The old haunts were pretty much gone. The Brown Derby, Scandia, Chasen’s, had retired from the Hollywood scene decades before. The one surviving member of the clan was Musso and Frank hanging onto its turf on Hollywood Boulevard since 1919. Some critics suspected the red jacketed wait-staff had been there even longer. The dark booths inside fairly marinated with the scent of legends from Pickford, Garbo, Valentino and Chaplin, to Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway; the luminaries of stage, screen and literature making Musso and Frank their regular haunt. Gore Vidal said entering Musso and Frank “is like stepping into a warm bath.”
Exactly what Evelyn needed upon arrival in Hollywood. Dressed for the homecoming, Evelyn was welcomed with hugs from adoring waiters and bartenders, the maître d ushering Evelyn and Abby back to Evelyn’s favorite booth in the Old Room.
Sipping drinks, Evelyn leaned back, inhaling the room’s old charm. Abby had other things on her mind.
“Okay. Spit it out,” Evelyn said.
“I talked to Derek.”
“And what did Hercule Poirot have to say?”
Abby shook her head.
“I love you, darling. My Boys are happier because of you. Which makes me happier. And you know… I believe.”
“No one else does.”
“Oh, someone does.”
“Yeah… Well, I’m not so sure about that anymore.”
“Listen to me…” Evelyn wavered, second guessing her decision.
“Go ahead. I want to hear…”
“Please take this the right way. But are you sure it wasn’t just… an accident? If Walter Knox was murdered, do you really think that the killer, or whomever he works for, believes Winifred has identified him?”
“I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
Jerry drove the pink Cadillac west on Carmel Valley road into the sunset, singing with Sinatra, playing from the CD player stuck in the dash.
“Strangers in the night, exchanging glances /
Wondering in the night, what were the chances /
We’d be sharing love, before the night was through…”
Appreciating the duet, Murphy appeared from the back seat, hung his head over Jerry’s shoulder and looked him in the eye while Jerry and Frank crooned:
“Something in your eyes was so inviting /
Something in your smile was so exciting /
Something in my heart, told me I must have you…”
Not everyone was impressed with the duet. Winifred looked out from the travel crate strapped into the front seat and howled her objection.
Evelyn and Abby were on their second round of drinks, feeling no pain after the long drive when an old acquaintance hiding under a bad wig and several pounds of makeup, accosted their table.
“Evie, darling! It’s been forever. Where have you been hiding? You look amazing. Slim and trim– ”
“Horse pucky! My saddlebags are bigger than ever, like the old grey mare I am. But thank you, Marge. I’m sure your nonsense will be most appreciated… after a few more drinks.”
Marge noticed someone waving to her from across the room and scurried off.
“If I ever do that, just shoot me and put me out of everyone’s misery.”
Abby nodded with a little toast of her glass. The women were quiet, sat back and watched Marge work the room.
“If you could go back twenty, thirty years…” Abby said.
“Make it forty.”
“Forty… If you could go back and do one thing different…?”
Evelyn considered all the possibilities. And then she knew – had no doubt about it.
“You know the story of Psyche and Eros?”
Evelyn told her the mythic tale of Psyche and her journey to fulfill Aphrodite’s four tasks to win the love of her son, Eros, the god of love. Evelyn recounted each of the first three seemingly impossible tasks Psyche somehow accomplished, much to Aphrodite’s dismay, having felt that the beautiful Psyche was attracting some of the adulation reserved for the Goddess of love herself. But Aphrodite’s fourth and final task was the killer.
“Nothing less than a journey to hell and back. Psyche had to cross the river Stix, enter the Palace of Hades and receive a jar of immortal beauty ointment from Persephone, Queen of the Underworld! Then return from hell and present the jar to Aphrodite. Unopened. For should Psyche be tempted to sample the beauty ointment, opening the jar would release deadly invisible vapors.”
“Okay. You got me. What did she do?”
“On her long and arduous journey back from hell, Psyche sees herself in the river. She looks worn and haggard from the ordeal. She wants to look beautiful for her Eros!”
“She opens the jar.”
“She must! The invisible vapors overtake her and she falls to the ground. Dead! But Eros finds her. Sees her true beauty inside and out, and gives her the kiss of life!”
Abby was clearly disappointed, “Sleeping Beauty.”
“Oh, much more. So much more. Knowing the risk, ignoring the consequences, the threat of death from Aphrodite… Still, Psyche opened the jar. An act of disobedience. Defiance!”
“What do you think it means?”
“It’s a myth. It means whatever you want. Whatever you need.” Evelyn let the idea linger, then…“You asked me about the one thing I would do different…”
Evelyn returned a bemused smile. “I would have opened the jar.”
Abby was confused, “But–”
“Oh, I opened it literally when I left New York and moved here. I’m afraid vanity still had me in its grip. But I’ve come to believe there was something else in that jar. A mirror! A looking glass for self-reflection. A chance to see ourselves as we truly are. For me, opening the jar is about our courage to stand up to those who tell us what we must do. Those whom we feel a need to please. Whom we must obey! Or suffer the consequences. It took me a while before I opened that jar and looked in the mirror. How I wish I had done it sooner.”
Evelyn’s deep regret quickly blossomed into a big smile as a waiter headed their way bearing plates filled with steak and lobster.
Jerry toyed with chips and dip at the Baja Cantina bar when a bartender returned from the kitchen with a takeout dinner carton.
Jerry finished his beer, paid the tab and turned to leave when an attractive forty-something woman entered the bar, saw him and gave that unmistakable long-time-no-see smile. Not waiting for Jerry’s response, Serena moved in, wrapped her arms around him planting a kiss of old-times-not-forgotten.
~ ~ ~