A Love Through All Time
August in New York. It sounded lyrical enough for a song title. But as Andrea Morrow sat uncomfortably on a crowded bus caught in gridlock, singing was the last thing on her mind. The temperature was in the nineties. Around her, irritated passengers, mostly women, shifted heavy packages and complained about the bus's ineffective air conditioner. Shorts or jeans were the uniform of the day, except for Andrea who wore a blue linen dress, and a woman across the aisle whose Donna Karan suit and Reeboks proclaimed her unmistakable Yuppie status.
Outside the bus, at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street, car horns honked viciously. Strident four-letter words penetrated safety glass and grated harshly in Andrea's ears. She was damp with perspiration. Her mane of curling auburn hair clung uncomfortably to the nape of her neck. In the partially opened bus window she caught a glimpse of herself and saw, startled, how much her eyes had changed. This morning they'd been a brilliant blue, filled with hope and excitement. Now, they were dull, bleary from the heat, crying out to her, "Go home and get some rest!"
The audition this morning for a ten-week stint in a daytime soap had ended with the usual "Don't-call-us, we'll-call-you" brush-off. Andrea was hot and discouraged and thoroughly fed up with New York. She wished she had never left her home in New Jersey.
And yet, now that she gave it some thought, she'd been downhearted even before the audition. Looking back over the past month, she realized that she'd been doing an inordinate amount of brooding. She brooded when she was alone in her fourth-floor walk-up on Christopher Street; she brooded while waitressing nights at La Sevilla on Charles Street. That wasn't like her at all.
Andrea was upbeat, optimistic. Emilie LeBeau, her drama coach and friend, had once said that Andrea's irrepressible high spirits were more contagious than swine flu. No situation was ever so black that she couldn't see the rosy side of it. And that had been true until.... When? When had this blanket of gloom first wrapped itself around her like a shroud? Was it because for the past month or so those odd visions she'd been having had increased to a point where hardly a day passed that she didn't have one?
The traffic jam dispersed. The bus started moving, disrupting Andrea's thoughts. Several passengers grumbled to the bus driver about the defective air conditioner, but he ignored them. Andrea ignored them all and looked out the grimy window with a sigh.
Sunlight bounced off chrome car bumpers, casting a glare that bathed everything in sight in a hazy silvery glow. The scene resembled a nineteenth-century tintype, except for the modern conveyances. Despite her bad mood, Andrea was charmed by the illusion. Why did she love this city so much? It was noisy, dirty, unfriendly, and dangerous, but for as long as she could remember, she had wanted to live and work here.
The bus passed Madison Square Garden, reminding her of the day she moved to the city two years before. She'd been twenty-two years old then, fresh off the banana boat (a New Jersey Transit bus, actually), and quivering with happiness and excitement. At the Ninth Avenue entrance of the Port Authority bus terminal, she had stepped into a taxi like Cinderella into her coach. Although she was no stranger to the city, she poked her head out the taxi window and gawked at the skyscrapers as if she were the greenest of yokels, newly arrived from a farm in the boondocks.
The gray-haired cab driver had snapped, "Stay inside the cab, will ya? D'ya want your brains smashed by a passing truck, or what?"
Andrea had laughed and leaned back against the peeling vinyl upholstery, though she ached to reach out and embrace the city. She was even tempted to throw her arms around the surly cab driver. After two years of endless debating whether or not to leave New Jersey, she couldn't believe she was here at last.
As the taxi sped toward Christopher Street, Andrea glanced out the window, saw an unfamiliar site, and frowned in confusion. "What's that building?" she asked the driver.
"It's the Garden," he grated, then swore and swerved sharply around a double-parked van.
Andrea knew it was Madison Square Garden; she had seen it often. But some trick of the mind temporarily disoriented her.
"That's not where it's supposed to be," she said, more to herself than to the cabbie. "The Garden's near Madison Square." She twisted in the backseat as the building was left behind them. "And why does it look so different? Where's the weather vane atop it, the statue of Diana?"
"What the hell are you on, kid? The Garden's been in the same place for twenty years, and there's never been a statue on top of it."
Andrea's confusion grew. There was a statue. It had been designed by Augustus Saint Gaudens. He was a good friend to Stanford White, the architect who had designed the Garden. White was an artistic genius; he would never have designed that eyesore they just passed. Moreover, now that Andrea thought about it, where was Pennsylvania Station, that magnificent building that resembled the Baths of Caracalla?
"Take me to Madison Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street." She would settle this matter at once.
The cab driver made a sound of impatience. "I thought you were headed for Christopher Street."
