The Women | Chapter 18 of 41

Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 10560 Views | Add a Review

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Money was the problem. Cash. Spondulics. The means to pay for the necessities of life so that you didnt have to live like some half-naked beggar in a loincloth on the streets of Calcutta. That was what she tried to impress upon Mr. Fake, because her husband—and he was still her husband—was most emphatically evading his obligations to her. He was vituperative. Mean. Petty. And he hadn’t paid out so much as a nickel for her upkeep since she’d filed the alienation of affection suit and what did he, Mr. Fake, expect her to subsist on? Wasn’t he her attorney? Wasn’t he being paid to look after her interests, to protect her from the vultures her husband employed? Did he realize that she’d been forced to move in with her daughter because the Southmoor had all but thrown her out in the street? And that the situation was intolerable? That she was ill, fatigued, depressed? That her son-in-law looked at her across the dining table as if she’d come to steal the bread from his mouth and that the room she’d been given was a repository of unwanted furniture and a broken bicycle and that it smelled of some deceased thing trapped in the walls?
“What do you mean, ‘public opinion’?” she spat back at him. She was seated across the desk from him in his offices on a damp ironclad day in early December, feeling out of sorts, and not simply because of the pain-fulness of the situation or because he’d kept her waiting in the anteroom a good half hour, but in a deeper way, a way of malaise and physical depletion. It was the flu. It was her heart. Her liver. She wasn’t well, wasn’t well at all.
“You’ve seen the newspapers,” he said in his soft conspiratorial tone. He’d made a cradle of his interlocked fingers and he was resting his chin on it and giving her a look that was meant to be Solomonic. A framed oil painting—a bucolic lacustrine scene in atrocious taste and worse execution—hung on the wall behind him. His wife must have been the artist—it was the only explanation Miriam could think of, because no one in his right mind would actually seek out and purchase something as offensive to the sensibilities as that. Or perhaps an adolescent daughter. Did he even have children? She realized she didn’t know a thing about him, whether he was married, divorced, a widower, bachelor or monk—but then what difference did it make? He could have been Joseph Smith himself with half a hundred wives so long as he put the screws to Frank.
“Mrs. Wright? Miriam? Are you listening to me?”
She was, of course she was. She gave a little wave of her hand. Public opinion. The fools, the idiots. To favor some little adventuress, some adulteress, a husband-stealer, over her . . . She could still see the headlines: WRIGHT’S OLGA BARES LIFE STORY; Public Misled; Begs Merciful Heart for Baby; and then, down the page: Not a Dancer; Toils Without Luxuries. Oh, it was all there, the whole sob story—how the little Russian had cooked and scrubbed and chopped wood at Taliesin till her fingers had practically fallen off, how she’d only come to Frank after Miriam had deserted him, and how she wasn’t a dancer any more than Frank was a piano player because he liked sometimes to sit at the keyboard to play an air for the family and that the press had stuck her with the sobriquet only as a means of cheapening her as if she were some cabaret performer or cigarette girl when in fact she came from the most distinguished family in all of Montenegro—but it didn’t matter a whit. The pretty pictures, the downcast look, the naked cry for sympathy. Anybody could see she was a whore and whores qualified for nothing, not mercy or sympathy or credibility or even notice.
“You can’t go on expecting the impossible,” he was saying, leveling that look on her. “Now—and let me remind you once again—his most recent offer, totaling twenty-three thousand dollars, including five thousand in cash and an additional three thousand for expenses and attorneys’ fees to be paid out immediately as a means of discharging your obligations, including the one thousand and some odd dollars owing to the Southmoor, seemed perfectly reasonable to me, as you well know—”
“Seemed reasonable to you? I suppose it would, because at this point I can only imagine you’re more concerned with your own welfare than with mine. You want your fee—that’s the long and short of it, isn’t it? But this is my life we’re considering here. I’m the one who’s been dragged through the mud. I’m the one who has no means of support and no hope of it.”
