The Green Door – Part VDec 5th, 2009 | By Lois Bassen | Category: Series, The Green Door | 959 views
Chapter 5 — Hopewell recovers for the holidays and nearly meets the mysterious Merling.
When Angelo was gone from the apartment, I felt his absence. I was padding around the apartment in pajamas and slippers, nursing myself with devotion. Ever since PR-master Ray Olds had predicted my future, I’d avoided my writing table. I’d think of the Arena and Guthrie theatres and possibly Broadway and feel a jolt followed by a wave of stomach acid. So I tried to distract myself: where in the natural world could you find the equivalent of the PR man? I thought of those dances that bees do to tell other bees where the best pollen is. Or peacocks who do their own PR with their tails. You don’t see a sparrow representing a peacock. I considered this as evidence of Culture over Nature. Christmas was coming to Isle End. The air was cold and wet, like a Parisian winter, but the light was different and so were the scents. Downstairs, the bakery was wild with activity. Along Main Street, outside my window Christmas lights and green and red foil garland had been hung from one side of the street to the other from the roofs of the shops. Wreaths were attached to streetlamps, and little speakers sang out Christmas carols all day long. Since I was hanging around the apartment, I heard these tunes waking and sleeping. The radio also only played rock or carols, punctuated by the bad news of the day, and the sound would compete with the songs penetrating my windows, so I gave up. It was maddening, but I think it was more a matter of being housebound, intimidated by success, and suddenly alone.
The Saturday two weeks after Thanksgiving, I was sleeping on my face when Jenny showed up to check on my recovery.
“Isn’t it about time you got out?” she said.
She was red-cheeked, the picture of health in a pink sweatsuit. She had on pink earrings that looked like Christmas tree ornaments.
“I can see both of your eyes,” Jenny said. “You don’t look like a ghoul anymore.”
“Good enough to eat, huh.”
“Not if you can find anything else in this mess.”
“I have chocolate chip cookies from downstairs. Madame Ellis brought them up a little while ago; the chips are still soft.”
Jenny looked around the messy apartment. “How can you live like this?”
“You call this—“
“—living?” she said, “Very funny. Not.”
I looked around. Towels and a coat covered the sofa. Several days of newspapers hid the end tables. My bathrobe was draped over the TV. My sneakers, loafers, and socks were randomly strewn on the thin carpet. The kitchen was defined by a mountain of pots and dishes in the sink. I hoped that Jenny didn’t have to go to the john. It was scarier in there.
“I mean,” she spoke as she stormed around, picking up laundry and making one big pile of it in the center of the room, near the table, “this is grotesque.”
“I hear we’ve got another Presidential scandal on our hands,” I said. “Weapons in Iran and mining the harbor in Nicaragua? And look at South Africa. I think that puts this apartment in some perspective.”
She stood by the laundry pile, staring me down.
“Every time I watch the damn news, there are women running through bombed-out streets,” I ranted on. “And don’t talk to me about Ireland and India. It’s like the Star Trek episode with the two guys with half-white, half-black faces trying to kill each other, and Kirk can’t see what they’re fighting about. They’re like those black and white cookies downstairs. Only those are delicious.”
Jenny continued bulldozing the room. The pile grew into a mountain.
I went to the sink and started washing dishes. “You know those O-rings?” I said, dish in hand. “They knew they were going to gap and explode. It wasn’t bad enough I watched those people blown up right in front of my eyes, but I told myself—“
“Shut UP, Hopewell,” Jenny said.
“Look, I’m cleaning up, I’m cleaning up. Once, I found my older sister Carole in her bedroom, crying about quasars. They’re big star things no one knows much about. They make galaxies look like ants.”
“I don’t want to hear about quasars today,” Jenny called from the bedroom.
“She said they made her feel too small to breathe,” I called back, “so I told our mother on my way out to play ball that Carole was having trouble breathing.”
Jenny came back into the room. She was holding my sheets and added them to the laundry mountain.
“And?” she said.
“Later, Carole told me Mother said not to be upset about quasars because quasars were not worrying about her.”
“You done?” Jenny asked. “I understand you’re trapped in here. You’re going stir-crazy. So get on with your life.”
“Is this pre- or actual menstrual tension you are taking out on me?”