Christopher Street? Whatever would she be doing there? "Will you kindly do as I ask?" Unconsciously, she straightened up in her seat as if the stays of a corset were steeling her spine.
"Whatever you say, kid. You're paying for this trip."
He swung the taxi onto Fifth Avenue and tore down the street, weaving in and out of traffic like a drunken whirling dervish. Andrea reached up to hold on to her hat, then found to her surprise that she wasn't wearing one.
How very curious, she thought. She couldn't remember ever having left the house without a hat, nor had she ever traveled at such breakneck speed in a motor car. The cabbie was reckless in the extreme. When this demented ride was over, she intended to give him a good piece of her mind.
The taxi reached Madison Square, took a sharp turn around to Madison Avenue and, with a loud screech of brakes, stopped in front of the New York Life Building.
"That'll be six bucks," the driver said when Andrea remained motionless in her seat, staring blankly at the building.
"But...." She looked at him, bewildered. "This isn't Christopher Street. Why have you stopped here?"
"Chrissakes!" he exploded. "Will you make up your mind? You just told me to take you to Madison and Twenty-sixth."
"I-I did?" Andrea stammered. "I don't remember."
But she remembered it afterwards. She remembered because the same strange distortion of memory kept happening over and over again.
A few weeks after she had settled in on Christopher Street, she was walking toward Macy's for a leisurely morning of shopping. As she waited for a traffic light to change, the Sabrett hot dog cart and vendor vanished, striped umbrella and all, and a horse-drawn trolley came rumbling down the street, which was suddenly paved with cobblestone.
Another time, she saw a huge hotel on the site of the Empire State Building, and a neat row of brownstones where she knew a bank and a restaurant should be. There, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street, people passed by her, dressed casually or for business, and in the next instant, the men were wearing stiff collars and derby hats, and the women, in Edwardian splendor, were wearing slim hobble skirts and flowered hats.
These startling apparitions were always brief in duration, so fleeting at first sight that Andrea thought she had imagined them. Oddly, they never frightened her; they only puzzled her. In fact, whenever she caught glimpses of that earlier time, she felt somehow warm and secure, as pleasantly comforted as if she had just returned home after a long journey.
Still, whatever was happening wasn't normal. When she continued to see things at least two or three times a week, she decided to visit Emilie's ophthalmologist.
Andrea liked and trusted Dr. Joseph Miller on sight. He was close to seventy, tall, lean and imperious looking, but his lively brown eyes and ready smile instantly put her at ease.
"I think I have astigmatism," she told him, taking a seat in the examining chair.
"Why do you think that?"
Andrea winced when he shone a thin bright light into her dilated pupils. "I've been...seeing things," she said. "Turn-of-the-century buildings; people in old-fashioned clothing."
"Oh?" Miller was apparently unfazed by this information. "And what has that got to do with astigmatism?"
Encouraged by his attitude, Andrea said, "Just before the scenes change, everything starts to look slanted, elongated, like an El Greco painting. I once read that he painted the way he did because he had astigmatism."
"An interesting theory," the doctor remarked, "but you don't share his affliction, Andrea. Your eyes are perfect."
"Then why do I keep seeing things that aren't there?"
He made a notation on her chart. "Maybe they are there, in another time, another dimension."
"Like the Twilight Zone?" she asked ironically.
"Could be." His eyes crinkled. "'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio....'"
"Yes, I know." Andrea sighed. "But that doesn't explain why I keep seeing the things I do." She told him about the day she had moved to New York. "When I told Emilie what happened, she looked worried— She did!" Andrea insisted when he gave her a skeptical smile.
"What did she say about it?"
"She covered up by making a joke about it. She said all actors are overly imaginative. She said when she first went to Hollywood she kept seeing Rudolph Valentino racing up and down Sunset Boulevard in his Isotta Fraschini."
"There you are," Miller said sensibly.
"It's different with me," Andrea maintained. "I feel as if I belong in the places I see. I know things I couldn't possibly know, like the architect of the old Madison Square Garden. I don't even know who Stanford White is."
"Don't worry about it," Miller advised. "I have a friend who's a dentist. One of his patients says she picks up WQXR radio through her fillings. If that's the case, you might be picking up television transmissions. Channel 13 is always showing documentaries about Old New York. Maybe the TV signal is bouncing off your optic nerve."
Andrea knew he was teasing her, but she wasn't amused. Television signals were not bouncing off her optic nerve. She had seen those buildings; she had seen people dressed in a style seventy years past.
After that frustrating conversation, though, she never told anyone else about her visions. Emilie had thought she was imagining things; Dr. Miller had humored her; the cab driver had thought she was "on" something. If Andrea continued to talk about her extraordinary apparitions, she might end up in a rubber room at Bellevue.
