When they all gathered outside around the huge van that Boneyard the grip had indeed quickly and gratefully provided for Mitchell, as they watched it being stuffed full of hastily gathered camping gear, Rosie Everlasting put her arm around Chester’s waist and hugged him.
“So. How are you, honey?”
“I’m feeling great, Rosie. I fell and the mushroom caught me and now I’m alright, swear to God. I just have a hard time understanding it all, to tell you the truth.”
“Did you black out? Or did you jump?”
“Obviously I blacked out. I didn’t jump. I’m not a jumper, Rosie. I have a bad hand.”
“Don’t get mad at me, Chester. I’m just trying to help. Nothing explains, so far, why you were climbing up there in the first place.”
“I can’t help you there. I’m sorry, Rosie. I’m sorry. I’m feeling good now, though. I sure am. Want to do some skiing this Spring, should be exercising. The fall was probably good for me.”
“It isn’t Spring, Chester, it’s practically Summer. Are you kidding? A forty-foot fall couldn’t possibly be good for you. There’s something strange about this, Chester. There’s something strange about you.”
“You got that right. What do you think of Jim Rook?”
“He’s alright, I guess. Chester, who is that woman you’re with now?”
“A Petersunn woman.”
“From up north? I only say that because of the name.”
“The very same. That’s Karen Mae Petersunn. God, I remember her from high school.”
“Well, she seems very nice, in a stuck-up sort of a way.”
“She’s an odd one.”
“Man, Rosie. It’s so great that you’re finally going to be in the parade. It’s a dream come true for me, you gotta believe me.”
He hopped in place a little. The old athleticism was still with him, she noticed. Chester was like a big graceful moose, although she could not recall ever having seen a moose. Chester was a big moose with delicate hands, she thought, although mooses surely didn’t have hands. He would be able to manuever his way through any glassware store with perfect ease. He was light on his feet, she thought, and always had been. He had a slap-happy look on his face and his hand stayed in his pocket even as he hopped.
“You know, Chester, don’t you go anywhere without me. I’ve got to make a telephone call,” said Rosie. And she ducked inside Stage Six to find a place where no one might hear her, especially Chester. She called Shirley Anne up in Beaver teeth. It was ostensibly to report that she just loved the script called “I Am The Drifter!” which Shirley Anne had sent her. She was lying about loving it, of course. She hadn’t even read the damn thing when she saw that the title alone was enough to burden it with the awful weight of amateur failure, but she was desperate, she told herself, and had better think seriously about money and the future now that this guy Stump she’d been going out with was turning out to be a child molester or something. At any rate, she had decided not to marry him. She was glad of this now, because Jim Rook seemed so very, very interesting.
She had always felt some small store of affection for her ex-sister-in-law and she let that carry her along as she gushed over the prospect of being part of Shirley Anne’s stupid movie, a movie that wasn’t very interesting – she was sure – to those Assholes-in-Hollywood, but was something of which an Artist could be proud mostly because of the deep Spiritual Overtones that permeated every page. Certainly the title page, of that at least she was sure.
Shirley Anne had become famously rich with this bogus spiritualism. Rosie had read of her exploits with Chief What’s-His- Name in several magazines and had been meaning to call her, partly just to talk and partly to find out about Chester without having to call him up directly and give him any false hope. She was not unaware that Chester had loved her and she would bet money that he did still. She herself could never love the brother of a man she had slept with, much less borne children for, but Chester was so nice and so normal.
“He’s gone completely crazy,” said Shirley Anne, after they had mercifully talked “I Am The Drifter!” into the ground.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s certifiable. He … oh, I don’t know. I shouldn’t say this. He does things like steal credit cards from my husband.”
“That’s nothing. I actually can’t say because my lawyer wants to have all his birds on a wire or something before we go back to court.”
“Ducks in a row. Shirley Anne, who did you marry?”
“He’s a local guy. I’ve known him forever. He has a car agency.”
