Myra turned on the eleven o'clock news, and watched Lisa LaFlamme cover the latest attack in Syria and the American election. When the segment on TIFF came on, though, she went into the kitchen to put on the kettle. After all, Busted had debuted at the Toronto Film Festival: she remembered its premiere. Barely days after Don’s funeral it had been. His tickets had still been displayed on the mantelpiece, for she had not been able to bring herself to tidy them into the blue box. However, that did not mean that she wanted to use them. Not with out him! Then, in the end, she had changed her mind. Duty drove her: he would have wanted it; he had so looked forward to it. She hired a babysitter, dressed in her best party dress, and headed downtown in a taxi.
She, Myra Schanke, had walked the red carpet! (Well, everyone going in had trod the carpet: it was almost as broad as the sidewalk.) No lights had flashed for her; no reporters had thrust mikes under her nose, nor fans requested autographs. She was unremarkable and unremarked; she simply walked past as they focused on others.
The party had been full of people she didn’t recognize, and a few famous faces she had not dared to approach. Finally, she had spotted Alix Logan across the room, pressed by fans. For a long while, she had hesitated, hiding her uncertainty behind a glass of cheap champagne. Then, finally, for Don’s sake, she had made her way through the crowd.
“Ms Logan,” she had begun, not sure how to go on. There was a burly man at the actress’s side, his attention sharp on her—a bodyguard, she realized. “Ms Logan, we haven’t met….”
The actress smiled automatically.
“My husband—Detective Schanke?—he was a consultant on your film.”
“Oh, John! Yes, of course. I remember him so well: he and his partner. Such a nice man, Detective Knight, so handsome and helpful.” Alix looked round. “He couldn’t make it? What a pity.” Again she flashed those famous teeth.
“No,” said Myra. “No, he couldn’t make it.” Either the bombings hadn’t been reported in the American media, or the actress didn’t follow the news.
“Well, it was good to meet you,” said Alix brightly. She thrust out her hand; and Myra shook it.
“See you at the Oscars!”
“We’re going over to Grandma’s in half an hour. And no: you can’t take it with you. So, whatever you’re doing, finish up.”
Over in the corner of the den, Josie was curled on the floor with a jigsaw puzzle. She didn’t look up.
“Do we have to go?” protested Donny. Even as he talked, his thumbs were busy.
“Yes,” said Jenny. “I told you days ago, so there’s no point in looking at me like that. You can play when we get home.” Prudently, she added, “For an hour maybe before bedtime, if we’re back by then.”
“But we’re always going to Grandma’s!”
Josie looked up. “He’s right, you know.”
As their grandmother still lived in the old family home only a half hour’s drive away, this was true.
“But this is special,” Jenny said. “Grandpa’s movie is on TV.” She could hear a coaxing whine in her voice. More firmly, she went on, “She wants to see it again; and I promised we’d make an evening of it.”
“Oh, not again,” Josie cried. “Come on, Mum. We saw it on his birthday … on those scratchy tapes of hers, too.”
“Well, this time it’s on TV,” said Jenny, and added, “We’re going,” in a voice that was flat and firm enough to stop further protest. What she did not explain—for she doubted the kids were old enough to understand—was her feeling that her mother needed their company tonight.
Seeing Busted … again … meant a lot to Myra. More than it did to Jenny, let alone the grandchildren. She knew that, with her head if not her heart. (Never in her heart.) So she knew why Jenny had insisted that the whole family would love to come over and watch with her. In truth, she wanted to see the film alone, so that she might sit in solitude afterwards with her memories. On the other hand, she was grateful—less for the company than for the love and care that it demonstrated. So she baked a batch of brownies and slathered extra-thick icing. It would, she thought, be some compensation (to the kids, at least) for the hours they were giving up to her.
She cut the brownies in the pan and put a paper doily on the plate. The children would not appreciate the fancy presentation, but Jenny would; moreover she would know that her mother was taking her usual pains with appearance, and not sinking into depression again. It had not been easy after Don’s death. A hole had been torn in the fabric of the world: his empty chair at dinner and the pillow beside hers in bed were only the daily reminder. It had taken years—literally years—before she’d managed to pick up the threads of her life and cobble over the emptiness. (And meanwhile, of course, she had still had to be there for Jenny.)
She cherished every memory. She had never wanted to move on. Yet still things slipped out of mind.
