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|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 12, 1918
Date of Death:September 6, 2007
Place of Birth:New York, NY
Place of Death:Litchfield, CT
Education:Smith College, 1941
Read an Excerpt
The Small Rain
By Madeleine L'Engle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1972 Crosswicks, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Katherine knew, before the first act was half over, that something was wrong with Manya. She stood in the wings, waiting for her entrance, a good ten minutes early, because she could hear no cues from her dressing room. Manya's voice, coming from the stage, was rich and vibrant, as usual, but there was a break a fraction of a second long in the middle of one of her speeches, and the child knew, without seeing, that Manya had pressed the palm of her hand against her forehead to collect herself before she went on. Katherine turned to Mac, the property man, who was arranging the tea tray on his small table in the corner.
"Mac, what's the matter with Aunt Manya?"
Mac put his hand behind his ear, and she repeated her question in a louder whisper, but he just shook his head and stirred the tea in the teapot, cut two slices in the loaf of bread and fitted the pieces together again. Katherine left him and went to stand by the fire inspector, who had watched the play from his post in the wings every night for six months, and every night for six months had confiscated Manya's cigarettes only when she had smoked them down to the end. He put his arm around Katherine when she came up to him but didn't take his eyes off Manya on the stage. The child stayed leaning against him in the shadow for a moment, then wandered over to where Pete Burns, the assistant stage manager and general understudy, was holding the book. When he saw her he beckoned.
"It's kind of slow tonight, kitten. See if you can pick up the pace."
Katherine loved Pete because he treated her as though she were an adult. "What's the matter with Aunt Manya?" she whispered.
"With Madame Sergeievna? Nothing, kitten. The whole act's just dragging. It's almost time for your entrance."
Katherine left him, tiptoeing across the back of the stage, running her forefinger softly over the mass of radiator pipes that lined the back wall higher than organ pipes, radiators that were never very warm, because Manya could not bear to have the backstage or her dressing room too hot. Katherine was glad because she disliked heat, too. She climbed the wooden stairs with the inadequate railing that had given way once at an understudy rehearsal when Pete Burns leaned too heavily against it, and stood on the platform, waiting for her cue. She ran her fingers through her heavy, dark hair to make sure that it fell down her back in a shaggy mane, peered through the peephole until Manya crossed slowly to the fireplace and sat down beside it, and waited until Manya leaned down and pulled off one jeweled shoe; then she ran down the stairs. The scene went easily, quickly. She did not have to worry about picking up the pace. But sitting at Manya's feet, looking up at her, speaking her lines with unaffected sincerity, she still felt that something was wrong, and she was not surprised when Manya did not come in on cue. In the silence that followed, a silence that seemed gigantic but in reality lasted only a second, Katherine saw Pete in the wings, his lips half opened, ready to throw Manya the cue if he had to, saw Manya push against her forehead again with the palm of her hand, saw the dark, Slavic eyes suddenly go blank. Manya's line was not an important one, and Katherine came in with her own next one. The expression came back to Manya's eyes, she picked up her cue, in the wings Pete Burns relaxed, the scene continued without difficulty, and certainly no one in the audience knew that anything had happened.
Pete Burns came into Katherine's dressing room while she was taking off her make-up. Because the cast was so small, she had a dressing room to herself, and Pete sat down in a straight chair, tipped it back, and leaned his fair head against the cream-colored plaster of the wall, watching her smear cold cream onto her face.
"That was nice work, Miss Forrester, covering Madame Sergeievna like that."
"Was it all right?" she asked, a little anxiously. "I didn't think her line mattered right there."
"It was the best thing you could have done. You've an amazing instinct, kitten. You ought to be a very fine actress someday."
"I don't think I want to be an actress."
"Oh," he said. "I suppose you want to be a policewoman or get married and have eleven children."
"No. I want to be a pianist like my mother."
His face lost its teasing look and became almost reverent. "I heard your mother play once," he said. "I think it was the last concert she gave at Carnegie. She was soloist with the Philharmonic. I remember it very clearly, because it was my seventeenth birthday and I'd just been given my first job, a bit part in a musical that closed out of town. I was awfully excited about it at the time, though, and I went to the concert to celebrate. I did what I always wanted to do in the theater, bought a seat in the front row, even though I knew that wasn't what you're supposed to do for music, but I'm glad I did, because I could really look at your mother. I certainly fell for her. Baby, I dreamed about her for months. I don't know what it was, her music or something about her, but I fell."
"Yes," Katherine said, wiping off a layer of cold cream and putting on another. "People always did."
Pete untilted his chair so that all its four feet stood on the floor. "It wasn't that she was beautiful. Manya Sergeievna, now, is what I call beautiful. But there was something about her, I don't know, a magnetism, something that certainly got me. It's funny how you can fall in love with someone you don't know. I never did with actresses or movie stars. I thought it was crazy. I thought I was above that kind of stuff." He paused, and Katherine knew he wanted to ask her something, but when he spoke, all he said was, "Look, kitten, how old are you?"
