Bridge 22

September 25th, 2010



Bridge 22–A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

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Our faery queene, bewildered in the woods,

Discovers she’s enamored of an ass,

Though she could fly through grosser neighborhoods

Enchanting every creature that she’d pass.

But Puck’s the one whose joy it is to fly–

To serve the faery king, his bit of fun–

And he’s the one who comes to ponder why

The ass she sees is not the only one.

Declares he  knows what fools these mortals be,

Especially when they start to talk of love,

And laughs from his box seat, up in the tree,

Reflecting on their passions from above.

Yet even faery kings still love, it seems,

And everyone who goes to sleep still dreams.

[Spring, 1974]

“Yes, I do see the boat now, Henry . . . but still clear over on the other side of the lake,” I said.

“Well, it shouldn’t be long now, Jack,” Henry said, then to Shoko, “and I’m getting hungry . . . for a good steak.”

“Me, too,” I said, and, as I thought about it, I really was.

I watched that skier in the distance for a long moment–with a strong sense of deja vu.  “I can understand how your trip to France might have begun to bring Betty and Christine closer together,” I said, “and the two weeks Jordan and I spent working on my Mishima while you were gone certainly brought us closer together than we’d been since college.”

Henry smiled.  “And I can understand that, Jack.”

“By then I had begun working on this film version of Mishima’s Forbidden Colors, and, as Jordan had recently read the book, we talked a lot about that, too–so were heavily into Mishima.  We had both first met his work in his Five Modern


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Noh Plays, under the influence of the countess.  Then, back when we did my Dido, you recall, Jordan had gotten high on the film version of Yukoku.  But Mishima’s own seppuku–on Christine’s fourteenth birthday, November 25, 1970, as it happened–was the magic moment for all of us.  I was in Tokyo at the time, and was soon writing my own modern Noh play, Mishima.  When I finished it, I sent Jordan a copy, and he said he’d like do it.  I’ve never had an easier sale.

“I’d followed Mishima in writing a modern Noh play, but reversed his method.  He’d given those medieval stories a modern French staging, but I took his own modern story and gave it a medieval staging, using two classical Noh plays, Sotoba Komachi and Atsumori, as models.  I had Mishima’s ghost, as shite, appear to a Japanese student, as waki, at the Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, do a kendo dance with Saigo Takemori, Mishima’s ‘last true samurai,’ perform a ritual seppuku, and leave the student with the legacy of traditional Japanese values embodied in his kendo staff.

“Jordan loved it, and said, ‘Let’s do it while Betty’s in Europe, Jack.  There’s no part in it for her anyway.’  He was reading the first volume of Mishima’s final tetralogy, Spring Snow, so wanted to talk about that, too.  Then, since the play is only half an hour long, he decided to use it as an after-piece for his Richard II, the Shakespeare he was doing while you were gone that summer.  Laura saw both plays with me.”

“Betty and Christine and I saw them after we came back, and were impressed by your play–and Jordan as Mishima–but I’m still repelled by Mishima’s suicide,” Shoko said.

“Well, as you can imagine, Jordan and I had different theories on that.  His was that Mishima was the consummate actor.  He said, ‘He had the courage to make a coherent drama of his own life, Jack.  In Rites of Love and Death he acted out Lieutenant Takeyama’s seppuku, in your play I’m acting out

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his, but in real life he wrote that final scene and acted it out himself.  You say in your play he did it to mythologize himself, and I like that idea . . . but–at the center of his being–he was an actor!  As I am.  He couldn’t resist a great final curtain!’

“‘Everyone has his own idea on Mishima’s suicide,’ I told him.  ‘Most agree with the Japanese prime minister, that he was crazy.  Many feel he did it to top Kawabata’s winning of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968, which he’d expected to win.  His mother said, “Well, he’s finally done what he always wanted to do”–suggesting he was obsessed with the idea of seppuku.  But if you don’t take my reading in the play, the one I like best is that he did it precisely because it was meaningless.  I heard that developed by a Japanese drama critic, and that seems to have been the final theme of his tetralogy . . . the Buddhist theme that all life is meaningless.’

“Jordan shook his head.  ‘I don’t see that, Jack.’

“‘Well, you’re reading Spring Snow now.  At the end of the last book of the tetralogy, when Honda seeks out Satoko, now abbess of the temple to which she’d fled at the end of that first book, sixty years before, to talk to her about the meaning of her love for Kiyoake and its tragic conclusion, she asks, “Who was Kiyoake?” then questions whether such a person ever existed, saying, “memory is like a phantom mirror,” and making Honda feel that his meeting with her is a kind of dream, that he’d come “to a place with no memories, nothing.”  That suggests to some that Mishima truly was a latter-day Buddhist, as I’ve always believed Hawthorne was a latter-day Puritan, and that, in Hawthorne’s case, it was the organized church, not Hawthorne, that had lost the vision of original sin.’

“But you say that, in his final act, Mishima mythologized himself,” Henry remarked.  “Shoko read me your play.”

“Yes, I think so.  The image of Mishima that exists a hundred years from now will be the one he created, not the

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one that Jordan and I did–in spite of Jordan’s total credibility. But I think Jordan was right, too. And another view that also appeals to me is that his suicide was the ultimate PR ploy, designed to draw attention to his work, the last pages of which–the old Honda going to meet the old Satoko at the temple–he’d just delivered to the publisher that same day.  That makes even more sense to me as, just this year, we’ve seen two biographies of Mishima in English, while we’re still waiting for one of Kawabata.  But, as with ‘why does Hamlet delay?’ or ‘why does Iago deceive Othello?’ these motives for Mishima’s suicide are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”

Shoko said, “No.  He was always a complicated writer, Jack . . . liked ambiguity.  Especially in Forbidden Colors.”

“That’s true.  Jordan was pleased that I was working on a Mishima film,  but asked, ‘Why that book, Jack?’

“‘Because it’s his best.  I consider it his Symposium–which he refers to in the novel.  He had read the dialogue in the original Greek, in a course he took at Tokyo University.’

“I really enjoyed working with Jordan again.  It reminded me what a great Higgins he’d been, and I tended to sympathize with him as, at the end, Betty seemed to be leaving him–as she had me–to run off with you again . . . if to the opposite coast.”  Henry laughed, but Shoko didn’t, just shook her head.

The boat and water skier were coming directly toward us now, and I could soon see they were headed for our boat-dock.  Grendel suddenly perked up, too, from where he had been dozing at Henry’s feet, as if he knew who was coming.

The closer they got, the more I could imagine it was Betty I was watching.  It wasn’t just the familiar figure and the red hair flying in the wind, but I even thought I recognized the green swimming suit she’d worn the last few times I’d been out in the boat with her.  And the flamboyance, sweeping from one side of the wake to the other with a seemingly lazy rhythm

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was the same.  It pleased me to indulge that fantasy as long as I could.  A little closer and I could identify the woman managing the boat as well.  As they approached the shore, the one at the wheel swung a wide circle to allow the skier to sweep up onto the sand of our little swimming area, tumbling and laughing as she did.  Grendel was down there in the water to greet her.  It was Laura in the boat, and the skier was Christine–as I had known for some time, of course.  I said to Henry, “So this was your surprise.  I thought they were still in New York, and expected to be visiting them there next week.”

“We decided to keep it as a surprise, Jack,” Shoko said, “though I was sure you’d guessed.  I can tell so easily when it’s Christine skiing out there . . . clear across the lake.”

Laura waved up at us, idling the boat well off shore as she reeled in the tow-rope.  Christine, greeting Grendel as enthusiastically as he was her, was way ahead of her coming up the rock steps we’d set into the slope to where the three of us were sitting.  But she stopped a few steps short, as if assessing me with her mother’s critical eye, then said, “Uncle Henry said you were coming today . . . but not until later, I thought.”

“He came early, Chris,” Henry said.  “You know your dad.  Lives in his own time frame.  But we’ve just been sitting in the sunshine telling each other stories, and you’re in time to help cook the steaks . . . so haven’t really missed a thing.”

“You’re looking good, Christine,” I finally said, “up close and out on the water.  So much like your mother you had me bewitched.  They didn’t tell me you and Laura were here.”

“That was my idea.  But we were supposed to be here to surprise you.  Grendel and I might have jumped out from behind a tree as you came up the trail–like we used to do.”

I was standing by then.  I held out my arms and she dropped the water skis and gave me a healthy hug, wet swimsuit and all.  “How old are you now?  Eighteen isn’t it?”

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She looked at me as if I should have known, which, of course, I did.  “Yes, eighteen.  Nineteen in November.”

“And a high school graduate.  Pretty grown up all right.”

