It was going to be a beautiful night, the air was balmy and sweet. The day had been uncomfortably humid. Mia had decided to walk across the park to enjoy the air, and had sent Julie home ahead of her to lay out her dress and run her bath for the party. She was always cold, so she wore an outfit that for most would have seemed burdensome in that weather: a pair of slacks from England and a shirt with a peter pan collar. When she wore mini skirts she was recognized more frequently, so she tried to avoid it. The park was lovely, it reminded her of Narnia.
She had gotten three things from her agent: a script for a movie, a script for a television show, and a book that was being turned into a script. The first script he’d said might “warp her talent with intellectualism,” and the book he’d said might be “too lurid.” He’d said the television script was solid, and would allow her to do what she did best: react.
What she liked about the park was the nature, which was her favorite environment. Although she had to spend most of her time in New York, or sometimes LA, for work, she often found time to travel up to her country house in Connecticut, where she felt she could reconnect with herself, and become spiritual again.
As she reached the East side of the park, the traffic lights on Central Park West turned red and the cars pulled up and stopped at the pedestrian crosswalk, just as Mia stepped off the sidewalk. She didn’t even have to break her pace. In the middle of the street some older women who looked like housekeepers said Hello and that they’d loved her in Peyton Place. She slowed down for a moment to smile at them, and continued walking towards home. Mike, the doorman, said hello and finally the heat had broken, and Mia said yes thank god. She went into the lobby over the long red oriental rug, glancing at herself in the long gilded mirror which reflected back her image into another mirror, and another after that. Without makeup she looked like a little girl.
Julie had laid out a blue suede minidress on the bed, and a mink stole. “I think maybe the Ferragamo shoes?” she’d said when Mia stopped by the kitchen to say hello and ask the car to be brought around. Julie knew a lot about fashion by this time, having worked for Mia for almost five years.
She got into the bath and opened the book. It was set really near her house. The plot was this: a woman and her husband move into an apartment in an old building. They fight about money. She wants to have a baby. The bath had been very hot when she’d gotten in, and she laid in it so long that it was almost chilly by the time she got out. She wrapped herself in a towel and kept reading on her bed. The book was getting increasingly scary, and it didn’t help that it was set in her own neighborhood, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York, New York. Just at that moment, the phone rang. It was Woody.
“Hey you,” he said.
“Hi!” she said. She felt grateful, as if his voice was calling her back to reality. Woody hated creepy stuff and she didn’t mention the book.
“I was just wondering if you’d like to ride over with me tonight. You’re on my way, you know.”
“I’d love to. I had Julie call for a car but I’ll tell her to cancel.”
“Great. I’ll pick you up in an hour.”
Before she left she went into the playroom where her children were all sitting and watching My Mother The Car and told them to be good for Mrs. McGarrigle and goodnight. She told them she loved them.
When Woody and Mia arrived at the party, the hostess was standing right there. She was tall, and on top of that she had excellent posture.
“Hi baby,” she said and kissed Mia. They’d once done an episode of a television show together. The hostess had played a French woman. The hostess also kissed Woody, who began telling an elaborate and funny story about something inconvenient that had happened with the electricity at his apartment. The punchline was “Now I know your husband is in copper, so will you ask him if he has something in for me, personally?”
The Beatles were at the party, all looking good in tuxedos and black ties, except for Ringo, who looked a bit slovenly. Mia danced with him anyway because she felt bad for him, and imagined he must have insecurities. He tried to put his hand on her ass.
She went back to the table where Woody was sitting and talking to Peter. Peter was his old friend from stand-up days.
“How’s Mr. Charisma over there?” asked Woody, wiggling his eyebrows back and forth between Mia and Ringo, who was now dancing with someone else and Peter laughed.
Mia just laughed and shook her head lightly. Peter refilled her champagne glass.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her. “I’ll get the waiter.”
“I haven’t got much of an appetite for some reason,” she said. “Maybe it’s the heat.”
