Category: read on 14th april 2007


She wished her sister, Leila, didn’t work every Saturday and Sunday. Before she took the Sunday job, Leila used to call it their day, and she’d taken Elizabeth around with her. Most of the nineteen-year-old girls like Leila were hanging around with boys, but Leila never did. She was going to go to New York to be an actress, not get stuck in Lumber Creek, Kentucky. “The trouble with these hick towns, Sparrow, is that everybody marries right out of high school and ends up with whiny little kids and Pablum all over their cheerleader sweaters. That won’t be me.”

Elizabeth liked to hear Leila talk about how it would be when she was a star, but it was scary too. She couldn’t imagine living in this house with Mama and Matt without Leila.

An abstract watercolor by Will Moses hung on the wall over the oyster-colored couch. An Aubusson rug shimmered on the dark tile. The reception desk was authentic Louis XV, but there was no one seated there. She felt an immediate sense of sharp disappointment, but reminded herself that Sammy would be back tomorrow night.

Weep No More, My Lady

She was a thin child with long legs and a spray of freckles across her nose. Her eyes were wide-set and mature—”Queen Solemn Face” Leila called her. Leila was always making up names for people—sometimes funny names; sometimes, if she didn’t like the people, pretty mean ones.

After a two-month absence, the apartment felt close and stuffy. But as soon as she opened the windows, a breeze blew in, carrying the peculiarly satisfying combination of scents that was so specially New York: the pungent aura of the small Indian restaurant around the corner, a hint of the flowers from the terrace across the street, the acrid smell of fumes from the Fifth Avenue buses, a suggestion of sea air from the Hudson River. For a few minutes Elizabeth breathed deeply and felt herself begin to unwind. Now that she was here, it was good to be home. The job in Italy had been another escape, another temporary respite.

QUOTE FOR THE DAY: Where is the love, beauty and truth we seek?—Shelley  Good morning, dear guest!   Welcome to another day of luxury at Cypress Point Spa.

We hope all our guests will have a pleasant and pampered day. Remember, to be really beautiful we must keep our minds tranquil and free of distressing or troubling thoughts.

Elizabeth studied the other woman’s hands. They were the hands of a working person, thick-knuckled and callused. The brightly colored fingernails were short and stubby, even though the manicure looked expensive. Her curiosity about Alvirah Meehan was a welcome respite from thinking about Leila. Instinctively she liked the woman—there was something remarkably candid and appealing about her— but who was she? What was bringing her to the Spa?

Elizabeth left them a few minutes later. The slanting rays of the sun danced on the beds of wild-flowers along the path to the bungalow Min had assigned her. Somewhere in her subconscious she experienced a sense of calm observing the brilliant checkerblooms, the wood roses, the flowering currant hedges. But the momentary tranquillity could not mask the fact that behind the warm welcome and seeming concern, Min and Helmut were different.

The persistent headache she’d had all evening began to ebb, the sense of enclosure faded; once again she began to experience the release she had always found in water. “Do you think it started in the womb?” she’d once joked to Leila. “I mean this absolute sensation of being free when I’m immersed.”

Elizabeth touched the far wall, brought her knees to her chest and flipped her body over, changing from a backstroke to a breaststroke in one fluid movement. Was it possible that Leila’s fear of personal relationships had begun at the moment of conception? Can a speck of protoplasm sense that the climate is hostile, and can that realization color a whole life? Wasn’t it because of Leila that she’d never experienced that terrible sense of parental rejection? She remembered her mother’s description of bringing her home from the hospital: “Leila took her out of my arms. She moved the crib into her room. She was only eleven, but she became that child’s mother. I wanted to call her Laverne, but Leila put her foot down. She said, ‘Her name is Elizabeth!'” One more reason to be grateful to Leila, Elizabeth thought.

The soft ripple that her body made as she moved through the water masked the faint sound of footsteps at the other end of the pool. She had reached the north end and was starting back. For some reason she began to swim furiously, as though  sensing danger.

