CHAPTERS 25-32

CHAPTER 25

25-1

We fade in on Helene, who is also in a hospital bed. She’s awake, if only just recently. Ward is there, holding her hand. Helene has started processing everything: “We need to be sure she gets help.” Ward isn’t so forgiving: “She’s psychotic, Helene. Let’s just write her off.” // “I don’t mean to suggest that I want her back in my life, however short it may be. But, she has nobody looking out for her. So, even if they lock her up, let’s make sure she can get well. At least in the head.” We pull out wider on the scene, and there’s a nurse standing in the doorway. She’s a little confused: “I meant, is there anything I can do, for you? Like, right now?” // “Oh, sorry, dear. Yes, yes. Have you any shiraz?”

25-2

Ward pushes Helene’s wheelchair around the hospital. They’re out for a stretch. Helene looks fairly well considering her overall health and the incident at her home. Really, she doesn’t look much different than we last saw her. She keeps looking up at Ward, though she tries to do so without turning her head towards him. She’s trying to find the right time—or the right words—and she keeps holding back. Ward notices: “What is it, love?” // “Oh. Well. I just wanted to say—” // “I know what you want to say.” // “No you don’t.” // “You want to say you’re sorry. That you shouldn’t have written me off and listened to Tracey.” // “It’s not that I wrote you off. But I thought some space might be good and—” // “You trusted her more than me.” // “I trusted you both. But I was wrong to—” // “You don’t have to apologize for anything, Helene. I’m the one who opened the gate for all of this. For Tracey’s entrance into our lives, for Alina’s exit from our lives.” // “I guess we’re both just miserable, aren’t we? Drowned in guilt.” // “That’s why I love your company, Helene.” Ward rests his hand on Helene’s shoulder, and she places her opposite hand atop his.

25-3

Ward and Helene return to her hospital room. Her assistant Kyle and his wife are there with flowers, and flanking them are a dozen other bouquets. The nurse brings in one more, too: “These keep coming,” she says. “And they keep getting fancier and fancier. This one is from Grace Coddington!” After greeting her guests, Helene signals Ward and the nurse to help her back into bed. They hoist her carefully and tuck her in. “How long will you be here?” Kyle asks. “A few days more,” Helene says. “They want to monitor everything, especially with my other issues. Though, I don’t know where I’ll go when I leave. It’s not like I have a home right now.” // “You can stay with us.” “Yes,” Kyle’s wife says. “We insist. It’d be our pleasure. Anything you need.” “Very kind of you,” Helene says. “I’ll try to find something near my place, near Ward. But I’ll let you know if that changes.” A pause, then Kyle again: “It’s a miracle you didn’t get any burns. I went with Ward by the apartment. It’s like the flames just built a wall around you on the bed.” Helene doesn’t have an explanation, or any thoughts. She just shrugs.

25-4

Helene is alone at night, asleep in her hospital bed. The door to the hallway is ajar, so there’s some light pouring in across her face. She’s stirring a bit, having a lucid dream. Her lips quiver. A single tear runs from her closed eyes, and as it creeps past the top of her nose, Helene springs awake with a gasp. Now, she’s breathing heavily, and panicking as she searches the room. She starts sobbing, and pulls her sheet up over her mouth to mask any noise. “When does it stop?” she whimpers. “How do I stop needing you here?”

25-5

Helene relaxes in a full-body scanner. Her doctor monitors the process. Inside, Helene looks quite calm. She’s been here numerous times. Next, we’re in her hospital room. Helene looks befuddled. Then again, so does the doctor. “What do you mean, it’s gone?” Helene asks. “I… I… don’t know, Helene,” her doctor replies. “But it’s gone. I want to run a few more tests, but… I think you’ve won, again.” // “This must be an error. I practically had a death sentence…” // “I can’t believe it, either. But, once they get you on your feet again…you’ll be as good as new.” // “This isn’t what I wanted! I was cool with the cancer! I liked it this time! I wanted it to win.” // “I’m sorry to bear such bad news. And how sad that this inexplicable thing was wasted on you…” // “Sorry. I’m being a prat. I’m just sure it’s a mistake.” // “It seems not.” // “Wow.” // “Yeah. Wow.” Helene stares forward, dumbfounded and blindsided.

CHAPTER 26

26-1

Helene sits with another doctor now, this one examining x-rays of her hip. “Everything looks like it’s going to heal perfectly fine,” he says. “Not common for a person of your age, but with a little rehabilitation, I think you could recover almost scotch-free.” Helene stares blankly at him; she has no words, and doesn’t look particularly excited. “Any, uh… any questions?” he asks. “Sorry,” Helene says, falling out of her mini trance. “This is a lot to think about, seeing as I’ve sort of been thinking about dying for a couple years.” // “Well, you’re not getting any younger.” // “Thank you.” // “I mean, you should still proceed with care. You’re fragile, you know. Healing, but fragile. Don’t hurry yourself anywhere. Give everything a little extra time. You could still live to be 90 or 100, especially if you keep off the cigarettes, and maybe cut back to one glass of wine per day.” Helene scowls. The doctor stands corrected: “I meant, one glass per meal… uh… including breakfast… and before bed.” // “Thank you. That’s great news.”

