Patrick Roscoe (email@example.com) is an author of 8 acclaimed books of literary fiction who is currently without agency representation.
The Death of Judy Garland
Betty Bertolucci experienced an epiphany when her daughter’s first spoken words (mother, smother) formed a perfect rhyme. The two-year-old clearly had all the talent it takes to shoot straight to the top. From that illuminating moment, in 1931, two years deep into a misguided marriage to the third most successful accountant in town, Betty threw all her weight behind Bernice’s career as a performance-poet. First the child star would make it here in Brale, BC. Then she would go on to conquer Hollywood. Bernice seemed eager to realize her mother’s dream from the start. She never whimpered with hunger from the strict diet necessary to maintain a svelte figure for the stage. She didn’t struggle against the straps that bound her to her practice chair six hours each day. When production of her poems slowed to a crawl, the little girl obediently entered the composing closet and invented a quota of verses in darkness that would be unbroken until her mother unlocked the door at dawn. During nights leading up to an important engagement, Bernice rehearsed her gestures and poses and expressions until four in the morning without complaint. “She’s far more determined than me,” swore her mother. “I hardly ever have to get out the practice whip.” Betty made enormous sacrifices for her daughter’s career. She didn’t spare herself in the process of encouraging Bernice to perform her original rhymes at every opportunity that arose in the small smelter town. The little girl treated customers of Tognotti’s Grocerteria to on-the-spot renditions of her latest stanzas, and entertained the line-up for both early and late shows at The Royal Theatre. “You never know where or when or how you’ll be discovered,” Betty pointed out. “They found little Deanna Durbin slaving for ten cents a week in a cotton gin at age five. Now, thanks to her mother, she’s enjoying the fruits of a seven-year contract with Universal. Although perched on the very top of the box office, Deanna hasn’t forgotten who put her up there. Furs and limousines are the least Mrs. Durbin deserves. The very least.” By age six, Bernice had become a fixture on the local entertainment scene. She received headline billing at every Lead & Zinc Fair after wowing the crowd with the unveiling of her instant classic “Yellow Clouds of Sulfur, Grey Clouds of Lead.” Revealing a knack for reciting while balanced on a sheet of ice, she was named permanent feature performer for the curling club’s Winter Bonspiel Wingding. Once her mother drilled enough Italian into her, Bernice was able to accept an invitation to entertain at The Colombo Lodge Annual Banquet and expand her demographic in the process. A stunning debut at the Brale Literary Festival, in 1936, earned the young artiste the first of what would be sixteen consecutive “Bright Brale Star of Tomorrow” honors from Tiny McGuire at The Daily Times. This unprecedented string of victories would certainly have been extended were it not for the cheap tactics of a tap-dancing tot who went on to complete a painfully simple paradillo at the Junior Miss Variety Show after breaking both ankles in her opening pass. Soon every hostess came to soothe pre-party jitters by booking Bernice to guarantee the success of their affair. Faced with a slate of weak students on the eve of her spring piano recital, Carole Bouquet once placed an emergency call to Betty at two a.m. With several conditions, the last-minute engagement was accepted. Bernice demanded twice her usual live performance fee, special guest star billing with a full Bernice Botticelli biography in the recital program, plus a car and driver to and from Carole’s event. The child star enjoyed less success at school than on stage. Her attendance suffered due to increasing demands to rehearse and to entertain. Publicity obligations further limited Bernice’s ability to participate in the first and second grade. With Tiny McGuire and his news camera in tow, she toured the children’s wing of the Regional Hospital to cheer the sick kiddies up with Bernice Botticelli balloons. As a generous gesture toward the disadvantaged, she handed out half-price coupons for her next show to residents of the slum that sprawled over muddy shore down at The Flats. Candid photographs in The Daily Times captured the entertainer in the act of cutting ribbons to open local businesses, presiding as patron of the East Brale United’s Charity Bazaar, and waving from the lead float in the Brale Day parade. Most of the hours Bernice did spend in the classroom were spent catching up on sleep. When the teacher managed to wake the exhausted celebrity to ask her to read aloud, she prettily replied that Equity forbid her from performing for less than scale. At recess, she