Im sick of
the whole thing Clara Bow, 1930
Reporters would come
to me. Id always receive them. Id tell them the truth. But they
never printed it. They never even quoted what I had said
I know that
face I said to my friend and occasional lover Joseph, thats
He laughed, delighted that
he could still occasionally surprise me.
She isnt even
Jewish; what on earth is she doing here?
Here being one of New
Yorks smallest Yiddish theatres, in a little side street off Second
Joseph looked at me still
very much amused; he was enjoying my confusion, Clara Bow was born Chava
Blaustein, her grandfather was a rabbi back in Lithuania. Shes as Jewish
as you and me, if not more so.
We both sat silently as
the rabbis granddaughter stood centre stage and sang a beautiful lament,
whilst a violin trilled quietly in the background. Once she had finished, and
the sparse audience had applauded enthusiastically, Joseph told me more about
She originally made
her name in the Yiddish theatre, and now, well now that she is not quite as
popular as she once was, she is back again.
I thought she was
dead, I told him, or retired.
Your Marilyns might
die and, ach, even your President Kennedy, but not Clara, she has been a bit of
recluse, she was married for awhile and had a bit of a breakdown, but she has
always kept her hand in. And now here she is.
How old is she
Still in her fifties
or maybe early sixties; who knows, but she has aged well. Good Jewish
And then for the rest of
the evening we watched her sing and laugh, flirt and in the end kill; still the
young and resourceful it girl who had captured Hollywood all those
years ago, and who effortlessly dominated a small theatre in 1960s New York,
which smelt of tobacco and sweat, garlic and peppermint. It wasnt just
her ability to act, to become the part she was playing, but that she dominated,
every time she was on stage - which was for most of the play so that you
could not take your eyes off her, leaving all the other actors as but the
faintest of shadows.
Her dressing room was
small but neat and she was already hard at work taking off her makeup when
Joseph and I joined her.
This is David
he told her, a friend of mine. She studied me intently and I
thought nervously, he is a writer, you might have seen some of his pieces
in The Forward and The Jewish Morning Journal.
And the New York
Times. I added, being particular proud of a couple of pieces I had
had published by that newspaper.
So you are Jewish
then?, Clara asked.
Yes, my parents
escaped from Poland in the 1920s.
She nodded, and seemed
much relieved. She sang something from the play as she got changed, flirting
with Joseph as she did so.
So, where are you
two handsome men taking me? she asked once dressed, and still looking
glamorous and far younger than she had a right to.
I watched her as she
scoffed down apple strudel and cream; I had seen many of her films; The
Plastic Age and It, the two films that had made her name, as well as
less well-known films such as Capital Punishment, Hula and
Black Lightning and then there was her later masterpiece Wings,
in which she joined the forces to find her lover, during the war. The image of
her in uniform driving an army truck was something that had stayed with me
since I saw the film in a small cinema several years ago; an image of pluck and
humanity during war.
And she did not look that
much difference; the same red hair - although presumably dyed now - and the
same slim body, and she was as short as I thought she would be. And mostly
importantly she had that charisma, something she had clearly never lost. I have
met a few celebrities over the years, but none affected me as much as Clara Bow
did, not even when I met a very drunk Mick Jagger in a bar in Manhattan a few
years later, or interviewed Barbra Streisand on a flight to L.A.
So what do you
write? she asked me, after bantering with Joseph for several minutes.
Around us people were speaking in a mix of Yiddish and English, mostly the
former, ignoring the two men and women sitting in a corner chattering away. Her
brown eyes seemed to be staring into the depths of me and for a moment or two I
could not speak.
Oh, articles mostly,
and the odd story. Unfortunately I do not sell enough to make a living so I
have to work at Weissmanns bakery to make ends meet.
I go in there sometimes, I thought that I had seen you somewhere
No I would have
She laughed, do you
have a telephone number, I have an idea, a proposition.
I gave her my
parents number, well the one for their apartment block.
You might need to
leave a message, I told her.
And then we got talking
about Bob Dylan, who was beginning to make his name at the time.
I met him at an art
gallery Clara told us; if only I was a few years
Joseph and I were both
duly impressed by this, and we talked about music for the rest of the evening.
As she left, she kissed us both lightly on the lips.
I will be in
touch she told me, although I doubted that she would, it had been like a
dream, a sprinkle of magic in an otherwise mundane world, and I could not
imagine a repeat performance.
