Nathan’s Private Journal, October 12th, 2011, “The Theater” – Conclusion

The kiss had taken me by surprise, but I didn’t fight it.  Instead I returned it with all the gusto and feeling I’ve always felt for her.  I think it took her by surprise, because when we finally parted she had to take a moment to catch her breath.

“You never did hold back,” she managed to whisper after a few seconds, but there was a smile on her face.   Then it slowly faded as she looked away saying, “Paul’s the same way.  The two of you are so alike.”

“Except he’s built like Mr. America whereas I’m still on the slender side,” I pointed out.  Paul Novak had been on of her muscle-man back-up dancers from her Las Vegas revue.  The two of them had been together for sixteen years, and as far as I knew all had been well.  But the kiss that Mae had just given me, was worrisome.  “Is everything okay between you two kids?” I asked.

She turned and gave me one of her trademark ‘looks’.  “Honey, if you think I’m a kid, you need glasses or to cut down on the drinking,” she smirked, but I could see in her eyes she was troubled by something.

Ignoring the opening she’d left me for a good comeback, I went over to her and asked, “What’s wrong, Baby?”

“Paul,” she answered with a sigh.

“He’s not stepping out on you, is he?” I asked in surprise.  From what I’d seen of the big man in the past, his devotion to Mae rivaled and even possibly surpassed my own.  Surely he wouldn’t be cheating on her after sixteen years.

Mae quickly shook her head.  “He’s as devoted to me as ever, it’s just…” Looking up and around at our surroundings she said, “This place is like me.  Older, falling down in some areas… while he’s still  pretty vibrant and young by comparison…”

“And can’t keep his hands off of you, right?” I finished for her with a smile.

That made her laugh and some of the old confidence came back.  “You’d better believe it, Honey,” she replied in her Diamond Lil persona.  “Not that I’m complaining, you understand?”

Nodding I smiled and leaned up against the doorway and asked gently, “So why did you kiss me?”

“Sometimes, I just wonder why he’s still so crazy about me,” she confided.  “I knew from the beginning there was a thirty-year difference in our ages, and that I wouldn’t look the way I did at fifty forever.  I see the changes, yet he’s still as in love with me as ever, possibly more.  Can he really be that happy with me or am I living in a dream?”

I’d seen her vulnerable side before, but it had been a long time ago.  Everyone believed the tough, wise-cracking, sassy-blonde act from her movies was the real her, but I and a few others knew better.   I also knew what she was really asking.  Was she still beautiful enough to fire men’s passion, especially with someone who had shared many intimate moments with her so long ago.

Before I could say anything she continued.  “You told me about your first wife, Madeleine and how she’d been twenty years older than you when you married her.”

I nodded, “She’d been married to my commanding officer and best friend, Brian Weston.  I was the one who brought the news to her about his falling at Gettysburg in 1863.  She and I married a couple of years later.”

“And you stayed with her until she died in her early seventies,” Mae continued.

“That’s right,” I told her.  And then I added without pause, “And I ravished her almost every night up until that day.”

“Even though she didn’t look the same as when you married her?  Didn’t the lines or other changes bother you?”

I’m proud to say I shook my head with complete confidence and honesty.  “She was still my Madeleine and I was as crazy about her as I was the first time I laid eyes on her when I was ten.  And had she lived another twenty years I would’ve held, kissed and caressed her every moment I could.”

“Is that what would be happening to me right now?  If I had said ‘yes’ all those years ago, you and I…”

“Wouldn’t be standing here simply talking, trust me,” I assured her and stepped closer.

She held up a hand, “Easy there, Tiger.  I’m spoken for…”

“I know,” I replied and took her hand and stared out towards the glass doors near the concession stand.  “And he’s waiting for you.”

A look of amazement crossed her face.  “Paul’s here?” she gasped, “I didn’t tell him where I was going.  Did he follow me?” she asked getting a little cross.

“No, he was just passing and I stopped him with a small dose of my mist,” I explained.  “I noticed him while I was still standing by the concession stand and you called out to me.  A part of me assumed something was up, so I let a piece of myself slip outside and got him to hang around while we talked.”

She studied me for a moment.  “Can you tell if he’s upset?”

“More like worried about you.”

“I’ve been a little moody lately, thinking about what you and I have been discussing,” she admitted.

