TUESDAY: Ezra and Ernest: Paris 1926, Part 2

BY MARK VICTOR YOUNG

Copyright is held by the author. This is the second of a two-part story. Read the first part here.

Dear Dad,

Next generation (male) arrived.
Both D & it appear to be doing well.
Ford going to U.S. to lecture in October.
Have told him you wd. probably be glad to put him up.
more anon,

yrs
E.

Four days before that: 11th September 1926 — Hotel Foyot, Paris
EZRA WAS back in their room at the Hotel after being away for a few days and he was taking advantage of the time by catching up on his correspondence and gathering some of his books for the coming move over to Brancusi’s place. He jotted a quick note to his parents to catch them up on the latest developments over where he was on furrin soil. He couldn’t think of the last time he’d written to them, neglecting those filial duties probably all summer long. Had he told them about his l’il opry back in June? He had, he was sure. Where had the summer gone? He felt like he hadn’t accomplished anything. Bloody Paris. This is why he’d had to leave in the first place — too many distractions. Too many people who wanted to talk about art rather than getting down to the brass tacks and nitty gritty of actually making the stuff.

There was a knock at the door. What the deuce? Just another interruption if he answered it. He picked up a book and resolved to ignore it. Nobody knew he was here and Dorothy was still at the hospital, so whoever it was could just go pound salt.

“Ezra? Are you in there?”

Khrrisst. It was Hem. The doorknob rattled and he knocked again. Wot ells could go wrong today?

“C’mon, pal. Open up. I bring news from Neuilly. The next generation has arrived!”

Ezra sighed. “Just a second.” He got up and opened the door.

“Ezra, my friend,” said Hem. “Let me be the first to shake your hand and say congratulations! It’s a boy. I was there at the hospital with Dorothy till late last night. She came through it like a champ. I’ve just been back to the studio to try to catch a few winks and then I came over here to find you. You’ve got to come see him.”

Ezra let go of his friend’s strong congratulatory grip and sat back down at the desk by the window. “I’m a little busy here, actually.”

Hem kept smiling and sat down across the room in a wingback chair. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t think they need any help from me over there and I have things I can be doing around here.”

“You don’t want to see him?”

“Not especially. Seen one, seen the bunch.”

“But this is your son.”

“Yes, well . . .” Ezra straightened up a pile of papers and replaced a pen in the pen holder. He crossed his right leg over his left knee and looked out the window at someone passing on the sidewalk that he didn’t recognize. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hem shake his head.

“Well,” said Hem. “You have to at least register the birth at the Town Hall in Neuilly. It’s not far from the hospital.”

“It’s funny she chose that hospital, don’t you think? After I had my guts cut open there by those ignorant damn veterinaries.”

“It’s the American Hospital, Ezra. She probably did it for you.”

“Huh,” he said.

“C’mon. Let’s go. You have to do this.”

Ezra picked up a book and inspected a small tear in the binding. He put it in the pile with his papers and glanced back across the room. “So, this is what must be done? This duty is the sole purview of the pater familias?”

“It’s one of them, sure.”

Picking up another stack of letters and other papers, he tried to tap down the loose edges so they would all be lined up. He lay them down next to his pile of books and lined up a row of pencils, brushing some specks of grit onto the floor. He sucked his teeth and tapped his finger on the desk, counting out the beats. He sighed. “Okay. Let’s go.”

“Excellent,” said Hem. He stood up again. “Don’t forget your identification papers.”

“Yes,” said Ezra. He put a few slips of paper in his pocket and put on his velvet jacket. They walked out together, passing through the lobby and out to the sidewalk. He stared off at the Senate Buildings at the end of La Rue de Tournon as Hem watched for a taxi. He listened to the sounds of traffic around him and wondered how a man could become a father — twice! — without ever wanting it to happen. The bitterness turned into a harsh laugh at these feelings of dread and this sensation of being unsettled that he couldn’t shake off. And then Hem was guiding him into the back seat of a taxi by his elbow and there they were . . . on their way to fulfill his responsibility as a father.