A witty woman is a treasure; a witty beauty is a power.  —George Meredith

At six o’clock she got out of bed, pulled up the shade, then huddled back under the light covers. It was chilly, but she loved to watch the sun come up. It seemed to her that the early morning had a dreamy quality of its own, the human quiet was so absolute. The only sounds came from the seabirds along the shore.

Leila with her arms hugging her knees. “Sammy, he’s not that bad. He makes me laugh, and that’s a plus.”       “If you want to laugh, hire a clown.”

The letter had been written in Min’s florid, sweeping penmanship. Quickly, Elizabeth scanned her schedule. Interview with Dr. Helmut von Schreiber at 8:45; aerobic dance class at 9; massage at 9:30; trampoline at 10; advanced water aerobics at 10:30—that had been the class she taught when she worked here; facial at 11; cypress curves 11:30; herbal wrap at noon. The afternoon schedule included a loofah, a manicure, a yoga class, a pedicure, two more water exercises…

“Your face is like a fine carving,” he told her. “You are one of those fortunate women who will become more beautiful as you age. It’s all in the bone structure.”          Then, as if he were thinking aloud, he murmured, “Wildly lovely as Leila was, her beauty was the kind I that peaks and begins to slip away. The last time she was here I suggested that she begin collagen treatments, and we had planned to do her eyes as well. Did you know that?”

“Yes, you would have. When Leila gave you a nickname, it meant you were part of her inner circle.”        Was that true? Ted wondered. When you looked up the definitions of the nicknames Leila bestowed, there was always a double edge to them. Falcon: a hawk trained to hunt and kill. Bulldog: a short-haired, square-jawed, heavily built dog with a tenacious grip.

They are talking about me, Ted thought. They are discussing what can and cannot be done to win my eventual freedom as though I weren’t here. A slow, hard anger that now seemed to be part of his persona made him want to lash out at them. Lash out at them? The lawyer who supposedly would win his case? The friend who had been his eyes and ears and voice these last months? But I don’t want them to take my life out of my hands, Ted thought, and tasted the acid that suddenly washed his mo uth. I can’t blame them, but I can’t trust them either. No matter what, it’s as I’ve known right along: I have to take care of this myself.

He settled on the couch, where he could look out on the ocean and watch the sea gulls arcing over the foaming surf, beyond the threat of the undertow, beyond the power of the waves to crash them against the rocks.

, “There are just two people I know I can trust in this world: Sparrow and Falcon. Now you, Sammy, are getting there.” Dora had felt honored. “And the Q.E. Two”—Leila’s name for Min— “is a do-or-die friend, provided there’s a buck in it for her and it doesn’t conflict with anything the Toy Soldier wants.”

Dora handed the glass to Min and looked contemptuously at Helmut. That spendthrift, she thought, would put Min in her grave with his crazy projects! Min had been absolutely right when she’d suggested that they add a self-contained budget-price spa on the back half of the property. That would have worked. Secretaries as well as socialites were going to spas these days. Instead, this pompous fool had persuaded Min to build the bathhouse. “It will make a statement about us to the world” was his favorite phrase when he talked Min into plunging into debt. Dora knew the finances of this place as well as they did. It couldn’t go on.

“Well, let me tell you that everything you say about the place is true. Remember how the ad says, ‘At the end of a week here, you will feel as free and untroubled as a butterfly floating on a cloud?”

“Lots of people get stage fright. Helen Hayes threw up before every performance. When Jimmy Stewart finished a movie, he was sure no one would ever ask him to be in another one. Leila threw up and worried. That’s show biz.”

“Ted is lucky to have you,” he said. “I don’t think he appreciates it.”        “That’s where you’re wrong. Ted has to rely on me now to front for him in the business, and he resents it. To clarify that, he only thinks he resents me. The problem is, my very presence in his place is a symbol of the jam he’s in.”

The noon sun was high overhead. The breeze was coming gently from the Pacific, bringing the scent of the sea. Even the azaleas that had been crushed by the patrol cars seemed to be trying to struggle back. The cypress trees, grotesque in the night, seemed familiar and comforting under the splendid sunshine.