“And thanks for your present–the kimono from Japan.”

“Shoko will have to show you how to wear it.”

“She already has.  I’ll show you how it looks later.”

“You’re still younger than your mother was when we met, but do other people tell you you look . . . so much like her?”

“I don’t hear anything else . . . but I don’t think so.”  She was petting the dog.

“Here’s Grendel, but where’s Midnight?”  I asked her.

She laughed.  “Alive and well–but an old cat now.  We left her with Thomas this morning.  He needs some company.”

Laura came struggling up the steps with the gear from the boat, saying, “Hello, Jack.  You’re early.  We wouldn’t have gone out but Henry said you’d be coming later, and Christine wanted to ski.  She even pulled me for a while, and we stopped over at that new marina for a sandwich and a coke.”

“I should have helped you with some of that stuff,” I said.

“Why?  You never did before.”  She put what she was carrying down next to the skis, then came and gave me a hug and kiss.  How much at home she always seemed here.  Well, it was her home.  She could dispossess Henry and Shoko now, as she could have Betty and me back when she’d decided, instead, to stay in New York.  I often thought she’d put up with me over the years mostly for Christine’s sake, but, as I kissed her, wondered again how I kept letting her get away.

We talked for a while, comparing Tokyo and New York, but then Laura said, “We’ll have time for this later, Jack.  Christine and I’d better take showers and get changed if we’re going to help with dinner,” and they went on up to the cabin.

Shoko watched them going up the stairs, then, as the screen door closed behind Christine, said, “One thing that has

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bothered me, Jack, is why you had a gun here at all.  That was your gun . . . wasn’t it?  Why was it here?”

“The police asked that, too, when I was here for the funeral.  They even sent a police lieutenant to Tokyo to talk to me–because Betty was my wife, and because it was my gun.  I’d bought it years ago–certainly not for  protection here.”

“You told me to shoot bears in Alaska,” Henry said.

“That’s right–in Alaska.  During my junior year in college I’d lost interest–again–and dropped out of UCLA.  Then that summer I’d gone to Alaska with a friend, Dan Beaton, because the summer before other friends had borrowed the money to fly to Anchorage and come back with enough to buy new cars.  But that year the unions were out on strike–so no jobs.

“Luckily we got civilian jobs with the Air Force.  Dan’s was at the main base, but mine was as electrical maintenance man at the Air Force hospital, about ten miles from Elmendorf AFB, out in the woods.  It was mostly changing light bulbs in about five miles of corridor, which I was tall enough to do without a ladder–so it was a good job for me.  I soon made friends with a supply sergeant, Joe Jackson, who’d been a Golden Gloves boxer and started ‘training’ with him.  We’d run three miles through the woods each morning, and camped out a lot–since the sun shines almost all night there in the summer.

“But I’d often go in to the Civilian Club, on the main base, to meet with Dan, drink beer, and play my favorite song, Heartache, on the jukebox.  They had a $2.00 limit poker game there, and I won enough one night to buy that .38 police special from a young GI at the hospital.  In the big hand, I held three kings against three tens–so guess those kings are why I owned that gun.  I liked to carry the gun in the woods, and did expect to shoot a bear–if I met one.  Joe used to say, ‘Not if I’m along!  You’d just make a bear good and mad with a .38.’  Then came the Korean War, and I went into the Air Force.

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“I always liked that gun.  Just to hold it–the feel of the grip, the balance.  I qualified with it, as an officer’s sidearm, while I was in the Air Force.  Then I just happened to have it here–as a souvenir of the summer I was twenty-one in Alaska, I suppose.  I kept it in a drawer in the bedroom, but hadn’t fired it for years–had forgotten about it..  So it was quite a shock to discover that one old friend had killed two others.

“Then they sent this lieutenant to ask about it–and other things.  It was as if they suspected me–a man caught with my wife in a cabin at the lake, and both shot dead–with my gun.  But, since I’d been in Tokyo for two months prior to the shooting, I had a pretty good alibi.  He had questions about Betty and Jordan, too, and about you, Henry–since you were evidently holding that gun when the police got here.  I had a lot of questions for the lieutenant, too, as I gave him the tour of Tokyo–to the kabuki-za, for sake and sashimi, up and down the Ginza–to the McDonald’s, of course–so I think it was a good trip for him.  I never heard any more from them.”

“I’d told them all about the gun, Jack,” Henry said.  “I knew your bear story.  And we did target practice with the gun up on the hill once, years ago.  I think the police have it in their evidence file . . . but you could probably get it back now.  As you can imagine, I’ve had no desire to have it here.”

“Yes, it would feel strange to hold that gun in my hand now–the gun that killed Betty . . . and Jordan . . . though it was never fired at a bear.”

“The chief detective, because of Jordan’s phone call, was inclined to call it a double suicide,” Henry said, “but, after I told them what had happened, as best I could, most saw it as a bizarre accident–though they also questioned people in New York about Betty and Jordan’s troubled relationship.”

“The last time I saw Betty she seemed pretty comfortable there,” I said. “Randall had expected her to come make more

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movies, but she said, ‘I like the theatre, Jack, the whole story every time.  Movies are bits and pieces, and the directing is out of your hands.  Here, I’m in control.’  And it seemed she was–which was what bothered Jordan most, I suppose.”

“But he seemed happy doing Shakespeare,” Shoko said.

“And was always doing Shakespeare.  Last year Laura wrote they’d be doing Antony and Cleopatra again just when Christine’s high school was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I’d be able to see both if I could come back then.  I did, and saw one of the Chikamatsu love-suicide plays I’d adapted in rehearsal, too.  After the Mishima, Betty had finally convinced Jordan to do those plays, but, to present Shakespeare’s early and late love-suicide plays with  them, they needed to add Romeo and Juliet.  Betty didn’t want them playing ‘those young kids,’ just wanted to complete the set of four plays . . . which they then did . . . with Christine.”

“Yes,” Henry said, “Jordan resisted it at first, but actually enjoyed doing the Japanese plays. The Love Suicides at Amijima and The Love Suicides at Sonezaki.  I was around as they were being rehearsed, but still get them mixed up.”

Shoko pretended dismay.  “Even after I read them to you?  Shinju Ten no Amijima, the later play, has the betrayed wife as the most interesting character–remember?  Betty liked the contrast of all-suffering Osan to Cleopatra.  But both Chikamatsu plays were written for the puppet theatre companies.”

“I only saw the one, the Amijima, in rehearsal.  Betty used all the Japanese elements she knew anything about in setting and costume, and puppets as a kind of chorus–though in Japanese Bunraku the puppets are the main characters in the plays.  I made a special trip to Osaka to see that same play done by a traditional puppet company.  Their puppetry is far beyond anything we know here–three puppeteers to one puppet–all in the service of the text . . . a playwright’s dream.”

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“I’d love to see that, Jack,” Henry said.  “Anyway, the chief detective thought Betty and Jordan had fallen under the spell of that double-suicide mystique in doing those plays, but the fellow who came to see you thought Jordan had killed Betty in anger, because she’d set her will against his–then, realizing what he’d done, killed himself.  Did he tell you that?”

“Yes, he did.  And I told him Jordan was no more capable of killing Betty than I was, and neither of them was capable of suicide.  But, you were here when it happened, Henry.  I hope you can explain it to me, like you did to them.”

“I’ll be glad to tell you what I know, Jack, but have promised to tell Laura, too–though I didn’t see any more than either of you did–so let’s wait for her.  And I’d still like to hear about your trip to New York to see Christine in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, since I wasn’t there at that time.”

“Fair enough.  Laura went with me, and we sat with other pleased parents, watching our Fairy Queen make Shakespeare sound like her natural speech.  We saw Betty and you a few rows in front, Shoko, and I was watching your reactions as I thought, ‘There’s our girl, seventeen and counting,’ wondering just how much theatre would come to mean in her young life.

“At intermission, I was looking for you two, but saw Jordan first, over by the big front windows, looking out on the lights of the city and talking with Ben Winston, that young fellow in your company.  As I came up behind them, Jordan was asking, ‘So how’d you like to play Romeo to her Juliet?’  Ben responded, ‘She’s good, Jordan.  But a high-school girl?’

“Jordan jumped as I touched his shoulder.  Then I asked, ‘Well, what do you think, my friend?  Her mother’s daughter?’

“He looked at me for a moment as if I’d caught him off guard, then smiled.  ‘Jack!  She’s a marvel!  I’ve come to see her a second time, and brought our Octavius tonight.’  Ben had also been Achates in my Dido, so I knew him pretty well.

