Prelude to the Observation Car

“Where’s Timmy?” Donna inquired, sitting in Theodora’s bedroom suite on the train.

Theodora made eye contact with the movie studio liaison; originally Donna was hired to keep her in check but in the meantime, they had become friends and really there was no need, Theodora knew how to walk the walk and talk the talk. “Reba has him in her compartment, he’s playing with his trains. Timmy brought his wind-up engine, freight cars and track in a separate suitcase. I swear he would take the trains to bed with him if I would let him.”

“I’m keen-bean that you brought Reba along, she’s been a big help in minding Timmy while you deal with the press and, I must say, your stardom.”

Theodora laughed at Donna’s slang. “Reba loves him. She doesn’t know if she will ever have children. She and Harvey keep trying, they are spending money they don’t have to visit specialists, no luck. When she minds Timmy, I get a break and she gets to be around a child she always wanted. Luckily, I have the money to be able to hire her, it’s good for both of us.” Theodora took several deep breaths.

“What’s the matter Teddy?” Donna spoke tenderly with concern in her voice.

“It’s Gerald. He isn’t sleeping with me.”

“Yikes! It’s a big compartment, where does he sleep, in the trundle?”

“Hilarious. You know Gerald must be sleeping with Clark. I am only a convenience, to lend the allusion of propriety. I stay with him because there is so much potential in this new movie role.

“But I don’t want Timmy to grow up around these show people, especially now that there are producers who insist actresses audition nude for ‘Boudoir scenes.’ I want him to lead a real man’s life, a spiritual life, with a regular job and then marry the right girl. He loves trains and the railroad. If he wants to be a railroad engineer, then that’s what I want for him.”

“What if he wants to become an artist or a writer? Surely you wouldn’t object.”

“Oh please, not the artistic world, I am learning to hate it.”

“What are you saying? You made a fortune in the movies and the money is good for the both of you, especially Timmy. You’ll be able to afford a great education for him at a private school, which would also get him away from your work.”

“I won’t send him away to boarding school. When this film is done, I’ll take time off  and live with Timmy some place honest and good, maybe farm country. Or get a ranch, a place where I can work outside in the fresh air and get dirty.” Theodora’s large brown eyes filled with tears, “Not the filth of my past.”

“Teddy?” Donna’s eyes opened wide.

“My past is a well-kept secret,” Theodora adjusted her thick, curly, shoulder-length auburn hair. “A year out of high school, Raymond Anderson discovered me and got me into films. Raymond and his wife Louise, took me off the street and gave me a head start. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. They were the perfect couple, kind and generous, perfect role models. My secret died with them in the airplane crash a few years ago.”

“Are you sure you want me to know?” Donna asked holding her hand to cover her mouth, as if to keep anyone from hearing.

Theodora dismissed her question with what Donna referred to as the ‘Queen’s wave.’ “Do you know why I picked Theodora as my screen name?”

“Theodora!” Donna exclaimed. “Movie-goers love it and everyone at the studio thinks it’s a great selling point, ‘Theodora, Theodora,’ they say. You are in all the headlines as Theodora, I just thought it was your given name. Come to think of it, you don’t ever use your surname. Why? I only know you as Theodora or now that we are close, as Teddy.”

Adjusting her already correct posture, Theodora explained, “I don’t know my father’s identity. For that matter, I never knew my mother, she died an alcoholic’s death shortly after my birth. I was raised by my aunt, a good woman, but she didn’t know how to care for me. Not her fault, I was trouble from the beginning. I don’t belong here in this world, something went wrong, very wrong. My aunt made up my surname for the birth certificate. The doctor knew something wasn’t right but she told him my father was killed in a construction accident. Davis, yes Davis, forged in deceiving black ink onto my birth records. My given name is Madeline, Madeline Davis, nice isn’t it?”

Theodora lifted her chin, a picture perfect pose. “My uncle used me. He started on me early; my aunt didn’t know. When my uncle found me alone, he would come after me. While he held me down, he whispered that what we did together was real love. But my soul knew differently. I would go to another place; I just left my body to him and entered a dream world where I became a beautiful and loving princess. Then when my periods started, he finally left me alone, but there was no love, never was.”

