Sunday, March 11, 2007


I came into Walton Tideman's life at more or less the end of it, as is typical in this profession. He was laid up in one of the most ornate bedrooms I've ever seen, and in this business, you see a lot of them, rich and poor, young and old.

If you're not a reader, you might not recognize his name right away, but the bevy of friends attending him in his convalescence would raise the most jaded eyebrows. Foremost of all was Peach Hamilton. Yes, the Peach Hamilton, actress and producer, though more the latter nowadays as her youth faded and her vanity drove her more and more to the blind side of the camera... a real shame, in my opinion. Even though I was there — or maybe, because I was there — Peach had moved into Walton's estate in the spring and had been unofficially, but rather effectively, marshaling the care giving forces mustered around the small, frail man in the big, lonely bed.

I remember one morning towards the end when she just breezed into the room, throwing the drape open wide. “Waldo, look how beautiful it is today,” she demanded, perching her hand on her hip as she posed by the window, for all the world like a game show hostess showcasing the latest prize.

Walton — Waldo, that is — was buying. “Oh, you're all the sunshine I need, Peachy, you know that.”

She spread her arms. “All this, and a view as well.”

Waldo clapped his hands and smiled. “Is Kissy still coming? She promised she would.”

“As far as I know. Once she's out of that meeting with... whatever his name was... she's promised to come over. She says she's got a surprise. Whether she means something you can't eat that she will, or new dirt on somebody, she didn't say.”

“Now, now... be nice.”

“Oh, that was nice, believe me.”

“She keeps me up to date on all our other friends... you know how good she is at keeping track.”

Peach set a glass of juice on Waldo's night stand. “Wally, if loose lips really did sink ships, the Navy could strap her to the bow of a tugboat and win the next world war.”

Waldo dissolved in laughter. Even among his friends, he valued the repartee. “None of that when she's here, now. She won't come back if she feels unwelcome.”

“Then I hope to heaven she makes her exit before Sam gets here.”

“It must be hard on him having to come all this way back from the lot every day. I should really tell him how much it's meant to me.”

“Don't embarrass him,” Peach advised. “You know he doesn't like that kind of thing. Besides, he doesn't want to have to deal with what's really happening.” She sighed. “As far as he's concerned, he's just visiting a buddy with the sniffles.”

“It's nice of him to worry about my feelings... but now it's a little bit in the way. I feel like we can't say the things we need to say.”

“Well, I—”

The doorbell rang.

“That must be Kissy,” Peach smiled. “I'll go let her in.”

“Come back too!”

“No, no... she deserves some time with you. Besides, she might have dirt on me she won't feel comfortable sharing if I'm here.”

“Oh, you.”

Kissy came up to join us and acknowledged me, though she was careful not to let Waldo see her. This was about making him feel normal, not acknowledging the all too obvious.

“Wally, it's been just monstrous out there. You have no idea.” She leaned in to kiss him.

He patted the bed. “Then tell me! You know you're my eyes and ears.”

She hauled up a folding chair, one of those used by the palliative staff, and sat in close conspiracy with him. “Well, you know, Mitch Keller has left Brenda. Again. Had you heard?”

“No, I hadn't! Oh, the poor thing. What does she see in that beast? So what's the name of the new girl?”

“New boy is more like it.”


“Oh, yes. Mitch is branching out. And you'll have heard of him. Kyle Tombeau.”

“Kyle Tombeau? That unshaven little wheat stalk? I'll grant you, he's kind of dreamy, but about as deep as a spoonful of molasses, and every bit as thick. So what's the attraction?”

“Apparently he has the libido of a jackrabbit,” Kissy said.


“But, unfortunately, I have it from the same very reliable source that he's about as well-endowed as one as well.”

Waldo pouted. “Oh, that's just tragic, isn't it? So who's your source?”

Kissy smiled, patting Waldo's hand. “My dear, that would be telling.”

The two of them shared a laugh, which degenerated into a brief coughing fit for Waldo.

“Wally, honey, you mustn't strain yourself. Perhaps I should let you rest.”

“No, you're good for me,” he said. He shook his head. “Poor Brenda.”

Kissy nodded. “Yes... can you imagine? All those cackling fiends out there... I mean, it's one thing to tell a joke about the kind of woman who would drive a man to be gay, but to actually be one...”

“And it's a terrible lie! Brenda is an angel and any man would be lucky to have her.” Waldo suddenly smiled and added, “Well, almost any man.”

Kissy patted his hand again. “We wouldn't have you any other way.”

“Quite a few of you might have had me another way,” he teased. “Well, I would have tried, anyway.”

“With a charmer like you around, who among us would have been safe?”

“Think of the stories you could have told.”

She leaned in close. “You don't think you've been interesting enough as it is?”

He laughed. “You wicked devil.”