“Even your children . . .” he began, taking another tack. And was he debating her now? Was that what she was paying him for? Debates?
“What have my children to do with it?”
“They’re in agreement with me. Settle, that’s what they say. You can’t expect them to—well, I know this is a delicate matter and perhaps none of my business beyond anticipating the timely remuneration of your legal fees to this firm—but you can’t expect them to continue taking on your debt in the hope of . . . I don’t know what.” He paused to remove his spectacles so that his eyes floated up at her like two faintly greenish fish in a yellowed aquarium. “What is it that you want exactly, Mrs. Wright—Miriam? Vengeance? Do you want to see him destroyed, is that it?”
It came to her then that he was a small man too, self-serving, narrow-minded, a coward like all the rest. She was so angry all of a sudden, so inflamed and eruptive and just plain irritated she had to bite her lip to keep from screaming. “I won’t settle,” she said finally, her voice as dry as two husks rattling in the wind. “Never,” she said. “Not till I die.”
He looked away, shifted in his seat, impatiently clamped the spectacles back over the bridge of his nose. “You don’t want an attorney,” he said, and he was the one struggling to control his voice now, “you want an avenging angel.”
She rose abruptly from the seat, all the listlessness scorched right out of her. Her hands were trembling as she reached down to snatch up her bag and for a fraction of a second everything seemed to blur as if she’d been punched in the face. She was halfway to the door before she swung round on him. “That’s right,” she said. “That’s exactly right.”
The days began to flicker at her like a motion-picture film on a screen she couldn’t reach—somehow she was stuck in the back row, in the cheap seats, watching her own life transpire with a foreign logic until, inevitably, it sank into melodrama. And sorrow. A sorrow so deep she couldn’t bear to get out of bed half the time. There was that smell in the walls, the stench of fatality, of rot. The wallpaper was hideous—where was Norma’s taste? The broken bicycle. A table with three legs, propped up on an overturned wastebasket and a volume of Dickens—Bleak House, and how bleakly appropriate. Most mornings she was sick in her stomach, the cramping there, sick in her bowels, as if nothing would ever pass through her again. She found herself sweating, even outside in the arctic blast that reanimated the dead limbs of the trees and scoured the gutters. Her son-in-law irritated her. Norma irritated her. The idea of Christmas drove her into a frenzy of loathing, the spangles and the balls and the phony good cheer dispensed by every grinning hostess and street-corner drunk. Merry Christmas. It was like a war cry to her. Chicago: she hated it. Winter: she hated it. And here she was, forced to spend half her time out in the full fury of the season tramping from her lawyer to the doctor and then on to the next doctor and the next, the only thing that gave her comfort in the shortest supply.
And where was Frank while she was stuck here living hand to mouth? He was in California, released finally from Minnesota pending a grand jury investigation into the Mann Act charges, living off his friends, his bounteous friends, no doubt sitting at that very moment beneath a tangerine tree with the sun on his face. And her beside him. The bitch. The breeder. She couldn’t recall which day it was—one dead ice-bracketed eternal afternoon of that week between Christmas and New Year’s—when she decided to go to Leora, who was back now in Santa Monica as any sensible person would be. She’d just made use of the pravaz, the elixir seeping through her veins while the radiator belched and Norma’s husband tramped by in the hall as if his feet were encased in lead, when she had a sudden incandescent vision of the red bougainvillea climbing the bleached white stucco wall of Leora’s guesthouse while hummingbirds hovered and the Chinese tiptoed out of the house holding his tray aloft in a pillar of sunlight. The next day she was on the train.