“He’s rich.” Rosie stated it flatly.
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I … you know.”
“You mean you’re so rich you don’t know how rich he is?”
Shirley Anne let the laugh that sank a thousand hearts bounce off the ceiling and into the phone to sail out over electrons all the way down to California. That laugh, the instrument of the devil, Rosie remembered Chester saying once. Despite the meaness of this little woman, the laugh would carry like an angel’s song. Shirley Anne had a beautiful laugh and Rosie could imagine her little blonde kewpie-face lit up with joy as it pulsed through her like a Spring bell-ringing. Even Rosie found herself momentarily disarmed.
“I see you in the papers all the time, honey.”
“Oh, Rosie. You’re the famous one. I’m just a small-town hick with a little local business.”
“With all these Hollywood people running up there and buying ranches to get near you? How many horses do you have now?”
“It’s not horses. We’re breeding llamas and Rosie, you ought to see them. They’re so cute! Oh, God. Your heart just falls out of your blouse when you see them. One cost two hundred and seventy-six thousand dollars!”
“I heard they spit.”
“Not if they’re in tune with their surroundings and locked in their Animal Embrace with the Plant Brain and the Greater Feelings. You see, we don’t feed them living grass. We feed them with the seed which is offered up by the Goodness of the Plant Brain as a gift to us all. We will not rape our Sisters, the plants.”
Rosie found this kind of talk insane. In all the years she had known Shirley Anne, she had never seen her confront anything real or painful except to invoke some New Age bullshit or other in this same annoying manner. Corvin poked his head in the door and she covered the phone with her hand as Shirley Anne chattered on about the Plant Brain and the Choosing to come.
“They’re down in the parking lot with the crazy van, but they want you to hurry up,” said Corvin. “Swear to God. They’re talking about going camping and never coming back because of the end of the world or something. It’s just extreme.” He laughed. He was having a good time.
“Say hi to your Aunt Shirley Anne,” she said, holding up the phone.
“Hi, Aunt Shirley Anne,” he proclaimed dutifully. God, he was a good kid, she thought.
“He sounds huge,” said Shirley Anne.
“He is, he’s hundreds of feet tall.”
Corvin grimaced and disappeared. He wore a New York Mets cap backwards and a New York Rangers warm-up sweatshirt studded with pricetags and a hood in spite of the California heat. His drapy pants were on inside-out. He poked his head back in the door and made a goony face and circled his finger at the side of his head and made Rosie laugh so that she had to cover the phone again. Shirley Anne was not universally admired. On the other hand, her own son wore his pants inside out. Who was to say that Shirley Anne was not right? Gauged by the standards of the non-spiritual world, which Rosie knew she despised, Shirley Anne had done very well indeed. There was something to making your enemies envious, Rosie supposed. The best revenge, she thought, was never to let your enemies know they were your enemies.
