Ben is the writer who can’t seem to make it; Ginnie is the dancer who can’t seem to miss. In 1951 they are two scared kids in love—determined to hold onto each other no matter what. Together the world is theirs for the asking.
In the exhilarating landscape of 1950s showbiz, from the neon glamour of the New York stage to the starry glitter of Hollywood, they have love and success—pure, intense, and perfect. It should go on forever, fueled by enough romance and passion for all the record books and fairytales that ever were. But can their love prevail or will it all come tumbling down due to an unexpected twist neither of them could have foreseen?
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1928 — 1949
I was born in 1928, an only child. All bets were on me, the longest shot since Admiral Byrd. My parents would have been better advised to get a cocker spaniel. They were about to, I'm sure, when my mother became pregnant.
By the time I was twelve I had few illusions about the world and none about myself. I was white but I was brown. Brown and medium. Brown hair, brown eyes ... , medium height, medium build. Brown and medium, like your typical hamburger. And, I was a loner. From the day I was born I was a loner, and I could always hear my father, joking, "Ben slipped out of his mother when no one was looking. Took us three days to find him."
Crude, yes, but a fairly accurate appraisal. I always liked to stay by myself, thumbing through magazines, watching other people doing things rather than doing them myself. I liked to play with toy soldiers, to cut things out of cardboard. I preferred to be Single-O because it was the only time I never felt alone. And I loved to read. Everything from Mark Twain to Sir Walter Scott, with a little bit of Shakespeare and a book or two of Dickens.
Needless to say, some good-natured ribbing had already accompanied the first five years of my life before my father suggested that my hearing be checked, just to see if some slight impairment thereof wasn't turning me inward.
My hearing was perfect, as was my vision, as were all my reflexes and vital life signs — as was my IQ, so close to genius that they ran me through three times before recording the results in ink. After that, the jocular jibes took on a darker hue, for I found myself facing a battery of child psychologists seemingly devoted to the principle that I was either already weird or was well on my way.
My father, a strong man physically, a foreman in a shoe factory, proud of his German-English ancestry and convinced of the superiority of his genes, was merciless with my mother, who couldn't trace her origins beyond the orphanage. And often, late at night, I could hear my father grilling my mother about how come the odd progeny. My mother had no explanation beyond the obvious — therefore no defense, no hope of one, and no sleep.
Not because I wanted to, and certainly not because I felt the burning need to — but only because my mother was undergoing so fearful and endless a persecution — did I set out to establish whatever mythical virility was expected of me. I walked up to Eddie Brady who stood three inches taller and twenty pounds heavier and, without provocation, gave him five in the snout. His first reaction was to stand there incredulously, his eyes too big for his head. His next reaction was to bleed from both nostrils, a gargoyle spouting vermilion. His final reaction, as well as the last thing I remembered of the skirmish, was to unleash this outsized fist. I saw it growing but didn't move to avoid it since, as they were soon to say about Hitler — I had it coming.
No one saw the fight, what there was of it, or noticed me peel myself from the sidewalk like an abused mustard plaster, or could vouch for the fact that I managed to walk home without the help of those legendary fourteen angels — but home I arrived, looking as though I had backed into a berserk thresher. I could hear my own breathing because my nose was in my ear, and two teeth, having barely taken residency, were lolling around inside my cheek wondering how come the rude dispossession.
My father looked up from his Pittsburgh Courier and stared in blessed awe at his mess of a son. "I just beat the crap out of Eddie Brady," I said, half of the consonants of that statement lost in the rubble of my mouth. My father was so thrilled he almost threw a party. And I wondered, "Is this all I have to do to please my father — get killed?"
From that point on, whenever I sensed my family's displeasure ganging up on me, I would go outside and get murdered by whomever I could motivate via the magic words, "Fuck you."
Experience soon taught me that it was wiser for me to establish my masculinity with assassins nearer my own size. Eddie Brady alone had been responsible for nearly six stitches in my cheek. Chuck Janowicz had added four more. And an additional three were happily contributed by Louie Delaney, the Mad Jew, who used me for target practice on the worst Thursday of my life. If my face was to avoid looking like that of an inept hockey goalie, I would have to start choosing opponents with greater care. Also, I would have to begin suppressing that middle-class urge to allow my opponent to hit back, tit-for-tat, because, though that was swell in a Laurel and Hardy film, it made very little sense in Carmody's Junkyard.
Consternation about me further decreased as I grew older. At fourteen I was emerging with the muscular definition of a good lightweight. And, with my father introducing me to the joys of weight-lifting and the electric thrills of isometrics, I swiftly left behind all fears that I might be of a questionable sexual proclivity. The butterfly had metamorphosed into a hair-triggered hornet which, in turn, had transformed the wary father into an idiotically happy man. Why he ever found it so marvelous to parent a potential killer was beyond my ken, and, to this day, I have not a clue as to what he expected me to become beyond a flat-nosed hooligan.