She hadn’t followed Frank to California, that was what she told herself—and Leora agreed with her. She’d come for her health. For the air. The sun. And if Jesperson had tracked down Frank’s address for her (and he wanted to be paid too, the four-flusher, because in his profession that was all that mattered, money), there was no reason she shouldn’t use it to see him prosecuted. At the first opportunity, as soon as she was rested from her trip, she went downtown to the police and filed a charge of desertion against him, then made another foray to Tijuana and the very accommodating little brown man in the farmacia there. That was good, that was fine. But just then Frank wasn’t in Los Angeles—she got wind of the fact that he’d gone to New York to oversee the sale at auction of his precious prints as a stopgap to save Taliesin from the bank. Immediately she wired her new attorney67 and her new attorney wired a colleague in New York to appear on the scene with a warrant of attachment for the prints, which were, after all, community property. For two days she sat with Leora at the dining room table, in the living room, in the twin chaise longues on the back lawn, smoking cigarettes and calculating her share and how it would clear her debts in a single stroke, and for those two days she was happy, genuinely happy for the first time in months, till the news came back that the collection had sold for a fraction of what it was worth—less than $40,00068—and that even worse, the auction house had put in a legal claim on the entire proceeds to cover past loans against the worth of the collection. Once again, and she couldn’t help feeling the hand of fate in this, Frank had outmaneuvered her, even if he’d managed to outmaneuver himself in the bargain.
“I don’t know, Leora, I just don’t know,” she said after the news had sunk in. “Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is against me.” She was sipping a cocktail and the sun was bleeding through the windows, brightening the carpet in a long narrow strip and picking individual flowers out of the pattern on the chintz sofa. “He’ll lose Taliesin now, that’s for certain”—she paused, drew in a sigh, because she was feeling something, truly feeling it, though she’d have been hard-pressed to put it in words, something to do with Frank and the way he was when she first met him, his enthusiasm for the place and for her and her in it—“but it just doesn’t give me much satisfaction to think about it. Or not as much as I thought it would.” She traced her finger round the rim of the glass and watched the sun slice Leora’s face as she leaned forward, her lips compressed in a moue of sympathy, and then she let out a bitter little laugh. “I suppose it’s the shock of having gone from fifty thousand dollars in the clear to zero—zero dollars and zero cents—don’t you think?”
Leora’s eyes—and strange she’d never noticed this before—were as pinched and slanted as the Chinese servant’s, but maybe that was only the effect of the light. And her powder. Leora had got to an age where she really couldn’t seem to exercise any judgment when it came to combating the erosion round her eyes and mouth, canyons there, craters, whole deltas of tributaries. And her nose—it looked as if it had been dredged in flour. Miriam had always congratulated herself on having inherited her mother’s complexion, but now she strained to catch a glimpse of her face in the reflectionof the curio cabinet—all of this turmoil must certainly have begun to show round her eyes, and what if she should end up looking like Leora?
Oblivious, Leora took a sip of her cocktail, removed the olive and sucked at it meditatively. “You’re not getting soft on him, are you?”
“Me? Soft?” She considered the accusation a moment, observing the way Leora was watching her in that satirical posture that was so much a feature of her, perhaps the defining feature, the arched eyebrows, the southward slant of the mouth. Another sip of the shaken gin, fragrant as heaven, cold as hell. “Never. Believe you me, Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright—Mr. Philandering No-Good Wright—hasn’t seen anything yet.”
“Good for you,” Leora said. “I was beginning to worry.”
Still, as the days wore on and Leora began dropping hints—Charles was coming to dinner, Charles Schumocker, the producer, the widower, just fifty-eight years old and without doubt the wittiest man she’d ever met and really, Miriam, you should have heard what he said the other night at the Derby, Charles this, Charles that, Charles ad nauseam—and the local judge, another little man, a pygmy, a dwarf, threw out the desertion charge on the grounds that the infraction hadn’t occurred in California, Miriam felt herself losing control, very gradually, gradient by gradient, in the way of the slippage the geologists said was causing the earthquakes that made the guesthouse a veritable percussion section once a week or so. Deep down—and Charles tried to explain this one night at dinner, making use of the china to illustrate his point—the rock plates were grinding against one another like saucers, if only saucers weren’t smooth-edged but rough. That was what was happening to her, slippage, and everything that was smooth was abrading under the placid sun until it was too much for her to bear.
