We came out for the opening of High Noon at Grauman’s. Mona Moray—she played Lenore—let us use that fantastic castle of hers in Beverly Hills. We thought it was going to be awful and that we’d only stay a week, but scads of New York friends had come out and we found a lot of the Hollywood people were fun, in a mad way, like Mickey Neilan and Pringie, Aileen Pringle.
We never thought we’d stay so long. We were really on our way to Hawaii—some friends of ours who had a wonderful house there were expecting us. It was a time when everyone was pressing wonderful houses on us. ’I have a perfectly marvelous house for you to write in,’ they’d say. Of course no one needs marvelous houses to write in. I still knew that much. All you needed was one room. But somehow the next house always beckoned.
Everybody was waiting for my next book then. My publishers had announced it two years before, when High Noon was still selling. And each time we settled somewhere I found a new excuse for not writing it. A good excuse. There were too many people around. And I wanted to go back and take another look at America, at the Kansas City I was trying to write about (it was one of those books I never finished). And there were magazine stories to write—it was such an easy way to make twenty-five hundred dollars—and we were always short. The year I made sixty thousand, I had to borrow from my publisher. One time when we were very broke and wanted to charter a yacht to cruise the islands of the Mediterranean I locked myself in for a week and wrote four short stories and got ten thousand dollars. They were good stories too. I couldn’t do anything badly then. It took me years to reach the point where I could do things badly.
There were other reasons, of course. There is never a simple reason for not writing a book or not writing your best. It’s fear,it’s greed, it’s sloth—I suppose I suffered from all of these. It was Jere, too. Oh, we were in love, if the word had any shred of meaning left in 1927. In her lean, sharp-boned, restless way she was still more exciting for me than all the Billie Doves, Mary Astors, Corinne Griffiths, and they were lovely women. It wasn’t beauty with Jere, though she had some of that. She had a way of saying things, of wearing clothes, of doing things, aquaplaning, gambling, talking French or Spanish or Italian without an accent; she was a marvelous mimic—once she had done Helen Morgan we could never take Helen seriously again; she could walk on her hands, she could fly a plane, until I made her quit, thinking a high-strung girl like her didn’t belong in the air; she might have made a first-rate Symbolist poet if she had had any discipline or any confidence. It was strange that a girl as handsome as Jere, who could do so many things, should have such a confidence deficiency.
She could do things and she was fine to look at and I loved her and we had too much money and needed more, and all the time, she was a failure and—though it would have seemed preposterous to me then—I was failing too.
I never knew exactly when Jere began to fail. At first I was afraid it was some flaw in me, but I learned it was earlier and earlier, something to do with motherlessness and paternal neglect.
It was all moonlight and champagne at first, like being on a long date, 01 like those slick stories of gay crossings and Riviera nights. I wrote some of them myself, God help me. When we were good we were very very peaches-and-creamy head-in-the-clouds castle-in-the-sky good the way our public believed us and wanted us to be. And when we were bad we were horrid to each other, though that was our secret for a long time. Whenever we were out we were those amusing Hallidays; they’re so charming, so witty, so perfect together, and they adore each other like a couple of kids, and after all their Success—we must ask them for dinner, for the week-end, for the winter. Here we go ’round the prickly pear, the prickly pear, the prickly pear, here we go ’round the prickly pear at five o’clock in the morning …
He remembered the afternoon they went to a Dadaist performance, where Tristan Tzara read aloud from a newspaperwhile an electric bell sounded so dangerously he could not be heard. That same afternoon Picabia had drawn a picture on a blackboard and then, two hours later, erased it, to demonstrate the creative process negated and defied. Manley, who wrote grammatically, with precise syntax and with periods and even semicolons and whose influences were largely Edith Wharton and Henry James, had been appalled at what he called “artistic hooliganism.”
Jere had not agreed with all of it—“a good Dadaist shouldn’t agree with anything,” she had explained. But she did believe in the seriousness of Tzara’s motives and in the possibility that they were groping toward a legitimate art form.
Manley had become quite violent about it. Literature was communication. The masters dealt with character and ideas, not with an exhibitionistic play on words.
“But this century is a turmoil,” Jere had tried to explain. “It needs a new form to express itself. Maybe bells and reading aloud, maybe something no one has thought of yet.” She was quite sure Rimbaud would have been a Dadaist. “He was trying to tear everything down—only he didn’t go as far.”
“Oh, I’m sick of Rimbaud! Do we have to live with Rimbaud?”
In the dark he heard Jere crying.
“Jere. Jere darling. Please.”
No answer. The silence was a warm pillow blotting up mysterious tears.
At three-forty-five in the morning, by the luminous clock, he heard her moving near him.
“What are you doing?”
“Ah … ah …”
A long time passed too quickly.
… In Nineteen twenty.
He remembered the long white yacht cradling in the moonlight on Alcudia Bay. The sky was paling. Sunrise would besoon. It was that delicate moment just before. It had been a good evening, with champagne and native Majorcan musicians who had rowed out from the island. Their hosts, Freddie and Gilly Patterson, very rich and rather nice, had finally given in to sleep. So had Cholly Prince, the popular composer, and Bootsie, the strange English girl, who had confessed that she was in love with both of them, and had meant it in a way that had frightened them. Sleep had caught up with Whitings, who were such good sports, and with the rest of the motley, amiable crowd. The Pattersons could have been more select, but they liked people with a little added seasoning, writers, theatrical folk, almost any celebrities as long as they were “regular,” which, to the Pattersons, meant being just a bit irregular. Anyway, they were all sleeping now. At last the ship lay silent. From her bunk Jere whispered, “Mannie, are you awake?” “Diane, obey me.”
It was their new game, ever since they read, on shipboard, that serious farce The Sheik.
“Take your compelling stare away from my bosom heaving under this soft silk,” she answered. “I know. I’m a brute and a beast and a devil.” He slipped out of bed. She was wearing the nightgown with the black lace top that always pleased him. “How much longer are you going to fight? Would it not be wiser after what you have seen today to recognize that I am master?”
“Are all Arabs hard like you? Has love never made you merciful?”
“Shall I make you love me? I can make women love me when I choose.”
Laughing together, and warning each other to hush like prep-school roommates, they tiptoed up on deck. The Mediterranean had not yet turned the color for which it was famous; the oncoming sun had filled it with rose-water. Small dark clouds lay curled up asleep on the horizon—“like little cats,” Jere had whispered.
“I love you,” Manley said, as close to her as he could be. “If you weren’t my wife, I’d ask you to marry me.”
“Shhh, don’t move for a moment,” she had whispered. “I want to hear the water.”
The ripplets murmured against the hull. Here the world began and here it ended, begins and ends, begins …
Later they dove from the bow into the clear water of the harbor. Manley watched as she poised on the edge, enjoying the clean lines of her nudity. The dive was perfect; she swam away from the boat with a strong stroke. He kept up with her for a while, with a sense of exhilaration at their being in the sea alone together at daybreak, feeling deeply involved with love and water, primary forces. But after fifty yards he began to tire. “How about turning back?” She shook her head, humorlessly he thought, and kept on. A little farther out: “Jere, we better turn back.” “You go if you want to,” she said. “I’m going to see how far I can go.”
“She’s so damned extreme about everything,” he thought as he slowly paddled his way back to the boat. In his towel robe, he watched the small dark spot moving out toward the open sea. When she was almost out of sight, a sense of panic set in. She wouldn’t do that, she wouldn’t—would she? A minute later he realized the dark spot was growing larger. Thank goodness she was on her way in. He held the white towel robe for her as she climbed aboard.
“I thought you were on your way back to Monaco.”
“When I get started like that I feel like swimming on and on and never coming back.”
“But, Jere, you were so happy a little while ago.”
“Oh, Mannie, I was—satiated. That’s the way I’d like to go.”
“You’re a crazy minx.”
“Look at that fat sun. I’m glad I came back. It’s going to be a beautiful day.”
They sat on deck together until the sun was up, so happy with each other that they felt sorry for the people who could not be there, could not be them.
The midday heat had sent them down to their cabin for a lazy nap. Dressing for lunch and feeling logy, much worse than on no sleep at all, Manley said, “Darling, I meant to remind you, I’mafraid I wasn’t careful this morning.” And she said nervously, “Manley, it’s a fine time to tell me—I was a little woozy from all the champagne—I didn’t even bother to …”
“Is it too late for you to—do something?”
“Yes, damn it. Manley, that’s lousy of you. You know how afraid I am of being …”
“Jere, let’s not worry yet. It’ll probably turn out all right. Why spoil the trip?”
“But I don’t want a baby. I’m too young. I’m not ready. We’ve been so free, so lucky. A baby would make us so horribly settled. Mannie, honestly, I’d rather die than get too big in front and heavy in the rear and sit in some park knitting and gabbing to other mothers about toilet-training.”
“You make it sound like an inferno.”
“Well, you wouldn’t want me that way either. Oh, damn it, being a woman is a bore sometimes.”
When she had found herself a day overdue she had gone to bed and wept. It seemed like such a dirty trick for nature to sneak up on them that morning at the very moment when they had been indulging themselves in the most delicious, romantic fling of irresponsibility.
Two months before “her time” (why were all the terms connected with childbirth so repulsive? Jere complained), they had embarked for America (Jere discovering a patriotic devotion to the obstetrics of Manhattan). But the child had been delivered by a French ship’s doctor three days out of New York. If it had been a girl, Manley had joked, they would have called it Oceana. Jere was grateful for one thing: the most ungainly period of her pregnancy had been avoided. After a while she even began to love Douglas, but she never quite forgave him, or Manley either, for pressing on her the dowdy crown of motherhood.
All the Halliday friends and followers felt the same way. The Hallidays weren’t ordinary people who bothered about formulas and two-A.M. feedings and jollying infants back to sleep.
Except in rare periods of economy, when Douglas was deposited with Grandma and Grandpa in Kansas City, Douglaswas entrusted to a series of French governesses who took elaborate, bilingual care of him, pampering him and practicing the delicate art of platonic seduction that lonely women of middle age know so well how to impose on bewildered and lonely little boys. To her delight Jere found that, quite the opposite from her worst narcissist fears, the existence of Douglas contributed to her perpetuity of youth. “Darling, you aren’t the mother of a (3, 4, 5, 6) year-old boy! No, I refuse to believe it! With that waist—why it’s positively indecent!” This sort of thing always, and Jere’s eyes growing bright with triumph as she said her little joke like a child unaware of its precociousness. “Oh, up in them Kaintucky Hills we’re courtin’ at seven, lovin’ at eight n’ nursin’ at nine.”
But under the half-developed breast under the tight crepe-de-chine there seeped from the half-developed heart a tiny maternal leak. When they had decided to leave the child in Paris while they went to North Africa (Jere’s brilliant idea to make a sentimental search for Rimbaud’s trading post at Harar) she had asked Douglas if he minded their leaving him for a month or so. “Will Mademoiselle be here, Mommy?”
“Yes, Duggy.” “Then I don’t care how long you stay.”
To her surprise, she had cried all the rest of the morning. Manley hadn’t taken it very seriously, even when, several times that day, she thought she had changed her mind about going. He knew her tears and her laughter, her conscience and her whims were just a little closer together than most people’s. An hour out of Paris, over a second bottle of St. Julien in the dining car, they were hilariously amused by a crotchety old gentleman and his “niece” across the aisle. They improvised indelicate details of the incongruous couple’s relationship in a free adaptation of Petronius Arbiter.
One afternoon in nineteen twenty-eight they woke up in Mona Moray’s Hollywood-Spanish castle of stucco. Jere (whose sleep had been interrupted by a particularly painful dreams she had seen her mother, clearly, holding her in her arms and when she, the baby, had put her mouth down to nurse, the breasts had been hard and flat like a man’s and she had awakened with fitful sobs) came over and sat on the edge of Manley’s bed (still looking seventeen in his pajamas). “I have a wonderful idea for a party.”
Manley had been lying in bed half awake, vaguely worrying about his novel. Started two years ago, put aside for short stories, started again, put aside for travel, then started a third time, he was no longer sure if it was the book he should be doing, the right follow-up for High Noon. Hell, he had never had that trouble in the beginning. Friends and Foes, The Light Fantastic and the early stories and High Noon had to be written. What happens, what happens? He was wondering. But almost at the same time he was computing how much money he’d have to make in the next six months to stay ahead of the game. At twenty-five hundred a story, one a month would do it, with back royalties and extras coming in—maybe a little help from the Market. His Wall Street classmates were saying Radio might go to 400. With ten grand he might make himself forty. Then a whole year off to write his book. No more of this playing around. There were so many things he wanted to try in writing, so many things he hadn’t accomplished. At twenty-nine he was a contemporary success; one critic had called him a “Titan.” But it hadn’t really turned his head. At least not when he was in bed with himself, half asleep, half thinking, half knowing where he was and what he had to do.
Manley sat up and flipped out of his mood and into hers. “How about an Elinor Glyn party? Everyone has to come in a red fright wig and bring an original novel entitled This Passion Called Love.”
“No, Mannie, listen—and then tell me you aren’t proud you married me. Let’s give a party in honor of Rin-tin-tin’s stand-in.” Neither of them felt well enough for breakfast, so they got Naga, the Japanese house-boy they had inherited with the place, to bring up a batch of Martinis. Then they sat down together on the bed and planned the party in detail. They both had a way of being completely serious about frivolous things. “We must ask Tom Mix, he’s a dog’s best friend,” Jere said. “Do you think we have to ask Rin-tin-tin? He’ll be hurt if he isn’t invited but he never has anything to say.”
“He’s a smart dog though. I’ll bet he’s got the first dollar he’s ever made.”
“A canny canine.”
Jere made a face. “Please, Mannie, be serious. Let’s see, we’ll need at least one genius; I suppose two is always safer in case one of them turns out to be somebody’s kid nephew from Hungary, three producers, five directors, three Germans, maybe a Swede and one American for local color, ten assorted male and female stars, all flavors, a dozen Wampas stars, including one virgin for laughs, three or four screen writers, young and bitter …”
Jere’s laughter tinkled like the ice in the shaker she stirred. With quick dance movements she hurried to the desk, found pencil and paper and started making out the list: “Now for the odds and ends: one assistant director who thinks he’s at another party, a smattering of girls who came from Council Bluffs to break into the movies, one two-thousand-a-week ex-playwright who stands around denouncing Hollywood all night and then goes off with one of the Wampas stars, and, oh yes, two fairies, no three is always more fun, and a call girl who’s been given the wrong address and whom we all mistake for the countess who never shows up. Now, anyone else?”
“Don’t forget the Capone trigger-man from Chicago—we need at least one underworld celebrity. And a Grand Duke and a Prince or two. We c’n probably get enough real ones but if worse comes to worst we c’n always call in a couple of extras.” “Is the Queen of Rumania in town? She’s a good kid.” “That reminds me, should we get a date for the dog-of-honor?”
“Don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of bitches at the party, Man.”
“We should send out some sort of announcement. We’re giving a little party for Rin-tin-tin’s stand-in—let’s see, what’ll we call him?”
The best Manley could think of was Sin-gin-fin.
“No, it should be a name with character, with canine it,” Jere insisted. “Like Strongpaws.”
“Wonderful! A little surprise party for Strongpaws, a fine artistwho’s made good in Hollywood and still has his four feet on the ground. Formal dress. Bring your wife or any other dog you know.”
Planning a party for three hundred people is like planning a modest-sized socialized state to exist for a single evening. There is the question of supply, in this case Branstatter’s to cater, and Rudy, the MGM bootlegger, to provide the principal entertainment. Bartenders must be hired, and musicians, butlers, maids. There had to be two attendants to park the cars of those who came without chauffeurs, and a private detective to see that precious jewels were not removed, or precious skins molested. The days of preparation rushed by in a joyous blur.
The terraced gardens were a wonderland of Japanese lanterns, peopled by a super race of which all the women were unbelievably lovely and all the men, except for the genius, the producers and a director or two, were tall, handsome and marvelously joined with their tuxedos. Manley was proud to see that even surrounded by ladies known for their beauty, Jere held her own. Standing near a bush of flaming hibiscus, the green sequins of her gown flickering in the lantern light, the fascinating planes of her face reflecting the soft glow, looking up wittily (she could, he thought) into the collar-ad perfection of Wister La Salle’s face (what do girls see in him? He isn’t handsome; he’s pretty), Jere appeared to Manley as a green goddess. There were girls here with the most beautiful faces in America but not even Bebe Daniels had the vitality, or was it vivacity, no, that wasn’t exactly what he meant either, the inner spirit, the range from Rimbaud to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. He looked at her now as he had stood looking at her the night he had found her, falling in love again. (Damn those songs, always taking words out of lovers’ mouths.) She would always be his necessity.
Everyone was laughing at their sign on a small palm-tree in the Garden: “First tree in Hollywood honored by the attention of Strongpaws.” And everyone applauded as the guest of the evening made an entrance on two feet. Like his master at his side, he was in evening clothes. Jere hurried forward, curtsiedprettily and took his paw. “Strongpaws, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see you. I thought you were wonderful in Each Night I Bark. You stole the picture!”
Everyone crowded around, cocktail in hand, playing the game so well that the panting canine might have been John Gilbert or Don Alvarado.
“Is it true that you’re going to sing in your next picture?” a young writer asked.
“I love you when you smile,” said either Clara Bow or one of a dozen young hopefuls made up to look like her. “You have such beautiful teeth.”
“What’s this people are saying about your going to marry that platinum blonde?” Manley asked.
There was a laughing crowd around the outdoor bar. “I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” announced a sixteen-year-old Wampas star in the shortest dress of all, lifting her little glass to her exquisite little mouth. “How did they ever think of anything so cute?”
“This is tame,” said her escort, a director who had been around. “You should have seen the one they threw at Deauville last winter.”
He whispered some of it.
“Oh!” the child exclaimed. “Why, they’re really terrible!”
“Enfants terribles,” said the director.
“You said it!”
Mona Moray, the star of High Noon, described in the fan mags as the “Sophisticated Lady of the Silver Screen,” too exotic to be real in gold lame, was talking to the husband she was divorcing.
“No, darling, not half the house. The house has always been in my name, darling.” She smiled up at him exactly as she had when the cameras had flashed for their celebrated rites the year before, and moved off toward the circle favoring Strongpaws.
“Darling,” she cried, throwing her golden arms around the creature’s neck in a convincing burlesque of a Hollywood greeting, “I think you’re the most virile-looking thing in Hollywood. All that hair on your chest.”
“Mona should know,” at least half a dozen cats whispered to their partners.
Naga had decked out the buffet with true oriental attention to detail. A Hawaiian orchestra moaned softly in the background. Three hundred and fifty guests (for the party was so large that one could crash merely by arriving and going to the bar) clustered around the little rented bridge tables. Manley sat at a table with Mona, Strongpaws and his master. At the next table were Jere, Wister La Salle, Mickey Neilan and Sally O’Neill. Jere was laughing at something Wister had just said. Manley knew that sound, not her own laugh but the one she used in flirtation because she thought it was more musical. All the time he was talking to Mona he seemed to be able to see Jere without ever looking at her. To admit he was jealous was a hangover of provincialism; it disturbed him. But lately, she had been worrying him a little: her absurd notion that people only paid attention to her because she was Mrs. Manley Halliday. Increasingly, she had imagined that people were snubbing her and she was sure, from the way women smiled when they saw him approach, that he was having all kinds of mad affairs.
While Manley chuckled at something Mona was saying to Strongpaws and at the way Strongpaws (the best-behaved guest at the party) turned his head and seemed to listen, he glanced at Jere. She was raising her lovely head and emptying her wine glass. He frowned. She never used to drink champagne like this, not sipping or tasting. Especially in this last year there had been a new urgency in her drinking. He caught her eye—a furtive warning. She smiled at him, challengingly.
The dinner was climaxed with ice cream sculptured to the heroic form of Strongpaws himself, enclosed in a circle of black cherries in wine. There were calls of speech, speech for Strong-paws and he obliged, rising with his forefeet on the table to deliver a series of well modulated barks.
“What’s Al Jolson got that he hasn’t got,” Jere was saying at her table, “except knees?”
“He’s got better manners than my husband,” Mona said. Everyone was getting drunk. Accents slipped off. Men’s handsmoved with practiced stealth under gowns hospitably knee-length. Words bumped into each other and coupled like little box-cars. Mild attractions suddenly flamed to irresistible passions; minor irritations flamed to violent hatreds. Couples slipped off into dark corners of the garden. A wife said to her actor-husband “If you talk to that slut once more I’ll leave you” and he took the challenge and she kept her word.
This is what Jere and Manley loved about parties; they were a quickening of life’s normal pulse; they made dull people bearable and bright people brighter; they put people in a dice cage and shook them up to see what new combinations would appear. A look, a word, a right or wrong move, after the third drink, could make a friend, a career, a lover, an enemy. The sum of a party was so much more than the mere addition of all its parts. The Hallidays loved the sense of mystery, of teasing the fates and tempting the furies, of what’s-going-to-happen-tonight. This party was in its ascendancy. It needed only the slightest turn of the swizzle stick to start it bubbling up. The white orchestra (that alternated with the black jazz band) was all soft strings and muted saxophones. There was a spatter of applause and Manley saw that Wister La Salle was on the band stand. His sweet, almost feminine tenor fluttered gently over the garden. “Two by two, they go marching through—the Sweethearts on parade . …”
—“Look, baby, isn’t that Fay Lamphere over there?”
The simple-sweet lyric and the simple-sweet voice crooned on.
—“He’s a terrific bet for talkies.”
—“I hear he’s as queer as a square grape.”
—“You should be that queer, honey.”
Manley did not miss the way La Salle, turning his head prettily, sang directly to Jere. And he did not miss the way her eyes laughed yes! Damn them, he could hear it.
—“Listen, chump, Grange never saw the day he could play with Wilson. He just had a better publicity man.”
—“Lou, you missed a fight in a million Friday night.”
—“Don’t worry, honey, one more won’t hurt you. It’ll make you feel better.”
“… Sweethearts on parade.” The frail, simpering voice trailed off and Wister La Salle blew kisses to his audience in exchange for their applause.
The band medleyed into Jeannine and someone said isn’t that Blanche Mehaffey over there and somebody said don’t you think Dolores Del Rio is the most beautiful woman in Hollywood and someone said no, Dolores Costello and somebody said the trumpet player is cute and somebody said you and trumpet players and somebody said I heard a cute one in the commissary the other day and somebody said I had a cute one in my dressing room the other day and somebody said for the fifth time that evening Won’t it be great when we have Smith for President so we can get liquor back and somebody said I wish they’d play Sweethearts on Parade and somebody said where were you, dopey, they just did and somebody said I love champagne but it doesn’t love me and somebody said look at her talking babytalk why you know what we call her on the lot the human pincushion and somebody said she hasn’t got any morals I mean she doesn’t even try to hide what she does and somebody said Great Just the Greatest Thing Since the Ten Commandments and somebody said which ones God’s or DeMille’s and of course somebody said you better not let C.B. hear you giving him second billing and somebody said for the sixth time that evening Pardon me while I go into my strange innertube and somebody said for the sixteenth time These are Coolidge stockings They do not choose to run and somebody said how about it and somebody said we’ll see and somebody said so I says look Irving and somebody said I think the old songs four or five years ago were a lot better than the ones we have now and somebody said so I speak right up I says lissen Mr. Van Berghoff maybe I’m only a lousy-five-dollar-a-day extra but I and somebody said honestly I don’t hate her I’m sorry for her and somebody said O Christ everytime she has three drinks she has to get up and sing I Faw Down an’ Go Boom and somebody said I wish she’d just Faw Down an’ Go Boom without singing about it and somebody said take my word for it that stock won’t stop till it reaches andsomebody said I think Manley Halliday is cuter looking than the Prince of Wales and somebody said haven’t had so much fun since Marion’s masquerade party and somebody said hey kids don’t miss this—Jere’s doing an imitation of Pavlova doing an imitation of Gilda Gray doing the shimmy on the buffet table.
Hot ginger and dynamite
There’s nothing but that at night
Back in Nagasaki
Where the fellers chew tobaccy
An’ the women wicky wacky woo …
Mona came up with a drink for Manley while he was watching and kissed him playfully. “What’s this scandalous talk I hear about your being faithful to Jere?”
“Know what I am? Inverted Vic-torian, tha’s what I am.”
Mona’s personality, in the artificial twilight of the colored lanterns, flashed like radium. She was not so much a woman of infinite charm, Manley was thinking, as a brilliant imitation of a woman of infinite charm.
“I wish I had more chance to talk to you. I love intelligent men. I’m so fed up with these Hollywood males—all shop talk and passes.”
“Mona, been thinking about you. You’re complex. You’re an awful little egotist ’n at the same time you’re still scared, still searching—in here you know”— the thought was receding from him like the backwash of a wave and he was running down the strand to catch up with it—“you know—you haven’t fulfilled yourself.”
“Darling,” Mona cried in triumph, throwing out her arms as she had learned to do, “you know me! You know me!”
In some pagoda
She ordered soda
The earth shakes milk shakes
Ten cents a piece …
Jere and Wister La Salle were doing a burlesque adagio. “Your wife oughta be in pictures,” Sam Loeb, a veteran producer, was telling Manley. “She’s a natural little comedienne.”
“Sir,” Manley said, “I’ll have you know you are speaking of the woman I love.”
The dancers had drifted to the side of the pool illuminated with underwater lights of red and blue and green. A trim little Wampas star from Hollywood High School with marmalade hair who was always taking her clothes of! did so again. She posed on the edge of the diving board and for a tantalizing moment Manley enjoyed the unreal sense of beauty of the scene— the fine young body offered so freely to the night, so fearlessly. The sight of her clothed only in moonlight aroused no other emotion in him than a strange pride. When she was old, forty or fifty, she would remember that she had been alive and that her youth had lit up a pool more brightly than all the colored lights.
The child with the marmalade hair, now that everyone had seen her, made her dive—up, up, with mermaid grace, ah now— too bad, a belly flop. He was angry with her, the anti-climax lending a sudden vulgarity to the performance, the mood of fantasy interrupted by the slap of bare breast and belly against the water. Jere would never have spoiled it that way. He had seen Jere diving nude from the bow of a yacht, splendidly silhouetted against the floodlight arching down and knifing through the surface so perfectly that she had seemed not at all a naked woman but some nymph of the sea returning home to the green depths.
Wonder where Jere is. Time he and Jere had a dance together. Time he and Jere …
“Watch this kid, it’s gonna be rich.” A dapper Middle-Westerner, who passed on the screen for a European sharper, flashed his toothy trademark grin in Manley’s face. Manley turned to see a stubby little man impeccably dressed with a red ribbon of honor slashed across his chest approaching the producer J. C. Coles, who had come from Eastern Europe as Jakob Kolinsky a fast twenty-five years before. Coles was fifty, bald, vain, with a hard mind in a soft body, a terror to his employees but clearly inadequate and insecure at parties that were not his own. He would never have come to such a wing-ding as this if his wife of five months, the young star Mary Gay, hadn’t insisted. It wasa Hollywood joke that Coles adored his little Mary Gay to the point of insanity. He phoned her from the studio every hour of the day and night. He had studio detectives follow her. He adored her.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Count Pierre de Corday de la Corbierre.”
“I am delighted to have the honor,” Coles announced with a slight accent and a sense of European deference.
The Count whipped out a jeweled cigarette case with his crest on it. He identified himself, modestly, as a cousin of the French Consul-General. Coles, preparing a French Foreign Legion story that required French Government co-operation, became even more attentive.
“Permit me to compliment you,” the Count said, “on the extraordinary beauty of your wife.”
Coles, tugged one way by pride and another by jealousy, muttered politely.
“Such complexion,” the Count went on. “Such elegance. Such hair. Eyes that would turn the meekest of men into Casanovas …”
“Yes, yes, thank you,” Coles tried to interrupt. But the Count, apparently swept on by his own romantic momentum, could not be put off. “—with the figure of Diana, Salome, shoulders as pink and full as …” “Count, excuse me, but I must ask you to …” “And breasts, ah, like white peonies, with their …” Red-faced, dry-throated, Coles began to choke his protest. “Mr. Coles, I am something of a sculptor,” the Count persisted. “Perhaps you know my work. I have done some of the most famous beauties of England and France, in the nude, lovely creatures all—” he kissed his fingers appreciatively “—but none to compare with the charming Mrs. Coles. If I could have the honor of using her for a model—if you would allow her to come to my studio in Carmel for, say, just a few weeks …”
Coles let out a terrible sound, between a cry of pain and a warrior’s shout, and grabbed the Count by the neck and began to shake him hysterically, while the Count screamed Help! Help! and the crowd around them laughed and laughed.
Manley, watching the scene in a kind of fascinated horror, broke through the circle and tried to separate them like a referee, somewhat sobered by the unhappy sound of struggle. “I don’t know who you are but I’ll have to ask you to …”
The Count snickered and suddenly switched from his accent to plain American. “F” Chris’sake, Mr. Halliday, I’m Gus Jones.”
Something about the bluntness of the name hammered home. Gus Jones. The professional ribber who hired out to parties to needle the guests. He and Jere had talked about him, but he didn’t remember engaging him. Maybe Jere had. Anyway it was a joke, just a little gag he was explaining to J. C. Coles and Gus Jones’ impromptu audience lifted their voices in laughter as if on cue.
“I see, yes, of course, a joke,” Coles repeated, but the blood-pressure complexion, so suddenly risen, had not yet begun to subside.
“Manley, you’re a card, you really made it look real,” somebody he didn’t know chuckled in his face. Manley drifted toward the bar. “Wha’luhave, kiddo?” The bartender grinned. Everybody was drunk. The pool was full of bathers now. Manley noticed that a swimmer who hadn’t bothered to remove his tux looked rather indecent. Manley was conscious only of the background babble of water splashing, laughter splashing, music splashing (the colored band In a Mist) pierced by the occasional shrieks of frolicking young ladies to whom playful things were being done.
In a Mist—he and Jere were crazy about the Beiderbecke record, he was telling Colleen Moore or somebody who looked an awful lot like her. The girl who except for the cut of her hair didn’t look anything like Colleen Moore melted away.
Jere’s face floated up big-eyed and expectant.
“Jere, been lookin’ all over for you …”
“Looking for you too. Didn’t think it would be nice if I left without telling you.”
Her face seemed to bob back and forth like a balloon in a breeze. He could see that her eyes were unusually large the waythey always were when she was excited by anger or happiness. “Hear what they’re playin’? They mean well but they aren’t Bix or Tram …” “Mannie, I’m leaving with Wister.”
A hurried kiss touched his cheek. The sounds of festivity swirled around him. Somebody fell, glass splattered, band tore up 12th Street Rag, marmalade girl costumed in towels now did a hula on the diving board. There was a terrible cry from somewhere in the garden, Wha’happened? Wassa matter? Man-ley managed to reach the circle of curious guests jostling for a better view of the little blonde who had been playing the drums. “Sonofabitch bit me,” she said, pointing to the dog several men were holding. The owner moved excitedly. “He never bites— he’s a good dog—she was teasing him.” The victim’s escort came nobly to her defense by swatting Strongpaw’s owner on the nose. The dog barked hysterically. The little blonde sobbed. It was all over in a moment. Manley, surprised to find he still had a hundred dollars in his pocket, told the owner to take the beast home. “Go on, shake hands with the man and say thank you,” the owner insisted. Strongpaws and Manley complied reluctantly. Christ, now he’d probably have to pay for the little blonde’s dress, maybe doctor bills. Who’s idea was that Strong-paws gag anyway? Jere’s. Say, where the hell was Jere?
“G’night, ’night, wunnerful time—” The party was thinning out. The hopefuls and the die-hards were still going strong. And the white band was tapping out an old favorite, “Why Do I Love You?”
Look for Jere. No Jere anywhere. No Jere and no Wister. Jere really leave? A word, a kiss, good-bye. Did she say she was going? Was the whole thing in his mind? He wasn’t sure. All he knew was he couldn’t find her. Fine thing for the hostess. Should always wait ’n say ’night to all your guests before running off with another man.
“ ’Night, ’night, glad ya did, see ya soon, lost your what in the pool? Oh y’r anklet, look f’r it in the morning, ’t’s morning now, ha ha ha all right some other morning…”
Seeing Mona to the gate (“This hour of the morning alwaysfrightens me, Manley. Never know what I’ll do.” “Be a good girl now, Mona. Le’s Montmartre later this week”) his eyes were distracted to the parking space. Wister’s Daimler must be along there some place. They wouldn’t just go, wouldn’t just— “Manley, I’d adore it if you’d come down to the beach for tea one afternoon.” Her lips were cool and tasted more of promise than of passion.
“Love to, Mona, any time.” He waved vaguely. No Daimler. No Daimler and no Jere. God damn her. So this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends this is the way the world ends not with a bang but a Daimler.
The last melodic phrase had drifted out over the garden. The last drunk had been subdued. The last promise was made for lunch or cocktails this week. The last pair of high heels climbed wearily into the last limousine. The last of the bartenders made off with the last of the booze. “Don’t bother,” Manley heard himself mutter to Naga. “Le’s clean it up t’morra.” He reached in his pocket to give Naga an extra tip but his pockets were empty now. Must’ve given it to someone else.
He walked slowly back into the big house, barred the heavy medieval door and stood in the vast stone hallway. It was so quiet he could hear his own heavy breathing. Only in the days of feudal lords or now in Hollywood would anyone think of inhabiting such a house. It was five times too big for two people, a hundred times too large for one. He walked slowly through the cold, formal spaciousness of the living room. Living room! Who had ever lived here? This heartless, phony barn of a house. There was only one room fit to live in and that was the little barroom paneled in pine and decorated with Toulouse-Lautrec posters. You could live in the bar. He peered into the icebox under the bar and found a split of champagne. He lifted the glass to himself in the mirror. My God, was that he? He looked forty. St. Bernard eyes. He brought his face closer to the mirror, staring at himself as if the image were a stranger.
When the champagne was gone and he could find no more he settled for half a pint of Golden Wedding. Always GoldenWedding, the bootleggers’ favorite label. After champagne the whiskey tasted awful. To get it down he had to drink it fast. When the bottle was empty, for hell or for spite, he threw it as hard as he could through the archway into the living room. It fell without breaking and slid harmlessly along the carpet. Couldn’t do that again, he thought. But then, what can you do again ?
He opened the closest bottle on the shelf. It was peach brandy but he didn’t care. Jere was gone, out somewhere in the languid Californian dawn with a languid hero whose personality was as synthetic as his name. Where were they now, making for Palm Springs, to some improvised love-nest along the road, or settling down to first-time intimacies in the elegant bachelor bedroom of some luxurious hide-away? And did she have that look in her eyes that no other man was supposed to see? And was she making her own little loving sounds, her monosyllabic incantations that had only the most accidental connection with vulgarity?
He poured out the remnants of the peach brandy into a highball glass—the cuckold’s cocktail, he thought darkly, new recipe for Harry McElhone, and flung the empty bottle without aiming. It crashed against the far wall and the crash of glass splattering sounded good and violent.
He staggered out from behind the bar, heavy-legged, heavy-brained, up the long winding wrought-iron staircase (overwrought, he and Jere had joked about it) to the bedroom that wasn’t cozy wasn’t theirs because they had no home. He stared into the empty room and noticed the lipsticked tips of half a dozen crushed cigarette butts (“Jere, three packs a day, you’ve got to cut down”) crumpled on the floor near the chair, the beige suit she had taken off to dress for the party (never in all their living together had he ever seen her hang anything up), near her bed the murder mysteries she bought and left behind in hotel rooms by the dozen. He picked one up—The Club of Masks—wish she wouldn’t waste her good mind on this trash— out of the pages dropped a leaf of stationery from the Hotel del Coronado where they had spent the week-end before last. Manley made out the few scratchy pencil lines of an abortive poem:
A STUDY FOR THE LEFT HAND NOT KNOWING WHAT THE RIGHT HAND IS DOING
We are me and me are I loosened goosened lorelei if she hollers let her gonium eeney miney pandemonium
I am what I never could being what I never should if she dies before she tries who’ll put pennies on her eyes
She is I and I am wh
Another one of those things she was never finishing. The discarded clothes, the cigarette butts (some crushed out after only two or three drags), the books on the floor, the unfinished poem made him feel as if he were some sort of tourist of the emotions visiting the sentimental monuments erected to the memory of Jere Halliday. Maybe those songs aren’t so far off after all, he thought. There’s nothing left to me of things that used to be, I live in memory among my souvenirs, even if they are cigarette butts, crumpled slips and bras, broken lines of impulsive verse and other symbols of feminine disorder. Even so, he was moved now in a sentimental way. Salt drops burned in his eyes and he wanted to bawl. He groped to the sleeping porch where he and Jere had lain together a dozen hours before. He looked more closely and found a tiny gold heart; one of her earrings had come off. She had a hole punctured in only one ear because she had started to faint and had been afraid to let the jeweler go on. Strange, she was a daredevil swimmer, diver, flyer, hunter, but the thought of anything sharp drawing blood from her always brought on vertigo. The memory of her one pierced ear, for some reason, was more than he could stand. Flopping down on the day bed he cried hysterically into his hands.
Some time later (an hour, a day, an eon) he must have gotten up, must have gone down to the living room and turned on the radio, for he heard things: Jack Smith whispering Cecilia andI’m in heah-vun when I see you smile, smile for me, my Diane … comes to you from the famous Cocoanut Grove, playground of the stars … he’s in with a short jab to the mouth, another jab, and then Young Nationalista … Chicago, Presidential Candidate Herbert Hoover said today I foresee the day and that not far off when every working man in America will not only own his own … and minutes, was it hours, was it days later, he was crashing another empty bottle against the stucco walls interrupting the simpering Texas-Guinan-in-Christ voice of Aimee Semple MacPherson crying out her spiritual wares like a Panama City crib-girl. Oughta write a novel about Aimee. He thought he was having an inspiration: female Elmer Gantry with Hollywood trimmings. “And so I say to all you good people tonight don’t just get out and get under the moon, get out and get under God!” The bottle in his hand wasn’t empty, but he sent it hurtling against the face of the radio shut up SHUT UP, too stupefied to remember he could turn it off, too stupefied to tell day from night, gin from brandy, love from hate.
Beyond drunkenness he lay on the floor and felt himself sliding down as it swung around to serve as wall, ceiling, floor, wall again. Chri’sakes, wh’sa’matter wi’ me? Must’ve gotten sick. Couldn’t be drunk because just a minute ago I was thinking clear as a bell. “Jere … Jere …” His voice came to him as from another room and an unfamiliar throat. “Jere …” Too many people ’round her ’n me, too many people, gets t’ be a habit, bad habit. Only good habit’s writing your best. Making money’s a bad habit, needing money’s a bad habit, success is a bad habit, America’s fulla bad habits an’ you Manley Halliday you’re as American as baked beans and more easily spoiled. Cigarette’s gone out. Hadda match in my hand. Where’s ’at match go? Thought I lit it. Can’t find it. Where’s ’at match? He ’n Jere … the match?
It was warm, not believing, warmer crying over spilt champagne and wasted energy hot crying Jere Jere, there was fire raging inside him. Damn bootlegger stuff damn trash damn need for a thousand-a-week, damn Jere damn fire’s a word in asong rhymes with desire, pyre, ’f I burned would I be a big talent turning on the spit of success over fagots of cheap fame and cheap stories (at twenty-five hundred berries might as well do one more) (look Honey if I lock myself in for two weeks and knock out four we’ll have ten thousand bucks and can go to …) big empty house wasn’t cold any more red arms of flame reached through a window and gesticulated crazily as if beckoning for help help Jere my talent’s on fire it’s padded with dollar bills that burn like money help Jere help let the damn barn burn and my fat and my flesh tainted with success but for Chris’sakes Jere anybody don’t let the talent burn away to cinder …
The house that had always been so cold roared with the heat of a blast furnace. Upstairs in the study with the red leather furniture one hundred and three pages of the novel that Dorset House had expected to publish the year after The Night’s High Noon was curling to a soft gray ash. At the same time Manley was remembering O Jesus Burt Seixas had always begged me to make him a carbon. Forcing himself up out of the crackling stupor, he managed to reach the bottom of the stairway, but as he decided to go up, the stairs were deciding to come down.
—“Mannie darling, it’s me! Can you see me? Mannie …”
He had seen nothing but whiteness but now a fuzzed impression of dark red hair came down to him. He concentrated on seeing. He was in love with that face. Never knew why. It just pleased him. It had always pleased him. The twinge of a smile moved his lips slightly under the bandage.
“Darling, can you hear me? When I heard what you had done I—I almost died too …”
It took him a little time to realize what she meant. Oh, she would love him now. It was one thing to say I can’t live without you. It was another to, to actually try to take your own— well, had he? The last thing he remembered was thinking with a terrible, hypertrophic clarity about his life, his shortcomings and the things he did or didn’t believe. And he remembered calling Jere. And something about fire.
“Darling, darling, how can I ever make it up to you forbeing such a—dope? I’m going to buy you a pearl-handled horsewhip.”
“Accident,” he started to say under the bandages. But then he thought: is that fair to her when her face is lit up with rededication? No, for loss of my girl I tried to take my life and maybe I did, yes, maybe I did …
“Mannie, I was a dope,” she was saying into the bandages, “a sixteen-cylinder dope.”
And then she said, beginning to feel back with him again, “I am not afraid of anything with your arms around me. Ahmed. Monseigneur.”
Involuntarily, his shoulders began to shake. “Please, Mrs. Halliday,” said the stern-faced nurse, “you mustn’t make him laugh.”
Sitting on the leather seat of the men’s room he felt no leather; bouncing on the spinning metal wheels he remembered a time of peace (“that great beautiful hunk of peace” he had called it) that floated in the turbulent sea of his life like a magnificent iceberg, cool and detached and reaching so far below the surface that waves could not stir it.
He would never completely recover from this irony: in that brief period when he could not walk and when the bandages had not yet been removed from his eyes he had felt more sensibly alive than at any time since the most creative year of his young manhood. He sat on the beach and felt the sun and listened to the sea. At last he had time to think about his own relationship to sun and sea. Timidly, because the experience was still so strange to him, he began to feel himself a part of this natural trinity. Within him was a soothing awareness of wheels that, having spun too violently, were braking gradually to motionlessness. He listened to wind and gulls, to breakers and the whispers of their spray. Within himself it was as if the motor of a furnace had suddenly gone off, eliminating a sound that had throbbed so incessantly that it had come to be accepted as silence; now at last the silence was real, a perfect hush.
For years he had been in the midst of life and now, at this beach bungalow at Santa Barbara with Jere, he had removed himself to the outermost edges; yet sitting there on the beach renewing himself he came to realize that in a deeper sense it was quite the opposite: the social life had been an outer edge and he was coming home to dead-center, returning to himself, just as he and Jere were not merely resuming their marriage but caulking the seams of their joining to check the leakage and waste.
Now they began to hear each other’s voices, each other’s heart beats again. On the beach and in the cottage after dark Jere would read aloud to him a new translation of Verlaine YvorWinter had sent down from Stanford, the Journals of Baudelaire, Byron’s Don Juan, Stendhal On Love, fragments from the Old Testament, the letters of Browning and Flaubert, whatever could be found in the local library.
All through these quiet days Jere was as attentive, as devoted as a hospital nun. With her way of dedicating herself to one enthusiasm at a time to the exclusion of all others, his physical and professional recovery was now her only concern; she was convinced that nothing but his welfare had ever occupied her mind. The webs of doubt that had gathered between them dissolved. They had good long talks that carried over from day to night and through sleep to awakening, in which affectionate silences bridged the things worth saying.
At first Jere had shied away from mention of Wister La Salle, but the first time he brought it up in a calm and off-hand way she was relieved and found herself able to talk about it with complete detachment. It had simply been part of the vast confusion they had mistaken for the good life. The mere thought of the fellow now aroused nothing more in her than a great yawn. To reassure her he told her of his brief intrigue with Mona and they laughed together at the dark woods through which they had finally found their way. Again and again (with the unmonotonous repetition of the waves outside) they spoke their gratefulness at having each other. It was not the loving abandon they had celebrated in Paris ten years earlier. But in its place was something they thought to be more durable, that second-wind of love based on understanding, affection and a romantic sense of duality that makes the facing of problems a gratifying experience.
As the bandages were removed and he could walk again, the thrill of the child’s first steps and first impressions were filtered through the speculative appreciation of the thoughtful adult. The sheer joy of watching the blue sparkle of the sea was intensified by the idea of watching the sea. He could sit for hours meditating upon its fascination. It offered the peace of looking out over a stationary prairie and at the same time the pleasure of rhythmic motion. He thought: in all of us the desires to root and to roam are in contention. The sea, like the best of marriages, was a harmonious interflow of opposites. The sea was that exquisite equilibrium of movement and matter we call serenity.
