Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer and Smoke

Summer and Smoke
—for Tennessee Williams

“You’re younger than most of them are.”

Alma checks out Earl Holliman. They just happen to meet by the Fountain. He’s a traveling salesman.

“You’re not so fat,” she says.

Holliman is young and goodlooking. He acts the part of a naïve—and yet not so naïve young goodlooking traveling salesman. He’s somewhat embarrassed—yet flattered at the same time by Alma’s attention. Such a high-class local lady—showing him any attention at all that way.

“And the Delta is your territory?”

Holliman nods yes, sticking his hands in his pockets.

“Yes, ma’am. From Peabody Lobby to Catfish Row in Vicksburg.”

Holliman’s out grown his suit—the sleeves and trousers are too short for him. In many ways he’s just an ignorant young rube—just the opposite of John the now too sophisticated doctor.

Alma sits down on the bench next to the Fountain. Wisps of Spanish Moss are waving in the breeze back & forth behind her. The park at night is tres surrealistic—the bridge and trees are twisted and dream-like.

The summer moonlight adds to the seemingly unreal situation Alma finds herself in—unreal in the sense that Alma is propositioning the young salesman now. With her eyes—with her voice. Something she’d never do—or even think of doing in the past.

Alma’s no longer the spiritual virgin anymore though—now she says yes where before she said no. She wanted to have sex with John the doctor now—but instead it’s his turn to be a saint. Reformed by tragic events and more mature now, the playboy doctor’s son has now become a serious doctor himself.

After being rejected by John her great unrequited love—and finding their positions reversed, Alma feels suddenly nervous and depressed. Will she flip out and go crazy like her mad mother, Una Merkel?

Whatever going to happen—Alma feels free of her inhibitions now. The little white pills that John has prescribed for her—they help to relax and release her pent-up feelings about what’s happened to her.

“The life of a traveling sales man is interesting,” Alma says. “But lonely.”

That’s when the proverbial train whistle proclaims itself at just the right Hollywood moment—whistling away in the background of the lonely night. Underscoring Alma’s remarks on loneliness.

Earl Holliman feels even more self-conscious—being given such complete attention by Alma. He doesn’t know what to say—he looks down at his feet, shuffles them, acts embarrassed. Yet actually he’s rather more than just pleased with Alma’s attention.

“You’re sure right about that. Hotel bedrooms are lonely,” Holliman says.

“All rooms are lonely…with only one person,” Alma says.

Holliman looks at Alma. Alma yawns. He asks her if she’s tired.

“No, I just took a little white pill because I was so nervous.”

“What are you nervous about?”

“I won an argument this afternoon.”

“That’s nothin to get nervous about. You oughtta get nervous if you lost one.”

“It wasn’t an argument I wanted to win.”

Holliman shrugs. “I’m nervous too.”

“Really? Why?”

“This is my first sellin job and I’m kinda scared not makin good I guess.”

“Take one of my pills,” Alma suggests. “You’d be surprised how infinitely merciful they are.”

Holliman takes one of the pills, gets some water from the fountain, takes it—then looks up at the statue and says “Thanks, angel.”

The public park encloses them—there in the little town of Glorious Hill. That’s where the fountain stands with its stone angel— gracefully crouching with its wings lifted behind it and her hands held together.

Water flows from the base of the statue—it’s a public drinking fountain. The statue broods over the park—and for Alma it has the usual symbolic meanings and gestures. Perhaps Eternity—or something along those lines.

Holliman sits down on the bench next to Alma. “Mucho gusto,” he says, thanking Alma. They’re closer together now, getting to know each other.

Holliman gets friendly, feeling the pill. “What’s people do in this town anyway?” he asks Alma.

She tells him about Moonlight Casino on the lake. How gay it is, so very gay. Dancing, gambling…and lots of making love.

“What are we sittin around here for?” Holliman says, standing up. “Let’s go! Just tell me where to get the nearest taxi?”

Alma smiles. “Down by the corner,” she says.

Holliman helps Alma up from the bench. They head for the bridge to go to the Moonlight Casino.

Alma pauses a moment, turns around to gaze up at the hands of the statue standing there in the garden. It’s as if the angel is blowing the night breeze, the wind in the trees—the waving Spanish moss toward Alma.

Giving her a new chance to move beyond her once-closeted, beyond her once sadly unrequited love—beyond her once dead-end restrained existence.

A chance encounter with another lonely person—leading them to something there at the Moonlight Casino by the lake. Both of them moving up over the bridge—together towards something.

Whatever it is—there in the summer moonlight and smoke waiting for them.

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