was regularly stoned on the playground for offering civilian children autographs in an attempt to gain their affection. “A star doesn’t need friends,” Betty consoled her. “Only fans.” When the school board declined her daughter permission to withdraw from formal studies at age eight in order to concentrate solely on her career, Betty didn’t hide her disappointment. She pointed out that a precedent for this step had been set not so long ago. At just six, Stanley MacKay was allowed to end his academic education in order to dedicate every minute to the keyboard. Bernice was certifiably more talented than the piano prodigy; Stanley’s twelve Bright Star titles couldn’t hold a candle to her sixteen. And unlike that gifted yet illiterate boy, Bernice was able to sign autographs, read reviews and study scripts. Because she had no desire to follow in her father’s accounting footsteps, and since a whole team of money managers would be in place to invest and protect her movie-star income, arithmetic skills were apt to be acquired at the cost of more essential ones, such as learning how to find your key light and how to steal parts from other actresses. At being denied “The Stanley MacKay Exemption,” Betty bitterly guessed that poetry remained the poor cousin among the arts. She began to feel apprehensive about the future when her daughter turned nine. It seemed obvious that Bernice was growing discouraged at remaining still undiscovered by Hollywood. She brooded as Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland and Baby Jane Withers received the kind of break that should have gone to her. Bernice’s thwarted desire to become a viable replacement for Shirley Temple was made especially galling by the propitious timing of Little Miss Sunshine’s stunning decline. The undeserved success of Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholomew and the rest of the boys only sagged a drooping morale further. Bernice felt these injustices all the more keenly because no child star except her wrote a single word of their material. Judy couldn’t spell so much as c-a-t. Her autograph was forged on fan photos by secretaries at the studio. The window for the child star to make it big is narrow as a needle’s eye, Betty knew. Few bright-eyed moppets transcend an inevitably awkward adolescence and go on to shine as adult idols. For many, the window slams shut before the first pimple appears. Poor Cora Ann Collins found herself washed up at nine. One year after sitting pretty on Louis B. Mayer’s lap, the has-been was reduced to scrubbing dishes in his studio commissary. Betty advised her daughter that she needed to work harder. Maybe being a performer-poet double threat isn’t enough at any age. Maybe Bernice needed a third talent. Look at Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her rhymes had been able to take her only so far. At that critical point in her career when she needed to branch out, Edna turned down a very nice offer from Columbia, which had plans to turn her into a love goddess in the Nancy Carroll mold. Now Edna was finished, now Edna was through. Bernice’s efforts to master a third talent met with little success. She seemed unequipped to add tap dancing to her repertoire. The problem was her feet. They insisted on starting to bleed after just eight hours of tapping. Betty’s heart sank. All at once the smelter-scented air seemed more acrid. Visions of a toast-of-the-town daughter doing a droll bob and shuffle while putting over poems at the Hollywood Bowl evaporated in the same way that a dream of becoming the next Mary Pickford, or at least the new Lillian Gish, once had. Bernice’s performances began to deteriorate. On stage at the Civic Auditorium, she stuttered over chestnuts recited flawlessly for years. Gestures and postures once executed with military precision grew increasingly uncertain. At the 1940 Lead & Zinc Fair, the child star was booed off stage after changing the title of her most popular piece to “Yellow Clouds of Cancer, Grey Clouds of Death.” Her appearance at The Literary Festival, the same year, was a fiasco. Winking and leering at the audience, Bernice sing-sang an obscene limerick she must have learned from the barefoot children from The Flats. For an encore, she took off every stitch of her clothes then started to scream. Pete Henderson was called to the Botticelli house that night to calm an out of control Bernice with what would turn out to be the first of many after-show shots. The MD categorically denied the injection contained a horse tranquillizer. The cocktail consisted merely of a bit of chloral hydrate, a few healthy vitamins, and one or two other harmless things, Pete airily attested. “What would Ethel Gumm do?” Betty asked herself, turning once again to the example set by the role model of every stage mother worth her salt. By means of a brilliantly waged