To his delight and amazement, for he did not think he had that quality of mind, he was discovering the ancient pleasure of meditation, the priceless luxury of inner tranquillity. In the morning before breakfast he and Jere would walk along the beach looking for driftwood, the seashore’s own objets d’art. How pleased they were when Jere found a wooden snake that might have drifted in from some celebrated collection of primitive art. Another morning he picked up a water-smoothed abstraction that would not have disgraced Brancusi. Was this accidental piece of driftwood a work of art?
Along the beach they talked for the first time about what they believed in. Until the rust was worn away, the machinery of their minds moved slowly, protestingly. Why had they never stopped to ask themselves and each other the basic questions? Too many things to do, too many radios and phonograph records and party-chatterers to listen to. He had to confess that he did not know enough of the world’s wisdom to be ready to believe anything. He just had a few schoolboy prejudices, he admitted.
In their walks along the beach they argued good-naturedly the eternal either-ors. In a restless search for something to believe she had come to the Pensees. From the beginning of the decade that was reaching its end, she confessed, she had been rushing madly from one belief to the next—Dadaism, Freudianism, Anarchism (momentarily converted by the teachings and martyrdom of the apostle Vanzetti), hedonism; in Hollywood she had met, at the home of one of the most voluptuous movie stars, a Swami who had almost won her devotion to the Bhagavad Gita. Now, like her noble, disarranged Rimbaud, she was groping her way to the True Church. It has to make some sense, she kept saying as they skirted the water’s edge and his answer would be why? Maybe it makes no more sense than that sand flea hopping from hole to hole.
Like a Rip Van Winkle of the intellect, he felt that he had slept through a lifetime of opportunity. Here he was, he complained, already into his thirties, with nearly all of the world’s recorded wisdom still outside his mind. He threw himself into a feverish program of study—he had never read the Bible or Freud or Nietzsche or The Golden Bough or the notebooks of Da Vinci or all of Flaubert or the Greek philosophers or Sophocles or Euripides or all of Henry James, not even Conrad or Hawthorne thoroughly. What a dabbler he had been, a trifler, a dandyish dealer in externals.
He began to consider as the most important event in his life the fire that had burned to dust the tawdry merry-go-round that had seemed so dazzling. And that had brought him and Jere, literally, to their senses. It was, he decided, a symbolic fire consuming the highly inflammable, long-condemned, elaborately decorated but essentially flimsy playground in which he and Jere had existed. The burning of the manuscript which had seemed such a tragic loss in those first blistering days, began, in perspective, to assume its proper place, as a warning. He examined himself as an artist now, more thoroughly than he had in the pre-war days when he had carried a green baize book bag across the Yard, and found himself almost hopelessly wanting. Ruthlessly he made a list of all his faults and found them all to be the same fault, an over-supply of vanity, an over-developed concern to hear his name at the end of the cheers. The wish to be publicly admired. To be a Success. Like the others he had sneered at the Babbitts with their ordinary business success, their abysmal bourgeois ignorance that passed for “being a smart operator” and yet inadvertently he had allowed himself to be caught in the great American net.
Like an omen, it seemed as if every book said the same thing, as if each book knew his weakness and spoke for him alone. In the letters of Browning he underlined: I never pretended to offer such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or a game of dominoes to an idle man … on the whole I get my deserts and something over—not a crowd but a few 1 value more. From the letters of Flaubert he learned how that author would labor over a single effect until his bones ached. He took counsel from the reflective struggle of Henry James to purify his themes; from the notebook of Chekov, Aristotle’s Poetics, the work-habits of Trollope—even Arnold Bennett. He heard the warning of Marcus Aurelius; cease to be whirled about; and of Baudelaire: Pleasure consumes us, work strengthens us. Let us choose. Men as far apart as the Bible poets, the Elizabethans and the French symbolists all seemed to agree that if there was a single wisdom it was simply To thine own self be true. All he had to do now was decide what was his own self. How idiotic and disgusting—and remote—from the perspective of convalescence in Santa Barbara their party for that damned dog seemed. As they had with Wister La Salle, they found it an emotional purge to abuse themselves for having stooped to such vulgarity. It had been such an artificial display of merry-making. Here come the madcap Hallidays, they had sensed everyone’s saying, I wonder what they’re up to next. Like troupers they had gone into their act.
With a solemnity they still found refreshing, they decided on a program of rehabilitation. They would cut away the slough of false friends. They would conserve themselves for inner growth. They would go out to people only for necessary relaxation from creative work. Their motto would, be Contemplate, Concentrate, Consecrate. Or as Jere suggested, Datta, dayadhvam, damyata—give, sympathize, control. And the first test of control was drinking. After a thirty-day period of drying out, they would make an experiment of moderation. We’ll use the stuff, we won’t let it use us, they agreed.
And everything I write will be nothing less than my best, he promised, having written into his notebook his own rough translation of Flaubert’s warning: … art is a luxury. It needs clean hands and composure. If you make one little concession, then two, then five …
He even formalized it by drawing up a Declaration of Personal Independence, forcing himself for the first time to answer the artist’s catechism: What is my motive in writing this book? Money? Fame? Social pressure? Moral influence? Personal need … ? He confessed to himself and Jere how much he had enjoyed the wealth and popularity his books had brought. It had taken fire, infidelity, near-suicide to destroy the dragons of Success. Thank God, it isn’t too late, he told Jere. Before I compose another book 1 will learn to compose myself. Out of his twenties at last, with his century itself facing its Thirties, there was no more time for literary catch-as-catch-can.
One night after dinner they sat on the beach together with their backs against the low stucco wall of their cottage and watched the tiny yellow and red riding lights of passing ships. In the sky the milky cluster of stars could be read as clearly as on an astronomical chart.
I feel clean and calm inside, he said. I’m ready to go to work. He had been making notes for the novel that would treat Hollywood as a world of topsy-turvy values where film people were the shadowing two-dimensional reflections of reality and only the figures on the screen were real.
And I’m going to finish Une Saison en Enfer, she promised. I know, Mannie! Let’s not leave here till we’re both finished!
With the ardor of converts, they immersed themselves in domesticity. For the first time in their married life they stopped relying on room service and Jere tried to do the cooking. She plunged into housewifery with enthusiasm. She became economical, made marketing lists and was childishly pleased when she found ways to pare her budget by a half dollar. She became a budget devotee and worked out an elaborate scheme whereby they could live the ensuing year for just half of what it had cost them in 1928. On liquor alone, she estimated with a flourish of arithmetic, their new austerity program would save them at least five thousand a year.
Only in one respect did their retreat to tranquillity seem anything less than perfect. Their physical relationship subsided to infrequent moments that were almost casual. In the past an equal partner at the very least, Jere seemed to become increasingly passive, responding more from a sense of duty than desire. And yet it was during this period that she spoke of and seemed to feel most deeply her attachment to him. Days when he would be working at a table in the patio and she would bring him a cool drink, she would say—as she never had before—Manley, I love you so much. In the days when the beat had been stronger between them, she would have teased him with horrid names and said I hate you. At night when he was working now shewould bring him coffee she had made—which he didn’t have the heart to tell her was invariably bitter—and kiss him with earnest affection, but more like daughter to father than woman to man. None of this seemed serious though, for he was pouring all his energy into his work and his reading. With Jere’s housekeeping and the Rimbaud to finish they were always ready for sleep by midnight. If there was a minimum of erotic pleasure, there was a maximum sense of companionship and achievement.
They began to feel, keenly, the absence of Douglas and they had him come on from Kansas City. They found him amazingly “grown up,” in that intense stage of development when reason and wonder had begun to exercise his mind and they both enjoyed answering the grave catechism of a seven-year-old. Where does the sun come from? Where do people come from? Why are waves? Who is God?
Out of guilt at having failed him so often those first five years, they lavished too much attention on him. They decided it was unfair to Douglas to leave him as an only child, and Jere, all in her role of homemaker, mother and wife-of-the-artist, decided they must have another. In a rather matter-of-fact way one evening, they attended to this.
All was going smoothly with their work and their lives when the telephone, which hadn’t rung a dozen times in a month, pierced the quiet of the afternoon to announce a lady reporter from the local paper. Somewhat hysterical at her own ingenuity in having tracked them down, she was eager to interview them on why they had chosen Santa Barbara. The good, cultured people of Santa Barbara, the phone assured him, were thrilled at the thought that Manley Halliday would honor them by writing his next best-seller here.
He put the lady off. But when she called again and again, and they made the fatal mistake of saying no courteously—which, to the worldly, is the same as saying yes—they finally gave way to the old appeasement: maybe it will be less of an interruption to have her in and get it over with.
The coming of the lady reporter (she was the local book reviewer but she was all a-flutter at the prospect that an interviewof this importance would start on page one) meant locating a bootlegger to supply them with gin and perhaps some Scotch. And to prepare themselves for the ordeal, he and Jere thought they’d better have a drink or two before she descended upon them.
Mrs. Lucinda Hunt Hitchcock (who quickly identified herself as a grand-niece of the author of Ramona and the discussion leader of the local Bookworms Club, “which gives us lots in common”) was thrilled to meet the Hallidays, thrilled to find them such a young, charming, attractive and sensible couple, thrilled to have one teeney-weeney little cocktail with them (“we oldsters have to keep up with this younger generation”), thrilled to hear (by putting most of the words into their mouths) that they were seriously considering permanent residence in “this lovely bit of Old Spain by the Pacific we call Santa Barbara.” Having forced him to the half-promise that he would address the Bookworms (“The B.W.’s simply won’t take no for an answer”) she hurried off to write her rosy and totally erroneous impression of the young love birds gaily creating works of art (that sell for fabulous sums to magazines and Hollywood) in their cozy (but exotically redecorated) bungalow by the sea.
The departure of Mrs. Hitchcock was as if a sudden gale had blown through and left them wind-tossed in its wake. In a drinking mood for the first time since they had come, they finished another batch of cocktails. He had planned to go on working that evening, but the alcohol had eaten away his will and he took refuge in the decision to relax tonight and get a fresh start in the morning. That night he wanted Jere more insistently than usual but she complained of a headache—”can’t seem to take the pain-killer any more“—and for the first time since they had come he brought into the open his fears that she no longer had that kind of love for him. She gave in, to put an end to such foolishness, she said. But when it was over he felt even more letdown. What had dulled the fine, shining blade of their passion? Alone he wandered out onto the beach with a bottle in his hand, less sensitive to the elements than he had been a month before, to find an easy peace in solitary drinking. The next day he was full of remorse and sour humors. WhenJere reminded him of their pious resolutions, he accused her of being surly and unsympathetic. So it just happened that he was especially vulnerable when who-of-all-people-but-Bertie-Heinemann should call—“had no idea you rascals were in Santa B. till I read the big write-up in the local Bugle.” Bertie was staying with the Marstons who were “our sort of people” and were “simply panting to have you two booze-hounds in for cocktails.” He and Jere could hardly say no. The last time they had seen Bertie they had had an outrageously good time drinking wine together in the Blue Grotto and the coincidence of their all turning up together in Santa Barbara-of-all-places was an event that called for at least a token celebration.
From the Marstons’, where they had a much better time than they expected, they came home (as they now called the hotel bungalow) pleasantly pie-eyed and it was Jere’s suggestion that they make up, though there had been more ennui than disagreement between them. That night recalled earlier times when they had been too impatient to wait for darkness.
After that they decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a cocktail or two before dinner. Nothing after dinner was the new rule. Since he was working fairly well, there was no sense in being too rigid.
But their appearance at the Marstons’ led to a rash of new invitations. By holding them off to week-ends, they still managed to accomplish a good deal. Jere, the better linguist of the two, was studying Greek. Forever crossing a dozen bridges before she reached the first, she thought it would be fun for them to try a modern translation of Iphigenia in Tauris. The Rimbaud had been put aside again. Unable to catch the rhythm of the poems in the Delirium section, she was quickly sure she had gone stale.
At first their week-ends began at Saturday noon; then, without their quite noticing it, the social drinking began Friday evening. When Bertie insisted his heart would be broken if they didn’t come along with him on a yachting party that was to get under way late Thursday afternoon, they thought it’ll be an exception this one time and we’ll make up for it next week. What to do with Douglas was a problem for a while, but Bertie solved that by getting the Marstons to take him in with their little boy.
They had a peach of a time cruising down the coast to Laguna. Bertie, whose role in life was to know everybody everywhere, had some friends who had a marvelous house down there. They stayed over for a party that turned out to be a beaut. They couldn’t get back until Tuesday. By the time he finessed his hangover, Wednesday was all used up. Another week down the drain of secondary pleasures. They would have to be firmer, they warned each other. He went back to reread that document he had drawn up for Personal Independence. But they had to make an exception when Bertie was leaving for Honolulu. The bon-voyage party for him would be their last stab at whoopee in Santa Barbara. “After Saturday night we’ll retire with the championship,” he laughed with Jere.
It was a good party, no better or no worse than a hundred others, with the normal proportions of genuine release, harmful and harmless flirtation, moments of beauty, ugliness, boredom and titillation, happy and unhappy drinking, breakage, cigarette burns, fits of laughter, tears and several calls from the management to cut out the noise. A few minutes after four o’clock Douglas ran in crying from his bed and drove most of the guests away with his determined hysteria.
At five-thirty, all quiet at last, they held a troubled postmortem while they watched the dawn roll in. What had the party accomplished? How could they have wandered so far from their course? What was this compulsion to please other people? Bertie Heinemann was a playboy pure and simple with good taste, money, nice manners and a cultivated sense of humor and his generosity had made things comfortable for them in some very nice parts of the world. But he had nothing to say to them they hadn’t heard a hundred times. “He’s exactly the sort of nice guy I should start cutting out of my life if I ever want it to have any meaning,” he had decided.
It was at Santa Barbara that he had begun to think of his talent as if it had an objective existence separate from himself, as something precious that had been entrusted to his care. As he said to Jere, “I feel like a bellboy who is given a thoroughbredpoodle to walk in the park, lets it get off its leash and has to chase it desperately through the streets.”
The day after the party brought a vicious awakening to the dream of serenity in Santa Barbara. A little after three, when he was finally beginning to pick up the thread of his narrative, he rose from his work-table in the patio to find a cigarette and happened to glance into the bathroom window. After he saw what Jere was doing it was impossible to keep his mind on his work. When Douglas had been put to bed that evening, he told her what he had seen. She came over and sat on his lap and like a little girl began to cry. “Man, I’m glad you caught me. I’m miserable when I hide things from you. I’ve been dying to talk to you about it. Something’s the matter with me. This drinking. I hate it. I don’t know what it is. It makes me feel”—she nestled her face into his neck as if she would have liked to crawl inside him—“oh I don’t know, I don’t know, it frightens me. Help me, Mannie, help me.”