The clock ticked away without anyone paying attention, just the soft drum beat of this parade of schadenfreude as, for most of an hour, Kissy stripped their friends naked and danced them around before Waldo. And Sam came in without so much as a how-do-you-do. “Getting caught up on your gossip, I see, Waldo...”

“Big Daddy,” Waldo smiled. “I've missed you.”

“Hello, Sammy,” Kissy said.

“So who's the latest scratching post, Kissy?” Sam said.

“Oh, bring your eyes over here, Sammy, and I'll show you.”

“Do I still have eyes, Waldo?”

“She hasn't said a word about you,” Waldo smiled.

“Hmm. I must not be living right.”

Kissy stood. “My dear Sammy, if you weren't, I'd have had something to tell him, after all,” she said, slipping past him and running a finger under his chin. “I have to go anyway,” she told Waldo. “We'll talk later. Nice seeing you, Sammy.”

“Don't forget to tell everyone I was drunk,” he called.

“Why waste my breath with what they already know?” she called from the stairs.

Sam shook his head. “I swear, Waldo...”

Waldo chuckled. “Oh, come on now, Big Daddy, I'm a writer. I need to hear these things. Just so it all sounds more believable when I make it up.”

Initially, I had wondered why Walton called Sam 'Big Daddy', particularly since Waldo was five or ten years Sam's senior. Just about the only one of Walton's friends in regular attendance I could ask was Sir Keith Monaghan; I had known him from before. He tended to drift through on his way from one appointment to another. He told me, “Sam Feist is everything you've ever heard him to be. He's an uncultured lout who's openly betrayed every woman who's ever loved him, and landed himself in either hospital or jail times uncountable with his brawling and brainless displays of bravado. His excesses are legendary and he's burned more bridges with producers and directors than most actors meet in a career. But the public love him all the more for it so the studios keep giving him work.”

“Walton seems to adore him,” I said.

Sir Keith nodded. “For all that, let me say this. No man ever had a truer friend than Sam Feist. Once you're considered a friend by him, you can count on him like a bulldog. God help the man who works evil against a friend of Sam Feist. In Waldo's case... the story goes that they met on the set of A Small Easement. Sam was starring and Waldo was writing. At first Sam had little use for Waldo because of his ways. Sam's a man's man and Waldo is anything but. Sam threw a fit one day about how his character was being written, right in front of Waldo. But instead of getting his back up, as most artists would, Waldo went 'round to Sam's dressing room, offering to hash out the scene to his liking. Well, after that, things were different. Sam became the little scribe's fierce defender. Not long afterwards, on the set of another picture, some up-and-coming young pretty boy with more face than talent took a shine to tormenting Waldo about his, shall we say, fey manners. When Waldo arrived one morning with a cold, the young boor began suggesting, rather too loudly for his own good, that Waldo was infected with a certain socially unacceptable virus. Waldo retreated in tears. Someone in the crew told Sam. Well, I won't torment you with the details, they're far too sordid. Suffice it to say the matter was eventually settled out of court. Anyway, from that time on, Waldo has referred to Sam in all matters public and private as 'Big Daddy'.”

“That's endearing... in a way,” I said.

“Yes. In a very basic, scruffy, meat and potatoes sort of way, I suppose it is. You know, Sam is fond of telling people his last name, Feist, is German for 'fist'. It is no such thing. He does it to project a tougher image. But he does himself far less credit than the name is due. In matter of fact, in German, it means 'protect'.”

How many times had I watched Sam protect Waldo from the truth of what was happening to him? Today he stood at the window, overlooking the bay, a view Waldo himself had not been strong enough to take in for several weeks now. “Sailboats. I gotta get another one. It's been too long.”

“What will you call it?”

Sam smiled. “Milady's Tits.”

Waldo winced. “Ohh, Big Daddy... why don't you call it something like Persephone? Or Zephyr? How about Achilles? That would be so much more apropos...”

“You think?”

“Yes. Very much so.”

“Achilles it is. But you have to get yourself out of the rack for the maiden voyage.”

Waldo smiled wanly. “I'll try, Big Daddy.”

“Don't make me kick your ass. You know I can.”

“I know. And I certainly don't want that!”

Sam came over. Sat on the bed, thinking. Raised a finger before Waldo. “Thirty-footer. None of that automatic shit. Everything by the sweat of a man's brow.”

“Ooo... sign me on, captain. May I swab your poop deck?”

Sam laughed. “I'll let you steer her. You better get good at it because I'll likely be drunk most of the time.”

“Yeah... just don't go crashing this one on a reef. It's too much money. You'd better really get someone who can drive straight.”

“Well, that's you, isn't it?”

“Oh, Big Daddy, what'd I ever do straight?”


“Oh, even that's sideways.”

“No, I mean, how a game?”

