Monthly Archives: October 2016
“Fifteen, do I hear 15 … this is your LAST CHANCE to have YOUR pet on the February calendar for the 2017 Animal Society Foundation’s calendar. All other months have been sold … this is your LAST CHANCE … 15 going once … 15 going twice … SOLD for $1,400.00 to number 270!
Hannah could not believe she could be so impulsive.
The auctioneer approached Hannah and shoved a mic in her face, “And who is the lucky pet” he ask.”
“Alex, the tuxedo cat.”
“Well, congratulations Alex!”
The big photo shoot day had arrived. The day before, Hannah gave Alex a good brushing. He was looking good, but then Alex always looked good.
The photo shoot was a breeze. Alex was his usual charming and easy-going self. The photographer got some great photos of him: Alex in front of the bookcases – he seemed to instinctively know how to look like a Professor, some against a greenish-yellow wall – he rolled around like he was high on cat nip and a member of Andy Warhol’s factory, and some by the window with a city view behind him – now looking like Alex the World Traveler. The photographer said she had never worked with a pet as mutable as Alex and thought he had real star quality. Hannah ordered calendars for everyone she knew as a Holiday present.
Ellen’s raucous party was winding down. Jeff, her co-worker brought his girlfriend Sienna who was now three-quarters smashed. Struggling to put on her coat while coincidentally standing face to face with the calendar on the wall, she said “look at this cat, who is he!? … Oh wait … it’s a calendar … like you’re going to know who the cat is.”
“Well, actually I do. It’s my friend’s cat.”
“I’ll email you on Monday. You know, I’m a Specialty Modeling Agent. I think I have work for this cat.”
“Ok, I’ll look for it.” Like that’s ever going to happen, Ellen silently mused. She’s too drunk to remember.
Sure enough, on Monday morning, Ellen sees and email from Sienna. And it’s quite intelligible. Ellen forwards it to her friend Hannah.
Hannah reads the email and thinks back to what the photographer had said the day of the photo shoot, that Alex had real star quality. She remembered how fun that day was …wouldn’t it be a hoot to retire and act as Alex’s agent? Hannah fired off an email to Sienna as Alex lounged in the window, unaware of what might lie ahead ….
EVANESCENCE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Part 4 – Ordinary
Charlotte jerked awake. The bedroom was hot. Her bedspread was streaked with horizontal stripes, black and yellow, black and yellow. Nervous and sleepy, she rolled over on her back and held her hand up in front of blinds, interrupting the symmetry of the shadows. She looked at the clock, jumped out of bed, and put on her robe.
“Jesus, it’s past noon,” she said. “How did it get so late? I have to go check on Mom.”
Charlotte tiptoed down the hall to her mom and dad’s bedroom. Though her dad had been dead for over 10 years, she still expected to see his work clothes draped on the chair next to his side of the bed. She opened the door, and peered in. Her mom’s eyes fluttered open, adjusting to the bright light. She looked at Charlotte and smiled.
“Emily, you’re here,” she said. “Let’s go swimming today. I’m glad it’s summer vacation.”
Charlotte walked over and picked up her mom’s hand. It was so light now, papery and frail. Since her mom’s stroke, her toes and fingers, arms and legs, were curling in on themselves. She looked at Charlotte, her smile fading. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m your daughter Charlotte, Mom,” she answered, smoothing her thin grey hair off her forehead. She felt warm from the afternoon heat. “I’m going to get you lunch now.” Charlotte shook out the blanket and sheet, and draped them lightly over her mom’s thin body. She fluffed up her pillows and saw she needed more water. “Do you want water or juice with lunch Mom?” she asked.
“But I’m not hungry now,” her mom said. “It’s not time to eat yet. I’m not even hungry.” Charlotte had gotten used to this by now. It was upsetting at first. Her Mom had lost so much weight that Charlotte was worried that she’d have to go on a feeding tube. Each weekly visit to the doctor, her mom had weighed progressively less.
Her mom’s steady weight loss made Charlotte feel inadequate for the first time that she could remember. She could head up a studio marketing division, but wasn’t able to convince her mom to eat enough to keep from wasting away. Her appetite had diminished week by week. At last week’s doctor appointment Charlotte was frantic.
“What should I feed her?” she asked the doctor. “She’s emaciated. She’s never hungry anymore. She won’t eat. I’ve tried everything. I make all the stuff she likes. I even make her cookies and pie for dinner just to get her to eat something. I’m the only one in the house gaining weight.”
“Charlotte, it’s not your fault. She’s just slowing down,” the doctor said. “Her body is telling her what to do. I have a lot of patients who resist it after a severe stroke. In a way, she’s lucky that her Alzheimer’s is so far along. She doesn’t have to fight so hard anymore. She can finally relax.”
He looked at Charlotte’s stricken face. “Your mom’s not scared,” he said gently. “You shouldn’t be either. After everything she’s been through, it’s inevitable. It’s not just your mom. We’re all going to get there sooner or later.” He held Charlotte’s hand and politely looked away while she cried.
After that discussion with the doctor, Charlotte decided to let her mom do whatever she wanted. Eat or not eat. Get out of bed or stay in bed. Watch TV or stare at the ceiling. It was her choice. All Charlotte could do was make her as comfortable as she could. Still, she didn’t give up on the food.
“I’ll be right back with lunch, Mom,” Charlotte said. She went to the kitchen and pulled out the chicken noodle soup she made last night. It was too hot for soup, but by the time she got some into her mom, the soup would probably be cold.
She turned on the soup and popped four slices of bread in the toaster. Charlotte had forgotten how much she loved bread. Noodles too. Or basically everything that existed in the form of a processed carbohydrate. Lancaster might be a small town, but the bakery ratio per person was far greater than it was in Los Angeles. A person’s weight and BMI didn’t seem to be a such a huge issue either.
When she was living in Los Angeles, Charlotte had avoided all processed carbs like she would avoid eating poison mushrooms or a piece of dog shit. She and her friends discussed food endlessly, how much they ate, how many calories they allowed themselves per day, their personal gluten situations, vegan versus vegetarian, and the all the food they would consume after a night out drinking.
Some of her girlfriends talked incessantly about how much they regretted their situational promiscuity after drinking and ingesting assorted drugs during a night out. Not Charlotte. The only regrets Charlotte had after an uncivilized night were all the In-N-Out wrappers on the floor next to her bed the next morning. Sometimes she’d wake up to the guy she’d been out with the night before, and a handful of cold French fries in her bed.
Over the years, Charlotte had developed a routine to deal with any binge-eating emergency. She would throw away wrappers and stray fries immediately, then get rid of her evening companion. After that, she’d drive to Santa Monica and run up and down Ocean Drive until her wrist tracker signaled she had burned 2,000 calories. If Charlotte was too tired or hung over to run it off, she would throw up in a trash can. She appreciated the fact that nobody in Los Angeles was surprised by much, including public vomiting. LA took a lot out of you, but if you were a certain kind of person it gave a lot back.
Her toast popped up. Charlotte used her thumb and forefinger to get the pieces of hot bread out of the toaster and set them on a paper plate. She made two sandwiches, each with thick layer of peanut butter and the jam she had bought on Saturday at the farmer’s market. Charlotte ladled some soup into a small bowl and set it on her mom’s tray. As an afterthought, she grabbed a couple of snickerdoodles she made on Tuesday. She turned the stove down, and returned to her mom’s room.
Charlotte set the tray on her mom’s lap, unfolded the napkin, and draped it around her thin neck above her loose nightgown. Her mom smiled at Charlotte, her eyes clear and happy. “Where have you been sweetheart?” she asked. “I’m hungry. Is that chicken noodle? That’s my favorite.”
She reached for the spoon, but was unable to grasp it with her gnarled hand. Charlotte watched her struggle intently for a few minutes before she picked up the spoon. She blew on the warm soup and aimed it at her mom’s mouth. After several months, Charlotte was finally getting the hang of it. She managed to get her to eat half the bowl before her mom held up her hand. “I’m full now,” she said.
