Jose Quintero

Sent in to vivandlarry.com by Tanguy

I cannot think of England without thinking of Vivien Leigh. I cannot event think of Shakespeare without thinking of Vivien Leigh. I first saw her on the stage at Stratford on Avon. I did not know her then. She was playing Viola in Twelfth Night.

I arrived late and missing the exposition, I saw her impersonating a boy. No boy has ever been more beautiful. She wore a short, reddish cap of a wig. Beneath it shone those splendid green eyes, that deepened and changed hues with her mood. And at the end of the paly, when she erased the disguise by a simple and miraculous shudder of her being, no girl or woman has ever been more glorious.

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call
Upon my soul within the house ; Write loyal
Cantons of contented love, and sing them loud,
Even in the dead of the night ;
Hallo your name to the reverberate hill and make the
Babbling gossip of the air cry out…
Vivien. Vivien.

I last saw Vivien Leigh six months before her death. We drove to the country house she called “Tikerish”. The green, moist Devonshire landscape was a suitable background for her delicate features. I had gone to London to offer her the role of Deborah, in Eugene O’Neill’s last unproduced play, More Stately Mansions.

By that time we were friends. We had completed a picture together based closely on The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone by Tennessee Williams.

Karen Stone was not the first Williams heroine she had portrayed. She was also the first Blanche Dubois, both on the stage in London (directed by her husband at that time, Sir Lawrence Olivier), and on the screen, for which she won her second Academy Award.

The first day of shooting of the Roman Spring of Mrs Stone was the most terrigying day of my life as a director. I had never done a movie. I literally did not know one end of the camera from the other. I arrived at Elms Street studio at seven A.M., having slept restlessly the night before.
The producers (to give me confidence, I think) had presented me the day before with a green visor cap not unlike the one that John Ford wears. A dark turtleneck sweater, a viewfinder that hung from my neck on a long dark leather string completed my disguise as an experienced director.

They had given me a car chauffeured by a man called Albert. Albert was a foot or so taller than I, which made him look on the one hand like an enourmously tall Mad Hatter, or on the other hand like a Toulouse-Lautreckian Toff. Remember the poster of the performer with a checkered suit and a tall hat, which once covered the wet grey walls of Montmartre, guiding people toward the Moulin Rouge ? Albert not only was to become my friend, but Vivien’s as well.

That morning he came to pick me up at six. I was already dressed in my director’s disguise. The fog was so thick that as I opened the doorway, and this tall creature said to me, “Are you ready, governor ?” I felt like saying, “Terribly sorry. You have the wrong party”.

But instead I said, “Yes”.

As we walked to the car in the fog, I asked, “What is your name ?”

“Oh, Albert, sir”.

“Well, mine is José”. I spelled it for him, which must have embarrassed him.

“Oh, I know your name. You are a very important person”. He smiled as he opened the door to the back of the car.

“Albert, if you don’t mind – this morning being the first morning and all – I would like to ride in front”.

“As you wish, sir, it really isn’t quite done. But that’s as you wish”.

When I crossed the big set on Stage 17, the producers had another surprise for me : something that they thought would give me complete confidence. They had changed the schedule, and I was to start with the restaurant scene. The restaurant scene required two hundred fifty extras, and was possibly the largest and most complex set in the entire picture. Aside from the two hundred fifty extras, there must have been a hundred people hanging on scaffolds and maneuvering hundreds of brilliant, movable lights, as if looking for a criminal. Surely, I felt, I was the criminal they were looking for.

They had provided me as well with a trailer – into which I ran immediately.

I locked the door of the trailer, shaking with fear and totally wet with perspiration, sat down on a chair and found myself facing a large mirror. At first I thought there was someone else in the room. Startled, I looked again, and realized that what the mirror was sending back to me was my own reflection, which I could not recognize in my panicky state. And if I could not even recognize myself, how could I possibly recognize the extraordinary faces of Vivien Leigh or Lotte Lenya through those circulat little lenses which I knew waited for me like the eyes of a serpent set in the forehead of that black monster called the camera ?

I tried to summon up pleasant images : a tree, MacDougal Street, met at 21, me at one. Nothing dissolved my panic. I tried to look through that viewfinder that my most helpful producers had given me, but I could see nothing through it. I tried to comb my hair four different ways. I don’t have much hair and it can only be combed one way.

