(Any reference or resemblance to living or recognizable persons is completely fictitious.)
Bring me the Broomstick…
Garbo was dead; dead as a doornail. And now she was dying and she knew it.
She felt certain that it would happen by the end of the year. Absolutely certain. Just yesterday she had steadied herself against the stove in the pantry when a spasm came and went. When she recovered she rolled her fingers together in disgust; grease, disgusting grease. Cynthia was simply not doing her job, and she'd noticed it in all areas of the apartment. She had taken out the Comet and scrubbed the stove herself. She'd have a word with Cynthia to shape up, or she would find a new maid. If she only lasted a couple of months more she was nevertheless going to go with her duplex tidy.
She stood in the foyer facing the Venetian mirror trimmed in smoky, hand-wrought glass and fixed her handsome fur hat on her head. The first autumn cold had arrived. She calculated that she wouldn't be on the street long enough for her to be the target of any animal rights people. She sympathized with them, but in her day fur had been considered glamorous and one never thought about the little animals that suffered so. At least, that's what her grandniece had told her—how badly they were treated. Thus she'd given up fur except for this one hat which she wore when her grandniece wasn't around.
The elevator attendant brought her downstairs where she strode briskly through the building's foyer not unaware of the comments and stares she still occasioned. As she stepped outside she squinted a bit and breathed the crisp air, saw that traffic was light on the avenue, and the trees in the park had taken on the final brilliance of autumn (they'd seemed so late this year). Frankie the doorman bowed slightly to her as he'd always done while he swung the glass doors open for her. Sweet Frankie. It always embarrassed her a bit, that bow. But she had given up years ago telling him not to, and it was something that she'd come to expect. She'd be disappointed if he stopped now.
Continuing her regal exit, her driver Tony held the door to the Lincoln for her and smiled: such a nice young man, a young actor—so polite, such beautiful manners. He reminded her of her son when he was that age. She felt a twinge of pain at the memory of Andreas, but it never was allowed to shadow her face, and she steeled herself by turning her thoughts to her little journey. He took her quickly to the rent-a-car agency where she picked up a subcompact reserved under her real name, stowed her overnight bag in the backseat, and began to drive herself to the house she'd been born in, on a winding road in a village perched over the Hudson. She'd never sold it through all her husbands, hits, flops, or sojourns in Italy and Africa. She'd held onto it as tightly as she'd held onto her career, with the tenacity of a hawk clutching its tortured prey in its beak. Or was it the career that had caught the woman and would not let go? She started up the Henry Hudson doing not quite twice the speed limit.
She knew that she was taking a chance driving, but if a spasm came over her she thought that she would just pull over to the roadside until it passed, and if it didn't, well, what of it? She was ready to depart, she just didn't want to bring anyone else on the parkway along with her on the final fade-out, "the big one" as her last husband the late lord-something-or-other had put it. What was his name? The hard candy entrepreneur with the honorary title and the house in Kenya. She'd forgotten. Not that her mind was going, she could just never recall certain details, and this included most of the movies she'd made in the last thirty years and her last two husbands. She began to zoom over the Washington Bridge.
She wanted her last visit to the house to be accomplished without anyone noticing who had arrived. A limousine would give it all away so she decided to drive herself. After all, she hadn't been too proud to drive to Philadelphia for all those talk shows she'd done in the late Sixties to maintain her career (what was the host's name?). She was a great star, but she was also a butcher's daughter too, who hadn't forgotten where she was from. And she had liked the astonished looks of the toll-takers on the New Jersey Turnpike when they realized from whom they were taking their quarters.
