“I can go forty-five. Any man I know has got to do forty, before he goes to bed with me.”

“I just flunked the test,” I said.

“Constance Rattigan.” She grabbed my hand and pumped it.

“I know,” I said.

She stood back and eyed me up and down.

“So you’re the one who chews spearmint and likes Tosca, ” she said.

“You been talking to both Henry the blind man and Florianna?”

“Right! Wait here. If I don’t have my night dip, I’ll go to sleep on you.”

Before I could speak, she plunged out the French doors, skirted the pool, and headed for the ocean. She vanished into the first wave and swam out of sight.

I had a feeling she wouldn’t want wine when she came back. I wandered out to the kitchen, which was Dutch, cream white, sky blue, and found a percolator in full perk, and the smell of coffee brewing for the start of a new day. I checked my cheap watch: almost one in the morning. I poured coffee for two and took it out to wait for her on the veranda overlooking the incredibly greeny-blue swimming pool.

“Yes!” was her answer as she ran to shake herself like a dog on the tiles.

She grabbed the coffee and should have burned her mouth drinking it. Between gasps she said, “This starts my day.”

“What time do you go to bed?”

“Sunrise, sometimes, like the vampires. Noon’s not for me.”

“How do you get such a tan?”

“Sunlamp in the basement. Why are you staring?”

“Because,” I said. “You’re so different from the way I thought you would be. I imagined someone like Norma Desmond in that movie that just came out. You see it?”

“Hell, I lived it. Half of the film’s me, the rest bilge. That dimwit Norma wants a new career. All I want most days is to hole up and not come out. I’ve had it with his-hand-on-my-knee producers and mattress-spring directors, timid writers, and cowardly scripts. No offense. You a writer?”

“I damn well am.”

“You got spunk, kid. Stay away from films. They’ll screw you. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I gave most of my fancy gowns to Hollywood Volunteer Sales years ago. I go to maybe one premiere a year, disguised as someone else. Once every eight weeks, if it’s some old chum, I have lunch at Sardi’s or the Derby, then hole in again. Fannie I see about once a month, usually around this time. She’s a night-owl like yours truly.”

She finished her coffee and toweled herself off with a huge soft yellow towel that went well with her dark tan. She draped it over her shoulders and gave me another stare. I had time to study this woman who was and wasn’t Constance Rattigan, the great empress from my childhood. On screen, twenty feet of gliding, villainous, man-trapping woman, dark haired, ravishing in her slenderness. Here, a sunblasted desert mouse, quick, nimble, ageless, all cinnamon and nutmeg and honey as we stood in the night wind out in front of her mosque by her Mediterranean pool. I looked at that house and thought, no radios, no television, no newspapers. She was quick with her telepathy.

“Right! Only the projector and the films in the parlor. Time only works well in one direction. Back. I control the past. I’ll be damned if I know what to do with the present, and to hell with the future. I’m not going to be there, don’t want to go there, and would hate you if you made me. It’s a perfect life.”

I looked at all the lit windows of her house and all the rooms behind the windows and then over at the abandoned limousine to one side of the mosque.

This made her nervous enough that suddenly she was gone and came running back with the white wine. She poured it, and muttered, “What the hell. Drink this. I’ll…”

Quite suddenly, as she handed me my glass of wine, I began to laugh. Laugh, hell, I exploded, I guffawed.

“What’s the joke?” she asked, half-taking the wine back. “What’s funny?”

“You,” I roared, “and the chauffeur. And the maid. The maid, the chauffeur! And you!”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray