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"A Good Long Run"
a short story by
Kitty Sloan believed in fairy tales so, of course, she believed in love at first sight. When Mark Jordan, the newest—and only—attorney in tiny Broadway, Texas, walked into the new community theatre, Kitty took one look at him and fell in love.
The war had been over for six years, but some of Broadway’s sons were fighting again, this time in Korea. Two weeks before auditions for Oklahoma, Kitty waved goodbye to Bo, her high school sweetheart. With his deep, booming voice and natural good looks, he would have been a shoo-in for Curly. Kitty, of course, would be his on-stage romance, Laurey.
While the accompanist arranged his music, Ted Bullock, the director, who also taught drama at the consolidated county high school, introduced everyone to each other. He spoke with affection of Kitty, his former student, now an English major at near-by Colby College. Finally, he asked Mark to introduce himself.
Kitty hung on every word…Navy…the Pacific…back to school on his GI bill…just passed the bar…always loved theatre. Later, she made it a point to leave the theatre at the same time he did. He invited her for coffee. That night, she wrote in her diary, “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry. Of course, I can’t marry anyone until I’m a star.”
She scored the role of Laurey to his Curly. Despite his professional conduct, his every touch set her on fire. When the show was over, and she wasn’t checking groceries at Piggly-Wiggly, they spent every free moment together.
The night before she went back to college, they took a walk through the park. “You’re really good,” she said, enjoying the feel of her hand in his, hoping he’d kiss her before the evening ended. “You could be a real actor.”
He didn’t speak for a moment. “I’ve always been interested in theatre.”
“Did you ever think of…”
“I was surprised to find a community theatre in a place as small as Broadway,” he interrupted.
“It’s been here a few years, ever since Mr. Bullock started teaching at the high school. I’ve always wanted to be on the real Broadway. You know—New York.”
Again, he hesitated. “Yes, I know.”
“In fact, when I graduate, I’m going there. I have a small inheritance from my grandmother, enough for six months anyway. It’s worth a try. Maybe I can make it.”
“Not in six months.”
“Why not? Lots of actresses start out in bit parts and get discovered.”
“They’re the exception.”
“Maybe I will be, too.”
The next day he walked from his office to the bus depot to see her off for her third year at Colby.
That summer they played opposite each other in The Glass Menagerie. Again, they spent all their free time together, and finally he kissed her, more than once. When Bo came home at the end of the summer and saw how things were, he went off to the county seat to work in his uncle’s hardware store.
Mark sat with Kitty’s parents at her graduation from Colby the following spring. At dinner afterwards he said, “Ted Bullock told me to tell you he’s going to do South Pacific this summer. He thinks you’ll be a good Nellie Forbush.
“Did you tell him I’m going to New York?”
“I think he knows, but he was hoping…”
“I’ve got to try, Mark. If I can’t do it, I’ll get a job somewhere teaching English, but I’ve just got to try.”
“Fame is fleeting.”
“That’s an old chestnut.”
“It’s true. Kitty, I have a counter-offer. Marry me and stay in this Broadway.”
She fought a losing battle with herself and played Nurse Nellie to his Emile de Becque while she planned their wedding. Despite her parents’ concern over the sixteen-year difference in their ages, they didn’t try to discourage her. They liked Mark and approved his thriving practice. Also, he’d kept her from what was, in their minds, a foolish odyssey in the big bad city
“Just one condition,” she informed him. “I want to go to New York for our honeymoon. I’ve got the money.”
“It’s traditional for the groom to pay for the honeymoon.”
“Then we’ll split it. At least I can say I’ve been there.”
She thought for a long moment he was going to refuse the stipulation. Finally, “If it means that much to you, all right.”
There was standing room only in the Methodist Church, and the wedding story took up half a page in the weekly Broadway Examiner. Kitty and Mark drove to San Antonio for their flight to New York.
To stay within their budget, they’d made reservations at a modest tourist hotel. “We can go anywhere we want to on the subway,” Mark assured her. “Straight to Forty-Second Street.”
“You sound like you know the town.”
“You never mentioned it.”
He kissed her forehead. “It didn’t seem important.”
