She had been a powerful woman. Her cocktail parties had once been were the movers and shakers made their deals. Then she had turned reclusive and closed her salon. It wasn’t quite Sunset Boulevard, she had no intention of turning into Norma Desmond but as she had grown older the games seemed less interesting. There was a monthly check from prudent investments and a law firm that was adequate protection from those who would take advantage of the elderly with money. Aside from that she had her own interests and was quite happy to pursue her own quiet hobbies.
Occasionally she was remembered. An author had once written her into a novel that was famous for a day. As the years went on the interest in the real woman behind the literary ingénue waned. While she had indeed been young when she’d had the affair with the author she’d never been innocent and naive as she’d been portrayed. In fact she’d been a little ruthless in her youth and did what she had to in order to get where she was. She’d never responded to requests for interviews before why should she respond to this one? Maybe she was just bored.
When she’d been the Belle of the social whirl she’d had a staff to take care of the mundane things like responding to inquiries. It wasn’t like she didn’t know how, she maintained a brisk correspondence with other philatelists some of whom received messages with more detail than discussion of stamps. She would mention the weather at the summer cottage or even describe a shopping adventure in the city. William Dunham doctoral student in English literature at Columbia University was going to receive more she planned to give him the interview of a lifetime. Friends who had known her in the wicked old days would have shivered a little bit at the chuckle that accompanied the stroke of the send button on that invitation.
Billy Dunham was in the library when he received the invitation. He was the kind of scholar that lived inside books. His roommates had no idea why he was so excited. For them Kathleen Millay was a dry name from history that wasn’t very interesting despite the research Billy showed them and the articles others had written about her. All one of them managed was:
“She was pretty hot in a bikini.”
Billy became a little nervous when he arrived at the Côte des Neiges. The huge apartment block had an elaborate bronze gate with an actual doorman who felt it was necessary for Billy to stand in the cold while he verified that he was in fact an authorized guest. It was the kind of place that only the very wealthy could afford to live in and one beyond the dreams of a poor student. Once inside the doorman keyed the elevator and Billy rose to the level of Madame Millay’s foyer.
It was strange after having to pass through the bronze gate and into the ornate atrium of the Côte des Neiges to find himself in another private lobby in front of Madame Millay’s apartment. He rang the doorbell and heard a pleasant chime from inside and then halting uncertain footsteps. Locks clicked and the door opened and there stood Kathleen Millay. Not an old woman at all but youthful and raven haired. She would actually be pretty hot in a bikini.
“Hey are you Billy? I’m Kathy Millay.”
“Kathleen Millay? The one who Gustave Vuze wrote about in Lost Songs?”
“Poor Gustave he’s such a bore. I really shouldn’t have led him on.”
How could this be? Kathleen Millay was well into her second century yet this Kathy Millay who was standing there chatting with Billy about people and things he’d studied was no older than he was.
He frantically ran through the facts in his head. He could remember no children or even nieces or nephews that could have had a child who was the doppelganger of the Kathleen Millay he’d studied.
“Who……who are you?” He stuttered at last
The girl laughed at him. “Who do you think I am?”
“You look exactly like Kathleen Millay but you can’t be her. You can’t be older than twenty two.”
“That’s so sweet. I’m actually twenty five. ” She took Billy’s arm and lead him to a comfortable sofa. “We’ll be comfortable here.” She purred seductively.
They had hardly settled in, Billy was flustered with her closeness and the intimate way she was acting, when Kathy jumped startled.
“I thought I saw someone else!” She said sounding frightened.
Billy looked around. Truthfully he’d had eyes for nobody but the woman next to him and a herd of elephants could have passed by without his notice.
“Ghosts I suppose” Kathy said, “I’m a little bit psychic you know. Every once in a while I see echoes of things that once were.”
Billy was having a hard time concentrating. He had dated a few women but they’d been meek little bookworms like himself. Nothing like this beautiful woman next to him. There was a tray with caviar on the table in front of them. Something else Billy wasn’t familiar with.
“Oh dear I don’t imagine they serve caviar with the blue chicken and fish sticks in a student cafeteria.” Kathy said with a smile. “Here you use this special mother of pearl spoon so the metal doesn’t taint the taste.” She spooned some on a cracker and offered it to him.
Billy was swiftly forgetting the myriad of questions that he’d prepared in light of the ravishing beauty before him. It had to be some practical joke. There was some trick here and the real Kathleen Millay was hiding behind a curtain manipulating the image of herself like the great and powerful Oz once had in the Wizard of Oz. Billy actually looked around for a curtain.
“What’s wrong?” Kathy asked. “You’re looking so pale don’t you want to make love?”
“You know; laying pipe, riding the love machine, the horizontal mambo.”
“What? I came for an interview.”
At this Kathy’s eyes rolled upward and her limp body sprawled forward onto his. Billy struggled for his cell phone to call 911 but he had no idea what he’d say. A woman he’d thought to be over a hundred was actually a girl who’d fainted after propositioning him.
I’m afraid you’ll not find any reception in here. It’s one of the Perks of living in the Côte des Neiges. Rasped a rough voice behind Billy.
“Who are you?” Billy asked as the woman limped into view
“The question you should be asking is: “Who is she?” I am Madame Kathleen Millay.”
“Who is she?”
“She’s my dark secret.” Said the old woman settling into a chair. “Would you like to hear her story?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The source of my fortune, the dark secret that sponsored Kathleen Millay’s rise to power.”
Billy looked at her in amazement. What could she be talking about? None of this made any sense. There had been no hint of it in his study of her.
“I’m a little too old to be embarrassed by past indiscretions. Have you ever heard of the Electric Mothers?”
Billy blushed, every boy had a fantasy of a love doll but puritanical laws had outlawed erotic machinery. There was only one loophole, machines designed to gestate and nurture a child. They were fabulously expensive since the technology of an artificial womb was so much more complex than a mere sex toy. Only the wealthy could purchase them which kept the ordinary citizens chaste while letting the wealthy do what they would since they would anyway.”
“I sold twelve eggs. In essence I whored myself out twelve times since the manufacturers were more concerned with how I looked and my charming personality than my ability to be a mother.”
“You have twelve children?” Billy asked amazed touching the slumped Kathy that was still seated on the couch.
“No, only one. Some fool of an asteroid miner was the only one who took the mother part seriously. The rest I’ve spent a fortune on and destroyed. This is the last one she’s never been out of the box. A collector’s item I’ve only just obtained.”
Billy looked back and forth between the two women. Reality was the wrinkles and varicose veins yet the younger woman was a perfect copy of what Kathleen had been. Billy could see the likeness.
“I’ve killed myself eleven times.” Don’t you think I should do it one last time?” Kathleen asked Billy producing a rather large hand gun.
“No please don’t. She’s so beautiful.”
“Have I really grown that ugly then?” Kathleen pointed the gun at the younger versions temple.
“No you are beautiful too.” Billy blushed again, it was true.
“What am I going to do with the world’s innocents like you. You deserve a long interesting life. That’s what I’ll curse you with.”
“Please, don’t hurt her.”
“Why? She’s only a machine with my image and memories.”
“I think I’m losing my mind.”
“Get out you young fool.” She commanded and he fled the apartment.
He hadn’t quite reached the elevator when there was a loud bang from behind him. Madame Kathleen Millay had committed suicide for the twelfth time. Billy wondered whose footsteps he heard moving around behind the locked door. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.