We met a fortnight later,
in another café, again we ate sweet pastries and drank strong, black
coffee. My faint hopes that Clara would call me had all but gone when Mrs
Leader from downstairs had handed me a note a couple of days
From someone called
I am thinking of
writing my life, She told me, I have been trying for years really,
but it is so confused, I need somebody to go through it with me, someone who
I said nothing, hoping
that she was asking me, but not wanting to spoil it in case she meant something
I have read some of
your articles, and they are very good; clear and concise, that is what I want
my book to be like.
And then she handed me a
large string bag from under the table, I will pay you of course, but it
might not be much, I am not as rich as I once was, not that I was ever that
wealthy. Anyway just take a look and let me know what you
She insisted on paying for
our food, and then walked away, the woman who forty years ago was famous
throughout our country and even now, after all that has happened since, was
still mentioned in newspapers and books once in awhile; even if only to be
compared to Marilyn. Clara, my beautiful one; younger sister, brave
lover. I lugged the heavy bag, back home and started to read the
manuscript contained therein.
It was strange, decidedly
strange; a mishmash of different types of writing; part of it was fragments of
her history; not in any particular order, from her childhood until recently and
then what seemed to be her diary going right up to yesterday. And there were
darker things; conspiracy, the JESUITS (always in capitals) and Nazis.
And when she mentioned names in her writing some had a Star of David after
them, presumably Jewish people, although not all of them, whilst others, people
she clearly hated, had a cross after their name, like the cross Jesus died
upon, even her husband had a cross by his name occasionally, albeit a small
The strangeness was not
helped by the different colour inks the manuscript was written in; as if the
author had grabbed whatever was to hand, and there were hundreds and hundreds
of pages of this stuff, mostly written on cheap, unlined paper, the writing,
which was always legible, sliding down to the right. At times it was
fascinating, a glimpse of Hollywood in the silent era, and so many famous
people; Chaplin, Valentino, Fairbanks and Pola Negri. Some of the stories were
so indiscrete that I did not think that they would be publishable - not even in
the increasingly liberal 1960s - because of the risk of being sued by angry
ageing actors or being prosecuted for pornography.
And there was the
They were waiting
for me outside the studio but fortunately Gilbert (Gilbert Roland? Her
fiancée) was there and they fled. This was in 1924, and from
then on They or THE JESUITS are mentioned more and more
THE JESUITS came to
see my father, he said not to worry, they know NOTHING.
They look so sweet;
the two young women, but they are EVIL, and so cold.
Even a couple of days
before we met, there was a diary entry. They were hanging around the
theatre, asking questions. How have they not aged? They are the same as when I
first met them all those years ago.
And in the most recent
piece of writing, she mentioned me as a writer, who might be able to
help and reassuringly there was a firmly drawn Star of David by my name,
and the question mark that had originally been there had been crossed
interesting I told her, as she sat across from me in the same
café, but it will need editing.
I know, I realise
that it is a bit of a jumble, but you will need to keep the bit about the
Jesuits, that is the most important.
But who are
She looked at me, almost
like the wide-eyed heroine of It.
everything, from the very beginning. And they hate Jews; why do you think that
I had to pretend to be a gentile, they could not have a Jewish sex symbol. So
they made up this whole story; plucky starlet come from poverty, but pure
gentile poverty. They are everywhere, everywhere. And she looked round,
as if expecting a band of Brown Shirts to come marching in and take us away, as
though we were in Germany a quarter of a century ago.
I looked at her, not sure
what to think.
dont believe me, and I cant say that I blame you, but I have just
been used to it for so long. She eyed me carefully as I drank my coffee,
but when I walk out of here, you will see someone follow me, or more
likely two people. Just you watch.
She took her handbag from
the chair next to her and put on her fur coat and got up. New York was getting
colder every day, and she shivered as she stepped out into the street and
headed off, whilst I followed, just a few steps behind her. A few people
both men and women did give her a second glance, but then even if they
did not realise who she was, she still had an air of glamour that age could not
get rid of. However nobody seemed to follow her after that second look, and she
became part of a mass of middle aged women doing their shopping, of hucksters,
musicians and tired looking business men.