“Arthur. It’s not me. It’s you. Get a haircut. It is disgusting to see a red beard on a blond man.”
“I am not responsible for sexual hair color. Blame me for the mess in the world and this apartment, but hair is beyond my control.”
Jenny looked at the laundry pile. “I am not doing that,” she said. “I have no time.”
Ah, we were getting to it. “What’s really eating you?” I asked.
Jenny glared at me.
“I said what, not who.”
“For the, excuse me, Christmas play, we are doing ‘Night Mother. Mother and daughter around a kitchen table arguing over suicide. We’ve done Little Foxes, Delicate Balance, Streetcar, and now ‘Night Mother! The woman is totally, completely nuts!” Jenny stamped on the floor. I imagined cakes collapsing in the Ellis’s ovens below. “She’s a death fiend!”
“Necrophiliac,” I offered.
“I am going to quit,” Jenny said. “I’m getting commercials. I’d rather sell douches than do this. Who is going to come out in December to be told they’d be better off dead? Liz and I went through the blocking and ran our lines, and then she really had to try to talk me out of suicide. How do you Christmas shop for certain people in a manic-depressive mood?”
I sat down on the debris-free couch. The back of my head was pounding. I needed a pain pill. “So what are you getting certain-me for Christmas?” I said.
“Ask not what I can do for you. I want you to write something instead of ‘Night Mother.”
“In two weeks?”
“Do one acts, then. Do two. You’re supposed to be the Writer-in-Residence. You’re In Residence, but you’re not writing.”
“Jenny, I’m in the middle, not even the middle of –“
“I don’t want to hear; I can’t,” she said, putting her hands over ears like one of the trinity of Hindu monkeys.
“My head’s killing me right now.”
I got up and walked into the bedroom. Jenny had remade the bed. It hadn’t looked that neat since – ever. In the frost on the window, she had drawn a heart and put our initials inside it. I sat on the bed and stared at the wall across the room where I had taped a Pan Am poster of Paris, of white Sacre Coeur in summer sunlight. I imagined the steep streets of Montmartre under my sneakers. Jenny stood in the doorway silently. “You think I can wash my hair with this cut?” I asked.
She came close and examined the back of my head.
“I’ve only taken baths since,” I said.
“It looks much better,” Jenny said. “It’s just a little red around the stitches. Don’t let hot water pound down on it.”
“I’ll take a pill and a nap and a shower. Then I’ll pick you up for the Feits’ party. Okay?” She thought I’d forgotten about Hank’s Chanukah fete.
Jenny brought me the pain pill and a glass of water and a big smile. I lay down on fresh sheets and heard Christmas carols. I turned to the wall the bed hugged. When I’d had fever, I’d put my head against its cool pressure. She sat beside me and stroked my forehead.
Eyes shut, I mumbled, “It’s mild around New Orleans at Christmas time. Ponchartrain and the Gulf are like warm bathtub versions of the ocean up here. And the carols are sung in French.”
I felt myself falling asleep and didn’t know when Jenny left. But when I woke up, it was different. The moment before I opened my eyes, when I knew I was awake but not where, who, or when, I felt – new. Then when I remembered my names, the sharpness of that awareness was gone. I felt like I’d shed a skin while I’d slept. My new one was tender and green.
The good feeling continued while I took a shower. When I got out, after toweling my hair I put on a plaid shirt, sweater vest, and new brown corduroy slacks. Like a Christmas elf, Jenny had done the entire laundry while I’d slept. The living room and kitchen sink were all cleaned up. I felt that everything was more than I deserved.
A white fog was unrolling like a carpet on the ground as I walked to Jenny’s apartment, which was above a 3-car garage. The air was cold, and my heart was racing. Jenny met me at the downstairs door. She flashed open her dark green toggle coat to expose a leather skirt the same baby blue as her angora sweater and dangling blue stone earrings. She tossed her head to make them and my nerves jingle.
We drove out to Henry Feit’s house, which like Pamela’s was east of the Gordon House on North Road. The sun had just set, and the Big Dipper was rising on the northern horizon. Hank’s house, lighted in the dark, looked like a high-browed face with a jutting front jaw, the front porch. The house was about 65 feet deep and 35 feet across, tall with a lighted attic and three dormer windows. Every window cast warm yellow light out onto the winterbitten lawn. I drove up the gravel driveway.