In high school I demonstrated a deep intelligence but little purpose. My grades were good but would have been better had I felt the impetus to apply myself. But I felt no such compunction and continued to maintain my reputation as High Lonesome. Reading, always reading ... a most singular act with a most plural result, for what man was ever alone when he had Fenimore Cooper at his side and Conrad on his shelf? Because I was so good with my fists and so quick to split a lip, my singularity was tolerated and nary a derisive remark did I hear from the regular school toughs.
Though naturally athletic, I had nothing but disdain for organized sports, the only thing even mildly piquing my interest being predictably isolated — cross-country track. I tired of that the day the coach asked me to run in the rain, to which I replied "get a duck" and hung up my spikes.
I was a good boxer, perhaps the most instinctive to hit the Boys Club since Fritzi Zivic but, there, too, I had a problem. I was fine in every contest, invariably ahead on points but for only as long as my opponent could avoid bleeding. For, once the claret ran, I would immediately go into a shell and do little more than defend myself. This affliction became known to my opponents, and, between rounds, a little Mercurochrome strategically applied to my adversary's nostril or brow would, for all intents and purposes, end the bout — causing me to bicycle backwards until the final bell and the ultimate defeat.
As to the ladies, I could take 'em or leave 'em. And though I dated infrequently, I allowed my father to believe that I was cutting a swath through Pittsburgh high-school girls wide enough to slip Akron into. It pleased him to believe that I was a lady-killer as well as a man-killer.
Fascination first came in the form of Diana Schultz. It stayed three weeks and then turned into Mary Beth Mikkelson. Two weeks later it more nearly resembled Janet Dooley. A week after that it left town —
— returning in the spring via the Brobdingnagian boobs of Gloria Brundage. Though we never verbalized it, Gloria and I felt that it was a good thing to have the world believe that we were busting beds nightly. It enhanced each of our reputations ... she as The Goddess of Love, me as The Colossus of Rhodes. The truth of it, though, was that I never laid a glove on her. She didn't want me to and I didn't care to. The upshot being that, though I never got to the plate, neither did I ever strike out.
So, at sixteen, my virginity, though thought to be on the wind, was very much intact. It didn't trouble me. I was saving myself — for who or what I didn't know, until I saw Elizabeth Satterly.
She couldn't have been more than eleven, twelve at the most. And she didn't so much walk as she did float, hovering on that tentative precipice that separated fairy-tale from Madame Bovary. The first time I saw her I was not yet seventeen. She bounced into view, her feet — I do believe neither of them touching sidewalk.
She wore yellow. She always wore yellow. Everyday I saw her she wore some variety of yellow. If it wasn't a dress, it was a ribbon, or a kerchief, or a sweater, gloves, a blouse. Yellow was her color, her banner, her panache.
Black. Elizabeth Satterly's hair was black, black as only black can be when set against yellow. And her eyes were gray. I had never seen gray eyes before and, though I've seen gray eyes since, never have I seen gray of such a hue as that of Elizabeth Satterly's eyes. A little blue in 'em, a little green, a touch of pearl, a hint of snow.
She smiled, not specifically at me, but at the world. A Vivien Leigh smile — imp, angel, knowing, learning. No lipstick and yet the lips were red velvet. And no braces on the teeth for the teeth were perfection, Chiclets on parade.
Her breasts were embryonic but stalwart nevertheless, pressing noticeably but delicately against whatever held them captive, giving the bend of the wasp to her waist, the curve of the swan to her neck, the line of the dove to her shoulder. Never had spring two such delightful precursors as Elizabeth Satterly's breasts. And I knew even then that if the buds were to bloom no further, the roses would be no less enchanting.
Not that anyone ever knew or even suspected that I felt that way about Elizabeth Satterly and in such terms. Or that her legs, stepping lightly the five hundred times we passed, triggered my heart to go at twice the speed of light. No, I kept all of that inside me, like a mad scientist holding fast the formula that could alter the course of the heavens. For as surely as sunrise prodded shadow, that's how sure I was that Elizabeth Satterly and I would one day meld — that time would diminish the distance between us. Oh, it would always be five years, but the differential would seem less each year. When I reached eighteen, she would be thirteen. When I was twenty-one, she'd be sweet sixteen. And me at twenty-four — who could ask for anything more? She would be nineteen, old enough in anyone's book. My father was nine years older than my mother. Not that that marriage was a halcyon mark of rapture. But it did prove that time closes all separations and that, if I turned out lucky, Elizabeth Satterly, gaining on me from first sight, would one day overtake me and together we'd own the moon.
