Saturday, October 27, 2012

Miss Grey

Miss Grey

If you turn right at Scotia off Allison you will see the house at the end of the street, a dead end with a turn around large enough for cars but the bane of garbage truck drivers and movers driving long vans. Miss Grey lived in that house for many years. She was born there in the days when people were born in houses, not hospitals and died there, full of years as they say, not long after the beginning of the supposedly last of the wars, at least according to the Committee. Of course an error had been made and later it became clear there were a few more wars necessary to clear the way for ‘peace and constantly joyous living.’ Not that Miss Grey ever paid much attention to wars. To her they were rumours from a far away land and she paid as much attention to them as she paid to baseball scores or young men who race bicycles up and down mountainsides.

Miss Grey’s father was a gangster but a gentlemanly one. During the later part of his career he never shot anyone personally although several of his associates did. He wore tailored suits, sported a cane when he took his morning constitutional and had a church pew three rows behind the most socially prominent family in the neighbourhood. This family was more respectable than Miss Grey’s for it was their great grandfather who had been the gangster and by the time the present family representatives appeared on the scene the money had been washed of the blood he had spilt to accumulate it. Not that Miss Grey’s father went to church much. He showed up once a month and on feast days. Otherwise he spent Sunday mornings playing gin rummy with cronies from the old neighbourhood.

When she was a child Miss Grey was not bothered by the way her father made his money. Those who said nasty things about him she ignored. They were jealous, envious souls, the kind who made a grab for self respect by pulling their superiors down into the muck with them. Miss Grey’s mother, Ophelia was her name for God’s sake, took the ambiguity of their social position (money but gangster money) much more to heart than did Miss Grey. To be frank her mother was paranoid. Her talk, after arriving home from a social occasion, was almost exclusively of ‘certain looks’ she received or ‘whisperings’ or ‘hasty avoidances’ covered up by the swirl of the crowded room. She always came home with a terrible headache which she treated by complaining of the slights she had received while drinking two ounces of scotch from one glass alternating with the two ounces of brandy from another. Usually it was Miss Grey who listened to her. Her father dropped his wife at the door and continued on to the club where he drank rainwater and strawberry syrup. Miss Grey was the only child, so who else would listen?

When Miss Grey became a young woman Ophelia began including her husband in her complaints. She had been fooled into marrying him she told Miss Grey by his imitating what she called a fashionable boulevardier, that is a handsome, dashing, moneyed man about town when in truth he was ‘one of them’, that is a gangster. He picked her up for dates in a brand new sports coupe, took her to the most expensive places, sent her dozens of roses delivered by a striking young man who sang the latest love song playing on the radio right there on the front porch as he handed her the roses and so on. When he proposed he presented her with a diamond she later found out to be corundum and pulled out a bottle of champagne she later found out to be from the vats of one of his bootlegger buddies. She was far too young (eighteen) to be discriminating about such things and when she did become so later on it was too late. She was a gangster’s wife and people were whispering about her in the corners. Her sisters, both of whom married prominent doctors, would not come to her house and limited invitations to their houses to once a year at Christmas time. Her mother, apparently, was mortified and went to her grave so deeply embarrassed Ophelia’s sisters claimed she would be uncomfortable and restless there forever more.

Men in general, confided her mother to Miss Grey, were beastly characters, somewhat like the gods in the Greek fables, whose permanently engorged members were always seeking a place of rest and relief. If it had not been for dear Doctor Blanchard declaring her too delicate for ‘the crude aspects of the relation between husband and wife’ shortly after Miss Grey’s birth, her father, that is Miss Grey’s father, would still ‘be up to it’ demanding this or that and every day she (Ophelia) thanked the dear Lord for Doctor Blanchard declaration that her delicate health would not allow her participation. Of course Johnny (father and husband) had found an outlet for his lusts elsewhere. There was no shortage of young floozies willing to throw themselves at a moneyed gangster, although in Johnny’s case they would not have had to throw themselves too vigorously for him to catch them she was sure. These activities of his were hidden behind a screen of smoky clubrooms and sleazy hotels, one it was impossible for her, a proper woman, a member of society, to penetrate not that she would want to anyway. But she did hear things, second and third hand so to speak. When Johnny had given up drinking liquor for rainwater and strawberry juice his sex drive seemed to increase tenfold in accordance with some kind of mathematics of bodily compensation and Ophelia had heard that he had three mistresses on the go, one of them barely nineteen years of age. Of course he was older now, middle aged, but if rumour was to be trusted he still had two with an occasional singer or dancer on the side.

These revelations were not really revelations to Miss Grey although she pretended they were for her mother’s sake. Ophelia would have been scandalized to no end that her daughter, her well brought up daughter shaped on the lathe of an expensive finishing school run by nuns, knew about such things. But she did. Although not attracted to men sexually Miss Grey was very sharp in picking up the various indicators of her father’s erotic connections and had known for many years of his attachments to certain ladies of the underground. He did not actually tell her for that was not his style, but when he took her to an elaborately decorated suite in a certain hotel and left her to read in the parlour while he disappeared with his host, a beautiful younger woman who hung on his words as if they were the most delicious of intoxicating liquors, into the inner rooms for an hour returning with all the cells in his body relaxed and smiling, even without the scientific words and detailed anatomical drawings, it was obvious to her what was going on. She didn’t mind. For some reason, even at a young age, she did not have any of her mother’s Puritanism, and saw no reason to think of her father’s pleasures as wrong or evil. Indeed afterward, in the mood of expansive benevolence created by his post coital glow, he often took her to expensive shops and bought her whatever she wanted – toys when she was a child, jewelry, clothes, books and perfume when she got older.

Especially books for from her mid teens on Miss Grey was a great reader. The kind of books she was allowed to read by her mother and the nuns did not satisfy her curiosity for, as one can imagine, they leaned heavily toward the pious and the devotional, leaving out all that she was the most interested in. Her father bought her whatever she wanted. Upon entering the bookstore he walked to the sitting area in the back, grabbing a fishing magazine from the rack on the way, and left her to take all the time she wanted wheeling about her cart, piling it high with thick volunms. He didn’t even glance at the titles although it would have done him little good to do so for other than reading newspapers, racing forms, accountant reports and the church bulliten over and over again when the Minister’s sermon was unusually tedious, he read nothing and would not have even heard the names of the books or the authors she herself read. He was a purely disinterested buyer of books and left all matters of taste, content and possible moral danger for her to solve for herself. Her mother would never in a million years understand why Miss Grey loved him for this, loved him for leaving her alone and letting her chose for herself and how whatever sins he had in other areas of his life, if they were sins, were as nothing to her beside this great disinterested generosity. Her father, being a gangster and all she supposed, was a strategic man and the books were delivered wrapped tightly so the servants could not see the titles, on an afternoon when her mother was off to her bridge club. She kept them in a locked trunk behind her dresses in her walk in closet where he mother’s lack of curiosity guaranteed she would never go or even if she did, bother about hounding her daughter for the key, a process Ophelia would find unpleasant and stressful.

By the time she was in her early twenties Miss Grey read her way through the canon of western literature. She then embarked on a journey through the east, reading the classical Chinese, Japanese, Indian and others in translation. She then came back to the west and read through much not normally considered part of the canon – Conan Doyle, the great ghost stories, science fiction, the Norse Sagas, North American Indian legends. As well as fiction she read some Philosophy – Bertrand Russell, Spinoza (whom she loved dearly), Hegel, Wittgenstein, Weill, and religious philosophy, including Emerson, Dogen, the Buddhist Sutras, the Hindu classics and so many others the back of her closet had six trunks in it by the time she was twenty-five, all jammed with books. There was space left for perhaps one more trunk when fate intervened to solve forever the problem of where to hide her books.