“At least try this,” said Woody, and he pushed his plate towards her. She looked at the steak. She picked up a knife, but she didn’t eat it.
“I hear his wife completely took off, without a word,” Peter was saying “He’s never going to even meet his kid. It’s terrible.”
“He can’t do anything?” said Woody. “I mean legally, not physically.”
Peter and Woody were laughing.
There was a beautiful arrangement of white flowers in a sort of pyramid near the table, which Mia could reach easily. She did so now and tugged off a flower, then charmingly held it, looking at it as if fascinated. Woody was talking about the little girl, a cousin or something, who’d lived with the man and his wife, the wife who had left. , “You know, people get so hysterical,” he said, talking faster, “they really do. Here’s every reason a mature adult should be able to maintain a friendship with an ex-girlfriend, or even an ex-boyfriend. Mia still talks to Frank, honey, don’t you?”
“Of course,” she said, swallowing an invisible bite of steak. “He’s one of my dearest friends.” There seemed to be a very long pause. Mia felt sometimes as if Frank was an imaginary friend, hovering near her where no one else could see. Their relationship had always worked best after he had said something to upset her or offend her, and then had seen her putting on a brave face, trying not to make a fuss. Then he would try to make it up to her. He would apologize and she would accept his apology. There was something about this cycle that felt deeply right to her, like it was some ritual she had buried in her unconscious from ancient times, and when they went through it, her doubts about their relationship lifted, and she felt herself held in a cool, hushed world of civility and dignity, through which she could move with Frank as easily as a hot knife cuts through liver. Now, whenever she had a brave face on, it was easier to pretend that Frank was there.
“Obviously, it was something she needed to do as she was growing up,” Woody was saying. “Looking for a new father after hers left.” He was talking to Peter, but looking at her. He turned back to Peter and continued, “and it’s nice to see that she’s not uptight about looks. Or education. Or criminal delinquency. But! He’s a friend to Mia.” He smiled magnanimously. “And that’s all that matters.”
Woody had never said anything so mean before about Frank. It reminded her of when she’d finally admitted she masturbated, but instead of saying it to Woody, she said it in front of him, in a crowd of people drunk at a party. She wondered if Peter was drunk, and Peter, meanwhile, asked her how work was going.
“I’ve been given a sort of interesting book, that’s in development,” she said.
“What book is that?”
“Oh sure, that’s a real big deal.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard of it.”
“Yeah, even I read it, and I usually stick to cereal boxes. Have you finished it?” Mia shook her head no.
Woody imagined himself as Mia, imagined what it would feel like to feel Frank’s cock getting hard on his thigh.
“Who’s directing?” Woody asked. Mia told him, and Woody said, no kidding, I’ve met him, he’s the real deal. Woody asked what happened in the book.
“You don’t mind,” Peter asked Mia, “if I sort of spoil it? How far along are you?”
She told him.
“Oh boy, it’s just about to take a real turn. You sure you don’t mind?”
Mia said she didn’t mind.
“So the old guy she’s friends with who warns her about that building, says it has a bad reputation? It turns out he’s completely right. The place is full of Satanists. That old couple next door to the girl and her husband start getting real friendly with them. They talk to her husband alone... When Rosemary becomes pregnant she becomes increasingly isolated, and the diabolical truth—that Rosemary’s baby is the Antichrist—is revealed only after she gives birth.”
Woody stood up, saying I can’t stand this kind of thing, you know me.
Later, Mia was high and drunk. She’d been introduced to John Lennon at the party who was much skinnier than she’d expected, like Jesus. Ringo and Paul had gotten her stoned. She’d lost track of Woody.