26-2

“I can’t live another thirty years, can I?” Helene says to Ward over lunch in Park Slope. “I’m going to have a heart attack just thinking about it. Surely the cancer can return, and consume me before then?” // “I couldn’t me more pleased,” Ward says. “Maybe if I get re-married, you can be the proxy grandma to my kids.” // “I was supposed to be the proxy aunt in the first place…” // “Well, I do apologize if Amanda’s untimely death negatively affected you.” He’s kidding, of course, and they both chuckle a little. Helene’s chuckle turns into a slow, steady, sob though. It’s mildly humorous, especially to Ward: “Oh please, Helene. Come on. Come ON! The world is still out there. We’ll travel. We’ll both find new love. We’ll be together.” // “I just… so romanticized worms eating me and becoming one with the earth and not having to… I dunno… THINK. Or FEEL. Or NOT FEEL. You know?” He half smiles, and she continues: “Aww, who am I even bickering to? Of course you know. I’m sorry, Ward.” // “I just want to return the favor to you, that’s all. You supported me, I’m supporting you.”

26-3

They ready to leave, and Ward starts pushing Helene’s chair as she changes the subject. She’s in search of some optimism: “Are you dating anyone?” // “I’m dating everyone.” // “Show me. All of them. I want to judge them.” // “On what merit, dare I ask?” // “On how badly I want to meet them for myself.” // “At which point they’d just lose interest in me. Precisely why I haven’t told any of them we’re friends.” Ward opens his phone to some of the photos, and shows Helene one woman’s picture: “This is Meredith. She’s 34. CTO of this startup that sells pet food. Recently broke up with her fiancée, lives in TriBeCa.” // “I’d sleep with her.” // “Thanks, Helene.” // “Well, I would. That’s a compliment.” // “I’m glad your head is finally in the right place.” // “Not yet it isn’t, but bring her by the house…” // “You don’t even have a house.” // “Oh so THAT’S how we’re gonna play this?” They both laugh.

26-4

Helene rolls herself into her studio one weekend afternoon. She goes to her desk, takes out some utensils, and then sets everything on a table, where she does some sketches. She draws a model wearing a blazer and high-waisted pants. The woman in the sketch has smart glasses, and Helene gives her long, black hair. We see now that she is sketching Alina. Helene goes to a large closet and opens it, revealing dozens of rolls of stunning fabric. She selects a few, then gets to work measuring, cutting, sewing, and testing it on a mannequin. It’s dark now, very late, and Helene finishes. She finds a wig that fits the role, and then goes to her desk and takes out a pair of cracked glasses. They’re Alina’s… recovered from the accident, most likely. She stretches herself up to put the glasses in place. Then, she rolls herself back, and marvels. She purses her hands up against her mouth, and can hardly contain the emotion. She’s recreated Alina, and beautifully.

26-5

Helene fights to get the newly designed clothes onto her own body. She struggles only because it’s cumbersome; she has a crafty way of slithering herself into the pant legs, and has no issues with the blazer. She snatches the wig and glasses from the mannequin’s head, and rolls herself to a nearby mirror. She fashions the wig just so, puts on some red lip, and musses the hair a bit. Then, she puts on the glasses and looks in the mirror. It’s blurry, of course, since Alina’s prescription is strong. Plus the lenses are cracked. She squints, but as her focus adjusts, Helene doesn’t see Alina anymore. It’s Tracey staring back at her in the mirror—like, actually Tracey—so Helene rips the glasses off and turns away. She shakes her head, mumbling “stupid waste of your day” as she packs everything up.

CHAPTER 27

27-1

Helene sits in the living room of her smoke-stained apartment. Everything is packed up, and the bedroom is blocked off. It seems as if someone else did her packing, because she’s going through each box, auditing her belongings to see what has been salvaged. She pulls out a plaque that reads “Fashion Institute of Technology // Helene Hill // 1974 // Best Young Designer Award.” We flash to back then—a young Helene wins the award from her professors, and then attends a reception afterwards. A handsome young man in a buttoned blazer congratulates her. We cut to the two of them moving in together. We cut to Helene working diligently for an older designer, late one evening. She has a wedding ring now. We cut to her arriving home late: “I don’t think I have it in me anymore, to design,” she says to her husband. “What’s the end goal? If you can’t start your own label, you just fall behind.” // “So start your own label. You have the knack.” // “We don’t have the money.” // “My father has the money.” // “Harvey, no.” // “I’m not debating it. Let’s do it.” Now, we’re back to present-day Helene, smiling nostalgically.

