Movieland - Chapter 28
Trevor was seven the night Mother went off the Canyon Road.
Miriam was 14.
Fourteen, only fourteen, the night Miriam embraced her new, if premature, identity as Guardian Angel, Brother’s Keeper, Lady of the House, taking it upon herself not so much with joy, but with the settled determination of a postulant sheering off her hair as she puts the world entirely away behind an ivied convent wall. Miriam was to keep faith with her brother through her marriage, the birth of two sons, the christening of a granddaughter (named “Eleanora” in honor of Miriam’s mother), to this very night as she walks so disconsolately along a private beach under the Pacific moon.
Putting aside a portion of her teenage ice-cream-and-movie-premier life as a privileged Hollywood daughter, her father’s favorite (not exactly a high bar), young Miriam took up where Mother left off, gathering the illustration-rich children’s books with their oversized covers and gold spines to sit with a fidgety Trevor looking off into space, laying her finger on each word, sounding the words out, then at the end of each sentence, reading the whole string together so that it might make sense. Whether this was anything more than wind and noise to Trevor was not exactly clear.
That was about to change.
One day, Miriam came in from the pool, cap in hand. A transistor radio was on to keep Mother company as she worked the soil, and a popular song was playing which Miriam would find forever interwoven with her surprise as she came upon Trevor, recently turned eight, reading her biology textbook to the snub-nosed Cocker Spaniel in a steady flow of words, some of them exotic terms exclusive to the science, pronouncing them slowly and without tripping. In the distance, the plaintive voice of the radio singer rounded out the moment:
Oh, the midnight sea is a restless sea,
A restless sea that rushes yonder.
Trevor was not only reading, he was reading well beyond his age level!
And he was born to wander free.
To wander free on the midnight sea.
Monkey see, monkey do is how Miriam explained it to herself.
But she would see this again — and much more dramatically — when she was doing her homework for typing class. Attracted by the rhythmic clatter of the typewriter, no doubt finding some meaningful pattern in it, Trevor had joined her, standing unselfconsciously behind her straight-backed chair, watching the keys fly, the inky ribbon jolt forward.
Miriam was following a drill in her textbook, absorbed with mastering the tricky reach to “6”, the perilous lift-off to hit “b,” the confused landing on the hyphen mark. All the while, she could feel her brother’s peppermint-scented breath on the back of her neck, the intensity of his warm, damp presence.
Later in the backyard, tossing around a ball for the dog, Miriam heard a click-clacking come from the study. She went into the cool of the house and found Trevor making his slow, methodical way around the keyboard, not looking at the keys but straight ahead like a proper typist.
When he had filled the page, he slid to the edge of the chair so his bare feet could reach the ground and ran off to the kitchen to beg a popsicle from Cook. Miriam pulled the sheet out of the roller and found she was looking at the drill she had typed only an hour before. Startlingly, it was an exact duplicate, right down to the same four errors.
It soon became clear that if Trevor focused his attention on some mechanical task, he only had to see it once to duplicate it with high fidelity. Miriam tried to tell her father about this marvelous ability one night when he joined them for dinner. Trevor was, of course, at the table; Mother was too busy with the spindly garden flowers wilting in the August heat, and so a tray was brought out to her.
Father listened with polite forbearance, then granted a regal smile to his son, who was counting the crystals that dangled from the dining room chandelier, as he did every night, circling the table to assure himself that new teardrop prisms hadn’t crystalized since breakfast. Thorncraft then turned to his daughter and, as if this might be received well by his level-headed, realist child, pronounced his son, her brother, “an idiot savant.”
Miriam, now 15, knew her father well enough to pick up the chilly condescension in his British tone. There was no point but to acquiesce gracefully. To her father, Trevor would always be the idiot, but for Miriam, Trevor was beginning to seem very much the savant.
Confirmation came one whirlwind year later when at 16, Miriam fell under the infatuating sway of Arthur Aubrey, whom all called, as if it were a magical incantation, Aubrey.
Aubrey was brilliant, like her father, but unlike her father, he was interested in her, and most particularly in her “gifted” brother, as he declared him after Miriam, when no babysitter could be had, apologetically showed up at the Palatine theater one Friday night, holding the 9-year old’s hand.
Trevor’s round eyes watched the large man as they climbed the grand staircase to the balcony, watched his sister, whose special privilege it was to open the door in the hidden room, turning a winged cherub on the black wall this way and that. Quietly, little Trevor sat beside Miriam on a bench, among the others assembled there, and seemed, in his private, self-contained way, to fall glassy-eyed under the spell of the monotone chanting that echoed about the dome of the temple.
