Issue 214, Fall 2015
I met them there, at my grandfather’s—Zoe Sills, Duncan MacGregor, Evangeline Feld, Peter Lofgren, Coral Durance, Greta Seifert, Roman Karsk, Pansy Resnik, Tara Foley, Luther Kaminsky and Austin Arles. All of them, and so many others. They were playful and self-indulgent, and, probably because they spent most of their time like children, pretending, they were great fun for a child to be around, even blighted as they were by the famous self-destructive habits and narcissism of actors.
The youngest of them are now old, those who are left. My grandfather passed away decades ago. Evangeline, Pete, Tara, and Zoe are long gone, too, and the others are fading away. But I still think of the little gestures of kindness those friends of my grandfather’s made to the lonely child I was, and I wish I could repay them now, so many years later.
In fact, this attempt to memorialize my grandfather and his friends, to record these intimate glimpses of their lives, began out of an old debt to Pansy, who found me crying one day when I’d skinned my knee. She took me to her home and cleaned the cut gently and carefully, although I could smell the alcohol on her, and she put a Band-Aid on it. And then we merrily ate too much peppermint ice cream together.
The memory returned to me suddenly not long ago, when I attended a Christmas party where peppermint ice cream was served, and I resolved to look Pansy up. After many efforts, I traced her to the dilapidated apartment complex where she was living, neglected, in one room with only a hot plate to cook on. And though she seemed to confuse me with someone else, she clung to my hand and there were tears in her old eyes, as if some distant memory was sending its sunny rays into her cloudy mind.
What to do about all this horseshit? Nothing, really, nothing. But still, the ones who are left, those who happen to be in New York—Duncan, Coral, Roman, and Luther—have collected, on this glassily brilliant autumn day, in the noisy bar of a restaurant that Roman likes. Emma has been included, too, although if it weren’t for this so-called memoir, these old friends of her mother’s would no doubt have forgotten all about her. Even in the book, her existence is confined to pages 48, 49, and 316.
“You see, he’s inserted himself into the story,” Luther says, jowls trembling with indignation. “Clement Rouse—who is this putative grandson of Anton’s? Whoever he is, it’s not his story. He’s inserted himself into it.”
“Rather a shame his mother didn’t send him out to play with lions and tigers,” Coral says, as the maître d’ shows them to their table with a flourish that suggests he’s produced it from thin air.
Roman, all wiry eyebrows now, grunts. “Actually it is his story, the Clement Rouse story, the story of a guy who thinks he should have gotten to hang out with some people who hung out with his grandfather instead.”
“I think I should have gotten to hang out with William Shakespeare,” Luther says. “Maybe I’ll write a book about my intimate glimpses of William Shakespeare’s life. For heaven’s sake—Luther Kaminsky and Austin Arles, Luther Kaminsky and Austin Arles! All through the damned book it’s ‘Luther and Austin,’ ‘Luther and Austin.’ What about Luther and Greta, please!”
“She was a wonderful woman, Greta,” Duncan says. “May she rest in peace.” He pats Luther’s arm.
They haven’t even gotten settled yet, they’re still bumping around the table to kiss and embrace Emma, the last arrival. “It’s absolutely outrageous,” Luther is saying. “It’s like something Greek—he’s assassinating his dead grandfather! This is how people will remember Anton’s life. This is how people will remember ours.”
Roman grunts again. “Well, in the first place, you can’t remember someone else’s life.”
“I can’t remember my own life,” Coral says. She takes Emma’s face in her hands to survey her with bright, birdy eyes before kissing her on both cheeks. “Hello, Cookie,” she says in that familiar whisky voice. “Oh, my. And what is this wild, orgiastic time we were all supposed to be having?” she says to the table in general as she sits down. “What were you guys up to when I was at work?”