campaign, Ethel had shaped pudgy Frances Gumm into Judy Garland against all odds. She abandoned a husband and dropped two dead-weight daughters from the Gumm Sisters act to put Judy over properly. To get the girl through the gate at MGM, Ethel followed the advice of her Christian Science guide and slept with every executive, including Benny Thau, on the lot. Like Ethel, Betty would do everything humanly possible plus more for her daughter. The child star’s decline obviously stemmed from a deep unhappiness with her image. Upping her glamour quotient would undoubtedly restore Bernice’s artistic confidence; a second mortgage on the Botticelli house might bring enough to finance the necessary step. The deluxe services of the premier stylist in town would not come cheap, Betty realized. Patrick Parker was a true artist. He had been doing beautiful work in the basement of his family’s funeral parlor for years. While Paul, the less sensitive Parker, handled the draining and the embalming and the rest of the dirty business, Patrick was in charge of the final presentation of each client. (“Not corpse,” he would correct his brother, with one of his patented winces.) Patrick could fashion a withered crone from The Gulch into the spitting image of Jean Harlow overnight. One of his most noted achievements involved styling the few bits and pieces that remained from a zinc boy’s fall into one of the bubbling vats. The coffin in question might have contained a matinee idol by the time Patrick Parker was through. In the basement of the funeral parlor, the artist would labor over a body from midnight until morning for as long as it took. He wore elbow-length gloves of white silk and a matching smock with tasteful gold appliqués. A light powder and a touch of rouge flattered his face. Perfumed by its signature Vol de Nuit, the space was illuminated by several dozen slender tapers. Anguished Maria Callas arias further inspired the thrilling and ultimately triumphant aesthetic adventures undertaken by Patrick Parker after dark. Every Bradanac show-wife made certain to arrange for her final presentation before age thirty in order to avoid being caught off guard by the inevitable event. Patrick had the ladies hopping in and out of caskets until the appropriate one for each was found. Like any authentic visionary, he refused to compromise. “Absolutely not,” he pronounced with a wince when Sissy Soles pleaded for permission to wear a lime green polka-dotted pinafore and yellow pigtails for her final rest. “A purple turban and tangerine hostess pajamas?” he demanded of a pouting Eunice Thompson. “I think not.” Clarissa Bond held on through one excruciating summer, during which her cancer-riddled body became reduced to little more than half a dozen enormous tumors, because she had been advised that autumn tones offered the only acceptable palette for her corpse’s coloring. In other cases, individuals who were failing would quietly let go in time to have frozen features softened by gentle spring light. When a woman carelessly neglected to secure Patrick’s advance approval of her coffin look, he thought nothing of dispatching the bereaved husband down to Spokane to buy her a suitable ensemble. The Très Chic Boutique, located just around the corner from Parkers, was never a viable option. “Hortense’s coffin couture is hideous,” Patrick stated succinctly. Despite this slur, the boutique owner persisted in hoping that one day Patrick would design an exclusive Last Look line for her. The man’s sensibilities forced him to refuse to entertain this offer. He also declined an invitation to leave the funeral parlor for The Silhouette Salon, although Stella promised him a deluxe front-window station with its own sink and hot dryer. The thought of having to touch live flesh to perform his artistry made Patrick shudder as well as wince. Only in the case of Bernice Botticelli did he ever manage to overcome this aversion to styling a breathing client. For a ten thousand dollar non-refundable advance, plus eighty percent of her future earnings in perpetuity Patrick Parker agreed to oversee the creation of a brand new look for the ten-year-old star, with the stipulation that he have complete control over every aspect of the process. At the end of a complex journey involving numerous instances fraught with dizzying highs and desperate lows, frequent displays of a touchy temperament, and just as many hand-wringing last-minute reconsiderations, he put Bernice in a sophisticated ensemble of silver lamé cocktail sheath with a plunging décolletage and spaghetti straps, set off by matching silver stilettos. Stella was tasked with dying the girl’s mouse-colored hair to the shade of platinum precisely specified by Patrick. Using cosmetics manufactured exclusively for corpses, he designed an appropriately heavy theatrical make up for Bernice and applied it himself. The