Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"The Vanity" - a Louise Brooks short story, part 4

Here is the fourth installment of "The Vanity," a short story by Robert Murillo.

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We talked for twenty minutes. I didn’t share anything about the nightly visits of the phantom car or the letter. But among other things, I did tell him that if my neighbor, Lorraine, ever asked where we went Sunday night, he was to tell her we had a long and expensive dinner at The Morocco. Once off the phone, I decided on another cup of coffee—and to head back to my office. Hopefully Molly would be there.

Alan wanted the first fifteen chapters polished and sent to his office in New York via email attachment by Monday at nine a.m. EST. I had told him it would be no problem; truth was, I still had some work to do; I had already roughed-out the first thirteen chapters but had no clue where the story was heading. I spent the next three hours revising parts of Chapters Two and Four and rewrote some dialogue in Chapters Seven, Eight, and Twelve before outlining the next couple of chapters.

About five-thirty, I leaned back with a big, hands-over-the-head stretch; I glanced toward the living room—and the coffee table. The morning sun, which pours through the front window, had long since climbed over the house toward Santa Monica and the Pacific. The living room existed in that wistful, quiet, late afternoon dusk. There was a peacefulness—a stillness—where no shadows played and most things had lost their color. Except on the coffee table.

I had nearly forgotten.

From my chair in the dining room, I could see the square, crème-colored envelope lying on the pile of forgettable mail in that warm, faint light. It appeared to glow—just enough to separate it from everything else on the table. I slowly got up, walked to the living room and picked up the envelope. It sustained a flush all its own in the semi-darkness. The name

Eddie Sutherland

written in peacock blue and constructed with great care, stood in almost violent contrast to the pastel crème of the envelope. I wondered what the message inside—for a long-dead Eddie Sutherland—could possibly be. Most likely it was an invitation to some financial meeting with a local broker. Or maybe—and more appropriately—an offer to buy a plot from Hollywood Forever Cemetery? It would also be interesting to know how they got Eddie’s name. Maybe someone had not updated the Beverly Hills list of potential leads for a long, long time. On the other hand, what’s with the fancy car? Why the clandestine time of night? And who’s the pretty girl who delivered the letter?

In my head, a voice cried, “Open the envelope. Open it now. ”

I know what you’re thinking: Open it, dammit! Well, I did. But not before I went to the kitchen, got a Corona, stopped by the dining room to pick up my letter opener—an old Fuller Brush Man giveaway—returned to the couch, put my feet up—and reached around to turn on the floor lamp behind me.

I wedged the plastic point under the fold and gently lifted up along the top. As the paper parted, a sweet lilac smell immediately filled the air around me. Lilac is a smell of the past. It reminded me of childhood bubble baths and small frilly handkerchiefs, grandmothers who once wore white gloves and T.S. Eliot’s “…breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire…”

I peered inside. I could see a folded sheet of matching crème-colored stationery. Carefully, with thumb and forefinger, I slowly pulled the paper out, set the envelope down, took a long pull on the Corona, set that down, wiped my hand on my jeans and opened the note. This is what I found:

October 8th 1927

Eddie—


I will attempt to make this brief. I know that I have not been the “good wife,” but I will not apologize for what I am. I don’t think I ever loved you, Eddie. Oh, we had some good times for sure, but that’s all behind us now. You and Charlie are working night and day on your movie projects, and Paramount, for now, is keeping me busy.

What I’m saying is I want out. I’m sure you have heard about George and me. I can only say that I love him and I want to be with him. Let’s you and I try to forget our mistake and get on with our lives.

One other thing. I want the negatives. It took me a year of court battles to get them, and I don’t want you getting any ideas. You know what I’m talking about, so don’t make this difficult. They’re where we hid them—in an envelope, taped to the bottom of the right-hand drawer of my vanity.

I know you’re home Eddie , so no games. I’ve seen you the past few nights standing at the window. Put the envelope in the mailbox this evening. I will pick it up during the night.

Louise—

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