“Do you want a cookie, Mom?” she asked. “Snickerdoodles. We used to make them when we were kids.” Her mom didn’t reply, but she ate both cookies. Crumbs were everywhere. Charlotte brushed them onto the tray.
She watched curiously as Charlotte straightened up her bedside table and picked up stray items off the floor. “Are you married, dear?” she asked. “Do you have any children?’ Charlotte managed to suppress a laugh. She got into the bed and laid down next to her mom. She picked up her withered hand and held it.
“Not yet Mom,” she said. “Why do ask? Are you afraid I’m going to be an old maid?” They both laughed. “It just seems like a nice lady like you should be married,” her mom said. “But you look a little old to be starting a family.”
“You think I look old?” Charlotte asked. “Oh, now come on Mom, don’t tease me like that. I don’t look a day over 39 and we both know it. Remember my high school girlfriends? Now that is a grim looking group. I don’t look old.” Charlotte kissed her mom’s hand. “You aren’t worried about me, are you?” she asked. “I’m doing great. I’ve always done great.”
“I know you’ve done well for yourself,” her mom said. “You moved all the way to that city alone and you made something of yourself. You’re the oldest, and me and your dad were always the hardest on you. You had to set an example for your sisters and brother. We’re really proud of you.”
Charlotte stared at her, surprised. It had been a while since her last bout of lucidity, at least a few weeks. Maybe a month. “Thanks, Mom,” she said. “It means a lot to me for you to say that. I always thought you were disappointed with me, upset that I never got married and never had kids.”
Her mom smiled at Charlotte. “How could I be disappointed with you, honey?” she asked. “You’re so sweet. Look at you, cleaning up after me. I’m so glad you here. I’ve missed bingo so much. It’s hot out, isn’t it? I hope the grocery store won’t be too hot this morning.” Her mom’s eyes fluttered. “I worry that the milk’s going to go bad in the car.” She closed her eyes and began to gently snore. Charlotte picked up her tray and closed the door softly behind her.
She set her mom’s dishes in the sink and checked the soup. It was still warm, but not too hot. She got a couple of bowls, spoons, and dished everything up. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of beers. Chicken noodle soup and beer. And cookies, don’t forget those cookies. She set everything on the tray, and headed for her room. She turned around, grabbed the sandwiches, and balanced them on the bowls. She thought briefly about getting some fruit, but the tray was full now. She would start eating fruit again, maybe vegetables too, when she moved back to Los Angeles.
Charlotte walked down the hall to her room. She nudged the door open with her foot and set the tray down on her nightstand. She took off her robe and slid back into bed.
“How’s your mom,” Danny asked. “Is she feeling OK?” He rolled over and pulled Charlotte close to him. She buried her face in his neck. He still had those broad football shoulders and long arms. Charlotte liked it when he wrapped his arms around her and held her until she fell asleep. It was either Danny or the fact that she wasn’t starving, but Charlotte was able to sleep for the first time in years.
“She ate most of her lunch,” Charlotte said. “But she’s not doing very good. The doctor said she probably wouldn’t recover.” Her throat tightened and her eyes burned. She didn’t feel like discussing her mom with Danny right now. He was just too nice. Charlotte thought that things would have gone a lot better for him if he wasn’t so nice. Or if he hadn’t been so stupid. Charlotte found how surprisingly easy it was to use the words ‘stupid’ and ‘nice’ interchangeably.
Charlotte wriggled out of Danny’s grasp and reached for her sandwich. “I love eating in bed,” she said, taking a bite over the tray. “You know how everybody is always so freaked out about eating in bed. I’m not. You can always brush out the crumbs or throw the sheets in the laundry if you really make a mess. I could never figure out what the big deal was.” She grabbed her bowl of soup. “Now something hot, that’s a little trickier,” she said. “Don’t bump into me, or you’ll get burned.”
He pulled the tray up to his chest, and ate some soup. “This is good, Charlotte,” he said. “You’re a hell of a cook. I’d never figure you as a good cook. You look like the kind of person who always eats in restaurants.”
“So I love a good cliché,” Charlotte said. “And I can’t pass this one up. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Have you heard that one yet?” She was interrupted by a sudden burst of yelling and screaming from across the street. She set her soup down, jumped out of bed, and peered out between the shades. She turned around and laughed.
“It looks like your kids are fighting again,” she said. “Do they yell all day then quiet down at night? Or are they nocturnal, like raccoons? If they were like raccoons, that would explain all the trash lying around your yard.”
Danny sighed. “I thought you were going to stop hassling me about my kids,” he said. “Didn’t we agree that the kids would be off limits?” He watched as she took the last cookie from the tray and ate it in a couple of bites.
“Maybe you agreed,” Charlotte said, jumping back into the bed. She scooted over and put her head on his chest. “But I can’t remember if I agreed to agree to your bargain. Did I give you my input into this compromise? I’ll tell you what—I’ll only hassle you about two of your kids, and leave the other two alone, the youngest two.” She laughed. “Deal?” she asked.
Danny rolled away from her and got out of bed. “No deal,” he said. “I have to get home. Jenny’s going to wonder where I am.”
He put on his jeans, and searched around for his flip flops. Charlotte watched him as he pulled his tee shirt on. He still looked pretty good, she thought. Not like he did in high school, nothing like that. But he was still handsome, a little fleshy, but who wasn’t anymore. She rolled onto her back and kicked off the sheet. He stared at her naked body in silence.
Charlotte put her hand over her stomach, self-conscious beneath his gaze. After four months of eating what she pleased, her belly button piercing was strained to the last millimeter of spare flesh. Charlotte figured those few extra pounds she gained since she’d been home were nothing that a little exercise and a couple weeks of cocaine wouldn’t get rid of when she went back to Los Angeles.
“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if you had left?” Charlotte asked. “If you hadn’t gotten married to Jenny. What does Danny’s alternative universe look like?”
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “I don’t like playing this game.”
“Never?” Charlotte continued. “You never think what it would have been like if you had moved away like me, gotten a job, were free of any responsibilities, no wife, no kids, nothing. Huh. I’d be surprised.” He stared at her, silent and expressionless. “In fact,” she continued. “In fact, I think you’d be lying. I know you’d be lying. You’re here with me. You must be thinking about something different. I can’t think of anyone more different than me than your wife.”
He sat on the bed. “Do you remember 9-11?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “What’s that. What’s 9-11? Are you fucking kidding me, of course I remember 9-11. What’s your point?”
“I remember after about a week, after the buildings had come down and the firefighters and the police and the Red Cross, everyone had gone through every inch of that place but there still were people missing, people who hadn’t come home that day.” Danny paused.
“When I was watching the news, all I could think about was that if I were there, if I were in one of the towers or maybe close by in another building, or even walking down the street, I’d disappear forever. That’s what I would do, just disappear. Never go home. Be one of those names, ‘missing,’ I’d be gone.” He stared at her. “Jenny and the kids would get my life insurance, so I wouldn’t worry about that part of it. I could just start someplace new, become somebody else.”
“That’s insane,” Charlotte said. “You’ve really lost your mind. Your wish is to disappear. Is it the heat? Lack of sleep? Jenny’s bitching all day?”
Danny walked over to her and kissed her. “All of the above. I don’t want to leave,” he said. “I’d rather stay here with you and let you make fun of me some more. But I have to go home.” He stroked Charlotte’s hair and kissed her again. “I can’t believe you’re still such a bitch,” he said. “It’s would almost be funny, if you also weren’t such a pain in the ass.”
“Go,” Charlotte said. “Take some cookies with you or I’m going to eat the rest myself. I can’t let myself go, even though I’m living here right now.”
“You’re too vain,” he said. “That hasn’t changed in 30 years either. Bye.” He walked to the door. “Open or closed?” he asked.