“He loves you as much as ever,” I told her.  “Never doubt it.  And I know you love him the same way.  With love like that, age will never be an issue.”

She looked at me and smiled.  “I wish I could’ve believed you back in Roaring Twenties when you said those same words to me.  But I just couldn’t see you really staying with me as I got older and you stayed young.”

“That’s not true,” I pointed out.  “I do age, just at a much slower rate than most people.  The truth is I physically age 1 year for every ten that passes.  Remember, I was only sixteen when I joined the Union Army.”

“And now you look like you’re in your mid-twenties,” she replied with a sigh.  Then a sly grin crossed her face, “But you’re still on the scrawny side.  I like my men with a lot of muscle.”

“I’ve got plenty of muscle,” I protested.  “Remember that night when those five guys…”

She cut me off saying, “I meant muscles that show, Honey.  No offense.”

“None taken,” I assured her with a smile.  Then I took another look around us and asked, “So were you serious about restoring this place?  Or was it just an excuse to bring me here?”

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while actually,” she admitted.

“Then let’s do it,” I replied and then caught the smirk on her face.  Immediately I realized my faux pas and quickly added, “Restoring the theater, I mean.”  I could tell my face was turning red even before I spoke.

Not that it mattered, she was grinning from ear to ear.  Then she said, “Even after all these years, I can make you blush like schoolgirl.  I must still have IT.”

“You do, Mae,” I assured her, “Now why don’t you go and join Paul outside.  Tell him about your plans and then call me.  The three of us can get together and discuss how to get the restoration going.”

“Why don’t you come outside with me and talk to him now?” she asked.

“He’s been on edge for a while,” I told her.  “Finding out you met me in an old abandoned theater, may not look right, if you know what I mean.”

She nodded.  “You always were a gentleman.”

“Except for when you brought out the beast in me,” I smiled and waggled my eyebrows.

“I certainly did,” she grinned back and headed out through the lobby.

I stayed in the theater until she and Paul were gone, then I slipped out in my mist form to make sure they were doing okay.  I caught up with them as they were walking through a park, where I took a little liberty and spread myself out like a host of fireflies and illuminated their way.  I could tell Mae suspected it was me, but Paul remained blissfully ignorant.  He simply pulled her closer and enjoyed being with the woman he loved.

I did hear from them a few days later and the three of us bought the theater and started the restoration process.  We stayed close for the rest of Mae’s life.  After she passed, I kept in touch with Paul and watched over him, just as I knew Mae would want, until he joined her.  By then I was watching over her goddaughter who was now tugging at my sleeve saying, “Uncle Nate?”

I blink and find myself back in the present.  “Sorry, I was wool-gathering,” I told her.

“More like you were thinking about my godmother again, weren’t you?” Olivia teased.

“She was amazing,” I smile wistfully and look back at the playbill.  “Let’s go for it.  I think a few nights of burlesque and some vaudeville will be a lot of fun?”

Olivia smiles and turns to Gina, “See?  I told you he’d go for it.”

The Latina beauty nods and folds her arms saying, “Yeah, but what about the ‘other’ show you want to put on for next Halloween?”

“Whatever it is, I’m in,” I tell them, without pause and quickly regret it.  The two of them eye each other wickedly and pull out another poster and unfold it for me to see.  Immediately I regret my hasty words.  “And what part do you have in mind for me exactly?” I ask with a sinking feeling.

“The mad doctor of course,” Olivia smiles.

“NO!  No way!  Not happening!” I protest, but it’s already a lost cause.  Each of them has one of my arms and are dragging me off the stage towards the dressing room for a trial make-over.  I argue all the way to the dressing room, but it’s too late.  It turns out that Olivia can be just as persuasive as her godmother, and somewhere back in the theater I can hear Mae laughing herself silly.

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Nathan’s Private Journal, October 12, 2011 – “The Theater” Part IV

I stared sadly at the rows of dilapidated chairs and torn hangings.  Plaster had fallen from the once ornate ceiling, as well as the walls.   There was dust everywhere and a feeling emptiness that seemed to reach inside me.

“I’ve heard people say they can still hear the laughter and applause when they come here,” Mae told me in a wistful voice.

“I’m not one of them,” I replied with a candor and bluntness that took me by surprise.  “This place is as empty as a tomb… and yet not quite.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mae smile.  “You didn’t use to be so direct,” she remarked.

