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.



About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on October 26, 2016, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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