hall, I don’t think he’s ever been in bed with her.  Has he?  I watch the two of them when they’re together this way, and try to figure out what’s going on.  But you can’t help liking him, right?  How about that, Jack?  How do you really feel about this guy who ran off with your wife– twice?  And does everything for her.  Don’t you hate his guts?’

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        “He didn’t laugh, but, as you sat there smiling, I assumed it wasn’t the first time you’d played this game.  I said, ‘Not at all, Jordan.  Henry was my best friend at Wellington, where theatre people were pretty scarce.  I think I almost invited him to run away with Betty when I asked him to help figure out what was bothering her.  His commitment to her just turned out to be stronger than his commitment to me.  But I knew it was her idea . . . and it turned out she was right.  What she’s doing now proves it.  She hadn’t needed me–she’d needed Henry.  That’s still true, isn’t it?  I think it’s as simple as that.’

        “‘But they left you Laura that first time.  Not a bad consolation prize.  And now they’ve taken her, too.  Don’t you need her?’  Jordan paused to look at me, then at you again.  ‘And I know Henry’s commitment to Betty is stronger than his commitment to me, too.  I can see that.’   He shook his head.

        “Then you said, ‘As it always has been, Jordan.’

        “And Betty said, ‘But it’s your company just as much as mine, Jordan, and it wouldn’t last a month without Henry.  I’d be happy to give Laura back to Jack, if she’d go, even if Henry does have her doing everything he can’t do.  And now, of course, everyone thinks that Christine must be her daughter.’

        “Jordan said,  ‘Not if they look at both of you together.’

         “That gave me something else to think about on the flight home.  All four of my women had moved to New York.  So I’d just as well go to Japan–seek my life elsewhere.  I missed all four of them, of course, but, strangely enough, I think I, too, began to miss Christine most.  I didn’t even realize how much. Then, after she went to France two summers ago, I hadn’t seen her for over a year when suddenly there she was– Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  She’d grown up on me.  Lolita no longer . . . she’d become the Fairy Queen.”

        “Now tell us about your other women, Jack,” Shoko said, “those geisha in Japan.” 

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       “Perhaps in my autobiography,” I said, smiling at her.

        Shoko returned the smile. “It’s strange how things work out,” she said  “By going back to Laura, Christine fell more strongly under Betty’s influence . . . in spite of everything.”

        “I guess your trip to France was especially important in bringing them together,” I said.

        “It was a memorable trip,” Henry replied.  “Betty went to see Ionesco’s La Cantatrice Chauve–The Bald Soprano– that I’d seen in ’57, then we’d done in Nebraska.  It was still playing, at the Huchette now, after sixteen years.  She wanted to do it, and perhaps The Lesson, in the original in New York, recruiting French-speaking actors, but playing Mrs. Smith herself.  Jordan opposed it–maybe because he had too little French to be involved–calling it ‘another of Betty’s crackpot ideas.’  But, by the time we got back, my French was getting good enough to work with Betty in the play.  I didn’t have to be able to see to do Mr. Smith, though I did still have to work hard on the French, which, again, I did with Shoko.”

        “But it was basically Betty’s trip,” Shoko said.  “I went along because I went everywhere with her by then.  Henry went along because he’d introduced her to the Ionesco plays, and knew something of Europe . . . and Paris in particular.”

        “But the way Christine got involved was special,” Henry said.  “She was working at the theatre one day late in the previous summer when Betty began talking to me about doing Ionesco in the original, saying she ought to begin serious work on her French, then go to France to see the plays.  Christine asked her directly if she could go, too.  Almost as a joke, Betty said, ‘Well, if you take French at school, and make an A in it, I’ll take you to France next summer.’

        “Christine signed up for French, and, when Shoko and I started working with Betty on the language, was soon sitting in on those sessions.  She learned French quickly.”

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        “She has such a gift for languages,” Shoko said.  “And Betty responded to that, telling her how much she’d enjoyed French when she was in school.  Christine got her A easily.  We were all proud of her, and promised to speak nothing but French all summer–a promise she saw to it we kept.

        “So the four of us flew off to Europe, landing at Orly airport.  We spent the first week in Paris, going to a play every evening.  During the day, we got to know the city, walking the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Bastille, and exploring the Left Bank, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Latin Quarter, the Louvre.  There are so many things to do in Paris.  Henry was often our guide, ‘the blind leading the beginners,’ as he said, and he went many places with us.”

        “To listen to the French . . . and for la recherche du temps perdu.  I had many good memories.”

