Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Photo of Natalie Wood

I got over to Beaver Marsh Road for a conversation with Sheila. I came upon her stooped over in the garden, and I gave her a shout, "I love to see women working."

Sheila straightened up, wiping off the sweat. "You watch your mouth," she said.

"Whatcha growing there?" I asked, pointing at one of the rows.

"Those are collard greens. I have a friend in LaConner. He's from Mississippi and his soul will shrivel up if he doesn't get his greens, so I'm growing them for him -- Herb. His name is Herb."

"That's pretty friendly of you to do that," I commented. "Is this some kind of thing you have, you and Herb?"

I got another one of Sheila's strong looks. "No, it's just the collard greens. That's all."

Well, those were the preliminaries, getting that out of the way, we began walking toward the house, and I was expecting tea.

"I don't have any burning questions, I just stopped by," I said.

"You can learn more without burning questions," she said.

"Did you hear about the bear in Seattle?" I asked. "They found a small bear in Ballard, then they saw him in Magnolia. It's all over the news."

"They need a bear in Seattle. It doesn't have to be a real one," she said.

"Oh, it's a real bear all right."

"Okay, if a real bear shits in the woods, how would you know?"

"It ain't in the woods, the bear is in Ballard," I said.

"Anyway," she was looking straight at me and I was close enough to see her freckles, "we need to talk."

We need to talk -- I was terrified. I am not sleeping with her, so why would I need to talk with her? -- but I didn't say that.

"Sure," I said, my discomfort being quite visible.

"Look," she said, sitting down next to me, both of us looking at her garden, "I'll just say it. I can't be in your newsletter anymore. It was nice you wrote that story last month about me reading the Tarot cards. But then the phone started ringing. I mean, it was like the Lonely Guys Hotline. Sheila help me, Sheila, nobody understands me."

"Well, I'm sorry that happened, but I figured that since you're not a real person, it wouldn't be a problem."


"Yeah, you're not real. I just made it all up."

"Okay, you're really on thin ice now. I may not be real, the way you say it, but I have feelings, I have a life, I bleed when I get cut... You think I'm not real? What about those collard greens I'm growing for Herb."

"Well, Herb is real," I admitted, "but that's not his real name."

Sheila was getting upset. Her bosom heaved. Sheila had the amplitude for that, being in the melon class, breastwise.

"So, what if we just didn't use your real name?" I said. " Would that work? Because I got a very strong response when we ran your story. A lot of people would like to meet you. They keep asking me, Where's Sheila? I have to tell them something -- If you look for Sheila, you can find her -- but that's like hippie talk. So I'll just tell them you're not real."

"But I am real," Sheila said. "Just don't tell them where I live."

"On Beaver Marsh Road -- It's too late for that."

"What about the bear?" she said.


"The bear in Ballard. There is no bear there," she said, smiling now, calmer. "Tell 'em it's like the bear in Ballard -- just your imagination."

"Well, okay," I agreed. "That might work."

We got that settled. So she invited me into the house for tea. She served Constant Comment, the kind with bits of dried orange peel.

She walked over to her small altar and lit a candle before the silver- framed portrait of Natalie Wood.

That made sense to me, the way I know Sheila. She has a devotion to Natalie Wood. I understand this. It's the kind of thing where you don't need any explanation. You don't learn by asking questions anyway.

Asking questions like Is it real? Or Did it really happen?

NEXT WEEK. Is it more important to be real or to be lovable? In the next issue of Frog Hospital, we'll be hearing again from the African Woman. "I have something to say," she said.

MANHATTAN TRILOGY. This week's recommended films are what I call the Manhattan trilogy -- terribly romantic. The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, 1960. Love with the Proper Stranger with Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, 1963. And Woody Allen's masterpiece, Manhattan, 1979.

FILM TRIVIA. Edie Adams, the blonde bombshell for intelligent men, the widow of Ernie Kovacs, played supporting roles in both The Apartment and Love with the Proper Stranger.

BLACK AND WHITE. All three films are in black and white, and all are set in Manhattan.


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