“Open,” she said. “I want to be able to hear Mom.” Charlotte rolled over and looked at the clock. It was 2:30. Perfect. She smiled. She had enough time to read and get another nap in before she made Mom dinner.
EVANESCENCE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Part 3 – Flashback
Charlotte rooted through the mess on her dresser, frantically searching for her car keys. She couldn’t find a single thing she needed anymore. Her house was in shambles. Every horizontal space that could be utilized – counters, floors, the bed – was piled with the accumulated detritus of her adult life.
She looked around at the jumbled stacks and felt overwhelmed. Why had she kept all of this stuff anyway? Charlotte believed that throwing out all useless items was key to keeping her house spotless. But here it was, all these bits and pieces of her life materializing from her closets, drawers, and the basement. Everything she found took her back to her younger days, when life wasn’t so safe and predictable. Charlotte missed those times.
For the past few weeks she had sorted through concert ticket stubs, handbags, books, shells, swizzle sticks, New Yorker cartoons, brittle Polaroids, receipts from Fred Segal, three decades of trendy junk jewelry, matchbooks, the 1984 Olympics program, vacation photos, her Coachella VIP pass from 2010, and the extra car key for her first car.
When Charlotte found the key lodged in the back of her underwear drawer, she was elated. She always knew she didn’t lose it, it had just been misplaced. She remembered fighting with some boyfriend about it. She couldn’t remember which boyfriend, but she was right about the key. She found it thirty years too late to be useful, but still. Charlotte loved that car, her old BMW 2002 with the torn passenger seat, Blaukpunkt tape deck, and that big crack in the rounded windshield she could never afford to get fixed.
After unsuccessfully searching for her current set of car keys for a few more minutes, Charlotte felt angry and depressed. She went outside and sat down on the warm concrete next to the pool. The water had a greasy film on top of it and was full of leaves. Was she obligated to clean the pool before the renters arrived? She watched the concrete cupid placidly spit dirty water back into the pool. He looked a little grimy too. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, and pulled up the Airbnb app to see whether her listing obligated her to hire someone to clean the pool.
“Classic Hollywood bungalow,” it read. “The best LA has to offer. Historic two bedroom, 1 bath in great neighborhood.” That made Charlotte smile. She never would have predicted that. “At the base of the Hollywood Hills, this 1920s stucco charmer has easy access to shopping, restaurants, yoga, and freeways. Small pool in fenced back yard. Available for short- and long-term stays. $4,500/month, first, last and deposit. Children and pets welcome for a small fee.”
There was nothing in the listing about the condition of the pool. But it looked pretty bad. Charlotte leaned over and stuck her feet in the pool, splashing the old leaves and seed pods. The water was warm, almost body temperature. Back in the day, she would definitely jump in after a couple of drinks at one of her parties. The water wouldn’t have bothered her. But the people moving in were a lot different from Charlotte and her friends had been. She couldn’t figure out what was going on with 30-somethings these days.
Charlotte winced the second she thought this. At least she noticed when she did it now. Her mindfulness practice wasn’t very effective when she was under stress. For the past few years she would catch herself several times a day comparing things happening today with how things were in the past when she was young. Unfavorably. On just about every subject. To whoever she was talking to; friends, her employees, people next her in line at Whole Foods.
Charlotte was keenly aware that she was turning into the sort of person she couldn’t stand when she was younger. There was always that one person in every group who had to tell everyone about living in LA during the best times, the wildest times, when the parties were the craziest and the nightlife was the greatest. When one of these people started going on about the good old days, Charlotte would try to escape. Most of the time she’d have to endure the lecture. It was always the same.
“If you think it’s fun now, you should have seen it back in the 70s. This is nothing. You can’t even get Quaaludes or decent coke any more. The scene was so much freer then, so much more open. Not like it is now. You can’t even imagine how great it was. I remember when…” Charlotte learned to back away slowly and make a quick break when one of the LA elders began reminiscing. It drove her nuts.
Now Charlotte found herself telling the same exact stories she’d been telling for years, always in the past tense. Her big moments, her greatest adventures had all taken place at least a decade ago. According to her personal mythology, Charlotte’s last really cool experience occurred was when she was 40. She came to this realization after she was 50. It made her nauseous.
After a short period of self-hatred, Charlotte decided to she would stop being that person. She scanned the LA Weekly for the newest restaurants to go to. She read the LA Times to find out what bands to see. She exercised, and kept herself thin so she could still wear good clothes and shoes. She started going to Venice. She dragged her girlfriends along with her, kicking and screaming. She even determined she wasn’t as good a drunk driver as she used to be, and installed the Uber app on her phone. Nobody drove drunk anymore.
Charlotte stretched herself on the warm concrete next to the pool. She unbuttoned her jeans and tilted her pelvis so that her spine would lay flat. Her back and knees were killing her from packing. She looked up and squinted into the sun. It was always there, that LA sun, pitiless, yellow and hard.
Her phone buzzed. It was one of her younger sisters, calling from Boston. The sisters still all liked to talk on the phone rather than texting or exchanging messages on Facebook. Charlotte answered.
“Didn’t you know only old people call each other anymore?” she asked, laughing.
“You’re older than I am,” her sister Lizzie said. “It’s probably best not to reference your age in Los Angeles. You should know that by now.”
“No kidding,” Charlotte said. “I’m keeping up appearances. I have so much damn Botox in my upper lip that I can barely talk. What’s up?”
“I wanted to see how your packing was coming along. I talked to John today. It’s really nice what you’re doing for Mom. We all really appreciate it.” Lizzie paused. “Are you going to be OK in Lancaster for a while? It’s pretty boring. I hope you aren’t going to be too bored.”
“Yes,” said Charlotte. “Yes, I’m going to be bored. It’s going to drive me insane. It’s still the same little town we grew up in. But I’m only 70 miles from LA, so it won’t be too bad. I can come back to hang out with friends, and get my roots colored. So basically I’m going to be back every four weeks. It’s doable. Mom needs help, you guys are too far away, and John won’t be threatened with a 911 call every time Mom sees him in the house.”
“Thanks to Facebook, I know that most of my high school friends still live her,” Charlotte continued. “So I won’t be too lonely. I can hang out with all my old friends and we can talk about how much we still hate Julie Towne at the Friday night football game. So it won’t be all bad. Did you see my Airbnb listing?”
“I did, what the hell. That’s stupid money for your place,” Lizzie said. “Who are these people? What do they do? Why the hell are they paying so much for a house in that shit neighborhood?”
“Shit neighborhood? Are you kidding? Don’t you mean hip neighborhood?” Charlotte said. “It’s super safe here now. I can walk to the grocery store, but I don’t because it’s too hot. But if I wanted to, I could. No more stolen cars and no break-ins. We have a neighborhood watch committee. It’s all families now. There’s some really good school about a mile from here. Check this out, your kindergartner has to apply to get in. It’s thirty grand a year.” Charlotte giggled. “Thirty grand for elementary school in Hollywood. It’s hilarious.”
“I’m glad the neighborhood got better. I hated staying at your house when you first bought it,” Lizzie said. “I was terrified to park the car more than a block away from your house. I had to run through that maze of junkies and hookers to get to your front door. I still can’t believe the neighborhood changed so much.”
“Seriously, you need to believe it” Charlotte said. “It gentrified about ten years ago. I couldn’t even afford to buy my own house right now. It’s too expensive.”
“You must be glad,” Lizzie said. “So, did you finally take the bars off the windows?”
“I did,” said Charlotte. “But I left the metal screen door on. It reminds me of when I first moved in, when I would lock the door and watch the nightly freak show from the comfort of my living room. It’s a little strange though. I hated it back then, but now I kind of miss how the neighborhood used to be, with all the weirdos hanging out. Band practice every night in the house across the street.”
She looked up at the curved dome of the Griffith Observatory, perched on the hillside next to the Hollywood sign. “There’s not even very much smog here anymore. Things are really different.”