Some people were still sitting at their dinner tables or dancing in the huge room where the band was playing, but many had wandered away in little groups, carrying bottles of champagne or whiskey they’d lifted from the cocktail tables, trailing their laughter down the corridors. She realized she’d been walking for a very long time, and it was only the first floor of the house. Either she’d managed to get lost and wandered in a circle, or it was the largest house she’d ever been in. She passed through a long hallway lined all the way down with a very cold, very long mirror, and she watched herself walking. She had to admit she looked great, like a woodsy spirit, someone who’d play Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Was it any wonder she had two boyfriends, both doing very well for themselves?
The hostess had married an Austrian duke, and that was why the house was so beautiful. Mia stumbled over one of the oriental rugs. Mia’s dad had died of drinking, sort of, so she tried not to become an alcoholic. But tonight something was bothering her. She passed through a room all done in green, with beautiful green chintz and darker green wallpaper, a print she knew was William Morris, classy. An old man with a beard in a loud paisley suit was sitting on a gold couch in the room, talking softly and persistently to a Chinese girl who looked twelve or thirteen. He asked Mia if she knew “the way” and smiled toothily at her, but she just laughed, and, without waiting for him to tell her, kept walking. She passed into a less luridly decorated room, with yellow wallpaper and a piano. She sat at the piano unsteadily, and felt reassured. She remembered the last time she’d seen Frank, it had been in Las Vegas, he’d had the Presidential Suite at Caesar’s. There was a sunken living room with brown couches, which were the same color as the brown wall-to-wall carpet. After he mixed her drink, he said he was worried about her. That he knew she needed to “splash out” but that her choice of Woody was “a shyster” and he saw right through him.
“Look, I thought what we talked about was a more stable future, not just for you but for me too. I want to have a family, I want to bring our children up in the church.” They were both Catholic and believed in most of it. “And this guy. Have you really thought about him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you sure you want to raise your kids up around that?”
“Like what? Because he’s Jewish?”
“C’mon.” They’d argued.
“Stop trying to control my entire life!” she’d said. They’d had sex but she felt disconnected and stared at the upholstery. They were still married then but going downhill.
Mia heard the muffled giggles of a group, and followed the sound to a door she hadn’t seen in the corner. When she reached for the handle, she touched a mirror; somehow, she was back in the first long hallway. The wine had begun to creep on her, she thought, and now she heard the giggles again. Mia walked down the hallway, back toward the sound. She stopped at a door on her right, swung open a third. There was a room behind it she didn’t think she’d been in.
All the lights were off in the room, and just as she stepped through the door, the laughter stopped. One voice shushed another voice. Mia wondered why she didn’t say hello? Who’s in there? She thought she saw shapes in the room, beginning to move.
“There you are!”
Mia whirled around, Woody standing right behind her.
“I’ve been looking for you!” he said, taking her by the elbow and turning her away from the door. Mia followed him up the hall a little unsteadily.
“I think I’d better head home,” she said, “I’m all screwy from that champagne.”
“Just one second, honey. Wait till you see who’s here!”
He led her into the room with the yellow wallpaper. A man was standing there examining a map of Vietnam on the wall. He was short and stocky with a floppy head of brown hair.
“Mia meet Roman. Roman, meet your new star.” Roman, smiling without showing his teeth, shook Mia’s hand. She said, you’re the director?
“That’s right,” said Woody, “isn’t it a wild coincidence? Even more surprising than the two of us getting along so well, a Pole and a Jew!” Everyone laughed and Roman nodded crinkling his eyes. Mia noticed that Woody was full of energy. He didn’t drink much but he took pills, which made him soggy or wild, depending.
Mia felt faint, and sat suddenly down in a David Hicks chair. She knew its size probably made her look child-like and frail. Roman sat in the other chair and pulled a paperback copy of the book out of his jacket pocket. He was asking if she’d read it and what she thought. She said, honestly, that she was afraid it would give her nightmares. Roman paused after this, and seemed to think.
