EDENDALE

[A Novel In Pieces]

 

 

1. ONCE UPON A TIME      

 

FromKelleysusanrogers@gmail.com

To: Friends/Family List

Subject: Big News!

If you’re getting this, you are near and dear to us and not someone I would email blast, but once I explain, I hope you’ll understand.  As you all know, Tim spent last summer with a Buddhist monk digging wells in a dozen villages across North Africa.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was thrilled for him.  Of course, this meant my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was to spend the summer as a heavily pregnant single mother of a two year-old trying to find every free air-conditioned thing to do in a Midwestern college town during the hottest August on record.  God, I hope it was an only-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…

Kelley read back what she wrote and deleted the last two sentences.

…It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was thrilled for Tim.  He wrote an article about Lama Rhama which was accepted into The Journal of Applied Social Anthropology.  Rush out and get it on newsstands now!  I’m kidding.  Its entire circulation seems to consist of PhDs nitpicking each other’s work and complaining if anyone actually writes something comprehensible.  I use old issues to balance out the kitchen table, which is the only time most of this crap will actually be of any use…

Kelley read back what she wrote. Click-highlight-delete.

…He wrote an article about working with this holy man in North Africa which was accepted into the most recent issue of The Journal of Applied Social Anthropology.  We’re all very proud of him.  JASA is a fascinating magazine and although I tend to be a bit biased, I thought Tim’s article was the best one in the issue.  But more important, someone else did as well.  I have no idea how it got into her hands, but Delfine Monaco read it!  You know, the woman on the cover of People and Vanity Fair when you’re getting your pedicure. Married five times (I PROMISE I won't ask about the one to her cousin).  Former child star. former cult member.  Oscar winner, donated a kidney to a child in Nepal.  DELPHINE FREAKING MONACO! ...

Click-highlight-delete.

…But more important, someone else read Tim’s article as well.  I’m not one to gossip, but this someone in the movie business with a great deal of power read Tim’s article and thinks the story of Lama Rhama would make an “important” movie.  Not only that, she wants to direct it!  This amazing woman flew Tim from Lawrence to Chicago for one day to talk about the article and offered Tim—offered us—a chance to move to LA and work on the script with her.  The timing couldn’t be better because Tim is still getting “paid by the class” and he’s already been told he’s not getting any more classes in the fall and no one is talking about tenure for an adjunct professor of anthropology and I’m not getting enough substitute teaching gigs to even cover our health insurance and a one-bedroom apartment with two kids under three is starting to feel like we’re on a reality show where the last one alive wins….

Highlight-delete.

…The timing couldn’t be better.  Tim’s new boss wants him out there as soon as possible and told him to expect to spend a year in Los Angeles, because this story is now her first priority.  And where will we live?  Get this: our extraordinary benefactor has an extra house.  An extra house.  It seems she lived there when she was younger so I’m guessing it’s pretty modest, but it’s ours rent-free and her assistant says there’s enough room for the kids so I’m extending an invitation to all of you to come to LA and sleep on the couch.  We’re going to LA!  The beach!  Disneyland!  And you know what’s the best part of Los Angeles?  It’s not FREAKING LAWRENCE KANSAS!...

Delete.

We’re going to LA!  We’re just so grateful and excited.  And now, it’s time to pack!  What do you wear if your brilliant husband is about to be rich and famous?

Kelley read back the last part and decided to keep it in.

 

* * * * *

 

2. THE BANNERMAN HOUSE

 

The car cruised slowly up the narrow, twisty street shaded by jacarandas, bougainvilleas and exotic trees that only exist in Dr. Seuss’s head.  Tucked amid the hodgepodge of modest, well-tended bungalows, Kelley spotted desert plants in full bloom, cactii gardens and clusters of lavender competing with the jacaranda for which could be the most implausible shade of violet.  Splashed everywhere was a seed catalog of high-desert regulars: purple sage, Mexican poppies, rosemary, buddleia, sweet basil, wild thyme, cilantro and mint.  It was a boundless herb garden connecting each little house with the next.  Kelley remembered Los Angeles was in some years-long drought but it was hard to see.  Maybe, Kelley thought, Hollywood had developed plastic surgery for plants.

She opened the window.  In an instant, the car surrendered its air-conditioned sterility for a deep inhalation of lemon verbena swirled with jasmine, eucalyptus and just a touch of what Kelley was fairly certain was marijuana.  The perfume filled her lungs and saturated the air outside as relentlessly as the California light washed everything it touched as spotless as a new car.  Between the houses, she caught glimpses of a steel-gray lake at the base of the hill and a cloudless blue sky that hovered above everything like a seamless backdrop hung by God.  The temperature was exactly right in that way you didn’t notice it at all.  For a moment, Kelley thought she was in heaven.  Or rather, it would have been heaven if the street they were currently navigating had been slightly wider than the average wheelbarrow and slightly more predictable than boiling spaghetti.  Even Tim’s usual behind-the-wheel confidence was ebbing as the road snaked higher up the western slope of the steep hillside towards its crest.  Kelley started breathing shallowly in a subconscious effort to take up less room.

“Is that it?” She asked nervously, staring at the unmarked white wall that appeared suddenly in a curve in the road and ran its entire visible length.  It was made of flawlessly smooth stucco, sun-bleached to a radiant glare of white, and eight feet high.

“Has to be it,” Tim said, checking the paper.  “The last one was 3268, the one across the street 3277.  So…this must be our new home.”

Tim pulled over.  It was a pointless gesture as far as any passing car might be concerned.  They each unbuckled a car seat and extracted a limp, sodden child from the back.  As Tim lifted Charlie from his nest, he wondered how a sleeping three year-old could become so sweaty in an air-conditioned car.  Kelley gently extracted Lilly from her padded bucket and hoped she’d sleep a bit longer.  Tim located a buzzer next to the only door in the great wall and pushed it.

“Hello?” a voice whispered.

“Hello,” Tim whispered back, not entirely certain why.  “It’s Tim. I’m the…the…"

He looked at Kelley, who looked back at him and shrugged.  “…The tenant,” he concluded, but it was more a question than a statement.

After a beat, the solid door opened noiselessly.  A young man entirely dressed in dove grey appeared in its arched aperture and looked serenely at them both.

“I’m Zen,” he murmured.  His hands remained clasped at his waist.  “Welcome to Silverlake. And the Bannerman House.”

 

* * * * *

 

3. VOICEMAIL

 

Hi, Tim and Kelley, I’m Kate, Delphine’s second assistant in the production office. Delphine’s housing assistant, Zen, will meet you at the house on Thursday morning.  He’ll give you the keys and answer any questions you might have about the house.  Tim, we’re expecting to see you in the office the following Monday morning.  I’m emailing you the address.  Delphine’s personal assistant Eleanor has arranged a spot for your son in a nearby nursery school and a position for you and your daughter in a Mommy and Me class in Silverlake.  You’re going to love Silverlake!  It’s my favorite place in L.A.  In the email with the map to the house and the offices, I’ve added a few names of the best cheese stores, wine stores and record stores in Silverlake.  Ooh, I’ll send you the best eastside bars, too!  I know you’re from the Midwest so if you need a church or...you know, something like that, I think there’s a church somewhere nearby.  I’m sorry, I have no idea.  I’ll look it up. Drive safely and please call me with any questions.  Serena and I can’t wait to start working with you!  Bye!

 

* * * * *

 

4. THE BANNERMAN HOUSE II

 

Kelley hoiked the still-sleeping Lilly higher on her shoulder, crossed into the walled enclosure behind Tim and looked around.  The front yard was larger than their entire house in Lawrence.  The ground was mostly decomposed granite and meticulously raked sand.  Every few feet, a six-to-eight foot plant of some alien species emerged from the earth, bulbous, writhing and covered in nasty spikes.  Zen looked at these plants placidly, with obvious affection.  They stood in silence. Kelley could feel Lilly stirring awake on her shoulder.  Finally, she offered a tentative “My. Aren’t these... something."

Zen nodded at the most thorny specimen and smiled, “Neutra specified these in the original design of the house.”  Then, after a long moment, he added, “Today, the State of California won’t allow homeowners to even own these plants.”

“Because of the spikes?” Kelley asked fearfully.  Lilly’s eyes had opened at the sound of new voices but she remained quiet, which was good.  Unlike her big brother, Lilly awoke alert and ready for action.  As if on cue, she reached for the cherry-red flowers blooming on the cactus nearest her plump little fingers.

“No.” Zen explained, absently.  “Their hallucinogenic properties.”

Kelley carefully carried Lilly towards the front door, away from her brightly colored new friends.

Once inside, Zen assumed a more animated demeanor.  He was a very knowlegeable docent, almost giddy with pride, but he flinched each time any member of the Rogers family appeared about to touch something.

“The Bannerman house is the most complete Neutra house in Silverlake,” Zen explained as they walked thought the open main level.  “Delphine has spent the last decade locating the original furniture designed for this house and buying it all back. Those lamps are the only two of their kind in the world.”

Kelley had already noticed those lamps because Charlie, who was stirring awake in Tim’s arms as they entered the cool shade of the house, also noticed those lamps and was quietly agitating to be put down so he could examine them more intimately.  Tim held him tight to his chest and whispered, “Not now, buddy.”  Charlie let out a perfect three-year olds’ warning whine.  When he was fully awake, there were few kids more even-keeled than Charlie, but when he was just waking up he was a honey badger with an impacted tooth.  Tim subtly clamped Charlie’s legs closer to his belly because these were the hardest to control once the full waking freak-out materialized.

Kelley glanced around the main floor to a series of smaller rooms on different levels connected by stairs.  A terrible thought dawned on her.

“There are…” she swallowed, “no railings between the levels.”

“No,” Zen agreed in a soft, pleased tone. “From this level, you have an uninterrupted view to virtually every other space in the house.”

“You could,” Kelley ventured, “also drop six feet from one room to another, onto this—is this concrete?”

“Polished concrete, yes.” Zen waited for her to get to the point.

She paused.

“We have toddlers.”

“Yes,” Zen said.  “And they should always use the stairs.”

Tim and Kelley exchanged glances.  Perhaps Zen wasn't the best person to ask about human offspring.  He was, at most, twenty-six and obviously waiting for the Supreme Court to allow a man to marry a dwelling.

 Tim asked, “What have other people with children done when they’ve lived here?”

“Oh. Children have never lived here,” Zen explained in muted horror.

“Seriously?” Tim asked.

Well, they didn’t live very long, Kelley thought to herself.

“There have been four previous owners. The first three were single men and then Delphine,” Zen said definitively. A pensive look crossed his face.  “I believe the third owner bred Yorkshire Terriers, if that helps.”

‘PUUUUUT MEEEEE DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWN!  AYYYE DON’T YIKE IT!” 

Charlie, it turns out, is no fan of architectural history.  And a subtle shift in the citrus-scented breeze informed Kelley in no uncertain terms that Lilly's diaper needed to be changed.

“Why don’t I take them out for a walk?  You finish the house tour for us,” Kelley informed Tim. 

Kelley hustled both kids outside, trying not to leave any marks in the raked sand and carefully swinging wide of the mind-altering cacti and the eyeball-altering thorns.  As she crossed through the security gate toward the sanctuary of their snack-sticky Honda and, specifically, the double stroller in its trunk, she could hear Zen talking to Tim through an open window.

“...It’s a wonderful neighborhood for walking,” he explained, cheerily.  “As I recall, the Yorkies used to love taking walks in these hills.”

 

* * * * *

 

5. CORRECTION

 

An article in last Sunday's Arts & Leisure Section about the Delphine Monaco, referencing information from previously published sources, misstated her ancestry. Ms. Monaco is not 1/32 Paiute nor was her mother a member of the Roma community first married at fourteen. She was married at fifteen.

 

 

* * * * *

 

6. THE PLAYGROUND

 

“How did you find this place?”

Kelley was focused on keeping Charlie from darting towards a jingling ice-cream truck while maintaining a sleepy cadence with Lilly’s swing. Push... (wait) … Push ... (wait) … Push... (wait) … She hadn’t realized Tim had slipped behind her.