face is wiped right out by stage lighting unless punched up by several layers of pancake and a bucket of black mascara, he explained. And crimson lipstick must always triple the size of the mouth. As a final touch, Patrick added drops made from a rare African oil to Bernice’s eyes to render them luminously large for her audience. While not approved for use on humans, the drops didn’t seem to have damaged Tallulah Bankhead’s vision, at least not yet. If Bernice did happen to lose her sight at some point down the line, that would only increase her sympathetic appeal. As an added bonus, she could corner the market on all the blind girl roles. For a year, Bernice proved that once again her mother’s career instincts were flawless. A baby-pink spot set off the performance-poet’s stage look with an effectiveness that seemed to leave Brale audiences stunned. Her fans didn’t appear to mind that Bernice often posed silently, like a piece of living sculpture, before them now. At other times, she broke out in what sounded like gibberish or baby talk. Heavily beaded lashes blinked over alarmingly dilated pupils; a crimson-exaggerated mouth moaned a sound that might have been language. Shivering in the silver lamé, teetering upon the silver stilettos, Bernice would nibble the platinum ends of her hair like a starved rabbit. From the wings, Betty scanned the rapt crowd for talent scouts. A seven-year MGM contract for her baby was all but signed. Down there in Hollywood, Judy Garland must be shaking in her ruby slippers out of fear of being shipped back to Cedar Rapids, Michigan on the next bus. So what if Bernice had to wash down a few of Pete Henderson’s cute “babydolls” with a swig of gin before going out on stage. What’s the difference if a high-strung performer needs a little shot to soothe her nerves at the end of every show? The studio doctors had been keeping Judy going with amphetamines and so on since the age of eight; go ahead and look how that medical support was boosting Judy’s career. What did it matter, anyway, when a third mortgage had to be taken on the Botticelli house after Patrick Parker decided that without another ten thousand he couldn’t in good conscience continue to ignore the valid needs of corpses by devoting himself exclusively to Bernice. Discovering she had carved her very first poem (mother, smother) into her arms, Betty was heartened by this evidence that her daughter was prepared to make the kind of painful sacrifice demanded of every top star. Bernice wouldn’t cheat her audience by resorting to paper cue cards as long as she had some blank flesh left to write on. In spite of her recent fondness for chewing her hair, she refused to eat. Unlike Judy, she was determined to avoid endangering a glittering career in show biz for the sake of a few too many chocolate sundaes. When Bernice refused to stop shrieking one of her poems for three hours after the audience had left the Civic Auditorium, this signaled a trouper’s determination to give her all to the fans. “She’s a real thoroughbred,” Betty murmured admiringly from the wings. Bernice insisted on sleeping in the composing closet every night now. She had become so dedicated to her craft it wasn’t necessary to lock her inside the cramped space any more. Silently productive in the dark, Bernice etched a considerable number of additional lines of poetry into her arms and legs. No longer bothered by fists pounding on the closet door or whimpering from behind it, Betty was able to concentrate on furthering her daughter’s celebrity career. At her desk upstairs, she wrote letters to Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to alert the columnists that the next big child star was waiting to be discovered in Brale, BC. Canada had already given its own Mary Pickford and Fay Wray to the silver screen. Now the country was ready to make a third precious gift to Hollywood. Pete Henderson rang the doorbell one night. Disturbed by sounds of his office being broken into, he found Bernice to be the burglar. She had swallowed all the babydolls Pete had on hand and lay unconscious on his examining table as he spoke. The doctor felt it best not to risk taking the girl up to the hospital until he could determine whether she had sunk into a coma or was enjoying a deep sleep. Betty agreed with this course of action. The last thing they needed was for the press to get wind of the little accident. A hint of the wrong kind of scandal could kill a squeaky-clean career more quickly than the taint of communism. Bernice woke up after three days. Her speech would come back sooner or later, Pete guessed. He had done his best to clean up all the gashes on Bernice’s arms and legs, and he didn’t believe they’d become more seriously infected. “A touch of gangrene isn’t anything to worry about,” the doctor assured Betty. “Not when your little girl has a heart as big