The negotiations went on through the spring and into the summer of 1927, Miss Levin wiring her periodically with offers and counter-offers, Norma dunning her by post and long-distance telephone, Charles, with his high forehead and emperor’s (usually dripping) nose practically installed in the house now and Leora chattering on like a girl about the inexpressible romance of second marriages. Miriam felt—well, depleted. She was at loose ends. She needed money. There was no place for her at Leora’s, at least not during the reign of Charles, and she couldn’t afford a hotel. Finally, though it was like driving spikes right through the palms of both hands, like self-crucifixion, she gave in.
She instructed Miss Levin, by wire, to accept her husband’s latest offer—$5,000 in cash plus payment of all legal fees, a trust fund of $30,000 and a $250 monthly allowance for life69—on one condition: that he renounce Olga for a period of five years. Word came back a day later. He refused. Categorically. Oh, she could see right through him, the coldhearted bastard. He had the upper hand now and he knew it. He was going to wait her out, that was what he was going to do—starve her, if need be, see her turned out in the streets like a beggar. And the minute the divorce was finalized he would start counting off the days till he could marry his little Russian, just as he’d done with her as soon as he’d got free of Catherine.70 But she wouldn’t give in, she wouldn’t. Not yet, anyway.
She took the train to San Francisco because she couldn’t think of anything else to do and Alvy Oates, an old friend from her Chicago days with Emil, had offered her a place to stay just as long as she wanted. All the way up the coast, as the train beat along the tracks, she cursed Frank and cursed him again. And when she got there and saw the way Alvy’s face had aged—all those pouches and wrinkles, the dewlaps of an old woman who sits in a corner all day sopping up gravy with a crust of bread—she took a good hard look at herself and went directly into a clinic there where a truly wonderful doctor who understood her every need and assured her that she had the most beautiful skin he’d ever seen on a woman of her age gave her a face-lift that would make her look ten years younger than the ten years younger she already looked. Which her husband would pay for. Soon. Very soon.
She sipped liquids through a straw while her face healed and never changed out of her dressing gown. None of her children would return her wires. Alvy went off to club meetings, bridge parties, events at the museum, the symphony, the yacht club, and she stayed behind, working cross-word puzzles and reading detective novels. It was a time of excruciating and limitless boredom. One afternoon, after spending what must have been a full hour watching a lizard creep along the wall beneath the trellis on Alvy’s patio, she wired her attorney to accept terms without proviso and on August 27 she was granted a divorce from Frank Lloyd Wright on grounds of desertion, Miss Levin submitting her testimony by deposition. It hurt her as nothing had ever hurt her before, but the money was paid out and she immediately booked a one-way fare to Chicago, where she planned to stop in to bid farewell to Norma on her way to New York and then Paris. Yes, Paris. Where she could forget all about Frank Lloyd Wright and his machinations, where she could focus on her own art for a change and grow and develop and spread her wings and maybe, once she was settled and moving in the circles she was accustomed to—or had been accustomed to before the war—she’d even remarry.
All well and good. But things bog down, things muddle. At the end of September, unaccountably, she found herself in a hotel room in Madison, Wisconsin, of all places, writing to Frank to tell him just what she thought of him and if her language was harsh so much the worse because he was the one in violation of the divorce order, not her, he was the one sneaking back up the hill to his “love nest”71 so he could stick his prick into the little Russian’s cunt and fuck her and fuck her just as if they were goats, two fucking goats, and she knew what was going on and it wasn’t right. A week later she hired a car and drove out to Dodgeville with Tillie Levin and went right on up the steps of the rinky-dink town hall and demanded to see the district attorney, another weasel by the name of Knutson. “Do you have any idea what kind of filth is going on in this county?” she shouted the moment he came through the door of his office. He looked startled. Looked as if he’d had his hide exchanged for something that didn’t fit quite right, and he was a man too, with a belly and braces and a tie stained with whatever he’d had for lunch, and no, he said, he didn’t have any idea. “Frank Lloyd Wright!” she shouted. “Frank Lloyd Wright! Does that ring a bell?”