I looked at my wristwatch. My producers had instructed me almost hourly since I had been hired that time was the most important element in movie making. Every second is money. Breathe by the clock. When you have been used to getting $0.25 a week can you imagine what it is to know that in your hands rests $10,000 a minute ?

That first hour in the trailer, I grimly watched the minute hand run around the smooth cold face of the clock.

I started, as someone knocked at the door.

“Who is it ?”

“It’s Freddy, Mr. Quintero, the assistant-to-the-second-assistant-to-the-first-assistant”.

“Yes, what is it ?”

“We are ready, Mr. Quintero”

Götterdämmerung, I thought. “I will come right along”, I mumbled.

I got up, unlocked the door, pressing my viewfinder so tightly agains my eyes that Freddy had to guide me to the center of the stage as if I had been blind.

I arrived on the set and stood next to the camera. The assistant director yelled, “Silence !” His assistant echoed, “Silence !” Then I heard Freddy’s cockney voice from very far away saying, “Silence”

We were silent.

“Are Miss Leigh, Miss Lenya, Miss Browne, and Mr Beatty ready ?”

“Yes”

I shook hands with the cameraman. His name was Mr Waxman.

“This is Ernest Day. He is your operator. He has done all of David Lean’s pictures”.

“How are you, Mr Day ?”

Vivien was the first to come on the set. She had been at the studio since six-thirty A.M., having her hair washed and set. I know how many people in the world envy movie stars and think their lives completely glamorous. As I had not done pictures before, I held the same belief. But I now realized that for Vivien to be at the studio at six-thirty, she must have risen at five or five-thirty and ridden for an hour to the studio to have her hair washed and her makeup done. She had not acted in a movie since she had fallen ill in New Zealand while working in Elephant Walk, and flown home on BOAC, strapped to a stretcher. They had to persuade Elizabeth Taylor to take the role over in a matter of hours. That had been seven or eight years earlier.

There had been some talk as well about the difficulty of insuring her. Before the hiring for a picture, particularly in the case of stars and directors, the big insurance companies decide whether they will underwrite the financial loss a producer will sustain if either star or director is unable to complete a film. No producer will risk hiring you if an insurance company will not underwrite you. This is not caprice on the part of the producer. For the banks in turn will not provide the initial backing for the picture, if they are not protected against a loss. That is why an actor, an actress or a director who has developped a reputation for irresponsibility may find it extremely difficult, regardless of talent, to gain employment.

A physical examination is required, as well. They want to know wheter you are in the last stages of some galloping disease, drink too much or are oversexed. If the answers to the above are “No”, then you can probably be insured. The producers become ecstatic. For now, if you drop dead in the middle of a love scene, they do not have to bear the burden of a financial loss.
I walked over to greet Vivien. We almost met in the middle of that enormous set. A thousand pairs of eyes were focused on her walk, on her legs, on her waist, on her breasts, on her neck and on every feature of that perfect, oval face. There were whispers.

“Has she changed ?”

“Is she glad ?”

“Is she sad ?”

“They are not together anymore. I wonder how she feels about it”.

“Is she still any good ?”

“Will she be able to finish this time, particularly in the hands of someone who has never done a picture before ?”

She walked through the whispers with that pride which is one of the true star’s qualities. She wore a soft green coat framed in a fluffy whitish fur.

The boys on the grip, supposed to be so hard and callous, were the ones that began to clap. She stopped and looked up and smiled at them, raising her hand as if to stroke their cheeks. The applause grew, and even the recalcitrant extras picked it up. A queen is a queen, and without acting it she proves it, so there she stood, no taller than 5’2″, commanding her realm, her subjects. I went over and embraced her, and she held onto my hand. Her own hand was icy, with that terminal cold that comes when one is on the brink of death. I held it tight. We had not spoken more than four or five times before ; we met for the first time at that moment. She looked up at me and she managed to stay, “You don’t need that viewfinder. I trust your eyes”.
I took my viewfinder off, threw my John Ford cap off my head, and forgot all my fears. I felt something like a Spanish Sir Galahad ready to kill dragons to protect my lady.

Lotte Lenya arrived, followed by Coral Browne and Warren Beatty.

“Please, everybody”, I said still holding Vivien’s hand. “I know that it is customary to make a speech at the beginning of a picture, or on the first day of play rehearsals. Usually that speech is supposed to be inspiring, and its purpose to give confidence to every one working with you. I am terribly sorry that I will be a disappointment to you from the start. For here stands a director who doesn’t even know when to call action and when to call cut.