In fact, Shirley Anne had done so well in the secular world that she owned a huge ranch at the foot of Stick Mountain in South Beaverteeth set in rolling acres of green grass cut out of the thick forests and her wealthy clients came from as far away as New York and – in the case of one memorable evening for the Beaverteeth Police – Dubai. These worshipers did not come to see her, of course. They came to see Chief Smoattle, of whom Shirley Anne was but a stunned messenger. The Chief entered into her – entered through her – in deep, moaning trances which she induced by sitting quietly, primly even, her hands folded in her lap and her eyes closed and her feet set close together with knees drawn up a bit, on a little stage, after about ten minutes of a clever lecture about how she never knew if the Chief would even appear at all, and how each client’s money was not refundable. Then the lights would dim low and with her head bowed, only a soft amber glow – like an old Christian halo – would rise up from a head of hair that even Amber Bernstein, the movie star – who should know – said was the most glorious head of hair she’d ever seen. The client audience would begin to feel excited now. After a time, Shirley Anne would begin to breathe deeply, and then a troubled, little-girlish look would fall across her pretty face and the breathing would become greater, almost a sobbing and then her eyes would turn up in their sockets and some deeper voice would surge up out of the depths of her soul. All the many Hollywood actresses – especially Amber Bernstein (who, after all, had once been nominated for an Academy Award) – could not detect a hint of acting in any of this, or so they said. That was the thing they all loved about Shirley Anne, she was so real, so genuine. Looking for all the world like an adorable little girl cleverly mimicking her own beloved grandfather, Shirley Anne would then summon forth into her voluptuous body the deep, masculine voice of her Great Friend, the Spirit from Time Beyond, Chief Smoattle the Eternal, who, when he nameless first came into her body, years ago, in an otherwise uneventful Psychic Awareness and Guiding session at the Yoga Center in Midden, seemed to be a joke, as if Shirley Anne were doing some lunatic impression of Yul Brynner in “The King and I.” Then, for the next forty-five minutes (some cynics might say, to the minute) with her eyes half-closed, her body hunched and swaying, often taking the characteristic little hops so typical of the Chief when exhibiting his naive sense of childlike humor, she would roam the stage, winking and grumbling, occasionally coughing, spiriting out of herself the deep voice and its ramblings on time and space and conspiracy and time-travel and kindness and absolution and terror and rudeness that were the Chief’s forte. The experience would leave her crumpled at the end of each session. The curtain would close slowly as she lay exhausted on the floor, in the halo of light.
“How is the big guy?” Rosie knew from long experience that it was quite all right to joke informally with Shirley Anne about the Chief.
“Smooey? He’s been a little upset lately. I think maybe I’m taking too much Vitamin C. Frankly, it’s been hard … well, it’s a little bit of a problem, I guess. You know, I can’t control what he does.”
“Uh, huh. You can’t take too much vitamin C,” said Rosie, firmly. “I heard your weather was crazy.”
“Floods. It’s raining like all hell out there right now. I can’t even see to the road. And you heard about the Mountain?”
“It was on the front page of the New York Times. Jesus! Was it near you?”
“Pretty near. It’s not lava though, or anything. Just mud. Hot mud.”
“What are you going to do if it’s like Mt. St. Helens?”
“Smooey says it’s going to be worse, much worse. He says it’s the Plant Brain who’s finally fed up with everything. But of course he says the destruction will leave us standing here. There’s a kind of safe area here, you know.”
Rosie knew that this safe area was also a living font of high real estate values, most of it owned by Shirley Anne and sold off in parcels to her rich pals at a considerable mark-up.
“You should join us, Rosie. I was talking to Joeee Doppelsinn – you know her; yes, you do – she’s on that, you know, that program about the police girls and fashion? On Oxygen? Anyway, she just bought twenty-plus acres up here and she’s gotten three endorsement commercials and one part in some big movie just because of it. It’s the truth.”
“Uh, huh.” Rosie didn’t believe a word of any of this bullshit and never had, of course. Lord, she remembered when Chester and Shirley Anne were just Mitchell’s corny country relatives, practically Daisy Mae and Abner, in their little house on the cul-de-sac in Beaverteeth. They had changed when they left Hollywood and went back home. She had been glad to get out of there the one time she’d had to go. The spinning wheel in the living room, that’s all she remembered. Chester’s sideburns were way too long. And the drippy trees and bad pot. In those days Shirley Anne had just a discreet little sign in the window that said “Groovy Spiritualist” or maybe it was “Groovy Palms Read,” Rosie couldn’t quite remember. But still, she had always liked Shirley Anne in a way, even after the bitch tried to use Rosie’s name in her real estate brochures without authorization and Rosie’s manager Alex had to actually threaten her. Shirley Anne had balls, that was for sure.
Horses, she remembered. There used to be neighborhood kids riding horses down that little cul-de-sac and off into the woods. That’s why she always associated Shirley Anne with horses. Shirley Anne’s voice sparkled on and Rosie lit another cigarette and tapped her plain guitar-picker’s nails. She set her voice into a tone of casual disinterest.