“Are you grateful, Min?” Cheryl asked. “I gather the Baron did write the play. You not only married nobility, a doctor, an interior designer, but also an author. You must be thrilled—and broke.”        “I married a Renaissance man,” Min told her. “The Baron will resume a full schedule of operations at the clinic. Ted has promised us a loan. All will be well.”

For love and beauty and delight. There is no death nor change.        —Shelley

I feel as if I’m digging and digging for the vein of truth the way the old prospectors dug for a vein of gold… The only trouble is I’m out of time, so I had to start blasting. But at the very least, I may have upset one of them enough so that he—or she—will make a slip.”

Outside, the darkness was now absolute. The moon and stars were again covered with a misty fog; the Japanese lanterns in the trees and bushes were hazy dots of light.

They had deliberately skipped the “cocktail” hour and could see the last of the guests leaving the veranda as the muted gong announced dinner. A cool breeze had come up from the ocean, and the webs of lichen hanging from the giant pines that formed the border of the north end of the property swayed in a rhythmic, solemn movement that was accentuated by the tinted lights scattered throughout the grounds.

He’d been walking all afternoon, trying to make himself stand at the edge of a cliff, battling his own personal demon in search of the truth.

The sight of Alvirah Meehan, ghostly pale, barely breathing, hooked to machines, was incredible to Scott. People like Mrs. Meehan weren’t supposed to be sick. They were too hearty, too filled with life.

The afternoon had fulfilled the morning’s promise. The sun was golden warm; there was no breeze; even the cypress trees looked mellow, their dark leaves shimmering, the craggy shapes unthreatening. The cheerful clusters of petunias, geraniums and azaleas, perky from recent watering, were now straining toward the warmth, the blossoms open and radiant.

“He’s guilty,” Bartlett said. “There’s no way I can get him off now. Give me a clean-cut liar and I can work with him. If I put him on the stand, the jury will find Teddy arrogant. If I don’t we’ll have Elizabeth describing how he shouted at Leila, and two eyewitnesses to tell how he killed her. And I’m supposed to work with that?” He closed his eyes. “By the way, he’s just proved to us that he has a violent temper.”

Bartlett had probably been on the phone with the district attorney. By now he would have some idea of the kind of sentence he might expect. It still seemed absolutely incredible. Something he had no mem ory of doing had forced him to become a totally different person, had forced him to lead a totally different life.

“I’d have thought she was sound as a dollar. A little chunky, but good skin tone, good heartbeat, good breathing. She was scared of needles, but that doesn’t give anyone cardiac arrest.”

Be serene. Be tranquil. Be merry. And have a pretty day.

A health reminder. By now you may be feeling muscles you’d forgotten you had. Remember, exercise is never pain. Mild discomfort shows you are achieving the stretch. And whenever you exercise, keep your knees relaxed.

“IN AQUA SANITAS,” the inscription read. For once Helmut was right. Water would soothe her, turn off her mind.

She decided to have dinner served in the bungalow. It was impossible to envision going through the motions of socializing with any of those people, knowing that Sammy’s body was in the morgue awaiting shipment to Ohio, that Alvirah Meehan was fighting for her life in Monterey Hospital.

Elizabeth wondered as she went into the welcome calm of her bungalow. Her senses absorbed the emerald-and-white color scheme. Splashy print on thick white carpeting. She could almost imagine there was a lingering hint of Joy mixed with the salty sea air.

The Baron lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. His china-blue eyes watered. The reddish tint in his hair seemed brassy under the late-afternoon sun. The top of the convertible was down. A cool land breeze had dispelled the last of the daytime warmth. A sense of autumn was in the air.

“I know it sounds crazy, and I know Cheryl can lie as easily as most of us can breathe, but I’ve been thinking about this all day, and my gut feeling is she’s telling the truth

Alvirah Meehan! Scott rubbed his hands over suddenly weary eyes. That woman was bright. He thought of her comments at dinner. She was like the child in the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes who says, “But he has no clothes on!”