“Oh, sure... I have to be black, though. It makes me feel dangerous and mysterious.”

“Red suits me. Ask anyone I've put in their place,” Sam said, unfolding the board.

They played a few games, nattering amiably, Sam eating a plate of fries Peach brought him. As usual, Waldo had little appetite, but seemed to gain something by watching his friend dig in. “Ketchup and mayonnaise, my goodness... Europe really has make a mark on you.”

“Don't tell anybody.”

“My lips are sealed. Well, unless...” He waved a hand, sparing Sam the innuendo.

“We have to find you the right girl.”

Waldo feigned shock. “And what can you tell me about 'the right girl'? How many times have you been married and divorced now?”

“Well, there you go, see how many right girls I've found?”

Peach came back, taking away the empty plate. “Are my ears burning?” she joked.

“Maybe my tongue could put them out,” Sam oozed.

“You'd be more likely to put out my eye,” she teased. “Sam, you're going to be late for your appointment with IHT.”

“Screw 'em.”

“You can't just blow them off, Sam, they're trying to plan your next picture. Go and see them, then you can come back here and we'll figure out what to do for supper.”

“What do you feel like,” Sam asked Waldo.

“I'm not... very hungry these days, Big Daddy.”

“You gotta eat something, Wally. You're getting thin as a rail, and you have to be strong to steer... what was it called?”


“Yeah. To steer Achilles.” He stood. “I'll be back in a few. Everyone keep the lid on till I get back.” He gave Peach a peck on the cheek and she patted his shoulder. He bounded down the stairs, slammed the door, and roared off in a clear invitation to every cop within earshot to chase him down, ticket-happy.

“Oh, how I wish you two would get back together,” Waldo sighed. “The universe just isn't right till that happens.”

Some might have resented the interference but Peach seemed to take it in the kind spirit Waldo must have intended it. “Sam is a lot more fun to go on vacation with a couple of times a year than to be married to full time. He's just not wired that way. I can accept it. To tell you the truth, we get along a lot better this way.”

“Well, true, some of the vacations have been fantastic. The ones I know about, anyway,” he teased.

She smiled and sat on the end of the bed. She leaned in. “Do you remember,” she chuckled, “that September we all spent in Milan?”

“Do I? Honey, I'm reliving it every day. It was one of my favourite moments. Yes... a perfect moment in time.”

“The food...”

“The wine!”

And together they said: “Those handsome Italian men!”

Peach shook her head. “And Sam managing to break his arm.”

“Oh, yes... that did kind of slow us all down a little. Do you still have the picture of him with the mermaid?”

“I send a copy of it to him every birthday to remind him. I think it helps,” she said.

Waldo said, “I swear, when he fell into that fountain, I thought my heart would stop.” He reached his hand over and pretended to study his heartbeat. “Nope, still going,” he joked.

She smiled, tightly. Very tightly, her cheeks drawing up. But the tears welled up anyway.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you... it was just a joke,” he said. “A very bad one, it seems.”

She raised her hand to her cheek and pressed her face into it.

“What is it?” he said, as if there could be something else in the world troubling her.

Breathless, like an ice-choked November wind through barren trees, she managed, “It's just something Sam said yesterday...”


She turned to him. “Oh, Waldo, you have to promise you'll never tell another soul. It was a beautiful moment, and if it were anyone but you... It would destroy him if anyone found out.”

“You go ahead and tell me,” he said. “Tell me the beautiful moment.”

“You remember that yesterday he and I went to The Occasions. He didn't have a thing to drink. Now that was rare in itself, but... I... talked to him about... some things that we might need to do... after...” She nodded, not wanting to say the rest. Waldo nodded back, acknowledging the ellipsis. “And for the first time, he didn't change the subject. I think he was starting to come to grips...”

“He's always had a hard time facing it. Harder than me, even,” Waldo said, softly. “It's because he wants to save me... and he can't. So he pretends for me, and I pretend for him.”

“He doesn't want you to give up hope.”

“Hope? Of what? That I'll get well? That I'll leave this bed, this room, alive?”

She nodded.

“That man...” he said. “He's like an ocean... but this time there's no shore he can crash against. All that power, but it can't change anything. He's suffering. Oh, Big Daddy...”

“You don't know how much,” she whispered. Swallowed. “Last night, he said to me that he felt as though... when you go, a part of his soul is going to go with you and be lost forever. And there were tears, I... I've never, ever seen him weep. Not even when his father died.”

“Oh, Peach. How can I leave him like that?”

“He's just going to have to face it in his own way,” she said. It was all said. She rose, and drifted off to attend to other things.

He sighed. With only me there, he muttered, “I'm going to have to betray your trust, Peachy. And you're just going to have to forgive me in your own way.”