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“‘But I thought you’d all be in rehearsal for Chikamatsu,’ I said.  ‘Who’s minding the store?’

“‘Betty occasionally grants us a day off, too, Jack.’

“By that time the women were coming out of the rest room, all three chattering together.  It was time to get back to our seats, but Betty did have time to say, ‘Isn’t she fantastic?’

“‘Of course she’s got a pretty good writer,’ I offered.

“‘Well, this calls for a celebration,’ she said.  ‘Let’s all take our Titania someplace after the play.’

“When the performance was over, and we went backstage to congratulate her, Christine was just beaming.  Then we waited for her to get changed.  As she came out, she was having trouble fastening the clasp on her purse, and looking quite the charming young lady in her mock annoyance.  Betty suggested that we go to a little bar nearby for our celebration.  ‘Jordan and Ben, too–in Christine’s honor.  If you’re old enough to play Titania, you’re old enough to go to a bar, aren’t you?  But we’ll order you sarsaparilla.’  I had no objection, expecting to be able to talk to Christine alone the next day.  So we went to this little bar . . . where Betty knew everyone.”

Shoko said, “Yes . . . tell Henry Betty’s Oklahoma story.”

“He’s probably heard it, but I’ll try.  As I came back to the table from getting a check cashed, Betty had already taken charge.  ‘I was telling Christine about the time we were in that holdup in that little place in Oklahoma, Jack–a bar a lot like this, except for the people–when you were such a hero and I couldn’t stop laughing–almost got us shot.  You remember?’

“‘Yes,” I said, “I remember . . . though I haven’t thought about it for a long time–and was never a hero.’

“‘Why’d we ever stop there in the first place?’ Betty asked.  ‘Jordan has been disagreeing with me about that.’

“‘She has it all wrong,’ Jordan put in, ‘though, as usual, she’s making a better story out of it than it was.’

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“‘We’d been driving all day, on our misguided summer tour from Miami to San Francisco,’ Betty said.  ‘Scheduled for Kansas City but canceled, we’d headed for Denver through Oklahoma City–my one-time experience there.  You two were arguing about something, making the car seem even smaller.’

“‘I could challenge about three facts right there,’ Jordan said, ‘but I won’t.’

“‘Well,’ Betty went on, ‘we stopped at this little bar–like all these cozy beer joints, except they were wearing jeans and flannel shirts and local color things.  We’d been there maybe half an hour, and Jack was teasing the waitress–as he always does.  I warn you, Laura, he’s got his eye on one here already.  I was watching the waitress’s reactions, when suddenly her eyes went wide.  My first thought was to check where Jack’s hands were, but saw a surprised look on his face, too, so turned to see that they were looking at these three guys–young fellows, two of them black, wearing masks, all white.’

“I intruded, as she had set me up to do, ‘Only one was black, and they were using those red farm bandannas as masks–which gave it a real Oklahoma hold-up flavor.’

“‘But they all had guns, and the blond, who seemed in charge, shouted, “Okay, folks, it’s a holdup!  Everybody over against that wall!”  And I started to laugh.  He was so wrong for the part–as if they were doing it as a comedy.  But we all lined up along the wall, and he started gathering things we’d left at the tables, while one of the black men was collecting rings, watches, and wallets down the line.  When the blond got to my purse, I said, “You leave that alone. That’s my purse!”

“‘Then he said, “Just shut up, Red!  And quit that laughing.  You think this’s a joke?”  He made a special point of picking up my purse–as if it were a personal challenge.

“‘Then the dog out back started howling–a problem we won’t have here–and I was laughing again.  These guys were

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trying to quiet me down, and one of the black men jabbed a gun into Jack’s ribs.  I took them seriously enough–it was the young blond that was so funny.  I asked him, “If you’re taking all our money, how can we buy gas to get out of this damn  state?”  He said if I didn’t shut up he’d take me on a ride I’d never forget.  Afterward I wished he had–I could have been his gun moll–because, really, that incident is almost all I can remember now of that whole dreary summer.’

“‘Dreary summer?’ I said, ‘Doing our famous abbreviated version of Othello, and my one-act parody, Keep Your Eye on the Handkerchief?’  I said to the others, ‘Betty and I were newly married, so it was really a kind of extended honeymoon.  Perhaps the most memorable summer of my life!’

“‘Yes, darling–because you were so much younger then!  But think about where we performed.  And where we slept!  And those long hot days in that station wagon–BAC–Before Air Conditioning!  How did people actually live in Texas and Oklahoma in those days?  For most of those places we played–“dreary” is too complimentary!  And to be strangled twice a night by your husband–urged on by “honest Iago” here.  I began to feel I might not be safe alone with Jack–if I ever had been.’  I smiled at Christine, for whom I knew she was telling this story. ‘Then that play of yours blamed me for everything.  Male chauvinist!  I’d about decided to give you back your handkerchief and go home to my father before my lights did get put out–or I decided to strangle you first.’

“‘You were a delightful Desdemona,’ I said, ‘though you’d never been as innocent as you appeared to be on stage, and were still plotting to run off to New York with “honest Iago.”‘

“Jordan reacted to that one.  ‘Let’s not get personal, Jack.  I dutifully sent her off with you to that little college in Nebraska.  Even tried to get her to go back when she showed up here with Henry–of all people.  Did they tell you that?  I

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was sure that you’d both soon be fed up with those corn fields anyway, and head for New York.  I considered it inevitable.’

“‘Where was I when all of this was going on?’  It was Christine’s turn to ask a question–one she knew the answer to.

“‘Where indeed?’ was Betty’s response, smiling at her child. ‘Barely conceived, and look at you now, commanding your own stage in New York City.  I knew I was pregnant, and it was starting to show–which wasn’t the best for Desdemona’s reputation, given how long she and Othello had been married.  If your father and I had been more careful under the scaffold you wouldn’t be worrying about shades of lipstick and hairstyles now.  So you were there, my dear–but were in no position to contradict my memory of the facts now.

“‘Now, where was I? Yes, that young blond was upset because I kept laughing at him.  Maybe it was that stage of pregnancy–but no–it was partly that howling dog–but mostly being held up by a boy who wasn’t sure which was the right end of the gun.  I saw a TV show where two fellows holding up a movie theatre did it all wrong–the manager recognized one of them, who called the other one by name.  You’ve got to be good to do that kind of thing.  I thought I’d die–and I could see my laughing really embarrassed him, in front of the two black men, who did seem to know what they were doing.’

“‘One of them was white–the one Jack hit,’ Jordan put in.

“‘He was not!  Or that silly blond wouldn’t have been in charge.  In Oklahoma, in those days, the white man had to be in charge.  Even of a robbery.  Isn’t that so, Jack?’

“‘No, it’s not . . . but I’m not going to dispute it with you.’

“‘When the blond came over threatening me, I grabbed my purse back and hit him with it.  The one black man would’ve hit me, if your father hadn’t clobbered him–when he wasn’t looking.  But he was holding a gun.  The other black man actually fired his, though I don’t know at what–or what he hit.

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I’m sure he didn’t want to kill anybody–certainly not a white man–not in Oklahoma!  It was just supposed to be a robbery.  The guns were part of the costume.  It frightened him most, I think, because he started backing for the door.  The blond boy picked up the gun the man Jack hit had dropped, and I know he was holding that one backwards, by the barrel.'”

“Betty was really laughing as she told this part of the story, mostly to Christine . . . with gestures,” Shoko said.

“‘He stood there bewildered, a gun in each hand, and I  started laughing again.  He glared at me as if he wanted to shoot, but wasn’t sure how to work which gun.  That big black man was coming up off one knee like a lion or gorilla about to chew Jack up, and that ineffective little blond fellow absolutely tamed him.  He said “Buddy,” or “Big Boy,” or “Bosco,” or something, “Let’s get out of here.  We’ve got enough.”

“‘That big ox stopped like he was on a leash, picked up his sack of stuff, and they left.  I was laughing so hard it took me ten minutes to get stopped.  It was that blond, mostly, but it was you, too, Jack.  If you could’ve seen the look in your eyes after you realized you’d hit a man holding a gun, you’d have laughed, too.  But I was proud of you.  There I was, your fair lady, carrying your child, attacked by those nasty men, and you instinctively came to my rescue.  They didn’t get my purse, either–though they did get your wallets!  We really had a party then.  Nothing like shared traumatic experience to break down the natural reserve among strangers, I’ve noticed.  Not that they had very much to begin with in Oklahoma City.

“‘The locals were buying beer on account, and the people the thieves hadn’t got to yet were chipping in, calling me “Red,” and you “Jack, old boy,” and I thought it was great.’