Not all the people in town who had known her and her family were long gone or dead: most of them, but not all. She wanted to do the visit in the utmost privacy, be able to go to the grocery where no one would recognize her without her movie star face painted on. In fact she had played a scene like this in a prince and pauper plot in "Desdemona Takes a Holiday," when she was a contract player at Paramount. Colbert had turned done that one so they had cast her. The young heiress whose face is known the world over suddenly disappears to be a chambermaid for a week in a glamorous Manhattan hotel where she winds up meeting a wealthy polo player. They fall in love but he fears he'll lose his inheritance if he marries someone so humble, being unaware of her real social status. There was a happy ending. "What a ridiculous plot," she thought. She chuckled to herself and remembered Paolo as she swerved off the parkway. How art had mirrored life but in not such a pleasing way…
Right before the annulment of their marriage Paolo had referred to her in the Italian press as "the face that had sunk a thousand ships." She was living in Rome and playing a cameo in one of those big budget Roman Empire movies that they made in those days. Was it "Forum of the Twelve Caesars" or "Mysteries of the Cumaen Sibyl"? She tried to remember but couldn't. She had been surprised when her maid Silvana told her about this item in the papers, but she had only laughed. She knew Paolo was just mad that he wouldn't be getting any of her money. After all, she hadn't hired him for stud service. She had married him because she had been in love. But what love is to a public person may just be a business transaction to others, she discovered in late middle age, though even at the time of their marriage she realized there was more than a little bit of self-deception involved. She hadn't cried over that one, just closed off another room in her soul. That was 1963 and there weren't many still left open.
Actually, she had tried to be that callous once about ten years ago. Was it ten years ago, no! Fifteen, she recalled, still surprised how fleeting time had become: it was Christmas night 1975. She had returned from the day with her niece in Locust Valley. Her spirit had seemed as utterly empty as her apartment, so she picked up the phone and dialed that number that Joan had given her. Had hired that young man to, how had he put it? Make her happy. But she couldn't go through with it. The flesh was weak but the spirit was unwilling. It was embarrassing at her age to have to pay for someone. She imagined having him roll over after he was finished while she fished in her purse for a tip. No, it was simply not possible. She had given him a drink and an envelope holding a one hundred-dollar bill and then sent him along. Such a nice young man. Everyone said that the world was going to hell but she had found a handsome, beautifully dressed hustler with gorgeous hands. He could have been her grandson. Oh my, she had thought as she closed the door firmly, he could have been her great grandson. Well, he'll have this story to tell for years. The time he had made Adriana "happy" (she knew he certainly wouldn't admit that she'd sent him on his way). That was how she'd live on besides the movies—all those stories about her. She hoped that he would be telling his great grandchildren the story sixty years from now. The time he'd serviced Adriana Andorra.
She pulled the Subaru subcompact into the gravel driveway and stepped out with a bit of difficulty, pulled the suitcase from the back and slammed both doors shut. Her pumps crunched in the gravel. It was twilight when she'd arrived, and the sun was setting through the almost empty branches. Still, there were rays of warm, wistful light coming through the mesh of black trees holding the last hardy survivors of the year's foliage.
The little house was dark. As she stood on the front porch fumbling for her keys, she had to step back out into the last sun to find the right one. Her business manager had always rented the house, but recently it had started changing hands every couple of years. She understood that the last family had moved back to Japan, and it was vacant for the time being.
She turned her key in the door. How many keys to how many doors, elegant and squalid, she had had in her long life!
Naturally, it reminded her of "Destiny's Strangers" where she had played that young nurse, who driving home late one night, discovers the victim of a lynch mob barely alive after the branch holding him has broken, bringing him crashing to the ground, but saving his life. Her final scene, where she sneaks into the home of the leader of the lynch mob and confronts him with the evidence that will certainly send him to the chair, was her first big screen moment. She remembered Bosley Crowther of the Times writing that her final close-up, "Contained in her eyes all the pathos, wisdom and fragility of the character who triumphs over her fears to bring the lynch mob to justice."
"Wow," she remembered saying, thinking at the time as she read the clipping during a pedicure in her house in the Hollywood Hills, "all that." She clearly recalled that day on the stage at Fox shooting that close-up, wanting to go home because she was leaving for the East coast the next day for her steamer to France, and feeling a little ill from the custard she'd had at the commissary at lunch. Bosley had mistaken impatience and nausea for pathos and fragility. She chuckled to herself a little as she stepped into the dark house. Even though she had lost Best Actress to Hepburn that year the movie became a classic.
