Today I am delighted to be able to share with you a captivating short story by David Appleby.
"Do You Know What Ava Gardner Said?"
A Short Story by David Appleby
Author Bio:David Appleby is the author of "Moon Alley," a novel written in the form of connected stories and cited byamazon.com's 'top 10 reviewer, Grady Harp,' (Los Angeles) as "a solidly unique voice...and a highly recommended first novel," and was praised by 'Book View Ireland' for its "pleasing symmetry of structure and convincingly drawn picture of a once-thriving area."
His new book is titled, "Love Sketches," a collection of short stories which explores the "sensuality of romance and the varieties and vagaries of love." One of the stories in this collection has been anthologized in "Short Breaks: The Very Best of Shortbread Short Stories," published by Discovery Press, Scotland. It has also been recorded as an audio narrated by the distinguished British actor, Paul Jerricho.
The author, a recipient of a PEW Fellowship, is a graduate of Temple University
"Do You Know What Ava Gardener Said?"
by David Appleby
“So he asks me this: “Do you know what Dorothy Parker said when she was told that President Calvin Coolidge had died” I looked at her, waited for a response. But nothing came despite the fact that my entire face practically screamed out at her, begged her to ask what Parker had said. Oh, the hell with it, I thought; I may as well blurt it out. And I did.
“How can they tell?” is what Dorothy Parker said. There was no response at all. “He’s dead? How can they tell?” She continued to wear the same expression as she did when I asked the question. “Coolidge was a boring, do nothing President. Did nothing. How can they tell he’s dead? He looked like that when he was alive! She was my roommate, my ‘dorm-mate’ in college, my good friend. I reminded myself of this as her blank look turned to ice. A moment later she asked me a question.
She—her name is Melody—asked me this: “Would you like to be in my wedding?” Before I could react she asked me another question: “Would you like to be a bridesmaid?”
A bridesmaid.? I loved the idea. I loved the word, bridesmaid; actually, it was the maid part that I really loved. Well, not maid, but maiden, as in ‘fair maiden.’ I immediately formed some visuals . . . King Arthur and his court, fair maidens in gowns, walking in a line, on display. A nice touch to it, bridesmaid. Of course, Camelot. A fair maiden of Camelot carrying her lady’s flowers. Me in a gown, too. Maybe, most of all, me in a gown.
“Oh, Melody, I’d love to be a bridesmaid in your wedding.” I explained that my imagination had run to King Arthur, “And me in a gown carrying a bouquet of flowers ‘for my lady in waiting’ and, “by the way, Melody, do you know what Richard Harris said when he was a bit tipsy and slipped from his horse and fell in the mud during the filming of Camelot?
Melody. Her dumb look. Her block-of-ice face.
“Richard Harris said, ‘Oh, shit! Thanks a lot, Cam-e-lot.’”
Melody. Her dumb look. Her block-of-ice-face.
And then she shocked me. And I almost fell over. “I want my wedding to recreate the opening scene of Roman Polanski’s, ‘Tess.’”
I wanted to faint but I was too excited. “Oh, Melody! What a beautiful idea. We all wear white. The opening scene. Oh, my God. We all carry wheat stalks and wear white and . . . .”
“And dance in an open field. Yes.” Melody’s wide smile thawing it’s way across her face.
“We don’t carry flowers. The girls in the film carried wheat stalks,” I repeated.
“Yes. No flowers. Just me, I have flowers in my hair. Just like Nastassja Kinski in the movie. And we’re all a bunch of virgins dancing in the meadow. The three men watching us are my boyfriend, well, fiancé at that point, and his two buddies; William is such a nice guy, the other is a dirt-ball, but that’s they way it goes. The minister will be way up front and he’ll walk his way into the meadow.
“Yes, virgins. What the hell do you think all the white signifies anyway?”
“Well, white and green, the fields all green. You know fertility and life and . . . .” Who are the other girls, by the way?’ I sneakily put my hands behind my back and crossed my fingers. Why I did this I wasn’t sure.
“Well, of course Ramona and Janice,” Melody responded quickly, splaying her fingers and ticking off two at once. “Three girls I work with, and four girls from the sorority. And you. That’s eleven, counting me.” I held my pinkie finger for number eleven. “One of the girls, Elisabeth Colbert, she’s also in my art league, is the eleventh. She’s really a back up in the event one of the ten—not me, of course—can’t make it, quits, or becomes ill. I want ten of us in the wedding party doing the dance.”
“Wow.” I thought for moment. But I couldn’t resist saying this. “You don’t look like Nastassja, Melody.”
“Fuck you, Nancy! Nobody looks like Nastassja Kinski. Not in that movie, anyway. Damn you!”
