Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Lost Week of the Year

by Paula Gail Benson

Mural of La Reunion Colony at Hyatt Regency in Dallas

Until Burgess Russell mentioned it, I'd never thought of that time twenty years before as a "lost week." I had remembered it was the last week we were together as the La Reunion Theatre Repertory Company of Dallas, Texas, before each of us went bravely forth to conquer our own worlds, which probably ended up looking very different than any of us had ever imagined they would be. It also had been the final week of the year, and we'd all remained together to celebrate our closing performances and witness Deely Ambrose's first marriage.

Now, deja vu, twenty years later, at my mother’s insistence instead of from my pleading, I had returned to the city where for one brief fall season, I had been a principal actress in a company of players, taking on the roles of Jo in Little Women, Nancy in the musical Oliver!, and Flo Owens, the mother, in William Inge’s Picnic.

Ordinarily, I would have begged off or just gone for the ceremony. It meant being away from my two full time jobs, as a theater professor at a small southern college and the only Independent elected to my State’s Senate, at a crucial time -- when I’d be balancing grading exams with preparing for the new session.

Despite my two perfectly valid excuses, Mother encouraged me to take a week’s break and attend the post-Christmas, pre- and post-nuptial events with her. She needed to fulfill her obligation to support Deely’s mom, one of her closest friends (Mother only had several thousand). Besides, as Mother put it, one did not abandon a sorority sister overseeing her daughter’s wedding.

I couldn’t help asking. “Even though she had practice with Deely’s first wedding to Marvelous Marvin and Deely’s second destination elopement with -- what was his name?”

Mother closed her eyes and shook her head. “Sarcasm is so unbecoming on you, Carolyn Louise. I do hope you’ll be more pleasant around all those wealthy Texans. Some of them may be looking to finance a rising political star’s campaign.”

I figured: (1) the likelihood of Texas money coming to an Independent’s campaign in another state seemed nonexistent; (2) Mother wanted to find out how Deely had three shots at matrimony, even though two were to Marvelous Marvin, while I seemed satisfied with none; and (3) Mother reasoned since I hadn’t found any prospects in my own neck of the woods, broadening the scope to consider eligible, millionaire Texans might up my chances.

Then, Burgess, who onstage had played my Professor Bhaer and Bill Sikes and off stage composed with me a two-person show of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (we were young and foolish and certain we could get the rights), sent me a curt email: “My dear, you know being alive is an inconvenience because the living can be hurt. I’ll send foul winds in your direction if you don’t come see me in Dallas.” 

Deely told me Burgess had end stage renal disease without hope for a transplant. How could I ignore his invitation?

When I arrived at the Irving dialysis center, the manager met me skeptically. “Usually, we don’t allow visitors because we’re limited on space and want to preserve our patients’ confidentiality, but I understand you’re only here a short time and Mr. Russell has become something of a special case.”

She said the last two words as if they left a bad taste in her mouth. I nodded silently, not really surprised.

“Until he developed an infection, he received his treatments at home,” she continued. “He’s having them here briefly at the request of his doctor, even though he has a tendency to be disruptive.”

I nodded again. Burgess always did like to play to a crowd.

She ushered me into a room of comfortable chairs set up with medical equipment and access to entertainment centers. Several were occupied with patients who glanced up from books or iPads as we passed by. Burgess was at the end of the line, ensconced in his lounger with equipment attached, smiling as I approached.

“If it isn’t the renowned playwright C.L. Mitchell, in the flesh. I see you’ve returned to the site of your wayward past.”

“Mr. Russell,” the manager cautioned. “You promised to be good if we accommodated your visitor.”

He gave her a roguish frown. “My dear, I promised to behave. Behavior is not always necessarily good.”

She looked back at me. “Please do what you can to keep him calm and . . . contained.”

I nodded a final time, taking the seat that had been placed for me. She shook her head and left us.

“Unfortunately, they limit my movement while plugged into their devices. So, just accept a virtual kiss, kiss, hug, hug.”

“Accepted. You look wonderful.”

“Thank you for lying. I see you’ve returned to your natural blonde. Did your mother ever forgive you for dying your hair auburn?”

I laughed, remembering how I had dreaded telling her and being glad that Deely’s mother had beaten me to it. “She never minded enhancing natural color, it was just the dramatic change that she viewed as ‘deception.’”

He grimaced. “Actors don’t deceive. They portray. I assume you never convinced her that a blonde should not play Jo.”

“I never expected to play Jo or Nancy. With the combination, I felt obliged to go auburn. I think she finally came to understand, but she was still very happy when I returned to my natural shade.  Of course, she always thought you had led me to the salon.”

He laughed. “I can’t take credit for that, even though I do pride myself on being a corrupting influence.”

“Only with pranks. You were a regular George Clooney-style pied piper.”

“And, you were always the image of the sweet Southern belle. Although I sensed the mischief inside you. I just helped draw it out.”

Perhaps he did at that. “So, for what mischief have you lured me here today?”

He rolled his eyes. “That must be the get-to-the-point legislator coming out. The sweet Southern belle would have let me natter on a while longer. But, I’ll act out the scene you’ve given me. Remember your chief rival from the company, Janine?”

Burgess always had read people accurately. Janine coveted my major roles while rejoicing each time I drew the age lines on my face to play the cautionary mother to her beautiful Madge in Picnic. Her talent and versatility came with extreme self-assurance. Being a Dallas native, she expected to have all the key parts in the company and viewed me as an interloper. She and I sparred onstage as Jo and Amy in Little Women and shared no scenes in Oliver!, where she was the funeral director’s wife, Mrs. Sowerberry.

“Yes, I remember her, but I’ve had no contact since we finished the season. I always thought we might have been friends if we hadn’t met as competitors.

“So did I. Hasn't Deely kept you up-to-date on her life?”

When I shook my head, he sighed. “Then, you don’t know she married Damon?”

The La Reunion Company’s director? I had heard that he went on to a lucrative career directing commercials. “Wasn’t he already married?”

“Ah, yes. A charming young woman named Lacy. She used to provide him all the adoring glances he needed. Unfortunately, in the end, that didn’t satisfy either of them.”

I remembered seeing Lacy at our final cast party. “What was that miniature dog she carried in her tote? Everyone oohed and aahed over it.”

“A rare breed, relatively new at the time. A Mi-Ki. Mixture of Maltese, Papillion, and Japanese Chin. Partially led to the downfall of her marriage.”


Burgess gave me a disapproving glance. “Took her focus off Damon, who wanted no kids or animals to interfere with him being the sole object of her affections. Lacy wanted to breed Mi-Kis and he insisted her pet be neutered.”

I had always interpreted Damon’s demands as being for the good of the shows. At home and in public, I guess he craved all the attention. “How sad. Yet, I can’t imagine Janine settling with becoming Damon’s arm candy.”

Burgess grinned. “I’m glad to see that I’ve piqued your interest. During that lost week of the year, a child was conceived. I’ve kept the secret all this time. Now, it needs to be revealed. You can help to do that.”

I blinked, then stared at his eager face. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t question me. Just live in the moment. As we used to when we developed our two-character play. Now, reach into my saddle bag and get the package I’ve placed there.”

I followed his instructions, withdrawing a clasped and sealed 8” by 11” envelope. Janine’s name was on the outside.

“You make the delivery for me,” he instructed.

“But, I have no idea how to find her.”

“You won’t need to. Deely’s invited her to the wedding.”


That evening, Deely and I sat in the parlor of her parents’ penthouse looking at a photo album while our mothers spent a night on the town. “I didn’t realize your wedding would be a reunion of the La Reunion company,” I said.

Deely gazed off into space, her palm propped against her chin. “You know, La Reunion, the historical community was a failed utopia, but at least some of its members remained and became leading citizens of what became Dallas. I guess that’s what happened to most of us involved with the La Reunion theatre company. Marv and I talked about it when we decided to get remarried. We knew we would be facing all those people again and wanted to gather them together as we made our new beginning.”

“What do you know about a hidden child?”

That question snapped her out of her hazy reverie. “”What are you talking about?”

“Burgess told me that a child was conceived the last weekend we were all together. He gave me a package I’m supposed to deliver to Janine at the reception.”

“Wow.” Deely’s eyes squinted. I considered warning her about wrinkles, when she began to laugh. “What does the package look like?”

“Just a business envelope.”

“So, what’s inside?”

“It’s sealed and addressed to Janine.”

Deely laughed again. “You ninny. He’s playing you. He can’t be at the reception, so he’s creating a scene to bring you and Janine back together.” Her eyes widened. “You know he always did like to talk in metaphors. Maybe he’s made you a mama and you just don’t know it yet.”

Now, she’d completely lost me. “What?”

Deely jumped up, pacing as she worked out Burgess’ possible plan. “He inherited scads of money from an aunt. I’ll bet he somehow acquired the rights to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir so you can produce the two-character play you both created. He wants you to see Janine’s face when she opens the envelope and finds the contract inside.”

I shook my head. “Burgess and I talked about how Janine and I might have been friends. He seemed in a conciliatory mood. I don’t think he’d be looking to renew the rivalry.”

Deely sat down. “Well, you could just look inside the envelope.”

I shook my head. “That would seem like a betrayal.”

Deely shrugged. “Then, deal with the consequences when you see Janine. Only, encourage her to follow you to a secluded spot. Our mothers won’t tolerate a disturbance at the wedding.”


I spent that night in restless sleep, dreaming I was in a Texas-sized production of King Leartaking place at the La Reunion colony. Lacy and Janine were the evil daughters Goneril and Regan and Deely played her namesake Cordelia. When the actor playing Lear turned to face me, I realized it was Burgess and suspected I had been cast as the Fool. The thought woke me and I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.

Sitting in the darkness, I tried to reason through the dream. I thought back to the final cast party and realized during that evening I had watched Burgess privately comfort each of those women. Why? Did Lacy suspect her husband would be leaving her? Was Janine questioning a future with Damon? Could Deely have regretted committing to Marv? Who might have conceived the hidden child?