27-2

Another box: Photos of Helene and Alina. One is dated March 1997, and shows a young Alina (25ish), and a young-er Helene (mid 40s). They’re smooching at a cocktail party, surrounded by models and flashy fashion people. We cut to the scene: Alina is shy—she’s comfortable and happy to be there, but it’s all very foreign to her. Helene squeezes her arm: “I thought you were used to this stuff, what with all those Vanity Fair parties.” // “Well, those are for work. Everyone has their face on. This… this is like, wild! I mean, I waited for the toilet with Naomi Campbell.” // “Did she take a while in there?” // “Yeah, why?” // “Never mind. Relax, Alina. You’re with me. Everyone is excited to meet you.” // “I feel like a fraud!” // “You’re not a fraud. You’re a talented writer. Even if it wasn’t true, these cronies would believe it. But more importantly, I believe it, and you need to believe it, too. Because it’s true. Let’s get more wine!” Helene slips into the kitchen to refill their bottles. A chic woman with a Rachel Green haircut follows her in, and corners her: “Is that the girl you were telling us all about?” // “She’s no girl. She’s a very talented woman. A writer… and yes. That’s her. Alina.” // “Have you told Harvey yet?” Helene smiles politely as she pours two glasses: “I’ll get around to it. Whenever he’s home again. Whenever that is. He’ll be relieved.” // “It’s good to see you smiling again, Helene.” Back to present-day Helene, who tucks the photo into her planner.

27-3
Six fingers! hehe

Helene does some digging, and pulls out a few books. They’re Alina’s. She opens the jacket to one, and turns to the back of the book, to Alina’s author biography. She reads it aloud, but quietly, as we zoom into the author photo and the context in which it was shot: Alina posing on their couch as Helene beams from behind the camera man. The photo shoot continues as Helene’s voice narrates: “Alina Elgin is a three-time New York Times bestselling author, who skyrocketed to fame with 1999’s ‘Fuel for the Flame’, followed by ‘High Tide at St. Malo’ and ‘Regal, Illegal’. She lives in New York City with her wife, the designer Helene Hill, and their Labrador, Abbey.” Back to Helene—still warmed by nostalgia—as she leafs to a page at the front of the book. We get a C/U on the page: It’s the author’s dedication page. Alina’s words read: “To my dear Helene. Without you, I would not be possible. Eternity, in your arms, shall be transcendent.” Helene’s eyes scan the text many times over. She runs her fingers over the words, as if to absorb each one.

27-4

Another box: Helene fishes out a pair of silk gloves. We flash back to the gloves on her hands, which grip Alina’s hands; they’re seated side by side at an awards gala; it’s more recent, judging by their clothing and age. We pan out, and see on the large projectors that it’s the CFDA’s annual awards—2006. The woman at the podium looks down to Helene, who stares back humbly. “Helene Hill is why half of us in this room are working,” says the speaker. “Her vision, her generosity, her influence over the industry has… blown open our public visibility, making fashion more accessible, yet still ambitious. The modern woman works hard to own Helene Hill garments, because she feels like her best self in those clothes. Helene—the woman AND the brand—transforms anyone from acceptable to exceptional. I am so honored to give her this award tonight…” The accolades fade and we flash to an afterparty, where Helene mingles with other guests—no sign of Alina; Helene glances around the room, searching for her wife. She politely excuses herself. Cut to: Outside the party, Alina leans against the building, her jacket wrapped around her shoulders. Her makeup is smeared. Helene, also bundled up, lights a cigarette. “Baby, what’s the matter?” she asks. Alina searches for the words, then: “I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve anything you’ve given me. I’m an imposter. I’m only successful because you made me that way. Otherwise, I’d be average. I believe ‘acceptable’ is the word that was used?” // “Alina…” // “I’m going to go home. And then I’m going to find somewhere else to live.” // “Alina…” Now Helene starts to cry. “I’m so sorry, Helene.” Alina pauses as they lock eyes, and then slowly walks away. Now we’re back to Helene in the living room—she gently re-places the gloves in the box.

27-5

Last from the boxes, a pink Hawaiian lei. We cut to: Helene and Alina smiling together at a luau. They’re wearing their leis, and are seated next to Ward and his wife Amanda, also adorned accordingly. It’s just a few years prior, maybe 2013 or 2014. They’re all cheering on a performance, looking around at one another and laughing. Helene takes a moment to marvel at her wife, as Alina herself studies the show. Everything moves slowly, mostly because Helene is so drowned by love and happiness. Suddenly, she has to cough, and it’s really aggressive. It takes everyone out of the moment, as Helene grabs her napkin and coughs into it. There’s blood on the napkin once she pulls it away from her mouth. Only Alina sees it otherwise, and Helene quickly folds the napkin and excuses herself. Ward and Amanda look concerned as Alina follows her wife to the restroom. We cut to a doctor’s office, where a doctor exits the room while Alina and Helene sit together, very sober. Helene fights tears. She wants so badly to be brave. Alina takes her hand. “Eternity,” she says. “That’s how long I’ll be by your side, fighting with you. But I need you to fight, too.” Helene squeezes Alina’s hand, to acknowledge her, to express her gratitude. Now, we’re back in the living room, close-up on Helene’s fist as it clutches the lei. Then, wide on Helene, who puts the lei away and finds her glass of wine, eager to chase her emotions.