“I will need your help. I have a stack of pictures in my head, but I don’t know exactly how to deal the deck. In short, I don’t know the language of this game”.

Vivien said loud enough for everyone to hear, “We are with you, aren’t we all ?”

Small voices, shy voices, in front of me, on the side of me, in the back of me, voices that spoke for every man and woman in that crew engulfed me with a “Yes”.

They never made me regret that I had so thoroughly exposed myself during my opening speech. It took six months to shoot the film, and not once did a single member of that English crew take advantage of my ignorance. If I dealt too many cards or did the opposite, they made it seem that it was their mistake, not mine. I didn’t know about floating walls. It it came to my mind to shoot through a permanent wall it was removed in fifteen minutes.

One time Harry Waxman yelled at one of the guys on the grip, “God damn it. I want this light right here”.

He did not know that her ladyship was standing right behind him”.

“And you shall have it”, answered a soft voice.

He whirled around to face Vivien, who had spoken the lines only for Harry’s ears. As he faced her, she made a tiny humorous bow to him. Mr. Waxman never raised his voice on the set again.
My only distress came from my producer.  He was a large stout man who emptied countless bottles of Beaujolais. Often I imagined that if I were to poke my finger at his stomach, he might well spout sparkling wine form every opening in his body like some obscene Italian fountain. I must say that he appeared to be one of the unhappiest men I have ever known. He was unhappy in Rome because they could not pronounce his name properly. In London he was unhappy because the weather was not exactly to his liking. He had warm feelings for Paris, however ; he would always say to me, “That is the city I am happy in. I never, never have to spell my name there.”

His voice mas muffled with a constant undertow of pain. Almost at the end of one shooting day, I said to the assistant director, “I would like for tomorrow’s scene, about four crates filled with pigeons. And I want a wagon that breaks down as Vivien runs past it. Then I want the four crates to open up and release the pigeons”.

No sooner had I spoken that than my wailing Italian fountain of a producer rushed over with a look of agony.

“Pigeons” he cried out. “Now you want pigeons. It is difficult enough to make actors act, but it is impossible to make pigeons act. It will take weeks to film that scene. And the picture doesn’t call for pigeons. It has nothing to do with pigeons”.

I said, “I want pigeons”.

Then he moaned. “How are you going to make the wagon break down at that exact moment ? Suppose that you can do the impossible, and geet it on the first shot. The pigeons will go up to the rafter and stay there, and shit all over us for the remainder of the shooting. How are you going to bring them down once they began to like it up there ?”

I responded grandly, “If I do not get pigeons, I may fly up myself to the rafters and stay there and do what you say the pigeons will, everytime you are within reach”.

The whole crew stood by, silently watching this poignant scene. After the producer had left, possibly to consume more Beaujolais than usual, the assistant director came to me and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure out a way of getting them for you”.

The next morning I arrived on the set, with a bad case of nerves. The cart was set up and wired, so that one wheel would come off at the appointed time. On it were the four crates crowded with what I hoped were impatient pigeons longing to be free. We set up the shot and just as I was preparing to shoot it, the producer came down on the set and stood right next to me.

“Everything ready ?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Miss Leigh in her place ?”

“Yes”

“Roll”

“Action”

Vivien ran down the street, the wheel of the cart came off, the top of the crates opened and not a pigeon moved.

“Cut”, I said.

“You see what I mean”, my producer said lugubriously. “Either they do one thing, or they do the opposite. They deal in extremes”. By this time I was so nervous that I turned to him and said, “If you don’t get away from me, I personnally will stuff you into one of those crates and detonate a bomb under the whole distasteful package”.

On the next take, it worked.

During the six months of shooting, Vivien drove back to London three or four times a week in my car. She had her own car, a splendid Rolls Royce. But she chose to ride with me, for she knew that Albert and I had fallen into a delightful and relaxing ritual. I had asked Albert at the beginning of the shooting, to stop on our way back home at his favorite pub. Thereafter we made a habit of it, in which Vivien wanted to share.

“I will send my car home and ride with you, José”, she said one afternoon before we had completed the first week of shooting. As we rode into London I said, “Albert, take me to the Purple Apple as usual and we will take her ladyship with us”.

“I will be glad to governor, but her ladyship ?”

“Albert, you heard the governor”, Vivien said. “To the Purple Apple. I assure you that I would be most grateful”.

