Edith

 

(Not again!) The deathly numbness Edith feels as she attempts to wake constrains her (stop!), condemns her (go away!), confirms her nightmare's stealthy grip. It crept up unawares (no two beginnings ever are alike), appearing harmless (though its strike, each time, injects an awful venom). Edith lies as if in state, yet fully conscious of the poison that distorts her purest images (flowers smell noxious; grass blades hurt). When she envisions her beloved, joy itself is put on guard. A sense of dread disaster yet-to-come marches lockstep toward that moment when the dream proves unendurable, prods her conscience to the brink of utter darkness, black despair (at being forced to watch the dance-macabre approach; its hooves are silent; sleep's conspirators bind and gag her; she can neither flee nor warn). Her instincts tremble (at the danger undisclosed yet close at hand). Her cheeks feel seized as by a rictus. Wafer-thin eyelids are no barrier to "The Usher"—him, or 'it' that leads her psyche toward destruction, him or 'it' that wears the camouflage of mortality (splintered teeth and sun-bleached bone). A fractured grimace set in somber wood, a smirk of charred remains, the visage hovers (Edith wards it off—without a muscle twitching). It ignores her ineffectual protest, sneers at her paralysis, makes a mockery of the pain that stabs her full (superfluous) breasts (which never suckled, save but once; her milk was squandered like her teardrops). Edith gapes, inept and breathless, at this disembodied head, this horned dilemma, poised to recommence its nightly rites and revels. 'Demon clown,' describes the cast of its most sinister dichotomy. 'Droll tormentor,' it assaults her whose inertia weighs like lead (like sins of foolishness, pride, naiveté, and conceit). Her child's abandonment is the lever worked by him, or 'it' that clears a savage throat, prepares to voice a chant of unknown lyrics, drone some bass accompaniment for the spastic histrionics that comprise its grim ballet. A lewd performance is this heathen's antic. Edith stares, ashamed—despite her captive-audience innocence. How invent these strange gyrations? How imagine howls so primitive? How conceive this mask of malice from a life and times so tame and set in 'the wilds' of East Peoria? How delay, stave off the part when Graham (synonymous with The Usher, side by side, a double image, each at odds but still in sync), when Graham (detached, the twins no longer twins, forge separate souls—friends/enemies; which is which is hard to tell; one kneels, the other shifts its weight), when Graham (his posture, like a penitent, bows; a birdlike shadow circles; moonlight glistens on the outspread limbs of him or 'it' that soars, assumes the aspect of a raptor set to swoop upon its prey), when Graham (a tragicomic scavenger come to earth, its toes form talons, thumbs and fingers flare like pinion feathers, arms shape mantling wings), when Graham (its muzzle vents a raucous outburst—snort or shout or caw, as if confused about its species, bull or man or looming buzzard; there is something almost whimsical in its nature, almost playful—irrespective the malignant club its knuckled flesh-hooks raise), when Graham (delivering such a mighty blow atop the hapless skull that he who bears it grins bizarrelyeyeballs rolling, backbone arching, torso pitching in a swoon at once contorted and resigned), when Graham lies dead—at which point Edith sits bolt upright.

Dream or real? It is this question Edith asks herself all morning as she wavers, as she lays out clothes, then puts them back, then lays them out again. Concerns of what to wear on such a mission offer some distraction from her number one dilemma: does she dare to pay this call? So many years have passed in exile; she has earned her meager stipend. Much was sacrificed; all for nothing, if this rescue goes amiss. Yet on such insubstantial evidence as her nightmare how convince them that their son may be in jeopardy? They'll dismiss her as a crank. Or worse, suspect her of extortion now that Graham, at last, is famous—on the verge of stardom, anyway. So impetuous seems her quest that Edith balks. Why let the Doubletrees deem her selfless cares ulterior, when the hope of their responding more befittingly seems remote?

(You had a dream, Ms. Murray? There now, there now; calm down; don't you fret, dear.) They would coddle her with politeness aimed at squelching her resolve.

(You haven't tried to warn him, have you? False alarms are troublesome.) Or accuse her of dishonoring, on the spot, her solemn pledge. To what end risk such shabby treatment? She would suffer as the messenger. Why let contact rake up issues that are best left undisturbed?

No, she must find another way, another avenue to alert him; phone the studio; or his agent. But, again, how make her case? How raise concern with credibility when her pretext is intuitive? And, most daunting, how prevail when she herself is nondescript, a complete nonentity?

(Edith who? Are you related to Mister Doubletree?) Not genetically—nor by virtue of a bond she can divulge.

(What's your connection? Are you threatening Graham; is that it?) They'd be skeptical. Possibly hostile. And the upshot? She'd be shrugged off and ignored.

At least the Doubletrees knew her history, could appreciate her solicitude—if selective memory had not blotted out the awkward truth and cast suspicion on her reappearance. Words might be severe, intent on damning her for daring to initiate interference in a life Graham lived apart—apart from Edith, that is, shielded from awareness of her role.

(Have you gone daft? Of all the nerve! To turn up now—years, decades later—with some trumped up, cock-n-bull story, and expect we'd show you anything but the door, defies belief!)