And what was Tillie saying—“No, no, stay calm, Mrs. Wright”—and why in Christ’s name was this moron just standing there gaping at her?
“Listen, ma’am,” he was saying, trying to back into his office with the firmest intent of shutting the door on her, and he wasn’t going to get away with that, he wasn’t—“I’ve told you over the telephone that this office will not revive those charges and that those charges are dead—”
“He’s fornicating!” she screamed. “Immoral purposes, the Mann Act, in violation . . . everywhere. Of, of—of everything!”
There was breakage, and she couldn’t help that, because the coward ducked back into his office and shut the door on her and he wouldn’t do his duty, wouldn’t serve the writ, wouldn’t stop the fucking—and things spun out of control after that no matter how Tillie tried to mollify her. And what next? What next? At dinner that very night, as she tried to summon the desire even to lift the fork to her mouth over the miserable excuse for a meal the Lorain Hotel of Backwardsville, Wisconsin, put before her, a man with a face like boiled meat and two little pig’s eyes identified himself as a federal agent and put her under arrest on a charge of sending obscene material through the mails on account of the letter she’d sent Frank to just tell him off because who did he think he was, and they put her in her room and guarded the door as if it were a prison cell. She beat on that door till her hands were raw and she screamed, oh, she screamed. Five hundred dollars, the judge said. And she fired Tillie. And Paris was a dream. And she went right to the governor of Wisconsin himself, Fred R. Zimmerman, over the way she’d been treated and he wouldn’t see her and she went back to Chicago and that room with the broken bicycle and found the governor there for some sort of convention and she marched directly through the dining room of his hotel crying out that she demanded to see him on urgent business and he was the littlest of little men because he actually got up from the table when she was still twenty feet from him and scuttled sideways through the kitchen and out the service entrance into the street and he was probably still scuttling. And Frank went to Arizona72 to get away from her and she just had no choice in the matter but to follow him there and demand that somebody put a stop to this fucking.
Where next? Well, she was beaten down and exhausted and she had her money in hand, but she took out a warrant in Arizona charging him with whatever she could think of and when he went off to California she went there too. It was fall now, Leora married to Charles, the palms up and down Sunset Boulevard whipping in the winds that tore like cellophane over the dun mountains, sere days, chilly nights, a smell of smoke on the air. She called Jesperson, a man happy in the knowledge that he’d been paid for services past and would be paid again and paid well, and Jesperson gave her an address down south near San Diego, in La Jolla, where he said he’d found her husband holed up with his little dolly. In a cottage. On a quiet street. With a prospect of the ocean.
She wasn’t reasoning. Reasoning was for little people, lawyers, architects, district attorneys. In the train on the way down from Los Angeles she went into the washroom and injected herself. Everything was very bright. She watched the ocean solidify outside the window till it might have been verdstone, shingled all the way to the horizon. People got on and off. She smiled at them all. When they arrived at the station, the conductor had to help her off the train because she didn’t recognize a thing—palm trees, the ocean glare, it was all the same to her—and there was nothing the porter could assist her with, thank you, as all she had with her was her purse and in the purse nothing but her pravaz, half a sandwich and a scrap of paper with the address on it.