“I was walking the kids around in circles.” She explained, half turning to face him. “It was getting pretty hot and a nice gardener took pity on me. Did my directions make sense?”

Tim produced his phone and read back her text: “Out gate. Left at street with black Prius in driveway. Head downdowndown until it stops being down. Clump of trees on far corner. Playground.”

She looked blankly at him. He looked expectantly back at her.

“For what it’s worth, every driveway on that hill has a black Prius,” he said, taking over the swing-push detail. “I asked Zen if he knew where the playground was, but apparently Richard Neutra never designed a jungle gym so he was useless. Fortunately, I saved the email from Delphine’s assistant. What’s-her-name. The list queen. The nearest playground was right there on her map. Also the nearest Pilates gym. And oyster bar. Anyway, here we are. All together.”

He made a Viola! gesture with both arms.

They were in a small, tree-shaded park near the reservoir. A dozen or so grownups were enjoying the perfect afternoon with a dozen or so children in tow. A few of the adults were parents, the rest were nannies and au pairs. Everyone seemed content, or at least pleased with themselves in a way Kelly couldn’t quite put her finger on. The day was even more beautiful than before. The sun continued to shine down from the seamless sky and a breeze from the lake cooled the air. They couldn’t actually see the water from where they were now standing. The playground was nestled in low ground by its northwest corner, under an earthen berm, but the reservoir was visible from pretty much everywhere in the hills that encircled it.

So this was Silver Lake, Kelly thought to herself an hour earlier as she’d wandered down the hill from Delphine’s precious aerie, pulling back against the downward tug of Lilly’s stroller the entire way. Everyone expects a sandy beach in Los Angeles, or a hazy range of mountains, or a freeway cloverleaf. But not a lake. It was bigger than she expected from the Google map. And prettier. The water was a dark blue-black, the shoreline a mix of natural terrain and sun-bleached concrete, depending on where you stood. The greenbelt that hugged most of its eastern shoreline a deeper, almost emerald shade set apart from the sage and yellow hues of the surrounding hillside. It was an oasis within an oasis.

And, Kelley thought to herself, if it weren’t for the chain-link fence that completely encircled the reservoir preventing any human toes from actually touching its pristine surface, this was one of the most inviting bodies of water she’d ever seen up close, sprawled out before her like a giant welcome mat in the middle of this strange and seductive city. 

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

7. NEW NEIGHBORS

 

“Ooh,” Julie sighed excitedly.  “I think there are new people at Delphine’s place.  Do they look familiar to you?  Probably someone she worked with on that movie she’s shooting in…whatchama call it?  Rwanda?  Angola?  I think it’s Rwanda.”

Carrington didn’t bother to answer or even look up.  If she had to pick the most annoying of her mother’s qualities, acting as if she knew Delphine Monaco was way up there.  Pretending like Delphine sent them a text every time she was about to elope or something when, in fact, Delphine hadn’t lived in that house in years and the only reason Julie knew something was going on was because the converted garage they were living in had one window which overlooked the street they shared.

Then again, Carrington thought, this was a minor annoyance.  A greater annoyance was how her mother referred to every job she booked: in the plural. Our ‘Girl Meets World’ episode.  Our arc on ‘Blue Bloods’.  “Unless we’re conjoined twins,” Carrington considered as she watched her mother crane further out the faux-mullioned window to gaze upon possibly famous people.  “I think that was my work and not yours. Who is paying for this illegal sublet? All me, lady.”

But, as usual, Carrington said nothing.  She absently checked her phone and noted she had 379 days until she turned 18. 

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

8. THE PLAYGROUND II

 

Kelly looked out past Tim and her children, past the colorful swing sets and climbing things, across the lawn and the border of eucalyptus and live oaks to the two-lane road that ringed the lake and the random arrangement of hills beyond it in every direction. The hills rose and fell like loaves, and peppered throughout were houses of every shape and size. Pretty houses, mostly, and well tended. Colonial, traditional, mid-century modern, Monterey ranch, Moorish courtyard, architectural statement, craftsman, beach bungalow, mission style, international style, Swiss chalet and split-level.

What was most remarkable was how this mish-mosh of shapes and sizes worked so well together visually. It was as if the hills grew some sort of connective membrane to accommodate all the variations, the clashing blueprints. Kelly stared at rolling hillsides for a moment longer and realized this strange and idyllic setting would be her home for the next year. Her family was out of the car. Her children were happy. They all had a place to live. Peace prevailed. Then she thought about the Bannerman house and peace inched away.

“So, the rest of the house is...?” She didn’t know how to finish the question.

Tim winced.

“Beautiful and architecturally important,” he said finally. “But – and this is just for argument’s sake – if each of our children is heading towards a different thing that might kill them, who do you want me to grab first?”

“Worse than what we already saw?”

“Almost every room has a balcony with a spectacular view. But no practical railings. There is a beautiful pool but it’s “grandfathered”, which I’ve come to learn means doesn’t require a safety fence. While we were looking at the pool, a coyote trotted through the yard with a cat in its mouth. A big cat. Bigger than Lilly. The good news is, there’s one room with a door which locks, so we can keep the kids from free-roaming the house or playing with the knife sculpture.”

“The knife sculpture?” Kelly laughed. A reflex.

“Knife sculpture,” Tim repeated, flatly. He wasn’t kidding.

“Oh,” Kelly said, looking at her helpless, irreplaceable, soft-skinned, organ-filled children.

“Focus on the good news, Kel. There’s one big, sealed-off area. They’ll be safe.”

“You said good news. Is there...bad news?” she asked cautiously.

“Well, it’s in the main bedroom. We’re all going to be living in one room for a while.”

Lilly took that moment to shriek in delight. Her nine month-old’s aria was so high and piercing it appeared to change the air pressure around her. Charlie had spent the last few minutes impersonating the garbage truck that chugged down the nearby street by running in circles and screaming at the top of his growing lungs.  “I’M A GAWBAGE TWUCK! I’M A GAWBAGE TWUCK! MAMA, LOOK! I’M A GAWBAGE TWUCK!” and making a noise which was an eerily accurate interpretation of a diesel engine shifting through its gears at full volume.

“Oh, God,” Kelley said softly to no one in particular.

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

9. MEMO TO DELPHINE

 

TO: DM

FROM: Eleanor

RE: April Trip

Delphine,

Here is an outline of your March itinerary so far. As per your request, we will try to keep you on the same equipment throughout. We still need to confirm the G4 can land at every airport. If not, we’ll drop in a King Air as needed. Also, waiting on final sign-off from Yevgeny’s people re: Chernobyl flyover.

I’ll know more tomorrow.

El

*  *  *  *  *

 

10.  ITINERARY (ATTACHED)

 

Day 1.  (03/02)  /  HOME

DEP:  Van Nuys. Usual procedure.

You need to be in the air by 7pm to make the Brazil schedule work.

NOTE: Pilot’s name is Steve Wollensack. You flew with him to Europe and India. His wife just had a baby girl, Alice. I will arrange to have a present on board for you to give him.

Day 2.  (03/03)  /  BRASILIA

ARR: Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek Int’l Airport – Military Section 4

AM: Rainforest  discussion with President Rousseff. Also Olympics issue. Lunch. Photos. 

Palácio da Alvorada, Brasilia

NOTE: Dilma loves Prada. And most of your films (except “Running Red”, obviously!) Just FYI. 

PM: fly to MANAUS.   NOTE: try to sleep on plane.

Day 3.  (03/04)  /  MANAUS

ARR: Aeropuerto Internacional De Manaus – Eduardo Gomes

AM. Connect with Annie L. photo shoot for Prada. Details to follow.

PM. Flight to Haiti. Sleep on plane.

Day 4 (03/05)  /  PORT-au-PRINCE

ARR: Toussaint-Louverture International Airport

AM - Meet Sean at airport.  Visit open water-purification plant

NOTE: only drink the bottled water from the plane.

PM – Join US Army CoE unit for dedication of new power plant. Colonel Michael (Mike) Foley. [Note: He’s from Tarrytown. Stepinac HS Class of ‘86]   Photos.  Media.  Sean will coordinate. Army will escort you back to plane.

NOTE: Wheels up by midnight to make Austin schedule. Sleep on plane.

Day 5 (03/06)  /  AUSTIN, TX

ARR: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport,

AM - SXSW -- Announce DelMon Foundation app launch with Ashton, also Nikon execs. Photos. Q&A (Ashton’s people will send material by 3/3.)

Lunch with Cecile Richards, PPF HQ. Photos. (Discuss biopic of AR).

PM – Dinner with Taylor, et al. Stubbs BBQ, 801 Red River

NOTE: still waiting to confirm duet with Tom Waits. Probably best not to mention.

HOTELThe Driskill (the Lyndon & Lady Bird Suite). Contact: Stewart Ross. You’re checked in under “Ms. Holly”.

Day 6 (03/07)  /  AUSTIN, TX (cont’d)

AM – Free time, SXSW

PM – Depart for SD. Need to be in the air by 11pm

NOTE: Pine Ridge runway is only 5K ft. Weather may be a problem. SBY: Austin to Rapid City on your plane; NetJets (KingAir) Rapid City to Pine Ridge RT if needed. TBD.

Day 7 (03/08)  /  PINE RIDGE, SD

AM - Lakota Adoption Ceremony, Ribbon-cut Monaco Women’s Health Clinic.

PM – Stay in traditional Lakota housing to be erected for you by local workers. Or plane. TBD.

NOTE: Only drink bottled water from the plane.

Wheels up by 5:15 AM local time.

Day 8 (03/09)  /  CHICAGO

ARR: Chicago Executive Airport.

AM. Peninsula Hotel. Late breakfast with O re: guest-editor September issue.

Lunch with Rahm/Ari @ Trotter’s . (Proclamation. City Hall. TBD.)

3:30PM CST:  Wait Wait Don't Tell Me; Chase Bank Auditorium. NOTE: Peter Sagal friend of Serena.

 Also, meet Tim Rogers (the African Monk guy), time permitting. TBD.  NOTE: Wife Kelley, Kids Charlie (3), Lily (1).

9PM PM Dinner ALINEA - Mike J, Scott T. Frank Wilczek (physicist you met at TED) Make sure you say hi to Dave Beran.

PM: Flight to NY. Sleep on Plane.

Day 9 (03/10)  /  CHICAGO to NEW YORK

ARR: White Plains Airport, Purchase.

AM  Pound Ridge. Breakfast w/ Hilary (maybe Bill).

1:00PM Lunch: Balthazar. Bill D. & Chirlane, Chuck S. may join you. [hi to Keith McNally, daughter Isabelle on location with Woody.]

PM. Dinner - Wendy S. and friend, TBD (Brooklyn?)

Rendezvous w/ Yevgeny (Stanhope) for trip back to airport.  Allow 2 hours. You'll have same driver all day.

Wheels up Westchester Airport by midnight. (Noise abatement).

Day 10 (03/11)  /  NEW YORK to KIEV (via LONDON?)

NOTE: If Wendy can’t get down for dinner, you may have swing through Nantucket and pick her up. If so, you may want to stay an extra day and visit her new bookstore. I'll keep you posted from here.

Either way, you’ll need to make a fuel stop before Kiev because the situation in the Ukraine is still sketchy. We’re thinking London. If so, Sting, Trudy, Mickey and Coco might hitch a ride. Your call. Also, we’re still waiting for thumbs-up on Yevgeny’s visa situation.  (Maybe Hillary can help?)

Chernobyl details to follow.