A tenderness for her that had always been there welled up in a moment of love that was exquisitely painful and that he would always remember (was now remembering). For better or worse, it was through sunlight and the dark, and the worse it was the more loving he had to give. And he remembered thinking what a rare and complex growth a love-marriage is—this effort to cross sexual attraction with common sense and binding partnership. Yes, he and Jere had come close, with the help me, Mannie, help me kind of closeness. Except of course that it had never been a marriage; at its best a love affair as bewitched as those that live in myth, at its worst a nerve-racking contest.
While he held her in his arms and loved her in his mind, the telephone intruded again. He went to it reluctantly. He was appalled by the manic ebullience that swept across the wires to him. It was an Ellie Slocum. (“Man, just wanted to tell you that party of yours was a knockout. Haven’t enjoyed getting a hangover so much in y’ars. Kitty’s so fulla wood alcohol she left splinters in my lip when she kissed me this a.m.”) He had only the vaguest idea as to who Kitty was, or Ellie Slocum either, though this voice obviously assumed the right to address him in terms of intimate and hilarious camaraderie. “Well, I just wanted to checkon tonight, Hally.” He winced. He had always loathed this liberty with his proper name. Tonight? What could he and Jere possibly have told this overwrought stranger about tonight? “Yeah, remember you wanted us to show you that little joint we were telling you about—the Chatterbox? ’Taint elegant but it’s a barrel o’ laughs. What time you kids be ready?”
“We kids,” he took pride in hearing himself say, “are leaving town tonight. Have to go East right away. Uh, serious illness in the family. G’Bye.”
He went back to Jere and said, “We’ve worn out Santa Barbara. Too many people know us. These last two weeks we’ve been about as private as a couple of flag-pole sitters.”
Four weeks before, they had leased the bungalow for six months, which would have been the longest they had ever stayed anywhere. To force themselves to some kind of permanency they had thought it was a good idea to pay six months’ rent in advance. “We’ve been living too much of our lives on margin—let’s buy six months outright,” he had said, and she had agreed that it was a brilliant idea. Their landlord thought so too, for he wouldn’t come up with a refund. Even so they considered it a good bargain.
He: “We’ll find peace and quiet if we have to go to the North Pole.”
She: “I wonder if Eskimos like frozen Daiquiris.”
With a stab of regret they glanced back at their white stucco cottage, its border of cheerful geraniums and its vast front yard of sand and sea.
“We had a nice time there,” Jere said.
“It was getting kind of hot,” he answered.
When they had followed the hot dry coastline for twenty miles she had suddenly remembered the things she had forgotten to pack, the red alligator shoes, the douche bag and a Greek grammar. He had been dipping into The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and he puzzled over the key to this combination.
—“Manley, Manley,” Shep nudged him, “don’t you think you’d sleep better in the drawing room?”
—“Jere, awful sleepy, wake me up when we get to L. A.”
—“Manley, hey Manley, listen to me, it’s Shep, Shep. You’ve got to—”
The train rolled on through the bitter New England night with the body of Manley Halliday. But the memory of Manley Halliday, fully awake behind the mask of sleep traveled another track toward another destination, following a time-table ten years old.
A year may crawl like a turtle or zigzag madly like a fox in panting fury to outdistance the pack. That year would always seem like one long terrible fox hunt with the pack yelping at their heels. They had started out so grandly to lead the chase, but somehow it was they who had become the driven and the hunted.
Douglas, adored and abandoned, according to whim and need, was once more deposited in Kansas City with his grandparents. Then a friend loaned them a farm in Connecticut, but there were mosquitoes and neighbors and the nights were heckled by the senseless groan of the bullfrogs. They tried to fall back on the metropolitan anonymity of Manhattan and for two memorable weeks they saw the city with fresh eyes, but then people began to discover them and the phone started ringing and there were week-ends on Long Island when it was more difficult not to drink than not to breathe and Jere said help me help me Mannie and he spoke to her in a voice he had never used before and she cried and they made up and swore that everything was going to be all right again.
They tried an apartment in the Village but it wasn’t the Village any more, just a precious slum for poseurs. One Sunday afternoon when they awoke for breakfast to find the place full of lesbians, shattered minor poets and self-pity, they looked at each other across the debris and knew, lease or no lease, the time had come to move on again.
Someone of the thousands always talking of places to go—was it Covarrubias up at Small’s Paradise?—had mentioned Mexico and for no more reason than that and the desperate desire to get away from themselves and the feverish stupidity of Boomland they headed south through Texas. As soon as their train had crossed the border they became immediately convinced that they loved Mexico, its sense of age and simplicity without the smell ofdecay that hung over the great cities and pleasure towns of Europe. On the train was a bull-necked mestizo whose one expression was a menacing frown; he was pointed to with starched-collar pride by the steward as the man who shot Pancho Villa. Passing through the surrealist-like monotony of Durango they heard much talk of railroad bandits who liked to rob the male passengers and molest the female. People said, no doubt mistakenly, that the assassin of Pancho Villa was there to protect them from such trials.
Across the table from them in the dining car were an aristocratic Mexican lady and her daughter who were white-skinned and spoke Castilian Spanish and alluded darkly to the Catholic counter-revolution that would boil up in Mexico and wipe out the atheists who had seized power in the Revolution. Asked whether the atheists hadn’t brought some long-needed social reforms to her country, the lady politely withdrew behind a shield of small talk. “Dolores Del Rio,” she would say sweetly, “yes. Lupe Velez, no.” And her daughter would nod in righteous agreement. Each time they met in the dining car after that, the Mexican lady would immediately reiterate what apparently was a firm moral judgment, “Dolores Del Rio, yes. Lupe Velez, no.” By the time they had reached the old world city of Mexico it had passed into their collection of stock remarks.
Once they reached Cuernavaca, where they found a lovely pink house for fifty dollars a month including a cook (and her entire family who ate and apparently lived in the kitchen), they felt they had left forever the world of I’ma-friend-of-Joe’s, hot tips, installment buying and Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas. The fervid Mexican sun darkened the yellow pigment of Jere’s skin until, in her native skirt and white embroidered blouse, she could have passed for a girl from Tehuantepec. Rivera did her portrait with the emphasis on high cheekbones and dark-eyed intensity. There were rumors that she and Rivera—but of course gossip in Mexico is cheaper than pulque. More nearly husband and wife than they had ever been, they climbed the pyramids of Teotihuacan and lost themselves in the ancient Toltec mysteries. They read together and were captivated by the True History of Bernal Diaz, they studied Spanish and Mexican history and feltthemselves drawn to the dignified brown people who still managed to hold out in their pastel villages against the invasions of the gringos and the vulgarities of the rising mestizos in their brown business suits.
In a month Jere was getting by in Spanish and everybody was saying she must have Mexican blood she was so simpatico. A new life was on its way, but they no longer had any use for it and a nervous Mexican doctor who smelled of cheap cigars and stale disinfectant approached her with his sleeves rolled up to dirty cuffs and put an end to what had seemed such a happy idea back in the false dawn of Santa Barbara.
She developed a great thirst for tequila after that and for dashing up to Mexico City while he was working. He was so preoccupied with trying to make his book amount to something that he didn’t pay much attention to Juan Fortunas, the Indian boy with the waist of a ballet dancer and the flattened nose of a boxer who had just received his alternativa in the Mexican bullring. Never very real was the day of Fortunas’ triumph when, in addition to his own bulls, he handled with fantastic courage and integrity the bulls of the torero caught in the first corrida. For all the women who watched the lean figure go in over the horns for a true killing with the long steel blade it was a moment of almost painful sexuality and perhaps that night at the ranch of General Ferrero, the rich ex-Revolutionary, where a victory celebration for Fortunas became a contest of endurance between tequila and the guests, Jere could not be blamed.
The next afternoon at breakfast it was the chief amusement of the day. The General, despite Latin regard for courtesy, could; not conceal his anti-gringo pride that one of his own had demonstrated the superiority of Mexican manhood to the effete yanqui variety. Even so it might have remained an inter-family affair if a wealthy young friend of Fortunas in the General’s bar that evening had not drunkenly executed a mock veronica as Manley approached. He had been in Mexico long enough to take offense. He swung on the offender and knocked him down. A moment later he had been crushed to the floor in a swarm of outraged Mexicans. Three days later he and Jere were back in El Paso. This time they had four months to go on the pink house in Cuernavaca. On the train Jere cried nervously and wondered what the evil was in her that spoiled all the places that promised so much.
After Cuernavaca New York was an inferno. The speaks were full of gangsters who looked like businessmen and showgirls who looked or would like to have looked like Jean Ackerman and young men of the Class of ’24 and ’25 with alcoholic complexions who had made twenty-five thousand dollars between the one o’clock and five o’clock cocktails. Wally Betz, a classmate of his who made his first million on the Exchange before he was twenty-eight, said, “Give me ten G’s to play with and I’ll run it up to forty for you in less than a year. Friends on the inside of Radio,” he winked. “If they don’t split that baby it’ll go to a thousand.” John J. Raskob had just said that if a man invested only $15 a week in good sound stocks, at the end of twenty years he’d have a life income of four or five hundred a month.
He and Jere had always been a little scornful of all the sure-thing talk, but now they saw themselves settling down in their middle age at St. Michele or some place on a life pension, free to age gracefully in some literary pasture. But their favorite character wasn’t Wally Betz whose brain was stuffed with ticker-tape; it was Carry Vanderhof, the young, willowy New York socialite who had been given an eighty-foot schooner for a graduation present and who was using it to run rum from the Bahamas. “And the beauty of it is I’m not breaking any laws because I sail under the British flag and the boats meet me twelve miles out,” he was telling them at Jack and Charlie’s. “I came in last night with twelve cases of honest-to-God Johnny Walker. Going back Thursday. You kids should come along. Might give you an idea for a story, Man.”
Garry Vanderhof, a modern pirate in clean linen, appealed to him and he knocked out a serial about a Social Register bootlegger that was snapped up by Hollywood for the absurd price of $50,000. He gave half to Wally Betz, who was going to run it up to a quarter of a million for him, and hurried away from America again. They crossed with Benny Field and Blossom Seeley, George Bancroft and Young Stribling and his Ma and Paand brother Buddy who confided that they were going over to fight an overgrown freak by the name of Primo Camera. One day at the rail George Bancroft, who had made such a hit in Underworld the year before, said to him, “I want you to write a Bancroft story for me,” and went on to explain that he was going to Europe “to tour their underworlds,” a phrase which immediately took first rank in their collection of cute sayings by adults.
It was a little depressing to go all the way to London to exchange insults with Aleck Woollcott at Claridge’s. Paris was somewhat better because nobody could quite spoil Paris even if the bars seemed to be full of the same people they thought they had left behind in New York. It was the year everybody was in Paris, the writers, the Wall Streeters, the movie actors, the college boys and Mr. and Mrs. Haddock.
One afternoon Hank Osborne showed up at the Crillon, defiantly Left Bank, with his beret, an uncanny Parisian cast to his face and a tendency to lapse into French to express himself more clearly, almost succeeding in blocking out his New England heritage. Hank had hardly sat down before he was lashing him for his surrender to Mammon and mediocrity. “For Christ’s sake, Man, you were our one best hope. When I read the College Humor crap I get so mad I want to crown you with a chair.”
A bottle of brandy turned an honest argument into an emotional collision. Because in his heart he felt guilty, he said Hank was just being a sorehead on account of the unpublished novel Hank had shown him. He said Hank’s sniping at his artistic lapses was the lowest kind of professional jealousy and that a real artist (which Hank would never be) can separate the chaff of money-making from the harvest of his real work. What began as healthy discussion deteriorated into splenetic confusion, even to the silly old charge of his drunken pass at Mignon. When it seemed as if the next answer must be a punch in the nose, Jere forced her way between them and told Hank to go. Hank went off proudly carrying the flag of the want garde and his unpublished (“because it’s too damn honest”) novel. Jere said, “Man, what is the matter? We used to have so much fun.” He wouldn’t stop drinking the brandy, furious with his oldfriend Hank for having said so much that was true. But when Jere said exactly the same thing You know, Man, there’s a lot in what Hank says. You keep doing all these pot-boiling things, all the guilt and confusion and self-hatred that had been storing up in him burst loose against her. There was a scene that shook them both with its violence.
When the reconciliation came it was violent too and they decided the flaw was Paris’ and not their own and that all they needed was a second honeymoon, or was it their third, their fifth, their tenth? So they hired a Renault (with a dark brute of a chauffeur who most of the time would ride in back) and places and people flew past in a blur, like the scenery at 80 kilometers: Grasse, Biarritz, Juan-les-Pins, Nice, Monte Carlo, San Remo, Lake Lugano, Florence, Rome and Taormina, the next place always the hope and the postponement—refuge in flight. I must move to keep the wind in my face, Jere had written, the moment I stop I am consumed in my own fires.
They had to believe that nothing could spoil the seagreen depths beyond the raft at Juan-les-Pins or the maturing radiance of Jere in the most backless of all the one-piece bathing suits. Nothing could quite spoil the enchantment of gliding across the marble floor of the Provencal Hotel among the dark pines to the sweet foolishness of Avalon. I like dancing with you, Lieutenant Hallenstein. They had to believe that nothing could quite spoil the twisting twinkling drive to the Pre Catalan where not even an American jazz band could succeed in shattering the lavender quiet of the Mediterranean, all changed and changing and not so much fun any more, but not quite spoiling the sense of resurrection as they dove into the cool magic of the tideless sea and not quite spoiling the still-loving taction of their tanned and homeless bodies. No, nothing ever could quite spoil the succession of honeymoons except the fear, the crawling fear, that something beyond their control was stalking them. Something evil and outside their love was closing in on them with nightmare inevitability from which one runs and runs without being able to move, as on the night that Jere was carried beyond the bar of gaiety to drugged surrender, not even to a fine animal like Fortunas (alas killed in Madrid by a bull who had not heard how great he was inMexico), but to the ugly pock-marked dark brute of a chauffeur and the bottomless helplessness of I don’t know. It isn’t enjoyment. Don’t know why. Feeling of falling, of falling down into darkness and out of delirium the last lines of Saison en Enfer she had been working on Ah, the stinking rags, the bread soaked with rain, the drunkenness, the thousand loves that have crucified me. Will she never let me be, the Ghoul Queen of a million dead souls and bodies that will be judged? I see myself again, the skin eaten with filth and pestilence, with worms in my armpits and in my hair and worms even larger in my heart, lying among strangers without age, without feeling …
And after the reality of the stomach pump the precise French physician who had his own ideas of these intemperate Americans (“a race is not civilized until it gains a sense of moderation” he would tell his mistress later that evening) asking him how she happened to obtain so much Elixir of Terpene Hydrate. She was bothered by a cough before she left the States and took a supply along. A supply, the physician smiles. She has had at least two pints today, that is, 40% alcohol, you understand, in addition to the codeine and she has taken a number of codeine pills besides. I have reason to believe she is an addict. The physician had pronounced the word harshly, with a cynical emphasis that made it all the more painful to hear. Addict. And she had looked particularly lovely and like her old self that afternoon with her powder-blue scarf and her firm brown shoulders.