* * * * *

Waldo mostly slept the three or four hours till Sam was due back. I kept a close eye on him and Peach came in from time to time to check in. The scent of stir-fried vegetables began to creep into the room. Dinner came and went with no sign of Sam. I sat with Peach for a bit while she ate, and then we headed back upstairs to sit with Waldo, and she read to him a little... from one of his own books, which seemed to please him.

It was in the morning that Sam arrived, early, full of vim. “Found it,” he said as he crashed into Waldo's room.

Waldo was still groggy. He didn't sit up. He said, “Excuse me?”

“Achilles,” Sam said, closing the space between him and Waldo. He opened the manila folder in his hand and produced a photo of a massive white yacht.

Waldo held it gingerly in his fingers. “Good Lord,” he gasped. “A hundred Vikings could go to Valhalla in style in this thing. Did you buy this?”

“Not at the price that putz is asking.” Sam turned to the window, and shouted, “Don't you wish you may get it! Not likely. Not from me. I let him know I'm interested, though. Let him get hungry. He'll see it my way. But I wanted to check it with you first.”

“With me, why?”

Sam pointed to a row of windows along the main deck. “There's a big room in here. It's a workout room right now, but I was thinking, it wouldn't be hard to set it up as a room. For you. While you get better. You'd be on the deck, so—”

“Big Daddy... we both know I'm not going to go sailing ever again,” Waldo interrupted, gently.

“Don't say that. Don't give up hope. Because if you do—”

“I'm dying, Sammy. I'm dying. Any day now I'll be gone. You need to accept that.”

“I'm not... I'm not gonna sit here...”

“It's not that I want to. Nothing would make me happier than to stay here for another thirty years and sail with you and Peach and gossip with Kissy and write with Tanya and golf with Merle, but... that's not going to happen.”

Sam leaned in, his teeth gritted. “I'm going to buy this boat, I'm going to make that room, and goddamn you, don't you waste it.”

“You know, Sam... Peach told me the most wonderful thing about you today. She swore me not to tell... but you know I'm no good at keeping secrets.”

Sam stiffened. Darkened. “What'd she say?”

“You won't tell her I told you...”

“What did she say?”

“She said that last night, you told her that when I go, you're afraid part of your soul will be lost with me.”

It happened. There, before my eyes, the keystone was pulled. His eyes grew red-rimmed, and his lip trembled; this mountain of a man transforming into a little boy. His hypocrisy was laid bare, and there was nothing more he could say. His eyes flicked away toward the window.

Waldo said, “I don't know if that's what will happen, but—”


“—but if it does, you don't have to worry. I'll take care of it. I'll cherish it... like a pearl,” he said, the word coming out on his breath stretched out, as though it were already his last.

The tower was shaking. Sam's breath left his body in barks, as though some massive invisible man were punching it out of him.

Peach was in the doorway. She eased in, almost fearful.

Waldo's hand reached out to cover Sam's. He said, “It's okay, Big Daddy. You don't need to be brave for me anymore.”

And that vast tower came down. Sam broke, sobbing into his hands like a child as Peach embraced him from behind, and Waldo stroked his hair, the benediction of some loving uncle. There was a terrible beauty to it, seeing all that strength crumble, knowing that soon it would rise again in some other form. But for now, it was felled, simply felled, and sorrow stormed the gates of Sam's heart.

* * * * *

It was as though Walton finally had permission to leave. Sam spoke honestly with him, and after that, the hours seemed to wear on Waldo like years.

In the afternoon, the calls went out. Cars began to arrive.

Friends crowded the bedroom, taking turns in shifts, rotating in and out to other rooms. There was weeping. There was loud laughter and reminiscences. The sound of ice in glasses, the curl of smoke, bits of food and gossip and recriminations.

In the evening he was drifting in an out. The medical staff was working to make him comfortable. In his lucid moments, he accepted the plaudits of friends and colleagues, all under the glare of Sam Feist warning them silently to say nothing upsetting. “It's an honour to be here,” Waldo offered on waking at one point, giving rise to a hearty chuckle in those around him.

“The honour is ours,” Kissy told him.

“Oh... I hope it wasn't too expensive,” he muttered. “I don't know if I can manage much of a reading tonight.” Another laugh.

Peach dabbed his glistening brow. He tried to swallow; she brought a cup to his lips and he sipped. Closing his eyes, he asked, “Is Sir Keith here? Did he make it?”

His friends looked at one another warily. Heads hung.

“Not yet, Wally,” Peach said.

Waldo was suddenly taken with a coughing fit. His friends crowded around. When it seemed it would never end, he was suddenly calmed.

Suddenly Walton caught sight of me. He turned his head toward me and in a feeble voice they all heard, said, “Who are you?”

“A friend,” I smiled.

“Ooohh...” he breathed, the little sound full of surprise and delight.

I reached out my hand to him. Gentle as a lamb, he took it.

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