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

11. BEDROOM 

 

Kelley and Tim were back in the house now, alone for the first time since they had arrived that morning. Before he left them alone with his beloved house, Zen showed them how to set the security system, adjust the thermostat, open the garage gate, and locate the hidden supply closet filled with approved cleaning supplies, toilet paper and light bulbs. He also requested they let him replace any light bulb should one burn out during their “visit”. He left his phone number with instructions to call any time of the day or night if there was an emergency – and by “emergency” he clearly meant with the house, not them. He also left a thirty-page, single-spaced, bullet-pointed Operating Manual for the residence – both inside and out – with an unspoken but clear hope that Tim and Kelly would each commit it to memory. It was also unspoken but clear that Zen hoped they would all die in their sleep by some peaceful and non-destructive method. Something clean. Nothing dramatic or messy. Still, Zen understood deep in his soul that this magnificent piece of architectural history was Delphine’s property, not his, and if his boss wanted a herd of breeding muskox to make camp in her perfectly restored Neutra showpiece, it was not his place to argue. So be it.

Tim walked his family into to master suite that was to be their home-within-a-home. He took his beautiful young wife’s hand and they stared at their lovely, healthy, loud, active children, imagining what it was going be like to never leave each other’s sight for the next twelve months. Charlie and Lilly were playing with a set of plastic blocks on the bathroom floor. For the moment, they were deliciously quiet.

“It won’t be that long,” he promised. “Right now we have to live on the stipend she gave me for the article. That should cover us for about three months. Basics. Food and stuff. Everything else is paid for. As soon as the studio approves the script, we’ll have enough to rent our own place. Hey, it won’t be this fancy, but it will be ours to fix up.”

“I’ll be happy as long as we find a place with balconies that drop fifty feet into a coyote-packed ravine…” Kelly took a moment to wonder if the fall off the deck would cause immediate death or merely stun her child long enough for the dogs to make an easy meal of it.

“Listen,” Tim continued, unaware of her When Animals Attack reverie. “Delphine is really motivated to get our project fast-tracked. She wants me at their production office first thing Monday to start working on the treatment.”

Despite her dark imaginings, Kelley’s mood had, in fact, lifted. She hadn’t seen Tim this happy, this confident, since grad school. “Ooh, after you and your new best friend Delphine finish your treatment…” she teased, using her best Masterpiece Theater voice. “You’ll get fast-tracked? Someone’s gone Hollywood pretty quickly, Timothy. You can see Academia in the rear-view mirror already, can’t you? The rear-view mirror of your fancy little Porsche. Is it red? Your Porsche?” She mimicked driving a sports car, her arms stretched out straight in front of her. “Can I come for a ride, Mr. Big Hollywood screenwriter?”  

Tim smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Kelley felt terrible for not simply smiling back and nodding supportively. Optimism is a delicate emotion. They both knew he wasn’t on a tenure-track and they both knew how many anthropology PhD’s the world spits out each year and how few paying jobs come their way. Tim opened a suitcase and started to stack T-shirts into one of the built-in dressers that defined the perimeter of the room. Kelly’s eyes were pulled to the adjacent wall of glass. The view from their bed ran out over the wooded ravine towards the full sprawl of Silver Lake reservoir. The sun was setting behind them now but the light and shadows danced across the surface of the lake like slow fireworks. It was truly spectacular. Then Kelly’s eyes fell upon the railing. The delicate, flimsy, historically significant railing.

“Maybe this was meant to be,” Tim said from across the room, dropping socks in a drawer. “Maybe I was supposed to get back to my first love.”

“Infanticide?”

“Storytelling.”

“Storytelling is your first love?” She stifled a derisive snort. They had known one another since eighth grade. His first love had been his skateboard. His second love had been Culver’s hamburgers. His third love was Pink Floyd and his fourth love was Kelley. He didn’t realize there was a question in her tone so, after a moment, she added “Since when?”

“How could you forget my Live Journal account? I kept that going all through college.”

“You mean that endless Dungeons and Dragons porn saga?” Kelley said, not bothering to stifle her snort this time.

“It’s a legitimate genre.” Tim said with a firm, quiet dignity. “A lot of people really appreciated my work on that. I got five stars for dialogue, narrative structure and character development.” He paused long enough to open another suitcase. This one was crammed with kid’s toys and toiletries. “Five stars!”

“And I got great reviews, fantastic reviews, off-the-chart reviews in the comments section” he continued, building steam. “Hey, my Eladrin/Gnome/Half-Orc three-way was the most popular D&D FanFic for seven weeks. Seven weeks! And you know what else? It still holds up. I think it ranks in the top one hundred to this day. Maybe top fifty, point-wise.”

Kelley opened her mouth and then closed it again. Sometmes, silence had to stand in for support.     

 

* * * * *

 

12.  SERENA and TIM

 

When Dr. and Dr. Leung’s second baby was born they already had a very loud and very busy four-year-old son so, when their new daughter arrived – exactly seven pounds and two hundred eighty days after conception – they crossed their fingers and named her Serena. If it was a suggestion, she didn’t take it. From day one, Serena was the opposite of her name. In high school she was a tennis champ, played first violin in the youth orchestra, became the youngest player on the all-county golf squad, sold the most candy at any fundraiser she volunteered for and absolutely crushed Anita in West Side Story.

Over her entire life, Serena Leung never got less than an A on any exam or more than a 20 on her BMI. Nor did she stop to consider the other person’s position, count to ten, look at the bigger picture or consider chicken soup to be anything but worthless regarding both the intestinal biome or the soul. What she did do was argue. Because she was extremely smart and even more stubborn, Serena would usually win these arguments and when she didn’t, at least she wouldn’t lose them. Her logic was unassailable, her instincts impeccable, her vocabulary impressive and her debating skills unparalleled. But these skills were often overlooked because when Serena Leung argued any position – or, in fact, made any comment about anything at all – she swore like a deeply offended dockworker. Over time, her obscene tirades had distilled down to the barest essentials, down to the basic building block of impolite discourse: down to The Word.

Her roommates at Choate and then at Harvard had known about Serena’s favorite word. Her parents -- the cardiothoracic surgeon and the head of the medical school – both knew about her word. Her grandmother who spoke virtually no English knew about the word. The only person who didn’t know was the idiot sitting across from her in this meeting, and not using her favorite word was starting to give her a headache. Where she used to work, that drone from HR suggested that using her favorite word too often in a meeting created what he called “A mildly threatening work environment,” to which Serena had used her favorite word a few times. Delphine’s office was a bit more relaxed but they still suggested that Serena tried curbing her invective until at least the second meeting with new writers, which she was starting to regret because Tim Rogers, this corn-fed moron with a PhD, wasn’t taking a single one of her non-obscene clues.

