Seven Swans A-Swimming

This is the seventh installment of the series, “The 12 Days of the Tilley-Blandin Coronavirus Christmas.” More stories about the Tilley-Blandin family universe can be found here.

The working title of the movie they are discussing is “The Living Canvases.” Hopper Tilley-Blandin hates the title, but his mother and Reese Witherspoon have assured him that they will think of a new title. Principal photography is scheduled to commence next month, at an as-yet undetermined location in California. Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, has been promised early COVID-19 vaccination for cast and crew through Jared Kushner. “The Living Canvases” is based on a book written by Hopper, a University of Chicago sociologist. The book looked at the childrearing techniques of artistic and literary parents, including his own. His mother, the novelist and screenwriter, is writing the script with some vague assistance from her husband, the painter. Charlize Theron will play a character from the book based on Hopper’s mother; Edward Norton will play Hopper’s father. Hopper will be present on the set as consultant to the production, which has created some complications because of his undefined romantic entanglement with Theron. Reese Witherspoon is hosting a Zoom call with Norton, Theron, Hopper, and Hopper’s parents.

*****

Zoom Conference

Reese Witherspoon: Welcome everyone to our Zoom. I hope you are excited about the film as my team and I are!

Edward Norton: Yes, certainly, Reese, but about the director. Is Greta Gerwig still on? And rehearsals?

Reese: We are still anticipating her participation. But just in case, we are working on some backups.

Charlize Theron: And the early vaccinations we were promised? I mean, that sounds awfully ambitious when people can’t even get tested.

Reese: Those are the regular people who can’t get things. I talked to Jared Kushner and General Perna personally yesterday and they both assured me that we are on schedule.

Hopper Tilley-Blandin: Reese, can you confirm the location for the filming?

Reese: We have narrowed the list down to several locations in southern California, pending a waiver from the state. I talked to Gavin Newsom personally yesterday and he assured me we can get whatever waivers we need pending the vaccination.

Charlize: Reese, are you going to be on the set?

Reese: So many questions! I love it. We are working to make sure your representatives are apprised of all developments. Stay tuned! I was hoping that we could use this session to get to know each other better before we start work.

Hopper: Reese, we don’t really know each other. I’m a big fan of your work.

Charlize: Hopper, put that fanboy dick of yours back in your pants. This isn’t that kind of meeting.

Hopper: Really?

Charlize: Hopper… Can anyone tell us where we stand with the script?

Reese: Before we address the script, can I express condolences on behalf of everyone at Hello Sunshine to the Lillie-Blanton family on the passing of their dear friend, Fiona Apple?

Hopper: Oh, she’s not dead, but thanks anyway.

Reese: What do you mean?

Hopper: It’s kind of hard to explain if you don’t know her really well. Fiona occasionally does this to her friends…friends who, in her mind, are engaging in self-destructive behavior. She did not think the video would be made public, but when my family’s discussion about it was posted on that blog, she had to admit what she was up to. Her lawyer is drafting some kind of public statement with apologies going around. Fiona can sometimes work in a non-intuitive manner.

Reese: Well that’s good news! Well, as long as she’s alive, do you think she might be interested in having a role with the music for our movie? Our music director just quit.

Hopper: Well, my mother can make an inquiry. I think my mother is the least pissed off at Fiona.

Reese: Merry Christmas to that!

*****

Hopper always recognized that his mother was the focus of power in the Tilley-Blandin family, but that was changing.

When her children were very young, Hopper’s mother’s novels began to hit best-seller lists. She was the parent bringing in serious money. She was then offered obscene amounts of money to write screenplays based on her books. Some were hits, none were flops. His father’s paintings, which had not previously sold, began to attract the kind of attention commensurate to being married to a famous author and screenwriter. His work began to attract critical attention and, with it, lucrative commissions. But the pecking order within the marriage, then within the family, had been established. His mother was free to do whatever she wanted. She began splitting time between Hollywood and New York for work, leaving his father alone with his work. That arrangement seemed to satisfy his mother 100 percent of the time and his father about 90 percent of the time. That inefficiency in their marriage was addressed by a series of other women, but as noted, the arrangement satisfied Hopper’s mother. She had her husband when it suited her, and he had other women when he wanted his wife but found her unavailable.

*****

Zoom Conference

Charlize Theron: I know this may seem to be a silly question, but who’s the Tilley and who’s the Blandin?

Hopper: We just don’t think about those individual names. I don’t know the answer to that question, and I am not sure my sisters know, either.

Charlize: Hopper, your parents are on the Zoom with us. Why don’t you let them answer for themselves? Like, you know, about the script.

Hopper: My parents and I discussed it. Today, I am going to do all the speaking for the family. The script is coming, and the revisions will also be coming. My mother is a machine. Look! She’s waving at everyone. And smiling, too.