On the twenty-third of December, in the year xxxx, Miss Grey’s father and mother, in the back of the chauffeur driven car and on their way to her mother’s oldest sister for a Christmas party, stopped at a red light. While her parents were seating in the back, ignoring one another with a frosty hauteur, three men stepped out of the bushes and shot them and the driver so many times they were all dead within minutes, her father immediately for the autopsy report said one of the bullets hitting him blew out his brains. After the period of shock and disbelief Miss Grey thought it ironic that her mother and father, who for the twenty years preceding hardly said a word to one another other than pass the salt or the front door will have to be repaired, died together in a hail of bullets. Her mother who took some five minutes to die from blood loss, if she was conscious, must have thought this is where linking oneself to a gangster gets you – breathing your last in a limo splattered with blood and guts, stinking like a cesspool and a slaughterhouse combined while the engine idles and coloured lights of the approaching police cars strobe into the cold darkness.

Well there she was, twenty-five, in possession of the legitimized part of her father’s fortune (the gangsters fought over the non legitimate), living alone in a large house staffed with six servants with the major accomplishment of her life being to have spent much of it with her nose stuck in a book. When the estate was probated she had enough money left her that, assuming she didn’t become a wastrel or a drug addict or both, she would never have to worry about money. Five of the servants, four women and a man, were older, all in their early sixties. Miss Grey had no desire to live in her parent’s style, (dinner parties, her mother’s ‘at home’ afternoons, bridge club Wednesdays, club memberships, etc.) so she set up a Trust which paid them a pension annuity and sent them on their way. The other, a young girl who had just come up from the country two years before to become Miss Grey’s maid, stayed behind in the house once lively and populated if not particularly happy, now so strangely quiet and empty. At the time Miss Grey and this girl, Aya by name, were already lovers, although by Aya’s preference, she continued performing the duties of Miss Grey’s maid.

Aya was a thin slip of a thing, a good foot shorter than Miss Grey who, granted, was tall, so tall she always wore flat heels and avoided dress designs which elongated the figure. Aya, now that the other servants were gone, became cook and cleaner as well as lady’s maid but this was not particularly onerous for Miss Steel lived simply. She rose in the morning early, dressed herself in a housedress and sweater and descended to the kitchen where she made breakfast for the both of them. She served Aya breakfast in bed in a reversal of the maid/mistress roles, for Aya, in a naked moment early in their relationship, told her the one thing she hated about being a maid was the very early morning. After this Miss Steel, who loved the early morning, insisted Aya stay in bed until she was served breakfast. After breakfast, Aya got up and went about her chores.  

To have a life ahead of you and the resources to do with it what you wish is truly a glorious thing. Yet Miss Steel would not have said so at the time for she was unsure of herself and had not yet found her way. She read and read deeply and voluminously but reading is on the passive side of the co-creation between author and reader which brings forth an imaginary world. We are, after all, enjoying an imaginative world created by another. In its receiving, its ingesting there are elements of activity but not activity of the highest order. Miss Grey understood this at twenty-five but it was a nascent understanding. By the time she was thirty her understanding was fully conscious and she became dissatisfied with merely reading. This was a problem for she read twelve hours a day. Without her reading she would have been at a loss with what to do with herself.

“Write, then,” Aya said to her when Miss Grey told her of her problem.

“Easy to say,” replied Miss Grey.

“Don’t write then,” said Aya.

“Oh, stop it,” replied Miss Grey. According to Aya, who was a very practical, down to earth person, one either did something or one did not. Dithering was not a part of her nature.

“You are too cut and dried, Aya,” said Miss Grey. “Things are not as simple as you make them out to be.”

