Zuzu's Petals (an excerpt)
…INT. BAILEY KITCHEN – MORNING
JULES and GEORGE are sipping mugs of coffee at a table.
The three best sounds in the world, you ask?
Side Two of Abbey Road, moans of passion during
lovemaking, and the words “I love you, Daddy”
from my daughter, in descending order. Come to
think of it, sex and the Beatles tie for
That certainly beats the devil out of Uncle
Billy’s favorite sounds. “Breakfast is served…
lunch is served…dinner is served.”
…George and I could have mourned the loss of dreams. We were destined to treasure the oft-underappreciated gifts of friendship and fatherhood together as friends and fathers ourselves…
Does it taste bad?
Does what taste bad, honey?
Daddy. You’re not listening to me. Bird seed.
I really don’t know. Like I said, I’ve never had it. It probably tastes a lot like Grape Nuts without the milk, but on a much tinier scale, like gravel or sand.
I realize at the end of my rambling that it is the most mental muscle I’ve ever flexed on this particular topic. Squeezing my eyes shut until I hear ersatz thunder in my ears, I will the images crowding my mind onto the behavior of Zuzu, longing to regale her with tales of the gardenful of roses that wait behind her eyelids.
“Youth is wasted on the wrong people!” an aging, balding, black-and-white cigar-chomping porch denizen blurts in the movie. How sad and true. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed continue to toss stones at the window of the old estate that resides between my ears, the very same one that will one day house the Bailey family, two actors not realizing that their shared moment on a Hollywood soundstage will last an eternity, one moment captured on film by the factory-like efficiency of the studio system, remembered and cherished long after Reed and Stewart became dust lining their own coffins beneath feet of solid cemetery soil.
Can we get some?
Can we get what, honey?
We’ll see. Don’t you want to finish the story?
Sure. Do cats eat bird seed?
No. They eat cat food. And dogs eat dog food, and fish eat fish food, I respond. I want to pre-empt any imminent questions, yet Zuzu’s infinite inventiveness, her bottomless well of interrogation, is winning out.
Daddy, did you hear me? I asked if dogs and cats and fish get sick if they eat bird seed.
Daddy, please pay attention to me.
I know that the constant mental exercises that comprise much of my life are considered a waste of time by some, Julie certainly included. For them, they are the equivalent of running on a treadmill and making no real forward progress. It’s true that on the surface my random thoughts lead to no concrete destination in particular, but I believe my musings nevertheless burn away the fat in which the significance of my past experiences are encased to yield meaty clarity.
Despite such self-assurances, however, I can’t help but wonder how much time I’ll continue to spend searching in the cluttered present for the emotions I experienced when I was younger. Occasionally I can detect such feelings when I revisit places that have even the slightest significance to my past. Too many of these places, Bedford Falls included, exist only within the confines of some fictional realm.
How will I ever be able to fully protect Zuzu from all the horrors of the real world? How can I protect her from what’s going on between Julie and me? I can hardly handle myself. What the hell kind of parent am I?
I feel a rush of sadness brush below my shoulders, and the cynicism that always lies dormant just underneath my skin immediately bursts forth. I think of George Bailey’s conversation with the villainous Mr. Potter late in the film, the one during which Potter attempts to bamboozle Bailey into working for him for a much higher salary than the measly one to which he is accustomed. Like George, I am constantly in danger of falling victim to false, base, fictional temptations…
INT. POTTER’S OFFICE – AFTERNOON
POTTER sits in a wheelchair behind his desk. JULES stands before him, having refused the expensive cigar POTTER has alternately waved and caressed in front of him.
What, man? Do you really imagine that
your daughter will stay sweet and innocent?
Did you ever have kids, Potter?
Me? Kids? You kidding?
That’s good to hear. The one mental
image I don’t need in my head is you
fornicating with somebody.
Look, wiseacre. I’m greed incarnate,
do you understand? Condensed evil.
I’m the guy hiding in shadows, waiting
For an opportunity to pounce on the pure,
To entice the innocent, to violate the
virtuous. I’m not interested in your
offspring in particular. Yet perhaps I
am. What I’m saying is, it’s not the
actual done deed that’s the worst. It’s
the anticipation, the fear of Zuzu turning
to the dark side, experiencing pain and heartache.
Am I right?
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Having some problems on the home front,
aren’t we, Jules? Marriage in tatters,
torn to shreds, that sort of thing? Poor
little Zuzu receiving info on a “need-to-
I don’t want to hear this. Go to hell, Potter.
If by “hell” you mean the “real world,”
I’m afraid I cannot go there with you.
The road you traveled to get here can
only be traversed in one direction. This
isn’t The Last Action Hero or The Purple
Rose of Cairo, lad. I’m merely a character.