Scenes from a Life - Chapter 16 - Excerpt
Fast forward to Chapter 16
Olivia, now a single mom, having pushed to get her manuscript into anyone's hands who would give it a look, has been signed to Radcliffe Publishing. She is attending a party with her literary agent Thomas Gordon and his wife.
The Radcliffe's home on Park Avenue, a luxurious penthouse reminiscent of old money, was their city home. James Randolph Radcliffe, a fourth generation Radcliffe, was considerably more conservative about entertaining than his ancestors, who were known for their elaborate functions. James preferred to entertain only on a few select occasions, requiring an even more selective guest list. Conservative as he was when it came to the required minimum of entertaining to keep up face, he was rather eccentric when it came to the company he preferred. There were his friends from the old money set, the usual roundup of Hollywood names, Wall Street-of-the-moments, poets, writers, painters, activists, university intellectuals, and a sprinkling of Washington faces.
A James Radcliffe social, cocktail party, or at the top of the list, a dinner party, was a much sought after event, for every one could be certain that only the purest persons of their chosen fields would be invited. The exception being the Wall Street-of-the-moments, who were often rumored to be invited because they were willing to share financial advice. They attempted to appear as if they were reluctant to give such advice but would, at the drop of an eyebrow, chatter on in a quiet corner.
Olivia, Thomas, and Val arrived together. Olivia was in awe of stepping foot inside the building, much less the penthouse atop, and tried to conceal her excitement. A portrait of James Randolph Radcliffe I hung above the fireplace of the grand room where one-hundred-fifty-five of the most select were gathered.
Val took Olivia under her wing and introduced her to this person and that as if she saw them on a day-to-day basis. Olivia was amazed that she would meet these people in person much less talk with them. She was curious about a couple that kept to a small gathering near the balcony doors. They were an eclectic couple: she was refined and beautiful like a fairy tale princess and he was haphazard in appearance yet restrained in manner. The woman introduced herself and her husband to Olivia. He was Nick Rigby, British radical, poet, and painter, and she was Cecilia St. Paul, daughter of a New York newspaper magnate. Olivia recalled reading about their marriage and how Cecilia's father had refused to speak with her, even considered disinheriting her. It was a marriage made during frustrating times when Nick was rallying artists of all sorts against censorship. This unusual couple traveled about the globe offering their support to the needy and most political causes. Nick's appearance still hinted of the days when he began in the punk rock movement in Britain in the seventies. He was untamed, dangerous, and sexy, while Cecilia was tamed, harmless, and sexy. Their mix sent a strange message to the old money crowd and the unconventional population of the world--it went against all conventions, they were cutting-edge--so everyone had to keep up with Nick and Cecilia.
"What exactly brings you to these parties?" Olivia asked, curious as to why they came to such extravagant events.
"Same reason as everyone else, to see what's going on. Meet influential artists, as I understand you are soon to be," Nick explained. Cecilia smiled at Nick. "It's a part of life. I have to have contacts--not all the bloody refined upper class is bored stiff in a wasteland of caviar. Whether I'm talking with aspiring writers or musicians in the East Village or suffocating in all this falsity and expensive food to debate a cause with an intellectual from the Ivy League group, it's all about being out and being visible," Nick explained in a thick Liverpool accent. Olivia listened carefully. She was nervous and wanted to sip her club soda but feared it would dribble down her chin.
Nick observed her with an eye extremely sensitive to the slightest of details. "I see you are reluctant and uncertain about this select gathering of humans. Olivia, you have to remember that everyone here is just a person with a few credentials and some pounds in the bank. They're flesh and blood and can die from the strike of the same bus as you and me. You'll get used to this arena, it will teach you many things--some useful and some you would wish you could scratch from your brain with the edge of an ax. But it's an education that a young writer like yourself can somehow impart to the bloody rest of the world." Nick pulled out a brown paper cigarette and moved toward the balcony.
"Come outside," Cecilia insisted, putting her hand lightly on Olivia's arm, and the three went onto the balcony.
"It's important to clang my glass with the people I have very little in common with?" Olivia asked as she sat her glass on a nearby table. Nick offered her a cigarette.
"Nick, don't thrust your bad habits off on others," Cecilia scolded him lightly but he winked at her with little worry.
"No, I've been dying for a cigarette. Thanks." Olivia took it in her hand and Nick lit it. She took a drag that soon hit the back of her throat with a rush of heat. She cleared her throat. "I don't think I needed one quite so strong." They all laughed.
"As you were saying. Yes, you should take advantage of every opportunity to meet every kind of person there is. I'm anxious to see what kind of writer you are, Olivia. You know Radcliffe began spreading the word months before your novel went to press, I doubt the ink of your signature was dry on the contract before the first few words were dropped. Radcliffe is tight-lipped when they aren't absolute about a writer, but they do love to brag when their confidence is at a fevered high," Nick said with a smile. He held his cigarette between his thumb and pointer and viewed the skyline before them as if pondering something.
"I live in a closet, I suppose. I've only worried about writing. And getting published so I could continue to write and eat at the same time. I'm ignorant to all the fuss. Actually, I'm suspicious of most everyone I meet," Olivia admitted and took an easy drag from the potent cigarette in her small hand.
"I know from experience, Olivia. I grew up in my father's world. Watch where you tread and who treads behind you. Know what you feel, what's important to you. And if it's talent you have--real, untamed, powerful talent--use it wisely and to every advantage you have," Cecilia said. She sighed as she stepped over to the bed of wild ivy that flowed around the edge of the open balcony. "If you want to succeed at something, you won't go unnoticed. So to attempt to hide from all the attention, well, it eventually serves to stifle any interest you ever created. Unless of course you have the magnetic spirit of Jackie Onassis or Howard Hughes, and Howard Hughes pushed himself to an early grave. Bask in the sunlight, Olivia. If I had the chance, I would," Cecilia admitted. Nick moved to Cecilia and put his hand on her shoulder.
"You don't care to bask in the overcast skies with me?" Nick teased his wife as she turned and smiled lovingly into his eyes.
"I enjoy your cloudy skies--more than I would ever have thought," Cecilia remarked. Olivia listened and thought of how confused she now felt. All that came to her mind were the promises she made years ago--that she would be a great writer. She had thought of all the glamour and success but never decided what would take place. She had fought her way out of the false myths that clouded the white picket fences of her existence, and now she was facing false faces in high-rise penthouses and expensive restaurants. She wanted to be near
the real people, real living breathing people, who suffered and laughed and had a breakdown on occasion.
Nick and Cecilia were real. She could see pain in Cecilia's words, perhaps because of her father's emphatic denial of Nick. Did Cecilia want things to be real and true? Did she want her father to face the fact that she had married a guy with working-class parents, a guy who once walked off the stage on which he sang with a group of would-be punkers with his pants down to his ankles yelling "Royalty isn't in the blood. We all come from the same place. We all come from a penis! Bloody hell then, we're all royalty!!"
Olivia thought of that and began to grin almost madly. Yes, Nick was most definitely real. Who could wish to give a false impression of himself when he's completely exposed himself to an audience of crazed drunken punkers?
"Maddening thoughts enter her mind," Nick smiled. Olivia looked at them both.
"Yes, maddening. I'd like it, if sometime when I get back to New York, that we could get together. Some place simple. Do you know a good coffee shop or deli?" Olivia asked, her mind now rolling with interest at a strange new crowd of individuals she felt she was destined to encounter, if not to understand. Nick and Cecilia looked at each other.
"Do we? Rotten lot of haunts. You must know the worst places to go in this fine city as well as the grandest. Cecilia, scratch down our telie number. I'm sure we'll have a hell of a lot to talk about after I read this already infamous novel of Olivia's," Nick said with an assured tone that they would gather together again.gether again.