(Please click here to read our previous chapter, or go here to return to that faraway beginning of Uncle Buddy’s House™. “I laughed, I cried, I groaned, and finally I collapsed into a hysterical fit of giggles.” -- J.J. Hunsecker in Vogue.)
She looked at him for about ten seconds.
Then she came over and sat on his lap, putting her arms around his neck.
“Ow,” said Buddy.
“I forgot that I got shot in my leg. Here, just shift more to my right leg.”
“Is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’s great.”
“I can’t believe you stopped calling me just because of that stupid guy.”
“Well, you could have called me.”
“I know. I meant to.”
“Yeah, well --”
“Yeah,” she said.
She kissed him. It was a good kiss, it was the first time they’d kissed since almost eight months before, outside the Hotel Vancouver, on the sidewalk in a windy light rain, right before he’d gotten into his cab to the airport, and that had been a good kiss too.
She pulled back and looked at him.
“I’ll give you this,” she said. “You are a good kisser.”
“Let’s do it again,” said Buddy. “I like how you taste like good bourbon.”
And they did it again.
Then, a couple of minutes later, “Okay, I really have to get dressed now,” she said, but she made no move to get up off his lap.
“I don’t know.”
He put his nose into her neck and his hand on her breast. She made a groan.
“You still smell good,” he said. “I love the way you smell.”
“I smell like sweat,” she said. “I sweat like a pig onstage in that costume.” She put her hand on his hand on her breast. “Stop it, Buddy.”
“I have to get dressed.”
“Take your hand off my boob.”
He took his hand off her boob and put it on her hip, and they kissed again. She grabbed the hair at the back of his head. He slid his hand down her thigh and under her slip.
“Oh, no,” she whispered. “Don’t start that again.”
But he did, and she let him.
“Do you mind?” he said.
“No,” she said.
She put her face in his shoulder. He could feel her breath on his throat. He stroked her hair with his free hand. She lifted her face and they kissed some more. After a minute she whispered in his ear:
“This other guy? The doctor?”
“Yeah,” said Buddy.
“I thought it was going to --”
Her neck, her chest, her little tattoo Saturn --
“-- like be in the movies, you know, walk around, with a normal person, and hold hands, and then go home and have normal sex like a normal person --”
“That’s not asking a whole lot, is it?” Looking at him.
“But we ended up not really even fucking at all.”
“Really?” Looking at her.
“Yeah, because he only wanted to -- well, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“All right what?”
“Just -- all right.”
He pulled his hand out from under her slip.
“Hey, why’d you stop?” she said.
“I don’t know. Do you want me to do it some more?”
She looked at him and gnawed her upper lip.
“I love the way you gnaw your lip,” said Buddy.
Of course she immediately stopped doing it.
“Y’know, I absolutely never do that when I’m onstage?”
“You should. It’s a nice bit of business.”
“It makes me look like an idiot.”
She looked down and away. Buddy’s hand was on her hip. He looked at her face, watching her breathe. She raised her eyes to his. How long was it, what, eight months on, and here they were again, and with this feeling as if he’d just seen her yesterday.
“Okay,” she said.
She pulled his hand off her hip and she got off him.
“I know, I’ll turn around,” said Buddy.
She picked up the white plastic purse and opened it up. She rummaged in it, and then she turned it over and with five good shakes disgorged its contents onto the table. She stirred through the pile of stuff with her finger, and came up with a shiny black condom packet. She handed it to Buddy.
“Here, I’m sure you know how to do it.”
She stepped out of her pink slippers, then she reached under her slip, pulled down a pair of white panties, got them off, and tossed them onto the table.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” said Buddy.
Then came a knocking on the door.
“Oh, now what?” said Cordelia, quietly.
It was Thelma’s voice.
“What, Ethel? We’re talking in here! Jesus Christ!”
“Don’t you get snippy with me, missy. You have another visitor. Are you decent?”
“Of course I’m decent. Who is it?”
The door opened, Thelma Ritter opening it and with her free hand gesturing offstage and saying, “Enter the Father.”
And entered the Ancient Mariner, replete with leather-armpatched overcoat in tweed, a long nubbly grey scarf, and a Russian sable pillbox hat, Thelma slamming the door shut behind him, and --
“Darling, I -- oh! Buddy! Quelle surprise!”
Buddy in one swift movement pocketed the condom and crossed his legs.
“Oh, hiya, Stephen.”