“Only with you,” I reply and turned to face her.  “And do you know why?  Because you told me that the was the way you preferred me to be.  Direct and honest.”

 Her smile widened and for a moment I could see the girl I met in this very place all those years ago.

Taking my hand she led me out of the balcony area and back towards the stairs.  As we walk, I notice the top of one of the pillars.  Being so high up, it seems to have avoided accumulating too much dust and can see the gold painted scroll work.  It glistens in the what little light there is coming through the down the stairs.

 The sight makes me smile.  To see hints of the old grandeur of the place still in tact, in spite of all the decay that surrounds us, brings a warmth to my heart.  It also raises suspicion that has been growing in the back of my mind since I got Mae’s phone call.
 

 But I say nothing.  I just wish to enjoy being with her again.  As we both said, it had long time since we’d last spent time together.  We make our way down the stairs carefully.  A fall wouldn’t do me much harm, but Mae would be another matter.  Besides, it gave me an excuse to keep her close.  Even after all this time, the smell of her was intoxicating to me.  There were so many things I wanted to say and do right then, but I kept myself in check.  She had brought me here for a reason and I was curious to learn what it was.

 Once we reached the bottom of the steps she led me down a corridor that was as familiar to me as my own name.  I’d carried her down this way one night after she’d slipped and twisted her ankle just outside the theater.  It had been snowing and the sidewalks had been slippery.  She was trying to get back on her feet when I arrived on the scene and scooped her up as if she weighed nothing.  The gesture had impressed her.  Until then she thought of me as a real sweet guy who could use a little beefing up.    She started looking at me in a different light after that.

And now, over sixty years later, we were passing this way again.  Surprisingly, the corridor was in better shape than I expected.  There were sections of wallpaper missing and the ceiling needed some work, but there was an elegance that was still visible.  As we explored, we talked about our days here and of old friends.  Some of them were still among the living, while others had left this world.  Yet, all of the ones who had been here, had left something of themselves.

I know this sounds contrary to what I said earlier about the place being empty, but there was something in the air.

Now we had reached the stage and were carefully making our way among the fallen curtains and forgotten ropes an pulleys, which I had worked so many times in my first few years at this theater.  I still remembered how to operate each and every one of them, and what they did.  I also knew how to fix them and could get them up and working again within a short time.

At that point the suspicion that had been in the back of my mind grew, but I said nothing as we continued our exploration.  Soon we found ourselves in the area of the dressing rooms.  Vandals had left their marks on the doors, but had done little else.

Another wave of nostalgia swept over me as we peaked into each room.  One of them left the two of us breathless.  It had been converted to be a prop room and there were still some items inside.  Of course time and neglect, along with some hooliganism, had left their marks here.  But what really moved me was the fact that one or two pieces of furniture I recognized.  “That table and wardrobe, they…” I began, only to have Mae cut in.

“There were in my dressing room,” she breathed in awe.  “I can’t believe they’re still here.”

“Would you like to take them home?” I asked, even though I already knew her response.

“No, they belong here.  Or rather in my old dressing room,” she said with her usual confidence.  But then she sighed and added more quietly, “Not that anyone will ever see them.”

“Not unless we buy the place and restore it to its former glory,” I replied.  “That is why you asked me to come here, isn’t it?”

Mae didn’t answer right away.  She merely smiled and slipped her arms around my neck and whispered, “The thought had occurred to me.  But there was another reason why I asked you to come.”  Then she kissed me, good and hard.

TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT TIME…

A Quick Word From The Author…

Sorry to interrupt this current story-line, but I felt it was important to let you all know what will be happening in the next eight-nine weeks.  As you all know I’m attending university classes.  What I haven’t shared is the fact that in addition to my studies I also have to perform ‘Service Hours’ for one of my classes, and that is taking up more and more of my time, along with the increased workload from my instructors.  I’m spending almost 7-9 hours a week, outside of class, to work on my Pre-Calculus homework and studies alone.

Furthermore, I’m struggling with trying to get Nathan’s first novel “The Vampyre Blogs – Coming Home” into shape and sent to Beta-Readers for feedback.  Unfortunately, with my schedule I’ve still got 50,000 words of editing to do before that happens.