“So you actually miss your freak neighbors, street crime, and the smog.” Lizzie laughed. “I can’t believe you. Just be glad you got renters who will pay that kind of money for your place. What are they like?”
“They’re a married couple, super nice.” Charlotte said. “Young, early 30s, married with two kids. Huckleberry and Chapel. Two really cute little girls. I think he works at Paramount. And I don’t really miss the smog.”
“What?” Lizzie said. “Who gets married and has kids in their 30s? That’s ridiculous. You’re chained to your house and kids for the rest of your life. It’s like you’re just asking to get divorced at 50.”
Charlotte sighed. “People are different these days. Boring. Nobody wants to have fun anymore.” She stood up and stretched. “Lizzie, I have to get off the phone,” she said. “I need to get everything boxed up and put in storage. I only have five more days to get it done.”
“I’ll let you go,” Lizzie said. “Anyway, it’s only for six months. John’s coming back then.”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said. “John’s coming back in six months. Unless something happens. And we both know something always happens. So I rented the place out for a year. I’m officially on a leave of absence from the studio for six months, but I can always get a new job if it goes longer.” She stepped into the house. It was cool inside, and smelled like jasmine.
“Are you doing something before you take off?” Lizzie said. “Any plans? Or are you sneaking out of town.”
“No, we’re all going out next Saturday,” Charlotte said. “One last night on the town with the ladies while I’m still officially a resident. If I can find my car keys. I also have to see Grant and Tony before I go. I promised I’d have dinner with each of them. It’s not like I’m moving to Nebraska for God’s sake.” She paused. “Or Boston. That would be ridiculous.”
“OK Charlotte, go back to packing,” Lizzie said. “Let me know how it goes. Me and Jane are going to fly out to see you and Mom next month. Good luck getting everything done.” Lizzie hung up.
Charlotte leafed through the stack of mementos on her kitchen counter. So far she hadn’t been able to throw anything away. She had to drive over to the Valley to get cute storage boxes at Target. Traffic had been a nightmare. It had gotten so much worse. Charlotte had never seen it so bad. She used to be able to get there in 20 minutes. Now it took well over an hour.
“I’m doing it again,” she said out loud. “Stop it.” Charlotte picked up an old ticket from the top of the pile. August 5, 1985. Stray Cats at the Palladium. She remembered it well. That had been a lot of fun, all those rockabilly guys were a nice change from their usual punk crowd. She tried to remember who her date was that night. He had blond hair. She thought he might have moved back to Sacramento or someplace like that shortly after the show.
Her mindfulness practice kicked in, jerking her back to 2016. Charlotte decided to find her car keys before she did anything else. She walked around the stacks in her hall towards her bedroom.
EVANESCENCE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Part 2 – Jasmine
Like many things in the cell phone era, Charlotte’s decision to move back home began with a text. She was growing restless after hour two of the meeting. After 20 years in marketing, Charlotte was bored out of her mind. The pay was great and her commute wasn’t horrendous, all things considered. But for the past few years she had hated every minute she was at work.
At first she thought her job was impossibly glamorous. She was working for a major studio, making distribution deals for superhero movie tie-in merchandise. When she first got her job, Charlotte was thrilled to become a member of the of the elite Los Angeles caste working in “the business.” She was even happier when she was promoted to the head of the Ultra Super Homicide Team franchise. She’d finally gotten everything she wanted.
Charlotte’s initial excitement soon wore off. The movies she promoted were typically loud and silly. The meetings could be more ridiculous than the movies. Each miniature hero, sidekick, and villain was produced again and again, in several different sizes and colors. Each tiny plastic face had several different expressions, which had to be matched and compared with facial expressions from the actors. The actors would then have to approve their plastic likeness. Charlotte though getting the Treaty of Versailles negotiated was probably easier than getting actor approval.
After the preliminary size, color, and expression was decided on, there would then be several more meetings to determine which third-world factory would be blessed with the manufacturing contract. After deciding on the factory, she then had to determine which fast food franchises would be the best fit to relentlessly plug both the movie and the food. After 20 years, Charlotte felt her sole purpose in life was to distribute choking hazards to the future obese of America.
Her cell phone buzzed on her lap. It was a text from her brother John. The room was silent. Charlotte looked up. Apparently everyone at the meeting was waiting for some sort of response from her.
“I think it mostly looks good,” she said. “But we have a long way to go on Blobbo and Putty Pants. I’m just not feeling it, especially with Putty Pants.” Charlotte looked at her phone. “I think that’s it for the day. I’d like to see everyone back here tomorrow morning at ten with a new idea. This movie is supposed to make money. I’m thinking with this project, we have more than a sequel people. I’m thinking spin-off.” She smiled briefly, got up and left.
“Was she really even listening to us?” she heard someone whisper. “It’s like she doesn’t even care.” This didn’t make Charlotte mad. Instead she was pleased that at least someone on her team was paying attention for once.
She got to her car and read John’s text. “Call me as soon as u can has 2 do with mom.” Charlotte’s heart raced. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, not today,” she thought. “I don’t want to deal with this right now.” She looked at the text for a minute and decided to respond when she got home. She checked her traffic app. As usual, it was going to be a nasty commute. Charlotte decided to skip the freeway and take the long way over Mulholland. It would give her an extra half hour to think.
It was getting dark by the time Charlotte pulled up to her house. The sky was purple and dark green from the haze. She looked up at the sky by force of habit, even though she hadn’t seen stars since she moved to Los Angeles from Lancaster. The city lights were much too bright. The incessant traffic white noise to her now. Spotlights criss-crossed the sky, and a helicopter droned. It was a typical Los Angeles night, busy and loud.
Charlotte got out of her car and walked up the sidewalk to her house. The jasmine was just starting to bloom, and the smell was overwhelmingly cloying and sweet. She loved that smell, except when it got too hot for too many days in a row. Then Charlotte thought it smelled like cheap perfume or embalming fluid in a funeral home. “Funeral home,” she thought. “I have to call John.”
She threw her briefcase and purse on the sofa, poured herself a glass of wine, and headed through the French doors to her back yard. She walked around the perfectly round pool, which was probably built at the same time as the house in the early 20s. It had a little cupid fountain, no filtration system, and lighting that would burn out after six days of constant use. Charlotte still loved it. She sat down on a chaise lounge, punched in John’s number and watched the little cupid spit a steady stream of heavily chlorinated water out of his little pursed lips into the pool.
The phone rang once. “Finally,” John said. “What the hell. I texted you four hours ago. What if it was an emergency?”
“Thank god it’s not,” Charlotte said. “That text scared the hell out of me. Next time do you want to add a few words, something like ‘hey, I have a question,’ or ‘hey, it’s not an emergency.’” She took a sip of wine. “What’s the deal?”
She knew damn good and well what was coming next, but she still dreaded it. She and her sisters all knew that John staying with Mom was a temporary fix at best, a stop-gap measure to delay the inevitable. Mom still had decent days, but for the past several months the bad days outnumbered the good. Her mom rarely recognized Charlotte most of the time, and often confused Charlotte for her own sister who had died several years ago. It was unnerving.
“OK” John began, “OK Charlotte, OK. You’ve got to listen to me, I’m really serious, I’ve got to get out of here right now. I have too many things to do. I haven’t been able to get anything done. I’m running a business; I’ve got to take care of that business. Katy can’t take care of everything herself. She needs me to help her.” He stopped to take a breath. John talked faster than anyone Charlotte knew. She’d be able to get a word in when he was forced to come up for air.
“Also, it’s not like Mom even recognizes me anymore these days,” he continued. “Most mornings when I walk in her room she stares at me and starts screaming. She thinks I’m breaking in or something. The worst thing she’s been screaming lately at the top of her lungs is that a strange man is coming in to rape her.” John inhaled, then continued.