He hadn’t gotten that “We all love your project” means “I have yet to read your fucking article,” nor did he seem to understand “Delphine is always on the lookout for new and interesting material” means “You were a fucking whim in her ADD-riddled pachinko, like a pierced manicure. Or buying sea horses.” It made her fucking insane, talking to people outside the business, people who never understood bad news when they heard it, however obliquely.

It wasn’t that Serena disliked her boss. In fact, she liked Delphine better than anyone she’d ever worked with since college. Unlike most stars with a production deal, Delphine actually paid attention to developing the scripts and wanted to produce offbeat, smart movies. Which was the fucking problem. The world is full of wonderful anecdotes, but very few of them are actual stories with a beginning, a middle and an end -- especially in that order. Delphine would fall in love with a place, or a person, or some story she heard over a dinner or an article she read on a plane and two days later, Serena would get a call from some guy who ran a squid farm in Nicaragua and she’d have to explain to this guy why his life wasn’t a movie. Several times a month, she’d give Delphine’s newest discovery the names of two books about how to write a script, tell them to call her when they finished their first draft, send them on their way. She’d never hear from them again. But this guy was different. For one thing, he wasn’t on a phone call; he was sitting in her fucking office. For another, he just kept smiling, even when she broke down and finally said “Most projects don’t end up getting made. Sitting here with me is probably the closest you will ever come to making a movie.”

Tim took a big gulp of his bottled water and said brightly “I’m sure Delphine and I will figure it out. When do I start working with her?”

Serena took off her glasses, rubbed the bridge of her nose and, in direct defiance of HR, softly groaned, “Oh, fuck.”

 

* * * * * 

 

13.  THE GARDEN OF CHILDHOOD

 

The Garden of Childhood Preschool understands that every child wakes up and processes his or her world differently, but we would appreciate it if you would be there for Morning Gathering no later than 8:25 as latecomers distract from the meditation.

At 8:21, Kelley crumpled the printout of the school’s email in her hand and continued her stroller sprint down the street. Yes, the school was only a few blocks from the Bannerman House and should have been an easy trip, but nothing is easy when you’ve spent two nights sharing a bed with three other people. The first night, Tim tried to assemble the Porta-Crib so at least Charlie could sleep on his own, but it didn’t fit. When she first saw it, the master bedroom seemed spacious and airy, but it was an illusion. An architectural illusion.  In fact, the room was a magician’s box of funny angles and constrained spaces. It was perfectly designed to accommodate a queen-sized bed, a bureau with extra-sharp corners, a mirrored vanity with too many miniscule drawers, and a flimsy chair of impeccable provenance that tipped over when ever Lily tried to crawl into it, which was always. Two nights of sleeping with Charlie the marathon swimmer and windmill Lily meant it took Kelly over an hour to accomplish what usually took twenty minutes. Now, at the corner of Tesla and Robeson, she spotted the small, hand-carved sign on the recycled-lumber fence. In breathless relief, Kelley unsnapped the kids from the stroller, located the pass-code from the email, punched the correct eight digits into the security keypad and flew through the gate.

She stumbled into a small vestibule, about eight feet square, which faced another wall and two more doors. One was a typical, three-paneled door painted the same color as the fence outside. Next to it was a Hobbit-sized door about four feet high. It was covered in fantastical hand-carved creatures, painted in glossy varnish and had its very own golden handle. Obviously, a special entrance for the kids, no child could possibly resist using it. Or rather, no child could have resisted using it were it not for the woman sitting on the ground directly in front of it, legs stretched across the small space, blocking both entries. Next to her was an oversized canvas tote. In her lap was a nursing child. Kelley noticed the child at her breast seemed at least four years old; he was a plug of a kid and his sneakers were dirty from use. Of course, Charlie immediately spotted the magical portal and headed straight for it, but this required clambering over a pair of denim-clad legs. Their owner snapped, “Could you please keep an eye on your child?”

Kelley reflexively apologized and restrained Charlie who sensed the weirdness and simply froze in place. That was a blessing. Then they waited, though not quite certain for what. The nursing boy didn’t appear to be any sort of hurry. The mother was making a big show of not paying any attention to Kelley as she glanced at her watch. Several times.

8:24…8:24…8:24…8:25. Damn.

As if on cue, the muffled sounds of playful children on the other side of the wall subsided as a temple gong chimed from within.  Two more gongs and it was tomb silent. A minute passed. Kelley finally whispered, “I think we need to get inside.”

The woman clasped her suckling closer to her chest, flashed Kelley a look and hissed “Don Juan is detoxing from his cousin’s birthday party yesterday. It was in the Valley. There was wheat.”

Kelley said “Oh,” in what she hoped was a knowledgeable tone. She waited and said hopefully, “But, maybe, you and...um, Don Juan could move over, just a bit, and we could go through the big door?”

For a long moment the woman stared icily into the middle distance. Then, with a glacial effort and the tiniest of sighs, she slid her giant purse far enough aside to let Kelley and her two kids pass through. As Kelley turned the handle, the woman hissed at her again. “I guess that’s what you do. Cut in front of people.”

Kelley said in confusion “I—what?” But she was now halfway through the door and the woman’s full attention was back down at her grazing spawn and Charlie was barreling through and Lilly was shrieking in joy at the sight of this new playground paradise and Kelley was about to learn what happens when you invade The Garden of Children Preschool after the morning meditation gong:

Fifty complete strangers stare at you. 

 

* * * * * 

 

14.  SERENA CALLS DES.

 

Ring.

Ring.

Ring.

Ri-

“…’Lo..?”

“It’s one o’clock, Des. You’re still fucking asleep?”

“Hey, Serena. No, I was awake. I was just...doing something.”

“The fuck you were. Listen, I need a favor.”

“For you, anything.”

