Forget About Love: A novella in twenty-four parts
By Jeffrey S. Carter
Part Two: The Nephew (II)
Standing in front of the gates of the Winderkund mansion, I watch as Jeanine pulls away in her Range Rover, talking on her cell phone as Brad stares into space from the passenger seat, plugging ubiquitous white headphones into his ears. On the way over, I was indoctrinated into the aesthetic of The Speakers, which involves a lot of lo-fi fuzz, half shouted vocals, handclaps and wheezing keyboards. The whole endeavor sounds like it was recorded in a bathroom on a cassette player. This guy Brad apparently plays the drums, and he's apparently in love with his cymbals, given the fact that he lays into them with the vigor of a marching band at every opportunity. I gave myself a boost somewhere between the song about lost love and the song about found love and muttered something about you might as well just change the name of the band to the fucking Cymbals and got a look from Jeanine. I tried to explain how it would be cool because it would have a double meaning if they spelled it S-y-m, you know, which made me laugh. You would laugh too; if you've heard these guys and you know anything about anything, you would know that you just don't hit the cymbals that much. They're accents, for Christ's sake, and this guy's making like they're the bread and butter of the rhythm section.
"I don't have time to go in. Call me when you're ready to leave," said Jeanine when she pulled up to curb, one ear stuck to her cell phone. I hate it when people do that. She seemed agitated about something. Probably all those goddamn cymbals crashing like plates, only she doesn't know it.
Shrouded by the shadow of the house, which is so large that it drops the surrounding temperature by ten degrees, I am reminded of the first time I ever stood here while my parents drove off, my mother in the passenger seat, her brunette head stock still straight forward. My father gave a look back with a slight, forced smile, his eyes suggesting a kind of anticipation of pain. When the days stretched into months and the months into years, I came to realize that it was an airport look, the kind people give you when they know they run the risk of not seeing you again, with goodbye and good luck and God bless all rolled into one. I guess I should have known something was wrong when they didn't even ring the bell on the gates, and when Franklin answered the door with his glasses in his hand and said, "Yes?"
It freaks me out when right then a female voice comes on the speaker and says, "Yes?" without me pushing the button or anything.
I stare at the speaker for a second. "It's Jason," I say.
"Jason? It's Sunday morning. Is someone expecting you?"
"It's Jason Winderkund," I say, unsure of what Sunday has to do with anything, and frankly getting a little annoyed.
"Oh," says the voice, with a hint of surprise. "I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you."
The latch is liberated with a dull click.
* * * *
Andrea Silvers is Franklin's fourth wife, and like all the others before her with the exception of Lucy, she's an actress who has given up her career in order to tend to the great director's many, many requirements. Like all the others before her, with the exception of Lucy, her last role was as the leading lady in one of Franklin's films, Franklin was still married upon the consummation of their relationship, and, should her relationship with Franklin dissolve, she will discover that she is unable to find work in films ever again.
It has been noted by at least one critic that Franklin does the world an incredible disservice to the world by marrying these women; robbing audiences of the luminance and beauty they bring to the screen. I read Franklin a quote that said as much once, and he went nuclear. We were sitting in the den, reviewing dailies, while he entertained a scotch.
The den's a cool place, really. It's shady, and dark, with a real 70s rock facade and wood panel vibe. It's got a fully stocked bar and fucking beanbags, if you can believe it. I spent a lot of time in there when I lived here. I don't know if it's still the same, actually.
"Audiences?" he roared, nearly shattering his scotch glass with the force with which he slammed it down on the table. "Audiences!" he said again, incredulous.
"I am preserving them from the ravages that stardom will eventually bring! They don't even know that. They can't imagine that this same asshole will turn around ten years from now and claim that Sheila is only half the actress she once was! Audiences! What is this nonsense about audiences?"
Sheila was his third wife. She had lips that you could fall asleep on.
I remember him throwing his review script across the room, jumping out of his chair and yelling, "Who is that? You tell me who is that?" over and over as he ripped the paper out of my hands. Word is that writer is doing the crossword section now.
That's the word, anyway.
So this new one Andrea is younger than the rest. She's maybe thirty. She's the daughter of Reggie Silvers, the producer. Everyone in this town is the something of someone. I've only met her once, on the set of Open Hostilities. She was playing Claudia, the French photographer. I saw her and Franklin groping each other crazily one time on that weird underwater set in the back of Lot A.