What does it prove? Elizabeth asked herself as she walked from the main house along the path to the clinic. If Helmut wrote that play, he must be going through hell. The author had put one million dollars into the production. That was why Min was calling Switzerland. Her nest egg in a numbered account was a standing joke. “I’ll never be broke,” she had always bragged. Min had wanted Ted acquitted so that she could license Cypress Point Spas in all his new hotels. Helmut had a much more compelling reason. If he was “Clayton Anderson,” he knew that even the nest egg was gone.

“Because I am appalled at the idea that Ted may spend the rest of his life in prison. Sometimes people do terrible things in anger, because they are out of control, things they might never do if they were not goaded beyond their ability to stop themselves. I believe that happened. I know that happened to Ted.”    Someday you will again face Leila. I think she will not thank you. You know how she was after she had been utterly outrageous. Contrite. Loving. Generous. All of it.”

“Elizabeth and I were very good friends. We liked each other. We enjoyed each other’s company. If I had my choice of being in Chicago on Wednesday and Dallas on Friday or the other way around, and found that a good friend with whom I could enjoy a late supper and relax was in those same cities, yes, I would arrange my schedule to do that. So what?”

While Craig and Bartlett went to confront the sheriff, Ted worked out with the Nautilus equipment in the men’s spa. Each piece of equipment he used seemed to emphasize his own situation. The row-boat that went nowhere; the bicycle that no matter how furiously pedaled, stayed in place.

There was something indefinably different about Sammy’s apartment. Elizabeth felt it was as though her aura as well as her physical being had departed. Her plants had not been watered. Dead leaves rimmed the planters.

Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye.            —Shakespeare

Then, as if his composure, his sense of order, had abandoned him, he leaned forward, his head in his hands, and began to cry.

Funny—when you’re just listening to people, you get a different perspective than when you’re sitting with them.          Alvirah checked her microphone to see that it was securely in place in the center flower of her sunburst pin and delivered an observation. “Voices,” she declared, “tell a lot about people.”

But she was seventy-one, Alvirah comforted herself, and it must have been real quick. That’s the way I want to go when it’s my turn. Not that she expected it to be her turn for a long time to come. As her mother said, “Our women make old bones.” Her mother was eighty-four and still went bowling every Wednesday night.

Carmel was still crowded with summer tourists, college students getting in one last fling before the fall semester. When he and Leila walked through town, she’d stopped traffic. The thought made him pull his sunglasses from his pocket. In those days, men used to look at him with envy. Now he was aware of hostility on the faces of strangers who recognized him.          Hostility. Isolation. Fear.          These last seventeen months had disrupted his entire life, had forced him to do things he would not have believed possible. Now he accepted the fact that there was one more monumental hurdle he had to overcome before the trial.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/The_Murder_of_Roger_Ackroyd_First_Edition_Cover_1926.jpg

It is odd, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the. voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial.

Had she taken her own life? Surely, if she had done so, she would have left some word behind to say what she contemplated doing? Women, in my experience, if they once reach the determination to commit suicide, usually wish to reveal the state of mind that led to the fatal action. They covet the limelight. [ i do not agree men covet the limelight equally…….if not more]

Do not disquiet yourself. It is not with me a habit. But you can figure to yourself, monsieur, that a man may work towards a certain object,  may labour and toil to attain a certain kind of leisure and occupation, and then find that, after all, he yearns for the old busy days, and the old occupations that he thought himself so glad to leave?”The chains of habit. We work to attain an object, and the object gained, we find that what we miss is the daily toil.

The most interesting work there is in the world.”The study of human nature, monsieur!

I risked the substance forthe shadow.’


 

 

One can press a man as far as one likes – but with a woman one must not press too far. For a woman has at heart  a great desire to speak the truth. How many husbands who have deceived their wives go comfortably to their graves, carrying their secret with them! How many wives who have deceived their husbands wreck their lives by throwing the fact in those same husbands’ teeth! They have been pressed too far. In a reckless moment (which they will afterwards regret, bien entendu) they fling safety to the winds and turn at bay, proclaiming the truth with great momentary satisfaction to themselves.