I was ambushed for probably the twentieth time in my life after I left the Spencer post office, stepping out into the cool October afternoon, ready to face the day. Only a few roads in Spencer, New Hampshire, have rural free delivery, and mine wasn’t one of them. The day’s collection included a flyer from the local Congregational church for a ham-and-bean supper, my Visa bill, a women’s swimsuit catalogue from Land’s End, and, to help me manage my investments, a copy of that day’s Wall Street Journal.
I may live in the far country, but I like to think I’m not a peasant.
Our little downtown consisted of the town common across the street, the previously referenced Congregational church, flanked by an Episcopal church, the town hall, and a few old buildings, including the lonely outpost of the federal government where I had gotten my morning mail.
My ambusher came out from Dina’s Diner, blocking my way to my bright-red Chevy pickup truck. The diner was next door to the post office, which is about the size of a brick bungalow. My ambusher was about thirty-five or so, muscular, wearing Top-Siders, khaki slacks, black turtleneck, and a short dark-brown leather jacket, carrying a soft leather case in his right hand.
“Tina?” he asked. “Tina Crandall?”
It was the anniversary of the newsworthy events that took place in my hometown nearly thirty years back, so I guess I should have been prepared. But still, it was always a shock to the system when people from away recognized me.
“Yes, I’m Tina Crandall,” I said, keeping a cheerful look on my face.
“The Tina Crandall? Who was in the movie Butterflies Should Be Free?”
“The same,” I said. “But that was a long, long time ago.”
“I know, I know . . . it’s just, wow, I can’t believe I ran into you like this.”
I shoved my mail under my left arm, leaving my right hand free. “I’m in kind of a hurry . . . are you looking for an autograph?”
He had black hair, brown eyes, a cheerful smile, and very white teeth. “I’m sorry to bother you and all that, but could I have a few minutes for an interview?”
I shook my head. “Sorry, not interested.”
His face fell, and when it did, he looked ten years younger and frightened. “Please . . . Miss Crandall . . . if I don’t get an interview, my boss will fire me.”
“Oh, come on.”
He shook his head. “I’m serious. You must know how it is out in the job market. You foul up once, and you’re done.”
I hesitated. With my reading of the Wall Street Journal and idle chitchat at this very diner with my fellow townspeople, I did know how rough it was out there. Some would say I was lucky for being insulated from the current financial storms. Some luck. I glanced at my watch.
“Not a second more.”
“All right, Kip,” I said, keeping my practiced smile in place. “You’ve got your ten minutes.”
Inside the diner it was steamy and hot. By the doughnut case were a host of photos and trophies of softball teams from years back, teams belonging to the local mill, lumberyard, hardware store, and the police department. I took a near booth and Kip sat across from me. There were two rows of booths, and a counter with the usual round stools, and beyond the counter, the kitchen. About a third of the booths were occupied. I knew everyone in the diner, especially Dina, who strolled over and slipped us two menus. I just said, “Tea, please,” and Kip ordered coffee, and Dina—a tall, slim brunette in her mid sixties, wearing a pink uniform and white sneakers—strolled back to the kitchen.
Kip smiled. “I can’t believe I’m sitting across from the famous Tina Crandall.”
“Believe it, although I don’t think I’m that famous,” I said. “And if I can make a suggestion, you’re wasting your ten minutes. So you better start.”
“Oh,” he said. “Thanks!” He rummaged through his bag, came out with a small notebook and ballpoint pen. “I guess the first question is, why?”
“Why? Pretty deep philosophical question, don’t you think? Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? What does it—”
“I’m sorry,” he said, face flushed. “I mean, why did you leave acting after Butterflies Must Be Free? It was only your third film, with a famous director and huge Hollywood backing. Then you won the Golden Globe award, were nominated for an Academy Award, and then . . . nothing. Why did you leave?”
“It was time,” I said.
“After all the excitement of being in a film like that? All the attention you received? It must have been quite exciting for a young local girl.”
“It was time,” I repeated.
For Tina Crandall—Tina being short for Martina, named after poor Mom, who was taken away shortly after Tina’s birth—being in the movie was more than just a dream come true; secretly she knew it was the right thing, always the right thing. Like destiny happening because it was all planned out, like a recipe to a tasty cake or something. At some point way back when, she liked pretending she was a princess or part of a large family like the Waltons or had special powers like Supergirl. Later, she got interested in singing, and dancing, and gymnastics, and good ol’ Dad, he managed to make it happen, even though he worked a full shift as a controller at the Cooper Cooperative Paper Mill and was a star pitcher on their softball team.
