Rhoads Stevens

Three People, From Low to High, With Different Expressions Because of their Height

She lay in bed. She had been in Citizen Kane. She played Kane’s first wife, the President’s Niece.

I told her I could not stay for long because I was going to an orchid show.

When I visited her, I came with a friend. She ignored my friend, never even looked at him. But she stared at me. My friend loved film, so he loved her.

My friend wanted to know about Orson Welles.

She lay in bed, in only a diaper. Her hair had fallen out, her breasts had been removed, and she was as knobby-kneed as a crucified Christ. She had fingernails and toenails that someone had painted a dark, rich, shiny salmon.

My friend asked if it was true that Welles, the genius, liked to play catch with actors in between takes. “Did he have gloves and a ball at the ready?” he asked. He reached out and grabbed her closest hand and held it. She tried to pull back her hand, but she was too weak.

“Very soon,” I said, “I have to go to the orchid show. It’s just down the street, so that’s why I’m seeing you.” She looked at me so intently.

I had been to many orchid shows. Some orchids were smaller than peppercorns, and others were bigger than my face. Some orchids smelled like cinnamon or coffee, and others like rotting meat. I once saw a woman at an orchid show who had a purplish red rash on her face, and I told her that she was an orchid and that she smelled like an orchid.

Lying in bed, she said that, these days, what she worried about most was having to take care of her mother. I reminded her that her mother had been dead for decades. I knew she had been carried away yowling in a riptide.

“But she’s a ghost now,” she said. She had to take care of her mother all day. From bed, it was all she did. She hoped that when she herself died she’d get a break.

“Would you please get in bed with me?” she asked.

“It’s not possible for me to get in bed with you.” I looked at my friend, who was still holding her hand—she was still steadily struggling against him—and I told him to get in bed with the President’s Niece. He got in bed with her, and I left them for the orchid show down the way.

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Rhoads Stevens was born in Baltimore, grew up in Honolulu, and lives in Providence.