I have never seen Albert so disconcerted. He kept a pint of whiskey in the glove compartment of the car, and habitually emptied it from seven in the morning until six-thirty at night, while we were working on Stage 17. Yet I never before minded it, for he drove well through the dense fog of a December London night. This was the first time I sensed the effect of whiskey on Albert’s nerves.

We arrived at the pub and took our seats in a booth.

Albert sat on a stool at the bar. The Purple Apple is a perfect example of an English pub. A large glass window in the front held an enormous vase filled with every conceivable spring, summer, and autumn flower. I always sat facing it, for the light from the street lamp outside, dimly recognize through the fog, gave the flowers a ghostly unseasonal life which appealed to me.
“What will you have, Miss ?”

“Oh… ain’t you… oh no… You can’t be. What would the likes of you be doing in a place like this ? You look like her, but you can’t be her, or are you ?

Albert jumped up and said, “Now you mind your manners. It is Milady and there is no mistake about it”.

The bar girl turned to Albert and stammered, “I wasn’t expecting customers of this kind. Why didn’t you let me know beforehand. I told the owners again that those glasses are too thick. Now, what am I going to use to serve Lady Olivier ? Those glasses are so thick ! I’m ashamed. Oh dear, what am I to do ?”

“You can get me a pink gin, and I will be most grateful. Don’t worry about the thickness of the glass. It won’t bother me, I assure you. Besides, I am handsomely escorted !” Vivien began to smile like a delighted child.

“Thank you, Milady. A pink gin. Pink gin ! she yelled. “And very special, and serve it in the finest cups we have. And I want it quick. You hear me ? We don’t have customers like this every day so mind your manners.

“And what is the governor going to have ?”

“Scotch and water”, I said, as Vivien winked at me. I knew that she was beginning to have a good time.

“You are not from these parts”, the waitress said, “so I suppose you want ice”.

“You are quite right I am a stranger here,” I said “but when I am with a pretty lady, I have my drink the way she has it. So, no ice please”.

“Albert”, Vivien called, “you come and sit with us in this booth and finish your ale”.

“Oh, no, ma’am, I can’t. I can’t be sitting and sipping my brew with you. I would be so flustered I think all the taste would go right out of this ale”.

“Don’t be silly, Albert”, her ladyship said. “I think that I can put the taste back in any drink”.
“You are so right, Milady”, said Albert after joining us and taking a sip of his pint. “It tastes better than ever”. And from that day on, Albert sat and drank with us whenever we went to the Purple Apple.

The next time we arrived at the Purple Apple, they had thin glasses for her ladyship.
Vivien, José, Albert and Violet the barmaid had many good times there. Violet never forgot to curtsy when we came in, but after that Violet and Vivien would pick up their conversation where they had left off the day before.

“What a horrible time I am having that horrible man”, Violet would say. “If you pardon me, your ladyship, the main trouble is that he doesn’t like to cuddle up, not even on the coldest mornings. What am I to do to warm him up a bit !

“Mind you tongue, here”, Albert would say.

“No, no. Let her go on. After all, Albert, she hasn’t really gotten to the meat of the matter.”
Vivien relished what the Methodists call a dirty joke more than any one else I have ever known. I told her very dirty joke I knew, and she would brighten the day with her laughter.

She lived in a flat on Eaton Square whose walls were dominated by luminous Bonnards and Pissaros, and by little paintings done by English artists. The furniture resembled her in its delicacy. There were long stemmed tables crowned by little porcelain figurines that seemed to dance the minuet endlessly, without ever showing the vulgarity of sweat and fatigue. Her drapes were soft green velvet, and her curtains were woven by nuns form Holland.

Everything in the flat was vulnerable and breakable. Like Vivien.

I spent many evenings in that flat playing poker, drinking pink gins, and laughing at dirty jokes.
Occasionally, while we were waiting for a scene to be lit I would say to her, “Do a few lines from Gone with the Wind, please.”

She would immediately fall into her southern accent and become Scarlett. Pantomiming a cash register, she would say, “Fiddle dee dee, fiddle dee dee, Melanie”, as she pretented to mark up a purchase, “even if they are Yankees”.

As we sat at the Purple Apple two weeks before we ended the picture, she very nervously said to me, “They are going to preview Gone with the Wind in Atlanta. They want to do it exactly the same as they did it the first time. Gable is dead. Leslie Howard is dead. The only ones that are left are Olivia and myself. I haven’t been to Atlanta in twenty years. I would like to go again and they have invited me. I know it may delay you one or two days, but maybe you can shoot some of the scenes with Warren or with Lotte. Oh José, I would like to go; please, let me.”