They saw it all—Times Square, Chinatown, Wall Street, the Statue of LiRoby, and the Great White Way. When Mark began meeting and speaking to people, Kitty understood there was a great deal she didn’t know about her husband. At the Majestic Theatre one night, a dozen people hailed Mark like a long-lost brother and extended several invitations to come backstage after the performance— invitations he declined despite Kitty’s vocal disappointment.
In their hotel room, she confronted him. “Why do you know so many people here?” she asked, unbuttoning her long gloves and removing them finger by finger. “Especially theatre people.”
“I spent some time in the theatre business,” he said, shrugging off his jacket.
“That needs explaining, Mark.”
He tugged at his tie. “I worked on Broadway.”
He sat down on the edge of the bed. “You know your theatrical history pretty well. Does the name Mark Mercer ring a bell with you?”
“He played his first lead in Jefferson’s Love and then nothing after that.”
“How about the name Blythe Blair?”
“She committed suicide after her first leading role.”
“The critics panned her. They totally destroyed her.”
“I was only five years old, but I read about her later. She was supposed to be the next Maude Adams.”
“And she would’ve been.”
“You knew her.”
“We were engaged.”
Kitty’s knees buckled. She grabbed the edge of the dressing table for support.
“Mark Mercer walked away from a promising career. You walked away.”
“It wasn’t worth it, Kitty darling, not after Blythe…she was only twenty-three.”
“You’ve lied to me all along.”
“Not really. It was another life. I was another person.”
“You had your chance and gave it up, but you didn’t want me to have mine.”
“Kitty, you’re beautiful and talented, but so are a lot of other girls.”
“Like Blythe Blair.”
“Yes. She should’ve made it, but she didn’t, and it killed her.”
“What is it?”
“Ambition. Stars in her eyes.”
“So you decided for me. Don’t you think I should have been the one to make that decision?”
“I love you, Kitty. I didn’t want to lose you, too.”
“I think you just did.”
The next morning, she announced she wasn’t going home with him. “I have my money, enough for a few months, and I’m going to have my chance.”
“What about us?”
“I don’t think there’s an us anymore, Mark. You tried to steal my dream.”
“I asked you to marry me. You could’ve said no.”
“I wish I had.”
Broadway, Texas, had weathered its share of scandals in a century and a quarter, but when Mark Jordan returned from his honeymoon alone, tongues wagged overtime. He turned a blind eye and a deaf ear and went about his business. Kitty’s parents refused to talk about Mark—or their daughter.
Kitty wrote regular but impersonal letters to her parents, but when she began to get noticed, she sent them programs and press clippings with her name in them. She even earned enough to stay on when her inheritance money ran out. A month. Two months. Six months. On what would have been her first wedding anniversary, she appeared in a supporting role in Love on the Run. Her parents came to share her triumph. No one mentioned Mark.
She understudied Rosemary Thurston in The Wild Life of Cassiopeia. Her big break came when a death in the family took Rosemary away for four performances. The show closed after six months, but it made Kitty’s reputation. She had another offer before she’d cleaned out her dressing room.
“This was Blythe’s dressing room.” She recognized the voice of Clive Loring who had been Mark’s roommate in their sidewalk-pounding days. “I’m sure Mark told you about Blythe.”
“He adored her, and as far as I could tell, she reciprocated his feelings.” Clive sat down in front of the empty dressing table. “He found her, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know.’
“Here in this room. Overdose of sleeping pills.”
Kitty shuddered. “I don’t want to talk about it, Clive.”
He shrugged. “Okay.”
“I’m going to sign a contract with Anton Dressler tomorrow.”
“You think I’m wrong, don’t you?”
“Not necessarily. I’m still here. I stuck it out.”
“Good for you.”
“If you’re going to stay, what about Mark?”
“He has grounds for divorce.”
“I doubt that’s what he wants.”
“It’s up to him.”
“I think it’s up to you. At least have the guts to face him and tell him it’s over. If it is. If that’s what you really want.”
“Hope dies a slow, agonizing death.” He paused. “We talk sometimes.”
