HOLDING ONTO CLOUDS
Richard Coordaleen, a Russell-based character, in a story set both in the Civil War and
in modern times.
Major Charles Carlisle folded his arms against the side of his saddle and leaned his face on
them. He was tired. No, that didn't begin to describe it. He was weary not just to his bones,
but down into the very marrow of them. There was a light touch on his shoulder and it took
him a long moment for the fact of it to penetrate to some level where he could respond.
Lifting his head, he turned it slowly, looking down at the woman who stood beside him.
"Eugenia." His voice dragged with the effort to form her name. "I...I...."
Eugenia, petite, with dark blonde hair pulled up into a loose knot atop her head, blinked
back tears as she looked at Charles. The brim of his grey felt hat had been pushed back
when he'd leaned against his arms and in the bright afternoon sunlight, she could clearly
see the dark smudges of dirt and soot on his face, the lines where that had settled into the
new creases at the edge of his eyes.
"I can't, Eugenia. You know I can't." His eyes were red-rimmed, lids heavy with the weight
of being awake too long, moist with the wetness of longing, of exhaustion.
Turning his face away from hers, he put his left boot in the stirrup, started to lift himself
up into the saddle. He managed half way before his right foot came back down. He was
simply unable to hoist his weight that high. Pressing his lips together whitely, he tipped his
head back, looking up at the sky.
Her fingers found the front of his grey jacket. "Please," she repeated, her voice soft, pleading.
"Oh, Eugenia!" His voice came like a strangled sob as he folded her in his arms, burying his
face in her hair.
"CUT! That's a wrap!"
Richard Coordaleen kept his arms around Anna Dale, attempting to kiss her, but she turned
her head away. "Not now, Richard!" She pulled away from him. "Not ever."
Paul Carr, the director, came up and clamped his hand on Richard's shoulder. "Great, as
usual, Richard. You were so convincing I thought you were going to fall on the ground there
for a minute."
"It's my job to be convincing, isn't it?" Richard grinned at Paul. Then he looked back at
Anne. "What can I do to convince you?"
"Not a thing," she said abruptly, backing away from him and turning to go to her trailer.
"But you love me!" he called after her.
"Eugenia loves Charles," she called back. "That's it."
Richard shook his head, repeating, "Eugenia loves Charles. I'll be damned if that's all there
is to it."
"Come on, Richard. You know it was over between you two almost a year ago. I wasn't even
sure about casting the two of you in the same film. If you both weren't professionals, I'd...."
"Yeah, but we are." Richard's smile was rueful.
"Two Oscar winners above the title, Richard. That's what it's all about."
"Boxoffice. Yeah, I know." Richard strode toward his own trailer, unfastening his Confederate
officer's sash as he went.
"Fifteen minutes!" Paul shouted after him. "Stay in costume!"
Paul watched Richard until he stepped up into his big white trailer. One hundred and seventy
million. That was what was riding on this film, basically riding on Richard's shoulders. "Fifteen
minutes," he whispered as the door closed.
He worried about Richard...a lot. Richard had signed on really quickly when he found out
Paul was in talks with Anne for the female lead. Anne, however, had been hesitant, to put it
mildly. She hadn't wanted to work with Richard, hadn't even been sure she could work with
him. Paul waved a great script, a truly hefty paycheck under her nose, promised her the moon,
promised that Richard would behave, wouldn't try to win her back. They were the best and he
wanted them, wanted both of them, knew the public wanted to see them together.
Richard flopped in a lounge chair, resting his elbows on his knees. She was so damn stubborn!
They'd been together for five years before she decided it was enough...five years. How could
she think it was enough? He didn't understand, not at all. The break-up had been entirely her
doing, was never something he wanted. She hadn't even let him see her for several months and
now, here they were, playing a man and woman falling in love in This Bleeding Land. He'd
been surprised when she'd agreed to take the part. As Major Carlisle, he got to kiss her Eugenia. He grinned. He got to kiss her a lot.
Sighing, he picked the script up off a side table, flipping it open to the coming scene. It was
August now and they'd been filming since late May. It was a long shoot, complicated with the
logistics of so many men and horses in the battle scenes. Carlisle was a cavalry officer in Lee's
army and now the war was winding down. They were in Virginia, had been fighting Grant's
relentless push south and were now in the Wilderness. Eugenia Anderson owned a farm south
and west of Richmond. Her father, her two older brothers had been killed in the war and she
was trying to manage the place with the help of a few loyal freedmen. Major Carlisle had
stumbled upon the farm three years earlier and came back to visit whenever he could. In the
current scenes, he'd come back for what they both thought would be the last time. He had only
a short while, mere moments, before he had to rejoin the army and go into battle. She'd tried
to talk him into staying, into coming inside, but he knew he couldn't, knew he...shouldn't.