"Ten. I was ten in October. I haven't seen Mother for three years. I wish I could see her. I want so awfully to see her. It's so hard to have a mother and not be able to see her." This was something she had never said; not to Aunt Manya, with whom she lived; not to her father, with whom she had dinner every Sunday, but with whom she didn't live because he was a composer and much too vague and preoccupied with his music to be any good at taking care of Katherine. Manya could go from one play to another, entertain lavishly, work on innumerable charities, and still find time for Katherine, who was really no relation at all, just the daughter of Julie and Tom Forrester, her closest friends.
Katherine's lip trembled. "It's not that I don't love Aunt Manya, you know," she said. "She's wonderful to me. It's just that I need my own mother."
Pete didn't say anything, but he smiled at her, and she felt that she could talk to Pete, although she had never been able to talk to anybody else, because he loved her mother.
There was a knock on the door, and Irina, Manya's maid, stuck her head in. "Miss Katherine?"
"Yes, Irina, come in."
"Mme Sergeievna will be a little late tonight. She has visitors, so she says just to wait."
"Oh. All right."
"Does she want me to take the baby home?" Pete asked. He sometimes took Katherine home when Manya was going out and her nurse couldn't come for her.
"No, thank you, Mr. Burns. She's going right home. She just has — someone — in her dressing room. And a dozen people waiting to see her tonight, when she's so tired. So she says will you just wait for her, please, Miss Katherine."
"All right. Thank you, Irina."
When Irina had gone Katherine turned back to Pete. "Aunt Manya said as soon as Mother was well I could see her. I should think a person could get well of almost anything in three years, wouldn't you?"
"Well," Pete said, "I guess she was hurt pretty badly." He looked embarrassed, as though he weren't sure how much he should say.
Katherine got up, her face shiny with cold cream, some of her blue grease paint still smeared about her eyes, and stood in front of Pete. "Pete," she said solemnly, "if you know anything about Mother, please tell me. It isn't fair that I shouldn't be told things. I'm old enough. I ought to know."
"Well, kitten," Pete said slowly, "tell me what you know."
"I don't know anything," Katherine said, "except it was the day before my seventh birthday and Mother was driving out to Aunt Manya's place in Connecticut and she had an accident. I know her left shoulder and arm were badly crushed, and I guess it means she can't play any more. I don't know. I woke up on my birthday and nobody was there but Nanny and she was crying and I knew something awful must have happened because Nanny never cries and she never lets me cry, and then Dr. Bradley and Father and Aunt Manya came in and Dr. Bradley told me Mother had hurt herself and I wouldn't be able to see her for a few days until she was better, and I was naughty because it was my birthday and I didn't want my birthday to be spoiled and I wanted God to take back everything that had happened. And Father and Aunt Manya couldn't do anything with me, and then Dr. Bradley took me off and talked to me, and he said he'd lend me half his birthday. His birthday was in July. And he did, too. I went to his house and he gave me strawberries and cream and he was lovely to me and talked and talked. I guess he loved Mother sort of like you. I haven't seen him much since then because he and Aunt Manya fight, and anyhow I think he's mad with Aunt Manya about something." She was talking rapidly, letting her thoughts tumble out in any order they came to her. "And I remember the afternoon of my birthday Nanny took me to the park and I played with a little girl called Sarah Courtmont and she said I ought to find out what hospital Mother was in and sneak out after I went to bed and go see her. And I tried. I got to the hospital; I found out which one it was from Aunt Manya; but they wouldn't let me see Mother, and Aunt Manya came and got me, and then a few days later I went to live with her. Nanny came, too. You know Nanny."
"Um-hum," Pete nodded.
"Father never would tell me anything. Aunt Manya told me that her shoulder had been crushed and bones in her arm broken and her face and neck were cut, too. I kept thinking I'd see her in just a little while. But I never have. And this year when I've asked Father about her he's been mad at me, and Aunt Manya's acted funny. Sometimes I've wondered if Mother's been at Aunt Manya's place in Connecticut, because Aunt Manya drives out almost every week end, and she never takes me and I think that's sort of funny. And that's all I know, Pete."
"That's about all I know, too, kitten," Pete said. "My show was in Boston when she had the accident, but it was in all the papers, of course. But they didn't say much, except that she'd been badly injured and probably wouldn't be able to play again. I didn't know anybody at the time who knew your mother or who could give me any information, so I just had to take what the papers said. And lately there've been only rumors, and you know what theatrical rumors are, kitten, completely not to be trusted."
"Well, what were the rumors?" Katherine demanded.
She knew Pete was sorry he had spoken, but he went on. "There was one that she came to the opening night."
"It's just a rumor. There's probably not an ounce of truth in it. Remember that time when everyone said Madame Sergeievna was going to marry that dreadful creature, and she'd never even met him? I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"Yes, you should, Pete. It's not right that I should be treated like a baby."
