Her father and mother came to visit. On their first night Norma cooked dinner and after eating her cherry pie they sat in the front room and talked about her father's early days touring the country in vaudeville. He then stood up and performed one of the skits and everyone laughed and clapped their hands.
The lamps glowed and any disappointments or regrets were forgotten. From the canyon, really not all that far away, came the sound of a coyote howling. Soon they were all too tired to keep their eyes open anymore, especially her mother, so after using the bathroom and saying goodnight they all retired for the night and the house was silent again.
Norma awoke just as light was giving shape to the objects in the room. She carefully pushed back the cover, took her dressing gown from the end of the bed, found her slippers and stood up. The hands of the clock showed just past 5am. She looked across at Stanley who lay there fast asleep. She was sure he could sleep through an earthquake. She turned the doorhandle, opening the door slowly to avoid the creak.
The house was quiet and Norma was glad to have it all to herself. She expected her mother to be up after 6am so until then the house and all its silence were hers. In the kitchen she filled the kettle with water and placed it on the stove. Once she had her cup of coffee she opened the back door and stepped out onto the back porch and into the morning. There was a chill in the air and light touched the edges of the landscape. If you walked straight ahead from here you would be in the San Fernando Valley, in the vast orange groves, and the San Bernardino Mountains would be ahead of you.
But the thought of that held little interest to her. What she was preoccupied with was her own little patch and her thoughts. If she was asked to describe this time, to remember it and describe it (as though anyone would be interested!), what would she say? What could she say? Oh dear. What should she say. The modals, as always, said it all. Let's start with the word that popped into her head: 'Myself'. Where had she read that sentence, 'Myself, my favourite subject.' ? Then her brain moved onto the books that had changed her. When the penny had dropped and a section of her brain had expanded.
Let's stay on the first project: to describe this time. No one had ever lived this moment. In all the history of humankind no one had stood where she was standing now, on the edge of something. Like a glass filling, drop by drop. She had always thought words should be allowed to spill out and combine at random. Perhaps it was the Irish in her but she loved it when words and sentences tumbled out like a great waterfall tumbling off a cliff, hitting the surface, sending spray flying. Sometimes she would find herself thinking so fast that the mechanics of her brain couldn't keep up. So here she was starting again. All over again. The backyard, with its unkempt lawn and scraggly trees and bushes, sat there looking heartbreakingly lovely. She tried to imagine its different incarnations, when it was, say, the garden of a rural homestead rather than hemmed in, as it was now, by development. The lives that had walked up and down that rough garden path.
She felt happy, of that she was certain. She loved Stanley and felt lifted when he stepped into a room. Her love for him seemed to have no limit and if it did she would take time and see if she could talk to him. If she felt frightened or worried she knew she could talk to him and he would reassure her. As long as she could find out what was going on inside of herself and then find the words, then find the courage to tell him, a weight would be lifted from her shoulders and she would hug him and her gratitude for his solid goodness would be bigger and faster flowing than the mighty Mississippi. It was a perilous thing, this life. I mean, we all know the stories. A pot of boiling water. A curious hand. A baby carried full term, a bonny wee baby. Pink cheeks, smiling, giggling, laughing, touching, sweet smelling baby, snatched away. She knew one thing, if she knew anything she knew this: she could not survive the death of a child.
The sun burnished the sky. The pale blue of morning was coming. Soon the day would be here and this moment would be over, past perfect, and still she hadn't managed to begin to capture even one word for posterity. But still she had a chance, so she dived in. She lifted her arms, not literally but in her mind and dived in and let the words tumble. And although she didn't write them they were there. Her eyes saw the porch rail and the way the paint was peeling and the way the ligh was changing. She held her cup and looked at the mark her lipstick left on the rim of the cup and at the liquid in the bottom of the cup. A small bird flew across the scene and in the corner of the property an old chicken coop sat empty. The path to the clothesline was an arrangement of stones and cement and tufts of grass grew in and around it. Bird song came from every direction and the house sat behind her, quiet. The lawn was wet with dew. The sun would soon be up. Stanley would soon be up. Her father and mother would soon be up. This was her life and this was a perfect moment.
