Festival of Festivals
Myra turned on the eleven o’clock news,
and watched Lisa LaFlamme cover the latest attack in Syria and the American election. When
the segment on TIFF came on, though, she went into the kitchen to put on the kettle. After
all, Busted had debuted at the Toronto Film Festival: she remembered its
premiere. Barely days after Don’s funeral it had been. His tickets had still been
displayed on the mantelpiece, for she had not been able to bring herself to tidy them
into the blue box. However, that did not mean that she wanted to use them. Not without
him! Then, in the end, she had changed her mind. Duty drove her: he would have wanted
it; he had so looked forward to it. She hired a babysitter, dressed in her best party
dress, and headed downtown in a taxi.
She, Myra Schanke, had walked the red carpet! (Well, everyone going in had trod the
carpet: it was almost as broad as the sidewalk.) No lights had flashed for her; no
reporters had thrust mikes under her nose, nor fans requested autographs. She was
unremarkable and unremarked; she simply walked past as they focused on others.
The party had been full of people she didn’t recognize, and a few famous faces she had
not dared to approach. Finally, she had spotted Alix Logan across the room, pressed by
fans. For a long while, she had hesitated, hiding her uncertainty behind a glass of cheap
champagne. Then, finally, for Don’s sake, she had made her way through the crowd.
“Ms Logan,” she had begun, not sure how to go on. There was a burly man at the actress’s
side, his attention sharp on her—a bodyguard, she realized. “Ms Logan, we
The actress smiled automatically.
“My husband—Detective Schanke?—he was a consultant on your film.”
“Oh, John! Yes, of course. I remember him so well: he and his partner. Such a nice
man, Detective Knight, so handsome and helpful.” Alix looked round. “He
couldn’t make it? What a pity.” Again she flashed those famous teeth.
“No,” said Myra. “No, he couldn’t make it.” Either the bombings
hadn’t been reported in the American media, or the actress didn’t follow the news.
“Well, it was good to meet you,” said Alix brightly. She thrust out her hand; and Myra shook it.
“See you at the Oscars!”
“We’re going over to Grandma’s in half an hour. And no: you can’t take it with
you. So, whatever you’re doing, finish up.”
Over in the corner of the den, Josie was curled on the floor with a jigsaw puzzle. She
didn’t look up.
“Do we have to go?” protested Donny. Even as he talked, his thumbs were busy.
“Yes,” said Jenny. “I told you days ago, so there’s no point in looking at me like
that. You can play when we get home.” Prudently, she added, “For an hour maybe
before bedtime, if we’re back by then.”
“But we’re always going to Grandma’s!”
Josie looked up. “He’s right, you know.”
As their grandmother still lived in the old family home only a half hour’s drive away, this was true.
“But this is special,” Jenny said. “Grandpa’s movie is on TV.” She could hear
a coaxing whine in her voice. More firmly, she went on, “She wants to see it again;
and I promised we’d make an evening of it.”
“Oh, not again,” Josie cried. “Come on, Mum. We saw it on his birthday
… on those scratchy tapes of hers, too.”
“Well, this time it’s on TV,” said Jenny, and added, “We’re going,”” in a voice
that was flat and firm enough to stop further protest. What she did not explain—for
she doubted the kids were old enough to understand—was her feeling that her mother
needed their company tonight.
Seeing Busted … again … meant a lot to Myra. More than it did to Jenny, let
alone the grandchildren. She knew that, with her head if not her heart. (Never in
her heart.) So she knew why Jenny had insisted that the whole family would love to
come over and watch with her. In truth, she wanted to see the film alone, so that
she might sit in solitude afterwards with her memories. On the other hand, she was
grateful—less for the company than for the love and care that it demonstrated. So
she baked a batch of brownies and slathered extra-thick icing. It would, she thought,
be some compensation (to the kids, at least) for the hours they were giving up to her.
She cut the brownies in the pan and put a paper doily on the plate. The children would
not appreciate the fancy presentation, but Jenny would; moreover she would know that
her mother was taking her usual pains with appearance, and not sinking into depression
again. It had not been easy after Don’s death. A hole had been torn in the fabric of
the world: his empty chair at dinner and the pillow beside hers in bed were only the daily
reminder. It had taken years—literally years—before she’d
managed to pick up the threads of her life and cobble over the emptiness. (And meanwhile, of course,
she had still had to be there for Jenny.)
She cherished every memory. She had never wanted to move on. Yet still things slipped out of mind.
Photo albums had been her preserve. So a couple of the best pictures, blown up and
framed, presided in the living room: one on the table by his armchair and the other on the
mantelpiece. His face, never changing, never forgotten. Always dear. She had long since
gone grey, but he never would.