Someone who had been through it pointed the way to Dr. Simmel and his Schloss Tegel in Berlin and like de-luxe pilgrims (with Radio zooming to five times what they had paid for it) they journeyed to the Adlon to await the miracle. Jere took up residence in the Schloss. After three weeks, during which he developed a healthy antagonism for the arrogant modernity of Berlin, he had one of those talks with Dr. Simmel that left him in a state of revelation.
Alcohol, Dr. Simmel explained (in the tone of an orthopedist explaining a compound fracture) defends the ego against the patient’s inner unconscious conflicts. In Jere’s case there was the hunger for parental love lost through the death of the motherand withheld by the father. “In search of a father to replace the one who has failed her, Jere has been trying for a long time to transfer you from a husband into that father. That is why she began to flinch from you as a sexual partner at the same time that she turns to other men. You hold a position of authority and prominence much as her father did and that is why, also, she has shown such a tendency to compete with you and to belittle you. Also,” Dr. Simmel continued, “drinking is a substitute for the repressed wish to enjoy auto-erotic pleasures. This is where your solitary drinking comes in. Notice the similarities of infantilism—the symbol of the bottle itself and the regression it induces. The patient drinks until she staggers like a tot, until she can no longer articulate words like an adult. The patient becomes as helpless as the infant she wishes to be. Her face must be washed; she must be undressed and put to bed. The important thing for you to understand is that when your wife drinks herself into a stupor or finds release with other men it does not mean at all that she wants to leave you. On the contrary, young man, more than ever she wants you to protect her and care for her.”
He had nibbled at the meanings of Freud, but only now did it come to him as a flash of understanding that here is a new morality based on what is rather than on what should be. To believe that anyone was unfaithful was as archaic as believing that unbalanced people had stones in their heads. As Dr. Simmel, another redeemer in the great line, went on with his precise explanation of what he called the post-war disease of dipsomania, it occurred to him that the Christian advocacy of forgiveness and understanding had, after nearly two millennia, been given a scientific rationale. It was in Dr. Simmel’s office in the Schloss Tegel, pondering the teachings of Christ, of Freud and of their apostle Simmel, that he remembered shaking off the first scale of the skin of prejudice he had worn without question from his youth.
“Doctor, this helps me very much. But what is the cure? Is there a cure?”
“Dipsomania.” The doctor put his hands together and looked into them as if the answer were something he had palmed.
“Yes, of course it is possible. Ours is a science of possibilities. But it is not merely a cure. It is a kind of engineering of the soul. We must rebuild the ego. Psychotherapy, occupational therapy, a year, maybe two years, if you both have the will, the patience— I think we can develop a mature ego that will replace the infantile narcissistic pleasure principle with the reality principle.”
The reality principle. Maybe he could use some of that medicine himself, he was thinking. Maybe this was what they all needed—the entire generation—a rebuilding of the group ego. Jere’s was just an advanced and somewhat more spectacular case of a terrible plague. He wandered down the steps into the daylight of a bright late summer afternoon.
By willfully avoiding the amiable company of correspondents who waved to him from the bar, he found a new kind of lonely peace at the Adlon with Jere gone. He found himself working unusually well. In another six or seven weeks he was going to have a completed draft of the book he had begun in Santa Barbara, dabbled at in Connecticut, pushed ahead in Mexico and worked at in fits and starts in a score of hotel rooms from the Savoy in London to the Viaigiea Grand in Sicily. Then the door swung open and there was Jere. “Darling, darling, I ran away. Keep me with you. I’ve stopped drinking. I’ll never drink any more. I’ll never do anything to hurt you. I promise, I promise, only take me away, please take me away.”
Schloss Tegel was a medieval chamber of horrors, she told him. The attendants were unbelievable villains. Dr. Simmel was not as bad as the others but he was never there when she needed him. One of the male nurses kept trying to take obscene liberties. There was no beauty there, there was only beauty when she was close to him. He was all the cure she needed. And on and on in a torrent so convincing that he had gone to see Dr. Simmel who smiled at the charges and said but of course you understand this hostile reaction is symptomatic and such delusions of persecution are to be expected.
But Jere would not go back, promising over and over that she would behave herself. She looked so adorable as she begged with her full lips in a kind of pout that was at once childlikeand seducible. Wasn’t there some way of retracing their steps and picking up the golden thread ? He softened and fell in with her and they ran away to Salzburg, where they could escape together into the post-card unreality. Then in an open Fierce-Arrow (just how that had come to Salzburg he could no longer remember) on to Lake Constance, where they got mellow on sidecars on the balcony of the hotel looking out on the lake and then on again through the grandest country in the world to Kitzbuhel, a story-book town made of pure gingerbread, where Jere wore peasant skirts as no Tyrolese peasant ever could have worn them, where in a few weeks they were “Die Schone Amerikanische,” where he began to think of working again.
They found a Tyrolean lodge on the Schwarze See that had belonged to one of those madmen of the old nobility (“made the countess wait on the maid he slept with in the master-bedroom” so ran the local scandal-legend) and they said Kitzbuhel was just right, just the right size, just far enough away. They would drink nothing but the local yellow wine and he’d finish the book in a month or two and in such peace as this she’d finish the Rimbaud job at last. Meanwhile she picked up piano again, practicing intensely for an hour every afternoon. They made friends with a German poet and his wife on the other side of the lake. Now at last they had found a life where temptations were balanced by compensations. Just to offset the danger of vegetating, they’d have a semi-annual spree in Paris to see the plays and the opera and the people on the boulevards and the friends passing through; then home to the Schwarze See, with the incredible Alps for a fortress against reality.
The sound of the tracks, the inner weakness, the uneasy sleep, the pressure of something that had to be done. But why be anxious on the Wagon-lit (wasn’t Jere better, Radio passing too again and the book near done?) with Paris to meet them in the morning like an old friend? (What was it he had to finish by the time they arrived?) No, after Kitzbuhel it was never clear, more like a Fourth of July pinwheel burning itself out as it whirls into darkness. Cease to be whirled about. He and Jere whirling and whirling as on an amusement park turntable. (How do you get out of this amusement park?) The wonderful memory that could bring back every word and look and gesture going out of commission after Kitzbuhel, except for the things he’d rather forget. These survived erasure like indelible ink: the transatlantic call from Wally Betz to their fifty-dollar-a-day suite at the Crillon which went off in the middle of their Paris vacation like dynamite. Hello, hello, is this Wally? It didn’t sound like Wally who always started with some sort of a rib. But anyway here was Wally with a voice like a man confessing a murder. Manley this has been the God-damnedest day the God-damnedest day! I’ve just come from the Floor. This is tough to tell you but you need thirty thousand to cover your margin. I’d cover for you in a flash. Didn’t even bother telling you about it last month. Looked like a little leveling that’d take care of itself. Christ, Charley Mitchell himself said there was nothing to worry about but I lost two hundred thousand today, maybe more. The goddam ticker is still three hours behind. Feel like somebody just whopped me in the belly with a sledge hammer. “But I haven’t got thirty thousand in cash, Wally.” Well, borrow on whatever you can, insurance, go into hock. Hell, you’ll be in good company. If we c’n all come through with our margin maybe we c’n hold this thing together. Charley Mitchell says …
Next morning’s Paris Trib was a footnote to debacle and he hurried over to the customers’ room of Halle Steiglitz, alreadyjammed with American investors on whose faces the fatal numbers were written as clearly as on the big board on the wall. On the board and over the cables disaster came ticking. He sat there among the other victims fascinated by the terrible little numbers on the board, the fascination a man must have who having slashed his wrists in the bathtub now watches the blood flowing softly from his veins. He looked around at the others and their faces were gray with physical illness. There was a distinguished old man with white hair parted in the middle like a young man’s who took a cigarette from a beautiful gold case, lit it and crushed it out without smoking and lit another. When the Trib reported his death from heart-attack, the involuntary suicide, it said he had sold an independent steel company to Big Steel and had come to France to retire. His losses were reported as $480,000 in two days. There was a fat man from Biloxi (whom they had seen gay-blading around the nightspots) who held his puffy cheeks in his hands and sobbed. A genteel lady in her late forties, upon hearing that 5 now stood for 25 rather than 55 cried out in her suffering the foulest oath in the language.
Once he had accustomed himself to the idea of being wiped out, he began to appreciate how his $55,000 had bought him a ringside seat for the knockout in the tenth year of Young Jazz Age, otherwise known as Big Bull Market. And he wondered what he who had thought he was fleeing the American money-machine was doing here in Halle Steiglitz with the coupon clippers and the heavy plungers. Until the year before he had always said the market was a game for Yale Club men and chambermaids and he had handled it in High Noon as the bog in which his hero is almost lost. Now it seemed even with his own instinct for prophecy that he had written his own defeat into Ted Bentley’s. What was it Hank had said? Man, the trouble with you is you never learned how to keep your distance. You can’t decide whether you’re the photographer or the one being photographed.
Maybe that’s what drew them to Maxims that night where they knew all the recently rich Americans would be holding a wake for themselves. Through the desperate gaiety the waiters moved with a cynical obsequiousness, as if to say, “Let this batch have their last little fling. By the time they pay for the champagne we’ll be richer than they are.”
President Hoover was clearing his throat bravely, but the party was over. With no more dollars to cash in for francs, the expatriates were folding their manuscripts and quietly going home. It turned out even Hank had been drawing a modest income from some family investments; now he came in a little sheepishly to say he was going home. Everything was going to pieces. The word home had a strange sound on his Gallicized tongue. Hank had found a real home in Paris. Just as so much American writing had. Perhaps in the quick fever of the Twenties it had had no other. Yet, saying good-bye to Hank, he realized that he had never belonged to the literary Americans-in-Paris. He hadn’t belonged to anything.
Defeated soldiers falling back to shorten their lines, they withdrew from the Crillon to a pension near Hank’s studio on the Rue de 1’Universite. It was all a pinwheel jumble flashing into darkness. Bits and pieces were flying off into space. Jere with whom he was increasingly out of sorts came home with a Rose Reseat creation that had cost 750 francs. “But, Man, I felt so blue. And” (remembering that fabulous hat in ’19) “I thought maybe this would change our luck.” His only answer had been to look at her dully, knowing there was no way to tell her that luck had nothing to do with them, that luck was a schoolgirl’s dream, that luck was only the bulb that shone when the current was on, a result and never a cause, and now the powerhouse that had illuminated their world had gone dead.
But of course Jere would not understand, so she turned to brandy instead of breakfast and was off for three days with the stragglers of a Surrealiste group who in his opinion mistook their own foulness for the infections of society. When finally he came to fetch her he was sick with what he saw, unable even to summon up jealousy against such a circus of the flesh. Jere, homelessly home with him in the rooms with the scaly wallpaper and the so-called plumbing, remembered less of what had happened than if suddenly she had been awakened from a dark dream. The bits and pieces flew about as he dreamt of arms, legs,eyes, birthmarks, toes and tufts of hair, all jigsawed into scattered twisty parts. As he reached out to put them together, a piece dropped off the window-ledge and then another. When he rushed into the street to rescue them, the pieces had been swept into the gutter and washed down the sewer. He would wake in a sweat with a dry sob and Jere would be lying there with him and he would wonder if she was the part that had slipped off the ledge.
When he tried now on the train to bring back into focus the how and why of separation, the pinwheel had almost burned itself away and the crazy circles of light were dimmer and dimmer. The cable from Jere’s sister with the clear cold words Papa died this morning you are needed here for the settling of the estate—They agreed it might be better or at least cheaper for him to stay on and finish the book. It was no good without her or with her, but he worked and worked to make this the book.
When it was finished he came back to the new America of soup kitchens and apple vendors and Communists, to the professional cheerleaders pointing to prosperity around the corner, beating out the musical assurance that Happy Days Are Here Again and following Jimmy Walker’s advice to avoid depressing movies. The big joke was the hotel clerk asking the man if he wanted the room for sleeping or jumping, which was hard to laugh at with Wally Betz doing a swan dive from his penthouse facing the Park and not even succeeding in doing away with himself but merely in twisting up his spine.
He had cabled Jere to meet him, for they weren’t really separated though she hadn’t answered a letter in months. But she had always been an erratic correspondent. On the pier he kept hoping until an executor for the Wilder estate came along and told him where she was.
At a luxurious sanitarium in upper New York he found her on a croquet lawn as smooth as a putting green playing intently with an ex-senator, a steel magnate’s soft son who had drunk his way through five wives, and a depleted Follies girl who had once been a front-page scandal. A guard whose function was not concealed by his sportclothes had led him to the group. When she saw him she went on playing her ball and missed the wicket.
She came over and said, “See what you did? You made me miss my shot.” When he apologized, feeling like a latecomer to the garden party of the White Queen, she became almost the Jere he used to know. “It doesn’t matter. I hate this silly O.T. stuff anyway. You should see us all trying to sew and play bridge in the salon after supper. I think it’d make a hilarious play. My doctor thinks I should try it.”
It seemed that she had been furious with him for deserting her and not leaving Europe sooner. Apparently she had forgotten all about their decision that she should come back and join him when she was ready. “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. I guess nobody cares whether I live or die any more,” she insisted on ending the argument.
His talk with Dr. Stedman was no more satisfactory. He had discounted Jere’s charge that Stedman was a phony, but somehow the man was a little too suave for a scientist. His answers to the hard questions were diplomatic. With a great many high-sounding phrases he knew how to say nothing at all in such a way as to reassure the average visitor. The impression he left was that at $40 a day he was in no hurry to let go of a good thing.
The book came out to mixed notices and a disappointing advance sale. The ephemeral quality of the subject matter made him seem wordy and decadent. Most of the reviewers buried him respectfully. Some of the critics actually blamed him for “the social irresponsibility of the Twenties” as if the entire spirit of the decade had been his own private idea.
The reaction, or rather the lack of reaction, made him feel as if in entering this new decade he was entering a strange house to which he had not been invited. It seemed almost too damned easy to think of himself and the Twenties as going smash together, as if he were unconsciously acting out the Twenties in some ghastly charade, and yet here he was in the first year of the Depression with his money gone, his wife nearly gone, his reputation going. What had Hank said? He didn’t know how to keep his distance.
Hank came in to see him at the Harvard Club one day, an American radical now with vague plans for organizing a newleft-wing book club. “Man, one thing the Crash has done, it’s killed the illusion of a middle class. We have to take our stand with the workers or go over to the ruling class.” They argued as they always seemed to now, and Hank made the grim prediction that he’d never write another first-rate book until he faced the economic realities (seemed as if people were always shaking fingers in his face and warning him to Get Reality like a new religion). But when they parted Hank still said, “Now, for Chris’-sake, if you need me for anything, a little dough or something, holler” and “Remember for my money you still start where the others leave off. Write the story of our generation from a social point of view and you’ve got the first important book of the Depression.”