Richard smiled. He liked the upcoming scene. He liked it a lot. She hadn't actually rehearsed
it, not the way Paul wanted, saying she'd get it on the first take without it and not to worry.
Glancing at the wall clock, he got up and went back outside. Instantly someone came up,
checking his hair, making sure it looked properly ragged. Someone else made sure he still
had sufficient dirt on his cheeks and forehead. He tied his sash and someone retied it. So
intent was he on the coming scene, so used to being fussed over, checked on in this way, he
hardly noticed what they were doing.
He went in the front door of the big farmhouse where Paul and Anne were already waiting,
some woman tucking up a stray strand of Anne's hair. Richard paused just inside, looking at
her. He'd never been able to convince her that he was merely having dinner with his co-star
of one of the two films he'd made last year. That and a little dancing. That and photographers
catching him with his face nestled into her shoulder. But it hadn't gone beyond that. She'd
moved out the next day when the tabloids hit the stands.
Anne caught sight of him standing there near the door. How dare he look so handsome in
that uniform? Despite the dirt, he was still the handsomest man she'd ever seen. She looked
away. Slime bag! She still wanted him and she loathed herself that she did. No matter what
he said, she couldn't trust him. Photographs don't lie, well, not those ones of his mouth
nibbling Marsalene's shoulder anyway. She steeled herself for the upcoming scene. Why
had she agreed to this movie? Why? She'd read the script yet still she'd signed on. "Damn
fool!" she muttered, stepping in front of Paul so he blocked her view of the man by the door.
Richard absently ran a hand through his wavy, chestnut hair, then sighed when someone
was right there, undoing what he'd done to it.
"You bring your hat?" Paul asked, and he raised his other hand, showing the director he
had it. Paul smiled. Richard's attention to detail was legendary but he was worried his actor
might be distracted by Anne's presence and found himself checking up more on him than
he had in the film they'd made together two years ago. That had been Water's Edge and had
won Richard his Academy Award. He'd come home with the best director statuette himself.
This Bleeding Land, in Paul's opinion, was an even better film than that. And Richard was
being simply outstanding. In the scenes they'd filmed when Charles had been in Elmira, a
Union prison, the subtlety of the major's suffering was about the best acting Paul had ever
seen. He remembered Anne had come to the set that day, had stood quietly to the side
watching, even though she wasn't being filmed during the Elmira section. Once he'd turned
to check on a light and seen tears on her face.
He was well aware right now she was using him as a shield between her and Richard. "You
ready?" He put a hand on her arm. She was tense. He could feel it. "It will be all right," he
"No," she murmured. "No, it won't. Not ever again."
Richard came forward and he and Anne took their places. The clapboard snapped, the
cameras rolled. Richard was gone, completely, utterly gone and the exhausted major had
taken his place.
His body perceptibly sagging, Charles laid his hat on the sideboard. "I have to...," he began,
but she took his arm and led him to the sofa.
"Sit," she ordered firmly, yet with great tenderness in her voice.
As though he had no control over them, his knees began to bend and he found he must sit or
else fall down. She knelt in front of him, her pale green skirts spreading around her, and took
both his hands between hers.
He looked at her face as though trying to imprint the memory of it in his soul, but his eyes kept
fogging over and he blinked, suddenly filled with a desperate yearning to see her clearly, to
capture the image of her someplace where he could take it with him into the Wilderness. He'd
been in the saddle two and a half days, had been in battle before that. He couldn't even remember the name of the place now. All the battles were beginning to blend into one, had
been for some while. All he wanted was for it to be over, for it to be finished, done with. He
was too far gone even to feel surprise at the fact that somewhere deep inside himself he was
glad Lincoln had sent Grant to end it all. He wanted nothing more than to lie someplace
quiet and close his eyes. If that were in the bottom of some bloody ditch, even that now would
be all right. Except for the existence of Eugenia. She, only she, was the slender thread still
holding him, but in his current state he was aware even that was unraveling and there was
not enough left of him to grip the parting edges and hold them together.
