“I don’t want the placement agency getting any ideathat you’re more than a servant,” says my Miss Kathie. She cranks the dial switch one click to another television station, where Terrence Terry dances lead for the Lunenburg battalion against Napoleon at the Battle of Mont St. Jean . Still drawing the comb through her hair, Miss Kathie clicks to a third station, where she appears, Katherine Kenton herself, in black and white, playing the mother of Greer Garson in the role of Louisa May Alcott opposite Leslie Howard in a biopic about Clara Barton .
bark, oink, cluck …
Christina and Christopher Crawford .
“Nothing,” says Miss Kathie, “makes a woman look younger than holding her own precious newborn.”
Cluck, buzz, bray
… Margot Merrill .
Another click of the television reveals Miss Kathie made up to be an ancient mummy, covered in latex wrinkles and rising from a papier-mâché sarcophagus covered with hieroglyphics to menace a screaming, dewy Olivia de Havilland .
I ask, Newborn
Hoot, tweet, moo
… Josephine Baker and her entire Rainbow Tribe .
In a tight insert shot we see the reveal: the dress, there on the kitchen table, this gift, it’s strewn with long, auburn hairs, that heavy mahogany color that hair has only when it’s soaking wet. The discarded wrapping paper, the ribbon and comb, left for me to pick up. The black dress, it’s a housemaid’s uniform.
My position in this household is not that of a mere maid or cook or lady-in-waiting. I am not employed in any capacity as domestic help.
This is not a birthday present.
“If the agency asks, I think maybe you’ll be an au pair,”Miss Kathie says, standing on tiptoe, her nose near her own image on the television screen. “I love that word …
pair,” she says. “It sounds almost like … French.”
In the screenplay, Lilly Hellman looks on in horror as President John F. Kennedy and Governor John Connally explode in fountains of gore. Her arms straight at her sides, her hands balled into fists, Lilly throws back her head, emptying her mouth, her throat, emptying her lungs with one, long, howling, “Noooooooooooooo …!” The rigid silhouette of her pain outlined against the wide, flat-blue Dallas sky.
I sit staring at the wrinkled uniform, the torn wrapping paper. The stray hairs. The screenplay laid open in my lap.
“You can bring up the coffee in a moment,” says Miss Kathie, as she shuts off the television with a slap of her palm. Gripping the skirt of her gown and lifting it, she crosses stage right to the kitchen table. There, Miss Kathie plucks the lacy cap from the open box, saying, “In the future, Mr. Westward prefers cream in his coffee, not milk.”
Placing the white cap on the crown of my head, she says,
” She says, “It’s a perfect fit.” Pressing the lacy cap snug, Miss Kathie says, “That’s Italian for
On my scalp, a sting, the faint prick of hairpins feel sharp and biting as a crown of thorns. Then a slow fade to black as, from offscreen, we hear the front doorbell ring.
ACT I, SCENE ELEVEN
If you’ll permit me to break character and indulge in another aside, I’d like to comment on the nature of equilibrium. Of balance, if you’d prefer. Modern medical science recognizes that human beings appear to be subject to predetermined, balanced ratios of height and weight, masculinity and femininity, and to tinker with those formulas brings disaster. For example, when RKO Radio and Monogram and Republic Pictures began prescribing injections of male hormones in order to coarsen some of their more effete male contract players, the inadvertent result was to give those he-men breasts larger than those of Claudette Colbert and Nancy Kelly . It would seem the human body, when given additional testosterone, increases its own production of estrogen, always seeking to return to its original balance of male and female hormones.
Likewise, the actress who starves