“I’m just saying, Mel. And this virgin thing. You’re not a virgin, you know. And I don’t think I am either.”
“Well, I’ll put on my virgin face and my white dress and you can imitate me. OK?”
“The flowers in your hair. White.”
“No flowers for me?”
“No flowers for any of you guys. We’ll practice the dance. Jesus, Nance! Are you in or not?”
“I’m in.” I said, straining to hide my joy.”
* * *
You see, it comes back to this. I majored in art history. Melody was a painting major, the two of us opting for the old feminine standby in college. She’s a pretty good painter, covers the fields—watercolor, oil, acrylic—and unlike many painting majors, she knows how to draw. So to all of that add graphite, pencil, charcoal, and well, you get the picture. She’s a success. She’s had a couple of ‘one woman’ shows and has begun to build a little bit of a reputation in Bucks County, Pennsylvania as a post-impressionist, Bucks County style.
She’s also a bit spoiled. Comes from a Main Line Philadelphia family, old money, and that allowed her to do her junior year at the Tyler School in Rome. Now she’s marrying into another old line WASP family. Her boyfriend, (he hit on me about a year ago—before he met Melody, but he was drunk at the time, so that hardly counts) is a patented dork. But he’s an investment banker dork, and that counts with Melody. With it all, I like Melody a lot, and consider her a good friend. On the other hand I don’t exactly have a big batch of friends either. So she and I are going on six years now. We know one another’s ways.
I teach a couple of survey courses at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and write a movie review column for a dying newspaper, (but aren’t they all dying?) and am now syndicated to several other papers. (Yes, they are all dying.)
So why all the background info? Well, when you’re in your twenties you really don’t have anything to say about life, you don’t know anything about life, having gone to college is all you know about life. You haven’t really lived. You studied. You made friends And then you graduated. In your twenties, let’s face it, you don’t have anything called ‘life,’ in your life.
I know half of the girls, ‘fellow-maidens,’ in Melody’s wedding, and all are college friends in their mid to late twenties, as is Melody and myself. To the best of my knowledge, none of the five girls is a virgin, vestal or otherwise. And according to Melody, same thing with the others. That, as I said, includes Melody. I’m not sure about myself. Sounds strange, I know. But as Damon Runyon would say, ‘a story goes with it.’
I had been invited to a party at Melody’s mother’s house on the Main Line. Devon, to be exact. A lot of drinking, of course, and all of it supplied by her silly parents who by the way permit their children to call them by their first names. So it was not a surprise to hear Melody call her mother ‘Nicky,’ and her newly divorced father, ‘Smedley.” I mention this to note that this is what might
be called an ‘open household.’ Melody’s mother, a cosmetically skinny fifty year old, had given Melody the key to the liquor cabinet before the party had gotten under way, and in no time, she and her ex-husband went out for the night. In short order, the boys from Princeton and Haverford College helped themselves to the liquor cabinet contents. Before the night ended, I had passed out; was it a Mickey, as my parent’s generation called it, and since retagged by my own generation as a ‘date rape’ drug? Or was I simply as drunk as the rest of them?
So, was I? Or, did I? That is the reversible question. Of course, the next morning I awoke in my dorm bed with a ferocious hang over. I made a small suggestion to Melody, asking about a guy named William. Melody told me I was crazy. “My friends are the most honorable people I know,” she groaned into her own hangover.
I didn’t tell her that I had found a few streaks of dried blood on my inner thigh. A touch more on my panties. And I was weeks from my period. I also took note that Melody knew only her own kind of people. And then I dismissed it all, fearing self-importance built on a doubt. And mostly I simply did not feel ‘different.’
But then, there was the blood.
So I bring my doubtful virginity to this recreation of Roman Polanski’s ‘Tess.” Yes, me, a questionably chaste girl in white. Not necessarily a bridesmaid; not necessarily a bonified fair maiden, either.
* * *
We met early one Saturday morning in the open meadow of Nockamixon Park in Bucks County. We found a dirt road fenced on either side and wide enough for the girls to walk three or four abreast. From beyond, a hillock, a wide open space, a fence further away that rose and dipped along an outcropping, lovely and visible. Melody looked at me; I looked at her and smiled and nodded. It was perfect for the opening scene. We couldn’t have chosen a better location.
I convinced Melody that since we were maidens, virgins all for the day at least, we should all have a ring of flowers in our hair. She was too happy to tell me again that that idea made no sense to her. So she approved it as a wonderful idea, not remembering that she had nixed it earlier on. We all met that Wednesday at a costume consignment shop on South Street, and had no trouble fitting ourselves into long white cotton dresses that looked very much alike, that is to say, the dresses were plain and simple, as they were in Polanski’s movie. The men would wear white shirts, black floppy ties, dark colored trousers. Melody’s fiancé, she said, had found a suitable straw hat.