Sir Laurence Olivier was playing in Jean Anouil’s Becket in New York and Joan Plowright was starring in Shelagh Delaney’s A taste of Honey in a theatre just a few blocks away. That, I suspected, is why Vivien wanted to go to Atlanta via New York for the reopening of Gone with the Wind. Two ore three days after she first spoke to me serveral people, Roger Furse and Bumble Dawson among them, who really were her close friends, came to me and begged me not to give her permission to go. They asked me to be stern for her sake. But as we sat across the booth in the Purple Apple with the cut glass flowers fog lit behind her, with Albert and Violet next to us, I couldn’t say anything but “Yes. But Vivien” I added, “please, don’t harm yourself too much”

She looked at me, her eyes deep green and moist as the Irish countryside, and said, “Thank you”.
She knew that I knew.

So she flew to New York.

She had dinner with them at Sardi’s. Anybody else would have had dinner at a small dark restaurant, but not Vivien. She had dinner at Sardi’s and then brokenhearted she went to Atlanta to become Scarlett again for a few days. Four weeks after she returned to London we finished the picture.

Vivien, Lotte and I had decided to give a party for the crew and their wives. We invited Warren to join us, but for some reason he refused.

Warren was never popular with the crew. Out of what I can only imagine to be insecurity, he was arrogant and huffy to Vivien. He kept people waiting. One time as the makeup man was applying powder to his face, I saw Warren drop a powder puff. As the makeup man kneeled down to pick it up, I said, “No, Warren, you kneel down and pick it up. You dropped it, and even if we have to stay here the whole day, I will not shoot the scene until you pick it up.”

He picked it up and we shot the scene.

The day before the farewell party, Vivien had gone to the head of the studio and gotten permission to hold the party in the night club set. We got a small orchestra and the studio commissary catered the party. There must have been a hundred men dressed in their Sunday best, their wives holding their arms tightly, yet with that English reserve which prohibits any excess of excitement.

Vivien had a present for each and every member of the staff and crew. She gave me a pair of gold cuffs links, shaped in the initials of my name. They were spotted with tiny red rubies.
When the party began both Vivien and Lotte asked me to say a few words on their behalf. The ending of a picture is like the ending of a life, so I understandably became a little emotional. The orchestra began to play. Both ladies that afternoon danced with almost every guest. The party was gay and exciting, though colored with a tinge of nostalgic sadness. Through the songs I kept thinking about small incidents that would stay with me forever. I thought of the day I said to Ernie Day, the operator, when I wanted him to move in very slowly for a close up on Vivien, “Easy Ernie. Slowly, just like making love”.

“You do it your way, and I will do it min”, Ernie replied to me with a wink.

The party ended about six, and I decided to ride back to London in Vivien’s car. Tito arias and his wife, Margot Fonteyn, were giving me a party at their house that evening. Tito was Ambassador for Panama to the Court of Saint James and he and his wife represented our country with an elegance very rarely encountered. They brought pride and honor not only to the government which they represented, but to all citizens of that country.

Margot I have known as a dancer and an artist, but the magnificent thing about her was that she never let me forget that she was, first and foremost, Mrs Arias.

Years later a great tragedy befell them. Tito was shot by his uncle’s bodyguard and paralyzed. He now sits in a wheelchair, unable to move his legs or arms. Frequently he attends the ballet and watches his wife run down a flight of stairs with the speed of a Juliet of sixteen running to meet her Romeo. He knows that she is running towards him. She is that kind of Juliet.

Vivien was to accompany me at the Embassy that evening. As we approached her flat, we noticed that the sidewalk was crowded with reporters and cameramen.

The press attacked the door and almost got into the car, and flashbulbs exploded everywhere. They leave you with no defense whatsoever.

I opened the door to help Vivien out.

“Miss Leigh, what do you think about what happened today ?” she was asked.

“I think it was wonderful. We finished the picture”, she answered.

“That’s not what I mean. Did you know about the marriage before ?”

“Are you and Sir Laurence still friends ?”

“You know it happened this morning. Do you have anything to say ?”

“About what”, she said.

“Don’t you know that it was a quiet and simple ceremony . They got married this morning in New York”

“He bought a house for her in Brighton”

I felt Vivien’s body tighten. I thought for a moment she had stopped breathing, but then she smiled a Scarlett O’Hara smile, and we fought our way through into the building.

“Of course I knew it, and when I went to New York I wished them all the happiness in the world”.

“Will you pose for a picture ?”

And she replied, “I don’t look my best at the moment, but any other time. Good-bye boys.”

I rushed her to the lift and we rode silently up to her flat. I walked her to her door and pressed the bell until Mrs Mack opened the door. Mrs Mack is a tall, unexpectedly warm Scottish woman who was Vivien’s housekeeper. On New Year’s Eve, about five minutes before midnight, Mrs. Mack had handed me a handful of coals and instructed me to stand outside her ladyship’s door, and at the ringing of midnight to  knock on the door.

“I will be here to open it. It is for good luck”

“Oh, Milady”, said Mrs Mack, now her voice flat, sad and emtpy. Vivien walked to the lift and descended into a very lonely Eaton Square.

At about eight-fifteen Mrs Mack rang me up and said, “Her ladyship will be ready at nine”.
I arrived about nine, but Vivien wasn’t quite ready. I went into her living room, helped myself to a scotch without ice and sat on her sofa looking at the fragile breakable things that crowded her table.

Shortly she came out. She was wearing the same short boyish wig she had worn in Twelfth Night. She was shimmering in a black beaded Balenciaga gown. Her head drooped a littl on that lovely stem of her neck. She paid my country a profound compliment ; whatever grief she may have been feeling, she came to pay court to my country as I had done to hers.

Tikerish is a delightful Queen Anne house surrounded by a large park. The park is scarred by a stream that runs into a pond at the back of the house. Apparently a lady with a strange name had an estate near Vivien, also with a pond, which for years had been the home of two white swans. But since Vivien had bought Tickerish, the lovely swans had changed residence and come to live in Vivien’s pond.

When we came in, Mrs Mack complained that the lady had been calling all day.

“Oh, that insufferable woman”, Vivien said. “Mrs Mack will you please get her on the phone ? This is too exhausting.”

“Hello, Mrs Coral White Wickersham ? This is Vivien, Lady Olivier, here. I only have a few words to say. It really is not my fault if the swans prefer my pond to yours. As you know, swans are the property of the Queen, so I suggest you write to her about it, or if you rather, you and your husband can drive over, go into my pond up to your ass, and take your swans home. Good-bye”. She giggled as she put the phone down, and turned to Mrs Mack.

“Mrs Mack, fetch anything you have in that kitchen – cake, bread, caviar, pâté, I don’t care – and feed those swans. They are not to leave this pond, if I can help it”.

Then turning to me she said, “Swans are the most faithful birds in the world. Do you know that when their mates die, they fly high towards the sky and then plummet down into the pond, breaking their necks ? But let’s not talk about that. Why don’t we have a little pink gin ?
“Vivien, did you read More Stately Mansions ? I asked her.

“Yes.”

“What did you think about it ?”

“Oh, my darling José, I don’t have the genius to play Deborah. As a matter of fact, I don’t really think I would like to play again, but let’s go outside and walk a little. We can take our drinks with us. Mrs Mack, don’t forget to feed those swans right away before those dreadful people come”.
It was the beginning of April and the water in the stream glazed the stones under it. The first yellow and white crocuses of the season framed the stream’s edge.

Vivien chattered desperately about her flowers : “I am heartbroken that you won’t be here when the freesias come into bloom. They absolutely take possession of the place”.

“Vivien, I don’t really believe what you said about not acting again. You are entering a new category of roles. Great roles”.

“Oh José, you love me too much. It blinds you a little. If I had the genius of Larry or of Peggy or of Dame Edith, I would say that you were right, but I know I don’t. What I had was a flare that lit up the sky for a short while and it was mistaken for genius. But it really had more to do with youth and beauty, and you know how fleeting youth and beauty are”.

She knelt down, pulled a couple of yellow crocuses and handed them to me, as if to show me how quickly the would wither.

“Here, take them with you.”

“I will”, I said.

“You have to press them in a book.”

“I will”, I sai.d

“You know, José, it all began with my mother. It all had to do with my mother, when I was a young girl in India. I was born in India, you know. I lived there until I was thirteen, nearly fourteen really. My birthday fell on a religious Indian holiday. They would throw different colored powders into the sky, and the women wore their most beautiful saris, woven out of silver and purple and gold. There was music everywhere, and as I stood by the window my mother would always say, “See, Vivien, the whole world is celebrating your birthday”.

“And I believed her. But I believe now that the world will not celebrate my birthday anymore”

She died six months later.


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