I yawned my way through the next day helping Deely prepare for her evening wedding at the Hyatt Regency on Reunion Boulevard, where she and Marvin had attended their high school prom. Since Deely and her mother had everything under control, I went to my bedroom to put on the peach gown I had brought to wear. As I sat contemplating my reflection in the mirror, Mother passed by the door, then returned to look at me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing. You look quite lovely.”

I knew it would be an evening of unexpected happenings.


At the reception, everyone seemed to be basking in the joy of the reunited couple. I had been sipping some champagne when I heard a voice behind me.

“You’ve done well in your career.”

I turned to find Damon standing alone, looking dashing in his tux.

“Thank you. I understand you also have excelled.”

He leaned his head to one side. “I’ve been fortunate to make money, but I’ve missed live theatre. I’ve followed your plays and admire your work. Perhaps I’ll have the chance to direct one someday.”

I was surprised how much his compliment meant. “You gave me a chance I never thought I would have.”

He smiled. “You had real acting talent, but I imagine your more practical nature led you to want the control a director or playwright would exercise.”

I took another sip of champagne. “I guess we’ve each found the paths that were best for us to travel.”

He made a gruff throaty noise like a haughty laugh. “But, politics, too? God help you!” With that remark, he turned and was gone. Like Santa Claus. Like the influence he had been in my life.

“I didn’t mean to frighten him away.”

Turning toward the new voice, I found myself facing Janine. She remained tall, proud, and self-assured. Her azure blue gown sparkled with sequins and emphasized her svelte curves. Her sly smile still taunted me.

“Did you?” I asked. “Frighten him away?”

Her smile parted to reveal perfectly aligned, very white teeth. “I certainly hope so. I spent the worst six months of my life married to him.”

I’d have to remember to tell Mother that Texas marriages might not be the most durable. “You look well,” I replied, not knowing what else to say.

“My situation is much improved.”

A white-haired gentleman, stooped yet dignified in his tux, came up beside her. “May I get you another drink, Janey?”

She gave his cheek a kiss. “I’ll nurse along what I have. You circulate while I catch up with a former associate.”

The gentleman’s eyes twinkled as he gave me a nod, then moved on. I noticed Janine made no effort to introduce us and wondered if she still considered me a threat.

Janine’s head inclined in the direction where Damon had disappeared. “I traded in the lone star for a real gem. My current spouse is in banking.”

I lifted my glass in her direction. “Congratulations.”

She swirled the contents of her glass. “Who could have imagined what we’ve both become?”

The thought must have hit us at the same time. “Burgess,” we said together, before laughing.

“I’ve been worried about him lately,” she told me. “At first, they didn’t know how he’d developed the infection that set him back. The silly fool knew he wasn’t supposed to allow a dog on his bed while he was on home dialysis. I understand the doctors traced the infection back to dog bacteria.”

My surprised expression seemed to startle her. “What’s happened?” she asked. “He’s not worse, is he?”

“No. I saw him the other day and he was very much himself. He asked me to bring a package to you. Do you think we can find a private spot?”

As I retrieved the envelope from my vehicle, Janine got us a table in the bar. I sat, handed the package to her, and watched as she opened the seal. She withdrew a photo. Her pensive expression melted into a happy smile.

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“That a child had been conceived during that last week we were all together. He called it the lost week of the year.”

“But, he didn’t tell you who was lost?”

I shook my head.

She turned the photo for me to see. It was a typical black and white head shot. Of a dog.

“Is that Lacy’s Mi-Ki?”

“Not the original, but the latest in the dynasty.”

“But, I thought Damon insisted that her dog be neutered.”

Janine’s sly smile returned. “And, he was. But, only after going missing for perhaps the happiest week of his life. Deely helped with the kidnapping, even in the midst of her first wedding preparations. Then, Burgess and I found every fertile Mi-Ki we could in the area.” Janine studied the photo. It’s good to know our efforts were a success.” For a moment, she was silent. “It meant Lacy wasn’t left alone when Damon divorced her.

By asking me to deliver the package, Burgess must have wanted me to see this side of Janine. It sounds as if everything turned out as it should.”

She nodded. “I just wish Burgess hadn’t offered to dog sit when he knew he shouldn’t.”

Remembering Burgess’ words to the dialysis center manager, I replied, “I guess even bad behavior can lead to good. It seems to in this case.”



  1. Such a sweet story! Thanks for sharing, Paula. And hope you had a very Merry Christmas. :-)

  2. Art, thank you so much! I appreciated your reading and support for my first Caro story in the Fish or Cut Bait Guppy anthology. Your comment here is a present to me. Many thanks! Wishing you and your family the happiiest of holidays!

  3. A great read for the day after Christmas, when I need to get the world back into focus. It's such a satisfying story.

  4. Kathleen, thank you so much. It's such a privilege to be a blogging partner here at WWK with you! Best wishes for a terrific New Year!

  5. So glad I saw your comment on Facebook. I was out of town and then the flu/cold got me. Reading your story again today was a treat! :) Best wishes for the new year!

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  7. What a wonderful story! And the perfect way to end 2019.

  8. Shari and Kait, thank you so much for your kind words! Shari, I hope you are feeling better soon.

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