Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chapter 17: Edmund Blows In

Chapter 17
Edmund Blows In

After the final leg to Key West, I took a cab through the early darkness to Tennessee’s house. The house was lit up, but deserted. They must have gone out to dinner. I hauled my bags up the stairs and tossed them on my bed. The low attic ceiling and the dead air closed in on me; the stillness of the house unnerved me. I opened the windows and, after unpacking a few things, abandoned my bags—I had to get out.
It was too early to go to The Monster. Although I received some of my mail at Tennessee’s house, the bulk of it still came to my apartment. It could wait. With my roommate surely working, the apartment would be too quiet too. I needed distraction.
I had eaten a sandwich in Miami, but I was hungry again. I had the metabolism of a racehorse and never worried about what or how much I ate. A spicy bowl of picadillo and some hot Cuban music would buy time until the nightlife picked up. I jumped on my bike and peddled the short distance to La Lechonera. “The Pig” was a Cuban diner within a peeling, pink stucco skin. Inside, pig-art decorated the walls. Latinas in pedal pushers and mahogany hair flirted in Spanish and near-English, and eventually delivered steaming helpings of standard Cuban fare.
However, when I arrived, the restaurant was nearly empty. The balding cashier sat by the door in a sleeveless T-shirt, reading a tabloid and champing a cold cigar. I took a table near the kitchen, ordered, and soon slipped a straw into a giant glass of iced tea. I ran my fingers across the pebbled surface of the ruby plastic—someone’s idea of elegance. 
I sipped the tea slowly, wishing I had brought something to read. There were stacks of tabloids by the cashier—all in Spanish.
My bread arrived. I eyed the stain of yellow oil that had been dabbed on the center of each slice, and began to eat. I paced myself while waiting for my dinner.
            I felt empty—and a sense of dread. What had happened during the five days I was out of town? No doubt Helen was still at Rose’s house. And Gary Tucker had surely redoubled his hovering, seeking any crack through which he could wedge himself into the household. Were Tennessee and Gavin still alone in the house? At least Gavin focused on the project. I hoped he saw through Gary—the flattery and bravado, his blonde-bait boyfriend in tow.
The picadillo arrived with more bread. Rounding up the raisins in early spoonfuls, I ate around the olives in the bowl of spicy beef. Few foods are more satisfying than olives; I saved them for last. After finishing every bite and wiping the bowl with a piece of bread, I paid and headed back to the house.
Before reaching the gate, I heard voices from the patio, and from above it, the soaring voice of Joan Sutherland, undiminished by the ancient stereo speakers. Looking over the fence, I saw Tennessee, Gavin, and the vaguely familiar backside of someone else.
I rolled my bike through the gate.
“Oh! You’re back in one piece,” called Tennessee.
I could see they had finished at least two bottles of wine, and were working on another.
“We have a visitor,” he said, “A rogue—just in from Louisiana. There will be no safety for the duration!”
The visitor stood up and faced me. It was Edmund Perret. About three years older than me, and, according to Tennessee, the black sheep of an old New Orleans family, Edmund now worked as a lobbyist. He had stopped by the hotel when Tennessee and I were in Washington for the Kennedy Honors, and it was actually from Washington that he had just arrived.
A few days after Tennessee and I returned from that trip, I received a letter from Edmund on Air France stationery from the Concorde. He wrote that he would visit us in Key West for a week after Christmas. Three cards had fluttered to the floor, his calling card and two business cards, one for his position as president of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, the other showed he lobbied for the American Psychiatric Association.
With the distraction of going home for Christmas, I had forgotten all about Edmund’s impending arrival. He had noted his flight details in the expectation that someone would pick him up at the airport. His bags sat on the patio. He had probably caught a cab. I hoped he had not waited at the door for Tennessee and Gavin to return from dinner, although, like so many others, he had probably hopped the fence.
“Sorry I couldn’t take you to the Chesapeake,” he said. He had wanted to take us to what he claimed was the hottest strip bar in DC, but we had not had the time. He walked over to the fence where I was chaining my bike. He eyed me as I stood back up, and then grinned and shook my hand.
“I’m on vacation now,” he said—as if that explained any loose ends.
Edmund pressed close to me, and standing on his toes, looked up into my eyes as he squeezed my hand.
I looked quickly toward the patio.
“Sorry about the airport,” I said. “I went out of town—last minute. I forgot . . .”
“No problem,” he said. “I’m here now.”
I led the way back to the patio. Gavin and Tennessee, sitting low in their chairs, continued talking. Joan Sutherland chased Mozart up and down musical scales.
“Well,” Gavin said, struggling up in his chair, “We survived all on our own. No disasters—but I nearly clipped your neighbor. She was driving on the wrong side of the road.” He downed the last of his wine. “And we’re all but finished the play,” he said. “I’m booked out late tomorrow.”
Tennessee rolled his eyes as he raised his glass in a half-toast.
“He ran Gary off,” Tennessee said, cackling, “And Skye with him . . .” He opened his hand, fingers out like searching tendrils, and then relaxed them back to his palm.
“A very persistent man—blonde siren in his pocket,” Gavin said to me. “Gary is not your friend. He’s got a clever act—and he’ll not give up. I wish you luck.”
Tennessee stared at his wine glass. From the kitchen, Cornelius struggled down the steps and ambled over. Tennessee scratched the dog behind his ears.
“Too bad you missed my mother,” he said, turning back to me.
I poured myself a glass of wine and took a seat.
“She was nearly ninety-six when she died—last year. Crazy to the end.”
He took a swallow of wine and continued. “A walking delusion.” He laughed. “She never let anything interfere with how she saw herself. After Menagerie, people asked her—came right up to her—asked how she liked seeing herself on stage. ‘Oh! I am not Amanda Wingfield!’ she’d say.” He laughed. “And of course I did not base Amanda Wingfield on my mother—but there was, shall we say, a certain . . . similarity!” He howled.
“My father, after years of threats, finally abandoned the family completely. He’d had enough of Miss Edwina—and she of him.” He cackled and then poured himself more wine. “He’d had enough of me, too. Naturally, growing up, I was closer to my mother and Rose. He didn’t like seeing me in the company of women—and I preferred books over the games boys my age played. He took to calling me ‘Miss Nancy.’” He cackled again. “I suppose I can’t call him delusional.
“He did go to see my plays—must have. One day Audrey Wood received a letter from him. Furious. Didn’t like what he saw of himself in them—threatened to sue us both!” He laughed and pulled his light jacket tighter around himself.
“Rose . . . Rose. . . . Well, Rose—she would never know . . .” He looked down at his glass. “I gave mother half ownership in Menagerie—made her rich. She gave the best-dressed denials!” He laughed and finished his wine.
“We still have some work tomorrow,” Gavin said, “I’m turning in.”
Tennessee groaned and got up, too. “Scott, show Edmund upstairs. He’ll take the other bed in your room. Better give him a house key, too.”
I grabbed one of Edmund’s bags and led the way. We had not reached the top of the stairs when he grabbed my elbow.
“Why is someone collaborating with Tennessee?” he said. “Who is this guy?”
I tried to explain but he cut me off.
“Nobody touches Tennessee’s work,” he said.
I knew what Edmund meant—but he was wrong. Tennessee needed help and as hard as that had been for him to admit, it was better than continuing in a muddle on what he considered his most important play in years.
“They worked together before,” I said. “Gavin wrote the screenplay for Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.”
I emptied what remained in my bags onto my bed, and then stuffed them under it.
“I don’t care,” Edmund said. “Besides, that’s different.”
“He can’t just take Tennessee’s work and change it—that’s criminal!” He pulled a starched shirt out of his garment bag and looked at it as if it were an alien creature.
“He’s organizing . . .” I said “I don’t know if he’s writing—changing anything. Nobody’s said. But Tennessee was lost. Piles of notes and rewrites.”
“I’ll talk to Tennessee in the morning,” he said.
He pulled a knit shirt, jeans, and loafers from the outside pocket of his bag. I chuckled at his foresight.
“What’s the best place?” he asked, “Delmonico’s or The Monster?”
“Let’s go then—hell with them.”
I stood in the narrow corridor between the beds, my hair brushing the peak of the ceiling. Edmund pulled out his shirttails and unbuttoned his shirt. He unbuckled his belt. Then, as he stepped out of his trousers, he tottered.
He lost his balance, and, falling, threw his arms around me. He landed atop me, pinning me to the clothes-strewn bed. After a moment of indecision, I relaxed.
           The Monster would have to wait.


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