“You wouldn’t have to be in that world,” he said finally. “You could skim over the surface of it, without sinking in. That is who she is, after all, just a woman like you, who wants what you want, hoping to make a home for herself.” It had taken her a little while to get used to his accent. As he spoke, she reached into the neck of her Pierre Cardin dress and down to her shoulders to pull up the straps of her bra. She had been going braless in keeping with the political fashions of the time, but had to stop when her breasts had started aching twenty-four seven.
“How about a nightcap at my place?” said Woody, coming over to them. As she tried to stand up, Mia realized she was very, very drunk. She grabbed the back of the David Hicks chair. She was swaying like she was on her parents’ boat. She said Woody’s name and sank back down on a chair, thinking “luckily.”
“Uh oh,” he said, grinning. “Are you alright?”
She said, “I don’t know how I started feeling so confused.”
They were in a cab, then. The Beatles came on the radio and Mia found it so hilarious that she laughed until she couldn’t breathe. Everything was funny to her. She hoped that Woody and Roman weren’t feeling jealous of each other, and she tried to make them both feel better by acting very detached, avoiding any attentions to either one of them, until they had nothing to do but talk to each other about their work. Mia laughed and laughed.
“I think we shouldn’t wake someone up,” said Mia when they were inside the house, listening to loud strange music, a chorus of voices singing in a language she didn’t recognize.
“Your maid has the night off,” said Woody.
“No,” she said. “There’s children here,” she said.
Roman lifted up the rug as if to look. “Children, were?’ in his ridiculous accent.
Mia thought, don’t be a jerk, and rubbed her right temple with her fingers, “no, my children.”
Woody said, “Didn’t I tell you she was funny?”
Roman was sitting next to her now, and he was smoking: indoors! He kissed her, which was confusing, but she wanted to be polite. His lips were different than other lips she’d kissed, she could feel the wrinkles in them, and they seemed to fold inward like a snapping turtle’s beak. It was more like he was trying to get a piece of fruit off of a flat surface with his beak than that he was kissing her. His mouth was dry and bitter tasting.
The lights dimmed, and Woody had come back into the room. She wished he’d change the record to something less creepy. She shut her eyes and thought about Dolores the makeup girl who was so nice to her. She sometimes thought about what it would be like if Dolores could manually stimulate her to an orgasm while she sat in the makeup chair, after putting on Mia’s cream foundation and eyeliner and powder.
One of them rolled her onto her stomach and told her to get up on her knees, so she got up on her hands on all fours, but once he started fucking her she lost her stability on the couch, which was very expensive and maybe a bit narrow for this, oddly slanted and lumpy for how much it had cost, so they moved onto the rug and continued.
She woke up around dawn and the first thing she felt was a contented cozy feeling of being asleep. Then she felt her stomach twisting painfully, stood up and walked unsteadily to the bathroom, feeling the vomit already beginning to rise in her throat. It burst out of her mouth with a lack of control, and some of it splashed over the side of the toilet. Because she hadn’t eaten much the previous day, it was mostly transparent liquid with a faint orange tint. Where was Woody? She thought he had come with her. She flushed the toilet once, and then pulled some toilet paper off the roll to wipe up the vomit on the floor. She dropped the dirty toilet paper in the toilet and flushed again.
She managed to stand up, with some difficulty, walked unsteadily back to bed and fell sound asleep. When she woke up again the room was full of sunlight, hurting her eyes. She yelled “Julie!” a few times but there was no answer. The house was very quiet. She reached for the phone next to her bed and called Frank.
“Hey kid,” he said. Mia said hi with a dry mouth. Frank tried to sound tough, “how’s it going?”
“Okay” she said, and couldn’t think of anything else normal to say, so she whimpered, “I have a hangover.” This made both of them more relaxed because Frank liked solving her problems. He told her to write down his favorite cure, which he’d learned from Robert Mitchum: gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water, and soda water. He reminded her that it was so good that he called Mitchum “Mother” and sent him a card every Mother’s Day to thank him. It was a story she’d heard him tell before.
