Life blood, p.7
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       Life Blood, p.7

          

  Chapter Seven

  "Quetzal Manor could have the makings of a great documentary," I wasexplaining to David Roth. "I just need some more information-gatheringfirst, to get a better feeling for what Alex Goddard is up to. So goingback up there will be two birds with one stone. I'll learn more abouthim, and he might even be able to tell me why I haven't been able toget pregnant."

  He was frowning, his usual skeptical self. "How long--?"

  "It's just for the weekend, or maybe a little . . . I'm not sureexactly. I guess it depends on what kinds of tests he's going to run.But the thing is, I have to do it now, while he and I are stillclicking. An 'iron is hot' kind of moment. The only possible problemmight be if I have to push back my schedule for looping dialogue for_Baby Love _and then somebody's out of town."

  "You check with the sound studio to warn them about possiblerescheduling?" He wanted to appear to be fuming. But since he'd invitedme down to his Tribeca loft at least once every three months, now thatI'd finally shown up, he also had a small gleam in his eye. What didthat mean?

  "Yes, but I've already spotted most of the work print, and I've madetentative dates for people to come in. In a week and a half.Everything's still on schedule."

  He leaned back on his white couch, as though trying to regroup. It wasSaturday morning and I'd already made the

  appointment to see Alex Goddard. I was going. I probably should haverun it by David first, but damnit, it was my life.

  Truthfully, though, I'd been dreading telling him all week, so to tryand make him as congenial as possible, I'd arranged to see him at homeand relaxed. It seemed to be working, more or less.

  "Okay, okay, sometimes I guess it's best to just go with your gut," hesaid, beginning to calm down. He'd offered to whip up some brunch whenI first arrived, and now I was feeling sorry I'd turned him down. Ireally did like him. But, alas, only as a friend. "Before I cave intotally, though, do me a favor and tell me some more about this . . .documentary? What, exactly, makes you think it's--"

  "Everything." Whereupon I laid on him the full story of Carly andPaula, the children, and my encounter with Alex Goddard. The only thingI left out was the story of the Hispanic hood since I didn't think hecould handle it.

  "This Quetzal Manor sounds like a funny operation," he declaredsolemnly when I'd finished. "I say the less you have to do with a placelike that, the better. Who knows what's going on."

  "But, David that's what makes it so interesting. The fact that it _is_a 'funny' operation. I really can see a documentary here, after BabyLove is in the can. But I'll never have a chance if I don't get to knowthis guy while I've got a good excuse. That's how my business works."

  "So you're going to go back up there and . . . Is this like goingundercover or something?"

  "Well . . ." What was I going to say? I was actually half beginning tobelieve that Alex Goddard might be able to figure out why Steve and Icouldn't conceive. It was certainly worth a few days of my life,documentary or no documentary. "Look, I really want to find out what'sgoing on. For a lot of reasons."

  He sighed and sipped at his coffee.

  "Morgy, this has got to be quick. Nicky Russo called again. The thingI've learned about loan sharks, they keep your books better than youdo. He knows exactly how much money we've got left and how long we canlast. He's licking his chops, getting ready to eat us whole."

  "What did you tell him?" The very thought of Nicky gave me a chill. Ifwe missed so much as a week on the juice, he'd have the legal right tojust seize my negative. When you're desperate, you sign those kinds ofloans.

  "I told him something I haven't even told you yet." He smiled a wickedgrin. "I know you've been schmoozing Lifetime about a cable deal, butbefore we put the ink to that, I want to finish some new talks I'vestarted with Orion, their distribution people."

  I think I stopped breathing for a second or two. Was there a chance fora theatrical release for _Baby Love_, not just a cable deal?

  "When . . . You've actually met with them? How--?"

  "Late yesterday." He was still grinning. "I ran into Jerry Reiner atMorton's and pitched the picture. Actually, I heard he was in town, soI wore a tie and ambushed him at lunch. He wants to see a rough cut assoon as we've got something ready."

  "David, you're an angel." I was ecstatic. It was more than I'd daredhope for.