She took lessons in the area where she could; Dad would drive her hours to go to other places for recitals or gymnastic tournaments; and there was a summer theater in the next town over called the Barnstockers, where she did a couple of stage plays with grownups who came in from faraway places like Boston and Manhattan and Chicago.
After one stretch where she played the youngest sister in a J.M. Barrie comedy called The Admirable Crichton, a filmmaker from Boston who was in attendance talked to Dad about her appearing in a movie he was producing called Direct Line to Heaven. Oh my, that had been fun, and that little movie led to another role in another Boston-based film called The Preacher’s Book.
Kids at school didn’t quite believe what she had been doing, ’cause those two movies only played in small theaters called “art houses”—not like the Majestic Theater in Conway with its two screens—and she had once asked Dad why they were called “art houses,” and he had said in a serious voice, Because it’s the law. Only movies like yours can play in theaters that were once houses owned by fellows named Art.
At that she had made a spitting noise with her tongue, and Dad had warned her, You keep on doing that, you’ll end up talking like that!, which made her laugh even more. But still, most kids thought she had been making it all up, since VCRs were pretty expensive and only a few people in town owned them, and none of them had any interest in paying a lot of money to buy a VHS tape of her two films.
Then, magic of all magic, a woman had called the house one night, long-distance from Los Angeles, and Dad had answered the phone, and after a few more phone calls and some big thick envelopes mailed to their double-wide, she had gotten a part as Bridget, a young girl in an upcoming movie called Butterflies Must Be Free, written and directed by Sebastian Landrau, an Oscar-winning Hollywood big shot.
After the thick script had arrived and Tina held it in her hands like the best Christmas present ever, she sat on the couch as Dad watched Monday Night Football. She was flipping through the pages with a yellow marker, noting which lines were hers, when Dad called her over to his chair. He had been home from work about an hour, working on his first—and only!—Budweiser of the night, and she plopped herself down on his lap. He had his green chino work clothes on, which smelled stinky of chemicals, and he rubbed his face against hers—he shaved every morning but still, stubble grew back so fast!—and that made her squeal, and he put his strong arms around her.
I’m so proud of you, Tina, he said, rocking slowly in his chair. And your Mother, rest her soul, oh my, she would have been to the moon and back, she would be so happy for you.
From where she sat in Dad’s lap, she could see the gas fireplace, and on the mantel over the fireplace were a bunch of framed pictures, black-and-white of Dad in high school, more black-and-white when he was in the army, a faded color wedding photo of him and Mom, and some of Tina: school photos and photos of when she had been in those plays at the Barnstockers. She knew she should miss her mom but it was hard to, because she had no memories of her. It had always been Dad, and except for a few times here and there, he had always treated her right, being tough but fair. Heck, even this year, he had begun to trust her to be at home alone when he was working late or pitching at some softball tournament.
He gave her a big hug. This is going to change your life, honey.
She giggled. I know. Think of all the money I’m gonna get.
Which you can’t touch until you’re eighteen, he warned. But still . . . oh, little one, how your life is going to change.
“How did you become an actress?”
I thought of the truth, how I always tried—even when I was little—to pretend I was something else, instead of being a solitary daughter of a single parent, living poor in the outer part of Spencer, whose dad worked at the mill. It made everything so much easier and more fun.
I said, “Just happened.”
“Unh-hunh,” Kip went on. “And how was it, working for the famous Sebastian Landrau?”
I shrugged. “I was just a kid. Remember, this was way before the Internet, way before Google. I just knew he was a guy famous for his movies . . . and I think I only saw one of them—the Western Outlaw Horizon—before I was hired. Otherwise . . . he pretty much kept to himself. I mean, my God, the number of people that were on the set . . . it made my head spin, it did. And the logistics . . . sometimes it would take all day, bringing in power cables, lights, cameras, sound systems, just to get a two-minute shot.”
“Unh-hunh,” Kip said again, writing furiously in his notebook, mug of coffee at his elbow. “I bet the locals got really excited about having him and his film crew in town.”
“A bit, but remember, this is small-town New Hampshire. They tend to mind their own business, and not be too impressed by people from away. Most of the people who tried to catch a view of the shoot were from out of town.”
Kip kept on scribbling. “So how many times did you meet with Sebastian Landrau?”
I wasted a few seconds taking a healthy sip of my tea. “I can’t remember. Just enough to do my job.”