Old Man Wilder had written Jere out of the will and only one of the sisters helped at all (though she was thoroughly ashamed of Jere like the others). So forty dollars a day was soon too much and he had to move her into town to a place on Central Park West for a hundred a week (still too much but what could he do?). There people wandered up and down the corridors all day and all night and lived on little black capsules of bella donna (and God knows what else) that Jere began to crave almost as much as the Terpene Hydrate. But one night she called from an obscure hotel on the West Side—Man, 1 couldn’t stand it any longer. I’ve just taken two dozen sleeping pills and I want to say good-bye. “Jere, for God’s sake, I thought you were at Coomb’s.” He found her lying across the bed breathing hideously. Up through a city that didn’t care screamed the ambulance. Then three days under the oxygen tent, with Hank and Burt Seixas there with the money for the private room. Watching her breathe and holding his breath with her, loving her still. Yet when the tent was removed and she could talk enough to say Man, let’s try it again and promise all the old promises, he knew he had to say, “First you go back to Coomb’s and stop drinking and then let’s try another analyst and then we’ll see.” She turned her head to the wall and cried and he put his hand over his eyes to hide his own helpless tears.
The ordeal with Jere, the frustration of money-needs, loneliness, disorientation and the first real writing block of his careermade drinking a necessity. Alcohol had always loosened his wits and his sense of festival, but now it only dragged him down into despondency and evil temper. For the first time in his life he was thrown out of a speak for insulting a guest; another time when he started a fight he would have been booked for disorderly conduct if Burt Seixas hadn’t come to his rescue and pulled some strings.
An old friend from Amherst got Douglas into Eagle School near Greenfield, Mass., and that cost money. So he squeezed Burt Seixas for advances and because it was cheap and still had a few memories he holed up at the Murray Hill to crank out formula for the magazines. He had to do five before even, with his name, they would take one. Somehow he managed the tuition and Jere’s bills at Coomb’s. He would have sold his eyes right out of their sockets to keep her out of a state institution. And his own drinking was mean and double-desperate, murderous and suicidal. One day, one day, where was he? Could you tell me where I am? I mean what hotel? What town? Greenwich Arms in Stamford? Oh. An’ an’ what day is it? Friday, June tenth. Date means something. Hasta mean something. Lord, Douglas’ graduation. Ready for Lawrenceville. Musn’t let Douglas down. Trying to hold himself together among the oh-so-proper parents of the boys at Eagle School and the stares the who-in-the-world-is-that looks and the hurt of hearing the outraged parents from Brookline saying He looks like something from Skid Row and the answer that half killed him, They say he’s the author of something or other. Christ, what a humbug this whole educational system was, he was telling them, not just thinking but actually telling them and people were laughing and the headmaster hovered over the scene like a buzzard ready to snatch his rotten presence from the midst of all this respectability. Then into this nightmare thrusts the face of Douglas crying, “God damn you, you’re stinking drunk. All the guys’re laughing at me, they’re laughing.” The child’s pain came through sharply to him and he slunk away. On the B& M going back to New York he churned in an agony of self-disgust.
He remembered walking up the steps of the fine old Fifth Avenue mansion that housed the publishers who used to make acelebration of his every appearance. He remembered having to wait twenty minutes while Burt Seixas finished reading a new outline with Caulfield Kdaly, the new twenty-two-year-old flash, then listening to Burt, his old close friend, talking from behind his big curved pipe, “Man, we simply can’t see our way to any further advances. You know how the book business has been hit. Frankly, Man, it would be easier if I could show them upstairs that you were actually at work on something. But, Man, if a few dollars will help you in a personal way …” “No, no, thanks anyway, Burt. So after all I’ve done for Dorset House, I’m not even a good professional risk.” “Now, Manley, be reasonable, you know it isn’t that exactly …”
And getting back to his two-dollar room in the Hotel Excelsior (after all those palatial Excelsiors on the European circuit) to find a hundred-dollar bill in his overcoat pocket pinned to a note that said only 7 believe in you. B. S. Lying low in a cubby-hole room in this Hotel Excelsior was like not being in New York at all; that night he bought a box of fig-newtons for supper and sat down at the desk to make an inventory of the cluttered disorder of his mind. On one page of stationery he added up his debts, $32,475. On another, the money he had loaned to friends through the years when he was flush, $11,500. Paring to the bone he budgeted his living expenses and family responsibilities for $12,000. He made a list of all his literary assets, the stories that might be resold for radio programs or movies and the ones he had in mind but had never written. There were ideas for at least three more novels he was going to write. The mere listing of these things started a feeble current. Finally he listed the names not only of those who owed him money but some moral indebtedness or mere wealthy friends from the past who had once made that nice little speech about feeling free to call on them.
They all came up with the same answer, as if they had rehearsed it together; wished they could, but times ’ve changed, maybe if things improve with the new Administration … The run-around, the stall, leaving him to wonder just how many friends he had of all those masquerading as friends, made up to look like friends, I know what—I’ll go as a friend, but now the costume party’s over and they’ve all gone home.
When the last phone call to the last name on the list led nowhere but back into himself, a heavy hammer went thud against a leaden bell and he said, Well, worse has come to worst and I’ll wire Phil Coyne. For years he had been conscientiously ignoring the fabulous offers from Coyne in behalf of producers looking for polish jobs to give their scripts the Halliday touch. Well—his telegram tried to sound light-hearted—the Halliday touch was on the market at last.
Two days later his answer was one of those exuberant Hollywood responses—tickled to death know I can get you fifteen hundred a week quicker than you can say Spyros Skouras buzz me what plane to meet.
He couldn’t tell Coyne he was coming by bus. All he had was the C-note from Burt, fifty dollars from Hank and another seventy-five for a first edition of Bleak House in its original monthly installments he had paid $785 for in 1927 when he had thought of becoming a collector. (“Rare books are always a good investment,” he remembered explaining to Jere.) He also had a complete leather-bound edition of Cabell, twenty-two handsome volumes, which he had once thought of passing down to his son and heir as an invaluable possession. When he asked fifty dollars for the set, the dealer just showed his bad teeth in a mirthless laugh.
He traveled across the continent with his head back against the seat rest, a part of the gray crumpled mass crowded into the bus, a piece of human cargo in a cross-country truck with seats.
Like the others he moved dully West with the listless dream of maybe it’s a little better farther on. He looked out through unfocusing eyes at the monotonous American landscape. He hardly listened to the drone of complaints that took the form of idle argument about the course of the depression, Roosevelt, Communism, the bonus, the eviction strikes. And through it all, through twenty-three sovereign states, a young man in a shabby suit with a thin face discolored with impetigo sang in a tireless drone: I guess I’ll have to change my plan …
When he climbed out of the bus and called Coyne, his agent said, Sweetheart I’m tickled to death, and he observed morosely,
“People have been tickled to death. I understand it’s a form of torture among certain African tribes.”
“Are you an expert on Africa?” Coyne said, right on the ball. “There’s something at Universal called The Gorilla Woman. About a beautiful white girl raised by gorillas. She can’t talk, kind of a female Tarzan, until this white hunter finds her. She attacks him like a gorilla and he captures her and keeps her in a cage until he tames her. Ends in a helluva chase with all the gorillas after them. They want to make it as big as the elephant stampede in Chang. But I hear they’re having script trouble.”
He heard himself saying with admirable restraint that he did not think he’d be ideal for Gorilla Woman.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never been even formally introduced to a gorilla woman.”
“Well, hundreds of you writers are out of work,” Coyne said reprovingly. “We’re beginning to feel the pinch out here too. But don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll have something for you by the end of the week.”
Meanwhile Coyne had made reservations for him at the Beverly-Wilshire. “Mr. Coyne, you might as well know, if I were in a position to maintain myself at the Beverly-Wilshire, I wouldn’t have bothered coming out here at all.”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. After all, you’re a famous author, aren’t you? You’ve got to keep up a front. You don’t have to pay the bill till you get a job—the manager’s a pal of mine. And you’re a cinch, even if things are a little tighter at the moment and you aren’t quite as hot now as you were last time out. You’ll hear from me, Hally.”
Up on Yucca above Hollywood Boulevard he found a room in a boarding house for ten dollars a week. It was a run-down wooden mansion built in that fussy hybrid architecture of twenty years before, full of run-down movie people. A blonde who had been something of a name only a few years back, somewhat bloated with drink but still attractive enough to lead a busy life, showed him her scrap book and he liked the way she tossed off the good years without a fleck of self-pity—“What the hell, I had a lot of laughs.” A stunt man who had broken his back doing a comic fall down a flight of stairs and would never be able tostraighten up again said he was going to write a book to solve the depression. There was a wrestler who thought he had an operatic voice and made the rounds of the studios each day to convince them he was a second Lawrence Tibbett. There was an old couple who used to make fifty dollars a day playing bits but now “the directors we knew are nearly all gone” and a hundred a month was doing well. There was quite a pretty young girl from Hazelton, Pa., who had been picked as a star by her high-school dramatic coach and who wrote her mother every day. She had a terrible time with the operatic wrestler and Man-ley couldn’t help feeling a little sorry when she finally succumbed.
He found himself surprisingly at home among all these people, the has-beens and the never-will-bes. Here in this flea-bitten rooming house were the pain and the false hope and the terrible day-to-day waiting that was more Hollywood than all the fanfare of Grauman’s Chinese.
Once he had written the story of an extra, The Telephone Slave, and he had not done badly with his imagining, but now he was an extra and his constant calls to Coyne followed a cheerless pattern in which both parties pretend to be friendly and light-hearted. “Hello, Hally … just going to call you … nothing new at the moment, sweetheart … Joe Siskind may have something for you when he gets back from New York … I’ll be in touch with you, Hally …”
But less and less in touch as the months dragged on. No, Mr. Coyne hasn’t come in yet, no, Mr. Coyne has just gone out—the technique of the snub which the business world has done so much to develop. With a sense of outrage he worked himself up to calling Coyne at his home while Coyne was giving a crucial dinner party for J. C. Coles. The brush-off incited him to the point of telling Coyne off, which left him not only jobless but agentless, a kind of Hollywood untouchable.
Summer came on in a wave of enervating heat that all the natives assured one another was pleasantly dry. He walked the steaming Middle-Western streets of Hollywood—Kansas City with prettier girls and pistachio architecture. Friends of his were receiving two thousand dollars a week here every Wednesday,but he was careful to avoid them. He would liked to have looked into Stanley Rose’s Book Shop but he had no desire to be introduced to the young men of promise who were said to hang out there, and he was wary of Stanley’s reputation for generosity.
He had taken the precaution of registering as Joseph Manley and it gave him an inexplicable satisfaction to be addressed as Joe. Not that the chances were very great of anyone’s quickening to the name of Manley Halliday. But this Joe business gave him a gratifying sense of a new identity. The idea of moving to another country with a new name, perhaps even a new occupation, beginning again as someone else, appealed to him enormously, became an insistent day-dream.
With an unexpected check for $803.17 for reprint royalties, he bought an old Lincoln roadster, an impractical purchase which he recognized as a hangover from his habits of the Boom. He had always been the slave of elegant machines. He had worshiped Stutz, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce, Daimler, Renault, Hispano-Suiza, Duesenberg. The big Lincoln was a steal.
On a Monday morning (is there anything that makes a man feel so adrift and unemployed in America as going nowhere in particular on a Monday morning?) he drove up the coastal highway, past the hotel-size beach house of Marion Davies where he had once been a guest of honor. Although the day promised to be warm it was still early and the beaches were almost deserted. He enjoyed the way the giant sea stretched lazily along the sand. He enjoyed the typical Southern Californian flourishes, the ham-burg stand built to resemble a feudal castle, the arrestingly developed young girl whose yellow dab of sunsuit allowed nearly all of her to darken to golden brown.
This was the passive journey of a tumbleweed at the mercy of winds carrying north. At Topanga Canyon the radiator boiled over. He walked along the row of ramshackle cottages on stilts above the water. There was one that attracted his attention, first because of its name San Simian (between C-Breeze and Dive Inn) and then because of the small for-rent sign on the door. Forty minutes later San Simian was his: $50 for the summer months, $25 after the season. It was just beaver-board inside, a room, a small bath and a kitchenette. Each time the wavespounded up beneath him San Simian would shudder like a small ship in a heavy sea. But the room had a good wide window, where he could sit for hours and watch the ocean. He liked the idea that this room was a one-man cave where he could hibernate to lick his wounds. He made a game of seeing how modestly he could live and, depending largely on fig-newtons and crackers, was especially pleased with himself the week his food bill cut under six dollars.
He would sit at his window watching the waves or the birds forming up for flight and think how good and peaceful it was that not a person in the world knew where he was. No phone, no address, no neighbors. He sat at his window and watched the sandpipers chase the foamy line of the surf back into the sea.
On rickety supports that somehow managed to be more secure than they looked, like those of his shaky retreat, bothering no one and only asking not to be bothered in return, he lived through the crowded summer into the fall, when only the hardy ones trusted themselves to the sea; then on into the winter, when the beach was abandoned to the desolate and the foolhardy.
Now, with one exception, he had the beach colony all to himself. A young woman whose regular dips at seven each morning had become, without his noticing it, part of the pattern of his day, like the rise and fall of the sun and the tide, the passing of the fishing boats and the movement of the birds. Each morning he watched her from his window, running a hundred yards up and down the narrow beach, then neatly putting her towel down and plunging out beyond the breakers to swim perhaps a dozen strokes in one direction, then a dozen in the other. He grew fond of watching her ride the last wave in, remove her yellow bathing cap and shake out her thick black hair. With a nice sense of physical disinterest, he grew accustomed to her tall, sturdy, full rather than plump and not at all unhandsome body. He found himself looking forward each morning to her ritual.
One winter’s morning he was especially pleased when she appeared and went through her program despite a driving rain and a gray, roiled surf. On several occasions they were the only people on the beach and there seemed an obligation to nod or mumble good morning as they passed, but he felt no desire tobreak out of the pattern of solitude he had established. She seemed perfectly willing to accept this arrangement.
As winter drew on he took a mild pride in their relationship. They had a mutual respect for each other’s privacy while maintaining a pleasant seashore civility. One cool morning in March, unable to sleep, he had risen to stroll the beach. When she appeared they said their usual good morning but this time he was closer and he stopped just beyond the water-line to watch her take the waves.
“Pretty cold?” he felt he ought to say when she ran over to pick up the towel lying near him.
“About fifty,” she said.
She dried herself vigorously and unself-consciously. She had a fine reassuring face. It was not one of the beautiful faces in his life, but it was interesting. The nose was classically high-bridged, graceful in an ancient Semitic way. The eyes were dark blue and unusually direct.
“You stay down here all winter?” he asked, so he wouldn’t seem to be staring.
“Yes, I like winters here. Well, I have to hurry. Good-bye.”
She walked rapidly up the beach to her cottage and went in without looking back.
The following week-end brought one of those warm spring days that reward year-round beach-dwellers for all the grayness and gloom. He was sitting on the beach when she came out, smiled at him matter-of-factly, and began to read. When, after half an hour or so she put the book down to take a dip, he couldn’t resist wandering by, as if by accident, to see what book it was. It was Shadow Ball. He would have thought himself beyond such things but the unlikelihood of this coincidence seemed to arouse his sleeping vanity. On his way back to his cottage for a bite of lunch he paused for small talk of weather and swimming and then asked in a casual way what she was reading and how she liked it. “Nice job,” she said. “He’s caught something true about Hollywood. The extravagance and the fear.”