“How do you think I feel when Mom starts screaming that I’m about to rape her, yelling for someone to call the police every time she sees me, the rapist. You’d be totally freaked out, that’s what. Also, you’d get sick and tired of the neighbors running over and wanting to know what’s going on. Most of these people are bored out of their minds and can’t wait to find out who’s trying to rape our Mom. Speaking of being bored out of your mind, do you think this is fun for me here? Do you think…”
“John, stop for minute” Charlotte said. “John. I’m listening to you, just drop the whole incest thing for a minute.”
She was torn between teasing John about the important business matters that he had to attend to immediately and not making him angry. It was a delicate balance that was challenging to maintain with John. On some days, a few well-placed comments would make him so mad that he wouldn’t speak to Charlotte for months. On other days, John would happily agree that he somehow managed to cruise through life with no steady employment and a wealthy girlfriend, while mocking her about how hard she worked. Charlotte decided he sounded too worked up to be teased.
“What do you need to do?” she asked. “And how long will it take?”
“OK, so here’s the thing,” John said. “Me and Katy and a bunch of our friends want to take this sort of camping surf trip bike trip thing down the coast to Cabo. You know those board shorts we designed last year? I figured out that we could start selling board shorts and the new bike shorts at the same time at all the places we camp and hang out, also maybe start designing some rash guards that can take the changes in the ocean, like the different kinds of salt and seaweed in both California and Mexico.” He took a quick breath. “Also, we thought we could meet some people in places that we camp that we could hire to sell our stuff, you know, like Torrey Pines, Rosarito, La Paz. Wherever.”
Charlotte thought it would be best not to share her opinion right this minute if she wanted him to come back and stay with Mom after his trip.
“So, when are you leaving?” she asked. “And are you going to be gone for very long?”
“Well, we’d all be meeting up at Leo Carrillo, stay there for a few days, then start working our way down the coast to Baja. Maybe I’ll be gone a couple of months. Four, five months at the most.” John paused. “Are you pissed at me?” he asked. “I’ve been here for a couple of months now. I know you’ve been giving me breaks on the weekend. It’s been really cool, we appreciate it. But I’ve got to get this business going. Spring’s the perfect time.”
“It’s not a great time for me to quit my job right now John,” Charlotte said. “We’ve got the movie coming out, opening weekend’s the Fourth of July. I can’t just take off and leave my job. Look, we haven’t even figured out how to market Blobblo yet, and don’t even get me started on Putty Pants…”
“You hate your job,” John interrupted. “That’s all I ever hear from you; how much you hate your job. Why don’t you just quit, or take a leave of absence, or call in sick, or whatever you wage slaves do. You’ve got enough money. Besides, Mom still recognizes you.” He paused, listening for a reaction from Charlotte. She was silent. John waited a few seconds, then continued.
“Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “Why don’t you move back home with Mom for six months. You get a break from your job and LA, I get the chance to get my business going. After six months, I’ll come back. We both win.”
“John, quit talking for a few minutes,” Charlotte said. “I’ll do it. I’ll put my house on Air BNB and move home. Six months. We’ll figure out what to do after that. I’m hanging up before I change my mind.”
A Dark and Stormy Night by Shanna
It was a dark and stormy night and Detective Roberts was not happy to get called out in this weather. The windshield wipers swept side to side, rhythmically, as he drove up the long driveway to the home where Joan and Albert Statler lived. The rain continued to pound as he buttoned up his coat and got out of the car. He drew in a drag of his cigarette and slowly blew out the smoke as he stared at the house in front of him.
It was really more like a mansion, its three stories towering over Detective Roberts. The mansion was well-lit, as light seemed to pour from almost all the rooms on the first floor. Detective Roberts tried to remember what he knew about the Statlers – well-to-do society couple, both in their early forties, no children – as he walked up the front door.
The sky lit up with lightning and thunder rumbled. Out of the corner of his eye Detective Roberts could see the streetlights flickering and he hoped the power would stay on. The wind whipped the bottom of his coat as he stood on the stoop. Taking a final drag, he stubbed out his cigarette on the brick next to the door and rang the doorbell. He could hear the gong reverberating throughout the house.
A uniformed officer opened the door. “Glad to see you,” he said as he motioned the detective inside the house. “Come in.”
Detective Roberts walked through the foyer, his footsteps echoing in the large hall. He scanned his surroundings and noticed the walls full of paintings, perfectly set off by the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Vases of china and crystal were displayed on the side tables. He could hear the faint strands of music wafting out from behind one of the doors. He walked by and glanced through the partially opened door and saw the back of a black-clad maid, her body bent over as she leaned on the table next to the radio.
“What do we got?” asked the detective as they came to a closed door.
“The Mr. Statler was found dead earlier tonight in the library. Body’s torn apart,” Officer Floyd stated. He opened the door and stood back so that Detective Roberts could enter the room. “Mrs. Statler found him when she returned home tonight.”
Detective Roberts walked into the room and his nostrils flared, scenting the coppery penny smell of blood. Mr. Statler lay sprawled across the floor, a sheet draped over his body. It clung wetly to the former master of the house, the blood seeping through the linen in several places.
Kneeling down, the detective drew back the sheet. Mr. Statler laid face-up, blood dripping from the torn gash in his throat. Large chunks of skin were missing from his arms and torso as if someone had taken large bites of flesh and gnawed on the man. He was clad in only a robe and a spreading pool of blood soaked into the fabric and carpet below him.
“What do you think?” asked Detective Roberts, looking up at the officer. “Vampire?”
“Yup, or zombie.”
Detective Roberts frowned. “Zombie? How do you figure that?” He gestured towards Mr. Statler’s throat. “Since when do zombies go for the neck?”
Officer Floyd shrugged. “Maybe it was confused?”
Detective Roberts touched the sticky pool beneath the man. Rubbing his fingertips together he slowly got up and looked around the room. Shards of porcelain littered the floor, the remains of a tea set. A book sat open, face down over the arm of the sofa. Light from the wall scones bathed the walls. The room was silent, a breeze blowing through an open window causing the gauzy curtains to flutter.
Detective Roberts walked over to the window. The light from the room reflected off the broken shards in the window frame and he stared at his fragmented reflection. Rain streamed in through the broken window, soaking the carpet, with a few glass shards laying off to the side.
“Nearest cemetery is what, 2 blocks away?” he asked.
“2 blocks north,” replied the officer.
“Whoever or whatever was here went out this window and left a while ago. There’s no way we can track them, not in this weather.” Detective Roberts sighed. “Let’s go talk to Mrs. Statler.”
Mrs. Statler sat in the parlor, the golden skirts of her gown pooling off of the settee and onto the floor. She was an attractive woman, her dark hair swept off her face, her lips reddened with rouge. Smoke swirled up from the long thin cigarette in her hand and as Detective Roberts walked into the room she brought it up to her mouth and took a long drag.
“Mrs. Statler,” he said. “I’m Detective Roberts.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, exhaling a large cloud of smoke from the corner of her mouth. Detective Roberts watched the smoke as it curled upwards and disappeared into the air. He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, pulled out his notebook, and flipped it open.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Well, as I’ve already told this lovely officer here, I was at a charity dinner and when I got home I found poor Albert lying on the floor, covered in blood. Well, I did what anybody would have done and I rang the police.” Mrs. Statler tipped the ash from her cigarette into the tray beside her.
Detective Roberts narrowed his eyes. “You don’t seem too upset over the death of your husband.”
“He was having an affair with the maid,” Mrs. Statler shrugged. “So cliché.” She stubbed out her cigarette and flicked it into the ashtray, another cigarette butt to join the others, each with a ring of red lipstick on the end where she had clamped the cigarette between her lips. She smoothed down her skirts and stood up.
“May I go now?” she asked. “I have some calls to make.”
Detective Roberts nodded and Mrs. Statler swept out of the room. Looking at the Officer Floyd, Detective Roberts said, “Let’s go back to the library and look again at the body.”
The body lay in the same position as when they had left it. “When is forensics getting here?” Detective Roberts asked.
“They’re on their way. Seems they got caught in some traffic due to the weather.”