as a barn.” Betty was forced to cancel her daughter’s engagements for the next month and to refund advance payments for the bookings at considerable cost. Although she slowly recovered her speech, Bernice insisted on continuing to slur. She refused to be encouraged by the rehearsal whip to remember all those years of enunciation drills. Fortunately, maternal love empowered Betty to comprehend the stricken celebrity’s moans. “She’s saying she’s just dying to get back on the stage,” Betty translated while her daughter, strapped into the practice chair, slobbered and drooled beside her. Bernice’s head lolled to one side or drooped over her chest. Without further African drops, her pupils remained dilated, and were filmed with what resembled yellow mucus. From a slack mouth, spittle dribbled steadily. What would Ethel Gumm do in this situation? Betty had no one else in the world to turn to. Claiming to be swamped by work, her husband was camped out at his office for the duration of the tax season. “You’ve always known what’s best for Bernice,” said Lloyd, when Betty finally got him on the line. She felt under siege, to say the least. The curtains had to be kept permanently closed after Tiny McGuire and his camera began lurking around the clock in the rhododendron bushes outside the house. Someone must have leaked Bernice’s condition to the newsman. A statement Betty issued to the press, informing Bernice Botticelli fans that their favorite performer was slaving over a new repertoire sure to make them love her even more, apparently failed to erase Tiny’s hunch that he had the hottest scoop in years on his hands. Was it Pete Henderson or Patrick Parker who tipped Tiny off? The family doctor dropped by the house every other day with a fresh supply of babydolls for Bernice. Pete expressed delight at the patient’s progress. The rot of odor rising from her limbs seemed less strong each day, which signaled there was probably no need to change the bandages. “Give me a good moan,” the doctor would request of Bernice, after shooting her up with another of the energy cocktails that were pretty sure to get the girl back onto her feet. “She’ll be up and about in no time,” Pete declared. “It doesn’t look like we need to worry about amputating her limbs, at least not all of them. Look on the bright side, Betty. Sarah Bernhardt enjoyed her greatest stage triumphs after losing a leg.” Patrick Parker appeared at the house to express his condolences and to resign his position as Bernice’s exclusive stylist. “For obvious reasons,” he winced, possibly referring in part to his ex-client’s last public appearance, on the night before her suicide attempt, when she paused in the middle of her acclaimed one-woman show Bernice By Herself to squat on the Civic Auditorium stage and then defecate while gazing expressively at her admirers through pin-wheel pupils. Patrick seemed to be more interested in Bernice now that he no longer advised her in an official capacity. He expressed not a moue of distaste at the stench emitted by the yellow- and brown-soaked bandages wrapped around her limbs He bent over Bernice for a close inspection then retreated one step to place a considering finger to his lips. “I’ll have to design an entirely different look for the coffin,” Patrick decided. “The silver lamé is quite unsuitable, I’m afraid. What works on the stage doesn’t always do off. I see auburn ringlets in a loose French twist. A halter top patterned with blue and red stars, with matching shorts. Sandals with sea shell appliqués. A casual beach look for a summery July coffin. When Betty Grable wore something along this line in her latest picture, she smashed every box office record. In light of our past association, Betty, I’d look to do no more than cover my costs. Just one or two thousand, I estimate, plus the unpaid balance of my fee.” Inspiration woke Betty the following night. She ran downstairs to inform her daughter that the guiding beacon of Ethel Gumm’s wisdom had illuminated a revelatory dream. Instead of hiding from the press, they needed to court it. A full-size photo of Bernice slumped in her practice chair ought to be blazed across the front page of The Daily Times. With his canny make-up tricks, Patrick Parker would be able to accentuate the stream of drool and the slack mouth for maximum effect. A world-exclusive interview with Betty would offer an intimate account of a valiant star’s struggle to return to the stage. Beneath the cool exteriors of Hedda and Louella beat a tender heart. As soon as they read Tiny McGuire’s affecting story, both columnists would urge their vast readership to deluge every major studio with letters urging them to give brave Bernice Botticelli a chance before it was too late. Betty found both the practice chair and the composing closet empty. The front door stood ajar. At the end of the block, Tiny McGuire, Pete