Aya did not reply to this. That she did not irritated Miss Grey to no end for she knew silence with Aya was an expression of smugness. Why should I bother, her silence was in effect saying, to point out the obvious to this poor deluded wretch? She’ll come around to it on her own without my wasting further energy by repeating what I have already said. Miss Grey had an urge to give her a good poke but controlled herself. Aya, although smaller, was much stronger and more physically active than Miss Grey. Earlier in their relationship they had indulged themselves in several wrestling matches and Aya had won them all. Not that Miss Grey minded for in sexual relations she preferred the bottom but, although she would not admit this to herself, she expected to be on top in the world of words and social relations. Aya usually accommodated her in this but that day, she had kicked against the traces. Steaming inside but pretending to coolly resume reading her book she waited until Aya left the room and went down the stairs before she said to herself aloud but not so loud that Aya could hear her, “You little bitch.”

Two weeks later, after a great struggle not to write so as to prove Aya wrong in her smugness, she decided to set aside two hours a day, after breakfast in the morning, to write. What she would write she did not know. She would simply sit down before a blank sheet of paper and write something on it even if it was merely gibberish. Aya went out of the house in the mid morning to do the shopping. She would do it then and thus hide it from her. Otherwise Aya, silent and knowing, her big brown eyes bemused but so slightly bemused that one could not accuse their owner of definitely being so, would ascend into the seventh heaven of smugness and Miss Grey, weaker or not, would have to leap from her chair and strangle her.

But writing when she left for her shopping trip did not prevent Aya from discovering what she was doing for Aya, although largely successful in pretending to be self contained and disinterested was really very interested, sneaky and snoopy. She noticed that several days in a row as she was leaving the house, Miss Grey took on what might be called the energy of expectation. She was waiting for Aya to go and her efforts to conceal this waiting were unsuccessful. Her hands, for example, as she stood in the hall to say good bye and bestow a chaste kiss on her beloved’s sweet smelling and lovely cheek, her hands were already involuntarily giving away the game by reaching out as if to arrange paper before her on a desk. Her body, leaned over to bestow its kiss, was filled with impatient exurberance. “Go!” it seemed to say. “Get thee gone; I have important things to do.”

So one day, the fifth day of Miss Grey’s new regime, Aya went out the front door and down the step but when she reached the fence at the end of the walk leading to the street she turned right instead of left. This led her to the alley running along the side of the property and eventually to another alley which went across the back of the house. When she reached midway along the back, as lithe as a cat she slipped through the bushes growing there and came up to the back of the house. The day before she had put the orchard ladder against the sill of Miss Grey’s second floor study. When she reached the window she slowly raised her head until she could see Miss Steel seated at her desk and writing in such a furious and concentrated fashion that Aya suspected that even if she fell off the ladder and loudly crashed upon the ground below, Miss Grey would hardly notice. This seemed to Aya simultaneously a cause for celebration and a source of sadness. But now that she was on the ladder, spying through the window on her friend and lover, she felt somewhat ashamed of herself. She climbed down as quietly as she could and went off to do her shopping.

What was Miss Grey writing? Well, gibberish mostly but not entirely for her reading had given her an excellent vocabulary and sense of structure and rhythm so that the descriptive passages she was writing, although lacking context, narrative superstructure and directional drive, were, nonetheless, in their own way, competent and skillful and each hour she put into sitting at the desk and writing was making them more so. They were essentially autobiographical, not in the sense they were direct transcriptions of passages from her own life, but in that they were descriptions of social scenes her mother might have experienced or ones that Miss Grey either imagined or experienced herself, or indeed, imagined she had experienced. When you read as much as Miss Grey had read it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.

Six weeks after she began sitting at her desk two hours each morning, writing, Miss Grey came out of the closet and gave one of the passages to Aya to read. She wondered for some time whether she should do so for Aya, although far from illiterate, was not well read. She read romance novels running from the racy dime store variety to the at least somewhat elegant and refined. With romance novels if they consist of long descriptions of emotional and moral states, they are elegant and refined. If they lean to descriptions of sexual acts performed naked or semi naked then they are vulgar, perhaps even pornographic. Miss Grey thought the distinction silly. The only distinction she herself respected was whether the writing was good or not, although she had to admit that the later were excellent preludes to love making while the former more conducive to a discussion of morality and social order. Whether an ethical discussion was more significant in the larger order of things than an orgasm was a question which made no sense to her. But then again, since ethical discussions can only be had by sentient beings and sentient beings can only be created by a sexual act, then perhaps the orgasm was superior or at least came first as a necessary premise to questions of morality.