The wedding was scheduled for the following Saturday. No rehearsals necessary.
Don’t get me wrong. I was very truthful when admitting that I do like Melody, and quite a lot. Whatever I said of her, add that she is stuck-up, ritzy, and tends toward obnoxiousness, but it’s all genuine. So when we assembled at her father’s house in Buckingham to change into our white cotton, Victorian dresses—newly laundered, thanks to ‘Nicky’s housekeeper who had been put to the task—Melody, oblivious to all of this, gushed: “Oh, they’re so . . . . white and fresh-looking.” I winced. But I also assumed that I would play director, and get everyone in order and in character. I had assumed correctly. “Christ, Nancy, I can’t think straight,” Melody said as we were dressing. “When we get to the hill will you see that we get the dance started? I figure we can all sing Ring Around The Rosie and hold hands or something.”
“Jesus, Melody. You saw the movie with me at the Temple Film Society.”
“I forget it now. I’m too nervous, plus I’m marrying this guy, you know.”
“That’s a goddamn nursery rhyme, Tess,” I laughed. I saw her eyes well up, and I instantly put my arms around her. She was getting married. Room mate. Dorm mate. The first of us to get married. It counted for something. She was beginning her life. I held back my own tears.
I recognized him in an instant. The boy I had been with the night of the Main Line party, Melody’s party. Several years—three exactly—had passed, which is nothing, life-changing event or not, for what’s three years when you’re in your twenties, and have nothing in front of you but your destiny? I shivered in the sun as he approached. I signaled for the dance to begin. I wanted to get away, be on the move somehow. We girls formed a circle, holding hands and began to frolic into a skip, humming a tune we all knew. We paired off, locking hands, the three men outside the circle, watching and waiting. He, William, one of them. Soon they joined us, and immediately he positioned himself to dance with me. Melody and I partnered and as we improvised our romp we naturally danced away from one another, moving in and out of what was left of the circle, William loosely moved into Melody’s vacated space and folded his arms behind his back to began the most curious dance in front of me. He looked silly as he attempted to follow my movements—when I spun around, he spun around; when I back peddled, he sashayed forward, and as I glided back to the girls, he glided with me. I wanted to dance though my mounting nervousness and hide the small tears that were welling in my eyes. He smiled at me the entire time, and as the dance slowed and everyone broke into laughter
and supreme gaiety, spontaneously, we girls surrounded Melody, enclosed her with hands held tightly above her. And in this way we side-skipped her to the minister. Her fiancé was waiting there. I looked over my shoulder and saw William angle his way through the knot of girls to take his place up front as best man to the groom. In short order he removed something from his vest pocket. It was a pair of wedding bands. He arranged them in the palm of his hand. The ceremony began with Melody reading a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning; her new husband-to-be read one by Dante Rossetti.
I had watched William smiling throughout. He lifted the rings from his palm and passed them to the bride and groom as they readied for their vows. My thin sheet of anger had no staying power. I realized it had existed at the time, but that it had also been built on a doubt from the start. Standing there in the meadow I thought back to that morning after, and yes, I did not feel different. I felt stupid, not despondent; not frightened. Just stupid.
Melody turned to find me among the girls. She smiled at me, a tender expression capped by the glistening of her eyes. I felt warmed by her glance my way, finding me, and realized at once how much I cared for her. I was swept by her obvious happiness, and allowed a tear to fall.
William kissed the bride quickly, hugged his friend, and walked into the crowd of virgins. He headed toward me. I wanted to half-smile, but that didn’t work. So I met his smile with a pliant glance as he approached. He pointed to the side and said, “Look, the caterers are setting the table.”
“Good,” I answered, my stupid to his stupid.
We walked to a table and each of us took a bottle of water. Folding chairs had been placed at a long table. He took two and we walked to a tree and we sat together in the shade.
“I tried to call you after that night, tried to reach you the next morning. I called from the airport. The phone rang and rang, but no answer.”
Ramona, I thought. Her habit of pulling the plug from the wall.
“You were zonked out cold,” he went on, opening my bottle first, then his. “Do you remember?”
“Oh, I remember all right.” I felt a spasm race down my arm. My right hand became inert, and I immediately seized my arm and pulled it quickly toward me, tipping my water bottle. “Sorry,” I said, for some water had splashed on his leg. “Why were you calling?”
He brushed at the water on his trousers, offering me a “No problem.” My heart raced. Here it comes, I told myself. He proceeded. “I called because I wanted to check on you and find out if you were all right. We both had a lot to drink. We were laughing like two nuts, trying to kiss but couldn’t find one another’s lips. Do you remember?”
