Thursday, June 26, 2014

Candace Cleopatra Beautiful

Her parents were stage actors,
dreamers,
and they named their little girl Candace Cleopatra Beautiful.
She spent the summer of 1910 sleeping in a nest of blankets
inside a suitcase,
backstage,
cooed at by every passing dancer and extra.

Unfortunately for Candace,
she grew to be only a pleasant-enough looking girl,
not a true beauty like her mother.
She went by the nickname Candy until one Sunday afternoon,
on a rare visit to her maternal grandparents' house.
"Awful name," remarked her grandmother from over her tea cup.
"Candy. Sounds cheap." complained her grandfather.
She was never taken to visit them again.

There are those who can create loveliness in the world,
and they seem to spin it out of thin air, or out of themselves by magic.
Candy Beautiful's parents were such people.
They could be standing in the wings, fanning themselves,
shrugging their shoulders and taking deep breaths,
on clay feet like anybody else, 
but then when they went on stage, 
a thousand faces would look up at them, there in the lights.

Those people had been just a crowd, faces sticking out of furs,
or tuxedos,
out for an evening,
talking about nothing,
smiling, concealed;
and then Candy's parents would get hold of them,
with every line and every gesture.
They would win their hearts, then break them, then mend them again,
all within an hour and a half.
Each person in the audience would blink and cover themselves as the lights came up,
feeling themselves naked in some way,
exposed,
but gloriously so,
and then their faces would break into smiles and they would clap.
Oh how they clapped!

After each show, Candy Beautiful would watch her mother as she removed her stage makeup,
asking her endless questions as children do,
only to be interrupted--every time!--by some lackey delivering huge bouquets.
"For the leading lady!" he would announce with a flourish.
To the end of her life, Candy Beautiful could never think about her childhood without thinking of flowers--
how lovely and delicate they were,
how fragrant,
and all of it a tribute to the beauty her parents could create.

They were Gypsies in those years, the three of them.
What fun it was to grow up riding trains and running up and down the aisles of theaters during rehearsals!
In 1918, just after the war, 
warnings were published in the newspapers to avoid crowds
such as restaurants, 
public transit and gathering places; the theater, for example.
Actors always say, "The show must go on!" and it did,
for a while,
playing before thinner and thinner crowds.
Times became lean, and then her parents--
her young, beautiful parents--
died from the Spanish flu, and there she was,
alone.

Candace Cleopatra Beautiful never liked to talk about the years that followed.
In time, she grew up,
though she did not grow any more beautiful, to match her name.
She worked, at different times, as a waitress,
a telephone operator,
a sales clerk in a department store,
and as a secretary in the War Department.
None of it had any loveliness to it.
No handsome lackeys ever came sweeping in with flowers for anyone.

However, one not particularly young man did notice her,
and he did bring her flowers,
and she did marry him.
His name was Ed, and he slicked his hair back with Brylcream.
He turned out to be quite good at turning a buck,
and he called her his Little Queen, because of her middle name.
Ed was slightly buck-toothed,
but when he smiled at her, she thought him pretty marvelous,
and when he died of a heart attack in 1954,
she wore black and wept all through the funeral, leaning on a cousin's arm.

Candace Cleopatra Beautiful had been through bad times before.
At least, this time, she had a lot of money in the bank,
and was a grown woman, able to make her own choices.
So, before long,
she made two important ones:
first, she bought a dozen acres in Ontario, Canada;
then she bought a cat, a little calico that she named Miss Daffodil.
The kitty was a great comfort,
and when they finally moved into their new home,
Candace said to the astonished mouser, "Welcome home,"
and set her down in the big sunlit entranceway.

Over the next forty years, Candace Cleopatra Beautiful created loveliness.
The house had a rounded,glassed-in greenhouse around one side,
and she filled it with every pleasing bloom she could lay her hands on.
She papered all the rooms with floral patterns,
each more calming and remarkable than the last. 
The windows were enormous!
She bought white couches and chairs,
installed potted ferns and small indoor trees.
It was like living in a gorgeous light-drenched garden.

