Tuscany Blackbird

by Charles E. J. Moulton

Noah took a deep breath, letting all that fresh air from the outside fill his lungs. The spring air felt new and untouched, as innocent as it had been thirty years ago in Greenwich Village. It was open and moving, flexible, electromagnetic, changing, transforming and illusive. To Mother Nature, time was that unrealistic invention only human beings could invent. Noah still believed it was a sociological phenomenon. Funny, though, for someone so imbedded into the matrix, his own depth was imbedded into eternity.

The wind that caressed his cheeks did not care about the games people played. It stroked the branches of the tree like a fiancée kissing a groom on her wedding night. Even the metal and marble of the window pane seemed like a kiss, aware of the vibration, aware of the connection.

As Noah exhaled, the static air seemed to vanish, all the pressure letting go, his face growing less and less red, his blood pressure dropping, the eagerness of a thousand photographers slowly fading into oblivion. Even the stingy, poisonous remarks of his co-star Liz Valens dwindled into something resembling obscurity.

He needed these moments more since the divorce. The yellow press had gotten vicious, making up God knows what just to make money.

He looked down at passing pedestrians, unaware of his presence. A man with a briefcase running out of the Bank of England. An elegant lady carrying Prada bags. An elderly gentleman with a bronze cane. What would they say if they knew he was watching them? Would they care? Maybe they were not movie fans. Or maybe they were too rich to care. Or maybe they would care especially if they knew he looked at them, because they were rich.

In this part of London, you would have to care who you were seen with.

He'd been a poor guy, too, running from audition to audition, ignored by who knows who. Literally living on pop-corn, like Madonna and Freddie Mercury had, once upon a time in the old days. Noah sighed, trying to digest the madness of his life and never getting more than a minute to himself, mostly less. A lot less. He felt like a ping-pong-ball, thrown between fans and the press, between studio corporations and lawyers.

"I am a commodity."

These words had passed his lips on several occasions the past year. It seemed that he had no right to private thoughts or feelings. "What happens when a person experiences that? He wants to break free. God bless Queen. They sang the truth."

A blackbird landed on the branch opposite the window of his waiting room. It fluttered its wings, ruffling about a bit before settling down.

Noah looked at it and smiled, a feeling of honesty and truth rising up from his belly. The emotion was a reaction to the bird, a being reacting to him as a fellow individual and not a celebrity. The feeling meandered up into Noah's chest and lingered there like the warm summer breeze of Ipanema, whirling around a lady so tall and tan and young and lovely.

Noah Chambers felt fresh and new. For the first time in years. That bird had no agenda to fulfill, no manager to please, no reporter to respond the right way to. It did not even have to choose the right words how to formulate a sentence in order to avoid a scandalous tabloid headline, one based on a sheer misformulation. Like Marie Antoinette, mistaken with Rosseau for a brioche remark she never uttered.

There was a moment of still contemplation. It chirped, quietly gazing at him, as if saying: "What's your problem, Sir? Just enjoy the wind and the trees ... and the sunshine ... of your own love."

Noah half-smiled at the blackbird, who cocked his head at the grin that had earned a man millions of dollars, giving female twenty-somethings sensual nightly dreams.

"Whatever you do, buddy, don't reincarnate as a human being," he whispered at the little bird, "you'll have to do silly things like grin in front of a camera and get molested by angry co-stars."

He paused, thoughts criss-crossing his brainstem as to why the press judged him according to the roles he played. Type casting? Don't judge a book by its cover? Fulfilling a cliché? What cliché?

The mahogany door opened, causing Noah Chambers to turn around. On the other side of that door, past the podium, there was a fierce chatter of voices. Most of the faces he knew. All of them holding little recorders or smartphones. Some of them with cameras. Guys and gals who were just as much career people as he was. Or had been. Individually, they were totally charming, respectful humans he would have befriended had he not been this celebrity icon.

Then, he read some article written by that charming girl named Daisy Hill who had told him he was her hero. The article had ripped him apart. Literally. When he asked her about it, the girl told him her publisher had made her write those words. She sat in the front row now, looking like shit, but pretending to be in control.

"You ready, Noah?"

Lydia's eyes twinkled. He enjoyed the twinkle and she knew that. Not that it had saved his marriage, though.

Lydia. His feelings, he realized, had always been strong for her. Noah nodded, in his heart of hearts hoping the journalists would not only ask him about his divorce. He needed to keep this professional, work oriented.

He straightened his bow-tie, closing the window, winking at the blackbird one last time.

"In my next life, I wanna be you," he said, softly.

As he turned around, walking a few paces toward the 18th century mirror, a guilded rococo artefact, looking at himself in it, loads of Chippendale furniture in the background, his brunette secretary winced: "You wanna be that blackbird?"

Noah looked at himself, looking not unlike the young Timothy Dalton in "The Living Daylights". He straightened a lock of his hair, shaking his head.

"You know what Daisy wrote about me?"

Lydia leaned against the door frame, giving him her look of pity. "Nobody reads the Movie Telegraph," she crooned, in her heart knowing how much it had hurt him. She closed the door behind her. Noah gave Lydia a sardonic pursed lip.

"But she's in the first row," he told her. "And there is no one out there that will see me for who I am. Only for what I am supposed to be."

Noah looked up, seeing Lydia's dumbfounded gaze. There was love there. Admiration. Respect. She took a few solemn steps toward him.

"I wish I could help you," she whispered.

He raised his hand to caress her cheek.

"That blackbird seems to have what I lack."

Lydia smiled gently. "What's that?"

"Freedom," he whispered, gazing into her eyes. All of a sudden, a platonic relationship went drilling downwards toward an amorous depth.

Electromagnetic currents flew between them, electron entanglements choreographing a riverdance of sorts. Lydia's mouth twitched as she looked down on his right hand. His wedding ring was gone. "You were always respectful, Noah," she sighed. "And yet, the press say I was the reason for the breakup." Noah shook his head. "Rhonda is pregnant with Antonio's child. Even Newsweek reported that. We never even kissed. And you know we always wanted as much."

Lydia smiled, tenderly.

Noah looked out at the tree again. The blackbird was still sitting outside the window on the branch, looking at him, fascinated.

"What worries me is that no one seems to care about my work." Noah's grin was wounded.

"But I gave up my right to be a private person when I became a star, right?"

Lydia closed her eyes, shaking her head. "You are a spirit, Noah. Not a financial investment."

She looked up into his eyes. A deep gaze that was totally open, respectful, honest. Noah saw oceans and lakes and sunsets in there.

"The natives are getting restless, baby. And Sy fears that Variety will slaughter you for being fifteen minutes late again."

Noah widened his eyes, raising his eyebrows. "Marinated Chamberpot ."

She chuckled. "That would be the after effect."

"I feel like shit."

Lydia gestured at the open door.

"The Steel Hero's waiting."

He nodded, caressing her cheek again. In a moment's sweet spontaneity, he leaned over and kissed her lips. She closed her eyes and so did he. It felt like truth, the only truth left in this wicked game of money laundering. The tingle persisted way after they withdrew, their gazes mingling, two energies becoming one.

"I love you, Lydia."

She nodded. "And I love you, Noah."

A smile, another kiss, a caress, a sigh.

As Noah passed Lydia, he smelled her Chopard perfume, magnolia and lavender mingled with camomile.

For the first time since the divorce, the idea of kissing her indefinitely came to mind. And this time, it was sheer spiritual truth that led the way, not Hollywood bullshit.

One smile was all it took.

As soon as the insanity of the press conference began, the twister pulled them away into hell. The 18th century mansion had been turned into an Action Hero campaign. Little Noah dolls of Chambers in his platinum suit were everywhere.

"The Steel Hero Rising - the Platinum Master" read on every poster pinned up in every corner.

His own royal self in his blue and read suit and that silly shining breast plate, they made him look like a Lego toy. But Lego had refused to sponsor the flick, leaving them to crawl to Pepsi and Microsoft and a million product placements.