She walked through the kitchen and switched the lights on and put down her bag. Yes, it was here that she would commune with her past, and as she walked further, recollections of her youth washed over her like the mellow warmth contained in a glass of good wine. The kitchen had been remodeled many times, but it was still the room where her mother had sewn her dress for her meeting with Griffith. As it turned out it was her first and last meeting with Griffith, and Gish, those paragons of the silent era. Adriana hadn't liked the smile on Lillian's face. Griffith had told her mother that her daughter was lovely, but she should forget about the movies and enroll her in secretarial school. Gish had ushered them out, saying soothing, nicey-nice things. She grimaced at the bitter memory. Gish! Griffith! He had sent them both home to Nyack, and she thought she'd spend her life there, watching the people in the big houses coming and going with their big lives, and she would just have to stay and care for her own little one as best she could, marry the grocer's son and put her dreams away like her mother's friends told their children. Yes, they'd say, the movies, the theater, so exciting, but it isn't life, not really, and anyway, what hope could they have? Just delusions of grandeur that was all, better to settle down and face the day-to-day rather than pinning your hopes on something that just couldn't be.
She moved through the house that she hadn't stepped into for fifty years, this little cottage in the woods that had been a palace to her father. She paused a moment, the still vivid sensations of her youth bewildering her. Time was telescoped for a seemingly endless five seconds where seven decades simple vanished and she was home, her mother sewing for the neighbors and her father cracking nuts with calloused, cut hands and throwing the shells into the fire. Her father who had worked so hard all his life, coming to an America who despised him, where he sometimes had to walk down the frozen Hudson for odd jobs in the city, decades before he had gotten his cottage or his butcher's shop, his feet bundled in rags because he couldn't afford boots. He had never understood her reality of make-believe, playacting and daydreaming, but sensing the iron determination of his daughter, had given her over to her mother and the quest.
The house was still furnished with a few pieces that she had known as a young girl, and she switched on lights in what they used to call the parlor, picking herself around these old end tables and chairs that by her mere recognition of them seemed to bring them forward to her in greeting. Of course the name they greeted her with was not Adriana Andorra but Mable Andropoulos. She winced a little. How she hated that name, not Andropoulos; no, never; but Mable. How had her mother come to choose that? She realized it was a popular name of the day, but, honestly, coupled with a name as Greek as the Aegean it only seemed to foolishly mark her as a new arrival in a country so hostile to new arrivals. In what had been her parents' bedroom she put her suitcase down, switched on a lamp, and ran her hands over the bureau. She reclined on the double bed, a Sears Roebuck relic of the Sixties which a tenant had left, and closed her eyes, listening to the wind scratching against the house.
How many beds she had seen for sleep or amusement or career or with an incalculable alchemy of all three. She rose with difficulty, momentarily rolling back into the unsteady softness of the Sears mattress and then propelling herself forward managed to plant her feet on the floor and raise herself up. She went over to the standing full-length oval mirror. She thought of the French word "regarde" as she studied herself. It was so much more meaningful than "look." "Regarde Adriana," she thought to herself, "see what time has taken." She was quite old, you could tell by the hands.
Not the face, no, her conversion to vegetarianism she credited to that and also a few well-timed face-lifts. At eighty-three she looked to be a smart and fit sixty-five. But she knew she had to go sometime and she accepted it matter-of-factly. Even Gloria Swanson had bit the dust after a time and Adriana had thought she would certainly live to be two hundred. Anyway, there wasn't much left to look forward to except gradually falling apart. If it frightened her, she never let herself know it. She had lived an extraordinary life, and she'd rather go out still burning brightly than as a dim old bulb.
Well, what to do? Unpack? First she peeped through the blinds. It was completely dark outside now. Inside you could hear the wind and the dead leaves rolling over themselves. It was quiet, dark and eerie. Was this what death was like? No company, no music, no fun? Or would it be heaven or hell with lots going on? Devils and angels and complicated orders of rank? Satan (she always imagined him as Walter Huston in a red silk cap) – The Heavenly Father – Saint Peter. She had the sudden urge to pray, but for what? She awkwardly got down on her knees, clasped her hands together, struck a pose to please Eternity and tried to think of something to say, but no, nothing. She could only remember the prayers of childhood. It was kneeling that she felt the tightening, burning contraction in her torso and she panicked. When it came to it, the reality of death was not something so easily ignored, something that even Adriana Andorra had to confront.