And at first she could hear him in her head. With a dry comment, perhaps, as she watched
the TV news. Or praising her cake, as he’d done so often (just before stealing a dollop
of icing, and licking his finger with loud smacking appreciation). Now, though … now she
woke, once in a while, from a dream that he was alive: amnesia for years perhaps, finally
returned home. Yet, once her eyes were open, she could only remember that she had heard his
voice and known it instantly.
Don had been movie-mad; yet he’d never got the hang of the home movie camera he’d bought
when Jenny was small. They had a few feet of footage of her as a toddler, at her fourth
birthday party, and swimming in the lake that time at the cottage. Don had shot the film,
and appeared in none of it.
His part in Busted was tiny; still, he had a few precious lines that meant she could
hear him again. Only for a couple of seconds; but it was him. Real; not slipping
from memory. Oh, he was in costume: a constable’s uniform; and generic, not the one he’d
worn when they’d been dating. But it was his walk, his talk ... his
stance as he frisked the perp, and his own dear face alive, as he turned his head for
that one brief close-up.
In the back seat, the kids stared out the windows, bored with the routine route. Her
husband, who was driving, kept his eye on the weekend traffic. Though Jenny had to keep
one ear cocked automatically for trouble from the back seat, her mind was mostly free to wander.
Her father had been so excited to be chosen police consultant for the new Alix Logan
flick. Even as a child, Jenny had thought nothing odd about it’s being made in Toronto: the
film industry in Hollywood North was a major money-spinner. Still, as an adult, she
couldn’t help but wonder a little how Dad had got the job. (She’d never bothered to ask
her mother, who probably knew the details.) Back then, though, what had mattered to her
was the holiday that she didn’t get to take because he’d used his days off instead so
that he could be on the movie set.
“Alix Logan!!!” Dad had cried. Mum had said all the right things. Jenny had not been so
impressed. She had barely heard of Alix Logan. Now, if it had been Robin Williams or
Macauley Culkin! That would have been exciting. But Jenny had never gone to
an Alix Logan movie, being too young for cleavage and shoot-outs. Still, Dad was so
thrilled at the chance to be on the set that he had wanted her to share his joy. So,
each night for a whole week, she’d been allowed to skimp her homework so that they could
all sit together in the living room to watch films rented from the local Rogers outlet. (“This
is what Daddy’s going to be doing, honeybunch.”) Then came the great day when he drove
to the studio instead of the station. That night he had came home and recounted every
detail, twice over and more; and Myra had hung on his description of
“Alix”. (“That’s ‘Ms Logan’ to you, young lady.”) Over the
next few days, his ebullience had diminished; but, if he had confided in his wife, it had not been
clear to Jenny how her Dad’s frustration had grown as he realized the slant the director
was giving each shot. No one, though, could have missed his glee when “Alix”
insisted on a ride-along.
And then suddenly it was over. The film wrapped and went into post-production; Dad went
back to work; and life returned to normal.
(Jenny sighed for the loss of that “normal”. It had lasted so short a time; and those final
days could have been truly savoured … if she had known.)
It takes months to finish a movie after all the footage has been filmed; but there are
deadlines that matter. Alix Logan had wanted authenticity: the respect of the critics
and a new start to her career. She wanted the meaty, heart-fraught parts that win Best
Actress awards. She wanted an Oscar. For this, there was no better route than a film debut
at one of the major festivals.
Her Dad had been sent tickets, and an invitation to the party. He’d been
cock-a-hoop about both, and talked about them for days. (“The
Festival of Festivals!” he had cried. Not until years later had she realized that had not
been his superlative, but TIFF’s old name.) Looking
back from an adult perspective, Jenny suspected that his fellow detectives must have been
utterly fed up in the first twenty-four hours. She almost pitied his
partner—except that she’d had it for breakfast and dinner. There had
doubtless been pillow talk after her parents had gone to bed.
The tickets had been set upright on the mantelpiece, with an edge tucked safely behind a
vase, prominent for all to see. Dad had pointed them out to anyone who came by—from
Detective Knight to her grandparents, the next-door neighbour, cops in his bowling
club … the Maytag guy when the washer broke. Unexpectedly, a grin broke on Jenny’s face
as she remembered the repairman, cornered on his way to the basement. (Her husband saw
her smile out of the corner of his eye, glanced over puzzled, but turned back to the road
ahead as the light turned green.)
Oh, Dad had so looked forward to opening night.
When they turned off into the side street, she saw a familiar car already in the driveway;
and her husband had to slow and search further along to find a spot to park. The children
ran ahead; and she followed slowly as he got out his keys and locked the doors.
Josie reached up to push the doorbell; and, as Jenny mounted the stairs, she could hear the
chime of “Shave and a haircut” (picked by Dad to her mother’s rolled eyes, and never changed
after his death).
“Uncle Joe!” cried the kids, as the door opened.
She looked over their heads into his eyes and said, “I guess you read the listings in
Star Week too?”