After a year or so, Candace Cleopatra Beautiful,
who by now insisted that the workmen and visitors call her "C.C.",
added another cat.
Then another.
They were so delightful, 
and brought such an elegant loveliness in with them!
The Queen of Egypt could not have valued those cats more than C.C. did,
giving them the run of the place and all the devotion of her heart.

Cat calendars!
Cat sofa pillows!
Cat books!
Cat everything,
and ever and always, more cats.
How they soothed her. How their antics and their needs filled her days to bursting!
It's true that she began to go out less and less as she got older,
but everything she loved was right under her nose.
Flowers! 
Cats!
Loveliness around every corner and down every sight line!
Even her clothes, bought by special order through the mail,
were mostly floral designs or cat themed.
Peace.
Happiness.
Her own Eden.

Candace Cleopatra Beautiful died at 90, of a stroke,
and distant relatives came to take care of the cats.
There is still a note on the refrigerator door:
"Be sure to pick up and handle the kittens three times a day!"
but the cats, and everyone else, are gone.
C.C's house sits empty on its dozen acres,
but the long windows still let in a lot of light,
and the plastic plants--she couldn't get around well enough to water live ones--
are everywhere, still bright, still waiting to be admired,
as if they were famous actresses from yesteryear.

__________

Thank you, if you've taken the time to read this whole long tale. I was inspired by a YouTube video taken by urban explorer TikiTrex. It's long, half an hour, but if you have the time to watch it, it's really interesting. It's called "Urban Exploration: Abandoned Cat Lover's House" and you can find it HERE.

Meanwhile, a little Elvis Costello to close with.







12 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

gosh, what a marvelous journey through a life - tragic and beautiful all the same.

hedgewitch said...

An amazing poem, Shay--or should I say short story? It is full of fascinating details and glimpses of life as it is lived, yet it's also surreal and magical. The documentary(?) of that amazing house was just beyond belief--so much glass, so much light, and all just abandoned to the forces of entropy. Thanks for the spellbinding trip into another dimension.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

What a wonderful story. I am glad she had her house and cats and happiness for those years, surrounded by the beauty she had created. You tell wonderful stories.

Susan said...

I'm so glad you mentioned her inability by the end of life to care for real plants. I bet she had a ton when she could and couldn't bear that the solarium was bare! I loved reading this!!! Ms. Beautiful. I especially love the 4th stanza about the transformed audience. No one else has ever done that justice before. Thank you for the note on G+ that led me here.

myheartslovesongs.com said...

i love the journey your imagination took us on, SP. but i found the video deeply disturbing, that the "explorer" seems to feel she has the right to violate others' homes. obviously something terrible happened and there weren't loved ones who cared enough to at least clean out the house, even if they didn't want keepsakes. and it's haunting to think what happened to the cats.... at least you had them looked after in your story.

Shadow said...

What a stunning tale, drew me right in.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I was so captured by your tale, I did not realize how lengthy it was until you mentioned it. This left me feeling a little sad, a little happy and thoroughly satisfied. Thank you for always bringing your characters to life with such loving attention to detail.

Grandmother (Mary) said...

A novella with an intriguing central character, a light- filled house and some cats. Add to that the sad reality after she died and you have a compelling story. Was it long? It left me wanting even more.

Sioux said...

Yes, I certainly took the time to read your not-too-long poem, and watched PART of the video but then had to stop watching it. It wigged me out a little...

Sioux said...

Yes, I certainly took the time to read your not-too-long poem, and watched PART of the video but then had to stop watching it. It wigged me out a little...

Mama Zen said...

We use the word "lovely" a lot, but this really is.

Sara said...

As always, you can really tell a story. i gobbled this one up and it didn't disappoint. My favorite part was the note on the refrigerator door:~)

I also loved that Candace Cleopatra Beautiful learned to create her own loveliness.