Photo albums had been her preserve. So a couple of the best pictures, blown up and framed, presided in the living room: one on the table by his armchair and the other on the mantelpiece. His face, never changing, never forgotten. Always dear. She had long since gone grey, but he never would.
And at first she could hear him in her head. With a dry comment, perhaps, as she watched the TV news. Or praising her cake, as he’d done so often (just before stealing a dollop of icing, and licking his finger with loud smacking appreciation). Now, though … now she woke, once in a while, from a dream that he was alive: amnesia for years perhaps, finally returned home. Yet, once her eyes were open, she could only remember that she had heard his voice and known it instantly.
Don had been movie-mad; yet he’d never got the hang of the home movie camera he’d bought when Jenny was small. They had a few feet of footage of her as a toddler, at her fourth birthday party, and swimming in the lake that time at the cottage. Don had shot the film, and appeared in none of it.
His part in Busted was tiny; still, he had a few precious lines that meant she could hear him again. Only for a couple of seconds; but it was him. Real; not slipping from memory. Oh, he was in costume: a constable’s uniform; and generic, not the one he’d worn when they’d been dating. But it was his walk, his talk ... his stance as he frisked the perp, and his own dear face alive, as he turned his head for that one brief close-up.
In the back seat, the kids stared out the windows, bored with the routine route. Her husband, who was driving, kept his eye on the weekend traffic. Though Jenny had to keep one ear cocked automatically for trouble from the back seat, her mind was mostly free to wander.
Her father had been so excited to be chosen police consultant for the new Alix Logan flick. Even as a child, Jenny had thought nothing odd about it’s being made in Toronto: the film industry in Hollywood North was a major money-spinner. Still, as an adult, she couldn’t help but wonder a little how Dad had got the job. (She’d never bothered to ask her mother, who probably knew the details.) Back then, though, what had mattered to her was the holiday that she didn’t get to take because he’d used his days off instead so that he could be on the movie set.
“Alix Logan!!!” Dad had cried. Mum had said all the right things. Jenny had not been so impressed. She had barely heard of Alix Logan. Now, if it had been Robin Williams or Macauley Culkin! That would have been exciting. But Jenny had never gone to an Alix Logan movie, being too young for cleavage and shoot-outs. Still, Dad was so thrilled at the chance to be on the set that he had wanted her to share his joy. So, each night for a whole week, she’d been allowed to skimp her homework so that they could all sit together in the living room to watch films rented from the local Rogers outlet. (“This is what Daddy’s going to be doing, honeybunch.”) Then came the great day when he drove to the studio instead of the station. That night he had came home and recounted every detail, twice over and more; and Myra had hung on his description of “Alix”. (“That’s ‘Ms Logan’ to you, young lady.”) Over the next few days, his ebullience had diminished; but, if he had confided in his wife, it had not been clear to Jenny how her Dad’s frustration had grown as he realized the slant the director was giving each shot. No one, though, could have missed his glee when “Alix” insisted on a ride-along.
And then suddenly it was over. The film wrapped and went into post-production; Dad went back to work; and life returned to normal.
(Jenny sighed for the loss of that “normal”. It had lasted so short a time; and those final days could have been truly savoured … if she had known.)
It takes months to finish a movie after all the footage has been filmed; but there are deadlines that matter. Alix Logan had wanted authenticity: the respect of the critics and a new start to her career. She wanted the meaty, heart-fraught parts that win Best Actress awards. She wanted an Oscar. For this, there was no better route than a film debut at one of the major festivals.
Her Dad had been sent tickets, and an invitation to the party. He’d been cock-a-hoop about both, and talked about them for days. (“The Festival of Festivals!” he had cried. Not until years later had she realized that had not been his superlative, but TIFF’s old name.) Looking back from an adult perspective, Jenny suspected that his fellow detectives must have been utterly fed up in the first twenty-four hours. She almost pitied his partner—except that she’d had it for breakfast and dinner. There had doubtless been pillow talk after her parents had gone to bed.
The tickets had been set upright on the mantelpiece, with an edge tucked safely behind a vase, prominent for all to see. Dad had pointed them out to anyone who came by—from Detective Knight to her grandparents, the next-door neighbour, cops in his bowling club … the Maytag guy when the washer broke. Unexpectedly, a grin broke on Jenny’s face as she remembered the repairman, cornered on his way to the basement. (Her husband saw her smile out of the corner of his eye, glanced over puzzled, but turned back to the road ahead as the light turned green.)
