Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The Vanity" - a Louise Brooks short story, part 8

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

A key?

There was nothing else in the envelope. No note explaining what the key might open, no small label taped to the key head giving a hint to what door, what lock, what keyhole it might fit. Short and flat, it wasn’t the type of key that I would use for my front door lock but more like a key for a drawer, a trunk, or a locker. I knew there were no locks in any of the drawers or cupboards in the main part of the house. And now that I had made the full tour of the basement and the attic, I could say with certainty there were no locks that required keys in the whole house. All the trunks and suitcases I saw were already open.

With no mention of the key in her note, I wondered if she knew it were there? But that wouldn’t make sense. Of course she would. In her time, it would not have been that long ago since she actually taped the envelope to the bottom of the vanity drawer. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why she would hide a key in the envelope.

I tossed it back, returned the film sheets, and before sliding the news clipping safely back into the envelope I made a copy.

I checked the time. 12:37. I sat for a few minutes deciding whether to write a message to her explaining what was happening. I felt compelled to share with her that these past three nights when she had driven by the house that it was not 1927, that Eddie Sutherland no longer lived there, that she had leapt into the future some eighty-plus years. But what kind of a note would convince her of that? Particularly if she wasn’t seeing me in the window, that she actually saw Eddie standing there.  She’d probably think the note was written by Eddie, that it was some feeble attempt at a ridiculous joke and wonder where in hell her husband had come up with the name Mike Lundy.

I sat there. Waiting to wake up from this Rod Serling-ian dream. I smiled at the thought of sharing this with Jay. Or Alan. Can you imagine if I were to say to Jay, “You know that car I mentioned to you the other day? Yeah, well there was this silent movie star in the backseat that used to live here back in the 1920’s. She left a note in the mailbox telling me she wanted some negatives she’d left taped in her vanity. Yeah. Pretty cool, huh?” Or saying to Alan, my agent, “Sorry about the delay on my book. I spent the weekend searching my basement and attic for negatives of Louise Brooks in the buff (No, I wasn’t in the buff!  She was!).  Yeah, the silent film star. She dropped by the house in her chic limo at three a.m. to pick them up.”

Oh yeah!

I was definitely into this solo. Dream or not, I believed the woman in the motorcar was Louise Brooks, a starlet of the 1920’s. I believed that she had confused me with her husband, a successful Hollywood film director, and I believed she had left him a letter that somehow ended up in my mailbox…in my time. I had also fended off foul spiders and other creepy crawlers in my search for an envelope taped to a drawer of a vanity that I didn’t know existed in my own house. I also believed that if I wrote a note to her and placed it in the envelope, it would travel back to 1927. I also believed I was a little nuts.

I found some stationery. Although it had been years since I had written a letter or even a note in script, I was not going to use the computer to write this message. No Word document, no Spellchecker, no Comic Sans font. And so, with that despondent and beautiful face before me, I handwrote the following:

Dear Miss Brooks,

You do not know me, but I am the man you have seen the past three nights standing in the window when you have driven by. I believe you may have thought I was your husband, Eddie, but I am not. Also, and I know you will not believe this, but I live in Eddie’s house some 80 years after the date on the letter you left here last night. I am writing to you from the 21st century.

I have no idea how this has happened—or why. But I have done some research and know for a fact that you and Eddie lived here in 1926 and that you left him in 1927 to be with a gentleman named George Marshall. I have also compared your letter with a sample of your handwriting provided by a society bearing your name, proving to me that your letter was authentic. And you will be pleased to know that even with all the time that has passed, your vanity still exists and was still hiding the envelope you sought.

Forgive me for opening the envelope. I can only say that in my world where nudity is more prolific and generally more acceptable, your timeless beauty would still set you apart from the models and celebrities of my time.

I do know your future and I will only say this: for all that you will endure, you will be admired for your spirit, your independence, even your ‘sassy’ ways. And always for your beauty and acting ability. Stay focused, never change and enjoy a long life.

A fan from the future, Michael Lundy

By the way, I found a key in the envelope. You’ll find it there with the film sheets and the news clipping. 


It took me most of an hour to compose the letter. I looked at my watch. It was one forty-eight. If there were any logic in this craziness, she would be here at the same time of her previous visits: three a.m. Seventy-two minutes. I slid my note without folding it into the envelope where it joined the treasures of another time and then closed off the envelope by inserting the flap inside. I leaned it against the vanity drawer and stared at the penciled lettering on the front again:

Louise Brooks

My mind wandered. I imagined meeting her. I thought about going out to the car when she arrived. Introducing myself, trying to explain to her who I was—that I was from the future and that I was the one who had found the vanity and her envelope. But I knew that would be wrong. Not so much that she would think I was a raving maniac, but because I knew somehow that it wasn’t part of the plan. Call it a feeling, but I knew I must follow the letter’s instructions, not alter what was unfolding before me. I was the pawn in this affair—to follow orders, perform my duty, make the sacrifice, and deliver the goods even if those instructions came from a young, egocentric, tough, unfaithful, beauty from 1927. It was obvious that Louise Brooks had no idea she was visiting the twilight zone. My theory? For her, this was no more than a clandestine business concern. She had written a letter to husband Eddie requesting he return the negatives she was fearful might prove scandalous. To recover them, she felt she had to sneak out in the middle of the night so her new lover, George, would not know. Meanwhile, it was my job to stay on my side, and she on hers—like players in a tennis match. Once I had placed the envelope in the mailbox, I would return to the living room—on my side of the net—and wait and watch for her return.

I got up, envelope in hand, and walked to the front door.  I opened it and was greeted by a warm, Southern California night. Was that lilac in the air? I would like to have thought it was, but, in fact, it was the sweet jasmine from Jay’s yard. The neighborhood was quiet—the only sounds were my steps on the pathway stones that led toward the street and my old mailbox. A cricket let me know I was not alone. My mailbox was next to Jay’s, both boxes mounted onto a stone pedestal that was mostly covered with ivy. They were really letterboxes, unlike the typical horizontal cave-like boxes prevalent today. They were made of something other than tin—maybe pewter? I was sure they had been there since the houses were built. Mine had ornamental vertical lines running top to bottom. In the center there was the same star motif as on the cherry-wood furniture. I felt sure that somehow that weathered box was a part of the connection between 1927 and the present. Then again, wasn’t the house? I opened the lid at the top—made of the same sturdy blue-gray metal—and dropped the envelope inside. It disappeared.

I immediately felt a change. The temperature? A slight breeze? Lilac? My unscientific guess was that I had just set off the sequence of events making the hand-off through time possible. And, I swear to you, I could feel it. I stared down N. Bedford. I knew—I knew—for sure she was coming.

And she would be here in less than an hour. 

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