“So, what brings this on?” he asked, “or are you just after my recipes?”
She said she didn’t know, she guessed she missed him, and that she was just feeling down.
She told him she was doing this movie, and it scared her, and things kept feeling, off.
“Does this have to do with that guy?”
“Do you need me to send someone around?”
“Oh Frank please, that’s horrible.”
He said she knows he’s a softie, where she’s concerned at least “But if you need legs broken, all you need to do is call.”
After they got off the phone she yelled for Julie and this time Julie appeared, folding a sheet, wearing lipstick, her brown hair pulled back in a headband. Mia gave her the piece of paper where she’d written down the recipe and Julie smiled at her knowingly.
“Have you ever tried doing your own facial? You hold your face over a pot of very hot water with a broken teabag in it, and cover your head with a towel, then let the steam deep clean your pores.” Dolores was leaning over Mia, with a brown pencil, giving her a touch up. Mia’s usual porcelain complexion was starting to show signs of wear after the weeks of shooting in heavy make-up. Dolores become more than a makeup artist, she was the only female friend Mia had!
They were sitting in Mia’s little dressing room, which Mia had painted pink, with flowers, butterflies, and the words peace and love all over the walls. Mia’s hands resting on her huge pregnant belly, waiting for her call. Ruth Gordon, who played Mrs. Castevet the Satanist, came into the dressing room.
“Wanna run that new set of rewrites?” she asked. She was always smiling.
“Sure,” said Mia, “I’m just waiting for my lunch.”
“Of course, you’re eating for two now!” said Ruth, slapping Mia a little hard on the back. Ruth said let me tell you about this wild new script I’m reading, I know you won’t steal it from me because the part if for an ancient old lady! She said the script was about a very old lady and a teenage boy falling in love, romantic love, and wasn’t that something. Mia was a little disgusted by tried to be polite. Just then her lunch arrived, a liverwurst sandwich and chocolate pudding. It was the kind of thing she never would have touched before, but since filming had started she craved things like that. Her kids teased her about her eating habits.
Something hard crunched in her mouthful of pudding, and she spit it out in her napkin.
“Look, look at this!” she said to Dolores and Ruth, who was still there talking about Ruth’s new script.
“It’s a little piece of plastic!” cried Ruth. “Outrageous! What are they doing in craft services anyway!”
“It looks like a pill casing,” said Dolores softly.
“Let me see it,” said Ruth, “it does look like a pill a little bit. But I think I know what happened: the crew must have been working nearby and gotten some of their materials into the food! I’ll go give them a little slice of hell.” Mia said she didn’t want to get anyone fired, but Ruth waved her off, clucking in concern, and was gone. Mia and Dolores exchanged amused looks: Ruth was a real character.
Roman tapped on the door, “Ready to go?”
“Yes,” said Mia, and followed him out.
As they walked past the crew, working on the set for the dream sequence where she’d be raped, Mia noticed one of them was wearing a mask.
“Why is he wearing a mask?” she asked Roman.
“Who’s wearing a mask?”
“That guy up in the cat walk, he must be lighting crew. Like a Halloween mask”
“I didn’t notice! Are you sure it was a mask? Honestly, some of these guys are back from Vietnam, and you know, they have the scars”
“Yes, it’s so terrible, it breaks my heart.”
“I’m just glad to give them work. People need work like they need food and water.”
Mia and Roman had become close, ever since the day Mia had been served with Frank’s divorce papers on set, in front of the whole cast and crew. She’d fallen to her knees, sobbing. He had moved back to New York and wanted to know where they stood, but she’d said she still didn’t know. In the documents he had enclosed a note that said he was tired of waiting for her to get this out of her system. She had curled up in a ball in the kitchen where everyone could see her, and Roman had cleared the set. He’d given her some space and then told her that she should take a week off. Mia refused, she wanted to get back into it. She got up off the floor, stopped crying, and someone brought her a sandwich. She could see Roman looking at her with respect and pride. That day they were shooting a scene where she walked against traffic in the middle of the road. They hadn’t blocked off the street or gotten a permit, so it was just regular traffic. Roman pointed to her stomach and said “no one’s going to hit a pregnant woman.” He’d followed her through the honking, swerving cars himself with a hand held camera, since no one else on the crew was brave enough to do it.