She's got this perfect, shiny blonde hair and these tremendously blue eyes and her neck and her head form like this small letter "q". She stands like a ballet dancer, with her ankles crossed and one foot pointing south of heaven. The drawstring of her white cotton pants is in a bow, dangling just below her tan, flat stomach.
"Franklin's doing Yoga," she explains. "He does it every Sunday morning for three hours."
"That's a lot of Yoga," I say.
"He has a lot to meditate on," she says. Then she looks up quickly at the ceiling and shifts her weight to the other foot. "He just started, like, half-hour ago, tops," she says.
I nod and look to the side. I'm about to ask her if she has any water when she says, "Wow, I didn't even recognize you. You're all grown up."
"And no place to go," I say, looking for an exit.
"You wrote Open Hostilities, right?"
"Yup," I say and push my bottom lip up under my top one. I hope she doesn't ask me any questions about it, like what was I thinking when I wrote it, what does it mean and so on. I did a few interviews when I was younger, but they made me so uncomfortable I couldn't stand it. All I could say was what it didn't mean, but they didn't want that. I didn't feel like anything I was saying even meant anything, anyway. "And you were Claudia," I say, stupidly.
She smiles demurely. I like that word, demurely. That's how she smiles. It's cute, especially in response to something as stupid as what just came out of my mouth. "I liked Thousand Mile Run, and God, you were like ten years old when you wrote The Ocean's Islands," she says, biting her lower lip.
* * * *
Me and Andrea's cute smile fuck demurely in the den.
The beanbags are still there.
* * * *
Smoking a cigarette by a pool for the second time today, I muse on something else all of Franklin's last three wives have in common. I have written the final words each of them will ever say on film. From my pen spilled their epitaphs. I remember all of them.
Lysteria said, "It's cold outside."
Sheila said, "Close my eyes after I die so I don't see it coming."
Andrea said, "It's not looking back and examining what happened that traps people…it's looking back and wondering what could have been."
I wonder what Lucy's last words were. Then I'm thinking of Jeanine and what's she doing now? I see a cat briefly as it jumps from bush to bush, chasing something, and I wonder if it's Nicholas Cage. Jeanine had a cat named Nicholas Cage, but one day he just disappeared.
It occurs to me that Andrea and Jeanine aren't that far apart in age, and Andrea is now my cousin's stepmother.
* * * *
Franklin comes outside barefoot, draped in a sky blue towel dangling precariously below his formidable stomach. He's sported this classic Great Director look for years, now. The unkempt beard, the glasses, the slightly mangy hair.
He pulls a lounge chair next to mine, and sits, clapping his hand on my thigh. "You look like hell, son," he says. "How's Jeanine?"
He lights a cigar.
"That's a shame. Is it because you don't want to write, or because you can't?"
I stare into the pool. "Nothing comes out," I say. Which is true. Every time I want to write now, my head just fills with music.
He relights the cigar because it has gone out.
"I knew that," he says. "And you know I haven't been productive, either, but…I'm doing something now. It's called…well, never mind what it's called…and it needs help. It needs your help. I need your help. This thing is falling apart. The wheels are coming off right in front of me, and we are way, I mean, way past the point where it's okay to stop. And I can't fix it, son," he says, clapping me on the thigh again, "son," he says, and pauses. "When we did what we did, we really did something. We really showed them, right? We really made something. Weren't you proud of that? We can do that again. Let's do that again."
I know he is thinking of the things he said to me the last time we saw each other. He is thinking of how to overcome them, how to make me forget them. But he is not good with words, and he has never been good with words. I am good with words, but nothing is coming out.
"It's going to be okay," he says, half to me, half to himself. "We're going to fix this thing."
The smoke from the cigar is sweet and sickly and sighs over me.
* * * *
My parents owned a tobacco shop in a small town in Idaho.
Many years ago, I used to entertain a dream that one day, Jeanine and I would return and rent the apartment above it where my parents and I once lived. The town square would stretch like a spoon beneath our bedroom window, where Jeanine and I would sit on the sill and smoke all the cigarettes until there are no more left, until there are no more to be had and we have to close the shop because cigars and pipes do not sell as well, no sir, no they do not. They do not sell as well at all.
To be continued