From GREEN SHADOWS WHITE WHALE by Ray Bradbury. We pick up when Bradbury arrives at Huston’s mansion, St Clerans, in Ireland, to begin working on the Moby Dick screenplay.
The door swung wide at my knock.
My director stood there in boots and riding pants and a silk shirt open at the neck to reveal an ascot tie. His eyes bulged like eggs to see me here. His chimpanzee mouth fell down a few inches, and the air came out of his lungs in an alcoholtinged rush.
"I'll be damned!" he cried. "It's you!"
"Me," I admitted meekly.
"You're late! You okay? What delayed you?"
I waved behind me, up the road.
"Ireland," I said.
"Christ, that explains it. Welcome!"
He pulled me in. The door slammed.
"You need a drink?"
"Ah, God," I said. Then hearing my newly acquired brogue, I spoke meticulously.
"Yes, sir," I said.
As John, his wife Ricki, and I sat down to dinner, I gazed long and hard at the wee dead birds on a warm plate, their heads awry, their beady eyes half shut, and said:
"Can I make a suggestion?"
"Make it, kid."
"It's about the Parsee Fedallah who runs as a character through the whole book. He ruins Moby Dick."
"Fedallah? That one? Well?"
"Do you mind if right now, over our wine, we give all the best lines and acts to Ahab? And throw Fedallah overboard?"
My director lifted his glass. "He's thrown!"
The weather outside was beginning to clear, the grass was lush and green in the dark beyond the French windows, and I was blushing warmly all over to think I was really here, doing this work, beholding my hero, imagining an incredible future as screenwriter for a genius.
Somewhere along in the dinner the subject of Spain came up, almost casually, or perhaps John brought it up himself.
I saw Ricki stiffen and pause in her eating, and then continue picking at her food as John went on about Hemingway and the bullfights and Franco and traveling to and from Madrid and Barcelona.
"We were there just a month ago," said John. "You really ought to go there sometime, kid," he said. "Beautiful country. Wonderful people, it's been a bad twenty years, but they're getting back on their feet. Anyway, we had a little event there, didn't we, Ricki? A small thing got out of hand."
Ricki started to rise, her plate in her hand, and the knife fell clattering to the table.
"Why don't you tell us about it, dear," said John.
"No, I?" said Ricki.
"Tell us what happened at the border," said John.
His words were so heavy that, weighted, Ricki sat back down and after a pause to regain her breath, held for a long moment, let it out, "We were driving back up from Barcelona and there was this Spaniard wanted to get into France without papers and John wanted us to smuggle him across the border in our car under a rug in the back seat and John said it was okay and the Spaniard said please and I said my God, if they found out, the border guards, if they caught us we'd be held, put in jail maybe, and you know what Spanish jails are like, in there for days or weeks or forever, so I said no, no way, and the Spaniard pleaded and John said it was a matter of honor, we had to do it, we had to help this poor man and I said I was sorry but I wouldn't endanger the children. What if I was in jail and the kids would be in the hands of others too many hours and days and who would explain to them and John insisted and there was a big row?"
"Very simply," said John, "you were a coward."
"No, I wasn't," said Ricki, looking up from her food.
"You were yellow," said John, "pure yellow, and we had to leave the poor son of a bitch behind because my wife didn't have enough guts to let us get him across."
"How do we know he wasn't a criminal, John," said Ricki. "Some sort of political fugitive, and then we would have been in jail forever?"
"Just yellow is all." John lit a cigarillo and leaned forward to stare at his wife at the far end, miles away down the table. "I really hate to think I am married to a woman with no guts, who wears a yellow stripe down her back. Wouldn't you hate to be married to that kind of woman, kid?"
I sat back in my chair, my mouth full of food I could not chew nor swallow.
I looked at my genius employer and then at his wife then back to John and then back to Ricki.
Her head was bent.
"Yellow," said John, a final time, and blew smoke.
As I looked down at the dead bird on my plate, I recalled a scene that now seemed so long ago.
In August, I had wandered, stunned, into a bookstore in Beverly Hills looking for a small, comfortable?sized copy of Moby Dick. The copy I had at home was too large to travel. I needed something compact. I shared with the proprietor my excitement about writing the screenplay and traveling overseas.
Even as I spoke, astonished, a woman in the far corner of the shop turned and said, very clearly: "Don't go on that journey."
It was Elijah, at the foot of the Pequod's gangplank, warning Queequeg and Ishmael not to follow Ahab off 'round the world: it was a dread mission and a lost cause from which no man might return.
"Don't go," said the strange woman again.
I recovered and said, "Who are you?"
"A former friend of the director's and the former wife of one of his screenwriters. I know them both. God, I wish I didn't.
They're both monsters, but your director's the worst. He'll eat you and spit out your bones. So?" She stared at me.
"Whatever you do, don't go."
Ricki's eyes were shut, but tears were leaking out of the lashes and running down to the tip of her nose where they fell, one by One, onto her plate.
My God, I thought, this is my first day in Ireland, my first day at work for my hero.
in this book, this is the first interesting Huston brush stroke to my mental portrait of the man. this brush stroke paired with Agee’s comment about Huston having a talent for avoiding boredom, and for the most imaginative use of the present. I pair this with other commments I’ve read about his impetuos behavior. It seems to me he might have had a touch of OCD.
Imagine smuggling some guy he just met across a border while accompanied by his wife and kids. About now Ricki Soma should have had red flags going off in her head, and should have gotten away from this lunatic.
There are a few more quotes in the book worth posting, and I will post them soon.