What does this all mean for this blog?  I’m going to finish the current story with Nathan and his stroll down Memory Lane with Mae West next week.  After that, instead of leaving you all high and dry without any new material, I will post snippets from the novel so you can see what’s coming.  I will of course be careful not to reveal too much of the story-line itself or some of the outcomes.  I want to keep you all guessing and wondering where the book is going to go.

I can promise you will see other sides of Nathan, including some darker moments.  But rest assured he will still be the fellow you all have come to like and be intrigued by.  And as here on the blog, you will be seeing and hearing from him in his own words, but also through the eyes of others.

I hope you’ll all stay with me as the day the book is released draws nearer.  And if anyone is interested in being one of my Beta-Readers, please let me know in the Comments section below.

For those who do not know what a Beta-Reader is or what’s expected of them I’ll explain.  A Beta-Reader is a person who gets an advanced copy of the novel in its current form to read.  I will need you to read the entire story and provide honest feedback, as well as letting me know if you run across any spelling or grammar issues.  Please note, that I will need you to finish reading the entire book and provide me with your feedback no later than the end of November.  So only volunteer if you are sure you can do this.  After all, I do know the holidays are almost upon us and people will have family and other things coming up.  The book is 84,000 words long, which makes it about a third shorter than my two previous novels.

Thank you all for your continued support and I look forward to hearing what you have to say.  Again, the fourth and final part of the “Theater” story will be up sometime this coming week, so stay tuned.

Nathan’s Private Journal, October 12, 2011 “The Theater” – Part III

A hand touches my arm at that moment and I’m brought back to the present.

“Are you okay, Uncle Nate?” asks Olivia, studying me closely with those big blue eyes of hers.

I nod and sigh, “Yeah, just took a little trip down memory lane.  I met some of my best friends in this place.”

“Including, my Aunt Mae,” she smiles.  “You were thinking of her, weren’t you?”

I give her an inscrutable look and ask, “Now what makes you think that?”

“You had a little smile on your face,” she replies with a grin.  “It’s the same one you always get whenever you tell me stories about my godmother.  God, how I miss her.  She passed away when I was only seven, but I still remember how full of life and sass she always was.”

“I know what you mean,” I tell her and look out at the empty theater.  “She’s the reason this place is still standing.”

“I thought you had a hand in keeping this place alive,” remarks Gina who has joined us.  “Don’t you own the building?”

“I do, but it was your girlfriend’s famous godmother who made that happen,” I explain and once again my mind slips back across the years.  This time it only goes back to 1970, when a phone call brought me back to this building for the first time in thirty years.

The entryway was dark and there had been a bunch of red posts plastered on the doors.  The frames on the walls which usually held posters about the coming performances were empty and dark.  The sight had saddened me.  Overall, things didn’t look too bad from out here.  But when I slipped inside, that was when the truth really of how bad things had gotten really hit home.

The old concession stand was still standing, just at the bottom of a grand staircase.  Both had seen better days.  The shelves were empty, except for dust and cobwebs where an industrious spider had been hard at work sometime in the past.  But there was no sign of the arachnid now.  I stared forlornly at my surroundings, and remembered how it looked in the past.  This area was always teeming with people waiting in line to purchase some goodies to enjoy once they’d reached their seats in theater.  Some would make their way up the staircase, passing through the ornate archways at the top, while others would head for the doors here on the ground floor, which led to the main seating area.

In my mind I could still hear the hustle and bustle of the crowds who were eager to see my cohorts on stage, performing and delighting the audience to no end.  But there were no sounds now.  Just the echoes of my footsteps across the tiled floor.  Yet I wasn’t alone.  I could sense a familiar presence nearby, watching me from above.

Turning and looking up I see a vision of beauty from my past staring down at me.  Even at 77 she still made my heart skip a few beats.

A warm smile crosses her lips as she puts one hand on her hip and leans up against the railing and says, “Well, are you gonna stand down there all night or are you finally gonna come up and see me?”

Needless to say I practically fly up the stairs to.  I could’ve actually flown, but sometimes my abilities made her a little uncomfortable.  Although on this occasion she gave me a look and shook her head.  “What kept ya?  I half expected you to just leap up here and into my arms.”

“I still might, Baby Mae,” I smiled.

That made her laugh.  “There’s a name I haven’t heard in decades,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

But I could tell she was delighted, deep down.