"Hold the can into the camera, Noah," his director had chirped eight monthsago.

"This is not a frigging soft drink ad, Joe," he had answered. "It's a love scene."

"As far as Pepsi is concerned," his director had snapped, "it's a hundred million dollar Pepsi commercial."

And I am the hooker, sleeping with Mammon, Noah had thought to himself, selling my art to the pigs.

The moment Noah set his foot the podium, it launched a frightful explosion of clicking of cameras and flashes. No applause, as was to expected, but a terrible mashup of shouted chatter. He always wondered what this instinct was to begin to blabber as soon as he entered a conference. He smiled, of course, sporting the half-grin that Time Magazine had called "The Sexiest Smile of the Year". That and the Steel Hero gesture - the fists held in an X in front of his chest - started another rise of clicks.

Of course it was nice to be in the middle of all that attention, but half of the fans were only readers of the comic. It really had nothing to do with him. Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman or him, what was the difference?

Performing Scar in "The Lion King" all those years ago had not helped him careerwise at all. He had been back waiting tables two years later.

Mickey Rooney was broke at age 80 in spite of being hot shit at age 30.

And so, Noah Chambers grinned.

A fifty-something balding gent began his speech. Twitching his left hand like Frankie Sinatra used to do while holding the mike, he looked like an old-time crooner with a tick. He had spoken to Noah a half-hour ago about the possibility of screen testing for Paramount. Sy had taken over a second later, promising to forward Noah's recommendation. Of course three more voices blurted out wishes to be stars. He wanted to tell them being a celebrity was like riding a Halloween rollercoaster. Hell.

"Ladies and gentlemen ... the biggest star in Hollywood ... here in London ... major motion picture ... proudly presents ... sponsored by Pepsi ..."

Noah sat down next to Sy, blowing Liz Valens a kiss against his will. She grinned sardonically, looking away quickly toward her manager with the poodle hairdo.

Lydia coordinated the press conference like General MacArthur during the Battle of the Bulge. Noah was impressed how she managed to avoid every personal question, insisting never to respond to personal inquiry as PR Manager. She did not seem at all nervous, although he knew she was. God, he loved that woman. That he realized that first now was astounding.

Sy Roth sweated bullets, literally, hoping his client would not suffer another personal attack that would cost the studio half a million bucks in law suits. Too much for a 69 year-old man with a heart problem.

Noah reached under the table and pressed Sy's hand. There were no looks exchanged, only a slight caressing of thumbs and an elderly man's squeezing palm.

He knew what that meant.

"This is driving me crazy."

Sy was getting too old for this shit. Noah knew that.

He was popping pills like candy.

There was press talk about the script, the similitaries with other superhero flicks, his sprained ankle on set, his supposed animosity with Liz, the on-screen love interest, and his extensive costume fittings.

Noah answered most of the questions, handing a few over to Liz and Sy.

Joseph Granger had his customary Director's cap on, underneath it his tousled locks. He mumbled a few whiskey-drenched words about this being the best frigging action movie ever. All Noah could think about was why Joe chose to dress down at such an important occasion. Yes, Joe was a genius. But this "I don't give a crap"-routine really was a lie. Joe did give a crap. Very much so.

Liz sat there, answering her few questions in quite an aloof manner, hoping to get out of there to catch her limo back to Oxford sooner than later. She hated London. She always had, or so she had said, flashing her dark stare to the press. Bad energy? Yes. Indeed.

The real trouble began when Daisy Hill segued into the divorce by popping a sensitive question.

"Miss Hill from the Movie Telegraph, please," Lydia swooned, pacing the podium.

Daisy nodded.

"Mr. Chambers? Is your affair with Lydia Carlysle the reason for the end of your marriage with Rhonda?"

The chatter suddenly stopped, leaving them all with a strange silence.

Lydia's nerves now showed on her face like lightning bolts during a thunderstorm. She began wreathing her hands. Noah sighed, wondering how life had turned out if he had not made that screen test for Paramount fifteen years ago. No drug rehab? Back at the Syracuse Playhouse? Waiting tables again at Tout va bien Off-Broadway?