  "So stay focused, for chrissake, and finish your picture. We're thisclose to saving our collective asses, so don't blow it. I've gone overall the schedules pretty carefully, and I'd guess we can spare a day ortwo, but if you drag this out, I'm going to read you your contract, thefine print about due diligence, and then finish up the final cutmyself. I mean it. Don't make me do that."

  "Don't you even think about that." Never! "This is my picture."

  "Just business. If it's a choice between doing what I gotta do, orhaving Nicky Russo chew me a new asshole and become the silent partnerin Applecore, guess what it's gonna be."

  "David, you know I would never let that happen." I walked over and gavehim the sweetest hug I knew how, still filled with joy. "And thanks somuch for trying to get us a theatrical. You don't know how much thatmeans to me."

  "Hey, don't try the charm bit on me. I'm serious. I'll cut you aweekend's slack, but then it's back to the salt mines. Either thispicture's in the can inside of six weeks, or we're both going to belooking for new employment. So go the hell up there, do whatever it isyou're going to do, and then get this damned picture finished. There'llbe plenty of time after that to worry about our next project. With luckwe might even have the money for it."

  With that ultimatum still ringing in my ears, I took my leave of DavidRoth and headed north, up the Henry Hudson Parkway. My life was gettingtoo roller-coaster for words. . . .

  As I drove, I tried not to dwell on the practical aspects of what wascoming. It was hard to imagine what tests Alex Goddard could performthat hadn't already been done by Hannah Klein. Just thinking back overthat dismal sequence made me feel baby-despondent all over again.

  When I first mentioned I was thinking about trying to get pregnant, shelooked me over, perhaps mentally calculating my age and my prospects,and then made a light suggestion.

  "Why don't I give you a prescription for Clomid. Clomiphene citrateenhances ovulation, and it might be a good idea in your case. You'restill young, Morgan, but you're no longer in the first blush of youth."

  I took it for six months, but nothing happened. That was the beginningof my pregnancy depression.

  By that time, she'd decided I definitely had a problem, so she beganwhat she called an "infertility workup." The main thing was to check myFallopian tubes for blockages and look for ovulatory abnormalities. Buteverything turned out to be fine. Depression City.

  "Well," she said, "maybe your body just _thinks_ you've released anovum. We need to do an ultrasound scan to make doubly sure an ovarianfollicle has ruptured when it's scheduled to and dropped an egg."

  It turned out, however, that all those hormonal stop-and-go signalswere working just fine. In the meantime, Steve and I were doing it likebunnies and still no pregnancy.

  Okay, she then declared, the problem may be with your Fallopian tubesafter all. Time to test for abnormalities. "This is not going to befun. First we have to dilate your cervix, after which we inject a dyeand follow it with X-rays as it moves through the uterus and is ejectedout of your Fallopian tubes. We'll know right away if there's any kindof blockage. If there is something, we can go in and fix it."

  "Sort of check out my pipes," I said, trying to come to grips with theprocedure. I was increasingly sinking into despondency.

  She did it all, and for a while she suspected there might be some kindof anatomical problem. Which brought us to the next escalation ofinvasiveness.

  "We've got to go in and take a close-up look at everything," she said."It's a procedure called laparoscopy. I'll have to make a smallincision near your navel and insert a tiny optical device. In yourcase, I want to combine it with what's called a hysteroscopy, whichwill allow me to see directly inside your uterus for polyps andfibroids."

  But again everything looked fine. I began to wonder what had happenedto everybody's mother's warning you could get pregnant just lettingsome pimply guy put his hand in your pants.

  Prior to all this, I should add, Steve had provided samples of sperm tobe tested for number and vigor. (Both were just fine.) Then, toward theend of all the indignities, he actually paid to have some kind of testperformed involving a hamster egg, to see if his sperm was livelyenough to penetrate it. No wonder he finally went over the edge.

  Now I was reduced to Alex Goddard. I'd brought a complete set of mymedical test records, as Ramala had requested on the phone. I'd alsobrought a deep curiosity about what exactly he could do that hadn'talready been done. I further wondered how I was going to talk Steveinto coming back long enough to share in the project. As I motored upthe driveway to Quetzal Manor, I told myself he loved me still, wanteda baby as much as I did . . . Well, let me be safe and say almost asmuch. The problem was, he was so demoralized about the whole thing. Andthen what? What if nothing happened?

