I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: this editing process is HARD! I am blessed to have the most sensitive, articulate & brilliant editor in my friend Ruth. It’s a good thing I trust her completely because she makes me do things no one else could, without injury. We have to get my manuscript down to 100,000 words. And to do that means to CUT stuff, to let go. Like cutting off your babies toes!
When Ruth tells me something has to go, she always has a valid reason and gently and lovingly explains it to me. Usually, it’s because whatever scene or description or dialogue in question doesn’t move the story along. If you’ve ever been to ANY class or workshop on the art of writing, you’ll know that anything not moving the story along weighs it down. So, here in it’s entirety, is one dreamy but superfluous scene that takes place in the South of France in the late 1920s.
Every word we cut gets us closer to publication…
Harpo Marx’s villa was a classic Mediterranean with multitudes of arches and columns and red pottery tiles curving along the roof. Flowering vines cascaded over the exterior walls like Rapunzel’s tresses while the trickling fountain in the courtyard murmured serene music. The sun had nearly completed its slow decent as the dinner guests began to arrive, tailed, gowned and sparkling like the heavens.
The main dining room faced out onto a large patio with a magnificent view of the glittering city lights of Juan-les-Pins and the sea below. The four huge, arched French doors that stood between the dining room and the patio were propped open as the guests admired the sunset over pre-dinner bubbly.
Sylvia planned to keep an eagle-eye on her young sister Vera for the duration of the party, even if it meant her own fun might be spoiled. Vera had chosen a new black crepe gown that was her first truly formal evening dress. The girl was in a state over her new grown-up frock and acting very affected, which to Sylvia was a mixed blessing.
As luck would have it, Roddy Wanamaker seemed very pre-occupied with the newest addition to their house-party, the Comte de Maud’huy. It came out that the two young men had met the year before in Monte Carlo and shared some mutual acquaintances and interests–mainly women and gambling.
Vera responded to the lack of attention peevishly all through dinner. She was practically sulking, even as their host had the rest of them in stitches with his off-color antics. Harpo’s stories and jokes took on a decidedly scandalous nature in private–far more bawdy than his stage and screen character. He wore his famous mop of a wig with coat tails for the pre-dinner “show,” having left his horn behind for the evening. Before they were seated for dinner, he removed his wig and took on the demeanor of a somewhat regular gentleman.
While Vera’s disappointment troubled Sylvia, she thought it was far better than the alternative. Sylvia loosened her grip on her poor sister and encouraged her to relax with some champagne.
Afters finished, their host rolled his famous harp into the dining hall and begged Sylvia to join him. He waxed poetic about her siren’s voice until the other guests coaxed her to perform. She sang Gershwin and Berlin to his strumming as the guests sipped languidly.
The full moon glazed the glass of the French doors outside while the candles glowed within and Sylvia found herself caught up in the romantic mood. There was some discussion about the party going dancing at Caravalles and, naturally, a vote for bacon and eggs at Maxime’s in the wee hours. Then Sylvia noticed Roddy was no longer in the room. She snapped to attention and quickly glanced around the table.
“Has anyone seen Vera?”
“I was mesmerized by your swan song,” Harpo offered sweetly.
“I believe she went for a stroll with that delicious Wanamaker,” one of the guests added.
Pointed glances and chuckles filled the room and Sylvia panicked.
“I think I’ll just pop out and tell her we’re off to Caravalles,” she said, standing.
Sylvia didn’t bother to check the powder room. Nor did she look right outside on the upper patio. She knew her sister would be wrapped in secluded moonglow on a night like this one. At her age, with her hopes and fancies, there was only one way to find Vera and that was to find Roddy. Sylvia had let down her guard for an instant and now deeply regretted it.
She followed the gravel path that led to Harpo’s terraced garden. It graduated down into a lower patio with a tiled fountain, surrounded by a low wall for seating. Here it was overgrown with pines and shrubs and made it difficult for Sylvia to see, even with the unusual brightness of the evening.
At the fountain, the path divided in two. To the left was an open garden with an expanse of glowing lawn and a Badminton net. To the right, the path dipped lower and was lined with olive trees and overhung with honeysuckle vine. Sylvia darted right with her heart beating in her ears. The fat moon now seemed to her like a menacing spotlight ready to uncover her regret and not the romantic companion it had seemed earlier from the dining hall.
At the far right corner of the olive grove she made out two dark figures entwined on a stone bench. The back of Roddy’s white collar flashed and she was about to call out to Vera when a branch snapped under her shoe. The two figures startled and turned towards her. Sylvia then saw the glow of two collars and four white cuffs in the moonlight. She had surprised Roddy and the Comte.
The movement of another dark silhouette caught Sylvia’s eye as it disconnected from a nearby olive tree and moved quickly away from the bench, toward the bottom of the grove. As the fleeing shadow moved between the trees, the moon caught a delicate ivory arm and Sylvia saw the swirl of black crepe that her sister had been so proud of.