“Yeah, right. Delphine has a new pet project and we all know how that’s going to end but, fuck, I don’t know, there might be something to this one and, of course, the poor fuck moved his entire fucking family out here from Nebraska or Kansas or something. He’s like a fucking puppy. I had a meeting with him yesterday, slapped the fuck out of him, telling him how things really work around here and he wagged his tail the whole time. Drove me out of my fucking mind. But Delphine sees something in his story -- monks digging wells in Africa or something -- so I need you to teach this guy how to write a treatment. Maybe give him some of those pointers you’re supposed to be famous for. Can you do that?”

Silence.

“Des, are you there? Fuck.”

“Yeah, I’m here. Sure, I guess I could...I’m sorry, what?”

“You’re high.”

“A little high.”

“How high is a little high?”

“I just watched ‘Godfather III’. I think it’s underrated.”

“Oh, shitfuck. Did you hear anything just I said?”

“I heard everything you said. African monkeys living well with puppies in Africa. Somebody slapping somebody. In Nebraska. Or Kansas. Crap, I don’t know. Doesn’t sound like much of a movie to me.”

“Fuck, Des. It’s like you want to die in that shit-hole apartment with twelve dollars in your wallet. Listen to me. Put down the fucking bong, go for a long walk, get some air in that concrete skull of yours and be at LA Mill at ten AM tomorrow. That’s ten AM. AM as in morning. Not PM. AM. Tomorrow morning. LA Mill. Write that down somewhere. And not high. Write that down, too. Not high. I don’t want you stoned for this meeting. It would be bad for…everyone. Do you understand? Are you writing this down?”

“Yes”

They both knew he wasn’t.

“Alright, look for the guy who obviously doesn’t belong there. His name is Tim Rogers. No shit. You’re meeting Mister Rogers. Is that perfect or what? Anyway, he’ll explain the story. If you help him write a good treatment, I’ll tell Delphine you might, might, be able to handle another small project. And if you don’t fuck that up, maybe someday you can get back to working on stuff worthy of your prodigious talents. Stuff you’re capable of writing when you’re not being a complete asshole fuckup.”

Silence.

“Des?”

“I miss you.”

“Yeah, whatever. LA Mill. Tomorrow morning. 10 o’clock. Write it down.”

Click.

 

* * * * * 

 

15. The Garden of Childhood II

 

Kelley stood there, Charlie and Lilly on on either side. Fifty pairs of eyes trained on them; actually, fifty-four pairs if you counted the chickens that were the only living things not holding hands in this fairy-tale enclave. A woman in a batik dress and a waist-length gray braid gently disengaged her hands, bowed prayerfully to the group, and hovered towards Kelley and her children.

“You must be Charlie’s mother,” she said musically. “Welcome to The Garden of Childhood. I’m Raven, the facilitator. We’re just doing Saying What We’re Grateful For, as we do every day. Would you like to join us?” she asked, extending a long tapered hand with short, dirty nails. Kelley gratefully accepted her invitation and joined the circle with her kids. Raven squeezed her hand and said softly, “We find the meditation really helps the children become grounded while also developing a healthy autonomy. I know it’s a drag, but you really need to try getting here on time.”

Kelley opened her mouth and shut it right back up. Saying “I would have been on time if it weren’t for a snarling, wheat-hating breast-feeder” probably wasn’t the best way to start the school year. She glanced around. This wasn’t Lawrence, that was for sure. Charlie’s last pre-school had been in the basement of the Lutheran church, was supplied with toys handed down from kids now graduating high school and smelled of whatever the soup kitchen was making for the lunch for the homeless. The Garden looked like a summer camp for especially lucky fairies. Everything was wooden, and painted in soft colors, with inviting little areas to explore; there was a miniature ship, complete with a gangplank and a castle with a drawbridge. The Lutheran church had a dress-up box; The Garden had two hanging racks and a scaled-down stage.

Charlie tugged at Kelley’s hand. “I want to play,” he said desperately.

“I know, buddy,” Kelley said sympathetically, “but right now we’re being grateful.”

“I don’t know what that means,” he whined.

Looking around, it didn’t seem as if many of the other children did, either. Each child would ask what they were grateful for, and they would either lapse into silence, at which point their parent or nanny would speak for them, or they would come up with something and the parent would improve on it.

First:

“Beatrix is grateful for our trip last week to Costa Rica to visit our shaman.”

Then:

“I like Spiderman!”

“What Jasper means is that we’re grateful for how well Daddy’s movie did this weekend.”

Then:

“I am a princess and my name is Aurora.”

“Matilda, you enjoy pretending to be a princess but remember how we talked about how you’re grateful for your healthy body and your Chinese tutor? Remember? Remember?”

“My name is Aurora.”

Then:

“Seneca is grateful for Vail.”

It might looked like a production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, but Kelley was beginning to suspect the Gratitude Circle didn’t bring people together as much as hold certain people out. She racked her brain; what could they be grateful for? Their health? Each other? God, why had she never noticed how dull they were?

“I love ‘Star Wars’,” Charlie piped up. Kelley jumped. It wasn’t his turn but Charlie, bright boy, must have decided the faster he talked, the sooner he could get at that gangplank. Kelley smiled down at him, squeezing his hand supportively. God, he was a great kid, she thought. A nice normal little boy. He was going to do fine.

“You let your son watch...television?” a voice said, barely concealing her scorn. Kelley looked around the circle to see that Breastfeeding Lady had somehow slipped into the Circle and now had something new to hold against her. Kelley whispered, “It was a DVD. It’s his dad’s favorite movie; they watched it once...” and then died away as this woman said something under her breath to the yoga-panted woman next to her, who smirked. Kelley didn’t hear anything else over the pounding of blood in her ears.

 

* * * * * 

 

16. He Wants Her Back

 

[Blind Gossip] When this world-class beauty/humanitarian broke up with this Saudi prince a few months ago, he wasn’t taking no for an answer.  Prince Ex is buying her an island in the Caribbean. “Big deal,” you say, “Didn’t Depp do that, like, a decade ago?” Yes, but here’s the upgrade: This island is also a country. As in, “Take me back and I’ll make you President. Or Queen.”