“It certainly looks like a Festival of Lights,” I said. “Who’s going to be here, anyway?”
Jenny had gotten out of the car and come around, opened my door, and pulled on my coat sleeve.
“It’s all right, Hopewell, everybody already knows you’re ugly. C’mon.”
The front door was unlocked. The large entry hall was crowded with strangers. A wooden banister staircase rose to the right. I looked up at a stained-glass window of a bowl of fruit on the first landing. Before I could get any further bearings, Hank appeared with a tray of drinks.
“You look like you could use one of these,” he said.
I touched my bruised cheek and agreed. Jenny had disappeared into a large living room with a plum-colored carpet. I could smell wood smoke from the fireplace, but the bourbon under my nose was a headier perfume. Blue and white paper garlands with gold foil Jewish stars hung from the living room archway moulding. I angled my way into a living room of Victorian furniture in velvet shades and stripes of plums and lavenders. On coffee and end tables among glasses and hors d’oeuvres were small white dishes filled with goldfoil-wrapped coin candies. These, I learned, were Chanukah gelt chocolates. A redhead with red cheeks, Hank’s wife Marion, was taking around a platter of hot fritters. I took one in a napkin and bit into it: hot, spicy potato and onion, thicker than mashed potatoes and coarser than grits. I nodded approval, took another one, and Marion moved over happily, feeding everyone she could
I recognized people from The Green Door. Jeff, the lighting guy was there, and Laura Jones and Paul McCormick, the black actors with their families. Children of different colors ran around, occasionally disciplined and quickly disappearing from view. Pamela Hall was in a corner of the dining room, standing by an antique glass cabinet. Her head was on an equal height with a copy of the bust of Nefertiti, and Pamela looked fine in comparison. Many Museum of Art replicas were displayed; there was another Egyptian thing, a black cat, and a white stone Pieta on the mantel, where below a fire was blazing. A family room lay beyond the dining room, built onto part of the back of the house. On display there I found a small Degas ballerina frozen in mid-spin. Well-framed museum prints hung on the walls. I was admiring a de Vlaminck I’d seen in Paris, a blue and red river scene, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a shape, a curve, and a particular shade of green that struck me so suddenly, I turned to follow it – but whoever it was, was gone, and the crowd made pursuit impossible. Back in the living room, people were coming up to me to introduce themselves. The guests I didn’t know were Isle Enders of different occupations, known to my hosts for many years. A number of them were colleagues of Marion Feit, who taught English at Isle End High School.
Hank freshened my bourbon and put another potato pancake in my free hand. He led me to meet two people, he said, who’d asked “for the Merling winner.” One of these was Richard Limb, a tall blond man in his mid-40’s with almost white-blue eyes; the other was his wife, a slightly older, darker woman who introduced herself as Roberta Powers. She was plain, with a face shaped like a thumb, but she was clearly the dominant one of the couple. Limb, it turned out, was the kid whose life Professor “Flash” Gordon had saved. (Liz Prager had told me the Isle End saga, clearly intending to inspire me to chronicle the Isle End saga at some future time. Limb had been 18 when the nonagenarian Professor had died interrupting Limb’s suicide attempt. A colleague of Roberta Powers, Limb had a scandalous affair with a student and thereafter further amazed Isle End by marrying the spinster Powers. They had two daughters.)
“That’s a dramatic eye,” Ms. Powers said.
“You should see the other guy,” I said, “he’s just fine.”
“So you’re Esther’s Ninth,” the woman said, as if I were a symphony. “She waited a long time for you. She was – is – a big pal of my mother’s.”
“Roberta’s mom taught piano to all of Isle End,” Limb added. “She even gave me free lessons. Have you met Esther yet? She’s around here somewhere–”
Liz Prager appeared by my elbow and put her head briefly on my shoulder. “Isn’t he adorable?” she said to the Limbs. She stood up on tiptoe and touched my motley cheek in a motherly way. “You feeling better?”
Ms. Powers kept an unnerving attention on me. “I liked your play very much,” she said.
“Roberta teaches American history,” Limb said. “She’s also the president of the Historical Society. The Wagner Estate was restored and designated a national historical landmark thanks to her.”