I didn’t remember. “I was that bad?”
Do You Know What Ava Gardner Said?
“Both of us. Finally we got on target. We were sprawled on the floor in the upstairs hallway, then we sat up against the wall. I was worried I’d throw up on you.”
“Jesus!” My ability to move my fingers made a slow return to my hand and I switched the water bottle to confirm this. It worked, but my stomach crashed, as if my nerves were trying to find a new home, from heart to hand to stomach. He continued, speaking tentatively, saying things that were clearly a preface to something else, something more important. “You want to tell me something?” I said, turning to him fully. “Do so then. I’m a big girl. Can’t you see, Mr. Best Man?” His slight smile, his serious eyes. “I’m listening,” I added softly.
“I telephoned that next morning from the airport to apologize to you. Apologize for what I did. How I behaved.” He looked down and away. I did the same, feeling flushed. I could feel the crimson wave roll from my neck to my face. My pounding heart had returned. In the next moment I felt that I was going to cry. I wanted get up and run. He put his hand on my arm as if he had anticipated my desire to bolt.
“I know this is awkward for you—if awkward is the word, somehow I think not. But it feels so that it’s something like that but more. I want to tell you all of this, Nancy.”
He paused, drank water, a long swig. And then looked down as if speaking to his shoes. “You were really tipsy and kissing me like crazy, and we had pinned ourselves to the wall. And then I did something I should not have. I put my hand up your dress while you were kissing me and you pulled away suddenly and said, ‘Stop! Don’t!’
“I pulled my hand back and felt the blood seeping through the couple of band-aids. I looked at my finger and the blood had already moved to my wrist. I ran into the bathroom to get a towel and when I got back to you—it was less than ten minutes, not more—you were stretched out on the floor asleep.”
“You were bleeding?”
“Yeah, I had cut my finger when I was rinsing out some wine glasses. It took forever to stop the bleeding. Finally is seemed ok, and I had about three good-sized band-aids on it. And then when I did that” he took a deep breath, looked to the tables, “when I went up your dress and you recoiled, I felt the blood in the palm of my hand as I pulled my hand away. But I want you to know that I stopped because you told me to stop. I called you the next morning because I wanted to tell you that I’m the guy who takes no for an answer the first time it’s given and obeys it immediately. That’s why I did what I did, pulled my hand away, because you said so. My bleeding had nothing to do with it. I didn’t even know I was bleeding at that point.”
My tears came on schedule. I cried softly, I held my free hand to my mouth. He put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, “Nancy, I’m so, so sorry. Please
know that I’d never be unkind to you; I’d never behave toward you in a way that would cause you to disrespect yourself or me.”
I wiped my tears, knowing that I’d have to think about that last comment. But the look in his eyes, his entire expression told me all I needed to know. I thanked him for being a gentlemen. He showed me where he got five stitches that night that he left me and drove to the hospital to have an ER doctor close the deep cut on his finger. He scar was noticeable, and I touched it with one finger.
We returned to the long table, he carrying my folding chair as the gentlemen that he is. As we walked I said to him, “Do you know the name, Dorothy Kilgallen?
William turned to me. “Kidding? Sure, I did a paper for my honors class in American Social History on gossip columnists. She was a big deal, a big celebrity, and even had some questions about the Kennedy assassination. Yeah, what about her?”
“Well, I wonder if you know what Frank Sinatra said about her. Do you?”
“He said he’d offer a reward for anyone who found Dorothy Kilgallen’s chin.”
We laughed out loud, a unison laugh, as I called such. I zoned in on him and was convinced that his laugh was genuine—no lip service in that laugh, I told myself.
After some minutes of silence he said. “Do you know what Ava Gardner said when someone told her that Frank Sinatra had married Mia Farrow?”
Oh, my God. Did he actually say that? I stopped, flurried my lovely white dress, my fair maiden gown, and like the virgin I was, coquetted myself shamelessly, flashing my Maybelline eyelashes his way. “Tell me what Ava Gardner said.”
“Ava Gardner said, ‘I always knew Frank would end up in bed with a boy.”
My mind raced to Roman Polanski’s classic film, ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ Mia Farrow in her boy-cut hairdo; long, skinny arms, and she so gawky in her sexless, skin-and-bones figure. Wow!
I gave William a quick kiss on the lips. He returned one of his own just as quickly. Both of our kisses precisely on target.
End of Guest Post
Love Sketches on Amazon
Appleby's blog is HERE and is very interesting.
I will be posting in the next few weeks a number of additional stories by the author and am greatly honored to be allowed to share these wonderful stories with my readers. I will also do one of my "normal" posts on some of his longer stories.
Again my thanks to David,