After a few more minutes
however, I became aware of a couple of young women; they were smartly dressed
and apparently engaged in the sights around them, and yet they were always
there, just in front of me, a few paces behind Clara. And when she stopped to
adjust her shoe they stopped too, ostensibly to look at a poster advertising a
concert, but as soon as Clara was walking again, they too set off, just a few
I walked closer to the
women, so close that I could even catch the occasional whiff of an expensive
perfume, but although they were close together, arm in arm, they did not say a
word, and they seemed to be observing everything. And then Clara walked into a
large apartment block and the couple, after waiting to check she did not leave
again, walked away, disappearing into the distance.
I followed Clara into the
building and a bored looking young man directed me to her rooms; she had a
large apartment on the second floor, and whilst it was not wealthy, it was
comfortable, and there were photographs of her from her many of her films and
her various co-stars and other actors and actresses of the silent era, many of
whom she had mentioned in her book. She looked at me without surprise as I
Did you see
Yes I think
Two women? she
Yes. Who are
I dont know;
they are from the organisation, there are others but it is usually those two. I
call them the Jesuits, but I dont know really know who they are. They
have been following me since I can remember. Yet they never get older, they are
the same as when I first met them in Hollywood all those years
I sat down on her bed, and
she sat next to me, her perfume strong and pleasant.
So will you help me
write my book?
We will have to do
it here; there is only one copy and I do not want it lost. I took a great risk
letting you have it last time.
We shook hands on the deal
and then she showed me some of her photograph albums of her parents and then
actors, famous and forgotten, and then we talked of how she imagined the book
would be. When I left her building I could not see anyone but I continued to
look about me as I made my way home, and for a brief moment, in silhouette
against the dying sun, I thought I saw two elegant young women looking in my
direction and I felt as if our eyes met and then I turned away, the cold
reaching into the very depths of me.
Thus on the Sabbath, or on
other days, when the bakery and theatre were closed, I would come to her rooms
with my typewriter and we would work together on what Clara called My
Life. I was worried that my other writing would suffer but I was
soon engrossed with Claras life story and what was going on in her brain,
and if I had anything else to work on, I would stay up all night banging away
on my typewriter keeping my parents and Mrs Leader awake.
I asked her about the
At first they were
just occasionally there, the odd visit, strange letters and so on. Even as a
child I have a vague memory of them coming to the flat and talking to my mother
and then when I became famous, I began to see them all the time, almost
Did you not tell the
She laughed, no of
course not, I am sure they were all in it and if not they would hardly believe
me; they all thought that I was mad, or a little strange... Anyway it all got
too much; they kept threatening me and my co-stars, I lost a couple of parts
because of their interference. Thats the real reason why I left
Hollywood; hid away with my husband.
Oh yes you are
Was; he died a few
years ago, although I didnt attend his funeral. I just needed to escape,
and he was a good gentile man, I thought that I would be safe with
So many actresses
died; Virginia Rappe, Rachel Ray, Martha Mansfield, Clarine Seymour, and Billie
Dove of course. I didnt want to join them
What? Do you mean
that they were murdered?
We thought so at the
time; suddenly all these young women killing themselves, seems a bit unlikely
werent all Jewish were they?
Most of them were,
although they were encouraged to keep it quiet. And they all died suspiciously;
there were so many of them; mostly in dodgy circumstances.
She sighed, looking
vulnerable, a glimpse of the young woman that she once was.
Have you heard of
Rachel Ray? she asked.
I shook my
She had only just
begun her career; she was in A Plastic Age with me and a couple of small
films before that; her parents knew my parents. She was found dead in her
boarding house; they said it was suicide, but she was happy; in love with a
career that was just beginning, and she had a boyfriend, a lovely bloke, a
teacher, she had everything to live for. I knew then I would have to leave
before they got me. Her death was the one that hit me most, made me realise
that I had to get out; poor Rachel, such a darling and
My father was waiting for
me when I got home; despite my odd career and lifestyle my parents and I had a
close relationship and I was happy living with home, at least for the time
Two young women came
to see you he told me, they said to tell you that they called, and
that they would see you soon.
I asked him to describe
them, but for the moment they did not remind me of anybody. It was only when I
got to my room and was clanking away on my typewriter, that I realised they
sounded like the two women who had been following Clara for most of her
So you dont
care for women? Clara asked me one evening, soon afterwards. We had been
working all day and were getting tired. I laughed in embarrassment.
I care for, just
dont sleep with. I said after a moment or two.
What about me?