Reese: I am not totally comfortable with that arrangement or the sound of it.

Charlize: Agreed. How odd.

Hopper: I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But you don’t really know my family.

Reese: Hopper, I respect what you are saying, but what about Hello Sunshine’s ongoing relationship with your mother?

Hopper: That’s why I am doing the talking. My mother has indicated a serious interest in returning to write novels. She’ll let you find someone to adapt them for the big screen. I understand that Charlize’s assistant Chlöe has some potential.

Reese: Hopper, excuse me, but what the actual fuck?

Hopper: Reese, we consider this is a family matter. It’s in your best interest if you don’t get too close to my family. We’re not crazy, just radioactive.

*****

Olympia Tilley-Blandin, the forgotten middle child, could hear her parents’ Zoom call from the kitchen of the Lillie-Blanton Fortress, where she and her parents were spending what they had come to call their “pandemic vacation.” She was making a low-carb shepherd’s pie with mashed cauliflower, lamb, and frozen vegetables. She heard the words and understood what was going on. The “power dymanics” (her mangled phrasing, which she began using at age 16 and bitterly noted had not adopted by her siblings) in the Tilley-Blandin family had shifted. While her parents still generated enormous assets, from now on Hopper would be making the decisions regarding the allocation of said assets. Her parents did not resist; they stopped caring about the money. Both still had creative ambitions and were anxious to exploit their talents before inspiration dried up and muses moved away. By then they might care about the money again, but they trusted their son. Not so much their daughters. Hopper, except for one teenage indiscretion that had been expunged from his record, had always colored between the lines. He was a rule-follower.

Olympia suspected that she had peaked before she turned 20. As a teenager roaming the salons of Manhattan, she had inspired admiration and fear. Women and girls wanted to be her, wanted her charm and charisma, wanted her wit and native intelligence, wanted her beauty and grace. “You’re just a Dorothy Parker wannabe with looks and style,” her mother once told her, envious of the attention and envy generated by her daughter. She had meant her remark as an insult, but Olympia decided to sluff off its ugliness and take it as the ultimate compliment. “You’re just a Nora Ephron wannabe, mother, with smaller box office and oozing all the charm of Eva Braun,” she replied. Her mother had stormed out of the room.

The disastrous relationship with Chasen Whitney had broken her. Her mother had warned her about Columbia Law School students, but she could not ignore her lust. Olympia could not forgive herself for mooning over a lost love like a teeny bopper. And yet here she was, more than a decade later, and she could not get him out of her mind. Even when she was with Huey. Huey, who should have been enough for her. She needed a recovery. She needed earn admiration and fear again. She needed to shrug off the trappings of a prep school English teacher and return to her universe. And she knew how she was going to do it.

*****

Zoom Conference

Hopper: My mother just got a text from Fiona. She’s considering your offer, Reese.

Reese: That’s great! I think that’s it for all the agenda items. We have a few more minutes before I have to leave the meeting, so…what’s everyone doing for Christmas?

Hopper: Christmas. Does that still exist?

Reese: Hopper, that’s dark.

Hopper: Dark? You know what’s really dark? Twenty-six hundred Americans died of COVID yesterday. Hunter Biden’s taxes are being investigated. The EPA is rolling back more environmental protections. Bob Dylan sold his music catalog.

Reese: I get that. Bad news kind of seems like a routine these days. Lots of people also think about Christmas as a routine: something that happens every year and you have to prepare for it. Retailers, advertisers, movie producers. Anyone with a financial stake. Like President’s Day or Columbus Day. But for some of us, it’s also a ritual with deep meaning. It helps us make sense of the universe and our place in it. If my family and I were living in a foxhole in a war-torn country, we would still celebrate Christmas.

Hopper: Luckily for you, you are not in a war-torn country.

Reese: Luckily for me, I am also blessed. My family and I can still observe many of the same rituals I celebrated as a child. The tree, the decorations, the gifts, the music. We will just celebrate with a smaller circle of people. And, of course, share with fans on Instagram.

Hopper: So, it’s like almost normal for you.

Reese: As I said, I’ve been blessed. What about you, Hopper?

Hopper: Me?  I plan to stay in Washington DC with my sister’s ex-boyfriend. My best guess is that, after a morning run, we will probably shower, spend the day on the sofa in comfortable clothes, eating that red and green macaroni and cheese, hoisting a few, farting at will, watching all the NBA games, and opening whatever packages Amazon has dropped off at our apartment.

Edward: Game respects game.

Hopper: My little sister Silver says that all the time.

*****

Silver Tilley-Blandin never said, “game respects game.” Hopper was pretty sure she wouldn’t even know what the phrase meant. Whenever Hopper needed to establish himself as the alpha male in a conversation, he would pull out the phrase, “my little sister Silver says that all the time.”