The detective kneeled down again to look at the body. “The throat is torn like a vampire attack. But there is flesh missing like a zombie tried to eat him.” Splashes of blood trailed all around the room and Detective Roberts found it impossible to tell if it all belonged to Mr. Statler or not.
“I won’t know anything until forensics can tell me what killed him,” he stated. “Who was the last person to see him alive?”
The officer checked his notebook. “The maid,” he said. “She brought tea around 9pm.”
Detective Roberts pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Let’s talk to the maid again. Maybe she saw something.”
Officer Floyd went to the door and motioned to the policeman in the hallway. Detective Roberts walked around the room, looking at the bookcases. They were all free of dust with not a book out of place. Either the maid cleans in here regularly, he thought, or Mr. Statler spends a lot of time in the library. Bending over, he squinted to read the names on the spines of the books.
Loud footfalls came from outside the room, causing Detective Roberts to look up and quit his perusal. The policeman rushed through the door. “The maid,” he gasped, “is dead!”
To be continued?
The King by Dalmatia Flemming
“Oh, how I love this caviar. They know this is my favorite kind. They order it just for me. They are so very nice to me. You see, I am a regular on this flight and somewhat of a celebrity. But I don’t let it go to my head; my feet are planted firmly on the ground, or to the floor of the airplane; you know what I mean. I would never dream of taking advantage of situations or other sentient beings due to my celebrity status.”
“I have settled into a nice little routine on this flight. After relaxing and enjoying my snack of caviar with a little cream on the side, I will make the rounds in first class. Then sometimes I will make it a point to go visit with the pilot and co-pilot. After that, the pilot usually announces via the PA system that a celebrity is on board and who that celebrity is. That usually elicits a few gasps and excited giggles from my fellow passengers. That is my cue to then mosey around business and coach classes.”
“I especially like the children. Maybe that is because they are the most excited to see me. But there are plenty of adults who get excited as well. Usually it’s the business class passengers; sometimes they are working on the plane and welcome the chance to take a break and visit with me. There is the rare occasion when there will be a pet on the plane. Sometimes they are scared of me, I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because they don’t fly often and find the whole experience to be stressful.”
“But yes, the children. I’ll spend about 1 day a week visiting ill children in the hospital. I feel that I can make a difference in this world by inspiring them. It’s not that I’m a role model, no, it’s not that. But … I don’t know … I seem to make them happy and they make me happy too. You know, LA can take a lot out of you, but if you are a certain kind of cat, it can gave a lot back. And to think, this whole new aspect of my life began with the charity calendar shoot.”
“Come on Alex, we’re starting the decent.”
“Oh, I need to get back into my cat carrier now.”
Dagmar Agnes nee Goode and subsequently Jones, Goldstein, Nielson felt like a Black Widow. Of course, Dag as she was called, had nothing to do with the deaths of her three husbands but after being widowed three times she believed she would never feel “that” way about a man again.
That is until she met Tony, Anthony Delgado, to be exact. It all started on a normal rainy fall day while she was on her way to work. She was thinking that after so many dead husbands she should have had more money so she wouldn’t have to continue working every day.
Mr. Herman Jones her first husband, had been a lounge piano player. In the fifteen years of marriage they never saved a penny and his sudden heart attack didn’t change her fortunes one bit. The Musicians Union did ante-up for funeral expenses and his brother pitched in a few hundred to help her pay some of his bills. She was glad they hadn’t been able to have any children because that would have made a bad thing even worse.
The bus was crowded as usual and everyone was damp and crabby. She was forced to stand holding on to the back of someone’s seat, pressed against the Carhartt jacket turned away from her. They jostled along in the tightly packed bus until it reached the main downtown bus stop. Instead of pushing ahead of her, the jacket paused and let her go ahead of him, “Excuse me, you go first,” he said.
She didn’t think anything of it or him and hurried away into the rain. She didn’t notice his hint of a smile or the kindness in his eyes looking at her as he slowly descended the almost empty bus.
Dag didn’t pay any attention because she was worried about being able to keep up with the youngsters who were eroding her position in sales. She needed to save money for a decent retirement in about eight years.
Her second husband had promise. He was a music producer who had been a colleague of Mr. Jones. Jerry Goldstein was on a fast track. He hustled gigs for his clients but realized too late that the music business was changing. He hustled hard and drank even harder while the business failed around him.
Dag found herself widowed a second time after Jerry keeled over; well they found him dead, his head between the thighs of an traumatized stripper. Dag had to pay for the stripper’s therapist bills. By the time she finished paying everything else he owed she was just barely able to keep the condo they had bought when they first married. Actually, she was thankful that she could come out a little ahead after the four almost five years they had been together.
Tony made sure he was on the bus everyday. He noticed her fragile nature. He felt he had some kind of telepathy with her. One day when the bus was not as crowded he took a chance and sat next to her.
He carefully introduced himself. “Hi, I hope you don’t think I am being too forward but I’d like to introduce myself to you. My name is Tony, no actually Anthony Delgado. I am foreman at the new high-rise going up a block away. I’ve always noticed you and I thought I would like to talk to you but I was unsure of what you would think. I know you probably think I’m a creep but I’m very nice. I think you are a very nice person and I’d like to get to talk to you more.” All of his words came tumbling out in a rush.
Dag looked him over carefully as if noticing him for the first time although she had noticed that he was on the bus every time she was. A few days after this initial introduction they had lunch together and discovered in each other a very sympathetic nature.
Dag told him about her first husband and Tony didn’t seem surprised about Mr. Jones only that she had married him when she was twenty-two which made him an innocent boy of eight at the same time.
She invited him to her condo for their next date and told him the tragedy of her second husband Jerry and the freaked out stripper. He didn’t say a word just took her in his arms and held her tight. Her tightly held emotions burst forth and he stayed with her that night gentling her to sleep.
Dag was to her surprise falling for this man but was scared to tell him about the last husband. She hesitated. She tried to push him away. She told him to go away. She didn’t answer the phone. She rejected his texts. She swore to herself that she wasn’t going to get involved with a man again. Ever.
Tony persisted. Finally Dag relented.
“I didn’t want you to reject me because I realized I am falling for you.”
“What on earth could be so bad that I would let you go?”
“It’s just my unlucky life. I am jinxed.”
“That is bullshit. Please tell me.”
“Ok, so you’ve heard of the Black Widow Syndrome?”
“What does this have to do with spiders?”
Dag actually laughed a little and gave Tony a peck on the cheek.
“The Black Widow is a woman whose husbands all die.”
“How many husbands have you killed, Dag. Really?”
“Well, none really, it’s just my third husband was a nice simple man. He owned a small convenience store. Ralph, Ralph Nielson was his name. We were married a little over a year and BAM! He was coming home one night and got T-boned by a truck. He died instantly.”
“Damn, girl. You weren’t kidding. Tell you what. I promise that however much you beg me to, I won’t ever marry you. Never ever. How does that sound?”
Warning Signs, Pt. 2
Bangor Naval Base Kitsap is the third-largest Navy base in the U.S. It features one of the U.S. Navy’s four nuclear shipyards, one of two strategic nuclear weapons facilities, the only West Coast dry dock capable of handling a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and the Navy’s largest fuel depot.
When Kat first showed the shelter to Charlie he was amazed. It was a lead lined, concrete tube, hand dug into the side of the hill. Kat’s grandfather made it big enough for his family of 4 to live comfortably. It was a product of fear: the family’s farm was within 10 miles of Bangor Naval Base, one of the largest nuclear submarine bases in the U.S.. During the 1960s nuclear arms race Kat’s engineer grandfather saw a bleak future and began digging.
Schematics for the mechanical systems were still hanging with yellowing tape to the mint green walls. The red strawberries she and her grandmother had stenciled on the walls during Kat’s childhood summer visits were still visible.
“Look at these diagrams!” Charlie had exclaimed as he scrutinized the highly detailed and illustrated manuals.
Meticulous, step-by-step instructions explained to shelter evacuees how to operate the electrical system, the heating, the generator and the well.