Now. Where were we? Desmond was sitting on the side of his bed in the pool house. Outside he could hear the sprinkler splut-slutting. It had been over three months since his audition and not a whisper from the studio. He had settled comfortably into his new life as Norma's live-in pool boy and lover. She was fine woman and very lively in bed. They laughed a lot and she would take none of his shit but was also tolerant and understanding of his proclivities. All in all a perfect set up. She had seen a thing or two. Had been around the block a few times. She was also gorgeous and extremely erotic. And he was learning about old Hollywood. Her late husband Stanley had been Mack Sennett's right hand man for years. She knew the place when it was a village.
The night before they had sat in her huge baronial living room surrounded by the finest works of art you could imagine and she spoke about her life.
'My dear late husband was a very bright man and for a careful man he was very willing to take a calculated risk. We met in New York. Two kids, we were two kids. He was a stage manager in vaudeville. My family was in vaudeville, as you know already, Desmond. My father had a very successful act with his brother but it was a difficult life. I think I was looking for something a little more settled.'
She took a sip of her wine and leant back.
'We met at the Old Amsterdam and I loved him from the moment I set eyes on him. Aren't I lucky?'
Desmond smiled and nodded.
'You have to be careful in our business,' she said as she pushed her hair off her face. Desmond felt flattered by her use of the 'our'.
'Relationships are very important. I suppose that's true of any business. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, we met in New York and Stanley already had his eyes set on the new nickolodean craze. He wanted in. Stanley was extremely competent. Oh goodness am I repeating myself? Anyway my late husband was a man who could get thing done. His single greatest talent was that he never, ever gave up. He was surely no saint but in his own unique way he was a great man. Perhaps I always saw him through rose tinted glasses. He could be the most infuriating man and he could say thoughtless, horrible things without thinking but I always forgave him because he also had the sweetest heart of any person I ever knew. He was full of Irish blarney. One of the first things he ever said to me (I would make special trips backstage to see him), was ' Miss if you were any prettier I couldn't be held responsible for my actions.' There he was standing there among the ropes and the mysterious backstage of this brave old theatre and me in my best dress with the velvet curtains touching my back and feeling the blush moving up my face but still keeping my eyes on him. I was very proud of that. Holding his bold, all seeing stare. Him standing there all tall and strong and really time stopped, everything stopped. If only I knew what I was getting myself in for! It is really impossible to tell anyone else about what a shared life means. We grew together. As I said, we were just kids and we grew together like two vines, intertwining. I'm sorry Desmond. I promised myself I wouldn't cry and yet here I am doing it.'
She took out her small handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.
'So he met some of the early nickolodean operators and became very knowledgeable about the business. He knew more about the business than anyone, really, and this was when Thalberg was still a kid. Then he met Mack Sennett and his course was set. He became Mack's most loyal and competent lieutenants. We lived and worked together in those days. Show people were their own little world. Oh, Hollywood was so beautiful back then. A dusty, quiet village and in the spring the hills would be covered in blooming wildflowers and there were dusty tracks everywhere. This was right at the beginning. We felt like pioneers. Well, we were pioneers. '
She looked very young at that moment. 'We were young, healthy, good looking and living in lotus land. We worked hard but on the weekend we had wonderful parties. It was all so fun and carefree. I wonder why that ended? It all became bigger and bigger and very serious. And Stanley had a lot of responsibility. And my career went through the roof. I wouldn't wish fame on my worst enemy. We built this beautiful place and filled it with beautiful things. Somehow we managed to keep our connection. You remind me a lot of him Desmond. The same self possession. Physically imposing. Handsome. We were happy. He never neglected his nuptual duties, let me assure you. He died much too young. 40 years old. Died at his desk. And he had organised everything perfectly. Oh listen to me. What a chatterbox I have become.'
She leant forward, touched his face and then they kissed. After that they took their wine glasses and walked together, hand in hand, upstairs. They made love on crisp white sheets, as a breeze blew in through the French doors, carrying with it a scent of the ocean. They held each other and the moon lit the room and their naked bodies.
Clinton De Vere