“Ché bella fortuna! I had no idea you were in town.” Swooping over and taking and pumping Buddy’s hand with both of his own hands while Cordelia stood back with her fingers making a church over her mouth. “When did you arrive?” asked the Mariner.
“Uh, just this morning --”
“You must lunch with us, old man.” Holding tightly onto Buddy’s hand.
“Papa,” said Cordelia, now clasping her hands together over her bosom, “I left a message on your cellphone --”
“Oh! Did you?”
The Mariner tossed Buddy’s hand aside, whipped a cellphone from the pocket of his overcoat and began pressing buttons.
“Well. So you did.” He turned to Buddy. “I had disengaged the ring because I was at another matinée. I saw this simply marvelous production of Titus Andronicus. Marvelous. A very interesting use of -- space. And shadow.” (Fuck you, thought Buddy.) “So, did you see Cordelia’s performance and what did you think.”
“I did see her and I thought she was gr--”
“Of course she was, of course she was, of course -- oh, but Buddy, I have a bone to pick with you.”
“Oh. I mean, ‘oh?’”
“Yes. You said you would let me know when our latest film would be opening.”
“Oh. Well, we still don’t have an exact release date. So I haven’t --”
“Why so terribly long a wait? I am on tenterhooks!”
“Well, as I told you the last few times you called me, Stephen, the studio decided to wait till after Christmas, because --”
“But you will call me.”
“Sure, like I said the last time, it looks like early Febru--”
“Yes, yes, early Feb--, but see here, you must join us for lunch.”
“There’s no use demurring, I quite insist.”
“But, Papa --” said Cordelia.
“Um, Buddy and I were, um --”
“Yes, go on, child.”
“-- thinking of just having like a quiet like lunch together.”
“Just the two of us.”
“Which is why I called you.”
“I mean,” said Cordelia --
“-- we --”
“-- you and I, we can still get together later --”
“I should hope so. It is --” he paused, milking it -- ”Christmas Eve you know. And I did fly all the way out here solely to see you.” The Mariner cast his gaze, and his benignity, toward Buddy. Then, full of brisk plucky good humor, “I spent one day with Joan and Deirdre on the familial farm in Nebraska, and then I simply had to flee. I have this strange aversion to the Midwest. Oh, what is this?”
He was staring at Cordelia’s make-up table and for a horrible moment Buddy thought the Mariner meant Cordelia’s crumpled white panties in full view there, but seemingly oblivious to or not giving a shit about them the Mariner went over and picked up the bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year-old.
“So, have you two been having a tipple? And may I?” he asked Buddy.
“I’m sure she won’t mind.”
Before she had a chance to say help yourself he did so, pouring four or so fingers into a plastic cup and not bothering with the Evian. Time stood horribly still while he swirled, sniffed, sipped, chewed cud, and swallowed. And then, staring at Buddy, or at least staring in the direction of Buddy’s face, he exhaled, his mouth as open wide as if a dentist had just said to him: “Wider.”
“Ah,” said the Mariner, when that was all over with. And then quickly, “But I’m not so sure as I don’t prefer a good sturdy Armaganac. What do you think, Buddy?”
“Well, it’s, uh --”
The Mariner tossed down the remainder, without the ceremony this time, and tossed the cup toward the wastebasket, but onto the floor.
“Ah, but New York at Christmas! And with my only beloved daughter! So,” he said, smiling bravely, and full of the nobility of self-sacrifice, “where are you two lunching?”
He was still wearing his siege of Stalingrad hat, and a trickle of sweat made its way from under it and down the side of his face. Behind him Cordelia inched closer to the make-up table.
“Well --” said Buddy, “we haven’t really --”
“What sort of cuisine were you interested in?” he asked, as if he were interested, his eyes blinking every half-second.
“I hadn’t really --”
Cordelia reached over, grabbed the panties, and flicked them under the table.
“French?” said the Mariner, and, perhaps somehow hearing or sensing the gentle fall of underwear he turned, only to see Cordelia pretending to touch one of the bouquet of roses, or more precisely actually touching one of the roses. The Mariner quickly grabbed up the bouquet and shoved them to his nose.
“Uh, no,” said Buddy, “nothing so -- French --”
The roses dropped back down to the table and the Mariner cast a weather eye Buddy’s way.
He sat himself down in Cordelia’s chair.
“Uh, sure,” said Buddy, “Italian’s good.”
