Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bea's Novel (1)

Deep in a closet, I discover a draft of a novel, which was never published: Circle, Circle, April 16, 1975. It begins,

“To express emotions freely, deep emotions. That’s what we all want. April 16, 1941.” She scribbled the words on a small piece of paper, then slipped it into her desk drawer. There, in that weird place, 485 Madison Avenue, CBS headquarters, it was wildly incongruous even to have such a thought. To write it down helped.

Her desk was in an open area where the Education Department swung into the News Department. She looked up. The two men who sang the Pepsi-Cola commercial were walking by. They carried their ukuleles like mallets and, for some reason, wore leis around their necks as well as Hawaiian shirts, as if in anticipation of television. Soon she would hear, “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot … Twice as much for a nickel too. Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.”

H. v. Kaltenvorn, has already hurried past. Even when he hurried, he kept his solemn, Germanic dignity. He always seemed about to report a crisis – with dignity. Now he was checking with the boys in the newsroom on last-minute happenings. In a minute he would enter the Sound Room to broadcast the latest harrowing information from the warfronts of Europe.

Sometimes she stayed to listen. Tonight, no. Let’s see. She started to close her desk. Her friend, Kameladevi, would be on the Thursday afternoon talk program, this time from Washington. That was all set up, with pick-up cue from New York. No loose ends to attend to. Just in time to get a bite to eat at the Automat before taking the subway to the psychoanalyst. That letter from Virgil Thompson, where was it? She stuck it in her purse and scooted for the elevator.

On the subway, she read the letter again. He thanked her for her note of condolence and appreciation for his Tribune obituary tribute to Elsie Houston. Elsie was his friend, too.

Why had she done it? “Committed suicide” – strange words – killed herself? This was the first time she had known anyone who did. She thought of Elsie’s program, just two months ago. “Life in Latin America.” Elsie had sung songs by Villa Lobos: “The Donkey-Driver,” “AAAAOOOOWAY.” Sara could hear the sad sound, then again recalled the lilting quality of the voice, like a rare bird born to sing, the haunting music so expressive of Brazil. Maybe Elsie should never have left? Ah, but with a Black father from Texas, it was inevitable that she would want to see his country …

It had been such a coup to get her to sing on the program! Such CBS Education programs had little or no budget. That hadn’t mattered to Elsie. And now this fiery woman was dead. Why? Was it enough reason to be jilted by her French lover? How she must have suffered. It was hard to be partly Negro.

To Riverside Drive at last. “The forsythia are out,” she said to Dr. Witt as she proceeded to lie down, always self-consciously, on the couch. It wasn’t long before she was talking about suicide. Whose? Such a nice man, even if he didn’t understand English very well. He was a lay analyst but before that he was a poet, Rheinhold Neiburhr’s brother-in-law, gentle and comforting.

People wondered why she stayed on in the Education Department at $35 a week and managed to support herself on that amount. Vassar friends did not question her intent. They, too, had been fired up by Professor Helen Lockwood, the spinster-Kodak heiress, the English Department’s social service dynamo. Not so, Mr. Rouke, head of CBS publicity. He couldn’t figure her out. Here was a pretty face, a pretty figure. Why did she waste her time in Education? No money, no future there. When she wore her light brown hair down with the curls tied in back by a velvet ribbon, Mr. Rouke called her “George Washington.” That’s as close as he came to flirting …


Blogger Robert said...

Your mother seems like she was a remarkable woman. Thank you for sharing this. A search for "Elsie Houston" brought me here--if you are interested in learning a little bit more about the singer (who seems to figure in your mother's imagination) please see my Elsie Houston page.

1:54 PM  

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