“‘And played it to the hilt,’ Jordan said, ‘sitting on the bar, telling them they should see Jack when he was in top form, that the guy he hit was lucky his trainer had pulled him out of

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it before he really got hurt.  Then Betty recited speeches from every play she’d ever been in–something from every one, I’m sure.  It must have been one of your best audiences ever.’

“As Betty had been rattling on, I’d been watching those listening to her.  She had your attention, Shoko, and Laura’s, and Ben was sitting there with that blasé expression that was part of his mystique.  But, while Christine was engrossed in what her mother was telling her, it was with a reaction that indicated the ambivalence of credibility she was giving it.”

“She knew her mother pretty well by then,” Shoko said. “She was still awed by her, but pleased that the woman she so admired on stage had made a point of inviting her to that bar.”

“I’d seen Christine so seldom in the previous two years I was amazed by how much older she’d become.  My Lolita was gone, leaving this Faery Queen.  Her hair was a little darker red than Betty’s, and her temperament more reserved, but she had Betty’s profile–the nose, the pout to her lips when she smiled, the sparkle in the eyes–all of which had worked well to bring Titania to life.  It had become obvious that evening that she was her mother’s daughter–tuning to her wave length.

“She must have felt me staring at her and looked over, smiling, as if to say she didn’t believe a word of any story her mother told.  I smiled back, then began playing with the patterns my glass was making on the glass tabletop until she looked away, leaving me staring into the distance at an image of a little girl that Laura and I had taken to California.  Where had that little girl gone, leaving this mysterious stranger?

“I looked back at Betty, who’d been the model for every heroine in everything I’d written for half of my life–controlled my imagination even when I wasn’t conscious of it–my Hester Prynne, my Desdemona, my countess, my Dido.  And the woman who had laughed those holdup men out of taking her purse?  I did love her, really had hit a man who’d raised a hand

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to her with a gun in his other hand.  I’d have died for her.  But she’d left me, with the baby who was now Shakespeare’s Titania, to run off to New York . . . with you, Henry.

“Now Christine was being drawn into her world, as Betty, and Jordan, too, began to see her potential as an actress.”

“Betty had hardly seemed to notice Christine until we’d gone to France, when she’d been impressed by how quickly she learned French–and how much fun she was to go places with,” Shoko said.  “Then she surprised us all by getting cast as Titania.  Betty went to a few of the rehearsals, then all three performances.  Jordan had opening night, then again that last night.  Though she’d been working at the theatre ever since she’d come to New York–doing anything they’d let her do–it must have seemed to Christine that, as she stepped on stage, her mother was taking her seriously for the first time.”

“And now, suddenly, Jordan was interested in her, too,” I said.  “As Betty finished her Oklahoma story he said, ‘We talk about doing Romeo and Juliet, to complete your set of four love-suicide plays.  Well, let’s do it–with Christine and Ben here.  I’ve come this second time as a scout.  She can handle Shakespeare’s language beautifully.  It’s harder with Juliet, an extremely sophisticated thirteen-year-old, of course.  There’s the speech where she rings a dozen variations on “eye/I/aye,” and all the extended metaphors she uses.  I’d like to hear Christine read those speeches.  But I’ll bet she can.

“‘Betty, you say we’re too old to play Romeo and Juliet.  All right.  Since you like new challenges, play the nurse–a real plum.  Great actresses would come from England for a chance at that.  And I’ll play Capulet, a nice cameo piece.  But for Christine it’s the chance of a lifetime.  We’ll need to work with her, but she has the stage intelligence–I’ve never seen a girl that age with greater potential for doing Shakespeare–and not many boys.  And she’s still young enough to be absolutely

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believable as Juliet.  A miraculous combination.’  He paused, then smiled and said, ‘Then we can think about Hamlet.’

“Betty looked at Christine, who was quietly basking in this kind of praise from Jordan, and said, ‘Are you sure that this isn’t just a dream?’  But she agreed to ‘think about it.'”

“By the next day,” Shoko said, “they were rescheduling rehearsals to include Romeo and Juliet as soon as they could.  Laura wasn’t enthusiastic, since Christine still had a year of high school, but all she had to do was look at the shine in Christine’s eyes to know there was no use opposing the idea.”

“I was frustrated by commitments I had in Japan during the whole period scheduled for the performances,” I said, “but assumed they’d reschedule all four plays in this coming season, when I could’ve made special arrangements to come see it.

“I saw the play in rehearsal, then three performances, ” Shoko said, “and Christine was as amazing as the reviewers said.  How the countess would have loved to see her.”

Henry added, “Jordan pulled out all the stops as Capulet, and received good notices, but it was Christine and Betty who caught the reviewers’ attention–the mother and daughter.  Given those reviews it had been easy to interest Randall in doing the film version of that play first.  Betty also planned to do it live here in LA by way of getting everyone acclimatized.

“Then, after working with Christine in their Juliet-Capulet scenes, Jordan began to badger Betty about doing Hamlet this summer, and, when she said, ‘Definitely not!’ went to the idea of The Tempest, with Christine as Miranda.  Betty reminded him that Christine was still younger than she’d been as Eliza in Pygmalion, but she had turned eighteen, and Jordan said, ‘Not too young to discover she’s a Shakespearean actress.’  Betty thought that what appealed to him most was that Christine was submissive, ‘just what he wants in the actress he’s working with.’  Soon everyone felt the tension–Laura, because she

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thought Christine was moving too quickly, her life being gobbled up by the theatre; Jordan, because Betty began to give priority to filming Romeo and Juliet; Betty, because she began to find Christine as hard to handle as she had been; Shoko and me, because we were caught in the middle; and, most of all, Christine herself, as she developed a crush on Jordan–following in her mother’s footsteps in that, as well.”

“As we were leaving that little bar that evening Jordan said, ‘I hope we can do this Romeo and Juliet, Jack.  But Betty’s  giving me a bad time on this deal Henry’s been promoting, filming some of the plays, out in your Hollywood.’

“Betty overheard, and said, ‘Jordan opposes filming our stage performances–what Henry’s been working on.  He’ll be going back to California–with Shoko–as soon as he can.  It’ll mean “splitting our energies,” as Jordan says, but, when I was out there with you before, he worked very closely with Henry here.  Now it’s all my Henry!  Henry thinks of Jordan–as Jordan himself does–as our greatest living actor, so is as much concerned about his interest as about mine.  And, in spite of being blind, Henry still manages everything for us.’

“But, on my way back to Tokyo two days later, I was almost relieved to realize that, once again, I was of no immediate use to Betty, wouldn’t even be in California when you arrived this time.  Then, while in Japan, I heard how your plans for filming the four love-suicide plays were progressing–in English from Laura and in Japanese from Shoko–and that you might even stage the Romeo and Juliet in Los Angeles first, perhaps about the time I’d be getting back, so I was pleased about that.  But then, just a few days later, I saw the picture of Jordan and Betty in the newspaper, which managed to drive any other thoughts from my mind.”

Henry said, “You know, Jack, I was named as executor by both Jordan and Betty, so, on their deaths, fell heir to their

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problems, and their papers.  Jordan didn’t have the financial assets Betty did, spent everything he had on things like that Ferrari, but, back in New York, I do have his library and diaries.  He kept a diary clear back during his college years, and when he was in England.  He began to work on a book about his theatre experience while Betty was out here with you.  I was helping him on that, and might go back to work on those materials–with Shoko’s help.  I have full records for the years since Betty and he started the theatre company, and I think he really did expect my help in publishing these things.

“But my blindness affected our relationship in ways I never understood, and, more recently, he was angry because I was supporting Betty.  Soon after Romeo and Juliet closed, I’d moved back out here, with Shoko, to negotiate the contract for a season of plays on television, hoping those four plays would be the first step in filming their plays on a regular basis.  Shoko knows.  She’s been helping me ever since, living here with me.  Betty would usually stay at the house in Encino when she was out here, but would also spend time up here, do some painting, consult with me . . . play with Grendel . . . go out in the boat.  But, even when I was sharing Shoko, I stayed here as much as I could.  Shangri-La is just too much for me.

“The death of Betty and Jordan has changed all our plans, of course, leaving us without an established project.  So I might go to work on a biography of Jordan.  Shoko and I have talked about it.  Perhaps a joint biography–Antony and Cleopatra–could hardly leave Betty out.  But we also have something else in mind we need to talk to you about, Jack.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d like to wait a bit on that, too . . . until you’re in the right mood.”  He laughed.

“Another surprise?  Now you really have aroused my curiosity.  But, all right.”

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Assignment for Bridge 23:

Read Shakespeare’s The Tempest, imagining Christine as Miranda (and yourself as . . . Caliban).