"Lydia and I have had a platonic and very professional relationship all through my marriage with Rhonda," Noah responded. "Our decision to end the marriage is due to irreconcilable differences." "Isn't it so," Daisy interrupted, provocatively, "that Rhonda had the affair with Antonio Gomez because she found you in bed with Lydia?"

Daisy Hill, that shy thing in her early thirties, looked down, knowing what she said was bullshit.

Noah flashed his half-grin at Daisy.

"You told me I'm your hero, Daisy," the actor retalliated charmingly, "so why don't you tell your publisher you will write what you want to write! You know the truth."

A second reporter spat, unimpressed: "What is the truth?"

Lydia now raised her voice.

"If you have a question, raise your hand, Sir!" Another reporter chimed in.

"What about the story with you and Lydia?"

"One at a time, please," Sy Roth snapped.

Noah held up his hand, smiling again, giving him the flash of the blackbird on the branch being so very much an existence worthy of praise. Better than being a steak on a barbecue.

"Isn't that the doctor's job?" Daisy croaked, trying to seem cocky. Lydia took a few decisive steps toward the reporter, giving her a look that had three thousand daggers in it.

"I am a trained nurse, Miss Hill."

Lydia's shout could have triggered a revolution, but it was obvious to everyone that Hill had overstepped her boundaries.

"Only professional questions now, please."

The subsequent questions were professional. Would there be a sequel? Had the computer graphics of the motion picture been as hard to create as the press had assumed? If so, had the team been force to invent new techniques for the morphing sequences? And then the personal inquiries: what were the favorite scenes of the cast? Goofs? Deleted moments? Was it actually Mr. Chambers playing the bass guitar in the theme song? He was, after all, also a musician.

After that, the conference had the appearance of control, at least. The animosity between his co-star Liz Valens and him was quite clear, even to the reporters in the back.

Clear enough for her to shove her long red finger nails into his buttocks while smiling at the cameras in front of the live size action figures.

"Noah's amazing," she sang when asked how the work was. "A dream come true."

"Will you do a sequel with Noah?" a journalist from Variety yelled. Liz pouted at the reporters, lulling in her British way. "I have five motion pictures coming up, so I will have to decline that at the moment. But nothing ... is impossible."

She sunk her nails deeper into Noah's ass now, leaning over and whispering evil words into his ear: "If you shag me, Noah, I will." Noah grinned back, waving at the reporters, whispering: "Unlike you, Liz, I am monogamous."

The stride to the Lincoln limo hurt a bit, proverbially speaking, anyway, bodyguards paving the way through the hoards of screaming teenagers. Noah managed to sign the occasional photo, hand, cheek and even wrote his name on a young lady's chest. Inside the stretch, Sy immediately began popping pills, swallowing them with wine, holding a conversation with a TV station for a morning show the following week.

Lydia spent the first ten minutes WhatsApping the agency that had organized the press conference.

The only calm one was Noah, looking out at London sights, Big Ben and the like, wondering how he managed to stay sober at all. On the other hand, if you have done LSD, you have done it all.

Half the way to Heathrow, Lydia lay her head on Noah's shoulder. It was a sensitive gesture of love, a confession. Noah's heart blossomed into amorous bliss, his arm immediately wrapping around his newfound girlfriend.

Sy Roth still telephoning with NBC, Lydia and Noah sunk into a hot kiss that just did not want to end. Their tongues circled around one another, steamy blusters of air waving up their cheeks, little swellings on erogenous zones appearing. The symbiosis was a true healing process, love shedding universal affection balm on arrogant wounds of reporters throwing daggers under their belts. A thousand love you's followed. Literally a thousand. All the years of platonic electricity of denial exploded into reality, an unhappy marriage and an even unhappier divorce creating a need for true touch, human love. The first class airplane ride to California entailed more hugs and kisses than food, Sy at times insisting he must disturb the lovers with contract questions. He grinned while doing so every time, his moustache and beard ruffling and jittering while grinning.