In fact, and he would never admit it, Hopper had a tremendous respect for his little sister Silver. She still had the ability to say “fuck you” to their mother. Silver had repeatedly declined the offer to wait out the pandemic at the Tilley-Blandin Fortress. She had even rebuffed her boyfriend Louis’ pleas to move in with her until it suited her. She had even stood up to him, the older brother, and got him to move out of her duplex when it was clear there was not enough room for him and the boyfriend.  She admitted to him that she liked the danger of living in the city during pandemic. Every time she walked the streets swathed in PPE, she felt alive. “This pandemic? This Trump insanity? Fuck it. This my year of living dangerously,” she said to him as he left her duplex, without affect or irony.

For Silver, blood was thinner. He respected her game.

Hopper had come to believe that Silver was the only member of the family with the potential to achieve happiness or, barring that, contentment. The boyfriend, Louis, was good for her in ways that he could never be good to his ex-wife Ingrid. She was not overwhelmed by nostalgia like her sister Olympia, reminiscing about her peak years and regretful about not achieving world domination. Olympia really wanted world domination. She was quoted in several newspapers and magazines using the words “world domination.” Silver, on the other hand, simply wanted to be good at what she was doing. Like, really good. So good that accomplished people would seek her out for advice. He could tell that she was doing a good job at the Washington Post. He could tell that she was thriving amidst adversity. She kept her head down and kept focusing on what needed to be done.

*****

PRIVATE ZOOM CHAT

Charlize: Do I scare you?

Hopper: Well, yes, sometimes you do scare me.

Charlize: How?

Hopper: You have too many attractive qualities.

Charlize: Thank you. Is that a problem?

Hopper: No. Does it scare you that I’m so much younger than you?

Charlize: You are sich a nasty man! I will chalk it up to your immaturity.

Charlize: *such

Hopper: And here we are. Stalemate?

Charlize: Not yet. There’s my celebrity.

Hopper: I have heard that you are famous, ruch, and beautiful.

Hopper: *rich

Hopper: What does all that mean to you?

Charlize: It means that I am under scrutiny. More than you can imagine.

Hopper: You seem to handle it well. Well enough, considering that you are hiding in my parents apartment.

Charlize: Gurl’s gotta do what a gurl’s gotta do.

Charlize: People make things up about me and report it as fact. My family and friends read the lies.

Charlize: Or they make things up about me and claim it as “fiction” or “faction”.

Charlize: There is “Charlize Theron” the public persona, “Charlize Theron” the brand, and Charlize Theron the private person.

Charlize: Both are important to me.

Charlize: I mean, all three are important to me.

Hopper: I understand. At least on an intellectual level.

Charlize: And if they find out about you, they will do the same to you. To your sisters. To your parents.

Hopper: My family has been through it. I’ve received bad reviews. My sister Olympia when she was a teenager? OMG.

Hopper: My parents? Christ, my parents.

Charlize: But you?

Charlize: And Ingrid?

Charlize: And your sons.

Hopper: Do you think you’re worth it?

Charlize: Come again?

Hopper: Do you think you’re worth it for me to be dragged through that swamp?

Charlize: Well, I am pretty special. IMHO.

Hopper: IMHO?

Charlize: In My Hunble Opinion.

Charlize: *Humble

Charlize: How soon can you be here?

Hopper: You mean my parents’ apartment with you and your kids?

Charlize: Don’t be so clever about this.

Charlize: Can I see you?

Hopper: Why?

Charlize: I don’t know that I can give you the answer you want.

Charlize: I am lonely and miss the company of another adult, one whom I can stand.

Hopper: For how long?

Charlize: I don’t understand.

Hopper: Should I pack for a booty call or something longer?

Charlize: Yes. Pack. You should always pack.

Charlize: Pack like you’re not going back to Washington or the Poconos or Chicago anytime soon.

Charlize: This is life during wartime.

Charlize: And always pack a swimsuit.

Charlize: An old girlfriend taught me that. You never know.

Hopper: No promises, right?

Charlize: No promises, but…

Hopper: I miss you, too.

*****

Zoom Conference

Reese: Before we leave, Hopper, will your mother be coming to the movie set? You told us that she wants to write her novels, but we really like to have the writers around. And there’s the contractual obligation.

Hopper: Yes, my mother and I will join you on the set.

Edward: Is Mr. Tilley – or is it Mr. Blandin – going to join us, too?

Hopper: No. He’s going back to his studio to paint. He’s got a backlog of commissions. You’re going to have to pull this performance out of your ass without his help, I suppose.

Charlize: I look forward to meeting your mother in person.

Hopper: Most people find meeting my mother to be most illuminating. Those who don’t are soon put to death.

Charlize: My, Hopper, you are such a funny, funny son.

Reese: OK, we’re out of time. Merry Christmas everyone!

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