Aubrey sensed “something profound” in the boy immediately. The great man was particularly intrigued by the quirky spasms that sometimes afflicted Trevor’s left hand.
One day, months later, they were sitting in the heavily timbered living room of Aubrey's California Mission-style home — as a rule, Aubrey did not invite followers to the house, but the rules were different for Hollywood royalty, even if, as with a daughter and son, they were once removed. It was a bright January day, and the fireplace was blazing, its reflection dancing along the large burgundy floor tiles. Trevor was looking intently into the flames, calculating some impossible something, when his little hand went off.
Aubrey frowned at the flailing. After a moment, he had a hunch. “Katrina,” he called quietly to the teenage maid, not taking his eye off the child. “Pen, paper, please.” The young maid, a skittish immigrant girl with a wide Slavic face, hurried off.
Aubrey put his hand on Miriam’s knee. “Your brother, my dear,” he said in a soft, seductive voice, “is in a trance state.”
The anxious young maid returned.
“Watch,” said Aubrey to Miriam, placing the pad on Trevor’s lap and the ballpoint in the convulsing hand.
The pen immediately swung about the air in erratic circles. Aubrey lowered Trevor’s hand to the yellow sheet. He spoke close to the boy’s ear now in a rhythmic purr. The spirals slowed.
“We’re on the brink,” he whispered to Miriam
She gave him a questioning look.
“Automatic writing. Communication with the divine.”
Softly, rhythmically, Aubrey spoke into the boy’s ear. On the yellow pad, circles flattened to lines. Lines lengthen. “He’s coming into his realm.”
Miriam wondered what that could possibly mean, but Aubrey’s gaze was fixed on the boy.
“Trevor,” he said gently. “Where are you now?”
The ballpoint dug into the yellow paper, leaving deep indents as it raced along, writing the same phrase over and over.
Miriam slipped unnoticed along the bas-relief wall as the movie started. The balcony was packed, which augured well for The Cats’ prospects. The girls in bathing suits had helped, of course, but these counter-television gimmicks were growing stale and no longer guaranteed a crowd.
Miriam made a mental note of the fulsome balcony, to be reported back to her father, who lately fretted over his once fireproof box office after the surprise fizzle a few years earlier of Fog. (Public and critics alike had found the romance at the center of the film, with its ghostly overtones and the shock at the end, too unsettling.)
Miriam entered the corridor behind the opera boxes, lit only by a red EXIT sign, then turned the corner where no corner should be. She knew her way in the dark and after a few moments dimly discerned the contours of the L-shaped room. Striking a match, Miriam saw to her great relief that the hidden door in the wall was open.
Trevor, definitely Trevor.
Only he knew the half-and-full turns to give the cherub’s wings, having watched her open this door many times. Aubrey was dead, his widow never came to the theater anymore, and his male secretary, Lord George, was too bereft to look after the Palatine in the absence of his beloved mentor. Other than herself, Trevor was the only one here tonight who could open this door to the temple.
She entered the empty chamber and found the wax tapers still arrayed in a vase, next to another vase, full of long matchsticks. As the taper flared up, the chamber came into view. She had last been here five years ago during Aubrey’s Memorial. At that time, the 11-year-old Trevor held her hand, gripping it actually, encouraging her to hope that he understood the magnitude of the occasion, that this was a last farewell to the great man who always made a fuss over him and whom Trevor always watched with such grave intensity.
Miriam stood at the bottom of the broad steps, eyeing once again the triangular pediment on its florid Corinthian columns, scanning its incised legend, Latin letters whose meaning made her wistful:
Arthur Aubrey High Priest Made This.
The second door was open.
Miriam always got a solemn feeling when she passed the second door. The narrow space was only large enough to contain a staircase, and the staircase was so narrow it could only be climbed single file. The sudden closeness of the walls had about it echoes of the Mystery Religions of the Hellenic Mediterranean. The passage felt like the passage through the birth canal, leaving the world behind, shedding worldly identity so that the soul could emerge naked and anonymous under a marble-domed heaven, an Olympus of blank deities to be particularized and made real only through the temple’s transformation of the acolytes.
At the top of the stairs, its brass appointments glimmering in the candlelight, was the final door. It too was open.
She entered the darkness of the dome. She called out the name. The sound reverberated against the arched ribs of the vault.
“Trevor,” she called again.
Again, a hollow reverberation.
The altar showed faintly under the moonlight streaming through the oculus.
Miriam was a Sensitive, nothing like her brother, but given to premonitions. And a sinister premonition came upon her now.
“Trevor?” she pleaded softly.
But nothing stirred in the stillness.
Preview: An occult history written on the covers of movie magazines.