HOLLYWOOD—As executor of Suzanne’s estate, the unpleasant task befell Jason to inform her parents that there was no estate left to speak off. The Katselas—Suzanne’s swarthy working-class plumber dad from whom Suzanne inherited her vitality and olive skin and her WASP mother from whom Suzanne inherited her clear diction and small nose, milky green and sapphire eyes—had been licking there chops over the death dowry. Oh, they were peeved when Jason transmitted the news that the estate was almost penniless.
His ears were aching for two days. His mother was a little more understanding, “Figures,” Helene said. “I always knew Suzanne was a lousy with money.”
The mind played a cruel trick on Jason: a vivid dream visited him early one morning. In the dream he awoke in his and Suzanne’s first studio apartment in
Hollywood. They were young and fresh from
Ohio, they had no child yet. Cardboard boxes of Chinese take-out littered the shag carpeting in their tiny furnitureless apartment, full of the coarse brisk smell of fresh paint that whisked away the stale dreams of the previous tenants. Suzanne and Jason awoke in each others arms, under a crocheted blanket. Her skin was dewy soft, her hair hung down in golden waves, his unshaved cheeks were rough as sandpaper, as they stretched awake after sharing that intimate tent-in-the-forest warmth of the first night.
They had nothing: only their dreams. Today they would be claqueurs—hired applause—at a taping in
City. They would take the lumbering city bus, it was unspeakably fresh and beautiful, poignant and glamorous. The wonder of it all, preempted in real life by the cares and anxieties of settling in a
new city, gripped Jason in the dream. On the bus bench beside Jason, Suzanne turned around and looked at him full in the face, looked into him, the grumbling sounds of the bus and traffic receded. “Jason, you are free,” she said against a background of perfect silence, “You are free to love again.”
His buzzing cell phone stole the dream, awoke Jason to his messy apartment. Jason and Suzanne’s daughter, Kit, shrieked at the phone in her hands.
“What’s the matter?” Jason said groggily.
Kit sobbed. Jason looked over her shoulder and gazed at a photo somebody had sent to his cell phone. His immediate thought was: it’s somebody in gaudy make-up, lying in a tufted pink satin bed. An actress friend from a zombie show who’d texted the shot of herself in full make-up, flaunted her latest role. The actress was clearly in a casket.
“It’s Mommy,” Kit said, unsobbing now. “Before I saw this, I was expecting a miracle. Mommy was going to come back. Now I know there will be no miracle.”
At first Jason didn’t recognize the cell phone number which originated this ghoulish momento of Suzanne’s funeral.
“Do you still love Mommy,” Kit asked. He teared up and hugged her hard. Both father and daughter had a good cry. They were all alone together—no grief counselors, no Candy or Isabel. They hugged and Jason checked an urge to tell Kit that he didn’t love Suzanne in quite the same way.
The texted photo, slightly unreal as reality, drove home the harsh truth that she was gone. Thanks to cannabis and Jaegermeister, Jason had blotted out most of the funeral. Now this photo, sent by either the cruelty or kindness of the Mylanta Foundation, brought back more glittery fragments and splinters. The blindingly bright hot day, people fanning themselves in the crammed chapel with programs, the leering red-nosed top-hatted bugg-whip wielding wag—no doubt an actor who had found his niche—drove the tasseled glass hearse from the chapel to the burial place drawn by two tall white horses. Ah, the showmanship of a
“As long as you love Mommy,” Kit said in her plaintive little-girl voice, “You will always be together.”
He again checked the urge to correct her on that point. But now he knew better: let the child believe, show her that sweet mercy.
“Dad, promise me you will always love her.”
“Yes Kit,” he said. “I will always love her.”
(to be continued)