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The sound of a book hitting the floor hard awakened me. I pried open protesting, heavy eyes. They flew wide when I saw her.
Marlene Dietrich. Or her ghost, actually.
In a frilly black night wrap and not much else. She rose like the spirit she was, picked up the book and threw it down once more. Harder.
"Deine mutter hurt in der stadt!"
"Ah, do I want to know what that means?"
She spun her ghost chair around, sitting with easy grace upon it so she leaned upon its high back, and looked hotly at me. "THE PASSAGE! Its author ... oh, there are no good English words. Dorf trottel!"
Marlene smiled wickedly. "And no, you do not want to know the meaning of that either."
She shook her head. "It is like listening to a good joke told badly. Much build-up for little pay-off."
Haunted eyes stabbed into me. "Liebling, the end of the rainbow is just another lonely place where hopes and dreams slowly fade away."
Her long blonde hair slid to half cover her face as she leaned forward. "Do you want that single moment they call fame ... or do you want to touch the heart?"
"You have to ask?"
Her smile illuminated her lovely face, showing the lonely soul within. "Ah, Ich liebe dich."
"Do I want to know the meaning of that?"
Her smile rivaled Mona Lisa's. "No, but later, if you are lucky, I will show you anyway."
She suddenly frowned. Not bending to pick up the book, she merely pounded a pretty foot on it. "He wants that moment ... and the money that writing bestsellers will give him. Ha. He promised vampires and gave endless pages of literary backstory. Bah."
She jabbed a long, slender finger at me. "You want to touch the heart, to write a story that others will come back to again and again?"
"Then, you must give them dreams, danger, mystery ... and most importantly, you must give them love."
She sat up, running those long fingers through her wavy tangle of hair. "And you must not make it easy, liebling. There must be two problems : one inside the hero -- one outside him."
She looked intently at me, her eyes sparkling like knife points. "Your hero must be his own greatest enemy not some Nazi. Nazi's. Ha! They give him something to hit when he wants to hit himself."
Marlene sighed, her eyes looking into places that seemed to break her heart. "If we have the wit, we can conquer those who would bind us. But against ourselves ...."
She bowed her head, slowly raising it. "Against ourselves, we need help. We need love. The fire burning from one good heart will draw us out of the darkness of ourselves and onto the road leading to healing, to the light. Perhaps not triumph but ...."
She hugged herself. "Ah, but to die in the arms of one you love and who loves you ... that is a victory no Nazi can take away."
Marlene tapped the laptop by my bed. "Here is the stuff dreams are made of, liebling."
Her eyes looked beyond me. "Set your stage quickly. Bring all the players on stage in the first three chapters. Be honest with the audience : let them know who the hero is so that they can attach their hearts to him or her -- tell them the theme :
does money equal success, does fame, or does the trust of one good man mean your life has not been in vain?"
She blinked back sudden tears. "Let the readers have fun with your heroes. Toss everything in the air. Snatch happiness and safety from their heroes. Give the hero one slim chance to get it all back. Take that all away."
Marlene smiled bitterly. "Life is quite good at that. But fiction, unlike life, must end well if you would have publishers buy your tale. Give them that happy ending. Oh, after much darkness, storm, and strife, of course."
Her smile was brittle. "Bring everything down to a single, seemingly impossible showdown. Make the enemy unbeatable."
Marlene's lips brushed my ear. "And unlike life, let the hero win and come away wiser, better, stronger."
"You did walk away a winner : stronger, wiser, and better."
Marlene cocked her head, letting her hair become a wavy waterfall.
"Dass Liebe, die aus Trümmern auferstand,
Reicher als einst an Größe ist und Kraft."
In a husk, Marlene translated,
"And ruin'd love, when it is built anew,
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater."
"Shakespeare," I said.
"Truth," Marlene smiled sadly.
***************December 7th Post Script :
On one of Marlene's last pictures before WWII broke out, a lowly assistant director was sent home with a high fever, along with harsh words for ever having shown up. He awakened late in the evening to find a woman on her hands and knees scrubbing his kitchen floor. It was the star of the picture he was working on : Marlene Dietrich.
She had heard he lived alone and had brought over some hot chicken soup. Finding his kitchen floor could stand a washing, she was doing the job herself.
For three solid years during WWII, Marlene entertained our troops on the front lines, despite a death sentence on her head. She was with the troops in winter frosts and under broiling sun.
She bathed out of a helmet like an infantryman, slept on the ground, and refused to be evacuated when artillary pounded the ground around her. She was willing to do anything to amuse the troops : playing musical saw and wearing a jeweled sheath over long G.I. underwear to parade to the sound of enemy fire in the distance.
3 years. And she didn't make one movie all that time and cared not a bit. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom. Hitler would have given her a bullet ... after long hours of torture.
Ernest Hemingway wrote of her : "If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and the timeless loveliness of her face. It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it."
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