Oh no, not here, not now, not alone in this dreary cottage! And she clasped her hands together as long as she could, begging God to spare her this time. Finally, she had to grasp her side to rid herself of the stabbing pain. She rose, doubled over in agony and managed to collapse on the bed, her anxiety making everything worse. She breathed deeply and carefully trying to calm down so she could get to the phone and get help. She lay there for well over an hour, the pain slowly dissolving to little more than heartburn. Then she reached for the phone. She was going back to the city. She had communed with the past; enough was enough, as her mother would have said. Adriana didn't need to remember anymore or pretend that she was ready to die. She would sell the house, make a tidy profit on this little cottage in the woods and cut off her humble roots entirely. She managed to beep her driver who called back immediately. "I've had my fill of this nostalgic nonsense," she said to him, "come get me at once!"
"What about the car?" he asked, never daring to suggest that she drive back herself. He proposed to bring along his friend Steven who always made her laugh, and he'd drive it back for her.
"I almost died up there," she said melodramatically, safely ensconced in the back seat of the Lincoln. Tony raised his eyebrows.
Later she asked them up to her apartment for supper. They weren't doing anything were they? Would they like to dine with her? Of course Steven was dizzy with excitement. His idol asking him for supper. This semi-ecstatic attitude of his had made her uncomfortable at first, but once he had grown used to her and she to him, he had relaxed. He told his funny stories that made them all laugh.
She asked Tony to order from a French restaurant on 78th Street which delivered food, and she directed the boys in the laying of the plates and the silver. She loved giving orders. After all those years taking direction it was nice for someone else to be the monkey for a change. They may be eating in the kitchen but she still demanded a little style. No not those glasses, the ones in the sideboard in the pantry, no not those, the ones…yes, yes those.
She had a little poached trout and a lot of white wine and began to tell the stories. The fish reminded her of the restaurant in Rome near the Vatican that specialized in fresh trout and white truffles, which she had frequented in the Fifties. Hollywood was in a slump and her affair with Antonelli had been denounced in the press throughout the United States. "Who are they to judge?" she had been quoted as saying in all the papers under that famous picture of her locked in a death grip kiss with Roberto. Here career came to an abrupt halt. She had turned to Roberto, Italy and his art movies to pay the bills. That's right, it was that year that she'd made "Mysteries of the Cumaen Sibyl" for him. A flop at the time, it was thought of now as a kind of classic, although she still hated it.
One Sunday back then, after a long and splendid meal, she had herself driven to Ostia and a small beach club. She had been with her friend the Ducessa Claudia Orlano-Caesarini.
An entire stratum of Roman movie people dozed the midday away. Adriana and Claudia joined some people they knew from a country weekend. The men and women were ensconced in light jackets, silk scarves, and sunglasses, hidden under the protective reach of one of the enormous chartreuse beach umbrellas scattered on the sand. Only the waiters moved, silently filling half-empty glasses. It turned out that the only people who had brought bathing suits were Claudia and Adriana. Evidently, a view of the seat tinted by sunglasses was enough for the others, so they went into their cabana and changed giggling like naughty girls. The others had given them surprised, somewhat sneering looks when they announced that they would actually be going into the sea and getting wet.
It was when they both emerged from a hearty swim in the foaming blue, and Adriana was smoothing back her blond, rust-colored hair that she realized that she was being scrutinized by four young men, one of whom she recognized as Maurizio, an assistant director at the Cinecittá studio. Although in her mid-forties she had the tanned athletic build of a gymnast and she paused, frankly returning their gaze. Later, as she languished under the big umbrella with the silk scarves, Maurizio came over and knelt at her side and introduced himself as a devoted fan, invited her over for an aperitivo with himself and his friends. They sat at a table nearby, four lean, deeply tanned dark eyed boys in bathing suits with no umbrella. Claudia and Adriana joined them, and the silk scarves muttered spiteful things amongst themselves.