Oh, Dad had so looked forward to opening night.
When they turned off into the side street, she saw a familiar car already in the driveway; and her husband had to slow and search further along to find a spot to park. The children ran ahead; and she followed slowly as he got out his keys and locked the doors.
Josie reached up to push the doorbell; and, as Jenny mounted the stairs, she could hear the chime of “Shave and a haircut” (picked by Dad to her mother’s rolled eyes, and never changed after his death).
“Uncle Joe!” cried the kids, as the door opened.
She looked over their heads into his eyes and said, “I guess you read the listings in Star Week too?”
Joe Stonetree’s call had been unexpected; but he dropped by often. Had done, ever since Don died: he’d worked at the 27th Precinct for so long, after all. The transfer to the 96th had been barely a year before the plane crash; and Captain Stonetree took care of his own. Oh, Don’s last partner had come round now and then for a few months before that mysterious departure of his; but “Uncle Joe” became a hardy perennial, relied on to help with blocked toilets, cleaning the eaves, and putting up the screens on the windows in the spring. Myra started a second batch of brownies, and left him to open the door when the others arrived.
Jenny drifted into the kitchen to help; and the men chatted while the children went out to the garden. The sun slipped below the horizon: the movie started at eight. Myra carried out the first batch of brownies, poured milk, and made coffee: cups and saucers, instead of mugs; and the silver cream and sugar that came from Grandma Schanke when she died. The children were called inside from the twilit yard with time to settle cross-legged on the floor; Jenny and her husband took the couch; and Joe, as he so often did when there were others there, sat in Don’s armchair. Then he reached over to her side of the table for the remote.
After the last of the commercials came the opening credits: the studio logo; “Alix Logan”, large and bold, “in Busted”. The music (by Jerry Goldsmith) had been a bestseller in its day, played daily on the radio. At the time, Myra could hardly bear to hear it; now it was a comfort. She knew the movie so well.
Indeed, Busted was so familiar that the children were calling out lines and directions before the actors could get the words out. “Watch out behind you!” cried Donny. Jenny rolled her eyes; and Myra was irresistibly reminded of the audience at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In one of the commercials, she put on more coffee. In the next one, she poured milk and brought out the second batch of brownies. Jenny joined her to carry in the tray.
Don’s scene was in the next segment. Everyone knew it was coming. Jenny leaned forward to tap the children’s shoulders and frown; Josie shrugged her off, with an impatient glance. They knew; and they stayed quiet—if only for Grandma’s sake, Myra thought. (They were good kids.)
“It’s not as bad as the critics said,” commented Jenny’s husband as the final credits rolled. “Not that Logan was ever much of an actress—what’s she doing these days?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I saw a couple of her other films when I was a kid.” He grinned. “You’ve got to admit they were a bit different.”
He’d said it before. (Would no doubt say it again.) The family commentary was almost as familiar as the dialogue. Myra steeled herself for his next words: “You know what that critic from the Examiner wrote—”
Jenny broke in. “Not in front of the kids.”
Her husband looked startled. Yes, thought Myra with some surprise, on Don’s birthday this year, her son-in-law had been out of town. The old jokes weren’t going to pass right over the children’s heads nowadays.
“What did she say, Daddy?” asked Donny.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jenny. “It was a long time ago.”
“It was a different film critic back then,” said Myra. “A man.”
As an actress, Alix Logan has two main assets; and in that bulky uniform, no one gets a good look at either of them. Julia Roberts she ain’t, folks. She should stick to the action flicks that made her name, and spare the movie-going public her wish fulfilment fantasies of Oscar stardom.
Myra could practically recite it from memory (and did not want to have to explain it to the kids!) and had no doubt that Jenny felt the same way. Indeed, she said almost immediately that it was time they thought of leaving—well, the children did need to get home to bed—and, after good-byes, they headed out to the car, leaving the place feeling remarkably empty and quiet behind them.
“The children do occupy the space, don’t they?” she heard Joe say as she stood at the door, watching them down the path.
“It’s lovely having them over,” she replied.
Joe lingered for a while, listening as she reminisced. Then he heaved himself out of Don’s chair, saying that he ought to be going himself. With a final promise to give her a call soon, he also left; and finally, finally, she had the place to herself.
It was so many years ago, she thought. So many years; and almost to the day. The plane had gone down in September, with the summer warmth lingering.
The tiny part in Busted was her last eternal glimpse of Donald G. Schanke.