        “Some days we’d just walk,” Shoko said, “following one of the numbered routes in the Michelin guide.  But we all soon came to feel at home–knew which Metro connections to make to get  anywhere.  For places close to Paris, like Chartres and Versailles, we went by train.  At Versailles, exploring those huge gardens, Betty said, ‘I could live here.  I think I must be the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette.’  She could have been.

        “Then we rented a car for about three weeks of touring in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.  Betty and I did the driving, and Christine usually handled the maps, while Henry sat in the back helping to decide where to go.  We visited Mozart’s birthplace, in Austria, went to two operas in Italy, spent three days each on art in Florence and history in Rome, seeing Michelangelo statues and paintings, and the Forum and Colosseum.  I’d like to spend much more time in those places.”

        “We will,” Henry said, “when the baby’s old enough.”

        “That’ll be something to look forward to,” Shoko replied, in a tone suggesting, “Well, we’ll see.”  “Then we returned to 

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Paris, where there was more theatre.  I remember we saw two Moliere plays, Le Tartuffe and Le Medecine malgre lui, at the Comedie-Francaise.  But, whenever we could, we went to the Theatre de la Huchette, to see The Bald Soprano and The Lesson. You could see Betty already working on the part of Mrs. Smith.  After we’d been there three or four times, we came to be known by the company.

        “They recognized Betty from The Countess Rostovna, which had great success in Europe–though she’d purposely cut her hair and worn glasses for the trip.  But the high point came when Henry convinced them to let her do Mrs. Martin in one performance, telling them what she was planning for New York.  It proved her French was good enough–and her sense of Ionesco’s comic timing delighted them.  She probably could have stayed on there as a cast member.  They asked Christine if she’d like to do the student in The Lesson, but she just shied off.  She hadn’t had any stage experience then–and only a year of French.  Now I think she’d like to–after Betty did The Bald Soprano and, later, Rhinoceros, in New York.”

        “La Lecon is done as a regular Friday-night after-piece at the Jean-Jean, a little theatre near Shibuya station, by a famous film star, Nobuo Nakamura, and his daughter,” I said.  “It’s in Japanese, but I still wish Laura could see it with me.”

 “She should have good memories of that play,” Henry said, “from back when I used to say it was the story of my life.  And Betty and Christine found themselves closest, I think, as Christine helped her mother learn her lines for Ionesco in French.   I often heard them laughing together.”

         “And they both enjoyed the same things,” Shoko said.  “They went to museums and art galleries, and for crepe and cider at a little cafe near where we were staying.  But Christine went places with us, too, and it frequently turned out that we were all going somewhere she had first suggested.” 

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        “Betty then encouraged her to try out for the Shakespeare play at school,” Henry said, “just to be around Shakespeare.”

        “The first I heard about that was when I called Christine to wish her happy birthday,” I said.  “Laura answered, but when Christine got on the phone the first thing she told me was that she’d been cast in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘As Titania, the part I hoped I’d get!’  It was obvious she was excited, and when Laura came back on she said that Christine was as bad as the rest of the family in being stage-struck.  ‘She sees what her mother . . . and other people . . . can do.’

        “I was happy that I did get back to see that play–and Betty and Jordan in Antony and Cleopatra again–and in rehearsal for one of the Chikamatsu plays!  Even Jordan was into the love-suicide mystique by then.  I really hated to miss Christine’s Juliet, but hoped to see it here in Los Angeles.”

        Henry shook his head, “From the time they began work on Romeo and Juliet, Christine became the center of contention between Betty and Jordan.  Jordan then wanted to do Hamlet, with Christine as Ophelia and Betty as Gertrude, and, when Betty still refused, insisted on doing The Tempest, with Christine as Miranda to his Prospero.  Finally, he told Betty that, if she refused to give up this movie idea and return to New York, they’d just go on without her.  Betty accused  him of trying to substitute Christine for her, as an actress that he could totally manipulate, ‘as his puppet, as he did me when I was his flower girl and he was Professor Higgins, when he and Jack were so experienced and I was a “naive” nineteen.  But I’m not as innocent as I once was.  I sometimes think I’m older than either Jack or Jordan now.  But I see a lot of myself as that young innocent in Christine, and I don’t want him manipulating her.’  She laughed.  ‘She’s mine to manipulate.’

        He stopped for a moment, then suddenly asked, “Can you see the boat out there now, Jack?”

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Assignment for Bridge 22:

Read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, imagining Christine as Titania, and yourself in whichever of the other roles you like–for they are all good ones.




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