Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Vanity" - a Louise Brooks short story, part 5

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

October 8th was today’s date.

I stared at the letter for a long time. Definitely not an invitation to a Merrill Lynch seminar on rollovers!  Still, this had to be an elaborate hoax. A good one, I admit, but still a hoax. I am a sane, fairly bright individual and this letter in my hand was not over eighty years old! A quick aside—and confession. As a writer—and a person—I have sometimes been reluctant to depend or rely upon logic or reality. I—we all?—want to believe in magic and fantasy—think that there really is a Santa Claus or a Mickey Mouse; that Star Trek transporters and H. G. Wells time travel machines really do exist. But the bittersweet truth is that I know they don’t. The magic is in the wanting, the pretending—in the imagination. Like when we walk up Main Street in Disneyland, watch the movie Back to the Future, or read Jack Finney’s Time and Again. And as much as I would love to believe this letter was really written in 1927—and by that lovely young lady who stopped by my house (was it just this morning?)—I was not buying it.

But, if it were a hoax, then why? And who would do it? This was far too elaborate for my neighbor Jay to pull off—and for what reason? Still, the truth is, he does have access to classic cars—and he was standing near my mailbox this morning. Maybe that was Cousin Connie in the back seat of that car!  But Connie’s not twenty—and this so-called Louise in the car was young enough to be my daughter. And why would Jay—or Lorraine—concoct this strange letter? Cross off Jay. And the same goes for Alan; it’s just not his style to mess around with something like this. Again, no reason, no motive, and besides he’s in New York. Not Alan.

Obviously, someone has too much time on their hands—but who? Yet I saw two people in that car. And there was this letter. Jay’s words came back to me: “There are ghosts still hiding in the walls and in the attics—and apparently, in the streets now…”

I made the decision to take all this to another level. I googled ‘A. Edward Sutherland’ to check for any information regarding his personal life during the twenties—particularly if he had been married in 1927. And he had been. To a Louise Brooks. L.B. Bingo! They had been married between 1926 and 1928. And what a celebrity she was! Point of fact, she had been much more famous than her successful husband. I found literally hundreds of articles about her, most in agreement stating she was one of the most recognized actresses of the silent movie era—and also one of the most beautiful. All were in accord that she was one of the most independent, liberated and sensual women of her time. Here are a few photos I found.

I jotted down these quotes from some of the contemporary journalists and movie critics from her time

“One of the most mysterious and potent figures in the history of the cinema…”

“…the only woman who had the ability to transfigure no matter what film into a masterpiece…”

“Louise is the perfect apparition, the dream woman, the being without whom the cinema would be a poor thing.”

“Those who have seen her can never forget her.”

Need I say that this “mysterious…figure…” this “perfect apparition” was the woman who stared at me through that backseat window this morning? Something is happening here!  I headed for the kitchen and another Corona.

I still refused to believe the letter was written by Louise Brooks in 1927. Nor did I believe that was she in the car. But I did decide to continue to search for the truth. I couldn’t find any examples of her actual handwriting on Google, but, believe it or not, I found a Louise Brooks Society. I sent them a note via their email address requesting a sample of her handwriting. Meanwhile, I thought I would check on the stationery. I was beginning to feel like one of those private eyes of the 1940’s. (Never could hear that term “private dick” without wincing. Right now, I’m sticking with Mike Lundy, Private Investigator.) And I was out to prove my client (me) was having his leg pulled. And to find out the reason why.

The stationery was obviously top-end. It had texture and a thickness only found in expensive paper. My knowledge of paper was limited, although Jeanne once took a class in papermaking and would come home with samples she had made from cotton-rag. I do recall her telling me that certain cotton-rag paper can last hundreds of years without much fading or discoloration. But truth be, cotton-rag paper is available today. Therefore, there was no way to place a date on this stationery unless…

I held the letter up to the light and looked for any markings. Down, just below middle, toward the right, was a watermark. The backlight brought the image out like a photo in developer. A bit smeared but clear enough to decipher was the following:

The name White and Wyckoff’s arched the top. The ‘Exclusive Stationery’ near the bottom of the watermark was a tougher read, but it really didn’t matter. White and Wyckoff’s was in business before 1928 as stationery makers—in fact, I found an old ad pre-dating 1928 on eBay that amusingly stated their stationery was “Autocratic Linen” and that it was “…so rich in character; so responsive to the pen; [and} so refined in appearance…”  Okay, I accepted that the letter was written on high-end quality paper, but what pushed me another step in conceding the age and authenticity of the stationery was the following:

The only White and Wyckoff’s in existence today was in the business of providing “information on 32 million companies” and described as a business services company. Definitely not a stationery company. And I could not find any info regarding when White and Wyckoff’s Exclusive Stationery folded, sold out, or merged with anyone. The stationery—in spite of its fresh, crisp appearance—was certainly from another—much earlier—era.

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