The man in the cab—and why did he look so familiar?—said he knew the place, and after they lurched up and down a farrago of streets that were indistinguishable one from the other, various dogs darting out to yap at the wheels, skinny boys in undershirts and baseball gloves flitting past on the parched lawns and all the stumpy tile-topped haciendas rushing at her with their fangs bared, they were there. She saw an open lot, a scattering of trees, sand, the bright spank of the water. “Wait here,” she said to the cabbie, and she crossed the lot unsteadily, struggling for balance in her heels. She had no plan. She just knew that he was there and she was there and that it had to end. The ocean smelled of decay. A gull sailed in out of nowhere and settled on the roof in a disclosure of feathers so marmoreal and bright it hurt her eyes. Sand leaked into her shoes. There were clumps of dune grass and they brushed her legs and the feel of them took her all the way back to the beach at Tokyo73 and she remembered how she and Frank would picnic on the cool wet sand just beyond the breakers to escape the mugginess of the city, everything fresh in the golden light on the other side of the world. He adored picnics, Frank. Adored adventure and spontaneity like the boy he was and would always be. Frank. Frank. How she’d loved him. She had. She truly had.
But here was the house. His house. Their house. No one answered her knock. The front door—she tried it—was locked, and that wasn’t like Frank at all. Was this the right house? Across the lot, out on the street, the cabbie sat watching her from behind the windscreen of his car. She thought of going back to him, to make certain he’d got the address right, but perhaps if she just . . . peered through the window to see . . . if she might happen to recognize—
One of his prints was staring back at her. The actor. The one with the sword and the bold pattern of squares within squares on the front fold of his robe, the Shunshō, and what was it called? Ichikawa. The Actor Ichikawa-Something. Yes. She’d know it anywhere. And there was one of his screens on the wall behind the sofa. And that table—that table wasn’t his. She’d gone to the shop to buy it herself, haggling with the shopkeeper like some fishwife in rudimentary Japanese—“Tēburu, tēburu,” she kept saying, Kore-wa ikura desu-ka? and he kept pretending he didn’t understand her—and now Frank had it, now she had it.
The back door was open. And where was Frank, the criminal, the lecher? Out and about, no doubt, eating lobster somewhere with his whore, telling jokes, making demands. The thought of it made her seethe. She went through the house, room by room, everything strange and familiar to her at once. The little Russian’s petticoats, her perfumes. Children’s toys. The bric-a-brac Frank loved to surround himself with, as if he were the lady of the house. But it was all too much and before she knew what she was doing she was at the cupboard—a cup of tea, that was what she wanted—and she couldn’t help it if all those jars and bottles were in the way and the merest touch of her hand sent them hurtling to the floor in an explosion of sound and color and texture. She couldn’t help it. She couldn’t. In fact, it was so satisfying, that simple act, that primal clatter, that she ran her hand over the next shelf and the next, till everything there was splayed out across the floor, flour, sugar, catsup, oats and vinegar, all the crude farmer’s fare Frank glutted himself with like the rube he was. Her hands were trembling when she put the kettle on to boil and they trembled when she brewed the tea and sat at the table and lifted the cup to her lips.
At first all she’d meant to do was reclaim her property—her table and that fan and the enamel box—but once she was there, once she was inside, sitting in his kitchen with the teacup in her hand, the old feeling came over her, a rising counterweight of violence and hate. The teacup flew at the wall. And then she was up and jerking violently round the room, slamming at things as if each and every one of them—each plate and saucer and cruet—were the face of Frank himself, of his mistress, of their pinch-faced pig-tailed little bastard. She paused, barely winded, the wreckage of the kitchen lying at her feet. Then she went into the living room.
She picked up the table first—an end table of rosewood, intricately carved—and the sound it made when it tore the screen from the wall was like the overture to a symphony. Cloth gave. Wood. Plaster. Glass rang and chimed and hit all the high notes ascending the scale. She found an axe propped up against the fireplace and brought it down on the dining room table, the bookshelf, the chairs, the divans, the desk, Frank’s desk. There was the whoosh of a ceramic vase grasping at the air, the shriek of splintering wood, the basso profundo of the andirons slamming to the floor. And who was it who alerted the police—a neighbor? The cabbie? The guardian angel of philanderers? Of fornicators?