Henderson and Patrick Parker were sharing a cigarette. Armed with a news camera, a medical bag and a make-up case respectively, the three men had apparently been lingering outside the Botticelli house on the hunch that events inside might take a tragic turn and require their professional presence tonight. When Bernice dashed from the doorway and raced away down the street, the threesome had decided to shout an alert up to her mother’s bedroom window rather than give chase. None of this made sense to Betty. She felt trapped inside one of the dream sequences through which Ingrid Bergman liked to wander. “Lead the way, boys,” she said, before pushing past the fools and letting them follow her instead. They found Bernice on the muddy shore down at The Flats an hour later. She was dressed in the silver lamé sheath and matching silver heels. You wouldn’t guess she hadn’t taken a step for a month. As though her heels were running shoes and the muddy shore cement, Bernice darted from one tin shack to another. Each remained silent and dark when her fists pounded on the door and a voice drilled into crystalline clarity by a decade of enunciation drills cried out: “Please help me. I must find Judy Garland before it’s too late. Unless I save her at once, she’s going to be murdered by Ethel Gumm.” Betty realized the time had come to cut her losses. It was clear what Ethel Gumm would do in this situation. As Tiny McGuire snapped a photo of Pete Henderson tackling her daughter in the mud, Betty turned away. She strode to the Greyhound station without stopping by the house to pick up a few things. In a sign that the fickle gods of show business were truly on her side, Betty boarded the southbound bus one minute before it departed Brale at two a.m. She would transfer at Spokane for Seattle. From there, she would be carried down to Portland then Eureka then San Francisco. In two days and two nights, she would be in Hollywood. It hardly mattered that she was going to arrive with no luggage and just two dollars. Ethel Gumm would be waiting to sweep her off to Beverly Hills in an air-conditioned limousine. Following her mother’s sudden departure from Brale, Bernice made an astonishingly swift recovery. She was sent home from the hospital after only one week by the head nurse who took the case over from Pete Henderson. He’d done all the really heavy lifting involved in restoring Bernice to health, Pete amiably suggested. Let the candy stripers do the rest with their lollipops and magazines. The doc would have been happy to stop by the Botticelli house to oversee the convalescence of this special patient had she not declined to continue receiving his treatment. Bernice wouldn’t swallow another babydoll or accept one more energy shot. Peering at him through eyes that would always remain moony, speaking in the deep tone that soon became her natural voice, she ordered Pete out of the house. Bernice cancelled her standing appointment with Stella. When the platinum grew out, her hair took on a lustrous shade quite unlike its original mousy brown. Out of a sheet from her mother’s abandoned bed, Bernice fashioned the first of her white togas. The flowing garment was fastened loosely at the waist with a belt made from the unraveled rehearsal whip. Sandals shaped from the straps of her practice chair completed the ensemble. Lloyd Botticelli was warned that his daughter would catch her death of cold traipsing about in the snow in just that bed sheet and those sandals. Couldn’t he persuade Bernice to put on socks, at least? And why did she insist on wandering the fields in all weather to begin with? If the girl wasn’t going to resume her entertainment career, shouldn’t she be doing some housework? Betty had never been much of a homemaker, true. But in her absence the Botticelli place was quickly turning into a disgrace. “Bernice has always been beyond me,” her father confessed. His struggle to prevent the bank from taking the house left Lloyd with little time to worry whether it was spick and span. Besides, Bernice seemed to flourish from roaming the far-flung fields in search of inspiration from nature. Her complexion remained ruddy in every season. The scars on her arms and legs faded until they would be unnoticeable to anyone not knowing they were there. Daily outdoor exercise gave the girl an excellent appetite, and she became almost plump by the time she turned sixteen. Bernice had apparently evolved into the purest essence of a poet. She wouldn’t contaminate her free-form rhymes by writing them down or by performing them for a paying public; instead, her lips moved and shaped as she wandered silently about. Beneath the stars at China Creek, or in fields of yellow wildflowers, a whisper that might have been a poem could escape her mouth. Fruitvale farmers elected not to chase Bernice from their pasture when she bothered the cows by