CHAPTER 28

28-1

Helene and Ward sit in the back of a cab. She’s paging through a manuscript, nodding every so often and making “hmmm” sounds as she reads. Ward watches her, half entertained, half uncertain. “It’s actually quite good,” Helene says. “I think this is my favorite passage in the whole thing, this bit at the Moroccan restaurant.” She laughs to herself, amused at whatever that scene in the book must entail. Ward is quiet yet. Helene tucks the papers into her bag as the cab comes to a halt. “What’s your opinion on it?” she asks him, while putting her sunglasses on. He opens his door and exits, then comes around to her side and helps her out. She’s using a cane now, so he takes her bag as well and helps walk her to the curb. They’re outside the publisher’s office. “I think it’s very good, too,” he finally responds. “It’s not Alina’s voice, but it’s still outstanding. Such a shame.”

28-2

They’re in the publisher’s office now, across from the woman we’ve seen on a couple occasions. She speaks: “Now, luckily, the contracts were never fully renegotiated to include Tracey’s authorship. She’s still just a ghostwriter. So we can sweep all this under the rug and market it as Alina’s last title.” She pauses, waiting for Helene to respond. Helene has a question: “What about Tracey’s impending contract to write a few other books?” “Well, those we did sign. So, we may have to buy Tracey out.” // “Is this decision final?” // “Well, given what’s transpired, I’m sure you understand. It’s a tragedy, but of course nothing like losing Alina. We want to honor the legacy here, and there are plenty of talented writers we can bring on to round out our calendar.” Helene looks to Ward, who shrugs in a “what can you do?” way, then she turns back to the publisher: “I want Tracey’s name on this book. Not Alina’s.”

28-3

“What the hell are you doing?” Ward snaps. He’s furious. The publisher is surprised, too, but far less spirited about it than Ward. Helene explains her reasoning for giving Tracey full authorship credit: “It just doesn’t read like Alina, the way a book in her series should. Everyone knows she’s gone. So…just pass on the torch. Give Tracey a chance.” “This is the woman who tried to kill you, might I remind you?” Ward continues. “…and who is indirectly responsible for Alina’s accident…” Helene stays poised and puts her hand on Ward’s to calm him. “I can understand if you want to buy her out of her contract. But if she can get help, and if she can get better, then wouldn’t it be reassuring to know that she can re-start her career with a sound credit in her name?” “She doesn’t even know her own name,” Ward mumbles. Helene again: “I don’t need this money. And Alina, I trust, would respect any decision I want to make. She was very set on taking credit for her own work, for being good on her own merit. And she was.” The publisher nods, as if to say “I understand.” “You can divorce me from further involvement here,” Helene says. She’s done talking now. She turns to Ward, who is starting to cool down, and she smiles.

28-4

Now Helene is at her studio. She’s just arriving, even though it’s late. Kyle is the only one there. “I knew you’d still be here,” she says as she slowly makes her way toward his work station. “You should be home with your lovely Mrs.” “She’s working late too, I’m afraid,” he says. “We’re made for each other that way, I suppose.” He pulls out some designs to show her: “I have the winter proofs for you to approve. And I’m all set to go to Copenhagen next week for the trade show, but I want you to sign off on those expenses.” // “Why don’t you send Charlie to Copenhagen? She needs some new responsibilities, or else we’re gonna lose her.” // “Well, if she starts doing my job, then whose job will I do?” He chuckles to himself, while Helene stays quiet. Then it hits him, why she’s here. “Oh, Helene. No. No no no.” // “It’s far past that time, Kyle,” she says, grinning while fighting to stay composed. “This business is yours.”

28-5

Helene and Kyle eat carryout food at one of the work stations. Kyle’s wife enters, having retrieved a bottle of shiraz from the kitchen. She opens it and pours three glasses, which are then toasted—”To Helene, the woman, and her women, all of them that she has inspired. And maybe a man or two, also.” They dive into their respective cartons of Thai food, and Helene studies the young couple as they all eat. It’s a lovely back and forth between them. She tests his food, then feeds him a bite of hers. He doesn’t like hers, but she loves his, so she helps herself to more. “You’re the rudest wife I’ve had,” he jokes. They kiss. She notices Helene studying them, so she swallows her food and asks: “Helene, do you have any advice for Kyle?” “Oh, he’s gotten plenty of advice—and nonsense—from me over the years. He can do whatever he wants with this company. EXCEPT, he better keep my name on all the tags.” Kyle smiles, and lifts his glass to Helene again: “I would work under no other name. This will always be your house, love.”