Joe Stonetree’s call had been unexpected; but he dropped by often. Had done, ever since
Don died: he’d worked at the 27th Precinct for so long, after all. The transfer to the
96th had been barely a year before the plane crash; and Captain Stonetree took care of his
own. Oh, Don’s last partner had come round now and then for a few months before that mysterious
departure of his; but “Uncle Joe” became a hardy perennial, relied on to help with blocked
toilets, cleaning the eaves, and putting up the screens on the windows in the spring. Myra
started a second batch of brownies, and left him to open the door when the others arrived.
Jenny drifted into the kitchen to help; and the men chatted while the children went out to
the garden. The sun slipped below the horizon: the movie started at eight. Myra carried
out the first batch of brownies, poured milk, and made coffee: cups and saucers, instead of
mugs; and the silver cream and sugar that came from Grandma Schanke when she died. The
children were called inside from the twilit yard with time to settle cross-legged on the
floor; Jenny and her husband took the couch; and Joe, as he so often did when there were others
there, sat in Don’s armchair. Then he reached over to her side of the table for the remote.
After the last of the commercials came the opening credits: the studio logo; “Alix Logan”,
large and bold, “in Busted”. The music (by Jerry Goldsmith) had been a bestseller
in its day, played daily on the radio. At the time, Myra could hardly bear to hear it; now
it was a comfort. She knew the movie so well.
Indeed, Busted was so familiar that the children were calling out lines and directions
before the actors could get the words out. “Watch out behind you!” cried Donny. Jenny rolled
her eyes; and Myra was irresistibly reminded of the audience at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In one of the commercials, she put on more coffee. In the next one, she poured milk and
brought out the second batch of brownies. Jenny joined her to carry in the tray.
Don’s scene was in the next segment. Everyone knew it was coming. Jenny leaned forward to
tap the children’s shoulders and frown; Josie shrugged her off, with an impatient glance. They
knew; and they stayed quiet—if only for Grandma’s sake, Myra thought. (They
were good kids.)
“It’s not as bad as the critics said,” commented Jenny’s husband as the final credits
rolled. “Not that Logan was ever much of an actress—what’s she doing
these days?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I saw a couple of her other films
when I was a kid.” He grinned. “You’ve got to admit they were a bit different.”
He’d said it before. (Would no doubt say it again.) The family commentary was almost as
familiar as the dialogue. Myra steeled herself for his next words: “You know what that
critic from the Examiner wrote—”
Jenny broke in. “Not in front of the kids.”
Her husband looked startled. Yes, thought Myra with some surprise, on Don’s birthday
this year, her son-in-law had been out of town. The old jokes
weren’t going to pass right over the children’s heads nowadays.
“What did she say, Daddy?” asked Donny.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jenny. “It was a long time ago.”
“It was a different film critic back then,” said Myra. “A man.”
As an actress, Alix Logan has two main assets; and in that bulky uniform, no one gets
a good look at either of them. Julia Roberts she ain’t, folks. She should stick to the
action flicks that made her name, and spare the movie-going public her wish fulfilment
fantasies of Oscar stardom.
Myra could practically recite it from memory (and did not want to have to explain it to the
kids!) and had no doubt that Jenny felt the same way. Indeed, she said almost immediately
that it was time they thought of leaving—well, the children did need to get home
to bed—and, after good-byes, they headed out to the car, leaving the place
feeling remarkably empty and quiet behind them.
“The children do occupy the space, don’t they?” she heard Joe say as she stood at the door,
watching them down the path.
“It’s lovely having them over,” she replied.
Joe lingered for a while, listening as she reminisced. Then he heaved himself out of
Don’s chair, saying that he ought to be going himself. With a final promise to give her
a call soon, he also left; and finally, finally, she had the place to herself.
It was so many years ago, she thought. So many years; and almost to the day. The plane
had gone down in September, with the summer warmth lingering.
The tiny part in Busted was her last eternal glimpse of Donald G. Schanke.
In “Amateur Night” we are never told the name of the Alix Logan movie that is being
filmed. I decided that a title for it was needed in this story; so I made one up.
Lisa LaFlamme is the late-night news anchor on CTV News. Star Week is the broadcast
listings magazine published by the Toronto Star in their Saturday edition.
“The Festival of Festivals” is the original name for the Toronto International Film
Festival (TIFF). It was renamed in 1994.
This story was written as a gift for Brightknightie in the 2016
FK Fic Fest exchange to her prompt:
The big, red-carpet premiere of the Alix Logan movie that’s
being filmed in the second-season episode “Amateur Night.” (Could be set
before, after, or instead of “Black Buddha, Part 1.”)
Characters: Your choice, but must
mention Schanke if he does not appear himself.
“Festival of Festivals” was uploaded to
the Archive of Our Own on 25 September 2016, and released from the queue on 2 October. It was
posted both here and to FKFIC-L on 6 October after the gift exchange was over.