Bridge 22–A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Our faery queene, bewildered in the woods,

Discovers she’s enamored of an ass,

Though she could fly through grosser neighborhoods

Enchanting every creature that she’d pass.

But Puck’s the one whose joy it is to fly–

To serve the faery king, his bit of fun–

And he’s the one who comes to ponder why

The ass she sees is not the only one.

Declares he  knows what fools these mortals be,

Especially when they start to talk of love,

And laughs from his box seat, up in the tree,

Reflecting on their passions from above.

Yet even faery kings still love, it seems,

And everyone who goes to sleep still dreams.

[Spring, 1974]

“Yes, I do see the boat now, Henry . . . but still clear over on the other side of the lake,” I said.

“Well, it shouldn’t be long now, Jack,” Henry said, then to Shoko, “and I’m getting hungry . . . for a good steak.”

“Me, too,” I said, and, as I thought about it, I really was.

I watched that skier in the distance for a long moment–with a strong sense of deja vu.  “I can understand how your trip to France might have begun to bring Betty and Christine closer together,” I said, “and the two weeks Jordan and I spent working on my Mishima while you were gone certainly brought us closer together than we’d been since college.”

Henry smiled.  “And I can understand that, Jack.”

“By then I had begun working on this film version of Mishima’s Forbidden Colors, and, as Jordan had recently read the book, we talked a lot about that, too–so were heavily into Mishima.  We had both first met his work in his Five Modern


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Noh Plays, under the influence of the countess.  Then, back when we did my Dido, you recall, Jordan had gotten high on the film version of Yukoku.  But Mishima’s own seppuku–on Christine’s fourteenth birthday, November 25, 1970, as it happened–was the magic moment for all of us.  I was in Tokyo at the time, and was soon writing my own modern Noh play, Mishima.  When I finished it, I sent Jordan a copy, and he said he’d like do it.  I’ve never had an easier sale.

“I’d followed Mishima in writing a modern Noh play, but reversed his method.  He’d given those medieval stories a modern French staging, but I took his own modern story and gave it a medieval staging, using two classical Noh plays, Sotoba Komachi and Atsumori, as models.  I had Mishima’s ghost, as shite, appear to a Japanese student, as waki, at the Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, do a kendo dance with Saigo Takemori, Mishima’s ‘last true samurai,’ perform a ritual seppuku, and leave the student with the legacy of traditional Japanese values embodied in his kendo staff.

“Jordan loved it, and said, ‘Let’s do it while Betty’s in Europe, Jack.  There’s no part in it for her anyway.’  He was reading the first volume of Mishima’s final tetralogy, Spring Snow, so wanted to talk about that, too.  Then, since the play is only half an hour long, he decided to use it as an after-piece for his Richard II, the Shakespeare he was doing while you were gone that summer.  Laura saw both plays with me.”

“Betty and Christine and I saw them after we came back, and were impressed by your play–and Jordan as Mishima–but I’m still repelled by Mishima’s suicide,” Shoko said.

“Well, as you can imagine, Jordan and I had different theories on that.  His was that Mishima was the consummate actor.  He said, ‘He had the courage to make a coherent drama of his own life, Jack.  In Rites of Love and Death he acted out Lieutenant Takeyama’s seppuku, in your play I’m acting out

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his, but in real life he wrote that final scene and acted it out himself.  You say in your play he did it to mythologize himself, and I like that idea . . . but–at the center of his being–he was an actor!  As I am.  He couldn’t resist a great final curtain!’

“‘Everyone has his own idea on Mishima’s suicide,’ I told him.  ‘Most agree with the Japanese prime minister, that he was crazy.  Many feel he did it to top Kawabata’s winning of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968, which he’d expected to win.  His mother said, “Well, he’s finally done what he always wanted to do”–suggesting he was obsessed with the idea of seppuku.  But if you don’t take my reading in the play, the one I like best is that he did it precisely because it was meaningless.  I heard that developed by a Japanese drama critic, and that seems to have been the final theme of his tetralogy . . . the Buddhist theme that all life is meaningless.’

“Jordan shook his head.  ‘I don’t see that, Jack.’

“‘Well, you’re reading Spring Snow now.  At the end of the last book of the tetralogy, when Honda seeks out Satoko, now abbess of the temple to which she’d fled at the end of that first book, sixty years before, to talk to her about the meaning of her love for Kiyoake and its tragic conclusion, she asks, “Who was Kiyoake?” then questions whether such a person ever existed, saying, “memory is like a phantom mirror,” and making Honda feel that his meeting with her is a kind of dream, that he’d come “to a place with no memories, nothing.”  That suggests to some that Mishima truly was a latter-day Buddhist, as I’ve always believed Hawthorne was a latter-day Puritan, and that, in Hawthorne’s case, it was the organized church, not Hawthorne, that had lost the vision of original sin.’

“But you say that, in his final act, Mishima mythologized himself,” Henry remarked.  “Shoko read me your play.”

“Yes, I think so.  The image of Mishima that exists a hundred years from now will be the one he created, not the

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one that Jordan and I did–in spite of Jordan’s total credibility. But I think Jordan was right, too. And another view that also appeals to me is that his suicide was the ultimate PR ploy, designed to draw attention to his work, the last pages of which–the old Honda going to meet the old Satoko at the temple–he’d just delivered to the publisher that same day.  That makes even more sense to me as, just this year, we’ve seen two biographies of Mishima in English, while we’re still waiting for one of Kawabata.  But, as with ‘why does Hamlet delay?’ or ‘why does Iago deceive Othello?’ these motives for Mishima’s suicide are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”

Shoko said, “No.  He was always a complicated writer, Jack . . . liked ambiguity.  Especially in Forbidden Colors.”

“That’s true.  Jordan was pleased that I was working on a Mishima film,  but asked, ‘Why that book, Jack?’

“‘Because it’s his best.  I consider it his Symposium–which he refers to in the novel.  He had read the dialogue in the original Greek, in a course he took at Tokyo University.’

“I really enjoyed working with Jordan again.  It reminded me what a great Higgins he’d been, and I tended to sympathize with him as, at the end, Betty seemed to be leaving him–as she had me–to run off with you again . . . if to the opposite coast.”  Henry laughed, but Shoko didn’t, just shook her head.

The boat and water skier were coming directly toward us now, and I could soon see they were headed for our boat-dock.  Grendel suddenly perked up, too, from where he had been dozing at Henry’s feet, as if he knew who was coming.

The closer they got, the more I could imagine it was Betty I was watching.  It wasn’t just the familiar figure and the red hair flying in the wind, but I even thought I recognized the green swimming suit she’d worn the last few times I’d been out in the boat with her.  And the flamboyance, sweeping from one side of the wake to the other with a seemingly lazy rhythm

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was the same.  It pleased me to indulge that fantasy as long as I could.  A little closer and I could identify the woman managing the boat as well.  As they approached the shore, the one at the wheel swung a wide circle to allow the skier to sweep up onto the sand of our little swimming area, tumbling and laughing as she did.  Grendel was down there in the water to greet her.  It was Laura in the boat, and the skier was Christine–as I had known for some time, of course.  I said to Henry, “So this was your surprise.  I thought they were still in New York, and expected to be visiting them there next week.”

“We decided to keep it as a surprise, Jack,” Shoko said, “though I was sure you’d guessed.  I can tell so easily when it’s Christine skiing out there . . . clear across the lake.”

Laura waved up at us, idling the boat well off shore as she reeled in the tow-rope.  Christine, greeting Grendel as enthusiastically as he was her, was way ahead of her coming up the rock steps we’d set into the slope to where the three of us were sitting.  But she stopped a few steps short, as if assessing me with her mother’s critical eye, then said, “Uncle Henry said you were coming today . . . but not until later, I thought.”

“He came early, Chris,” Henry said.  “You know your dad.  Lives in his own time frame.  But we’ve just been sitting in the sunshine telling each other stories, and you’re in time to help cook the steaks . . . so haven’t really missed a thing.”

“You’re looking good, Christine,” I finally said, “up close and out on the water.  So much like your mother you had me bewitched.  They didn’t tell me you and Laura were here.”

“That was my idea.  But we were supposed to be here to surprise you.  Grendel and I might have jumped out from behind a tree as you came up the trail–like we used to do.”

I was standing by then.  I held out my arms and she dropped the water skis and gave me a healthy hug, wet swimsuit and all.  “How old are you now?  Eighteen isn’t it?”

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She looked at me as if I should have known, which, of course, I did.  “Yes, eighteen.  Nineteen in November.”

“And a high school graduate.  Pretty grown up all right.”