“And then after my grandpa died, and grandma moved to Hawaii, my uncle Rick took over the farm,” She’d explained to Charlie, “And he went a little nuts with the Y2K stuff.” She gestured to a composting toilet and shrugged. “There’s a whole store room of dehydrated food, canned meat and powdered milk and eggs. It’s gross.”
“Kat, do you understand this is our ticket to survival? If the whole thing ever goes, this is where we need to be.” Charlie hugged her.
She’d glowed with pride that she had something to do with a survival plan, a plan that involved only the two of them. That night 3 years ago they’d spent their first full night together in the shelter, bedsprings squeaking. This was before A.’s diagnosis and Charlie could still get away. Other than their time on Rainier, it had been the only time they’d spent a full night together.
Kat pulled the car up alongside the dilapidated farmhouse. She looked out from the hill that overlooked Puget Sound and saw Mt. Rainier in the distance. It all still looked calm and peaceful. As the moon rose over the mountain, she thought about the last time she was out during a hunter’s moon, the time here with Charlie. She grabbed her phone from the seat and checked for messages. None. It was 4am.
Stepping out of the car, Kat felt the earth move. She’d been in her car and on the boat for the majority of the earthquakes and this was the first time she actually could feel it shake. It jolted her out of her reverie and got her running.
“I’ll be back for you in a minute,” She told the cat who still hid under the front passenger seat. She grabbed the survival bag and her laptop from the car and slammed the car door after her.
She ran down the backside of the house to the opening of the shelter. A rusted metal gate was padlocked over the shelter opening. It looked like the entrance to a mine. The black and yellow fallout shelter sign still hung by rusted bolts to the concrete face of the entrance. After scratching at the lock the gate finally screeched open reveling the lead door inset with a thick red glass panel at eye level. She fumbled with her keys to find the right one. Once inside she flicked on the light switch, almost expecting in not to work. A florescent light flickered to life above.
“O.K.,” Kat said to reassure herself. She dumped the bag and set her computer on the desk that still had a rotary black phone sitting on it. She wanted to pick up the phone just to hear the dial tone. The room smelled musty and stale. But there was no time to air it out. “Cat!” She reminded herself. She ran back out to the to the car. The ground began to shake again, this time more violently as she was trying to reach under the seat to grab Heph.
“Damnit!” She yelled as her head smacked into the glove box. The cat was not having any of it. He hissed at her as she put her hand around his neck and pulled him out from under the seat. His claws dug into her arms but she held him tight.
“You’re all I’ve got!” She tried to explain to the growling cat. As they came up over the hill towards the fallout shelter, the ground seemed to fall away from beneath her feet, knocking Kat to her knees. She looked across the water and saw the steam, ash and smoke begin to shoot out of the top of Mt. Rainier. The plume seemed to unfurl in slow motion, although Kat knew the rate of the ejecta was faster than any manmade vehicle had ever travelled. Kat saw small jets of brown and black ash, along with white steam plumes suggesting phreatomagmatic activity (i.e. interaction of water with magma). Her scientific mind marveled at what she was witnessing. Red glowing lava began to light up the underside of the blooming mushroom cloud of ash and steam.
Still clinging to the cat she stumbled towards the shelter opening. The sonic blast of the eruption stopped her in her tracks. The rumble started as a low frequency sound, almost more felt than heard, but grew louder until it was like a jet engine accelerating in the atmosphere directly overhead. The windows of her car blew out and the car alarm began to sound. Kat instinctively tried to cover her ears from the deafening roar of the eruption. Heph dropped from her hands and sped away into the darkness.
Kat couldn’t hear herself yelling but she felt the air sucked out of her lungs. She lunged for the gate of the shelter and dragged herself in. The lead door swung closed silently behind her. She turned the crank to the air seal and sank down with her back to the door. In the silence of the shelter all she could hear was the ringing of her blown eardrums. All else was quiet.
It was over just like that. The color left his face, the light left his eyes. His body crumpled to the ground, quieter than a cone falling from a tree. They paused, smiled, shared a high five. Then, with a sigh, they got to work.
The two of them carried his body up the hill for half an hour, walking, crawling, ducking trees. Doreen had a little digital watch on her wrist. When it started chiming they stopped. They used no words. An observer might wonder if the beeps were an marker or a command.
They stripped the body and took the only thing he had – a few rocks – from his pockets. They examined his naked body. One of them half chuckled. She toed him with her boot and rolled him on into a hollow beneath a tree.
“So long Petey, you dumb fucker.”
“I hope the birds and the critters find you palatable.”
With that, they turned their backs on Petey’s remains and began the downhill trek back to the Early Winters parking lot.
They were not concerned at all about leaving a trail. The trip down was over far more quickly than the trip up, encumbered as they were only with Pete’s wet denim, and his rocks. Not even undergarments or shoes to carry. They also yearned for the bounty they had left in the truck.
The rain was constant and was showing more and more bits of snow as the afternoon progressed and chilled.
They found the truck there, running. Loud music playing within and a car alarm continually blaring, a louder version of the sound on Doreen’s watch. This sound they did not seem to notice at all as they sang along to Roy Orbison. The falsetto and incongruity fueled their giddy mood.
”I wish this thing had a good fucking stereo. Something louder than this little yellow plastic Panasonic.”
“Whatever, it’s fine.”
Millicent rooted through a rucksack she pulled from the backseat. From it she pulled a blue bag with a white drawstring, Crown Royal printed on the side. She placed Pete’s rocks in there. They were not lonely.
“We’ve got a nice little bag going now. Hopefully it helps.”
“It would be nice to get out of this place, but there are some aspects of our job that I love.”
Rocks stored, Doreen passed Millicent her first portion of their shared bounty: an apple fritter and a cup of coffee.
“I do like the apple fritters best,” Millicent opined. Her lips smacked as she greedily finished her first..
“For me, the pink frosting – with chocolate sprinkles – are divine,” said Doreen.
“Divine!” they said in unison, and started giggling.
They had a box of donuts between them on the front seat. They ate their donuts and heartily sipped their venti drips. Half and half for Doreen, black for Millicent. They turned the music down just a bit. The alarm in the truck was still going off, still they did not seem to notice.
“Now back to my question from this morning: have you seen the crows fucking?”
Doreen laughed, some crumbs flying from her mouth. She wiped her face with the back of her sleeve, crumbs lingering on the light brown camo. She removed her orange ballcap and tousled her hair. “No, ridiculous. What was he babbling about? It was like he didn’t understand until the last moment what was going on. Going on about the crows copulating.”
“Copulating. Silly word play,” said Millicent.
“Exactly,” said Doreen, “as if he thought he could confuse us. If you are talking about fucking, might as well just say it.”
“So, which way do you think Paulie went?”
“Petey and Paulie. So foolish. My guess is that Paul went up toward the pass.”
“Yeah. That’s my thought too. Not sure he would have had more success heading to Winthrop. But if he is going to make things easier for us I’m not going to complain.”
Doreen nosed the truck back out onto route twenty and headed west, lights off, in the middle of the road.
“Come on Doreen, turn on the lights and stay on your side of the road.”
“Nobody is out here,” she protested.
“If there is someone, I think it likely we will want to talk to them. Best to to be as unobtrusive as possible. I’ll bet he looks for the next parking lot with a car. Sorry to be such a bummer. What is it I’ve heard about hunting deer – you want to shoot them while they are relaxed. The meat tastes better then.”
“Sure, but I doubt he’s going to be relaxed.”
“Relaxed or no, we’ll find him. I hope he doesn’t go cross country, it could take a while to find him if he does.”
“Alright. Though I just hope he freezes out here. Then we can find him in the morning.”
“But if a lot of snow falls, we’re fucked.”
“We’ll do what we can. What else can George expect?”
“Plus, we’ve got a pretty good haul.”
They thought about the stash in the Crown Royal bag and their potentially hard to find quarry and grew silent. They checked the next two pullouts and found no one. They kept moving and pulled onto a road, just past a sign for Cutthroat Pass trailhead. They ate the rest of the donuts and finished their coffee, comfortable in the extended silence. People could say what they wanted about Doreen and Millicent, but one thing they were sure of was their patience. And their hunger.
Just as twilight was surrendering to night they saw an old subaru rolling down the hill as if it had no concerns at all besides getting out of the rain.
Doreen smiled. She grabbed the gear shift.
“Wait,” said Millicent. “Let’s count to twenty three.”
“Prime,” Doreen smiled again.
They counted silently, and at twenty three Doreen put the engine in gear and turned on the headlights.
As she eased the truck back onto twenty, Millicent turned to her and said, “ you know honey, right now there have to be a couple of crows are out there . . . “
“Getting it on.” They both laughed, the truck headed east, the taillights of the subaru weaving in and out of sight as it followed the curves of the road.
I briefly come to. It’s still dark.
I sense that I’m cold, and that something’s either wrong or merely weird about my condition. But I’m too weary to amass the thinking power to sort it out any further.
And how could I have gotten so tired from a day and night of sitting in car seats, interspersed with standing around and watching other people doing things?
I don’t think very hard about that, either, before I go “under” again.
When I awaken for good, it’s the daytime, such as it is on an overcast mid-January day. I slowly open my eyes.
There’s a thin, scruffy-feeling blanket on top of me. I feel its slight itch from my chest to my toes.
Wait a minute.
My clothes: where are they?
I’m pretty sure I was wearing them when I dozed off on this stinky old sofa.
No, I KNOW I was wearing them then.
I can’t run out of here in the rain, barefoot, wearing only a blanket, now can I? (Though that would make it more probable that I’d attract the local police, who could help me to get home from all this.)
The living room of this abandoned house, in the light, looks just as decrepit as it felt when I first got here in the middle of the wee hours. There’s peeling wallpaper on the walls, in some sickly looking ornate floral pattern. There’s flaky white paint (probably lead-based) on the window sills. The small front windows lie behind busted blinds. There’s a bare wooden floor with one dirty oval rug on it. There’s no art on the walls, though there is a rectangular light spot along a wall where something might have been.
I wrap the blanket around me as I stand up. I approach one of the windows and look beneath the broken slats of the shades. Yep, it’s still raining out, but not as heavily as earlier in the night.
There seem to be stains along this floor. Don’t know what they’re from.
I walk to the door and open it. I look around. No visible marks of human activity except the gravel driveway that disappears into the trees. I turn to look at the front of the house. It’s covered in a hideous brown fake-brick pattern (made of what—tar?), that’s flaking away around the edges.
I take one step onto the creaky small wooden porch. My bare foot immediately recoils from the wet cold.
I turn back inside. Still no electricity. Can’t recharge my phone here. If I can even find my phone.
I rummage through the mostly empty kitchen. Is there any food in this abandoned claptrap? Just half a box of stale crackers, a can of tuna fish (without a can opener), and one wrinkled old potato.
The (cold only) running water still works, like it did last night. I drink up straight from the tap.
There’s a battery-operated clock in the kitchen I hadn’t noticed last night. If it’s correct (and there’s no reason to believe it either is or isn’t), it’s nearly noon. There’s only eight and a half hours of daylight this time of year, and I’ve missed almost half of it. I’ve got to find my way out of wherever this nowhere is, preferably before dark. But now I’ll also need to find shoes, and my phone. Oh, and my pants. And my shirt and jacket, if I don’t want to get pneumonia.
In the bathroom, with the leaky ceiling whose sound I’ve somehow sent back into the background of my brain, the toilet works. I use it. I wash my hands and face again. I put the blanket back around me before I leave the room. I suppose I could walk around in here without it. Nobody else is here, right?
Wait, wasn’t somebody else here last night?
Yes. There was the girl. I keep calling her that in my head, even though she’s at least two or three years older than me, and from some angles looks even older than that. Why do I think of her as a girl? I guess it’s just that she acts like a teenager so much. Spoiled, then pouty, then petulant, then overemotional. Everything (well, some of the things) I’ve tried to not be, sometimes more successfully than other times.
So. The girl: where is she?
There’s not many other places in this house for either her or my stuff to be.
I go to the parts of the house I hadn’t gone to last night. Basically just a hallway, a closet, a small bedroom, and a smaller bedroom. There’s nothing in any of them but a small wooden chair and one half-unmade bed. So that’s where the blanket came from. I decide to use the white bedsheet (which, like the blanket, has seen better days) as my next makeshift robe.
I untie the blanket. The exact moment it drops to the floor is the moment the girl walks into the room. She snickers at me. Would she like it if some guy did that to her? I bet not, I almost tell her but don’t.
Before I can snap at her, she tells me to hurry up and follow her out in back of the house.
I tie up the bedsheet and dart out. I let each bare foot stay on the cold wet ground for as few fractions of a second as is physically possible.
She leads me into a little garage in back of the house. (When did anybody ever build one-car garages when they had room to build bigger ones?) She’s still dressed as she was last night: tight designer jeans with a knee patch, generic sneakers, a black and white sweater with the slogan OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE (the latter word in baseball-jersey script), a short fake-leather jacket, short-cropped black hair.
The concrete floor here in the garage isn’t much warmer than the ground between here and the house. Thankfully, she soon shows me to a spot in here where she’d hid my clothes. She makes no attempt to turn away as I clumsily put my underwear and pants on under the bedsheet. I undo, then step onto, the sheet. I put on my shirt, windbreaker jacket, socks, and shoes.
Everything that had been in my pockets is still in them.
She asks me to forgive her for taking my clothes. She says she was afraid I’d try to leave without her (which, indeed, I would have). She says again that I need her, and I’m supposed to know it. There seems to be a lot she thinks I’m supposed to know.
I’d been brought up to never talk rude to a woman. But now, I do. I look her in the eye. I tell her to stop talking in riddles already and tell me exactly, plainly, what she said she knows about why I’m here.
“But you KNOW why,” she insists.
“No I DON’T,” I insist right back.
She takes a step back, leaning against a wall. She lights up a (tobacco) cigarette, from a pack she’d fished out from a pocket in her jacket. It’s the same brand my mother used to smoke, the one that was supposed to be made by Native Americans but really wasn’t, and was supposed to be “good for you” but really wasn’t.
“Where do I (F-word) start?”
“How about at the beginning?”
She proceeds to start from the beginning, or at least from A beginning.
The story she tells is a really confusing one. It includes a lot of F-words in weird parts of her sentences. She talks about the “woke people,” the “freaks,” the “awakened ones,” the nonconformists, the ones who reject this world’s limits on who they can be. She talks about energy healing, vibrational frequencies, and the ancient Aztecs.
She asks me if I’ve heard of the “holy rollers.”
Of course, I tell her. The Pentecostals, the churches where people “speak in tongues.” My own church had apparently been one of those once, before my now ex-pastor took it in a more conservative direction.
No, she says. The original “holy rollers” were a group that had started in a town about eighty miles south of here about a hundred years ago, or so she says. They were called the “holy rollers” because they spent a lot of time rolling around on the floor in some sort of religious orgasm. And they were mostly women, she adds, some of them married women.
But that group’s preacher got into big trouble because, as she puts it, “he couldn’t keep his (F-word) (D-word) in his pants.” The husbands and brothers of his female worshippers got him jailed for adultery, which was something you could do then. After he got out, one of those guys shot him. Then one of the women later shot the guy who’d shot him.
I tell her I’m sure that’s a great story, but what does it have to do with me?
She starts to say something about people these days who’ve looked into these old stories, “not just because they’re great (F-word) true stories but because they think those old people were onto something.”
Before she can say much more, I hear a car approaching on the gravel driveway. From in here I can’t see it, but it sounds like it might be a different car from the one that had brought me here. Car doors open and close. Two or more sets of footsteps approach.