The passage she gave Aya was a description of a dinner party. It was in the style of Proust, although  simplified, stripped of much of its arabesques and elaborate metaphors, understandably, as a nod toward the magazine style of the day, for although a great wanderer through the fields of the literary imagination, Miss Steel was a grounded woman and had in her sights certain women’s magazines she planned on sending her work to once she had achieved a satisfactory level of competency. Miss Steel knew the foundation of the piece was Proust but Aya did not, for she had never read Proust, indeed had never even heard of him.

Aya loved the piece. She praised it to high heaven, especially what she considered to be a subtext of smouldering eroticism involving the young heroine (as Aya called her) and the headwaiter which while granted it did not actually break out and declare itself, was still there lurking in the background so to speak, eyeballs rolling and tongue hanging out. Aya was sure the success of the piece lay in a great red sea of eroticism lying beneath the elegant restraint of the prose and the gentlewomanly tinkle of conversation and crockery. She claimed such a combination would sell like hotcakes and urged Miss Grey to send it off to the magazines immediately. Miss Grey was a little taken aback at this analysis but on reflection thought Aya to be essentially correct. She spent three days combing the draft for errors and then sent it off.

Nobody could have been more surprised than Miss Grey when a letter came back two weeks later accepting the story. Three weeks later another letter arrived with a cheque enclosed. Aya was ecstatic. Miss Grey was now a writer. To be the partner and companion of a writer, to Aya, was much more prestigious than being the partner of a rich woman. Riches were, after all, inherited, whereas being a writer came from one’s own talent and hard work. She insisted Miss Grey move her work area to the room at the back on the ground floor, twice the size of the study on the second floor. Miss Grey, after first resisting (she was very conservative – her first impulse was to leave things just the way they were) allowed herself to be swept away by Aya’s enthusiasm. Aya cleaned and painted the room herself, ordered in bookshelves, brought carpet samples from the store for Miss Grey to choose an area rug, and arranged for movers to come and move the chairs and big desk down from the old study. It was truly a magnificent room. It had a bank of windows out onto the garden in the back, high windows from floor to ceiling. At first Miss Grey felt dwarfed by the room’s size, by the great sweep of the window view. She soon learned to pull the drapes when she was writing. (something which Aya thought strange – surely the view out the window should inspire Miss Grey) She positioned two of the bookcases so they enclosed the space to the right of her desk. Thus ‘entombed’, as she called it, she wrote mornings everyday from eight until noon. When the old mantle clock (with new, accurate works installed) struck twelve she capped her pen (she used an old fountain pen of her father’s fitted with a new nib) rose from the desk and walked into the kitchen where she had lunch with Aya.

Within two years Miss Grey was published regularly by the a dozen high circulation magazines. Every week she received letters from other magazines requesting story submissions. A publisher was getting ready a book of her short stories for publication. The magazines she wrote for were asking for a photograph and biographical details ( she had given them a brief fictional bio and published the stories under a pen name – Olivia Monmoth) but she was unsure what she wanted to do about all this. She didn’t really want to give interviews and the thought of her photograph being studied by thousands of people made her slightly nauseous.

“Well,” said Aya, “You are a famous writer now and you will just have to put up with it. You owe it to your readers and to the magazines which send you all those fat cheques.”

“Nonsense,” replied Miss Grey. “I owe them absolutely nothing. They don’t have to read my stories if they don’t want to and neither do the magazines have to publish them. I would have to be a complete fool to talk myself into thinking that I owe my life to anyone just because I write stories.”