“And thanks for your present–the kimono from Japan.”

“Shoko will have to show you how to wear it.”

“She already has.  I’ll show you how it looks later.”

“You’re still younger than your mother was when we met, but do other people tell you you look . . . so much like her?”

“I don’t hear anything else . . . but I don’t think so.”  She was petting the dog.

“Here’s Grendel, but where’s Midnight?”  I asked her.

She laughed.  “Alive and well–but an old cat now.  We left her with Thomas this morning.  He needs some company.”

Laura came struggling up the steps with the gear from the boat, saying, “Hello, Jack.  You’re early.  We wouldn’t have gone out but Henry said you’d be coming later, and Christine wanted to ski.  She even pulled me for a while, and we stopped over at that new marina for a sandwich and a coke.”

“I should have helped you with some of that stuff,” I said.

“Why?  You never did before.”  She put what she was carrying down next to the skis, then came and gave me a hug and kiss.  How much at home she always seemed here.  Well, it was her home.  She could dispossess Henry and Shoko now, as she could have Betty and me back when she’d decided, instead, to stay in New York.  I often thought she’d put up with me over the years mostly for Christine’s sake, but, as I kissed her, wondered again how I kept letting her get away.

We talked for a while, comparing Tokyo and New York, but then Laura said, “We’ll have time for this later, Jack.  Christine and I’d better take showers and get changed if we’re going to help with dinner,” and they went on up to the cabin.

Shoko watched them going up the stairs, then, as the screen door closed behind Christine, said, “One thing that has

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bothered me, Jack, is why you had a gun here at all.  That was your gun . . . wasn’t it?  Why was it here?”

“The police asked that, too, when I was here for the funeral.  They even sent a police lieutenant to Tokyo to talk to me–because Betty was my wife, and because it was my gun.  I’d bought it years ago–certainly not for  protection here.”

“You told me to shoot bears in Alaska,” Henry said.

“That’s right–in Alaska.  During my junior year in college I’d lost interest–again–and dropped out of UCLA.  Then that summer I’d gone to Alaska with a friend, Dan Beaton, because the summer before other friends had borrowed the money to fly to Anchorage and come back with enough to buy new cars.  But that year the unions were out on strike–so no jobs.

“Luckily we got civilian jobs with the Air Force.  Dan’s was at the main base, but mine was as electrical maintenance man at the Air Force hospital, about ten miles from Elmendorf AFB, out in the woods.  It was mostly changing light bulbs in about five miles of corridor, which I was tall enough to do without a ladder–so it was a good job for me.  I soon made friends with a supply sergeant, Joe Jackson, who’d been a Golden Gloves boxer and started ‘training’ with him.  We’d run three miles through the woods each morning, and camped out a lot–since the sun shines almost all night there in the summer.

“But I’d often go in to the Civilian Club, on the main base, to meet with Dan, drink beer, and play my favorite song, Heartache, on the jukebox.  They had a $2.00 limit poker game there, and I won enough one night to buy that .38 police special from a young GI at the hospital.  In the big hand, I held three kings against three tens–so guess those kings are why I owned that gun.  I liked to carry the gun in the woods, and did expect to shoot a bear–if I met one.  Joe used to say, ‘Not if I’m along!  You’d just make a bear good and mad with a .38.’  Then came the Korean War, and I went into the Air Force.

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“I always liked that gun.  Just to hold it–the feel of the grip, the balance.  I qualified with it, as an officer’s sidearm, while I was in the Air Force.  Then I just happened to have it here–as a souvenir of the summer I was twenty-one in Alaska, I suppose.  I kept it in a drawer in the bedroom, but hadn’t fired it for years–had forgotten about it..  So it was quite a shock to discover that one old friend had killed two others.

“Then they sent this lieutenant to ask about it–and other things.  It was as if they suspected me–a man caught with my wife in a cabin at the lake, and both shot dead–with my gun.  But, since I’d been in Tokyo for two months prior to the shooting, I had a pretty good alibi.  He had questions about Betty and Jordan, too, and about you, Henry–since you were evidently holding that gun when the police got here.  I had a lot of questions for the lieutenant, too, as I gave him the tour of Tokyo–to the kabuki-za, for sake and sashimi, up and down the Ginza–to the McDonald’s, of course–so I think it was a good trip for him.  I never heard any more from them.”

“I’d told them all about the gun, Jack,” Henry said.  “I knew your bear story.  And we did target practice with the gun up on the hill once, years ago.  I think the police have it in their evidence file . . . but you could probably get it back now.  As you can imagine, I’ve had no desire to have it here.”

“Yes, it would feel strange to hold that gun in my hand now–the gun that killed Betty . . . and Jordan . . . though it was never fired at a bear.”

“The chief detective, because of Jordan’s phone call, was inclined to call it a double suicide,” Henry said, “but, after I told them what had happened, as best I could, most saw it as a bizarre accident–though they also questioned people in New York about Betty and Jordan’s troubled relationship.”

“The last time I saw Betty she seemed pretty comfortable there,” I said. “Randall had expected her to come make more

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movies, but she said, ‘I like the theatre, Jack, the whole story every time.  Movies are bits and pieces, and the directing is out of your hands.  Here, I’m in control.’  And it seemed she was–which was what bothered Jordan most, I suppose.”

“But he seemed happy doing Shakespeare,” Shoko said.

“And was always doing Shakespeare.  Last year Laura wrote they’d be doing Antony and Cleopatra again just when Christine’s high school was doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I’d be able to see both if I could come back then.  I did, and saw one of the Chikamatsu love-suicide plays I’d adapted in rehearsal, too.  After the Mishima, Betty had finally convinced Jordan to do those plays, but, to present Shakespeare’s early and late love-suicide plays with  them, they needed to add Romeo and Juliet.  Betty didn’t want them playing ‘those young kids,’ just wanted to complete the set of four plays . . . which they then did . . . with Christine.”

“Yes,” Henry said, “Jordan resisted it at first, but actually enjoyed doing the Japanese plays. The Love Suicides at Amijima and The Love Suicides at Sonezaki.  I was around as they were being rehearsed, but still get them mixed up.”

Shoko pretended dismay.  “Even after I read them to you?  Shinju Ten no Amijima, the later play, has the betrayed wife as the most interesting character–remember?  Betty liked the contrast of all-suffering Osan to Cleopatra.  But both Chikamatsu plays were written for the puppet theatre companies.”

“I only saw the one, the Amijima, in rehearsal.  Betty used all the Japanese elements she knew anything about in setting and costume, and puppets as a kind of chorus–though in Japanese Bunraku the puppets are the main characters in the plays.  I made a special trip to Osaka to see that same play done by a traditional puppet company.  Their puppetry is far beyond anything we know here–three puppeteers to one puppet–all in the service of the text . . . a playwright’s dream.”

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“I’d love to see that, Jack,” Henry said.  “Anyway, the chief detective thought Betty and Jordan had fallen under the spell of that double-suicide mystique in doing those plays, but the fellow who came to see you thought Jordan had killed Betty in anger, because she’d set her will against his–then, realizing what he’d done, killed himself.  Did he tell you that?”

“Yes, he did.  And I told him Jordan was no more capable of killing Betty than I was, and neither of them was capable of suicide.  But, you were here when it happened, Henry.  I hope you can explain it to me, like you did to them.”

“I’ll be glad to tell you what I know, Jack, but have promised to tell Laura, too–though I didn’t see any more than either of you did–so let’s wait for her.  And I’d still like to hear about your trip to New York to see Christine in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, since I wasn’t there at that time.”

“Fair enough.  Laura went with me, and we sat with other pleased parents, watching our Fairy Queen make Shakespeare sound like her natural speech.  We saw Betty and you a few rows in front, Shoko, and I was watching your reactions as I thought, ‘There’s our girl, seventeen and counting,’ wondering just how much theatre would come to mean in her young life.

“At intermission, I was looking for you two, but saw Jordan first, over by the big front windows, looking out on the lights of the city and talking with Ben Winston, that young fellow in your company.  As I came up behind them, Jordan was asking, ‘So how’d you like to play Romeo to her Juliet?’  Ben responded, ‘She’s good, Jordan.  But a high-school girl?’

“Jordan jumped as I touched his shoulder.  Then I asked, ‘Well, what do you think, my friend?  Her mother’s daughter?’

“He looked at me for a moment as if I’d caught him off guard, then smiled.  ‘Jack!  She’s a marvel!  I’ve come to see her a second time, and brought our Octavius tonight.’  Ben had also been Achates in my Dido, so I knew him pretty well.

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“‘But I thought you’d all be in rehearsal for Chikamatsu,’ I said.  ‘Who’s minding the store?’