 

CHAPTER 29

29-1

Helene sits in the lobby of a large office. She’s surrounded by news tickers, and studies one intently as a young office page retrieves her: “Ms. Hill, Mr. Kleinhaus is ready for you. Helene hoists herself up and steadies her cane, just as an old, sharply dressed man in a trench coat appears behind the page. “Helene. I thought we’d go to Stousser’s. You love their lunch.” // “YOU love their lunch. I haven’t been there in 20 years.” // “Even better.” Cut to the two of them studying menus at a white tablecloth establishment. “It’s exactly the same,” Helene remarks. “Even the typeface on the menu is the same.” “It’s hard to find any reliable consistencies in life,” the man remarks. “So, this is sort of my rock.” Helene rolls her eyes. “Are you blaming your ADD on others?” // “Certainly not.” // “Because that, Harvey, is something that will not have changed.” He shrugs like “so sue me” and smiles. She huffs and shakes her head as she returns to the menu.

29-2

“Are you seeing anyone?” Helene asks Harvey. He swallows a bite as he nods. “I suppose so,” he replies through his chewing. “For a month is all. She’s at the network, in development.” // “Another intern?” // “An associate, thank you.” // “You will go to your grave having always gotten what you wanted.” // “I worked hard, Helene. You saw it.” // “I did. I won’t discount you. But damn, if anybody ever told you ‘no’, I’d love to be there to see it.” // “You were there.” // “I was.” // “I remember it well,” Harvey says. Helene smiles: “You cried. I remember that well.” // “I didn’t cry.” He’s defensive. “Not really debatable, darling,” She sips her wine. “Where is Ginny, anyway?” “She remarried, twice I think. More recently to some oil hound in Texas.” Helene chuckles. Harvey only gets paranoid: “What? What’s so funny?” // “Listen to yourself.” // “What do you mean?” // “Everyone is just so disposable to you. You don’t even know what your ex-wife is up to? You had a child with her! Doesn’t Emily tell you anything?” // “Emily and I barely speak.” // “Because you’re fucking women her age, Harvey! You’re not exactly a role model.” // “Dammit Helene. I wanted to have a nice lunch.” // “Then you shouldn’t have invited me. You know better.” She sips her wine and stares coldly at him. Then: “Would you care to ask me anything, since you dragged me here?”

29-3

“I’m retiring,” Harvey says to Helene. “I’ll be done by May. I saw the announcements your team made, and thought we could celebrate together over lunch today. I haven’t told anyone else yet.” // “Not even your girlfriend?” // “Helene…” // “Sorry. But Harvey, this is great news. Congratulations. Are you happy?” // “Are you?” // “I– I’m relieved. I’m absolutely relieved. My life is almost 100 percent different now than it was a year ago. Suddenly I’m a free agent. Free of everything. My home. My wife. My career. And I’m not even gonna die now.” // “What?” // “The cancer came back, except in my spine, just before Alina died. Then I broke my hip. In case you were going to ask about my cane. But, I got better. Completely better.” // “Oh my God, I had no idea. I’m terrible, Helene, I’m so sorry–” // “I didn’t want you to know. That’s why you didn’t know. I wanted to die. I still do. Someone told me the other day that I could still have another great love. Like, another you or another Alina. Isn’t that just fucked up? After all this, I could start over, square one, learn the rules, and build a new life? What’s the point?” // “That is the point, darling.”

29-4

“Maybe you won’t get a third ‘great love’ as you say,” Harvey continues. “Sounds like you don’t want that to happen anyway, but what’s there to be afraid of? Why don’t you get out there, just to seek intimacy with new, also-vulnerable people? Or to have sex with anyone. Or everyone! Old people know how to do it best, but young people know how to do it most eagerly. It’s fantastic.” // “I haven’t exactly been shriveled up, I’ll have you know.” // “Congratulations. So go out and find somebody else. Or at least find another Helene, from someplace inside you. You don’t owe it to me or Alina to be miserable for the rest of your life. I’m miserable enough for the both of us.” // “You’re fucking a 26-year-old.” // “She is 31.” // “She’s 31 and she’s only an associate? Ha!” // “Lay off! I don’t even need the pills with her. She gets me there.” // “Gross, Harvey. I’m glad she’s so eager. Is she your next ‘great love’?” // “No. Absolutely not.” // “How many have there been, for you?” // “One.” // “Don’t say that, Harvey.” // “It’s true, Helene. One.” // “You broke your own damn heart.” // “Well, I got on living my life, even if I have hated myself for the last 20 years. So why don’t you give it a try?”

29-5

Harvey helps Helene into a cab. “Where to?” he asks her. “I’m renting a furnished apartment in Prospect Heights. Have to move into my own place next week. Still have to find that place.” // “That’ll be in the neighborhood, too?” // “I’ll never leave Prospect Heights, dear.” // “Maybe I should move back.” // “No, you stay in Manhattan. It suits you.” // “Let’s have our next meeting there.” // “So they’re called meetings? And… I’m to believe this is regular?” // “Would you prefer I call them ‘dates’?” // “I would not prefer that. I leave it to you to plan our recurring, ex-spousal, recent retiree committee meetings.” // “And I shall.” They kiss on the lips, like old friends, and he shuts the cab door for her. The car drives away, and we study Harvey’s face as he watches it go: He adores her, painfully.

