Garbo Talks, Even When She Doesn’t Have Anything to Say ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
There were five of them, four women and one man. They sat watching the flickering black-and-white images on the TV screen.
“She’s really a man,” Miss Bump said.
“Rita Hayworth is a man?” Miss Edmonds said. “I never knew that!”
“A lot of the women are really men.”
“That must have come as quite a shock to Orson Welles,” Mr. Ludlow said.
“You never know about them Hollywood people,” Miss DeRossi said. “They’re a bunch of phonies.”
“It’s all illusion,” Miss Bump said. “That’s what movies are.”
“How do you know so much about it?” Miss Curlew asked.
“I know a lot of things I’ll bet you wish you knew.”
“She has forgotten more than you’ll ever know,” Miss DeRossi said.
“What does that mean?” Mr. Ludlow asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Then why did you say it?”
Miss DeRossi shrugged and took a drag on her cigarette. “Just to have something to say, I guess.”
“Somebody go out to the kitchen and get me another beer,” Mr. Ludlow said.
“Where do you think you are?” Miss Edmonds asked.
“He doesn’t know where he is,” Miss DeRossi said. “Sometimes he thinks he’s still at home with his wife.”
“His wife is dead,” Miss Bump said. “That’s why he’s here.”
“She was a good person,” Mr. Ludlow said. “When I asked the Lord to take me instead, he just ignored me.”
“He ignores me, too,” Miss Bump said. “I don’t think he likes me very much.”
“I can certainly see why,” Miss Curlew said.
“I think the Lord likes everybody,” Mr. Ludlow said.
“Even Hitler?” Miss DeRossi asked.
“Every now and then a Hitler comes along,” Miss Bump said, “and it’s not for us to reason why. We’ve seen ‘em come and we’ve seen ‘em go.”
“I don’t remember Hitler,” Mr. Ludlow said. “I’ve heard of him, though.”
“How old were you when Hitler was chancellor of Germany?” Miss Curlew asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “About thirty-seven.”
“Oh, that’s not right! You would have only been a child.”
“What year did he die?” Miss Curlew asked.
“I know that one!” Miss Bump said. “He died in 1945 when the war ended. The war ended because he died.”
“What war are we talking about?” Miss DeRossi asked. “There have been so many.”
“The Second World War, you nincompoop!”
“Don’t you call me a nincompoop! I can still get up from this chair and slap you silly!”
“I’d like to see you try!”
“The Rita Hayworth movie is over and now it’s one with Bette Davis and Olivia DeHavilland,” Mr. Ludlow said.
“Oh, I’ve seen this one,” Miss DeRossi said. “It’s the one where Bette Davis steals Olive DeHavilland’s husband and drives the car through the fence and breaks her neck.”
“Is Bette Davis a man?” Miss Curlew asked.
“No, I think she’s a woman,” Miss Bump said, “but I’m not so sure about Olivia DeHavilland.”
“You think Olivia DeHavilland might be a man?”
“Could be. Just look at her face. That could easily be the face of a man.”
“I don’t see it,” Mr. Ludlow said. “I don’t believe she’s anything but a woman.”
“Well, anything is possible with them Hollywood people,” Miss DeRossi said. “What a bunch of phonies! They make me sick!”
“Then why do you sit and watch old movies all day long?” Miss Bump asked.
“They’re not all phonies. Only some of them.”
“Who among them is not a phony?” Mr. Ludlow asked.
“Well, now, let me think. There’s Sylvia Sidney.”
“I heard she’s really a man,” Miss Curlew said.
“No, she’s definitely a woman. And then there’s Ramon Novarro. He’s not a phony. Marie Dressler and Irene Dunne are not phonies.”
“What about Joan Crawford?”
“Yeah, she’s a big phony.”
“She’s the biggest phony of them all. She’s really a man.”
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Ludlow said. “Somebody would have found it out and exposed her.”
“Are you kidding? Just listen to her speak. That is definitely the voice of a man.”
“Garbo talks,” Miss Edmonds said, “even when she doesn’t have anything to say.”
“If she’s a man, she sure did put one over on the world,” Mr. Ludlow said.
“Sure, that’s what they do!” Miss Bump said.
“Somebody else who isn’t a phony is Sidney Greenstreet,” Miss DeRossi said. “Also Richard Barthelmess.”
“Who?” Miss Curlew asked.
“Jane Darwell, Helen Twelvetrees, Freddie Bartholomew, Ann Dvorak, Edna May Oliver, Dickie Moore, Louise Beavers…”
“What do we have to do to get her to stop?” Miss Bump said.
“Ruth Chatterton, Marjorie Rambeau, Thelma Todd, Zasu Pitts, Patsy Kelly, Samuel S. Hinds, Herman Bing, Eleanor Boardman, Dorothy Mackaill.”
“What about Edward G. Robinson?” Miss Edmonds asked.
“He is definitely not a phony.” Miss DeRossi said.
“How do you know?” Mr. Ludlow asked. “He might really be a woman.”
“With that puss?”
“There’s women a lot uglier than him.”
As if on cue, Nurse Pilkington came into the room pushing the medications cart with its squeaky wheel. “Yoo-hoo!” she called cheerily. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”
“We’re not asleep,” Miss Bump said.
“Time for your medications!”
“How about if you take them yourself and go away and leave us alone?” Miss DeRossi said.
“You all became silent when I came into the room,” Nurse Pilkington said. “What were you talking about?”
“Miss DeRossi was just giving us her learned opinion on certain movie actors,” Mr. Ludlow said.
“She says that some of the women are really women,” Miss Edmonds said.
To Nurse Pilkington, Miss Bump said, “The question remains, though, dear, are you really a man?”
Nurse Pilkington held the pitcher of water over the cup without pouring. “Why would you think that?” she asked.
“You have very large hands and feet and a big nose.”
“Can’t a woman have large hands and feet and a big nose?”
“There’s just something about you, dear, that says ‘man,’ even though you are trying very hard to be a woman.”
“It’s not every day I get a compliment like that!” Nurse Pilkington said. “Swallow your pills so I can get on with my rounds.”
“I think you hurt her feelings,” Mr. Ludlow said after she had gone away.
“Oh, she makes me sick!” Miss DeRossi said. “They all make me sick. My doctor makes me sick.”
“Do I make you sick?” Miss Curlew asked.
Miss Bump, Miss DeRossi, Miss Edmonds, Miss Curlew and Mr. Ludlow didn’t know until the next day that Nurse Pilkington resigned after finishing her rounds. She believed she had kept her secret well-guarded and was chagrined to know that everybody knew about it, down to the dumbest patients. She was suing management for damages, real and imagined.
“Can you imagine?” Miss Bump said when she heard the news. “It’s all illusion. Not only in the movies but also in real life. A duck is a goose and a dog is a cat.”
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp