I'll play along. I'll surrender to the vanity.
So, I say, your career is finished? Your marriage is over?
Just a few facts about me, she says, without the requisite hair-twirling. You're doing well so far.
But those were softballs, I say. The hard-hitting journalism is yet to come.
Of course, she laughs. Of course.
What exactly do you do? I add: Or did you do?
I was an actress, Bessaline Baxter tells me. (There is no other answer she could have given.) I was a child of the theatre, borne from it as much as from any living being. I was raised on the stage, she says, and came of age in front of the camera.
I squint, I'm trying to see it, do I? Is she?
You're not, I start.
I was. 1985. The Ties That Bind. Heather Locklear. When she wasn't a cow, she adds. They called us the Princesses of Sunset Boulevard. We were alive. I was alive. Matthew Broderick on one white-laced arm by day, McEnroe on the tattooed one by night.
(The absence of any visible ink stains make me cringe with the imagined pain of laser removal.) But it's her, it's really her, Bessaline Baxter née Bessie Adams, America's critical darling for a few short months in my youth, an embodiment of everything the country wanted but knew was only a curtain for what it wished to hide away, her file packed away in the deepest subbasement of my memories but nonetheless easily accessible.
One film, she says. One hit. All it took back then.
Her face melts subtly as though it's wax being caressed by a flame.
Now, it's over. Now, she says, I've been blacklisted and reveling in my newly acquired status as an untouchable.
Here, she waits for me to ask her why; here, she waits for me to ask her about her marriage; here, she wants me to know her, know who she is, learn everything about her.
But I already know her.
And here, too, I smile, for the first time in what feels like years but I'm sure is only since the moment I stepped off the train into New York, and retake the reins.
Tell me, I say, about tonight's Guest of Honor.
(I am ready.)