They had returned to Rome in the late afternoon in Maurizio's car. The boys had all been so charming, bashful and boastful at the same time. After depositing the women at their building off the Via Condotti, the boys returned to their parents' respective flats to change, while Adriana and Claudia transformed themselves into glamorous denizens of the night. When the boys returned several hours later, Adriana and Claudia had metamorphisized into the Star and the Duchess. At first Maurizio and the others found it difficult to see the casual sea creatures they had been that afternoon and were put off by their new appearance, but Adriana set them at ease by offering them a Scotch. "Very American you know," she murmured as she proffered the amber liquid. The boys relaxed and they drove to a small, unfashionable restaurant with good food. They laughed happily together over dinner, then went to a nightclub specializing in samba. It was there that she'd first danced with Paolo whose intensity of expression fascinated her. They drank sweet, cold Spumante lavishly and then left the intoxicating heat of the club to meet the cool dampness of the quiet streets. They tore around Rome in Maurizio's used Alfa Romeo.
She remembered the frequent and unrestrained laughter of their flight through the streets, crammed into the small car with Maurizio screaming curses and threats of doom to the other impetuous drivers. Driving in Rome always seemed to her like competing in the Indianapolis 500. The car cut through the traffic and the night air blew her bronzed hair back over her naked shoulders. Claudia turned to her at one point and wrinkled her nose in displeasure. It was a humid night and the boys, though well groomed, smelled heavily of sweat. Oddly enough, although she was fastidious about herself and demanded that in her friends, Adriana found the musky, metallic odor of the boys arousing. She felt charged by an electric thrill and this was accentuated when, laughing, she would turn to Paolo in the darkness of the back seat and for a moment his beautiful sharp white teeth would be illuminated by the beams of a passing car or his burning eyes were suddenly exposed by a street lamp…
"Adriana, are you with us?" Steven called to her across the table. She had lost herself to the memory of the joys that had followed their ride in the car. Recovering herself, she explained that at dawn she had found herself in a remote corner of the city with the boys after dropping Claudia off at her flat. Drunk and delighted by the boys' attentions, she had climbed hot and urgent into a fountain to cool off, and then they had walked with her laughing with excitement, thrilled by her audacity. They found a café open early filled with street people and truck drivers who brought produce in from the countryside. The boys ordered five coffees as Adriana languished in the doorway, Paolo's motorcycle jacket around her wet gown which plastered itself close to her breasts and thighs. The drivers recognizing her stood dumbstruck. Some muttered unclean things under their breath and edged toward her, but they were put off, not so much by the boys' presence but the look of defiance in Adriana's famous eyes, those honey colored irises with the golden sunburst around the pupils. "Yes," she thought sitting at the table across from Steven, "the face that could sink a thousand ships." Years later she was told that her walk in the fountain had been Fellini's inspiration.
"Why did you decide to go to Italy?" Steven inquired, a little bored about her story with the boys and too young to know about the fuss caused by her affair with Antonelli, "Why did you give up on Hollywood? Couldn't you find any work?" he asked tactlessly.
"Yes, but not what I wanted. It was right after I lost the role in 'Streetcar.' I would have gotten too if it hadn't been for Irene Selznick."
"You didn't get it. Why not Adriana?" Tony asked.
"You know, of course, that Irene had all that money and all those connections from her father, Louis B as in bastard at Metro. I once passed her there on the lot when I was loaned to them…don't you adore that word loaned? As if I were a piece of furniture to be moved about town at will. I was on the lot during a picture with Tracy when one day Miss Irene Mayer Selznick appeared and asked the director what we were shooting. She had produced 'Streetcar' on Broadway and my agent knew they were going to do the film at Warner's and Freddie was trying hard to get me Blanche. I know Kazan wanted me and so did Tennessee. At least, that's what Freddie told me. Of course Freddie had been skimming my salary all those years."
"Didn't you sue Freddie for fraud in mismanaging your affairs?" Steven asked as Adriana poured herself the dregs of wine.
"His estate honey, his estate," she replied, tipping the glass back and taking the wine in one swallow, "the bastard died before I realized what was happening. Skimming my fees for twenty years! But he always did get me the parts he promised me, he just took forty percent of my salary without telling me. But he did get me the parts. I was hoping and praying that he could get me tested for 'Streetcar.' I really wanted to do it; I would have been perfect. Of course, Vivien was superb…"
"But you'd have been better, right Adriana?" Steven interrupted, giggling.