Clive stood up. “You’re a talented gal, Kitty. But it takes more than that to make it in this business. It takes heart. That’s why Mark got out—because his was broken. No, worse than that, it was ripped right out of him. I wonder if you’ve got the heart for it, kiddo. I wonder if you’ve got any heart at all.”
Any heart at all. The words echoed as she rode the subway to her efficiency in Greenwich Village. In high school, she’d been voted the girl with the most school spirit and also most likely to succeed. Her father used to say she radiated a special sparkle and not only on stage. On their wedding night, Mark whispered she would be his leading lady for a lifetime.
In the cold apartment, she showered and climbed shivering into bed with Eleanora the elderly foundling cat whose purr filled the silent room. A chance. That’s all I ever wanted was a chance, and now I have it. A contract with Anton Dressler is my ticket to stardom, but Mark said fame is fleeting. So, if I get there, how long will it last?
She closed her eyes and tried to remember the warmth of Mark’s slow, gentle love-making, but felt only the icy chill which settled in their hotel room when she accused him of trying to steal her dream. He hadn’t argued with her, even when she said she wasn’t going home with him. For the first few lonely, frightening weeks, she’d rationalized he’d walked away from her just as he’d walked away from his own stardom, but it wasn’t true.
Clive said Mark adored Blythe…and found her dead in the dressing room. What had it done to him? What had she, Kitty, done to him by virtually ending their marriage before it began? No heart…ripped the heart right out of him…no heart at all…
As daylight filtered through the cheap blinds, Kitty huddled over a cup of coffee and weighed her options. The contract with Anton Dressler—or her marriage to Mark Jordan. Should the decision be that difficult? In truth, it was. She’d wanted to be a star since the first time she’d dressed up in her grandmother’s red silk table cover with the gold fringe, the one her grandfather referred to as Mae’s bawdy house scarf, and sang and danced on the long front porch with only the chickens and barn cats for an audience. Now she’d made it. Almost.
So what would it be—a season of stardom or a lifetime contract as Mark’s leading lady? Why did she even have to make the choice? Why couldn’t she have it all?
She glanced at the cheap alarm clock on the up-ended wooden apple crate beside her bed. Seven-thirty. Mr. Dressler had scheduled her appointment for eleven and said to call him before nine to confirm she’d be there. She’d have to get moving to be on time.
In Broadway, Texas, Mark would still be asleep. It didn’t take long to walk three blocks from his apartment to his office on Main Street. Clive said she should have the guts to tell him to get on with his life instead of waiting for her.
Closing her eyes, she pictured a marquee with her name sprawled across it. Mark’s face swam upward then and obscured it. For one long moment she remained suspended in a vacuum of indecision and despair. Finally, shoving Eleanora aside, she sucked in her breath as her cold feet hit the floor on the way to the telephone.
The wrecking ball took deadly aim and swung, smashing the marquee of the Broadway Community Theatre, closed since the city fire marshal declared it unsafe and beyond repair. For fifty years, under the inspiration of Ted Bullock and, after his death, under the continued guidance of Mark Jordan, the theatre had nurtured aspiring performers and delighted audiences in three counties.
The mayor, the city council members, and scores of citizens had broken ground for the new theatre just this morning. “Out with the old, in with the new,” the mayor declared. Only one man didn’t quite see it that way. Now he stood watching fifty years of his life crumble in front of his eyes.
“You’ll be so proud when the new theatre is dedicated,” his wife said, squeezing his arm. “The Bullock-Jordan Community Playhouse.”
“Won’t be the same,” he mumbled, tugging at the jaunty hounds tooth check cap covering most of his white hair.
“No, it’ll be better.”
He watched the wrecking ball take aim again. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. “I don’t want to see anymore.”
“Blair and Sloan will be here for our anniversary next week.”
“Their kids coming, too?”
“The ones who can get away. You know how it is.”
He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and pulled her into his arms. The rough tweed of his overcoat scratched her face, but she didn’t say anything. “It’s been a good life, Kitty darling.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted any other.”
“You know I wondered about that for a long time after you came home.”
“But you don’t wonder now.”
He pulled her arm through his. “No. No, I don’t wonder now. You’ve been my leading lady for a long time.”
She smiled. “A good show, a good long run.”
He patted her hand as they walked on.
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