(Go here to see the first chapter of this novel, soon to be serialized on the Dumont Television Network, starring Dick Powell as Buddy, William Powell as the Mariner, and Eleanor Powell as Joan.)
“Ah, Buddy, so there you are! Awaiting your cue, no doubt. Ha ha!” He clapped a hand on each rail post and leaned forward, looking like he was about to leap. “And is that a Cuban you’re so surreptitiously smoking?”
“Uh, no, actually it’s a --”
“There is no cigar like a Cuban cigar! I think it’s simply criminal this trade embargo, don’t you? When I come back from a civilized country like France I literally fill my pockets
He was shouting, as if over the roar of a raging sea.
A decade later Buddy and Joan were finally getting ready to go when all of a sudden the Ancient Mariner’s gnarled claw thrust something into Buddy’s hand.
“Keep me in mind, Buddy,” said the Ancient.
Buddy looked at what was in his hand: the Mariner’s headshot-and-résumé. Headshot being at least twenty years old and on a good day at that.
“Uh, yeah, sure,” said Buddy.****
On the drive back it was, “No, really, I thought you were great.”
“Thanks, Buddy. I really worked hard on it. And Stephen helped a lot. He helped me to -- to open up to the character. You know?”
Joan was driving, because Buddy had been drinking, and she had probably had only one glass of wine because wine was fattening and because the evening had not been torture for her.
“What did you think of the boy who played Brick?”
“Oh, he was fine.”
“He was pretty bad.”
“I know. He’s so dense. I just couldn’t get any energy from him.”
“Yeah, well --”
“What did you think of the rest of the show?”
“Well --” Buddy knew he had to be careful here.
“Come on, you can be honest.”
Yeah, they always said that.
“Okay,” he said.
He took a stab. Even if it did mean breaking his rule about mentioning to Joan any other woman between the ages of one and one hundred.
“Well, I kinda liked that French girl in the first piece.”
“The French girl?”
Joan did that thing where she took her eyes completely off the road so she could stare at him. Time to backtrack, and quick, before she wrapped the car around a fucking palm tree.
“Just kidding,” said Buddy. “She was way, way, too --”
Thank God she turned back to the road.
“French girl,” she said. “Ooh God damn la la.”
There you go, this was why you had rules. So Buddy pulled a Joan tactic -- except in her case it wasn’t always a tactic but a result of the nearly complete nonlinearity of her thought processes -- he changed the subject:
“So, is there a Mrs. --” he was going to say “Mrs. Mariner” but quickly subbed the less inflammatory -- “a Mrs. Stephen anywhere?”
Joan stared straight ahead, her lips tight. He’d fucked up. He’d gone and mentioned yet another woman, even if he never had laid eyes on her. But then Joan’s face softened.
“That was very tragic,” said Joan.
So maybe he hadn’t fucked up. But Buddy knew he had to give her her cue before she could go on.
“Yes,” she said. “She died in childbirth, or shortly after childbirth anyway.”
“Giving birth to uh --” what-the-fuck-was-her-name -- Lucretia?
“Yes.” Joan didn’t say the name, for whatever reason. “She’s his only child.”
“Wow, that’s uh --”
“Tragic,” said Joan.
“Yeah. You don’t hear about too many childbirth deaths these days.”
“No. It’s --”
Oh, his cue.
“It’s been an issue he’s had to deal with.”
Buddy looked out the window. He was hungry, and he started to think about food and what there was to eat at home. Oh yes. She’d made a batch of this homemade ravioli stuffed with something. And there was that thing of pesto she’d made, too. A fuckin’ tomato from the garden --
“A guilt issue,” said Joan.
“Just -- you’re not even listening.”
“Yes I am.” Uh oh.
“What am I talking about?”
“Um, about, uh, Stephen, and, uh, his wife --”
If Buddy had been an actor he would have said, “Line!”
“Guilt,” said Joan. “Stephen’s issues of guilt.”
“Yeah, right.” Pause. “What’s he guilty about?”
“About his wife, dying in childbirth.”
“Ah. But -- why should he feel guilty? I mean, shit happens. He didn’t get drunk and forget to drive her to the hospital or something, did he?”
Joan took a beat here.
“She didn’t go to a hospital.”
“She didn’t? Why not?”
“Because they wanted a natural childbirth.”
“Oh. But can’t you have a natural childbirth in a hospital?”
“They chose not to. They chose to have the child at his cottage in Brittany.”
Buddy felt he knew where this was going, but all he said was:
“Of course they had a midwife on call --”
She glanced at him, but he kept his big mouth shut.
“They had a midwife on call, but she had another birthing that same night, and so she got there late. Too late.”
“Why didn’t he just go get a doctor?”
“The local doctor was on vacation.”
“So Stephen had to deliver the baby himself. She was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.”
“Yeah. She almost died too. And then Stephen’s wife started hemorrhaging. He said the blood was just pouring out of her -- like a broken water main.”
“Okay, okay, I don’t want to hear it, thanks.”
“So -- he has issues. Or he’s had issues.”
“Well, I can see that, but -- you know, it takes two to tango, and if she was dumb enough to want to have her baby in some shack out in the sticks, with no doctor --”
“Well, Stephen feels guilty because he thinks he might have sort of talked her into it.”
“I mean, she did agree.”
“It’s something he’s had to deal with. In therapy. And in his art.”
So, the man was not only just a fool. He was a fucking damned idiotic fool.
(But who is really being made a fool of here, Buddy? At any rate: continued here. Please go to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. A David Susskind Production.)