And to continue my embarrassment she pulled my head down to her and kissed me
hard, her tongue flickering in and out of my mouth; it was strange, not just
because it was a woman, but also because it was Clara Bow, and all she
represented. I stroked her back as she pushed hard against me, and as we held
each other tight, for a moment, I felt something that was very like
I visited a bookshop in
Greenwich Village and found a book on actresses of the silent era, and whilst
there was a lot on Clara Bow there was also half a page on Rachel Ray the
actress who she had mentioned. A promising career cut short by
suicide, it said without suggesting it was anything but that. Rachel had
certainly been pretty but there seemed to be something sad and hopeless in her
eyes, but then you cannot diagnose depression by looking at a picture.
When I was with Clara I believed her stories but when I was alone I started to
doubt and wondered if she was mad.
The two women kept their
promise and came into the bakery one Thursday afternoon, whilst Amos the owner
was out doing business. They smelt of the same perfume as
when they were following Clara, and which threatened to drown out the smell of
freshly baked bread and rolls. Close to, they were neither as young or as
beautiful as I had first thought them; their skin looked unnaturally white and
was heavily made-up and there was something ruthless and dark in their
eyes. By their accents and the way they dressed I could tell they were
not from this part of New York, or perhaps not New York at all or even
They asked for two
pastries; so are you going to give us them for free?
The two women looked at
each other; the one who had spoken raised her eyebrows slightly. The
other woman spoke, her accent sounding even less American than her
Not two pretty women
Ah but he does not
like women, now if we were two young men
Or maybe a has-been
They looked at me with
I wonder if you
parents know about Joseph or about Moshe.
And what about
Peter? Not even one of the chosen.
Perhaps he prefers
His poor parents,
they seem such good people. A friend would tell them I think, what their son
gets up to. A good Jewish boy like him. What a shame.
I looked at them; a
mixture of anger and fear, more the former whilst they looked at me with ironic
They left taking their
pastries with them, their cents tossed onto the counter. I stood there feeling
angry and upset, so that when Amos returned he asked if I was ill, but I shook
my head and got on with my work. I wondered whether to tell Clara, but thought
she was paranoid enough already and I did not think it would help. I brought
out more bread from the oven, wondering what I had got myself into.
What do you know
about Clara? I asked Joseph as we lay together in bed one bright
Well she is a fine
actress. Too good for the parts she plays now, but she is happy enough, and I
know the various directors round here are pleased that she is available. Such
talent, and such beauty, and he kissed one of my hands.
She seems worried.
Thinks people are following her.
He laughed, but
affectionately. She had a breakdown in the 1920s, thats why she
quit acting, went to live on a ranch with Rex her husband, but that didnt
last. She has her ways, just needs people to be kind to her, and maybe distract
her from the thoughts in her head.
all? I said reaching for him feeling very lustful all of a
I have got a
publisher Clara told me, as we walked around the city arm in arm.
Seshat Press; they are only a small company, but they are growing,
and seem to be very interested in my book.
I squeezed her arm in
delight. Occasionally passers-by stared at us as we sauntered along, looking in
shop windows, and eventually we ended up at Central Park.
It has done me good
to get out a bit she told me, when I sit in my apartment, or just
talk to the same people, well I get paranoid. And we actors are a strange
It is good for me
too, but even so I could not help continually looking over my shoulder
for two stern looking women, or anybody else who appeared to be paying us too
The manuscript was almost
finished, and after spending two nights typing it up Clara and I took it to
Seshat publishing. It was still a large manuscript, even with my strict
editing and I wondered if they would laugh in our faces, although presumably
they would have their own editor as well. In fact, Simone the owner, seemed
overjoyed to receive the book.
This is just what we
want; I cannot believe you have chosen us. And she kissed us both
heartily on the lips, she was a young woman who had only formed the company a
couple of years ago, and so far had only survived on left-wing pamphlets and
experimental novels that not even their writers would want to read. We left the
manuscript with her, feeling happy and optimistic and Clara took me to a
Chinese restaurant to celebrate.
After that I did not see
Clara for about a week; she was rehearsing for a new play, and I was feeling a
little down; now that the biography was finished I did not feel that I could
just go and see Clara without an excuse, and I missed her stories of Hollywood
and her dry humour, even fending off her amorous attentions was bizarre.
Everything was an anti-climax as I got on with my normal journalism. I was also
worried that the two women would come back into my life, causing trouble and
Clara came into the bakery
one day just before closing, she looked worried.