“I’m impressed,” I said, “and curious about Esther Merling – not to mention grateful. But she’s never been home when I tried to call—“
“She’s busy,” Ms. Powers said coolly, “and she doesn’t like to interfere.”
Someone started playing the baby grand piano in the living room. From the beat and voice, I could tell it was Jenny and felt as if she were freeing me from a truly strange interlude. I tried moving toward the music but found myself in a hallway that led past a bathroom where I stopped off. Past the bathroom was a stairway down, which I followed, led by my two bourbon buzz.
Downstairs was a playroom crammed with games. There were tables for bumper pool and ping pong, a stereo, a TV, and a large HO train set up with papier mache mountains and tunnels that included a replica of Isle End’s Main Street. I recognized Ellis’s Bakery and touched the fingernail-size window behind which an imaginary mini-me could be sleeping. Children loudly filling this room made me feel invisible until two girls sitting near a blackboard, about 10 and 6, called me over. The older one had been teaching the younger (her hair falling out of braids) one a song they performed for me.
“S-O-S, O-S, O-S, your mother, my mother, live across the street, 1819 Hobo Street. Every night, they have a fight, and this is what they say all night: Girls are dandy, made outta candy. Boys are rotten, made outta cotton. Girls go to college, to get more knowledge. Boys go to Jupiter, to get more stupider!”
At which climactic moment, Older Girl raised her hands into palms for pattycake, and the two brought the rhyme loudly home, smacking each other’s hands: “CRISS CROSS, APPLESAUCE, WE – HATE – BOYS!”
Two teenage girls looked up at the end of the incantation, stared at me, and blushed. Drink in hand, I took a step backward feeling old and corrupt and stumbled back to the stairs. I climbed too many and when I stopped, the party was under me, the voices and vibrations coming from below. The house was taking me where it wanted. There were bedrooms on this floor, and I entered a small room whose door was invitingly ajar. Blue seas and sailboats wallpapered the room. A redheaded boy, about 12, sat at a computer desk, oblivious to my entrance. He typed into a Macintosh – my dream – and examined the monitor intently, pressed another key, and listened.
When he finally sensed my presence and turned around, his had Henry Feit’s face, younger and smaller.
“I’m Billy,” he said, “and you’re lost.”
“A lotta people get lost, but they never find this room.”
“Do I find out later you’re an imaginary character?”
He laughed. “That’s good. This used to be the attic and there are too many steps for older people. “
“I have been getting older during this party.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Growing up? Yeah.”
“No. Your eye.”
“Not as much as the gash on the back of my head.”
Billy Feit got up and walked around to see for himself. “Nice scar. Too bad no one will really see it when your hair grows back. Until you go bald.”
“Keep the good thought. Why aren’t you with the other kids in the playroom?”
“Mac’s here. I’m getting the LaserWriter for Chanukah in two weeks.”
“I still use a typewriter.”
“My mother still handwrites! She calls it the pastoral mode.”
“She makes great potato pancakes, your mom.”
“Latkes. You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”
“Maybe I’m the imaginary character you’ll hear about later.”
“A Southern type is probably the best kind,” Billy said.
“Yeah.” He picked up a can of soda near a pile of print out paper.
“What are you working on?” I asked.
He frowned. “It’s hard to explain to a layman. You won’t understand, really. I make up new things. I’m sort of good at this.”
“Well, I’m sort of good at something myself, and I can’t talk to people about how I do it, either. In fact, I don’t think I really know how I do it.”
“I’m going to try to know,” Billy said, with the frown pressing his thin reddish eyebrows. “The whole idea, in my opinion, of artificial intelligence is the intuitive model it gives of human consciousness and the indications it gives therefore for objectively observing the mind function-ing. I’m generating a variety of models, of mathematical logic, and game theory, and images –” Billy pointed to the large posters taped up on the boat wallpaper. I’d thought they were more modern museum prints his mother had put up for him. They were blow ups of computer paintings he’d done.
“Billy Feit,” I said, “that’s a name to remember and conjure with.”
“Michael Gottesman is my cousin,” he said.
“Who?” I said, moving to the doorway.
“You know, Gottesman’s Constant? Anyway, he’s my cousin.”
I gave the redhead a short wave and wandered back down the hall, feeling very much in Wonderland. This time, the stairs down led me to the kitchen. Jeff was there, piling on casserole pasta that smelled of onions and some earthy grain.