  I started to park my car where I had the last time, then noticed theplace actually had a parking lot. It was located off to the left sideof the driveway, near the second, modern building, and was more or lesshidden in amongst the trees. The lot was filled with a lot oflate-model but inexpensive cars, basic working-girl transportation, andit seemed a better bet for long-term parking.

  The front lobby, which had been empty the first time I was there, wasnow a minimalist reception area, a long metal desk rolled in fromsomewhere. I had the odd feeling it was there just for me. The womanbehind the desk introduced herself as Ramala, the same person I'dtalked to twice on the phone. She looked to be about my age, with longdark hair and quick Asian eyes, punctuated by a professional smile.

  She knew my name, used it the minute she saw me, and then abruptlyhanded me a twenty-page "application" to complete.

  "It's not just a formality," she explained, businesslike and earnest."Dr. Goddard feels it's essential that he come to know you as a person.He'll read this carefully, believe me."

  She ushered me to a chair that had a retractable table for writing,then gave me a ballpoint pen.

  The document turned out to be the most prying, nosy thing I'd everfilled out. The pages demanded what amounted to a mini life history.One of the things that struck me as most strange was the part askingfor a ten-year employment and residential history. If you've movedaround as much as I have, worked freelance a lot, you'll understand howdifficult it can be to reconstruct all those dates and places, but Idid my best.

  There were, of course, plenty of health questions too. One page evenasked whether there was anything out of the ordinary about my ownbirth: Was the delivery difficult, a cesarean, a breach baby? It was,as noted, a life history.

  "Why does he need all this information?" I asked finally, feeling theonset of carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. "I brought all mymedical records."

  Ramala gave me a kindly smile, full of sympathy.

  "He must know you as a person. Then everything is possible. When I camehere, I had given up on ever having a child, but I surrendered myselfto him and now my husband and I have twin boys, three years old. That'swhy I stayed to help him. His program can work miracles, but you mustgive him your trust."

  Well, I thought, I might as well go with the flow and see where itleads.

  When I'd finished the form, she took it back, along with the pen, thenushered me into the wide central courtyard where I'd met Alex Goddardthe first time. He was nowhere to be seen, but in the brightlate-morning sunshine there was a line of about twenty women, from latetwenties to early forties, all dressed in white pajama-like outfits ofthe kind you see in judo classes, doing coordinated, slow-motion TaiChi-like exercises. They were intent, their eyes fixed on the fringesof infinity.

  These must be some of his acolytes, I thought, the ones I heard intheir nuns' cells the first time I was here. What on earth does allthis orientalism have to do with fertility? I then found myselfwondering. I've studied the Far East enough to do "penetrating"documentaries about it, and I still can't get pregnant.

  I took one look at them--none of them looked at me--and my heart wentout. They were so sincere, so sure of what they were doing. Forsomebody who's always questioning everything, like me, it was touching,and maybe a little daunting too.

  Without a word, Ramala led me past them and on to an entryway at thefar end of the courtyard, past the giant Dancing Shiva. The door washuge and ornate, decorated with beaten-copper filigree--much like oneI'd seen in a Mogul palace in Northern India. Definitely awe-inspiring.

  She pushed open the door without ceremony and there he was, dressed inwhite and looking for all the world like the miracle worker he claimedto be. He seemed to be meditating in his chair, but the moment Ientered, his deep eyes snapped open.

  "Did you bring your records?" he asked, not getting up. While I wasproducing them from my briefcase, Ramala discreetly disappeared.

  "Please have a seat." He gestured me toward a wide chair.

  The room was a sterile baby blue, nothing to see. No diplomas, nophotos, nothing.

  Except for another, smaller bronze statue of the Dancing Shiva, poisedon a silver-inlaid table. I also noticed that his own flowing hairseemed to match that of the bronze figure.