“She was under the weather when she came back from Egypt,” said Ezra. “That’s what I thought. Just some exotic flu she’d picked up west of the Nile in Cleopatra country. It never occurred to me that she was pregnant. She’s 39 for god’s sake!” He laughed the bitter laugh again. “Then she told me when we arrived here in Paris and I’ve been awfully surrounded by human complications ever since. Can’t work. Can’t sleep. Can’t write.”

Hem nodded. “You didn’t know she wanted a baby?”

“Well, she may have mentioned it once or twice. But we were always against babies. Wouldn’t let anyone bring them to our studio . . . you remember. Saw what it did even to serious artists when they had one. Not for us, I thought. But then Olga had her baby and I had to go and tell Dorothy.”

“Why?”

“It was stupid, I know. But it just felt wrong, her not knowing. I wasn’t ashamed, and she knew about Olga, after all.”

“But she can’t have enjoyed sharing you. You must have known that.”

“I guess I did. But she was always so . . . so damned British about it, though.”

“She probably worried that Olga would begin to have more of a hold on you if she bore your child.”

“Now that’s just stupid.”

“You may feel that way now, but over time, I think that would change.”

Ezra shook his head impatiently and looked out the window, seeing they were crossing over the Pont Neuf to the Right Bank. What could the driver possibly be thinking? This was a stupid way to go.

Certificat de Naissance — Omar Shakespear Pound
Omar, du sexe masculine, de Ezra Pound . . . homme de
 lettres, et de Dorothy Shakespear . . . Dressé le onze
 Septembre, mil neuf cent vingt six, seize heures quinze,
 sur déclaration du père . . . Ezra Pound.

One day previous to that: 10th September 1926 — Montparnasse, Paris
Ernest wrestled with the sheets and his dark thoughts all night long in Gerald Murphy’s studio in the Rue Froidevaux, where he’d been staying since the split with Hadley. He couldn’t stop thinking of her, so cold towards him now and in her own way wrecked by all this. Or poor little Bumby down in Brittany with the nanny for the time being so he could fully recover from his whooping cough, but soon he would come back home to Paris to find there was no more home and two separate parents. Or Pauline in her banishment to Piggott, Arkansas. All this going around in his brain made the time go so slowly and so horribly and so flatly that he felt he would have to scream out or gnash his teeth or break something. The nights were simply unbelievably terrible.

As soon as the sun was up and light came through the window, he had to get up and out of there, not even entirely sure if he’d slept, but finished with lying prostrated in agonies of the conscience. He felt like a coffee, but he had been avoiding La Closerie des Lilas so he wouldn’t see anyone he knew. Walking along Avenue de Maine one day, he had discovered the Three Musketeers Café and had been quietly frequenting it ever since. There he could be alone with his thoughts, which were damn poor company these days, truth be told.

After not too long moping at the café, he decided to go and visit Ezra and Dorothy. He walked in the direction of the Jardin du Luxembourg and forced himself to walk past the Hotel Beauvoir in case he might meet up with Hadley or even just catch a glimpse of her in the window, but he didn’t, and it was for the best. He crossed the grounds of the Jardin wondering if he’d bump into Gertrude and Alice out walking their dog. Again, he didn’t and again, it was for the best. Their recent disagreement was still too fresh.

He stopped in the lobby of the Hotel Foyot and asked at the front desk if it was a convenient time to call on the Pounds. The desk clerk called up and told Ernest Mrs. Pound would be delighted to see him and that he should hurry. He climbed the stairs and tried to shake the heavy feeling still clinging to him.

Dorothy answered the door looking flushed and holding her pregnant belly.

“Ernest,” she said. “Thank god you’re here. It’s time to go.”

“Go where?”

“The hospital. I think I’m having the baby.”

“Right now? Where’s Ezra?”

“I don’t know. Will you take me to the hospital?”

