Begin Again Finnegan: excerpt

Begin Again FinneganAfter spending the afternoon filming Kiel walking along the Seine, reflecting on Joyce’s fascination with rivers and imagining him walking with his cane, trying hard to see out of his near-blind eyes, Devin was taken aback three hours later when he and Jim met up with Adrian and his “date,” Suzanne Florins, who costarred with him in his film debut. They had a rumored affair at the time and Kiel kept in touch with her over the years. But it wasn’t Suzanne Florins or Adrian Kiel who they saw sitting at their corner table at Chez Francis: it was James and Nora Joyce. Adrian had made himself up to look like Joyce, a black patch over his left eye, wire thin round opaque glasses, hair combed straight back, a mustache and a stripe of a goatee splitting his chin, wearing a bowtie, white shirt and dark jacket. Florins had dressed like the photograph that appeared on Brenda Maddox’s biography of Nora, wearing a silk black dress over a white blouse, her cream skinned body opened to her cleavage line, with light rose lipstick and a wide brimmed hat. They were already engaged in conversation and Jim and Devin were expected to pick up the cameras on their seats and focus on each of them. Neither “James” nor “Nora” went out of character when they acknowledged Jim and Devin.

“This is my Nora,” Adrian beamed. “My mountain flower.”

“Gentlemen,” Suzanne said with a slight nod.

“We had hoped Lucia might have joined us, but unfortunately, she is not well.”As Adrian said this, he indicated with his eyes that they should begin filming. The two actors then began improvising what they knew about their characters.

“Now James, you know why Lucia can’t join us.”

“Yes, yes. But it’s true to say she is not well.”

“Not well, and not here. She is at a sanatorium, being treated for….”

“This is not dinner conversation,” ‘James’ said.  “The child is just overwhelmed with images.”

“The child is schizophrenic. Shall I tell them what she did to me?”

“Is it necessary?”

“You are her Babbo. She loves you dearly and clearly. But me, she attacks. She doesn’t always see me as her mother, but as a rival.”

“That’s nonsense Nora. She adores you.”

“When she painted her face with black ink, you thought it was odd but understandable. When she dressed in a ballroom gown at eleven in the morning, you found her charmingly eccentric.  When I tried to shake some sense into her, you scolded me and came to her defense.”

“I agreed to let Jung have at her.”

“And what did Jung say? That the two of you were peas in a pod, going to the bottom of a river—only she was falling, while you were happily diving.”

“Jung! What did Lucia say of him? That he was a big fat materialistic Swiss attempting to capture her soul. I daresay, she was right.”

“She sends telegrams to dead people, James. She obsesses over the little scar on her chin. She starts fires with matches.  She accused her attendants of stealing from her.”

“She was missing the pen I had given her. They envied me, so they stole her things.”

“Rubbish, James. No one stole anything, she lost them, misplaced them, hid them so she could stake a claim of persecution.  She threw that pen in the lake, I’m sure.”

“I highly doubt that. The pen was valuable; I had written part of Ulysses with it. I’m sure it was stolen and sold for a high price.”

“You invent your own truths, though they are fabrications of your mind. What you do writing, poor Lucia does living.  You insult her by spoiling her.”

“I spoil? When she came back to live with us here in Paris, with my sister Eileen as her companion….”

“Your sister, who left three children in Ireland to come when she asked for her.”

“Yes, and when they started to drive you crazy, what did you do?”

“It was Lucia who couldn’t stand being here with us, she who wanted to go to London to stay with Miss Weaver.”

“All to your liking and approval. Sending her off like some unwanted orphan, with two trunks of new clothing which we could hardly afford to pay for. If you were where she was and felt as she must, you would perhaps feel some hope if you felt that you were neither abandoned nor forgotten.”

“Had Lucia struck you the way she struck me, with such force and anger, I still have the scar, you would have paid more attention to the fact that our daughter is mad.”

“Don’t say that, Nora! I forbid that ridiculous conclusion. She is high strung, sensitive, a bit needy, but she has the soul of an artist. She sings, dances, draws, recites poetry, and when she wants to write, she writes beautiful letters.”

“Lucia suffers from sexual longings and frustrations. She practically seduces every young man who comes her way. She will never be able to live by herself, she will always resent me, and she will always want you as her lover.”

“She’s the victim of an elusive disease. But enough of this conversation,” ‘James’ said. “We haven’t yet ordered our dinner. I do so enjoy Chez Francis, but I must say, their prices have soared since we’ve last been here.”

The dinner was not just a success, but remarkable. Devin focused his camera mostly on Suzanne, Jim on Adrian, and both made sure to take wide shots of the two of them. Devin began to finally understand the method to Adrian’s particular madness.  He liked to work spontaneously. He didn’t like to talk about what he wanted to do, but preferred to just go ahead and get into each moment. He had obviously arranged with Florins to study Nora Joyce and be prepared to talk to him as James, but as far as Devin knew, Adrian hadn’t met with Suzanne before to go over what they might say or do. Kiel wasn’t sure what might come of all they filmed that night, but if they got one or two good minutes, that would be enough. A film is built in tiny sequences. Easier if they had a script, but not as much fun. The dinner invigorated Adrian and when they left, he doubled the bill as a special tip for allowing them to do what they did.

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