We need to visit
Simone; she rang me, she sounded very strange.
An hour later we stood
outside the publisher; two windows were boarded up and there was some
indecipherable scrawl on the door.
usual fascists, she looked very nervous, and had obviously been
shaken up by the attack on her company.
She handed Clara a large
I am afraid we
cannot publish this after all.
I realised that Clara was
as unsurprised as I was.
But why? I
I just dont
think it is suitable. It is interesting but just not for us. As she spoke
she gazed at the floor or at the ceiling, anywhere in fact but at
You have been
threatened, Clara told her, you are scared.
Simone shrugged, and I
felt she was ashamed. And I wondered if the two women had paid her a
I am truly
sorry she said after a moment.
Come on I
said, and we walked away, I could feel Clara leaning heavily on my arm with the
weight of her sadness dragging me down.
We can try somewhere
else I suggested, maybe somewhere larger, less likely to be
know, she said and handed me the manuscript; you keep it for safe
keeping, she told me, they know where I live.
They knew where I lived
too of course, although I wasnt going to tell Clara that, I hid it under
my mattress for the time being whilst I thought of somewhere safer to put
I dreamt of Clara; intense
dreams, sometimes they were erotic, as the opening scenes of Hula, where she
was nude in a pool and was seductively cleaning herself, but at other times I
dreamt that she was my younger sister, and I was trying to rescue her from
various monsters, but somehow she always escaped or was taken from me and my
dreams ended with my searching fruitlessly through some city or other, Clara
just out of reach. I would wake up with a sense of unease, and it would
take me awhile to realise why I felt that way.
A week later I turned up
at the bakery for another day, and Amos, was waiting for me. We sat in the back
by the ovens.
Have you offended
someone? He asked me.
Not as far as I am
We have had letters
from several companies we supply food to, saying they will withdraw their
business unless you leave. They accuse you of all sorts.
I stood there looking
I dont care
what you get up to he told me, I know that you are the bohemian
type, but it cannot affect my business.
It is okay, I will
I am not asking you
to do that, he told me, but he put up no further resistance as I walked
out of the door, and in fact he was asking me to do exactly that.
Those two women were
asking after you again my father told me, on my return, they said
they had something of yours, and wanted to go in your bedroom, they were quite
pushy, but they went eventually.
I looked at him without a
I smiled unconvincingly.
In fact I had moved the manuscript into the pantry a couple of days earlier and
so they wouldnt have found it even if my father had let them into my
room. I wrapped it up in brown paper and took it to Josephs rather large
house, he looked at me curiously, but agreed to look after it, and
unusually for him, who was normally very nosey - without asking any questions,
although I could tell that he was dying to ask what it was.
I now had more time on my
hands; fortunately The New Yorker had recently published a couple of my
stories in quick succession and then a couple of less well-known, but almost as
well-paying magazines, published things that I had written, so that even
without my bakery job I was actually starting to make some money and I began to
think of leaving home.
I met up with Clara on
occasion; and twice she found publishers who seemed interested, but it was the
same story, initial enthusiasm and then an embarrassed return of the
manuscript, and I would take it back to Joseph for safekeeping, who I think by
now had guessed what was going on.
After awhile Clara gave
up, and never mentioned her memoirs again. She seemed to be struggling and far
less vivacious than she had been. We continued to meet for coffee and cake at
least once a week, but she was becoming vaguer in her speech, and at times
seemed confused. She began to call me Rex, her former husbands name; at
first I corrected her, but eventually I gave up.
I was out with Joseph one
Your friend was
sacked from that show at the New Jewish Theatre.
she your friend as well?
Yes of course.
But anyway she kept forgetting her lines and then didnt turn up for one
performance. He winced in embarrassment, they found her asleep in
her apartment; she had completely forgotten all about it, and apparently she
smelt of drink. A shame; but you need your star to turn up and know her lines,
even if she is Clara Bow.
We had gone to see
Funny Girl at the Winter Garden Theatre, with the wonderful Barbra
Streisand in the lead role, and after Joseph had unsuccessfully tried to blag
his way into seeing the star afterwards, we were returning to his house through
the dark. New York was now in the depths of Winter and Joseph slipped twice as
we walked along, the cold wind blowing into our faces.
I had better go and
see her I said, shivering slightly, I have been a bit
She was always a bit
strange, even when she was famous.
Did you know her
when she was famous?
Of course I know
everybody, he said distractedly.
We walked on in silence,
Joseph hurrying us along.
Are you okay?
I feel a bit uneasy,
I often have such feelings, I am a bit clairvoyant.
I nodded mockingly, but he
was too busy pushing us on, to respond or even to notice. We were almost at his
house when he started running although I could see nothing amiss. When I
reached the house I could hear him shouting with anger; the front door had been
stoved in, and as I walked in I could smell burning and saw his furniture and
pictures smashed up into pieces, as if by an axe.
As Joseph wept over his
ruined books and paintings I looked for the manuscript but was not surprised to
see that it had gone, there were not even ashes and torn pages to say what had
happened to it. Joseph glared at me, realising why they had attacked his home.
I tried to put my arm round him, but he pushed it away.
Leave me, leave me
alone he shouted, and wept for all that he had lost.
Clara was less upset than
I expected her to be. I had gone to her apartment to tell her the news; she
looked tired and a little dirty as she walked round in just a slip, her legs
pale and a little thicker than during her film star days.
It is okay
Rex, she said, nobody was ever going to publish it. Thank you for
all your hard work. I will pay you something, and she began to look round
her apartment and eventually found me a couple of dollars in an
silly I told her, I am fine, I have had an offer on a book of short
stories and I am in demand, but she insisted and thrust some money into
my hands, talking all the while. She continued to ramble and I wondered
if she was ill, and to my shame I actually wanted to go, finding her verbosity
irritating and embarrassing. As I left the apartment, I put her money back on
her dressing table, along with a couple of notes I had with me. I hoped that
she would find them and use them and it helped ease my guilt a
A month later I left home
and moved to Manhattan having been offered a job by The New York Times
as a reporter. I began to live the life that I had always wanted to.
Along with my job, which I loved, I was having stories published regularly and
was making good money, and even starting to save. I had made new friends and
was often out unashamed and happy. I rarely thought about my old
neighbourhood or my parents, even though it would not have been difficult to go
and see them, but it felt like a different planet, a planet that I was no
longer interested in visiting. Even Clara seemed to belong to the
months later I did go back for a few days, staying with my parents just as if
nothing had changed. I went to see my former boss Amos at the bakery. He gave
me a slightly embarrassed grin before hugging me tight.
So how is the famous
It was now my turn to look
embarrassed; I am better at writing than selling bread.
You were fine; it
was just all your sinister friends, asking questions and telling me things
about you that I did not want to know and trying to ruin my
We talked and drank
coffee, friendlier than we had ever been.
questions; that actress you used to hang about with came in here awhile ago,
asking where you were.
I think so. Used to
be a film star? She looked a mess, very confused. I got her to sit down
and gave her a drink of water. And then she wandered off, mumbling to
How long ago was
He thought, maybe a
year, actually I think it was almost exactly a year ago, not that long after
you left. You ought to visit her.
After I had left the
bakery I walked over to her apartment; the area looked much more rundown than I
remembered, but then maybe I was becoming used to wealth and had not realised
how poor the area was. As I stepped into the building I noticed a smell of damp
and rotting vegetables, and the floor felt sticky under my shoes. My heart was
beating as I knocked on her door, although in fact I still had the key she had
given me way back when, but I suspected that she was long gone, and did not
want to be accused of breaking into somebodys house.
A woman I had never met
before answered the door; she was dressed all in grey, like a uniform and her
hair was very neat; nothing out of place. She looked at me
What do you
I am a friend of
Miss Bow does not
have visitors she told me and started to shut the door in my face, when I
heard a familiar voice calling out from behind her.
He is my
She sounded faint and
either drunk or drugged, but it was definitely Clara.
The woman glowered at me
full of spite, but swiftly I pushed past her whilst she hesitated and walked
into the apartment. Clara was sitting on her sofa, she looked an old woman, and
her clothes were dirty and threadbare, as was the sofa.
Chava, Rex is
dead the woman told her harshly.
I know that
Kristel Clara responded, I know that she repeated more
Kristel sat down,
stony-faced and glared at both of us.
Kristel is my nurse,
she lives with me now.
Kristel stared impassively
There was the smell of
alcohol and damp everywhere; whatever Kristel did, she was no cleaner. And I
realised that there were far fewer possessions than in the past; Claras
pictures had gone, much of her furniture had been replaced with the sort of
thing that you would buy in thrift shops and it was cold, very cold. I could
see Clara looking at me, watching my reaction to the life that she was now
Could you make us a
drink of coffee please? Clara asked her nurse.