“‘Betty occasionally grants us a day off, too, Jack.’

“By that time the women were coming out of the rest room, all three chattering together.  It was time to get back to our seats, but Betty did have time to say, ‘Isn’t she fantastic?’

“‘Of course she’s got a pretty good writer,’ I offered.

“‘Well, this calls for a celebration,’ she said.  ‘Let’s all take our Titania someplace after the play.’

“When the performance was over, and we went backstage to congratulate her, Christine was just beaming.  Then we waited for her to get changed.  As she came out, she was having trouble fastening the clasp on her purse, and looking quite the charming young lady in her mock annoyance.  Betty suggested that we go to a little bar nearby for our celebration.  ‘Jordan and Ben, too–in Christine’s honor.  If you’re old enough to play Titania, you’re old enough to go to a bar, aren’t you?  But we’ll order you sarsaparilla.’  I had no objection, expecting to be able to talk to Christine alone the next day.  So we went to this little bar . . . where Betty knew everyone.”

Shoko said, “Yes . . . tell Henry Betty’s Oklahoma story.”

“He’s probably heard it, but I’ll try.  As I came back to the table from getting a check cashed, Betty had already taken charge.  ‘I was telling Christine about the time we were in that holdup in that little place in Oklahoma, Jack–a bar a lot like this, except for the people–when you were such a hero and I couldn’t stop laughing–almost got us shot.  You remember?’

“‘Yes,” I said, “I remember . . . though I haven’t thought about it for a long time–and was never a hero.’

“‘Why’d we ever stop there in the first place?’ Betty asked.  ‘Jordan has been disagreeing with me about that.’

“‘She has it all wrong,’ Jordan put in, ‘though, as usual, she’s making a better story out of it than it was.’

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“‘We’d been driving all day, on our misguided summer tour from Miami to San Francisco,’ Betty said.  ‘Scheduled for Kansas City but canceled, we’d headed for Denver through Oklahoma City–my one-time experience there.  You two were arguing about something, making the car seem even smaller.’

“‘I could challenge about three facts right there,’ Jordan said, ‘but I won’t.’

“‘Well,’ Betty went on, ‘we stopped at this little bar–like all these cozy beer joints, except they were wearing jeans and flannel shirts and local color things.  We’d been there maybe half an hour, and Jack was teasing the waitress–as he always does.  I warn you, Laura, he’s got his eye on one here already.  I was watching the waitress’s reactions, when suddenly her eyes went wide.  My first thought was to check where Jack’s hands were, but saw a surprised look on his face, too, so turned to see that they were looking at these three guys–young fellows, two of them black, wearing masks, all white.’

“I intruded, as she had set me up to do, ‘Only one was black, and they were using those red farm bandannas as masks–which gave it a real Oklahoma hold-up flavor.’

“‘But they all had guns, and the blond, who seemed in charge, shouted, “Okay, folks, it’s a holdup!  Everybody over against that wall!”  And I started to laugh.  He was so wrong for the part–as if they were doing it as a comedy.  But we all lined up along the wall, and he started gathering things we’d left at the tables, while one of the black men was collecting rings, watches, and wallets down the line.  When the blond got to my purse, I said, “You leave that alone. That’s my purse!”

“‘Then he said, “Just shut up, Red!  And quit that laughing.  You think this’s a joke?”  He made a special point of picking up my purse–as if it were a personal challenge.

“‘Then the dog out back started howling–a problem we won’t have here–and I was laughing again.  These guys were

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trying to quiet me down, and one of the black men jabbed a gun into Jack’s ribs.  I took them seriously enough–it was the young blond that was so funny.  I asked him, “If you’re taking all our money, how can we buy gas to get out of this damn  state?”  He said if I didn’t shut up he’d take me on a ride I’d never forget.  Afterward I wished he had–I could have been his gun moll–because, really, that incident is almost all I can remember now of that whole dreary summer.’

“‘Dreary summer?’ I said, ‘Doing our famous abbreviated version of Othello, and my one-act parody, Keep Your Eye on the Handkerchief?’  I said to the others, ‘Betty and I were newly married, so it was really a kind of extended honeymoon.  Perhaps the most memorable summer of my life!’

“‘Yes, darling–because you were so much younger then!  But think about where we performed.  And where we slept!  And those long hot days in that station wagon–BAC–Before Air Conditioning!  How did people actually live in Texas and Oklahoma in those days?  For most of those places we played–“dreary” is too complimentary!  And to be strangled twice a night by your husband–urged on by “honest Iago” here.  I began to feel I might not be safe alone with Jack–if I ever had been.’  I smiled at Christine, for whom I knew she was telling this story. ‘Then that play of yours blamed me for everything.  Male chauvinist!  I’d about decided to give you back your handkerchief and go home to my father before my lights did get put out–or I decided to strangle you first.’

“‘You were a delightful Desdemona,’ I said, ‘though you’d never been as innocent as you appeared to be on stage, and were still plotting to run off to New York with “honest Iago.”‘

“Jordan reacted to that one.  ‘Let’s not get personal, Jack.  I dutifully sent her off with you to that little college in Nebraska.  Even tried to get her to go back when she showed up here with Henry–of all people.  Did they tell you that?  I

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was sure that you’d both soon be fed up with those corn fields anyway, and head for New York.  I considered it inevitable.’

“‘Where was I when all of this was going on?’  It was Christine’s turn to ask a question–one she knew the answer to.

“‘Where indeed?’ was Betty’s response, smiling at her child. ‘Barely conceived, and look at you now, commanding your own stage in New York City.  I knew I was pregnant, and it was starting to show–which wasn’t the best for Desdemona’s reputation, given how long she and Othello had been married.  If your father and I had been more careful under the scaffold you wouldn’t be worrying about shades of lipstick and hairstyles now.  So you were there, my dear–but were in no position to contradict my memory of the facts now.

“‘Now, where was I? Yes, that young blond was upset because I kept laughing at him.  Maybe it was that stage of pregnancy–but no–it was partly that howling dog–but mostly being held up by a boy who wasn’t sure which was the right end of the gun.  I saw a TV show where two fellows holding up a movie theatre did it all wrong–the manager recognized one of them, who called the other one by name.  You’ve got to be good to do that kind of thing.  I thought I’d die–and I could see my laughing really embarrassed him, in front of the two black men, who did seem to know what they were doing.’

“‘One of them was white–the one Jack hit,’ Jordan put in.

“‘He was not!  Or that silly blond wouldn’t have been in charge.  In Oklahoma, in those days, the white man had to be in charge.  Even of a robbery.  Isn’t that so, Jack?’

“‘No, it’s not . . . but I’m not going to dispute it with you.’

“‘When the blond came over threatening me, I grabbed my purse back and hit him with it.  The one black man would’ve hit me, if your father hadn’t clobbered him–when he wasn’t looking.  But he was holding a gun.  The other black man actually fired his, though I don’t know at what–or what he hit.

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I’m sure he didn’t want to kill anybody–certainly not a white man–not in Oklahoma!  It was just supposed to be a robbery.  The guns were part of the costume.  It frightened him most, I think, because he started backing for the door.  The blond boy picked up the gun the man Jack hit had dropped, and I know he was holding that one backwards, by the barrel.'”

“Betty was really laughing as she told this part of the story, mostly to Christine . . . with gestures,” Shoko said.

“‘He stood there bewildered, a gun in each hand, and I  started laughing again.  He glared at me as if he wanted to shoot, but wasn’t sure how to work which gun.  That big black man was coming up off one knee like a lion or gorilla about to chew Jack up, and that ineffective little blond fellow absolutely tamed him.  He said “Buddy,” or “Big Boy,” or “Bosco,” or something, “Let’s get out of here.  We’ve got enough.”

“‘That big ox stopped like he was on a leash, picked up his sack of stuff, and they left.  I was laughing so hard it took me ten minutes to get stopped.  It was that blond, mostly, but it was you, too, Jack.  If you could’ve seen the look in your eyes after you realized you’d hit a man holding a gun, you’d have laughed, too.  But I was proud of you.  There I was, your fair lady, carrying your child, attacked by those nasty men, and you instinctively came to my rescue.  They didn’t get my purse, either–though they did get your wallets!  We really had a party then.  Nothing like shared traumatic experience to break down the natural reserve among strangers, I’ve noticed.  Not that they had very much to begin with in Oklahoma City.

“‘The locals were buying beer on account, and the people the thieves hadn’t got to yet were chipping in, calling me “Red,” and you “Jack, old boy,” and I thought it was great.’

