HOLLYWOOD—Cedars-Sinai did its best not to look like a hospital, not to smell like a hospital. The walls were a soothing blue with tan acents, potpourri filled the bathrooms with flower scent. In the hallway that connected a warren of rooms for emergency cases, Jason paced back and forth, immune to the soothing cues.
Both his overdosed ex-wife and half-drowned daughter had been loaded into the same ambulance and speeded to Cedars-Sinai. Jason and a few stragglers from the party, truncated by the medics' visit, had followed them here. Candy sat at one end of the hall poring over her torn half volume of Oneness, by Mylanta.
“Is there any word yet about Suzanne?”
Candy looked up, shook her head. Nervous as a cat, Jason paced back down the hall and entered a room as a nurse was exiting.
“She's ready to go home,” the nurse told Jason. “But I don't know if she wants to go home.”
After being probed, poked and prodded by the best in modern medicine, Kit was propped up on a pillow, looking very pleased with herself and taking a gigantic bite of pizza. It thrilled Jason to ascertain she was all right. That he wasn't dreaming. Jason hugged Kit close to his chest.
“Daddy, I love you,” she said in a little baby voice. She had vocally regressed to her purest, sweetest child stage. She pulled him tight. Jason's breath trembled on the edge of a sob, and he rocked her in his arms.
“Tears belong in heaven, not on earth.” said Kit. “They become the rain,” she said, gaining uncanny access to otherworldly wisdom, shifting from baby to prophetess in seconds, ending with an interjection from the snarky pre-teen, “Oh gawd, da-ad, you look so ugly when you cry. . . Daddy, I wub you,” she said, pulling out the Elmer Fudd, and suspended the cease fire on mockery.
Beaming, she took another bite of cheese pepperoni pizza.
“Where is mother?” Kit asked. She saw Jason's retreating back and he withdrew to the hallway, where he sat down in plastic chairs, next to his mother. He braced himself for a crack about saying 'I love you.' People who said 'I love you' were a peeve of hers. If you say it compulsively, how does it mean anything? But this time Helene held her peace.
Jason tried to enjoy a pause as they awaited news of Suzanne, but just as soon as he surrendered to the moment, it flitted away in a reflex conditioned by the actor's life: his central nervous system reflective ordered his hand to reach down and seize his cellphone. He glared at it with undivided attention—that ferocious glare that issued a challenge to the phone, bring it on! AT&T did not disappoint. It gave him a start to see he had missed seven calls and four voice mails. The buzzing and bells of their arrival had been blotted out by the zombieish thump-thumping party music.
Beep! A message from Joey Leonard: “OK, good news is I won $15,000 playing pai gow at the City of Commerce Casino so we got the $8000
for the grant from the Regal Waste Company. Bad news is I blew the rest on nose candy . . .”
Beep. Now Jason heard the other three messages. A deepening frown distorted his features.
“What's the matter?” Helene asked.
Messages from Suzanne, each more desperate than the last, told a troubling tale. With each succeeding message, her speech was more sluggish, Jason strained to understand her rambling about their divorce and guilt and Bruno Panini, the Italian count who'd broken off their engagement.
“What's wrong?” his mom asked. . .
“Nothing,” Jason said.
“Of course there's something wrong,” Helene said. “I can see it in your face, Jason. You're a terrible actor.”
Helene, more than half sober, laughed, and Jason loosened up and laughed, too. He spoke:
“Would you?” Helene asked. Jason closed his eyes, tilted his head, and gave no answer. “Well, what did you say?”
“It was on a phone message.”
“Well, what's your answer? Would you remarry her?”
“How stupid can you get!” Helene pounced on him. “Suzanne makes bank, acting on TV. You're stubborn like you father. He cared so much about his precious integrity, and threw away so many opportunities. He was blind to all the cherries life put on the tree for the grabbing. Dr. Nussbaum was a pediatrician, for example, and if you brought your child to Nussbaum, your child didn't leave with his tonsils.”
“I thought it was Dr. Burke,” Jason said.
“Burke was internal medicine, he did the unnecessary gallbladders.” Helene concluded, “Your dad was a doctor, but he wasn't a very good one.”
Jason knew where this was going. Soon she would be venting jealously about Dr. Burke's wife playing bridge and gallivanting in Europe. He stood up, rather, too abruptly. He went to the end of the hall, where Candy sat. Now her fingers worried over the white lozenges of a rosary.
“Any word yet about Suzanne?” Jason asked.
(to be continued)
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