As the camera zoomed in for a close-up of his green eyes and nothing else, nearly four years
of war lay heavily in them. Death and suffering were there, as were hunger and pain, cold and
misery. The loss of friends lay there along with the flickering fires of what had been determination but now replaced by yearning and by loss, by too much tiredness, too much
endless keeping on.
Paul held his breath. How did the man manage to get all that in one long silent look?
Anne nearly lost her composure. These were Charles' eyes. She knew that. She also knew it
was Richard making them be Charles'. Her own eyes filled with tears in response.
A second camera was filming her face. Good, Paul thought. Eugenia would cry for what she
sees in Charles' eyes. Go on, Anne, he willed soundlessly. Cry.
Richard was aware it was Anne crying but not for a split second did he slip out of Charles, let
his eyes show Richard. Slowly, because it was in the script that Charles did, he let his lids lower,
felt Eugenia's hand come out and her palm caress Charles' cheek. Was it Charles or Richard
she touched? He didn't know. It wasn't in the script but he lifted his own hand, laying it atop
hers. Paul loved it, knew instantly it should have been in the script. Richard did that frequently,
knew instinctively what should have been there. Paul had discovered that filming Water's Edge
and went with the flow of it most often.
They sat there in silence as the seconds ticked off. Paul let it go far longer than he'd planned
but there was such a connection between the two of them and the moment was so tender, so
loving, he knew that if he himself did not wish it to end, neither would the audience.
As slowly as he'd lowered them, Charles lifted his lids, not quite all the way, and the corners
of his lips managed the smallest of smiles. Her hand on his cheek moved lower, a fingertip
delicately touching his smile. On Eugenia's face lingered the knowledge that when he went
into battle, this time when he went into battle, he might not.... How could he fight when he
couldn't even mount his horse? It wasn't right.
She began to unbutton the top of his jacket. His hand moved up again, covering hers as he
shook his head side to side. "No...no time."
"You need a bath, my love," she said, "and you're going to have one and rest in it a little
while, just a little while, before you leave."
Getting up, she went to find Ezra to bring the tub right into the living room and begin to
fill it. Charles sat on the couch, his eyes half open as she finished unbuttoning his coat,
untied his sash, unbuckled his saber. When his shirt was off, she traced the outline of a
bullet wound in his shoulder, a long, half-healed scar from something else. She was
pleased he'd surrendered. He'd not been strong enough not to. Ezra helped with his
tall, black boots then while Eugenia went to get towels and soap.
That part of the scene done, there was a brief break in which everyone remained rather
quiet, somehow not wanting to interrupt the mood of it that still hung in the air. Richard,
wearing a small swimsuit, got in the tub and soap bubbles were artfully arranged so as to
hide the fact of that. He wouldn't have minded at all being nude, but Anne had requested
he not be.
When the cameras rolled again, she was kneeling on a towel beside the tub as his cheek
rested on his left shoulder.
Charles watched Eugenia through heavy-lidded eyes. He'd protested that he could wash
himself, but she'd insisted and so he followed her movements as she soaped a cloth and
wiped down his arm. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in a real tub, with
warm water, with soap. Eugenia washed down to his right hand, then when it was rinsed,
kissed it. He blinked back tears, watching her.
Anne was struggling. She didn't think she'd ever faced such a struggle in her film career.
The movie was about battles and here she was right in the middle of a huge one. She was
being Eugenia and Eugenia wanted Charles with all her heart, Eugenia adored every line
of Charles' body as she bathed it. And then there was Anne. What did Anne want? It was
Anne's hand touching Richard's arm. It was by an act of will alone that Anne managed
not to let herself show in Eugenia's eyes.
Eugenia rinsed the cloth and began to wipe Charles' face, a little flicker of pain crossing
her own as she washed the soot from one cheek to find a purpling bruise beneath it. His head seemed too heavy for his neck so, sliding one hand under his chin, she held it for him as she wiped. His beard and moustache, usually so short and neatly-trimmed, were longer than
she'd seen before, another mark of his lack of personal time.
When she was done with his face, she guided his head to the back rim of the tub. Again there
was a moment when they both simply looked at one another, then, his eyes closing, Charles
whispered, "How I love you."
Richard opened his eyes just as Anne got quickly to her feet, her jaw set, blinking rapidly,
and ran as fast as she could off the set.
ON TO PART 2
BACK TO LIBRISCROWE