“‘And played it to the hilt,’ Jordan said, ‘sitting on the bar, telling them they should see Jack when he was in top form, that the guy he hit was lucky his trainer had pulled him out of

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it before he really got hurt.  Then Betty recited speeches from every play she’d ever been in–something from every one, I’m sure.  It must have been one of your best audiences ever.’

“As Betty had been rattling on, I’d been watching those listening to her.  She had your attention, Shoko, and Laura’s, and Ben was sitting there with that blasé expression that was part of his mystique.  But, while Christine was engrossed in what her mother was telling her, it was with a reaction that indicated the ambivalence of credibility she was giving it.”

“She knew her mother pretty well by then,” Shoko said. “She was still awed by her, but pleased that the woman she so admired on stage had made a point of inviting her to that bar.”

“I’d seen Christine so seldom in the previous two years I was amazed by how much older she’d become.  My Lolita was gone, leaving this Faery Queen.  Her hair was a little darker red than Betty’s, and her temperament more reserved, but she had Betty’s profile–the nose, the pout to her lips when she smiled, the sparkle in the eyes–all of which had worked well to bring Titania to life.  It had become obvious that evening that she was her mother’s daughter–tuning to her wave length.

“She must have felt me staring at her and looked over, smiling, as if to say she didn’t believe a word of any story her mother told.  I smiled back, then began playing with the patterns my glass was making on the glass tabletop until she looked away, leaving me staring into the distance at an image of a little girl that Laura and I had taken to California.  Where had that little girl gone, leaving this mysterious stranger?

“I looked back at Betty, who’d been the model for every heroine in everything I’d written for half of my life–controlled my imagination even when I wasn’t conscious of it–my Hester Prynne, my Desdemona, my countess, my Dido.  And the woman who had laughed those holdup men out of taking her purse?  I did love her, really had hit a man who’d raised a hand

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to her with a gun in his other hand.  I’d have died for her.  But she’d left me, with the baby who was now Shakespeare’s Titania, to run off to New York . . . with you, Henry.

“Now Christine was being drawn into her world, as Betty, and Jordan, too, began to see her potential as an actress.”

“Betty had hardly seemed to notice Christine until we’d gone to France, when she’d been impressed by how quickly she learned French–and how much fun she was to go places with,” Shoko said.  “Then she surprised us all by getting cast as Titania.  Betty went to a few of the rehearsals, then all three performances.  Jordan had opening night, then again that last night.  Though she’d been working at the theatre ever since she’d come to New York–doing anything they’d let her do–it must have seemed to Christine that, as she stepped on stage, her mother was taking her seriously for the first time.”

“And now, suddenly, Jordan was interested in her, too,” I said.  “As Betty finished her Oklahoma story he said, ‘We talk about doing Romeo and Juliet, to complete your set of four love-suicide plays.  Well, let’s do it–with Christine and Ben here.  I’ve come this second time as a scout.  She can handle Shakespeare’s language beautifully.  It’s harder with Juliet, an extremely sophisticated thirteen-year-old, of course.  There’s the speech where she rings a dozen variations on “eye/I/aye,” and all the extended metaphors she uses.  I’d like to hear Christine read those speeches.  But I’ll bet she can.

“‘Betty, you say we’re too old to play Romeo and Juliet.  All right.  Since you like new challenges, play the nurse–a real plum.  Great actresses would come from England for a chance at that.  And I’ll play Capulet, a nice cameo piece.  But for Christine it’s the chance of a lifetime.  We’ll need to work with her, but she has the stage intelligence–I’ve never seen a girl that age with greater potential for doing Shakespeare–and not many boys.  And she’s still young enough to be absolutely

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believable as Juliet.  A miraculous combination.’  He paused, then smiled and said, ‘Then we can think about Hamlet.’

“Betty looked at Christine, who was quietly basking in this kind of praise from Jordan, and said, ‘Are you sure that this isn’t just a dream?’  But she agreed to ‘think about it.'”

“By the next day,” Shoko said, “they were rescheduling rehearsals to include Romeo and Juliet as soon as they could.  Laura wasn’t enthusiastic, since Christine still had a year of high school, but all she had to do was look at the shine in Christine’s eyes to know there was no use opposing the idea.”

“I was frustrated by commitments I had in Japan during the whole period scheduled for the performances,” I said, “but assumed they’d reschedule all four plays in this coming season, when I could’ve made special arrangements to come see it.

“I saw the play in rehearsal, then three performances, ” Shoko said, “and Christine was as amazing as the reviewers said.  How the countess would have loved to see her.”

Henry added, “Jordan pulled out all the stops as Capulet, and received good notices, but it was Christine and Betty who caught the reviewers’ attention–the mother and daughter.  Given those reviews it had been easy to interest Randall in doing the film version of that play first.  Betty also planned to do it live here in LA by way of getting everyone acclimatized.

“Then, after working with Christine in their Juliet-Capulet scenes, Jordan began to badger Betty about doing Hamlet this summer, and, when she said, ‘Definitely not!’ went to the idea of The Tempest, with Christine as Miranda.  Betty reminded him that Christine was still younger than she’d been as Eliza in Pygmalion, but she had turned eighteen, and Jordan said, ‘Not too young to discover she’s a Shakespearean actress.’  Betty thought that what appealed to him most was that Christine was submissive, ‘just what he wants in the actress he’s working with.’  Soon everyone felt the tension–Laura, because she

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thought Christine was moving too quickly, her life being gobbled up by the theatre; Jordan, because Betty began to give priority to filming Romeo and Juliet; Betty, because she began to find Christine as hard to handle as she had been; Shoko and me, because we were caught in the middle; and, most of all, Christine herself, as she developed a crush on Jordan–following in her mother’s footsteps in that, as well.”

“As we were leaving that little bar that evening Jordan said, ‘I hope we can do this Romeo and Juliet, Jack.  But Betty’s  giving me a bad time on this deal Henry’s been promoting, filming some of the plays, out in your Hollywood.’

“Betty overheard, and said, ‘Jordan opposes filming our stage performances–what Henry’s been working on.  He’ll be going back to California–with Shoko–as soon as he can.  It’ll mean “splitting our energies,” as Jordan says, but, when I was out there with you before, he worked very closely with Henry here.  Now it’s all my Henry!  Henry thinks of Jordan–as Jordan himself does–as our greatest living actor, so is as much concerned about his interest as about mine.  And, in spite of being blind, Henry still manages everything for us.’

“But, on my way back to Tokyo two days later, I was almost relieved to realize that, once again, I was of no immediate use to Betty, wouldn’t even be in California when you arrived this time.  Then, while in Japan, I heard how your plans for filming the four love-suicide plays were progressing–in English from Laura and in Japanese from Shoko–and that you might even stage the Romeo and Juliet in Los Angeles first, perhaps about the time I’d be getting back, so I was pleased about that.  But then, just a few days later, I saw the picture of Jordan and Betty in the newspaper, which managed to drive any other thoughts from my mind.”

Henry said, “You know, Jack, I was named as executor by both Jordan and Betty, so, on their deaths, fell heir to their

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problems, and their papers.  Jordan didn’t have the financial assets Betty did, spent everything he had on things like that Ferrari, but, back in New York, I do have his library and diaries.  He kept a diary clear back during his college years, and when he was in England.  He began to work on a book about his theatre experience while Betty was out here with you.  I was helping him on that, and might go back to work on those materials–with Shoko’s help.  I have full records for the years since Betty and he started the theatre company, and I think he really did expect my help in publishing these things.

“But my blindness affected our relationship in ways I never understood, and, more recently, he was angry because I was supporting Betty.  Soon after Romeo and Juliet closed, I’d moved back out here, with Shoko, to negotiate the contract for a season of plays on television, hoping those four plays would be the first step in filming their plays on a regular basis.  Shoko knows.  She’s been helping me ever since, living here with me.  Betty would usually stay at the house in Encino when she was out here, but would also spend time up here, do some painting, consult with me . . . play with Grendel . . . go out in the boat.  But, even when I was sharing Shoko, I stayed here as much as I could.  Shangri-La is just too much for me.

“The death of Betty and Jordan has changed all our plans, of course, leaving us without an established project.  So I might go to work on a biography of Jordan.  Shoko and I have talked about it.  Perhaps a joint biography–Antony and Cleopatra–could hardly leave Betty out.  But we also have something else in mind we need to talk to you about, Jack.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d like to wait a bit on that, too . . . until you’re in the right mood.”  He laughed.

“Another surprise?  Now you really have aroused my curiosity.  But, all right.”

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Assignment for Bridge 23:

Read Shakespeare’s The Tempest, imagining Christine as Miranda (and yourself as . . . Caliban).








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