“Oh, I think he’s pretty half-baked and second-rate,” he had said, enjoying himself immensely.
She said, “That’s ridiculous. He makes some silly technicalmistakes about Hollywood, but it’s thoughtful and its damn literate.”
She seemed so interested in the works of Halliday that he couldn’t resist saying, “I wonder where he is now.”
“Haven’t heard of him in years,” she said. “My father used to know him when he was in Hollywood.”
This called for introductions. She was Ann Loeb. Loeb. Loeb. Name’s familiar. “Not the daughter of old Sam Loeb?” His powers of deduction almost gave him away. “Yes, how did you know?”
“Oh, after all it was a big name. Is he still producing?”
“Died last year. Poor guy, pretty much broken. When he was on top our house Christmas Day was Grand Central. Christmas before last the phone didn’t ring once. Mean town.”
Uh, Jack Delaney he said his name was. First one that came to him. He had seen Delaney put up a sensational fight against Paul Berlenbach in the Garden years ago. Delaney had been one of his heroes too, before Jack hit the skids.
He had stood talking to her so long that it seemed easy to accept her invitation to sit down. After all the months alone it was good to talk to someone again. Miss Loeb had a calm, accurate way of going at things that was stimulating without being too disquieting. She seemed very sure of what she knew, but more in a scientific than in a defiant way and when she said, as she often did, That’s ridiculous, she had a way of making whatever she was passing judgment on seem indeed the most ridiculous thing in the world.
All that next week she was away and though he desired no more than to have little conversations with her the beach seemed desolate without her. On the beach the following Saturday she mentioned casually that she was making spaghetti and perhaps he’d like to drop in for a bite. “Nothing formal, just come if you feel like.” Despite all resolves he was still a social animal and, though very much on his guard, he even showed up with a clean shirt. To avoid laundering, he had stripped his wardrobe to beach-combing essentials.
Her cottage was four rooms, built more substantially than his, furnished with rough-and-ready good taste. There was a surprisingly good library for a beach shack and a record player with a lot of chamber music, Bach and some Ravel and Stravinsky. She made a batch of Martinis and they listened to the Chaconne from the Violin Sonata and sipped a fair local red wine with the spaghetti. The moon threw a ghastly road across the sea. It was the first civilized eating since he had come to Topanga and the wine and then the brandy on top of the Martinis brought him a sense of well-being that began to blur into dizziness. He remembered her saying she was a film cutter and his drawing her out with a conventional attack on the movies and her beginning to explain a number of technical phases of the art he had never thought of before. He remembered sliding off into space with her face and her words farther and farther in the distance. But after a vague struggle of where am I? he remembered nothing until late the next morning when with a shaky feeling of self-reproach he realized the answer was: on her daybed in the front room.
She brought him a glass of orange juice. She already had been swimming. She said it was a nice day.
“This proves exactly what I feared,” he said. “My days as a social human being are definitely behind me.”
“That’s ridiculous. All it proves is that you have a very low tolerance to alcohol.”
But he insisted on the tragic view. He was sorry he had spoiled what promised to be a pleasant acquaintanceship. “If I have any genius,” he said, “it’s for making an unholy mess of everything I do.”
“You’re too intelligent for self-pity,” she said. “Now go home and shave and stop worrying about yourself. And come for supper next Saturday night if you feel like it.”
Before he could realize its true significance, the Saturday-night supper had become the hook on which his whole week hung. They had a running argument about movies which they both seemed to enjoy. He insisted that any art which was not dependent on the skill and taste and integrity of a single person was doomed to everlasting mediocrity. But she said, “That’s ridiculous. You’re judging from the Hollywood pictures and nearly all of them are mediocre. But they’re mediocre for business reasons, not for the ones you give. Building pyramids was a group art. There must have been a producer in the person of the Pharaoh who had the money and the general idea, an architect, a sculptor, and master masons to carry out the design, skilled workmen under them and so forth. Or the totem poles. Of course there can be a valid group art. We’ve seen it in the movies with Griffith and Eisenstein and Chaplin. It needs a guiding genius or at least a knowing hand like Vidor’s or Ford’s. But when you start with something good enough and everyone does his job, the director, writer, cameraman, cutter, composer and sound mixer—for some reason I always leave out the actors—it’s an art all right.”
They talked about Thalberg—funny how after all the blank years his memory could fill in everything that had been said—and he wondered whether he was the great genius that Hollywood believed.
“Well—it’s a worn-out word,” she had said. “Maybe in its original sense Irving was a genius. A kind of inspirational god. Genius has its practical side too. The man who gets there first when he’s most needed. A man who manages to dig a well in the dryest part of the Sahara is a genius even though there may be a hundred who dig much better wells in town. Irving is that kind of genius. He’s come to the desert and he’s struck water. It may not be a very deep well but it’ll do for a start.”
“In other words God was the first genius,” he said. “And you have to be at least a little god in a little pool to qualify.”
“Are you doing any writing at all now?” she asked suddenly.
He began to answer and then he remembered he was Jack Delaney and caught himself. “What makes you think Fin a writer?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you. I’ve known for weeks. Since the day I was reading Shadow Ball on the beach. When I went in I looked at the picture on the back. You haven’t changed that much.”
“That picture was taken a thousand years ago when I was still a young man and still a writer.”
“S. P.” she said.
“Self-pity. It doesn’t become you. You’re better than that.”
After that he found he could talk quite frankly about his predicament. It was not a nervous or a mental breakdown, he said, just a feeling that too much had happened. And he told her his image of the boat that could not be steered or propelled for ever needing to be bailed. “I used to be pretty good at bailing when Sam had a boat at Laguna,” she said. “Madame, I shall be delighted to hand you the pail,” he said with an echo of his old charm.
The following Saturday night she asked him again if he was writing and he said just remaining alive seemed to require all his energy and creative power now and she said, “That’s ridiculous. Why don’t you try writing your life? Just a kind of summing up of what you’ve done and thought and become. Write it for yourself so you won’t have to compete with anything. A lot cheaper than going to an analyst. Now start right away.”
To his surprise, he did, and just the sound of the typewriter’s clicking was tonic for him. It felt good even to be going through the empty exercise of writing and he began to think that getting it all down, the too-early triumphs, the reckless celebration, the soaring success, the plunging to earth of his dreams and twenties, the wreckage and the attempt to salvage, would give him a blue-print at last on which to build for middle-age. He was like a crustacean, he had written, that sheds its first bright shell and then fails to find the larger, duller, more substantial one it needs for protection through maturity.
He read some of this to Ann, including the confession that at first he had wanted the applause of his friends and then the rewards of his own society and now he saw through temporal success to the life-after-death of being read by future generations; “Like Stendhal, I’d settle for a hundred years,” he said. “But if you don’t get that, you’re just like any sandpiper chasing crabs along the beach, living for the moment.”
“You have a chance if you think of yourself as just beginning. If you think of the writing and the living so far as just a preparation.”
He knew what she was trying to do, pull him up out of the past, but he said, “Ruth’s home-run record didn’t prepare himfor hitting more home runs. He had just so many home runs in him and he got rid of most of them before he was thirty.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” she had said. “For a gifted, intelligent man you are full of the most juvenile nonsense. Forget these silly sports heroes. An athlete’s career is just the opposite of an artist’s. The athlete matures faster, loses his reflexes through his twenties and is washed up in his thirties. But an artist should build slowly through his twenties, start maturing in his thirties and reach his peak in his fifties or sixties. Maybe that’s the trouble with you American writers, you think of yourselves as athletic stars.”
“I always had a crazy ambition to be a backfield star—I’ll never know why,” he confessed. “To break out into the open with one of those dazzling exhibitions like Red Grange or Chris Cagle.”
“I think you’re the second author I know who wanted to be a football player. And two others who are frustrated pitchers and one would-be Jimmy McLarnin. In Europe the authors would like to have been composers or painters or mathematicians.”
“We’re a more muscular race. And I suppose since writers are fairly sensitive registers of national consciousness, they naturally reflect the hero-worship of their times. After all who else had any grandeur in American life except a Ruth, a Dempsey or a Bobby Jones?”
“You go home and start your novel and leave the touchdowns to Orv Mohler,” she said.
He had begun dropping in for supper Sundays as well as Saturdays and without either of them thinking anything about it they began to say, “If you’re going up to the store we need some ketchup and a can of coffee.” There was no danger of his falling in love with her, for his heart was hidden away securely in the vault with Jere’s, but he had the fondness for her that a crumbling wall might have for the post that shores it.
One night talking about the writing that was starting to trickle into a flow again (he had finished a short story that seemed as good as ever he had done) he wondered how it would affect his work to be so withdrawn, not just from the world but from himself. “My only real experience comes whenI’m writing now. I woke up this morning thinking I’m not a man at all, just a man-like machine for writing fiction.”
“That’s ridiculous. Of course you’re a man. Sounds like S. P. to me.”
(“Every time I catch you in an S. P. you have to go to the store for the groceries,” she had said, beginning a cure remarkable for its simplicity. Every time he caught himself in a soft attitude he’d find himself thinking 5. P. and after a while it became automatic and the self-pity began to dry up like a sore exposed to ultra-violet.)
But this time he said, “No, Ann, there’s a difference; this is S. A. and it doesn’t stand for sex-appeal but self-analysis. For instance, if this had been ten years ago I’m sure I would have thought about wanting you. That’s probably as far as it would have gone, but once or twice at least I’d have thought about it, wondered about it.” “And you don’t think about it now?” He shook his head. “That’s ridiculous.”
It was like urging him to write, or to exorcise self-pity. It was all part of her effort to convince him that he was a better man than he gave himself credit for being. By the time summer came on again it seemed unnecessary to keep San Simian when her cottage was more than large enough.
“You understand, I’m completely incapable of loving you, but much to my surprise I like being with you,” he had felt obliged to say.
“Let’s leave it this way,” she said. “Any time it gets too much for you just feel free to go, the same way you came.”
Perhaps because this enabled him to have a relationship without being weighed down with its responsibilities the bond grew stronger. By the end of summer he had sold two stories that were not pot-boilers. He had been thinking about the new novel since the previous spring and by autumn was ready to begin. But after a few pages he tired exasperatingly. At times nausea left him unable to work for days and by mid-afternoon his brain would be dull with the need for sleep. He despised himself for his inertia and told Ann he was determined not to succumb to symptoms he was sure were psychic —his unwillingness to face the challenge of a new book. Said Ann, consistent pragmatist, “Don’t be too sure everything’s neurotic. There’s a danger of swinging too far the other way. Before you give yourself up as a subconscious malingerer, I want you to see my doctor. Dr. Rubin’s a diagnostician with enough psychoanalytic knowledge to advise you if that’s your trouble.”
Dr. Rubin said: diabetes. It was a final blow to vanity to realize he carried an incurable physical flaw. On the other hand, it was reassuring to learn that his routine could be stabilized by careful diet, rest and drugs rather than by the more uncertain correctives of the mind. There was more energy to draw on after that, and the manuscript began to grow. But the medical treatment had added to his expenses. Jere was trying a new analyst, Douglas was in prep school, and in addition to these burdens there was the embarrassment of slipping into a dependent’s status in a household supported by Ann. So the sugar balance was restored but not the financial, and this began to prey so insistently on his mind that he kept interrupting his work to write short stories again. It was like groping through a maze of underground tunnels from which he could find no exit. But if he could ever work his way out into the light, he’d be all right. He was sure of that now. With Ann, he was absolutely sure. Only these story sales would never heal the wound. You didn’t apply a band-aid when a man has a six-inch gash in his side.
That’s how the idea of a movie job was resurrected. A job of fifteen weeks at two thousand a week would square him with the world. With that behind him he could stay with the new writing program until he was as old as G. B. S. Fifteen weeks— it wouldn’t be easy to put the book aside—but he rationalized the delay as the debt he owed for past transgressions. Ann was willing to loan him the money to see the book through but when he insisted she told him about the Love on Ice job. She knew Milgrim was looking for a new writer. And he was partial to literary reputations. She’d talk to Al Harper, the agent, about seeing Milgrim.
So there it was, full circle, from Hollywood when it wanted him to Hollywood when he wanted it, or rather, needed it. Acollege musical—the chore appealed to him about as much as if he had been asked to write the text for a Sears Roebuck catalogue.
But there was that ten weeks’ minimum of two thousand a week—ten weeks’ minimum of two thousand a week—ten weeks’ minimum of two thousand a week the tracks seemed to be saying: If only he could keep his mind on the story, keep your mind on the story—keep your mind on the story, the tracks kept saying, what story—what was the story—what story—what was the story.
Ann was asking him, Manley, are you all right? No, it wasn’t Ann. Where the hell was Ann? Pro’ly not back from the studio yet. My God, his head. Must’ve forgotten to take his shot. Must’ve fallen asleep waiting for Ann. Ann ’s ’it you? “Manley this is Shep, Shep.”
Shep? Oh. Oh. “Got my part finished. Think we got it now, Shep.”
The train suddenly screamed its warning into the night. “Shep? Shep. Where are we Shep?” “Not sure. Think we’re coming in to Springdale.” “Coming in … ?”
He felt the unfamiliar leather, slowly remembering, the men’s room—what was he doing in the men’s room of a train coming into Springdale? He lay back experimentally and tried to open his eyes again in the familiar darkness of his room in the cottage. No good, he was on the train all right, he was writing that damned movie all right, he was on his way to Webster all right, and suddenly as he went down for the last time his whole life passed before his eyes. Good Lord, maybe the slicks had something there after all, he was always going down for the last time, his life was always passing before his eyes, at least one of his eyes was always watching his life pass before him, only what he had told, what he had dreamt, what he had thought, was all a horrible tangle.
“ ’F I said anything I shouldn’t …”
“Forget it,” Shep said. It had begun as if he were going to spill his guts but then it had wandered off into a meaningless jumblethat finally reached an end in restless sleep. “Manley, are you sure you’re all right? Not sick or anything?”
Manley said, “Gotta keep our promise. Gotta work out this story.”
Looking at the spent face with the dark shadows under the eyes, Shep said, “Manley, you better lie down and get some more sleep. I’ll see what I can do alone and wake you up an hour before we get in to talk it over.”
“No. Feel like I was deserting. ’F I could just get a cup of coffee. Stayed up three days and nights once to finish a job on nothing but coffee. Gonna lick this thing with you.”
He staggered to his feet, sick inside with a tremendous effort to hold together. “Let’s go the diner get some coffee.”
“Know what time it is—nearly two.”
“Gotta have coffee.”
The train was slowing down for Springdale. Shep asked the sleepy porter how much time they had. Ten minutes. He peered out beyond the squat dark shadow of the little station to the fuzzy red neon of an all-night diner across the street.
“Maybe we c’n make that diner if we run for it.”
“Gotta have coffee,” Manley said. “Be a new man ’f I have a cupa coffee.”