He looked at her, still shocked at this new incarnation of the striking English lady he had known for so many years. Gone was the cool, slim, finely-tailored façade. The dark brown curls were tipped with sweat and the cream complexion was mostly pink now, but she was still a beauty. Hell, he’d been half in love with her since the day he’d met her — even Hadley had remarked on it. Here before him stood a new incarnation: Anglo fertility goddess draped in loose cloth.

“I’d be glad to. Do you need help getting your things together?”

“No, I have it all packed up in that small valise,” she said, pointing to a case by the door. “If you could help me down the stairs and see to a taxi that would be lovely.”

A pained look came across her face and she grunted and held her breath for a moment before blowing it all out and grabbing for his arm.

“Easy, Dorothy,” he said. He picked up the case while holding onto her hand and then guided her towards the door. “Should we send word for Ezra?”

“He won’t come,” she said simply.

Her breathing was shallow and rapid although her progress down the stairs was slow. She held on tightly to his arm, huffing and puffing at each downward step, always cradling her belly with her other hand. At the bottom of the stairs to the lobby, he called over to the man he’d spoken with before over at the front desk.

“Hello, there,” he said. “Aidez-moi, s’il vous plait? Un taxi vite, pour madame. Elle va . . . having a baby!”

“Le bébé!” said the clerk. He looked at Dorothy. “Oh, mon Dieu! Oui, oui, monsieur. Tout de suite.”

A taxi was called for and a chambermaid was summoned. She came out from a back room and began fussing over Dorothy, cooing little pieces of advice and reassurance in her ear. Asseyez-vous, Madam. Lentement. Tous va bien. Restez ici. A chair was brought to the sidewalk for madam to wait for the taxi.

Ernest stood by patiently holding the suitcase and wondering where his friend was in all this. Why wasn’t he sticking close to his wife with the baby’s arrival imminent? And why had Dorothy said He won’t come with such finality? Had something happened between them?

At last, the taxi pulled up and the hotel staff led their patient very carefully to the back seat and gave quick instructions to the driver in French. Ernest tipped the clerk and got in beside Dorothy in the back. The driver pulled away quickly, driving straight up the Rue de Tournon towards the Seine and the Right Bank.

Dorothy was quiet on the drive to the hospital, concentrating on her breathing. They looked out the windows at familiar landmarks and Ernest made a few encouraging comments and held on to her hand for support.

“It’ll all be over soon,” he said. “And then you’ll have this incredible little person to take home with you and a whole new kind of life will begin. You and Ezra will be transformed and it will only bring you closer together, you’ll see.”

“Oh, we’re not bringing the baby home with us,” she said.

“You’re not?”

“No. We’re giving it over to a nurse here in Paris for now and in a year or so it will go over to England to be near my mother. It’s all arranged.”

“It is?”

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Oh, yes.”

“Huh,” he said. Didn’t know what else to say to that. He might’ve expected this response from Ezra, but Dorothy? This was a new kind of cold. Where were her maternal feelings? Maybe it would be different when she held her baby in her arms. Or maybe this was the kind of mother Olivia Shakespear had been to her. Was this just the British way of child rearing?

The taxi pulled up at the front of the American Hospital. Ernest looked up at the building and hoped they were close to the Maternity Ward so they wouldn’t have far to walk. He picked up the suitcase and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Dear Olivia,

I understand you are to become a grandmother at last.
Of course, the event is taking place in the usual secrecy. You
are probably furious, but you will find a grandchild a pleasing
distraction in the end. Congratulations!

Yours,
W.B. Yeats

Five days before that: 5th September 1926 — Foyot Hotel Restaurant, Paris
Ezra watched his wife devour her second helping of dessert as he sipped his third cup of tea. He resented her appetite and her cheerfulness and their situation, beginning with her pregnancy. But he didn’t share this resentment with her and never had. What could he say, when he already had a child with another woman? It’s not as though she consulted him before . . . whenever it happened. When was that? He should know that, shouldn’t he? How long had he bounced along here in shock before asking himself that question? Since June.

The waiter stopped by the table to refill their teacups. Dorothy scraped her fork along the surface of her plate to capture the last of the cream filling. He winced.