Cordelia started to sit in the one other chair in the room, on the opposite wall from Buddy, but realized it was occupied with clothes, books, a Discman and headset, CDs in and out of their cases --
“Northern Italian?” ventured the Mariner, one eyebrow cocked, as if this were an exam question.
“Uh, yeah, northern, southern --”
Cordelia remained standing, barefoot, her arms folded across her chest, biting her upper lip, looking intently into the farthest possible corner of the tiny room.
“May I recommend an excellent place?” asked the Mariner.
“Yeah, sure,” said Buddy.
“It’s --” He closed his eyes, as if summoning a voice from beyond. Buddy glanced at Cordelia, she looked at him, gave a sort of shrug then returned to staring into the corner. “It’s in the Village,” said the Mariner, suddenly opening his eyes.
“Ah,” said Buddy.
“It’s -- on -- MacDougal?”
“That’s in the Village.”
“Yes. I can’t -- quite -- recall -- the name. The most lovely authentic Tuscan cuisine. I go there every time I visit New York.”
Buddy noticed that the Mariner was wearing great high rubber boots, shiny brown, a yellow wooly trim at the top, with his wide-waled grey corduroy trousers tucked in.
“Papa,” said Cordelia, “you haven’t even been here in years and years. Maybe it’s closed --”
“Oh, but this place is an institution! It will never close! And I’m sure they’ll remember me. They make the most wonderful baccalà with artichokes and squid ink. I should call to make sure they have it on the menu today.”
“But you don’t know what the place is called, Papa.”
“Yes. Quite. But I do remember precisely where it is.”
“Well, if you give us the address --” said Buddy.
“I would know it precisely if I were in the neighborhood.” He closed his eyes again. “I can visualize it quite clearly in my mind. Tablecloths...checked...red-and-white checked tablecloths...” His eyes opened, questioningly, blinking. “Perhaps it was Thompson Street?”
“Well, look,” said Buddy, “I’m happy just whipping over to the Carnegie Deli --”
“No!” said the Mariner. “The Carnegie has gone so downhill! I had lunch there yesterday and they gave me such attitude simply because I asked them to trim the fat from my pastrami! No! You must try this trattoria! It is the finest Northern Italian restaurant in New York by far!”
“I’m sure it is, Stephen, but since you can’t remember --”
The Mariner threw up his hand like a traffic cop.
“There is only one solution.”
“I will take you there in a taxicab. Once I am in the neighborhood I am sure I can find it.”
“No, I mean, really, Stephen --”
“Yes yes yes, I insist! And on the way perhaps you and I can have a word about this new project I hear you have in the works.”
“A little item I happened upon in the august pages of Variety, you naughty man.”
“Oh -- I’m -- well, we’re still working on the script, Stephen, it’s --”
“An adaptation of Crime and Punishment!”
“Yeah, pretty loose, actually --”
“One of my favorite novels,” said the Mariner. “An absolute favorite.” And then, as if very much by the way, “And Dusty Hoffman is attached?”
“Oh, yeah, I mean, no, not exactly attached--”
“Yeah, but --”
“Uh, somehow he got ahold of our first draft and he expressed an interest--”
“In the part of Fropfiry Fropfirovich.”
“The detective. In charge of the case.”
“You mean -- Porfiry Petrovich?”
“Yes, as I said, the police detective. In the book. By Tolstoy.”
“Yeah,” said Buddy. “Uh, Hoffman’s interested in the, uh --”
“Yes. Well -- he’s quite good, isn’t he?”
“Quite quite good.”
“So he is as you say ‘attached’ to the project at this stage.”
“Oh, no. Like I say, he only just read a --”
“So he’s not signed yet?”
“Hoffman? No --”
“No, I wish he was, but --”
“-- like I say, we’re --”
“-- we’re just --”
“-- still working on the script, trying to --”
“To make it good.”
“Right. Make it --”
“The throes of creation. But -- and I say this hoping, no, knowing that Hoffman will undoubtedly want the part of the detective -- and did I ever tell you that Dusty and I shared the stage one time, oh, back in ‘67 I believe, in a workshop production of Ubu Roi -- and even then one could see his talent, although I must say he did have a bit of an -- oh shall I say -- an attitude -- but that’s neither here nor there, I’m sure he’s fine to work with now, but -- if there is some small supernumerary part suitable for an old ham like me, I warn you, Buddy, I fully intend to camp on your doorstep! Ha ha just kidding. But seriously, Cordelia, dear, throw something on, and do apply a bit of make-up, and then we shall hail a hansom and wend our way Villageward. Perhaps I shall pop in and join you for a quick bowl of bean soup and a glass of wine and then I promise I will leave you two to -- to catch up, as they say.” He rose from Cordelia’s chair. “Now, Buddy, let’s you and I step outside and let Cordelia get into her costume. Chop-chop, my dear, and remember, a touch of rouge! You look so pale.”
The Mariner waved a beckoning hand in Buddy’s direction, but --
“Stephen, look, I think we’re good.”
“I think Cordelia and I can find a nice place to have lunch on our own.”
“But, I -- but I only wanted to show you this place. It really is quite exquisite. The veal! I don’t know how you feel about veal but they have this one dish -- it’s not on the menu, but I am sure the chef will prepare it if I ask him to -- the veal is pounded, macerated, then it is air-dried for three days -- then, and only then -- it is encrusted --”
“Stephen, we’re cool, really. We’ll find some place.”
“Yeah. We’ll be okay.”
“You’d -- rather I did not -- accompany you.”
“Well, it’s just --”
“It’s just it’s been a while, since we’ve seen each other, and we’d --”
“Oh. I understand.”
“I quite understand.”
“I’ll -- I’ll wander about.”
“I love New York this time of year.”
“Of course it has started to snow, but I -- I like walking in the snow.”
“I am reminded of my first cold winter in New York. So many moons ago. Just a -- a penniless wraith with a dream from Atco, New Jersey. How well I remember my first apartment, not far from here in fact, Hell’s Kitchen, a sixth-floor walk-up infested with cockroaches the size of rats --”
“Papa, fuck off!” said Cordelia.
“I beg your pardon.”
“Leave! Do we have to spell it out? Go!”
“Oh,” said the Mariner. “All right then. And on -- on Christmas.”
“Well, Christmas Eve to be precise. And after I flew all the way out here.”
“No one asked you to come! I hate you!”
“Oh. You don’t mean that.”
“No! I do! I really do! Now go! Go! Go!”
She went over to the Mariner and began pushing at his chest.
“Buddy,” said the Mariner. “Can you believe a daughter would behave like this?”
“Well, you know -- kids,” said Buddy.
“Go!” screamed Cordelia, and she began pounding on the Mariner’s chest with her fists.
“I think I get the message, Cordelia,” said the Mariner, his voice quavery with the chest-pounding. “I think I get the message loud and clear. But, perhaps if you --”
Cordelia stopped pounding on the Mariner’s chest, but she kept her fists balled up, chest high.
And now, her eyes closed, she began to scream, loudly.
“Oh dear,” said the Mariner.
Cordelia kept on screaming. It sounded like Tarzan being castrated. Buddy put his hands over his ears.
The door opened. Enter Thelma Ritter.
“What the fuck, Cordelia?”
Cordelia screamed some more. You could tell she had a trained and a powerful voice.
The Mariner turned to Thelma.
“It’s quite all right,” he projected. “I am an actor too.”
Cordelia pointed her finger at the Mariner and cut loose with another long scream which surely resounded all the way through the corridors of the old theatre, through the ironclad stage door and down the alleyway to 42nd Street, causing last-minute holiday shoppers to drop their packages and whip out their cellphones to dial 911.
“Okay,” said Thelma, “time to go, Olivier.”
She took his arm and led him out, leaving the door open.
Cordelia stopped screaming. Buddy removed his hands from his ears.
Then the Mariner’s face and one shoulder appeared in the doorway again.
“You’ll call me, dear. Perhaps we can go to that trattoria for dinner -- and Buddy, too, of course, if --”
Cordelia said nothing. She was panting, sweating, her chest heaving. Some of her ringlets had gone wild and curled down over her face.
“Good, then. Call my cell,” said the Mariner. “And, Buddy, even if I can’t find that Tuscan place I know a superb little bistro Lyonnais in -- in Chelsea I believe --”
Thelma must have given him a yank because he disappeared.
After a couple of seconds Cordelia went over to the door and closed it. She leaned back against it, still breathing heavily, her eyes closed.
“So,” said Buddy. He stood up. His leg gave him a twinge, but that was okay. “Still up for some lunch?”
Cordelia opened her eyes.
“Yes,” she said. The tiny tattoo Saturn on her breast rose and fell with her breathing. “I’m fucking starving.”And
(Thanks so much to everyone who has read and kindly commented on this story. It means a lot to me, and to Buddy and to Cordelia. And you know the Ancient Mariner absolutely thrives on the attention!)