"Why yes, how perceptive you are Steven. I was scheduled to be tested, and then the test would be cancelled, and a meeting would be set up and cancelled, then another test and so on and so forth until I finally read in the papers that Vivien had been signed. I'd suspected it was Irene who didn't want me, and I'd heard later that it was she who had blocked me. She said I didn't have the stature as an actress to play the part."
She bitterly recalled that particular day, sitting at a banquette at Ciro's. She was waiting for her press agent, and biding time by reading Variety, when she came across the item announcing Vivien's signing. She had thrown down the paper, stood up in the restaurant and shrieked, "Bring me the broomstick of Irene Selznick!" upsetting a tumbler of water on herself just as her press agent arrived.
"I would love to have seen you as Blanche, Adriana, you would have been marvelous, you have that tragic quality," Steven added self-consciously.
She suddenly disliked him, and Tony, always sensitive to his employer's moods, noticed the look she gave him, and immediately suggested that they leave. Steven balked but Tony was firm. He gathered the plates together and forced Stephen into the kitchen to help him wash up. "Oh, leave them for Cynthia," she said, but Tony insisted. That was why she prized him: he was courteous, responsible, smart, clean, handsome—she really should help him out with his career, but then, it was so hard to get a good driver.
It was quiet with the boys gone, and she sat in her chair overlooking the park, drinking vodka. She wasn't looking forward to the onset of the terrible cold, and it occurred to her to go back to Kenya for the winter months. She had been so happy there after a year of adjustment. She sometimes forgot how happy she had been with Jerry, "your lordship" as she called him when they had argued or when he was having one of his maudlin moods. He would laugh when she'd say that, and he'd suddenly remember he was a Welsh country boy with an honorary title, a house in Africa, servants, and a foundation in his name. Somehow by remembering how far he'd come he would cheer up and grab her as if she had been the embodiment of all those years of struggle, the goal to be attained, and maybe she had been. Strangely, she'd forgotten him, not because he was insignificant, but because that completeness that had finally entered her life had been savagely cut from her with his death. She had tried to stay there with his daughter and her husband, but it grieved her to wake up in the morning, at first still expecting to see him coming in with breakfast, or, in the late afternoon, about to order the horses to be saddled for their ride, and then stopping herself. The horror had flooded her at those moments, and she wanted to run somewhere to be comforted. Jerry had been there when she learned of Andreas' death but there was really no one to console her in Africa when Jerry died. She had decided to return to the States after more than twenty years abroad to be with her long dead sister's niece, and all the picture people she knew who had moved to New York from the West Coast.
Adriana felt that dull pain in her abdomen again. Although it was close to midnight she called her doctor at home and demanded an appointment the next morning. She was used to making unreasonable demands when she was frightened, and her doctor somehow tolerated these rude intrusions. Shyamoli always picked up the phone no matter how late it was.
The next morning, awake at 6 a.m., she carefully readied herself for her appointment. No matter how old she became she always hoped and prayed that she would be recognized on the street, and consequently she prepared for this, grooming herself to the nth degree and dressing as the monument to the glamour she thought herself to be. But as she buttoned and primped, the real purpose of her visit crouched in the back of her mind with the quiet patience of death. She knew she was far too healthy for her years. Wasn't it always that way, people marveled that you had lasted so long and so well, and then you were gone one day, suddenly?
She was brought downstairs by the elevator attendant. Frankie bowed as usual and held the door open for her. The day rushed at her. It was one of those expansive autumn days in New York, when the sky glows blue and the air has a miraculous quality to it. She walked to her appointment around the corner. There were few people on the street, no one noticed her. But she didn't care. She turned her face to the sun and felt its last glorious heat—Indian summer, her favorite time of year in the city.
Moments later she strode down the hushed corridor of an old town house off of Madison where Shyamoli, her doctor, a tall dark Pakistani woman with a cultivated British accent waited at the door with her shorter, younger nurse. Adriana was grateful to the feminists for giving her women to care for her in her advanced age. She had always disliked the rude probings of male doctors, who, despite what they said, never seemed to regard her quite as dispassionately as they claimed.