Noah and Lydia spoke very little of the crazy conference, but there was a mutual apprehension that the press would try to make a big thing of Daisy Hill's divorce comments.

"Daisy Hill, isn't that the dog kennel Snoopy was born in?" Sy Roth croaked between pills.

"Arf, arf," Lydia barked, knocking down her second Scotch in courtesy of Lufthansa.

"Actually, it's an Australian soccer team," Noah corrected. "Whatever it is, that reporter really has issues," Sy sighed, leaning back for a snooze somewhere over Iowa.

Lydia again fell into Noah's arms, making Noah feel how he loved her even when she reeked of Jack Daniel's.

Once the lovers reached Noah's Hollywood Hills mansion, the couple simply dumped all the baggage in his lobby, literally throwing off all their clothes on their way to the upper bedroom. Bras and panties, shirts and blouses, they all lay scattered about on marble tiles. Laughter and wails reverberated between expensive original Picassos and Rubens art works.

Their lovemaking was stupendous.

For the first time in years, he felt how making love to a true love really was a portal to feeling, yes, living spiritual eternity. Affectionate touch, gentility, sensitivity, mutual respect. These acts of emotional truth seemed to mirror a heaven where two souls become one, all of reality merely vibrating matter, nothing solid. Lydia became Noah and Noah became Lydia. For one moment during sex, they ceased to be individuals and saw the face of God. It was also during sex that Noah felt completely departed from his role as a superstar. It was a uniform he put on. Some people wore police clothing. Others wore baker's hats. Darn, he wore Steel Hero suits and a smoking. But the truth of truths was a spiritual one, one he felt when connected emotionally to someone he loved.

That next morning, Lydia snoozing on his shoulder, Noah Chambers thoughts meandered, his own status, his own life, all these riches, were they necessary to make him happy?

A million dollar villa?

All fine and well.

But happiness?

What had Morgan Freeman said as God in "Bruce Almighty": "Some of the happiest people in the world come stinking to high heaven at the end of the day."

The blackbird on that branch back in London came to his mind. How it seemingly had wanted to tell him just to enjoy life. What gave him the ability to enjoy life was not being splattered all across the screens as a world superhero. It was sharing his true feelings with a woman he loved.

There she was, trusting him enough to snore on his shoulder. That woman, who had organized a thousand press conferences and never even once asked for an extra day off.

They had known, both of them, what they had felt. They had known, both of them, how bitchy Rhonda had been the last three years. They had known.

Now, Lydia sleeping on his shoulder, he had found his way home. Funny, millions of dollars in the bank, all that mattered to him was embracing the woman he loved. Love.

Right then and there, he decided to propose to Lydia, asking for her hand in marriage. If she said yes, he knew where he would take her on their honeymoon. To the Amalfi Coast in Tuscany, Italy. Why? He had heard they had the most beautifully sounding blackbirds in the world.

The Majestic Downtown hosted three hundred guests on their wedding day. To be expected, Lydia organized her own wedding like one of Noah's press conferences. Noah had to force her to hire someone to help her.

"Today, you are a bride, Lydia, not the PR manager."

At the Houdini Estate, the band Wet Wet Wet reunited for "Love is All Around". Even Ringo and Paul popped by, with Wynton Marsalis on trumpet and Roger Taylor on drums for a rendition of "All You Need is Love".

Lydia adored Tuscany, although she heard the blackbirds singing mostly from her hotel room.

Noah ended every day during that honeymoon, drinking Chianti and gazing at the moon by candlelight, thinking of a quote attributed to Moliére.

"The great ambition of women is to inspire love."

And this woman inspired more love than anyone he knew.

Lydia and the chirp of the Tuscany blackbird was a match made in heaven and that beyond riches and fame. It made Noah realize that one thing alone had the ability to make a person wealthy: love. Everything else was just folly.


© 2021 Charles E. J. Moulton

Bio: Charles E.J. Moulton is the author of 20 books, 250 published pieces and the editor in chief of three webzines. He is the stage performer of 140 productions, an Elvis-impersonator, a Sinatra-vocalist and the happily married father of a daughter.