“Mmm,” she said in a half moan, half shiver. “I think I could live on this lemon cake. It is too divine.” She put down her fork and sat back in her chair, holding her swollen belly with one hand and reaching for her tea with the other.

“Tell me,” said Ezra, leaning forward and putting down his tea cup. “What date did the medicos in Rapallo give you for the blessed event?”

Dorothy looked off to the left above his head and thought for a second. “I can’t remember if they gave me an exact date, darling. I think they just said mid-September.”

“So if I count backwards nine months, that brings us to mid-December, right?”

“Yes, that’s right, I guess.”

“But you were in Egypt in mid-December.”

“Was I?” she said, squinting at him.

“Yes. You had left Rapallo more than a week before Christmas, because you weren’t there when Eliot came for his visit.”

“Hmm. I guess I was, then.”

“So when did this immackalut conception take place? Coz, I don’t remember it.”

“I guess it must have happened before I left.”

“You guess?”

“Well, it must’ve, musn’t it?”

“Not if it happened later.”

“That really would be an immaculate conception, wouldn’t it?” She laughed without humour, her eyes never leaving his.

“Did it happen later?” He said this steadily, although he was feeling decidedly unsteady.

“I don’t know what you mean, darling.”

“You know exactly what I mean. You came back from Egypt in March and you were already pregnant, although you just pretended you were feeling sick for a while. My question is simple: did you take a lover when you went to Egypt?”

“Why would you even ask me that? I was home in December and now the baby is due in September. That’s nine months, so where’s the problem?”

“The problem is I need to know. For my peace of mind. Is the baby mine?”

Her eyes were steady as steel beams and twice as cold, locked onto his face. “Your peace of mind? What about my peace of mind, Ezra? All those years you were seeing the fiddle player so openly, flaunting her to our friends. Letting her sleep in our bed whenever I’m away in England . . . don’t pretend you don’t. And then she has your baby. Where’s my consolation in all this?”

He rubbed his eyes and tried to stay calm. This is what it was all about right here. “I’ve never hidden my relationship with Olga from you.”

“Oh, well, thank-you very much. That makes it all better, does it? At least we know the paternity of her baby. Or do we? Who’s to say she hasn’t had a little something on the side in Venice when you’re with me in Rapallo? Once an adulteress, always an adulteress, right?”

“Damn it, Dorothy,” he said, pounding his fist on the table without meaning to. Several other diners looked their way and he moved his cup and saucer to one side. “Leave it alone. Just answer my simple question: is it mine?”

“If you have to ask me that, then what answer from me is going to set your mind at ease? How could you even trust whatever I told you?”

He put his elbows on the table in front of him and pressed the heels of both hands to his forehead, grinding them into the skin there. “I can’t take this, Dorothy. Stop toying with me. It’s messing with my mind.”

“It’s your own mind playing tricks on you, Ezra. It’s got nothing to do with me.”

Her words were reasonable, but her look was still cold and perhaps a little smug. She was enjoying his discomfort. And that was what finished him.

“I’ve got to get out of here, Dorothy. I’m going to get a few things from the room and then I’m getting out of this gawd damn hotel. I think you’re being an intolerable bitch right now.”

She laughed at this.

“I hope you and your baby are happy together,” he said, and she never stopped smiling, so he threw his napkin on the table, pushed back his chair and stalked out of the restaurant towards the lobby and the stairs, still feeling a little soapy in his kurranium, but certain he was doing the right thing.

2 comments

  1. Pingback: MONDAY: Ezra and Ernest: Paris 1926, Part 1 |
  2. Michael joll

    I knew virtually nothing about Ezra Pound before reading your story, so I looked him up on the Internet. He really was a miserable excuse for a human being, wasn’t he? You certainly seem to have captured his character well. The interplay with Hem is fascinating. How could the two ever hit it off? Again, I loved the crisp dialogue which I felt contrasted well with Pound’s depressing nihilism.

    Altogether, an interesting character study, unusual in these days of Hollywood style blockbuster video games and cheap thrillers. Well done.

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