Donna intentionally kept quiet, listening and watching this 25 year old star revert back to a habit she only did in private, raising her left hand to her beautiful face and using the back of her fingers to brush lightly along her cheek.

“I was troubled all through school,” Theodora said. “A devil on my shoulder made me flirt with all the boys, I couldn’t get enough attention and earned the nickname, `Slutty.’ ‘Hey slutty, whatcha’ doing tonight?’ None of those boys ever stuck around and the good girls ignored me.

“History class was my lifeline and where I first learned about ‘Theodora and Justinian,’ lovers on a grand scale. After class, I would go to the library and look up everything I could find about them. She was a stagehand who ascended first to the stage and then as a courtesan, known as ‘the dregs of the army.’ The original Theodora had unbounded sexual energy, then unaccountably, she changed and settled into a modest house near the emperor’s palace and made her living spinning wool. Justinian saw her, she was very beautiful, young and intelligent, he fell in love with her. He used all his royal powers to have her become his wife and had her crowned, `Augusta.’ They shared Imperial power; I wanted to be her, so I took her given name.”

“Oh, bananas Teddy! I won’t say doodly-squat but it’s difficult to keep a juicy secret in Hollywood.”

It was as if Theodora never heard her. “After high school I did menial labor at a hotel in Los Angeles,” she continued. “I took on paying men, married men, almost every night. They knew if they revealed my secret I would get even, I had too much on them, all the dirty little secrets, the petty jealousies.

“Then, I had three men in the same night, all of them together with me in the same room. They said they were starting a new kind of film industry – Adult Art Film’s. I would become a star. The movies would be sensual and artistically done. I bought into their idea and that night was to be an audition. Instead, they filmed as they raped and beat me, took my money and left me there alone, crying in my own blood.

“That’s when I changed, instantly overnight, a divine intervention; I was not going back to that old life. By then I was 18 and had worked my way up at the hotel, and Raymond encouraged me to audition for a part in a movie he was producing, a musical. He needed a wholesome looking girl, I was good at it. Raymond offered me more parts, then as if in a dream, I became Theodora, Theodora the movie star.”

However, when she was 20, Theodora had a brief relapse and got pregnant; Raymond and his wife Louise gave her an ultimatum: amend her ways or the studio would drop her. “One last chance at respectability. I grew up instantly knowing I could never forgive myself if I let them down again.”

Theodora confronted the man she suspected was Timmy’s father, to no avail. “Raymond and Louise made sure the sensationalism of my being an unwed mother didn’t get out of hand with the tabloids. Funny, in a way it was good for my career, other women in the same situations wanted to know more about me and began to flock to the movies that I had roles in.”

Hoopin’ and hollerin’ sounds drifted in from the nearby parlor, “I don’t want Timmy to find out about my past. I have got to find a way of protecting him.”

“Teddy, do you have a plan? How will you break with Gerald? It’ll be all over the newspapers.”

“I don’t care, neither will Gerald, he’ll be glad to be rid of me, I’m just excess baggage now. After the last film, he made a great deal of money and this one looks like it will be even bigger. He wants to take his money and move overseas, he says European’s will be more understanding of his lifestyle.”

Donna shifted gears and told Theodora that following shooting the remainder of their current musical in Chicago, the studio and the railroad were going to film a commercial about the advantage of train travel across the country versus the airlines. ‘The Modern World of Train Travel,’ would feature one of the new diesel engines on the `Super Chief` as it departs for Los Angeles. “The studio wants to feature you and Timmy as well as an engineer.”

“I wonder,” Theodora smiled, “maybe the same engineer Timmy and I saw a few months ago in Lamy?”

“Uh, oh Teddy, do I see a gleam in your eye?”

“I have a soft spot for fatherly men,” Theodora leaned forward. “And Donna, when I looked into the cab of that engine in Lamy, I could have sworn I saw a real angel. Timmy too because he said, ‘Mommy, an angel just winked at me!’ I think it was a sign.”

“Time to head for the observation car and get lunch,” Donna shook her head, motioning towards the door. “I’ll check on Timmy and Reba, you go ahead and find a place for us. At least you can have some time to dream, watch the miles go by and hope for a better destination.”

14 thoughts on “Prelude to the Observation Car”

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