Oh, but she fought those apes in uniform, with their locked-up faces and blistering eyes, giving as good as she got, and if there was blood—and flesh, flesh too—caught beneath her fingernails, well so much the worse for them. She was at the window with the axe when the first of them came through the back door, a boy, a puny shoulderless wisp of a boy in a uniform two sizes too big for him. “Ma’am,” he said, “ma’am,” as if that were her name. “Now calm down, ma’am, please.”
She swung round on him in her rage, and who could blame her? And it was a good thing for him that he ducked out of the way when she flung the axe because that axe was nothing more than an extension of herself, of her will, and if she had a thousand axes it would only be a beginning. “What right have you to accost me here!” she demanded. “This is my house, mine, and I’ll do with it as I please. Now, get out of here. Out!”
There was another one now, older, settled into his flesh and the dog pouches round his eyes, shanty Irish, and low, lower than low, she could see that at a glance. He shouted out a whole blathering garble of threats and admonitions as if he were under the misapprehension that she was hard of hearing, but she ignored him because at that moment her eyes lighted on the most intriguing little Chinese vase . . .
The judge lectured her and he couldn’t see how ill she was, didn’t care, because men stuck together and he was a man and Frank was a man and so was the policeman who’d taken hold of her arm as she flung the vase out onto the lawn through the shattered window and the Shunshō on its heels. Thirty days, the judge intoned, and then suspended the sentence on condition that she stay away from her ex-husband and from La Jolla and refrain from any and all criminal malfeasance whatsoever. She held herself erect. Never so much as blinked her eyes. And though it took all her strength to keep from throwing it back at him—criminal malfeasance indeed, and who was the real criminal here?—she never offered a word but for a murmur of acquiescence. Yes, she understood. Yes, she agreed to the conditions. And no, she had no intention of returning to La Jolla. Afterward, at her press conference, she looked into the faces of the reporters and felt as serene as she’d ever felt in her life. Something had shifted deep inside her, the plates slipping and grinding until now, finally, they were interlocked, and the pravaz—the pravaz would fix them there with a new kind of permanence. Frank—and all that life as Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright—was behind her now, and that was what she told them. “I’m moving forward with my life,” she said, her voice breathing in her own ears like a second voice, an ingenue’s voice, a coquette’s. “I’ve had another offer of marriage.”
The room went quiet.
“Who is it, Miriam?” a voice rang out. “Who’s the lucky man?”
“Oh, I can’t reveal that,” she said, and she was Maude Miriam Noel all over again, the Belle of Memphis, each word sweetening on her lips till it had the intensity of pure cane sugar, “but I will say he’s a European gentleman of conspicuously high pedigree—heir to a throne, in fact—and that I’ve recently borne him a daughter who is now in her father’s care. In Europe.” 74 She faltered, lost her train of thought—or very nearly, and where was she, where was she?—but the morfina whispered in her ear and it came back to her. “Across the sea.”
“Can you give us her name? The child’s name?”
“Miriam,” another called, “Miriam—”
“There’s one more thing,” she began, and they all fell silent. She fed on that silence and took a long slow look round her, feeling supreme, joyous, on top of the world. A smile for them, for each and every one of them, and for the cameras too. “I just wanted to announce,” she went on, and here that unfortunate little tickle began to play at the base of her neck and she brought a hand to her hair as if to smooth it back and held it there a moment till the tremor subsided. And yes, there was the flash, there it was. She laughed, actually laughed aloud, with the surprise of it.
“Yes, Miriam? Madame Noel? You said you were going to make an announcement? ”
“Oh, yes, yes. I wanted to announce that I’ve taken a bungalow in Hollywood”—another pause, another slow pan of the room—“and at the suggestion of a number of prominent men in the motion-picture industry, I will be sitting for a screen test in the very near future.”
There was a murmur of voices, the shuffling of feet. Somewhere off to her left someone was laughing or maybe crying, and outside, beyond the walls, she could hear the metallic clank of the streetcar and the dull fading rumble of the wheels carrying down the avenue. She didn’t know what else to say and so she smiled again and thanked them all for coming.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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