The hypothetical slights and slanders keep their heel on Edith's gumption. Loss of confidence makes her put away her best dress one last time, its royal blue so complimentary to the warmth of her complexion, so consoling to her troubled heart and vacillating mind as it evokes a cherished memory from the not-too-distant past:

 

The glad occasion was an opera. She had gone on opening night—a grand, if ultra-rare, extravagance—ever-hopeful, optimistic, she might catch a glimpse of Graham. And there he'd been! Not in the boxes, where she'd loitered till the lights flashed; in the cheap seats. Unescorted. Down the very same row as hers. Not closer in, but near the outer aisle. He stood, while she inched past him, in a hurry to secure her place before the theater dimmed—at which point Graham moved right beside her! She could hardly breathe for joy. Throughout the overture, dint-of-will alone had held in check her rapture. Four full hours of constant company! She was thrilled beyond describing it. Every instant of his presence was a precious gift from God. Whom she had thanked with silent prayers, right then and there, for granting miracles: Graham's proximity, glorious music, shared experience side by side—as befit a mother with her son (or such was Edith's running fantasy) thus the evening would be rendered unforgettable.

Still, the acts on stage defied her wish to prolong them, racing by, until the house lights guided those with short attention spans to exits, while the weak-of-kidney beelined to the restrooms. Others mixed. Her mute companion, though, seemed disinclined to hobnob with the patrons. Graham stayed put—as did the quiet woman seated to his left. It was enough for her that he was there, mere inches from her elbow—which had known the simple pleasure of an inadvertent nudge; the contact reinforcing notions that the pair were indissoluble, joined by deep appreciation of the sets, the score, the singers, and the couple's common bondthough unacknowledged.

Then Edith peeked. A sideways glance at Graham informed her: he had turned in her direction—azure eyes examining what; a flaw? A blemish on her face? For he was staring; she felt flushed, exposed. She squirmed beneath his scrutiny. Which was not directed criticallythis was plain when next she looked—but rather quizzically. 'Do I know you?' was the subtext she deciphered. Then, their gazes finally meeting, he expressed those very words.

"Do I know you?"

Do I know you? Do I know you? Like an echo, she had heard his phrase reverberate, then and later, all night long, that wondrous night, and countless other nights thereafter, lending substance to the likelihood that Edith had been recognized. Else how explain his look, the deep sincerity of his question, asked point-blank, his gaze intense? And though her answer went un-given—they were rudely interrupted by a late-returning couple in a rush to reclaim their seats—the fact that contact had been made, no matter how inconsequentially, meant the world to her whose dormant pride regained some self-esteem, through four small syllables, "Do I know you?" In her heart she testified, Yes!

This reminiscenceoh, so sweet compared to Edith's prescient nightmarefades...

Her mind, like a tongue refocused on a cavity, probes the void, the gaping hole she feels when examining fears aroused by graphic phantoms. How a dream gainsays reality she can only guess. And yet?

She leaves her bedroom and its wardrobe for the kitchen and her scrapbook. It lies open, as if Providence has arranged to offer clues. As if the source of her foreboding might be traced, or be attributed to exaggerations rampant in the popular fan-rag press, all-too devoted to outlandish fabrications. Maybe these had spurred the pictures haunting Edith's troubled sleep. She scans the column of a fairly recent article:

 

'CATS UN-CAGED'
 

NAIROBI, KENYA: MGM,
WHOSE AGE-OLD LOGO IS A LION,
AIMS TO "SHOOT" THE KING OF BEASTS

WITH SCANT SUCCESS.

 

It seems the cats of Masai Mara are "a trifle uncooperative," says the overwrought director of an under-budgeted flick. The no-name cast and grab-bag crew at work on "C.O.C." "CARGOES OF CONSCIENCE" has been bogged down now for weeks awaiting prides to take their cue. "They hunt at night," Scott Forbes complained on his 'vacation-from-location.' We caught up with Scott, returned from Eastern Africa's famous game park, at the capital's downtown Stanley (an oasis of gentility in a country otherwise rife with wholesale inelegance). "We want to integrate shots of wildlife with the scenes involving actors in a way that makes it look as though they share the same terrain." A tricky task considering creatures in this immemorial context are as like as not to kill you—to which out-takes can attest. We saw a sample of the daily hazards; "GRAHAM UPSTAGED BY PACHYDERM" was the comic caption tagged on what proved quite a harrowing clip. The movie's lead, Graham Doubletree, nearly met an ignominious end beneath a juggernaut armed with massive tusks and trunk and trampling feet. Beware an elephant taking umbrage with your company's choice of settings; "it can cost you more than peanuts," as the victim's co-star quipped.
    
The film is more about humanity, though, than it is about predation. Inhumanity, since the metaphor 'prey' is used to symbolize 'slaves.' And Barnaby Lathrop (played by Doubletree) as a home-grown Son of the Southdispatched to Africa by his dear ol' dad to rustle up some field handsfinds a continent just as bestial as the one called "Home, Sweet Home."Except the natives, 'they be friendly'—one cute 'Hottentot' in particular. Beatrice Jillo (played by Vel Jerome) accelerates pulse and plot.
     Inject a ranting cleric, a cynical seaman, a Vlad-the-Impaler-like chief, and "Cargoes of Conscience" pulsates with uncut adrenaline—or so pronounces its press kit, prerelease.
     Expect itspring or autumnpussycats pending.

 

 

 

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