Pete smiled, but all he said was, "Look, kitten, maybe you'd better not tell anyone about this little talk."
"Of course not, Pete. Pete, what was the matter with Aunt Manya tonight?"
"Oh, I don't think anything was, baby. Everybody has an off performance once in a while."
"Aunt Manya doesn't unless there's something the matter."
"Well, she's probably just tired. She's been doing a lot."
From downstairs a voice shouted. "Pete! Pete Burns!"
"I guess my girl's here," Pete said. "Good night, kitten. Don't worry your little head." He pushed the chair back against the wall, looked in the mirror to smooth down his hair and see that his tie was straight, and left.
Katherine finished taking off her make-up, wiped her face with witch hazel, and dressed. She locked her dressing-room door, went downstairs, hung her key on the board, and wandered across the stage toward Manya's dressing room. Irina was sitting outside the door, reading a newspaper, and she looked worried when she saw Katherine.
"You'd better wait upstairs, Miss Katherine," she said. "Madame Sergeievna isn't ready yet."
"I'll wait here with you."
Irina looked anxiously toward the dressing-room door. "I want to read my paper. You'll be more comfortable upstairs."
Suddenly a man's voice, loud and excited, was heard through the closed dressing-room door. "I know you want to talk to Julie alone, Manya, but really, I —"
And then Manya's voice, gentle, soothing, the words indistinct.
"That was my father," Katherine said.
Irina stood up. "I'll tell Madame Sergeievna you're here."
"Oh, no, don't. I'll go upstairs." She turned, grabbed her key, and almost ran back toward her dressing room. On the iron stairs she bumped into Pete Burns coming down with his girl, and she wanted to catch hold of him, to say, "Pete, Father's in Aunt Manya's dressing room and something's the matter and they were talking about Mother," but he wasn't alone, so all she said was, "Good night, Pete."
"Good night, kitten. You know Rosa, don't you?"
"Yes. Hello. Good night."
"Is anything the matter?" Pete asked.
"No. Aunt Manya isn't ready for me yet. That's all. Good night." And she ran the rest of the way upstairs and to her dressing room.
It was almost an hour before Manya was ready. In the taxi on the way home she put her arm around Katherine, drew her close, and said, "Baby, I didn't dream I'd be so long. I should have had Nanny come for you or let Pete take you home."
"It's all right," Katherine said. "Pete had a date with his girl and anyhow I'm not sleepy."
Manya fingered one of Katherine's smooth heavy braids for a while before she spoke. Then she said, "Would you like to drive out to the country with me tomorrow night?"
"Good. I'll get Nanny to pack your little bag for you, then." The taxi drew up in front of the apartment house, and Manya asked Katherine, "What does the meter say?"
"Fifty-five," Katherine answered.
She was always allowed to have some supper and stay up an hour after the theater. Tonight she wandered into Manya's study, pulled The Oxford Book of English Verse off the shelf, and curled up in the big red-plush chair. Nanny brought her a bowl of vegetable soup and went to draw her bath. She ate the soup quickly and began leafing through the book, reading a poem here and there, reading the verses aloud, half singing them to little tunes of her own making.
After a while Manya came in and sat down opposite her. Katherine put the book down and watched her aunt, watched her pull off all her rings and shake them in her hands like dice, as she always did when she was nervous. And Katherine noticed that she was speaking with practically no accent. Onstage Manya had only a slight musical inflection in her speech to mark it as being foreign, but in private life she almost always spoke with a heavy Russian accent, saying that it helped her to keep her identity. Only when she was particularly distraught did the accent go.
— I mustn't ask her anything, Katherine thought. — I'll find out more if I wait till she's ready to talk.
After a while Manya slipped her rings back onto her fingers, reached over to Katherine, and took the book out of her lap. Katherine, watching her, noticed that there were deep circles under her eyes and that her hands trembled a little as she turned the pages until she found her place. Then she sat staring down at the page for a long time. Finally she got up and walked hurriedly out of the room. Katherine could see that she was crying.
She gazed after her, and when Manya had disappeared through the door and down the hall and around the corner, Katherine kept staring at the bright rectangle of light the door made of the hall. After a while she got up, and picked up the book from the sofa, where Manya had flung it, its leaves all crumpled. She smoothed the pages down very carefully, and when she came to one that still had little wet spots on it like rain, left there by Manya's tears, she knew that the short verses with the title heavily underscored were what had made Manya cry. Softly she read to herself:
Western wind, when wilt thou blow, The small rain down can rain? Christ, if my love were in my arms And I in my bed again!
For some reason her tears mingled on the crumpled page with Manya's. She put her head down on the book and sobbed in a sudden outburst of agony.
Excerpted from The Small Rain by Madeleine L'Engle. Copyright © 1972 Crosswicks, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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