Aya thought this attitude very ungrateful. This, unfortunately she thought, was typical of Miss Grey. She supposed it to be a matter of upbringing. To be brought up a princess leads to exaggerated ideas about one’s independence. But then again, thought Aya, Miss Grey was independent, wasn’t she? She could stop writing stories tomorrow, never get another cheque and it would make no real difference. She would go on living in the big house just as before. Nothing would change.

“Nonetheless,” said Aya, “publicity must be taken care of somehow. People like to know something about their favourite author. They like to feel as if they know them and share in some way in what they imagine to be their exciting life.”

Miss Grey broke out laughing. Although she always looked the lady and for the most part acted as if she were one, thought Aya, Miss Grey could often be very vulgar. When something made her incredulous she laughed in the braying style of a donkey while flinging her arms about as if she were drowning and searching for a grip on a dock or a lifesaver. When this subsided she snorted loudly three of four times and then wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. When this performance was over Aya said,

“Dear Ali, (Miss Grey’s Christian name) surely you are not so insane to think you can be a popular author and remain anonymous.”

“Yes, I am exactly so insane dear Aya,” replied Miss Grey. “They get text and that’s all they get.” This ended the conversation for it was eight AM and Miss Steel led Aya to the door by the elbow and pushed her gently into the corridor. For Miss Steel the writing hours between eight and twelve were an absolute.

Miss Grey’s stories were so popular in the magazines that the publisher decided to forgo their usual requirement of an extensive book tour. Miss Grey refused to do the tour but the publisher thought she was already so well known the lack of a tour would not hurt sales. They were right. Top of the best seller list and so on. This, of course, brought even more pressure on the publisher to trot out their best selling author but unfortunately for them Miss Grey was not the trotting type. They sent her letter after letter laying out various possible schedules (concentrating on the sunny south for it was winter and the north where Miss Grey lived was frozen solid and they thought they might lure her with all expenses paid trip through the balmy south) but Miss Grey refused them all, eventually, after ascertaining the envelope did not contain a cheque, tearing them up without reading them.

Aya could hardly believe all this. An expenses paid trip through the south from coast to coast, staying at the finest hotels, eating chef cooked meals seemed to her to be the summit of desirability. But Miss Grey was adamant. She was not the slightest bit interested in going and would not go. Miss Grey liked it exactly where she was with her daily schedule, her cats, her aviary at the back of the house, her two walks a day, her comfortable, cozy bed with the iron fireplace at the foot where Aya built up the fire and put on the screen just before they went to bed. Twice a week they went to the movie house by taxi, twice a month they had dinner at a downtown restaurant. They went to the city’s two offerings of opera a year, to the three or four ballet performances and to the Chamber Orchestra. Relatives were entertained once in the spring and again at Christmas time. Since the gangster was dead even Miss Grey’s two doctor married aunts attended. They had the immediate neighbours over for a barbecue midsummer. One year after first publishing Miss Grey had run into an old school friend who was also lesbian and her and Aya now had a gathering once a month where the ‘girls’ came and had dinner. Three of these were great readers and they met six or seven times a year to discuss books and read poetry aloud. Two gay males also attended, friends of Miss Grey’s original contact and one straight male who everyone referred to as HIM, even when he was present for he was a good humoured man and enjoyed his status as the only heterosexual man in the crowd. With all this Miss Grey was mightily satisfied and could see no reason to go gallivanting about subjecting herself to rude questions from strangers. All of her friends knew she was Olivia Monmoth but they were not overly impressed. To them she was Ali and that she wrote ‘racy’ stories for the magazines which sold like hotcakes was interesting but not that interesting. They were far more impressed by the ballroom where she and Aya entertained and even more impressed by the catered dinners and tortes cooked jointly by Aya and Miss Grey for dessert. And finally they were just friends for as time went on, perhaps because Miss Grey was doing something she loved and was thus satisfied and relaxed, they simply enjoyed the couple’s company for they were warm, funny and enjoyable to be with. The icing on the cake was Miss Grey’s mind. She was witty, highly intelligent and erudite. There was no anti intellectualism at Ali and Aya’s, very different from other spots in the city where money and knuckle dragging were de rigeur.