CHAPTER 30

30-1

Tracey sits in a dorm-style room, atop a twin bed. The walls are bare, colorless. She’s wrapped in a blanket, reading a book. A knock at her door, which is already propped open. It’s Helene: “Can I come in?” Tracey closes her book and sheepishly looks to the floor; it’s an indirect and ashamed “yes”. Helene enters. She’s still walking with a cane, and has a tote bag. “I brought you something else to read,” she says. She takes out the manuscript that she had been studying for the publisher, and hands it to Tracey. “You did a terrific job with this. You should keep it, so you have your final draft. Alina would never read the publisher’s last edits; she would only read her own final copy.” Tracey takes it and sets it at her side. “Well, this is probably my first and last book,” she says. “So thanks. It’ll be nice to remember the career I almost had. I’m sure they’ll be taking my name off it altogether.” Helene is tight-lipped about her kind deed: “Just get back on your feet. Stay healthy, stay medicated. You should be fine.” // “I hope it’s that simple…Why exactly did you come to see me?” Tracey asks. Helene crosses her hands, ready to dive in with questions.

30-2

“Did you really see Alina?” Helene asks Tracey. It’s calm, but it’s pointed. It’s vulnerable. It needs answering. Tracey stares back, uncertain how to answer. “I think so,” she says cautiously. “My doctors tell me otherwise.” She pauses, thinks, and turns away: “Yes.” Helene didn’t have any expectations here; she just needed to know. “Why do you think she came to you?” // “Unfinished business, maybe. The book?” // “She went to Ward for that, didn’t she?” // “But she left him.” // “So why you?” // “Maybe she didn’t need Ward’s help with the book. … Maybe he was her eyes and ears on something else.” A pause as Helene lets it soak in. “How would you know that?” // “I’m not sure what you’re really asking me.” // “I’m asking you to tell me what Alina really meant to you.” // “And why I could see her, but you couldn’t?” // “Your explanation might help with that too, yes.” // “OK. Well…” And Tracey tells Helene everything.

30-3

“To say all of that out loud, I realize how crazy it sounds,” Tracey says to Helene, having just finished all the details of her and Alina’s affair. “She wanted to be with you. I was the consolation prize. Not even a prize really. Just consolation.” Helene knows she has to be stoic here, and she maintains a pensive stare as she processes everything. “Please say something,” Tracey whimpers. “None of that matters now,” Helene says. “I’m glad you got to feel for her what I felt for her. I am.” // “Can you forgive me?” // “There’s nothing to forgive, at least in regards to Alina.” // “I’m so sorry, Helene. For hurting you.” // “I know.” // “Forgive me, please.” // “No.”

30-4

Tracey cracks. Helene’s stern ‘no’ seems cruel since Tracey is clearly so weak. Nevertheless, Helene remains unforgiving—at least on the surface. Tracey, desperate to defend herself, breaks into a far-reaching explanation for her behavior: “I killed a girl in high school. On accident. It was supposed to be a joke. Everyone thought I did it to…take her spot as editor of the yearbook. How stupid would that be? I gave her a pill. It was just supposed to make her fall asleep. To look drunk. She fell in the pool. They said I pushed her, because nobody was out there to see her fall in. I was in the bathroom when it happened. Everyone thinks I did it, out of ambition. Opportunity.” She’s still waiting anxiously for Helene to say something; it feels so desperate now. Painful. Helene, at last: “You’ll understand why I believe them and not you. Unwell or not, you’re lucky I’m still alive. And that I’m not pressing charges.” Tracey starts to say ‘thank you’ but Helene interrupts with “You’re welcome. Now get better. And don’t ever contact me again.” This does nothing to assuage Tracey.

30-5

Helene readies herself to leave. This is goodbye for the two of them. Tracey, on the verge of sobbing, has one thing to add: “I really loved you too. For you. For Alina, yes, but also for you. I understand why she was so enraptured. I so want that one day. What you two had. I loved you both for that.” Helene stares coldly at Tracey, and has some pointed parting words: “Then go earn it for yourself. For once in your life, earn something yourself.” She leaves Tracey, who looks defeated by this ending. We’re proud of Helene, but as soon as she’s around the corner and away from Tracey’s view, her confident, poised face dissolves into tears. She can barely catch her breath for 20, maybe 30 seconds; this was all bottled up when she was face to face with Tracey. Then, quite suddenly, Helene stands upright, wipes her eyes with a kerchief, and lets the moment pass. All better.

 

CHAPTER 31

31.1

Helene directs two furniture delivery guys as they bring a couch into her new apartment. Ward and his girlfriend Meredith are there, sorting through a couple boxes and unpacking kitchenware. The movers depart; the living room furniture is mostly there, but it all needs rearranging. Ward walks over to Helene as she examines the room. “It’s a good forced turnover,” she says to him. “I’m shocked to be renting again. I thought I had escaped that money pit.” // “Only, what, six months on the fixing-up?” // “At least. But you know, I think I’ll sell it.” // “No kidding? Wow. Hell, I’ll buy it from you.” // “I won’t offer you a discount.” // “So sweet of you. What will you do with the money you get from me?” // “Travel more, maybe live nowhere, and everywhere.” // “Where shall we go first?” // “You two should plan a trip. I’ll do something alone.” // “That’s acceptable now, but not forever. Where will you go?” // “I really don’t care. Somewhere new. I’m tired of nostalgia.”

31.2

Meredith is still unpacking things in the next room, which leaves Ward and Helene alone. They’ve done some furniture rearranging. Ward stops to catch his breath; the reorganizing was all on him, physically. “Have a seat, dearie,” Helene says. He obliges, and she cozies up across from him. “I went to visit Tracey,” she says. He’s not at all surprised: “Of course you did. Why, exactly?” // “Never mind why. She’s not coming back around. But, Ward… why didn’t you ever tell me about her and Alina?” He smirks like “Oh, you know about that?”—not guilty, not ashamed. “Because it was a mess, and it never should have happened. Because Alina was reacting to your breaking up with her. She wanted you; remember that, Helene! She wanted you.” // “But what about after she passed? You knew, even after Tracey came around and started meddling.” // “I chose the better of two bad options, I think. She distracted you in a way that was good, for a while.” // “Because she reminded me of Alina.” // “I know. Plus, I knew she was the ticket to getting that book finished, which was a favor to Alina.” // “What do you think would have happened if you had told me?” // “You might have questioned Alina’s loyalty.” // “I might have.” // “And I hate to think your feelings or memories would have been compromised. So I made the right… or rather, the less wrong, decision.” // “I suppose you did.”

31.3

It’s late now. Helene is alone in her apartment. She’s standing near one wall, wine in hand. She studies the furniture, unsatisfied again with its current order. She sets down her wine on the coffee table and starts pushing the heavy loveseat, struggling to get any traction. After slipping, she falls to the side and catches herself on the coffee table, but accidentally spills the wine. It splashes large red stains across the new white couch. “Oh, piss!” she says. She stands up, slightly pained, and limps into the kitchen to get anything that might clean the spill. All she has are paper towels, soap, and water. Cut to her scrubbing the large stain, except she’s aggravated it; the spot is lighter, but it’s much bigger now, having bled with the water. Helene can’t handle it; she throws the paper towels to the floor in a fit, and tries to hold back a breakdown. She scans the room, this foreign place. “Thirty more years?!” she huffs. “How?”

31.4

Helene sits across from a lawyer in his office. “Is ‘Ward’ short for anything?” the lawyer asks. “Eduardo,” Helene replies. “And Alvaro is spelled A-L-V-A-R-O?” // “Yes.” // “Got it. … Alright, this is fairly simple, then, isn’t it?” // “As it should be. He’s all I’ve got.” // “Just give me a day or two to prepare everything for you, and this should be finalized. Does he know he’s the sole heir and beneficiary?” // “No.” // “Will you be telling…” // “No.” // “OK.” Cut to: Helene walking down Eastern Parkway from the subway. She’s smiling, studying everything intently. Bikers passing. Two mothers pushing strollers. The trees. The Brooklyn Museum. Her old apartment. Quintessential Prospect Heights. She looks up at the building, and realizes she is standing right where the accident—Alina’s accident—occurred. She measures the distance with her eyes, then hears the sirens in her head as she examines the surrounding area. Her expression has melted from sheer appreciation to one of…contemplation. She takes a deep breath, looks up at the apartment again, then goes on her way.

31.5

A candle glows on Helene’s coffee table, next to an empty wine glass. She studies the flame, and as it dances we see the faint memory of Tracey wrestling her on the bed, just as things boiled over. We hear the echo of Tracey’s pleas (or was it really Alina?): “I’m not Tracey. I’m Alina. It’s me, Helene. It’s actually me. I’m in here, in this body now.” Then, a cigarette enters the shot, as Helene lights it in the flame. She pulls the cig to her lips and sucks the smoke like it’s her last breath. She exhales and looks around the room. Everything is foreign. It’s not her home. We hear a woman’s voice—it’s faint—and Helene jerks her head toward the sound. Oh…it’s just a neighbor woman, from the outside hallway. Helene, however, is looking for someone. Searching for her. She takes another huff from the cigarette, watching the paper burn rapidly as she draws it in for 10 seconds. She tilts her head back, closes her eyes, exhales, and gently rocks her head. Then, she floats the cigarette butt into the melted candle wax, and lets it burn on as she grabs a jacket and scarf, puts on her shoes, and hurries out the apartment. She’s limping a bit; she doesn’t take her cane. It rests lonely by the door as she exits.

 

CHAPTER 32

32.1

Helene, limping a bit, makes her way down the Eastern Parkway boulevard. The Brooklyn Museum is illuminated to the south, as are all the pre-wars to the north. Cars whirrrrrr past at a quick clip. Helene seems calm. At peace. She is focused on each step, poised and content. She stops, turns around, locates her apartment—the home she shared with Alina—and confirms that, yes, she’s back in the exact spot where Alina was struck. She takes a deep breath, and her composure cracks. A tear crawls down her cheek.

32.2

Helene inches her way towards the curb. A couple walks by, and the woman shouts “Be careful, lady!” Helene turns, as if she’s just there to jaywalk or something, and smiles to the couple. “Yes yes, thank you,” she says. A truck barrels past, the force of which pushes her backwards a couple steps. She recovers and tiptoes again to the curb, then waits for the next car to come. She counts down from 5 as it approaches, but as she hits 2, the car changes lanes, one away from her, and honks its warning. “Motherfucker,” she curses, as more tears pour down her face. She stands there, waiting for traffic to pick up again. She can see a light turn green in the distance, and the cars build steam towards her. She steps back a bit, so that they don’t swerve again, but plants her foot, ready to leap. Then, suddenly: “Helene?” She whips her head around. Ward is there.

32.3

“What are you doing here?” Helene asks Ward. “Well, I live in the neighborhood, as you know,” he says. “More importantly… what are YOU doing here? Can you please step back from there?” She shakes her head confidently: “This is it, Ward. There’s nothing ahead of me. Nothing for me.” // “We both know that’s bullshit, Helene.” He steps towards her, and she shouts “No! Stop. I’ve readied for death before. I’ve been as good as dead for years.” // “Helene.” // “Can’t you see? I want this.” // “You THINK you want this. You’re going to disappoint a lot of people. Alina included. And…the 80-year-old Helene who is happy and IS capable of looking forward, no matter how short-sighted it seems. Why would you let her down?” Helene diverts the conversation: “How did you ever get over Amanda?” It’s terse, her delivery. “I didn’t,” Ward replies. “I won’t, ever. But anyone who comes into my life will know that she remains with me. There’s room for more people and experiences in there, but I won’t be moving her out.” // “Then why did you leave your home, when she was still there?” // “She wasn’t there, Helene. She was never there again. Just like Alina was never with me after she died. Nor with Tracey.” Now he’s got Helene’s attention. Her neck is still craned back, her gaze upon Ward is desperate. It craves every word he has to say.

32.4

Cars continue to blaze by, honking their horns. Ward tries to talk Helene off the curb: “Sometimes we see what we need to see. We manifest what we desperately need to believe,” he says. “I needed Amanda around, until I didn’t need her around. I felt some sort of responsibility for the failed transplant. So I carried her with me until I was ready to move past it. Same with Alina, with making sure her book would be complete, with looking after you, and seeing that you were content in her wake. And for a while, you were. Tracey made you that way. But Helene, Tracey and I didn’t see the real Alina. That was our guilty conscience trying to atone for something. For me, it was for introducing Alina to Tracey, and feeling responsible for the thing that killed her.” They stare at each other intensely, and we see in the distance a large truck coming our way. Helene looks at it, then she looks back to Ward. Her eyes tell him that this is it. He has one last plea: “Helene. Helene! You can’t always believe what you see. But—you CAN see what you need to believe. You can convince yourself of anything. You can convince yourself that you can get past this.” // “Goodbye, Ward.” She turns towards the truck, which is 15 seconds away. We hear Ward, but our focus is with Helene: “Helene! Helene! I’m not here. I’m not here right now. I’m home with Meredith, watching a movie.” She turns back, and Ward’s not there. But we hear his voice still: “Sometimes we see what we need to see. We manifest desperately what we need to believe. … You don’t want to do this.” Then, as the truck is a few seconds away, Helene’s voice cracks: “I don’t want to do this!” But her foot slips off the curb, and she stumbles into the truck’s path.

32.5

The driver reacts fast, and swerves out of the way. The truck practically flies off its right-side wheels as he does. Helene struggles to the curb, to a nearby bench, and sits herself up. The truck screeches to a halt and the driver gets out, sprinting to Helene to see that she’s OK. She assures him: “I am fine. I am fine. I…am fine.” He offers her a ride home. Then, we cut to Helene’s bathroom, where she is climbing carefully into a bubble bath. The room is dimly lit by two large candles. She submerges herself into the hot water for 10 seconds, then sits up with a deep breath. She wipes the bubbles from her face, and looks around—studying the bathroom, still searching for Alina, perhaps. There’s a glass of wine on the bath ledge, and she takes a sip. Helene savors it, sets the glass down, and sinks into the water. She is up to her chin, while the bubbles gather at either side of her head. She swallows the wine, and finds it in herself to smile. “Thirty more years,” she whispers into the water. “Thirty goddamn more years.” She smiles again, and sinks underwater. Both candles’ flames flicker furiously, the shorter one vanishing to smoke as we cut to black.

THE END

You can read the entire series here: Download PDF