The bus, steamy with heat, approached West Seventy-second Street. As the whimsical facade of the Dakota apartments came in sight, Andrea pushed those thoughts from her mind, rose and made her way eagerly through the crowded aisle toward the exit. Spending time with Emilie LeBeau always lifted her spirits. Whenever Andrea lost out on an acting job, Emilie invariably commented in her honey-toned drawl, "It's their loss, sugar, not yours." She said it so often and so matter-of-factly that Andrea had come to believe it.
When she stepped off the bus, heat shimmered up from the pavement like a sinuous ghostly vapor. Andrea fanned herself with her purse as she crossed the street. At the Dakota's entry arch, the guard in the sentry box told her to go right up; Miss LeBeau was expecting her.
Emilie's apartment was on the seventh floor. When Andrea stepped off the elevator, the smell of floor wax and brass polish greeted her, along with a fainter indistinguishable odor she had always associated with her grandmother's attic. Ringing Emilie's doorbell, she thought, The Dakota used to have a different scent about it, of fresh-cut flowers and varnished wood and new woolen carpets.
Before she could think to analyze this unlikely memory, the door swung open. Emilie LeBeau, in a silver-gray caftan that matched the color of her charming feather-cut hair, greeted Andrea with a hug that swept the breath from her lungs.
"Sugah!" she exclaimed, her dark eyes sparkling. She grasped Andrea's hand and drew her into the deliciously cool apartment. The tangle of bracelets on her slender arms tinkled a cheery welcome. "Ah've been waitin' a lahftahme of fo-evahs fo' yah to get heah!"
Andrea laughed and returned the hug as they went down the hall toward the kitchen. Whenever Emilie was excited about something, she was prone to exaggeration, and her light Southern accent became as thick as the Mississippi mud that abutted her hometown of Natchez.
Emilie was the quintessential Southern belle, charming, witty, and although she was sixty-two years old, her trim figure and animated heart-shaped face still managed to turn masculine heads. She had buried three husbands and had had a select number of lovers, including a poet laureate, a Supreme Court justice, and an Oscar-winning screenwriter. She'd had an enviable career, both in films and on television, from which she retired at its height. ("I wanted to leave while audiences still wanted me.") From Emilie Andrea had learned more about acting in months than she had in her two years at Yale.
"What am I thinking of?" Emilie stopped dead in her tracks. "How did the audition go? Did you get the part?"
Andrea shook her head.
Emilie circled her waist with an arm and led her into the kitchen. "Don't fret about it," she said briskly. "It's all for the better."
"Why?" Andrea was puzzled.
"I'll tell you in a minute," Emilie said, bustling to the counter. "Have a seat, honey, while I finish preparing the Chicken Marco Polo. Fifteen years ago I, uh, persuaded one of the chefs at the Waldorf to share this recipe with me. Don't ever tell anyone I told you that, Andrea. It's a capital offense to steal a recipe from the Waldorf."
Andrea laughed and sat at the wrought-iron table. As always, the kitchen resembled the aftermath of a bombing raid. Cabinet doors gaped open; bowls and pans filled the sink. Eggshells, melting butter, and spatters of flour covered the counter tops. Emilie adored whipping up gourmet dishes, but her culinary organizational skills were non-existent.
"Do you want some wine, honey?" Emilie deftly slit a chicken breast and filled it with a slice of foie gras.
"No thanks. Some lemonade, if you have it."
"In the fridge."
Andrea poured two glasses and placed one on the counter at Emilie's elbow. "Now tell me. Why is it all for the better that I lost the part?"
Emilie dredged the chicken in flour, then dipped it in egg wash and bread crumbs. "Did I ever tell you about Charlie Fitzsimmon?"
"The screenwriter? Yes. He was one of your 'one and only true loves,' wasn't he?"
"Dear Charlie," Emilie said softly. "We did have some beautiful times together. Anyhow," —her nostalgic tone became practical— "he had a pet project he'd been trying to sell for years—which he finally did. To cut a long story short, it's going to be made into a six-hour miniseries, produced by Harlan Scott, and directed and co-produced by Justin Dinehart."
"Former lovers of yours?" Andrea bantered.
"Don't be pert, miss. Harlan and Justin are young enough to be my sons. They do, however, happen to be close friends of mine. I've told you about Justin, Andrea. He directed me the very last time I acted. I played Violet Venable in Suddenly Last Summer on an ABC special. Lord, Justin was a slavedriver! The Emmy I won rightly belongs to him."