Two years after Miss Grey’s first collection of stories, the publishers came out with another. The head of the firm decided to send, unannounced, for she was sure Miss Grey would give a resounding no if asked, a representative to try coaxing her into an appearance at two or three events in the Big City. So one day in June, a fine sunny day so warm Aya and Ali were eating lunch in the side yard where the sun was pouring through the elm foliage and dappling the white table cloth, a young woman knocked at the door. The two women could hear the knock clearly. Ali got up and peeked around the corner of the house. Aya watched her gazing at whatever was there for some time, wrinkling her brow in study and then came back and sit down at the table.

“Who is it?” asked Aya.

“A young woman from the publisher,” Ali replied.

“Are you sure?” asked Aya.

“Not absolutely but ninety-nine percent,”

“What are you going to do?” asked Aya.

“Nothing,” said Ali.

“That would be rude,” said Aya.

“They started the rudeness by not taking no for an answer.”

“Still, that doesn’t give you an excuse for continuing it,” said Aya.

“Yes it does,” Ali replied.

Aya decided to say nothing. When Ali got into a mood the best thing was to leave or remain silent. She never stayed in her moods for long but when she was in one it was impossible to deal with her. Trying to make her see sense only made it worse.

The knocking from around the corner continued with short intervals of rest. Aya supposed publisher’s agents would have to be persistent. If they weren’t they would never last.

When, after ten minutes, the knocking had not stopped, Ali rose from her seat and walked around the corner, coming back a few minutes later with a young woman who looked like she ought to be in high school rather than knocking on the doors of famous authors. She was flustered and embarrassed. Ali sat her in her own chair and went and fetched herself another. Aya placed the plate of sandwiches in front of her and poured her a cup of tea. After an ineffective protest that she was not really hungry the young woman dug into the sandwiches, eating steadily until they were all gone. She drank three cups of tea. Aya and Ali watched her in astonishment. Perhaps, between assignments, the publisher kept her imprisoned on half rations. When she was done Ali invited her to come along for the after lunch walk.

The young woman stayed for three days. After the first day she gave up trying to persuade Ali to tour. The contest was unequal. Ali was a very determined person who knew exactly what she wanted and the young woman was, well, more or less just an ordinary young woman. But Ali, feeling sorry for her, did throw her a bone.

“Why don’t you make out as if you were Olivia Monmoth and do the touring yourself?

“Oh Goodness!” exclaimed the young woman and broke into a horsy laugh.

“Why not?” asked Ali.

“It wouldn’t be right,” was the reply.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Ali. “There is no right and wrong in such matters. It’s business. If the lady’s clubs are convinced you are Olivia then you are Olivia.”

“I couldn’t.”

“Of course you could. With a little coaching you could be Olivia to a ‘T’.”

The young woman continued to protest but her resistance eventually broke down under Ali’s browbeating. Aya and Ali had a loud argument that night when the young woman went out for a walk. When she came back the three of them had a long talk.

Aya traveled with the young woman back to her Big City and (with phone calls to Ali and her lawyer) negotiated the young woman’s contract.

“It’s an acting job,” Ali said to Aya when she arrived home. “That poor thing doesn’t have what it takes to be an agent for dog trainer. Now she has a nice job lunching at lady’s clubs three months a year with a generous salary far in excess of what she would make doing anything else.”

“I’m just worried she might loose her balance pretending she is someone else,” said Aya.

“But the someone else she is pretending to be doesn't exist. Besides stage and screen actors do it all the time. Whether it unbalances them depends on what they started out with in the first place. She’s a very grounded girl at heart. She’ll be just fine.”

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