They arrived at the party. “What’s he doing here?” she asked Roman, interrupting his conversation with a camera man. She’d seen Woody standing towards the back of the sound stage, talking to Ruth. Roman shrugged and said he didn’t know, he guessed it must just be a visit to say hello. It wasn’t like Woody to show up that way, though. One of the things that drove her crazy at first was how inconsistent he was, never showing up on time or remembering her birthday. But she loved him so much that she did what she had to do to get a response from him. She’d learned that sometimes this took driving up to wherever he was shooting and tracking him down on the set. Now she understood he just had certain problems that necessitated understanding. He had a genius to him, an innate understanding of tender secrets, even if he couldn’t say so in so many words. She waved at him but he didn’t see her, he was talking so animatedly.
The party began. Upbeat music played and the crowd was young and attractive. People were dancing and drinking. Her husband was annoyed that people were smoking inside, but Rosemary told him to mellow out. She wasn’t feeling hungry but she wasn’t feeling full either. The action of the world felt sort of trembling all around her, a constant vibey shake, there was all this activity.
Her girlfriends gathered around her, feeling her stomach, congratulating her, wearing bright prints. They seemed worried, and stroked Mia’s shoulders and arms,
“Are you alright?”
“Isn’t he feeding you? You look so tired, baby.”
“You’re supposed to gain weight, not lose it!”
Gradually the women surrounded Rosemary, and forming a circle around her, moved into the kitchen. Roman’s wife was there, and Dolores, and Julie.
“You look like a piece of chalk, honey, what’s going on?” said Julie. Mia couldn’t help it, she started to cry. She told them everything,
“I feel like I’m going crazy,” Mia said, “like I can’t tell what’s real or where things end and begin anymore.” She told them about Frank, and they were shocked and outraged that he broke up with her through courier. She told them she’d been going to Mass again and didn’t know why, since she identified as just spiritual now. And that she knew that she had had one biological child, or seemed to remember it, but everyone around insists that all her children are adopted. Her pussy hurts so much, but it’s probably nothing.
“There’s something else too,” she said, “I had this weird mental experience I don’t understand, and I’m so ashamed of myself…” She told them about the thing she’d imagined about Woody and Roman and the couch, and how worried Woody had been about her the next day, how he’d told her she’d passed out in the car, and fallen down in front of the doorman in her building. He’d said he thought she’d better start seeing someone and would as Saperstein, his shrink, for a recommendation.
The women listened and listened.
Roman yelled “cut” and the scene wrapped. The women dispersed and started talking amongst themselves. Mia walked off the set. Roman was talking to the DP. Nobody said anything to her. She walked over to where she’d seen Woody, and asked someone from costumes if they’d seen him. They said no. She walked around some more looking, but had to sit down before she was able to find him, she felt so weak. The crew swirled around her. There was a ringing in her ears. She thought, “boredom creates negative thinking.” Something kicked inside her. She thought, I’d rather be in my dressing room, I should stand up and walk over there. I don’t need any help. I’ll stand up, in front of everyone, and walk right over. But when she tried to stand up, she couldn’t. Someone walked by carrying a child, which at first only struck her as odd, and then she realized it was her daughter. Her daughter didn’t see her. “HEY! STOP! COME BACK!” she wanted to shout, but nothing would come out, and she watched the man walk past the kitchen set, and then past the living room set, and past the Roman and Ruth’s living room set with the baby bassinet, to open a door. The sun outside marked their departure in bright light before he stepped out and the door shut behind him.
Photo: Samuel Lang Budin