“And what a job!” He went into his leather bag, took out a sheaf of photocopied sheets. “The New York Times, Variety, People magazine, Siskel and Ebert, they all said your performance was astonishing, illuminating, one of the most powerful seen in years,” he said, riffling through the pages. “Remember this review? ‘While Sebastian Landrau seems to take delight in exploring themes he met up with years ago, one must make note of the stunning performance of newcomer Tina Crandall, who brings a depth of emotion and fragility to a—’ ”
“Please,” I said. “I know all about that. I was there, remember?”
“Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “And then you left.”
Tina Crandall wasn’t too sure what the movie was all about—a lot of the filmed scenes didn’t include her—but she knew the basics. She was playing a young girl named Bridget Bean, who lived in a small town in New Hampshire and who was orphaned when her parents died in a traffic accident. Bridget’s grandparents then come in from Manhattan, and are intent on bringing her back to the big city, where they plan to raise her. But the thought of leaving her woods, her lakes and streams, causes her to run away, again and again.
Not a bad story, including the climactic scene when her grandparents—played by a real actor and a real actress from Hollywood—reluctantly agree to let her be the free spirit that she was, and remain home, under the care of an elderly woman she called “Auntie.” That scene was a real heart-wrencher, with lots of tears and emotions.
She learned her lines right from the start and did a pretty good job in the first run-throughs, but deep inside, she had a problem getting the real base of her character. Really, who wouldn’t want to leave a small town like Spencer and go to New York City? Or Los Angeles? Even at her young age, Tina knew that she would eventually end up on Broadway or in Hollywood. Even if it made Dad sad, she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in this little town.
The first few days of shooting were a blur, focused on doing establishing shots and some early scenes of her fictional grandparents. Then it was her turn, and it was a simple scene of her emerging from the woods, muddy, barefoot, wearing blue-jean overalls and a torn white T-shirt. She ran through the scene about five times, and then Sebastian ambled over from the line of people, cameras, and equipment to speak to her. He was almost as big as her dad, burly, with a closely trimmed white beard, a big nose, and dark, dark blue eyes. He wore blue jeans, workboots, a black turtleneck, and a sheepskin-lined leather vest. Around his neck a director’s finder dangled from a black cord.
Tina, if I may, he said, his voice firm and soft. He draped his big arm around her shoulders and led her to the wood line, then squatted down and looked straight into her face. He smiled. His teeth were shiny white and perfect. Here’s the deal. I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen so far. My casting director . . . she’s never let me down, and I’m happy you’re with us. But this movie . . . this is a special project to me. A very, very special project. For a girl like you, I know it’s a big responsibility, because in the end, it’s your story, your life. You’re going to be carrying this movie. So sweetie . . . and I’m serious now . . . I’m going to need you to look really, really deep into your heart, and be Bridget Bean. I don’t want you to think you’re acting like her, or impersonating her. When I yell ‘Action,’ hon, I don’t want to see sweet Tina Crandall. I want to see the wild child that’s Bridget Bean. The girl everyone in America is going to love, is going to hate, and at the end, is going to cry over. Tina, can you do that for me? Can you?
She smiled. Yes, Mr. Landrau. I’ll do that.
He smiled in return, gently shook his head. Call me Sebastian. Please. There’s a good girl now. Okay, let’s run it through again.
Then, surprise of surprises, he leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.
Not a peck. A soft, gentle press.
Then Mr. Landrau—Sebastian!—had ambled back to the camera and crew.
She blinked her eyes.
He had kissed her.
Nobody had ever kissed her, except for Dad.
She looked at Sebastian, the assembled crew. All waiting for her to go back into the woods.
A kiss on the forehead. What a surprise. And another surprise was the sharp, pleasant tingle it had given her, like Sebastian had taken her hand and brought her over that invisible line between kids and grownups.
It felt good.
She went back into the woods, still dressed in her costume—no, Bridget Bean’s clothes, not a costume!—and she crossed her arms, gathered herself, whispered her lines again, and when she came out of the woodline and in front of the cameras, she was Bridget Bean.
Later in the day, when the light they needed had slowly disappeared, Sebastian said to everyone that it had been a very, very good day, and all thanks to Tina, and there was some applause and she felt warm and nice inside, and Sebastian came over, hugged her with one arm, and kissed her again, on the top of the head.
Yes, she thought, it had been a very, very good day.
I guess I should have asked Kip right from the start who he was writing for, but after decades of being asked the same questions, over and over again, it didn’t make much difference to me. People blurred into Us blurred into the Boston Globe blurred into Yankee magazine. It was just one big beast with different little heads that all needed to be fed, and I was giving this particular head exactly six more minutes.
Kip looked away and reached into his leather bag. Came out with a thick manila folder, and when he opened it up, I saw what he had and froze. . . .
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