“So. Shirley Anne. Do you think that there’s something – you know – anything wrong with Chester? I mean, he’s alright, isn’t he?”
“I’m afraid of Chester, Rosie. It’s a small town. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. What do you mean you’re afraid of him? This is Chester we’re talking about.”
“He’s changed, Rosie. I got him good. It does something to a man to have pretty much everything taken away from him.”
“You don’t say.”
“Oh, Rosie. You were so funny on that Ledderman show. And I loved that song about the poor little girl and the cat. Towie – my hubby? – actually made me stay up to see you.” There was a carefully timed pause. “You look quite a lot older now, Rosie. And I mean that as a compliment, really I do.”
Rosie remembered, quickly, about forty similar insults from this bitch in the past and she remembered why she hated her and was glad that Chester had finally got rid of her.
“Fuck you, Shirley Anne. I’m glad I called.”
“Rosie, don’t be upset. A person’s Spiritual Otherness is always reflected in her Temporary Body. You have an old soul with firm connections to the Plant Brain, I told you that just years ago. But that doesn’t mean that I think that you’re taking care of the You in you. If – I mean, when – you are in the movie we’ll have to make sure that you get a lot of rest and before you know it you’ll be back to being the Rosie that you used to be and that will be the effect on everyone anyway, because that’s the message of the whole movie pretty much.”
It was not lost on Rosie that some wealthy idiot had just given Shirley Anne millions of dollars. It had been on CNN when she had flown on the plane from New York. There seemed to be a mighty confidence in the bitch that matched that information.
For her part, as she talked, Shirley Anne could see out the huge triple-high windows that looked onto the long sloping acre of cobblestoned walks and groomed pasture where her best llamas were kept. She was pleased to note, through the pouring rain and swirling mist, that her favorite stud, Rudy, was at his usual place, blithely humping one of the little birch trees with a hard-on of immense length. She could just see her husband, Towhead Beech, pulling up the long curving entranceway behind the headlights of a new four-by-four sport wagon. Towhead Beech, she thought briefly to herself, did not have a hard-on of much of any length lately.
“It’s just so wonderful that you want to be in the movie, Rosie, I really appreciate it. Are you going to see Mitchell while you’re in Hollywood?”
“I might,” lied Rosie. “Well, probably. The kids are with him. There was something in the news today about you being given millions of dollars, Shirley Anne. Why do you need anyone down here? If you want to make this movie you could just do it yourself, right?”
“Well, you know, It’s always better to spend other people’s money, that’s what they say down there. Anyway, it’s not really mine. The money was left to The Chief Smoattle Foundation, so Smooey’s going to have to signal us what he wants done with it.”
“He generally favors mutual funds.”
“Anyway, I’ve never had much to do with the movies before this, but, you know, we could do it, I suppose. If Smooey says we should. I’m sure that with all the Hollywood people around us up here we can get some good co-financing. We’ve already got Amber Bernstein to agree to play the Schoolmarm, although she’s way too old, and with you as the Angel – oh, and there’s real interest from Klaut Heft who’s a friend of a lot of them up here, and – oh, and my partner is taking the script to Mitchell – isn’t that funny and fateful? Did I mention that? So you should look out for him, sweetie. He’s my divorce lawyer. His name is Aaron Baxter and he just reamed Chester up the ass on the divorce settlement, I swear to God. He’s single, too. And kind of cute.”
Rosie was ready to hang up now although she hadn’t found out much about Chester but she had sucked it up and at least appeared to humble herself to the bitch. It was good for her, she was sure. She should get on with her career. She should care about the movies since it was suddenly apparent that no record company was really much interested in her anymore. People nowdays just downloaded everything free anyway. She could marry this guy Stump, she supposed, but she had been married so many times that it was getting to be a joke and besides, Stump seemed to her to display a lot more friendly interest in Bela than a man should. Bela had beginner breasts. When a girl got breasts it was time to stop being bounced in masculine laps, that was the way Rosie thought.
“Well, that’s just great, Shirley Anne.” She tried to keep the dark sarcasm out of her voice. “It’s sure nice to talk to you after all this time. So you think Chester is ok?.”
“You watch out for him, Rosie. He could be down there in Hollywood right now and he could do something funny even though we’ve got the son of a bitch by the balls.”
When Shirley Anne put the phone down she poured herself another gin and cut it with lime juice and thought to herself that she probably didn’t need Rosie Everlasting anymore anyway, since there were real actresses she knew now who could play the Angel a whole lot better than a used-up old hippie singer who’d never made more than two or three movies in her life and who a whole lot of Towhead Beech’s Republican friends would never like for reasons having to do with Hanoi and issues of the past about which she had never been much concerned. Amber Bernstein, for instance, would be good at playing the Angel, who could be older and then Joeee Dopplesinn could play the Schoolmarm, which would be better all around, as far as she was concerned.
Shirley Anne (formerly Peterson, formerly Honeyacre) Beech, figuring that Towhead Beech would first head for the breeding barn, even in the rain, turned her attention to a computerized list of phone calls and made several to followers and bookers and publishers so that she would appear to be too busy to immediately set down to dinner with him when he blustered in out of the rain, kissing her and grabbing the ingredients for that nice martini she never had waiting for him. She left out these little things on purpose in order to make him wait for the rituals of normalcy that he seemed increasingly to expect. Towhead Beech was an angry man, in spite of his booming friendliness, she thought. She loved to confront him with his own anger and she told him that Mr. Baxter had told her that Chief Smoattle went after him about the same issue in his private consultations with the sage about which – of course – she knew nothing. Until she reviewed the videos. Which she never did. This evening, Towie did not take offense at anything, though. He had good news and he was brim full of fun and good humor.
“I got us in, baby.” He mixed oily martinis for both of them. “And it won’t take much to get you named Queen of the New Midden Parade. How about that? I didn’t even have to bring it up. They had already figured it out,” he said as he tried to kiss her and she avoided him, complaining about his mussing of her hair which had to stay blown out like this because they were supposed to have a meeting that evening with some prospects who might buy one of the few remaining plots of land in Chief Smoattle’s protected Silver Circle.
“Those guys in Midden are smart,” said Towhead Beech. “The parade is going to do everyone a lot more good now with Beaverteeth out of it. It won’t be so corny now, it’ll be more modern with bigger floats because they won’t have to go all the way out the Old Highway, for Christ’s sake. NBC’s really excited, they say. They said they’re going to have the whole Pac Ten’s marching bands and some huge float from Disney. Ha! That’s the end of all that little Beaverteeth foolishness, that’s for damn sure. And you’ll be the queen of it all, sweetie, how about that?” They sat down to big thick steaks and fat french-fried potatoes prepared by Shannon, the surly Squilimuk Indian girl who cooked for them and who would much rather have been back in the stables, which is where she had first come to Towhead Beech’s culinary attention. She could cook like a logger’s daughter, this one, and he had immediately appropriated her from the breeding staff after eating a magnificent brisket sandwich on a home-baked roll that he found in the tack room kitchenette one rainy day. Shannon lurched around the kitchen banging things, a small woman of perhaps twenty-five, her hair very short and dyed purple sometimes, her earrings tending toward knives and skulls. She wore big ugly black boots and produced food that men liked and Shirley Anne wanted to keep her men fed and happy, as she said all the time, so she had gone along with Towhead’s idea and besides, once she had convinced herself that Shannon was a lesbian she had got to thinking what it would be like to get the girl to fuck her, just for the fun of it, nothing serious; but Shannon seemed to be only interested in a lonely, pale woman who worked at the Dairyman’s Tavern up the mountain in Sqint and who evidently, given the appearance of occasional bruises, beat her.