muttering haikus in their ears. The local RCMP constable received few complaints about her habit of plundering East Brale gardens for flowers to weave into garlands for her hair. When she failed to show any inclination to attend Brale High, Sam Marlowe didn’t bother to pick the girl up for truancy. For some reason, his dereliction of duty seemed to have the support of the school board’s iron-fisted president. “Brale could use a few more Bernices,” stated Mrs Helen Forrester. Coming from the most powerful figure in local politics, this astonishingly uncharacteristic utterance had the effect of seeming to give official endorsement to someone who might, without protection, have been regarded as an obvious candidate for Loon Lake Lodge, where the shrieks of inmates floated all night across cold, dark water. “From what?” Bernice would wonder when asked whether she had retired. Once in a while, on a slow news day, Tiny McGuire hinted on Page Six that Bernice Botticelli was preparing to launch a big comeback. According to inside sources, she had found inspiration in Judy Garland’s triumphant return to The Palace after attempting suicide then being fired by MGM and dropped by her agents. Little Miss Show Business concealed the scar on her slashed throat with a chic scarf, flushed some of her pills down the toilet, and knocked Broadway dead. Publicly, Bernice responded to polite disbelief to this tale of her contemporary’s revitalized career. “Judy Garland died long ago,” she would say. “She was murdered by her mother. Ethel’s serving a life sentence for the crime. They’re keeping her locked in a dark cell no bigger than a closet.” Rumors of a Bernice Botticelli comeback might have been prompted by the dearth of further local prodigies to appear in her wake. It became common knowledge that a dozen double-glazed donuts from The Honey Bun Bakery could inspire Tiny McGuire to feature any brat in town as a Bright Brale Star of Tomorrow these days. “We’ll never see another like Bernice,” the veteran newsman lamented to Pete Henderson, whose nerves appeared to be affected by his experience with the child star. When his eyes weren’t glassy, the doctor’s hands tended to shake like those of an apprentice angel-maker operating out of The Gulch. As well as prescribing liberal numbers of babydolls to himself now, Pete acquired the habit of boosting his energy between patients with what had come to be called “the Bernice Botticelli shot.” The only souvenirs preserved by Bernice of her show business career were the silver lamé sheath and matching silver stilettos. Showing signs that a father’s accounting blood might run through her veins after all, Bernice leased the glamorous ensemble to neighborhood girls. They could wear it for one night--to a spring formal, say, or to a country club cotillion--for a single dollar. Bernice put this rental income toward a debt supposedly owed by her mother to Patrick Parker. Besides claiming not to have been compensated fully by Betty for his work, the stylist threatened to sue her husband for the damage that an unfortunate involvement with Bernice had done to his reputation. Both Stella and Hortense continued to suggest the child star had smashed up because her stylist let her down. This slight whiff of doubt in his artistry was sufficient to undermine the kind of confidence necessary for creating at the very highest level, and Patrick’s presentation of corpses became increasingly equivocal, until clients began to insist on a closed coffin in their will. Monthly payments by Bernice mollified the man to a degree. After a decade, the outstanding balance was reduced to only several dollars. It must have been in 1957 that a knock sounded on the basement door at Parker Brothers late one night. Opening the door quickly, as though he expected a visitor, Patrick seemed unsurprised to find Bernice. A Maria Callas aria thrilling the candle-lit space behind him now began to drift through the quiet East Brale night then up toward the stars. Patrick looked at Bernice expectantly, without a hint of a wince, while she regarded him with the vagueness that made everyone wonder just how much lasting damage had been done to her vision by the African drops. Bernice tightened the knot at the left shoulder of her white toga, which was decorated with a typical number of grass stains and mud splatters. She straightened the dandelion crown on her head. Bernice placed the last installment of her mother’s debt into one of Patrick’s white-gloved hands. Then she removed a silver lamé sheath and a pair of silver slippers from beneath her toga. “We almost made it,” said Bernice in a low, clear voice. She shook her head twice, to erase wrong words. Her fingers fluttered, as though strumming a tone poem from the air. “I mean I couldn’t have done it without you,” she said, expressing her gratitude to Patrick by returning a gift.