  Yes, I thought, I was right. That's who he thinks he is. And he hascomplete power over the people around him. How many chances do you getto do a documentary about somebody like this? I should have brought aBetacam for some video.

  He studied my test records as a jeweler might examine a diamond, hisserious eyes boring in as he flipped through the pages. The rest of hisface, however, betrayed no particular interest. I finally feltcompelled to break the awkward silence.

  "As you can see, I've had every test known to science. And none of themfound anything wrong."

  He just nodded, saying nothing, and kept on reading.

  After a long, awkward silence, I decided to try and open things up abit.

  "Tell me, do you have any children of your own?"

  The question seemed to be one he didn't get asked too often, because hestopped cold.

  "All those who come here are my children," he replied, putting aside myrecords, dismissively finished with them.

  "Well"--I pointed to them--"what do you think?"

  "I haven't examined you yet," he said, looking up and smiling, indeedbeaming with confidence. "Nothing in those records tells me anythingabout what may be your problem. I look for different things than domost physicians."

  He fiddled with something beneath his desk, and the room was abruptlyfilled with the sound of a hypnotic drone. Perhaps its frequencymatched one in my brain, because I instantly felt relaxed and full ofhope. Much better than Muzak. Then he rose and came over.

  Is he going to do my exam right here? I wondered. Where's all theob/gyn paraphernalia? The humiliating stirrups?

  Standing in front of me, he gently placed his hands on my heart, thenbent over and seemed to be listening to my chest. His touch was warm,then cold, then warm, but the overall effect was to send a sense ofwell-being through my entire body.

  "You're not breathing normally," he said after a moment of unnervingsilence. "I feel no harmony."

  How did he know that? But he was right. I felt the way I had the firsttime I tried to sit in Zen meditation in Kyoto. As then, my body wasrelaxing but my wayward brain was still coursing.

  "I'll try," I said, attempting to go along. What I really was feelingwas the overwhelming sense of his presence, drawing me to him.

  Next he moved around behind me and cradled my head in his hands,placing his long fingertips on my forehead, sort of the same way he'ddone when I was standing with him on the windy heath, nursing a killercold. All the while, the drone seemed to be increasing to a piercing,overwhelming volume, as though a powerful electrical force were growingin the room, sending me into an alpha state of relaxation.

  "What are you doing? Is this how you do an exam for--?"

  "The medical tests you had showed there's nothing wrong with youruterus or your Fallopian tubes, nothing that should inhibit conception.There's no need to pursue that any further. But the mind and the bodyare a single entity that must be harmonized, must work as one. Althougheach individual has different energy flows, I think my regimen herecould be very helpful to you. Already I can tell your problem is a

  self-inflicted trauma that has negated the natural condition whereinyour mind and body work in unison."

  "What 'trauma'?" I asked.

  He didn't answer the question. Instead he began massaging my temples.

  "Breathe deeply. And do it slowly, very slowly."

  As I did, I felt a kind of dizziness gradually coming over me, thehypnotic drone seeming to take over my consciousness. Instead ofgrowing slower, my breathing was actually becoming more rapid, asthough I'd started to hyperventilate. But I no longer had any controlover it. My autonomic nervous system had been handed over to him, asdizziness and a sense of disorientation settled over me. The roomaround me began to swirl, and I felt my conscious mind, my will,slipping out of my grasp. It was the very thing I'd vowed not to lethappen.

  The same thing had occurred once before, after I broke my collarbone inthe Pacific surf that slammed a Mexican beach south of Puerto Villarta.When a kindly Mexican doctor was later binding on a harness toimmobilize my shoulder, the pain was such that I momentarily passed outwhile sitting on a stool in his office. I didn't fall over or collapse;it just seemed as though my mind, fleeing the incredible pain, driftedaway in a haze of sensation.

  Now the pastel blue walls of the room slowly faded to white, and then Iwas somewhere else, a universe away, surrounded by blank nothingness. Itried to focus on the bronze Shiva directly across, but the ring offire around him had become actual flames. The only reality left was thepowerful touch of Alex Goddard's hands and a drone that could have beenthe music of the spheres.

 
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