At first I thought that
Kristel was going to hit her, but she contented herself with another of her
most poisonous of looks before getting up with a sigh and heading into the
kitchen, she muttered something in what sounded like German as she walked past
me, and I dont think that it was polite.
Oh Rex, she is one
of them. Please save me. Please save me. Clara held my arm
People came and said
I needed a nurse, and they brought
she waved her hand in disgust in
the direction of the kitchen, but she hits me and mocks me. She wears my
dresses, and she sells my stuff.
Kristel walked back with
two rather disgusting barely warm cups of coffee and we drank in silence,
whilst Kristel watched us, like a parent of two naughty children.
I am sure your
friend has to go now said Kristel as soon as I had drunk it
Actually I would
like to stay and talk with Clara.
Kristel turned on me, her
eyes dark and full of anger.
Chava needs to
It is okay
Clara told me, please dont worry, and she is right I do need a
rest. Ignore what I said.
Powerless I got up and
walked out, and as I looked back at my friend, I could see her brown eyes
looking at me begging me for help.
I visited Clara twice more
that week, despite Kristels looks of anger, and found both visits
uncomfortable and embarrassing. I wondered what I could do to help. I was never
alone with Clara; Kristel would sit and watch us and Clara never complained
again, but then she did not have the opportunity, she seemed passive and quiet,
not the same woman I used to visit and who had kissed me. Perhaps I could call
the police, but I knew that they would just laugh, and clearly Clara had become
an invalid and needed someone to look after her.
And then I returned to my
new life, and forgot about my family, Joseph and my other friends and about
Clara, or perhaps it would be more truthful to say that I tried to forgot about
them, in particular Clara, who made me feel guilty and helpless. I hoped
desperately that someone else would come to her rescue, after all why should it
be? It was not even as if we had ever been close friends.
One day the following
summer I visited my parents, who were both looking old but seemed happy enough.
I put off visiting Clara for several days, finding excuse after excuse, but at
last I could put it off no longer. The sun was hot that morning and the streets
were full of women in sundresses and men melting into their cheap suits. I
walked to Claras apartment and knocked on the door, eventually an old man
I am looking for
Miss Bow I said surprised.
The old lady on the
second floor? I nodded, not that I thought of her as old.
Oh she has gone. She
left a couple of months ago with her sister.
Sister? She had no
Yes, the German lady
that she lived with. She took her away; she could no longer cope and she did
look ill poor thing.
Do you have an
He thought for a moment,
no they went so quickly. A van came and took her away, left most of her
stuff, not that any of it was worth much, I threw most of it
Do you know that she
used to be famous? I asked him.
Oh well, death comes
to us all.
We stood looking at each
other, both sweating in the city heat before I turned away.
I went to see Joseph, who
had heard that she had gone somewhere, but had no idea. I wandered round the
various theatres, to see if anybody knew anything.
Clara Bow, she
isnt Jewish one young director told me.
She was and she
acted here, but now she has disappeared.
I dont think
anyway she must be ancient now, she is probably dead and he
dismissed me to get on with something important. Other directors professed not
to have heard of her or thought she was long dead. I could not even find
anybody who remembered her being here; not even the theatres where for a year
or two, she had dominated and brought a bit of Hollywood glamour.
I continued to try to find
her; wrote to anybody I could think of, I even had a piece in a magazine with
the title where is Clara Bow? but nobody knew anything; she had
disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared all those years ago; that
glamorous, sassy and delightful woman, who was either mad or in great danger
and there was nothing that I could do to save her.
Eventually I gave up,
stopped thinking about her most of the time, although sometimes I would be
hurrying through the New York streets and see a familiar figure stumbling ahead
of me, and I would run to catch her up with her name on my lips, but it would
be some poor old woman struggling and I would help her and carry on with my
day. And occasionally, I would see two women who look at me in the face and
smirk, and before I realised who they were they had disappeared into the
And now, thirty years
later, a successful writer, with a young lover to keep my bed warm, I see those
two women more and more, hanging about outside the newspaper office where I
work, at my publishers, lurking on staircases or in parks, spreading lies and
wickedness, and not looking a day older than when they first haunted Clara all
those years ago, when films were black and white and voices spoke but made no