"Didn't he win one, too?"
"No, which infuriated me. Sugar, I was brilliant in the part, if I do say so myself, but I wouldn't have been half as good without Justin directing me."
Andrea smiled. "I've always admired your humility."
"Humility," Emilie echoed disdainfully. "Humility is for people who are too lazy to get off their duffs and try to accomplish something."
She put the chicken in the oven, set the timer, then washed and dried her hands. "Let's go into the living room. I want to show you something."
Andrea took her lemonade with her and followed Emilie to her favorite room in the apartment. A high coffered ceiling and tall, old-fashioned windows let in the amber-colored light of the late afternoon sun. The room, large and square, was cluttered with a hodgepodge of furnishings, some from Emilie's childhood home in Natchez, others from her twenty-year residency in Beverly Hills, and a few odd treasures from her trips to Europe. A fine Isfahan rug, a gift from the late Aly Khan, covered the hardwood floor. On the mantel were Emilie's Oscar and Emmy, and on the walls and end tables were many photographs and mementoes of every major actor and actress with whom she had ever shared a set.
Andrea sat in a Morris chair that was sinfully comfortable, facing a silver-framed photo of Tyrone Power. She sipped the lemonade and stared into his hypnotic dark eyes. "That was one beautiful man," she said pensively.
"You say that every time you look at that picture." Emilie took a book from the coffee table and perched on the hassock at Andrea's feet. "Ty was beautiful, but a little too boyish for my taste. George Brent, on the other hand, was a man in every sense of the word. Why Warner Brothers kept casting him as the long-suffering husband opposite that hellion, Bette Davis, is beyond my comprehension."
"I like George Brent, too," Andrea said. "I've seen all his movies."
"I know you have, my little movie buff," Emilie said fondly. "But you like Ty better, don't you?"
"Yes...well, Emilie, he was such a hunk!"
"He was," Emilie agreed. "But George had a fire inside him that couldn't be extinguished."
"I'll bet you tried to extinguish it."
Emilie shot her a quick look. "We were just friends," she said blandly.
Andrea laughed. "Tell it to the tabloids."
"Hush up," Emilie scolded her. "Your prurient interest in my past is unladylike."
"Emilie! You're the one who keeps telling me every last detail of your love life."
"Be that as it may, you're much too curious about it. Now, enough about l'amour; let me tell you my news. The miniseries I mentioned before: there's a part in it that's perfect for you. I spoke to Justin, and he wants to audition you."
"Emilie, how wonderful!" Andrea put down her empty glass and leaned forward eagerly, elbows on knees. "What's the part? What's the storyline?"
"The part," Emilie said, pausing for dramatic effect, "is the lead."
"The lead?" Andrea was stunned. Why would they want to test her for the lead? "What's the story about?"
"Take a look at this." Emilie handed her the book she was holding. "Charlie based his script on it."
Andrea glanced at the title: Deadly Temptation, then she riffled through the pages until she came to the photos. In one photo, a woman—a girl, really—clad in a Japanese kimono, lay seductively on a bearskin rug, one arm outstretched, her eyes closed as if in total sexual exhaustion. In another shot, a young man in a stiff collar and straw boater stared at the camera with eerie intensity. Further on were photographs of buildings, which rang a vague chord of recognition in Andrea's memory. Finally, there was a reproduction of a portrait. The subject was a man in his forties, with distinctive features and a strong, commanding gaze that riveted Andrea's to the page.
A dart of alarm ran through her. "It's Stanford White," she said faintly, though she had never before laid eyes on him.
"You know who he is?" Emilie sounded surprised.
But Andrea was unaware of her friend's reaction. She said, as though another were speaking through her, "He was murdered by Harry Thaw on the roof garden of Madison Square Garden. Evelyn Nesbit, the girl on the rug, had been White's mistress when she was only fifteen or sixteen years old. After she married Thaw and confessed the affair to him, he hunted White down and shot him in a jealous rage."
"Yes." Emilie eyed her oddly. "You've read the book?"
Unable to speak, Andrea shook her head.
"Did you see the film, maybe, with Joan Collins and Ray Milland? It's an old one, but it's been on TV a few times."
Again Andrea shook her head. Her throat was bone dry. She couldn't tear her eyes from Stanford White's face. She had known this man, of that she was certain. She could hear his deep voice giving rapid-fire orders; she could see him energetically striding back and forth in one of his elegant houses. She hadn't known him well, of that, too, she was certain. But she had known him, talked and laughed with him—even though, she thought numbly, he had died more than fifty years before she was born.
Copyright 2003 by ImaJinn Books