“I’ve got an idea for the lighting I want to talk to you about, for my one acts,” I began. “You know those mirror disco balls that rotate above dance floors –“
“Later, genius,” Jeff said, shoveling on more food. “Love this kasha varnishkas! You oughta try it. Great eye,” he added, “looks like OUR GANG’s dog.”
On a hot tray by the stove, I found a plate of latkes and picked up two. At the back of the kitchen was a glass sunroom lined with plants, a breakfast nook with a round table and chairs set up as another bar. I poured myself a deep bourbon and turned off the floor lamp. Sitting at the table in the dark, I looked up through the curved glass at a bare 60 foot tree. Stars twinkled in the spaces between its branches. I heard singing from the center of the house. I needed to get outside. All I was wearing, though, was the shirt and vest – I looked toward the glass door and saw Hank’s lined leather jacket hanging on the door handle. I stepped outside into the dark. I saw I was looking north by Perseus’s position and blinking Algol, that ghoul of stars who couldn’t scare me with her twin-star tic. My mother had loved astronomy. She made me learn the northern views as well as the southern hemisphere’s. She would have liked me to be an astronomer or an astronaut. “A sailor in the stars,” she said, and sometimes I could still hear her voice in my head, as I did now, if I surprised myself by remembering something she’d said.
I walked north, toward the water. I didn’t know if the Feits had waterfront property. I walked through a break of trees and shrubs onto stony ground. I smelled the water before I could see it, a shiny moving black against matte black beach. I thought of the young computer wizard in the attic saying pastoral and saw how this was the kind of place you’d feel it. Nothing mystical on this particular rim of the world … I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt what mystics and poets call transcendent. I didn’t know if I wanted to. Getting out of my body didn’t seem like such a hot idea to me. The wind was biting through my corduroy slacks, but Hank’s jacket warmed my arms and chest. The dark and the moving water were soothing. I looked up and found Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and to Perseus’s twinkling west, good old Andromeda. The night sky was high above me, punctured by those holes of light that always made me imagine a City Behind the Sky. I got an excellent, electric shiver, part of the outdoor chill, part thought of Pamela Hall and Jenny back inside that warm, lighted house through the trees.
I went back. Pamela was leaving with someone. Jenny was sitting in a big Victorian chair that held her like a Venus flytrap. She had a Cascio keyboard on her lap, and she was playing backup to the piano played by a McCormick teenage son. She was also lead singer, belting out, “I feel the earth MOVE under my FEET, I feel the SKY tum-ble-ing down, I feel my HEART start to trem-ble-ing whenever you’re around…”
She was, as usual, terrific. People were dancing and singing along. Jenny passed the Cascio to Limb, who played as well as she did, and Liz Prager took up the singing. Jenny dance-strutted over to me like a Rolling Stone, and we moved around each other under the garlands in the living and dining room. Jenny was a hot blur of blue sweater and leather skirt and bare legs; she’d shed her boots. Her breasts bobbed, and she moved her hips like a priestess to a pagan deity who was sharing the glory with the party’s nominal Miracle Worker, the Chanukah-god-Jehovah. Jenny pranced closer and kissed me. I put my hands on her shoulders and she put her hands on my belt, looping her fingers inside, against my waist.
Liz sang, “You shake my NERVES and you shatter my BRAIN, too much love drives a man in-SANE—”
Teenage McCormick at the piano did Jerry Lee Lewis knuckle-run glissandos. Limb had the Cascio playing a wild sax with underlying drums. Sweat ran down my face onto Jenny’s blue sweater.
Liz and everyone screamed the climax, “GOODNESS GRACIOUS, GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!”
We all dropped to the floor or onto the furniture. Jenny and I crawled under the piano. She kissed me again, lips and tongue, until I caught enough breath to say, “Let’s get out of here, now.”
She leaned against me and slid her hand down my thigh. “Here,” she insisted.
For a totally unzipped moment, I was going to, but I blinked and looked straight into the brown eyes of 6 year old Miss Powers-Limb who reminded me, “Boys go to Jupiter, to get more stupider!” She giggled and jumped up, running away.
Even so, I knew, so gladly, that I was just another instrument being played. Now I could write.Help Support T21 with your Dollar Donation Today
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