“I’ve missed you,” I tell her.

“The feeling’s mutual,” she replies, and I can tell she means it.  For one thing, she’s dropped the sassy act.

Then she takes my arm and we start walking.  “I’m sure you’re wondering why I asked you to come here. tonight,” she says after a moment or two.

“The thought has crossed my mind,” I admit, but I’m mostly enjoying being with her again.  It had been too long.

“I wanted to show you something,” she explains, and then gives me a look.  “And I don’t mean anything naughty.”

Naturally I protested my innocence to no avail.

“Don’t give me that old routine.  I’m the one the one who taught it to you, remember?” she laughs.

“Like it was yesterday,” I reply.

Here she became more quiet and said, “A yesterday that had a lot of months and years in front of it.  And here’s the proof.”

She opened the doors to the upper balcony seating and carefully stepped through…

TO BE CONTINUED…

Nathan’s Private Journal, October 12th,2011 “The Theater” – Part II…

Staring at the playbill in my hands, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was a an old vaudeville poster, only the paper it was printed on was quite new.  Then I spotted the dates for the performance and blinked.  “December 2011!” I read out loud and then turned to Olivia and Gina, who were standing there trying to look innocent and hopeful at the same time.

“You want to put together a vaudeville show?” I said, raising an eyebrow curiously.

“More like a review of some of the more famous acts,” Olivia told me.  “And no one knows them like you do.”

“That’s true,” I admitted and looked at the floorboards of the stage.  They weren’t the original boards of course.  I’d had those torn up and replaced when I bough the theater back in 1970, with an old friend who’d talked me into buying the place with her.

I remembered feeling a little melancholy about having the original floorboards torn up.  After all, I made my stage debut on them back in 1911 with the Marx Brothers.  It was only a small part, but the brothers had made sure my brief moment on the stage had been a hilarious one.  But after that night, a number of the other performers started asking me to help out in their acts.  Soon I was spending most of my time in front of the curtain instead of behind it, like it had for ten years.  Not that I had minded.

From the day I’d started in 1910 until that night, I had worked and learned every aspect of what went on behind the scenes of every show.  From wardrobe, to sets, to actors having jitters or meltdowns, I’d seen it all and had helped out whenever I could.  By the time my friends had dragged me onto the stage with them, I’d even stood in for the stage manager a number of times.  Everyone seemed to turn to me, and so many asked time and again, “Why aren’t you out there?”  This question came up more and more after I started helping some of the performers during rehearsal by standing in as they straight man or victim.

My old pal Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the first who started training me to be a stand-in for some of his acts, but he never got to use me, as much as he wanted to.  He wanted to see me get my moment to shine and did that night, when the Groucho and company finally got me out in front of the audience, and I loved every minute it of.  Roscoe had just started doing movies by then and had urged me to go with him to Hollywood and be part of his films.  But alas, film could not capture my image and I came back here, much to the delight of the brothers.

Like Roscoe, Groucho and his siblings had learned of my true condition and found new ways to exploit some of my abilities as well as teaching me all about comedic timing, patter, musical instruments and other gifts.   We were able to pull off certain tricks that defied all explanation and even had more than one professional magician wondering how we’d pulled them off.  (But that’s a story for another entry)

 But they weren’t the only ones who were glad to have me back.  The other performers had missed my easygoing manner and how I handled things both on and behind the stage.  And I soon found that even the crowds had missed me, as well.   Even though I never headlined an act of my own, the audience always greeted me warmly. But soon my time at this theater came to an end, as I moved on with  Groucho and company to tour other bigger venues in the vaudeville circuit.  But every so often, we’d come back to this theater and it was on one of those return engagements that I found myself being asked to help out one of the newer performers, who needed a silent straight man to react to her singing.

Naturally I was only too glad to help out and that was when I was introduced to a petite fourteen year old girl, who would become one of my dearest and most cherished friends.  And in 1970, she would be the one who called me back to this theater, which had by then had been abandoned and practically falling down, and talk me into buying it with her so we could restore it to its former glory.

But, on the day we met, neither of us knew what the future was going to bring us.  Or that we’d become so close that we’d fall deeply in love.  She only gave me her stage name the first time we met, “Baby Mae” she called herself.  But down the road the world would know her by a slightly different name.  And she would become not only a star but a legend…

 

To be continued…