Faye Goddard is twenty-six; her mother is fifty.
Julie Smith is twenty.
Dee squeezes Faye's arm with a thin hand that's cold from the office.
Faye rubs at her nose. "She's not going to come, she told me. You'll have to bag it."
The key grip leaps for a ringing phone.
"I lied," says Faye.
"My girl." Dee pats the arm she's squeezed.
"I sure didn't hear anything," says Muffy deMott.
"Good," the grip is saying. "Get her into Makeup." She looks over at Dee. "You want her in Makeup?"
"You did good," Dee tells Faye, indicating the closed door.
"I don't think Mr. Griffin is well," says the cue-card lady.
"He and the boy deserve each other. We can throw in the WAC. We can call her General Neurosis."
Dee uses a thin hand to bring Faye's face close to her own. She kisses her gently. Their lips fit perfectly, Faye thinks suddenly. She shivers, in the air-conditioning.
"JEOPARDY!" QUEEN DETHRONED AFTER THREE-YEAR REIGN
— Headline, Variety, 13 March 1988.
"Let's all be there," says the television.
"Where else would I be?" asks Dee Goddard, in her chair, in her office, at night, in 1987.
"We bring good things to life," says the television.
"So did I," says Dee. "I did that. Just once."
Dee sits in her office at Merv Griffin Enterprises every weeknight and kills a tinkling pitcher of wet weak martinis. Her office walls are covered with store-bought aphorisms. Humpty Dumpty was pushed. When the going gets tough the tough go shopping. Also autographed photos. Dee and Bob Barker, when she wrote for "Truth or Consequences." Merv Griffin, giving her a plaque. Dee and Faye between Wink Martindale and Chuck Barris at a banquet.
Dee uses her remote matte-panel to switch from NBC to MTV, on cable. Consumptive-looking boys in makeup play guitars that look more like jets or weapons than guitars.
"Does your husband still look at you the way he used to?" asks the television.
"Safe to say not," Dee says drily, drinking.
"She drinks too much," Julie Smith says to Faye.
"It's for the pain," Faye says, watching.
Julie looks through the remote viewer in Faye's office. "For killing the pain, or feeding it?"
Julie shakes her head. "It's mean to watch her like this."
"You deserve a break today," says the television. "Milk likes you. The more you hear, the better we sound. Aren't you hungry for a flame-broiled Whopper?"
"No I am not hungry for a flame-broiled Whopper," says Dee, sitting up straight in her chair. "No I am not hungry for it." Her glass falls out of her hand.
"It was nice what she said about you, though." Julie is looking at the side of Faye's face. "About bringing one good thing to life."
Faye smiles as she watches the viewer. "Did you hear about what Alex did today? Sajak says he and Alex are now at war. Alex got in the engineer's booth and played with the Applause sign all through "The Wheel'"s third slot. The audience was like applauding when people lost turns and stuff. Sajak says he's going to get him."
"So you don't forget," says the television. "Look at all you get."
"Wow," says Dee. She sleeps in her chair.
Faye and Julie sit on thin towels, in 1987, at the edge of the surf, nude, on a nude beach, south of Los Angeles, just past dawn. The sun is behind them. The early Pacific is lilac. The women's feet are washed and abandoned by a weak surf. The sky's color is kind of grotesque.
Julie has told Faye that she believes lovers go through three different stages in getting really to know one another. First they exchange anecdotes and inclinations. Then each tells the other what she believes. Then each observes the relation between what the other says she believes and what she in fact does.
Julie and Faye are exchanging anecdotes and inclinations for the twentieth straight month. Julie tells Faye that she, Julie, best likes: contemporary poetry, unkind women, words with univocal definitions, faces whose expressions change by the second, an obscure and limited-edition Canadian encyclopedia called LaPlace's Guide to total Data, the gentle smell of powder that issues from the makeup compacts of older ladies, and the O.E.D.
"The encyclopedia turned out to be lucrative, I guess you'd have to say."
Julie sniffs air that smells yeasty. "It got to be just what the teachers tell you. The encyclopedia was my friend."
"As a child, you mean?" Faye touches Julie's arm.
"Men would just appear, one after the other. I felt so sorry for my mother. These blank, silent men, and she'd hook up with one after the other, and they'd move in. And not one single one could love my brother."
"Sometimes things would be ugly. I remember her leading a really ugly life. But she'd lock us in rooms when things got bad, to get us out of the way of it." Julie smiles to herself. "At first sometimes I remember she'd give me a straightedge and a pencil. To amuse myself. I could amuse myself with a straightedge for hours."
"I always liked straightedges, too."
"It makes worlds. I could make worlds out of lines. A sort of jagged magic. I'd spend all day. My brother watched."
There are no gulls on this beach at dawn. It's quiet. The tide is going out.
"But we had a set of these LaPlace's Data Guides. Her fourth husband sold them to salesmen who went door-to-door. I kept a few in every room she locked us in. They did, really and truly, become my friends. I got to be able to feel lines of consistency and inconsistency in them. I got to know them really well." Julie looks at Faye. "I won't apologize if that sounds stupid or dramatic."
"It doesn't sound stupid. It's no fun to be a kid with a damaged brother and a mother with an ugly life, and to be lonely. Not to mention locked up."
"See, though, it was him they were locking up. I was just there to watch him."
"An autistic brother simply cannot be decent company for somebody, no matter how much you loved him, is all I mean," Faye says, making an angle in the wet sand with her toe.
"Taking care of him took incredible amounts of time. He wasn't company, though; you're right. But I got so I wanted him with me. He got to be my job. I got so I associated him with my identity or something. My right to take up space. I wasn't even eight."
"I can't believe you don't hate her," Faye says.
"None of the men with her could stand to have him around. Even the ones who tried couldn't stand it after a while. He'd just stare and flap his arms. And they'd say sometimes when they looked in my mother's eyes they'd see him looking out." Julie shakes some sand out of her short hair. "Except he was bright. He was totally inside himself, but he was bright. He could stare at the same thing for hours and not be bored. And it turned out he could read. He read very slowly and never out loud. I don't know what the words seemed like to him." Julie looks at Faye. "I pretty much taught us both to read, with the encyclopedia. Early. The illustrations really helped."
"I can't believe you don't hate her."
Julie throws a pebble. "Except I don't, Faye."
"She abandoned you by a road because some guy told her to." Julie looks at the divot where the pebble was. The divot melts. "She really loved this man who was with her." She shakes her head. "He made her leave him. I think she left me to look out for him. I'm thankful for that. If I'd been without him right then, I don't think there would have been any me left."