They exchanged pleasantries. Adriana handed Shyamoli a book she knew she'd wanted and couldn't locate in New York. It was her way of smoothing out her demanding style. Their greetings dispensed with, Shyamoli ushered Adriana into the examining room where she had to unprimp and unbutton what she had so carefully assembled a half-hour before. The nurse left to hang and smooth out her things as the ritual of the tongue depressor and the syringe proceeded. Shyamoli fussed here and there capping test tubes of blood, labeling scrapings, and finally exited to make a preliminary office diagnosis.
Adriana dressed and waited, looking at the diminutive sample bottles of medications in the glass display case of the examining room. There was a knock on the door and Shyamoli entered.
"How am I doctor?" she asked nervously in her over-articulating, reedy voice now grown husky with age.
"That's a lovely dress my dear," Shyamoli commented, "Oscar isn't it?"
"It's bad news."
"Not at all. Though we still have to get back the results of your tests I would say that you have a minor ulcer."
"An ulcer? Me? I give ulcers, I don't get them."
Shyamoli laughed a bit uncomfortably. "Nevertheless I have called your pharmacy. They'll bring some medication around to you that will stop the pain, and then when the tests are back we can talk about an appropriate treatment. Otherwise you're doing," here she paused a bit, "quite well."
"An ulcer? You're serious aren't you? At my age I suppose that is good news isn't it!" she exclaimed, enormously relieved and not afraid to show it. "Thank you for accommodating me at such short notice my dear, you're a treasure," she gushed, and letting Shyamoli help her on with her coat, she meant to make some small talk, but had the urgent desire to leave immediately.
Shyamoli came into the waiting room as her nurse closed the door, remembering the first time she had seen an old Adriana Andorra picture. She was in public school in London, and she remembered thinking how luminous Adriana had been on screen, how fresh and witty her delivery, although the brownish print bobbed and jumped with age. She thought that "immortal of the screen" wasn't a cliché, but a reality for this actress whose films were still frequently shown. Perhaps it was the seductive Hollywood glamour of the time, but she didn't think so. Shyamoli had had the same impression when she'd seen those neo-realist Antonelli films Adriana had made in the Ffities. There was that haunting quality of her characters that was so real, yet crafted and abstract at the same time. She had loved Adriana in the smitten, perfect way an audience must, and she was humbled by her. How then to tell her the news, how then to tell her the truth? She stood in her expensively furnished waiting room, tall and dark and radiant, and cried in her small way, grasping her nurse's shoulder.
Meanwhile Adriana strode down the street in her best I-own-the-sidewalk, make-way fashion, heading for the Plaza for breakfast. She had fasted for her exam, and now she had a substantial appetite. She again lifted her face to the sky. The heat from the sun was delightful. The terror of the night before had subsided and she coolly surveyed the comings and goings of the world which had its business to attend to.
'Hey, Adriana," someone called roughly.
She lived for the moments when she was recognized. Her heart beat pleasantly faster with this everyday but still pleasing thrill.
"Hello boys," she drawled to the gang of construction workers and the beaming, big-bellied foreman in particular who had called after her. They had taken their shirts off in the humid Indian summer day, and Adriana's interest could still be stirred a bit at the sight of the shoulders of one particularly robust looking young man.
"Hey Adriana," the foreman yelled again so that heads turned in her direction all the way down the block. On another day she might have been a little offended by his jocose familiarity. But today she smiled broadly, all the disappointments and loneliness of a lifetime temporarily forgotten, as she marched down the street. A crowd now gathered before her smiling collectively and respectfully watching her as her cape-like wrap fluttered behind her. She stopped and made an exaggerated, comic bow to the construction workers as cars came to a halt and the crowd applauded. The foreman screamed, "They don't make them like you any more Adriana baby."
She paused to savor the moment watching the awed faces of the young and old in the crowd watch her, before she delivered her exit line. Her famous eyes flashed as she shouted back lustily, "No boys, they certainly don't," and continued on her way to breakfast.
Copyright 2013 by Claude Chabot. All rights reserved.