So, as predicted, when I was eighteen, Elizabeth Satterly was thirteen. And when I was twenty, she was fifteen. But when I was twenty-one, Elizabeth Satterly was in Pittsburgh, whereas I was in New York City. She was behind me, a lingering radiance, still walking yellow — a daisy on Sunday, a lovely song I would always know. But what man sings "I'll See You Again" when the band's playing "Lookie, Lookie, Lookie — Here Comes Cookie"?CHAPTER 2
1933 — 1948
Ginnie Maitland, me, as precocious and hateful a child as ever came to pass, was born in 1933 into a family of some artistic and professional prowess, of which I knew I was not likely to possess any. Our house, a shaky Edwardian, curlicued with 1880 pizzazz, was filled with books clenched with learning. Things hung on the walls — parchments, diplomas, awards — items that long-dead ancestors had either won or stolen, so that, long before I could even read, just looking at those framed documents told me that I was in a lot of trouble. And years before I knew who they were, I was exposed to the antique photographs of various Maitlands posing as though they knew they were really hot shit. Lawyers, politicians, engineers — they emblazoned our family tree as if laid on by eighteenth century novelists. And an uncle, Gerald T. Maitland, was then, and had been for some time, an important Republican congressman.
My father was an artist, a painter. By that I mean he had a studio and an easel and north light and was pretty much removed from reality. I don't think he ever sold anything. I'm not sure he could even give his paintings away, though I'm pretty sure he tried. He kept all of his paintings in a studio behind the house where they were all carefully catalogued and cross-indexed by title and subject. They were mostly oils, landscapes. They were pretty and I liked them but no one else did.
Certainly my mother couldn't have much cared for them since none of them was ever displayed in the house, except one portrait of her which wasn't bad. If a dollar ever came in as a result of my father's talent, I never knew it. It didn't seem to bother him. He just kept on, like a chicken laying eggs, asking no questions, making no omelets.
I wanted very much to love him. He was tall and quiet and stringy, like the birches he would always paint. And he saw to it that I always had a pony in the summer and a sled in the winter. I never once heard him raise his voice in anger or in protest or even in curiosity at the activities that kept my mother away from home for such long periods of time. He was born to wealth and never had to scratch. As such, I think he was disadvantaged. He might have amounted to something had he starved in a garret or frittered away his youth on the Left Bank. As it was, he seldom left the back country of Stamford, Connecticut, and his reputation as a talent never went beyond the twenty-three acres our house stood on. And even there the last few acres never heard of him.
He never punished either my sister or me. That may have been because he never knew we were there. We were pretty much raised by maids and nurses, polished up for holidays and sent off to various cultural, dramatic, and physical endeavors like dancing school. (Because of my scrawny and knobby legs, the family had turned me toward Terpsichore — and I was good at it. Still am, and my legs became my best feature and still are.)
Anyway, my father was always on the premises. He was around. Which was more than could be said about my mother, The Phantom of Rockrimmon Road. My mother, I guess you'd have to say, was beautiful. And she lavished great attention on her fabulous face, spending as much time on it as my father spent on his paintings. She could have signed her faces in the lower right hand corner and sold them to Colliers for they looked so John Singer Sargent, regal and smacking of high society.
Why they ever got married was soon enough apparent to me. My father, who was a hundred years older, indulged her. Also — she had all those paints at her disposal for all her morning self-portraits. By midafternoon her pigmented face would begin to melt, so she'd go into her boudoir for a retouch. At eight p.m. she was again the most beautiful woman in the world, still skinny but in a liquidy, high-fashion way. And she knew it. And so did we.
My sister, Mary Ann, was basically a pain in the ass. She had my mother's face only she didn't quite know what to do with it (except her mouth, which I'll get to in a minute). She was four years older than me and was nice to me only when people were looking. She spent maybe five hours a day masturbating with the handle of her riding crop. The rest of the day she spent on her horse, then in her tub, and then at her diary. I eventually got hold of her diary and it was something.
According to her diary, when Mary Ann was sixteen she was giving head to all three of her riding instructors. Up till then I had always wondered how she could spend so much time at the stables and still be such a lousy rider. From then on I no longer wondered, I marveled.
I had an incredible thing going. I found and held onto a second key to Mary Ann's diary that she must have thought she'd lost. Anyway, once a week, while Mary Ann was servicing her studs, I was home, reading about her exploits of the week before. Call it a time lag. No — call it an oral gap.
She wrote about her fellatio in great detail, describing the tools of her lovers and the taste thrills they provided. Derek Miller was "a throbbing, bananalike cartilage who hooks to the left and pulls my hair when he climaxes." Tony Borelli was "a rod of blazing steel who goes 'yip-yip' when he comes." And then there was Jud Smith who, according to Mary Ann, was "a silky avocado who can touch the back of my throat from the inside. He curses when he orgasms and tastes of maple syrup." Evidently, when Mary Ann pointed out that phenomenon to Jud, he offered to do a number on her flapjacks. I'd like to have seen that. That would have been some commercial for Aunt Jemima.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "There Should Have Been Castles"
Copyright © 1978 Herman Raucher.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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