 

* * * * * 

 

17. The Garden of Childhood III

 

With one final “Namaste,” the Gratitude Circle broke up. Charlie dashed off toward claim the gangplank without even bothering to hug his mother goodbye. Kelley held Lilly tightly, staring at the ground, trying very hard not to cry. My God, she thought, I’m failing preschool. A tear dripped on the ground.

“Biggest lie in Silverlake,” a voice said conversationally next to her. Kelley turned around. A delicate woman wearing patterned yoga clothes and a short, flame-red bob smiled at her. Really smiled. Kelley sniffed twice and returned the smile.

“What’s that?”

“That none of our kids watch TV. Raven’s been against the “idiot box” since she started this place forty years ago and everything she says makes sense so, on the record, we all buy into it, but you know what? PBS Kids is the only reason I can go to the bathroom alone. So you can ignore Monica. I know for a fact that Don Juan’s worn out one DVD player in their car already. It’s nice to meet you, I’m Jen, and your kids are beautiful,” she said, sticking out her hand to shake. Kelley, feeling better for the first time in two days, shook Jen’s hand.

“Thank you. I’m Kelley,” she said and Jen laughed and said “Oh, we all know who you are. You are a very big deal. Delphine Monaco’s new friend.”

“We’re not really friends,” Kelley confided, suddenly feeling deflated again.

“No, you’re better; you’re in business with her. I hear your husband wrote some thriller about sexual trafficking in Guatamala?”

“No. I mean, kind of. How do you know?”

“Two reasons. First, this school is a co-op, which means each parent works on one committee or another, which means at least one of us sees every piece of paper having to do with each child and if we don’t see it but it’s interesting, someone tells us about it. Second, my wife is the head of production at Valkyrie Film. She’s in business with Delphine.”

“Oh,” Kelley said faintly, reminded again that she was no longer in a Midwestern college town, “Is every parent here rich and famous?”

“Pretty much,” Jen said cheerfully, “I mean, I’m just a housewife right now but the film I directed won at Sundance five years ago, so I guess I’m faded cool. Everyone pretends like they don’t care, which is the second biggest lie in Silverlake. In fact, until you got here, Monica was in pretty good shape. Her husband stars in that show about transgendered pole-vaulters. It’s Showtime’s only hit this season. But is seems Delphine’s new best friend trumps Pole in the Hole so I’m guessing that’s why Monica hates you.”

“She...hates me?”

“Hell, yeah. There’s a four-year waitlist for this school. Delphine made one call and you jumped right to the top. That spot you took on the top of the waitlist? Monica had bullied everyone on the Admissions committee to let her yoga instructor jump the line. And then you come along.”

“But I didn’t do it on purpose,” Kelley protested, noticing for the first time that over near the organic garden, Monica and three other women in identical yoga pants were staring at her and talking. One of them pointed in the direction of Kelley’s jeans, said something, and they all burst out laughing.

“Yeah,” Jen drawled, ignoring the other women with precision. “That’s what Dorothy said when her house landed on the Wicked Witch”.  Then, seeing Kelley’s brow darken, she added, “Hey, relax, darlin'. We just have to find you a pair of ruby slippers.”

 

* * * * *

 

18. Tim Meets Des

 

“You Tim?”

Tim looked up from his coffee.

“Des?”

“Yep.”

Des slid in across the table on the patio, not mentioning that he was thirty-five minutes late. He flagged the waiter, ordered coffee and the steak and eggs plate. He lit a cigarette, made direct eye contact with the woman at the next table who glared at him, took a deep drag, exhaled luxuriously, took a thoughtful sip of coffee and finally seemed to notice Tim was still across the table.

“Your article.”

“You read it?” Tim said, instantly hating himself for how hopeful he sounded. This guy looked homeless and smelled like the third day of a reggae festival and Tim’s entire well being now hinged not just on whether he liked Tim’s article, but if he’d even read it. Des squinted, exhaled smoke, and stared at the sky.  

Des considered Tim’s question. He considered it further. Tim knew Des was a writer of sufficient skill and reputation to be part of Delphine Monaco’s inner circle and he understood why Des would search for the precise words to describe Tim’s work.  Tim could see Des churning his thoughts for the ideal phrasing, the perfect nuance and shading to convey his thoughts. This first impression was obviously important to Des because he was taking time formulating it. Tim, having grown up in the Midwest, was familiar with the long silence. In fact, he was often uncomfortable with the speed certain conversations rose to, especially in academia and even more so as you approached either coast. But Des seemed to be allowing his thought process all the room it needed to assemble the perfect response. Which he did.

“I got the gist.”

Tim slumped.

“So,  the guy, the…what is he, like, a saint?”

“No. I mean, he’s revered but he’s more like a priest.”

Des nodded. “Got it, got it. I spent sixteen years in Catholic school. I can’t masturbate without thinking of a plaid skirt.”

Tim nodded in what he hoped was a sympathetic way while focused on moving the spoon around in his coffee.  He politely paused, allowing Des to continue whatever he had to say about the article. Des, having smoked up the last remnants of some particularly sparkly Humboldtistan that morning, was enthralled by a pigeon sitting under their table. Thirteen minutes passed in silence.  The steak and eggs arrived and Des lost interest in the pigeon.

“You know what?” Des said to the waitress, “Let me get a forest scramble, as well. And a croissant. So then what happens?”

It took Tim a second to realize Des was back to talking to him.

“Well,” Tim said,  “The Lama walks from village to village in North Africa, digging wells.”

Des, stared at Tim and then stared at his steak, then back at Tim again.

“And then what?”

Tim flushed slightly. In some way he couldn’t quite identify, this was starting to remind him of defending his dissertation.

“Um…he finishes?”

Des shook his head, took the croissant from the waiter, carefully placed it on top of the steak and put several pats of butter on the new concoction.

“A guy in a diaper walking around with a shovel isn’t a script.”

Tim felt compelled to say, “He doesn’t wear a diaper.”

“What does he wear?”

“Regular clothes.”

“Too bad.”

The omelet arrived. Des slid it on top of the steak and croissant and, using the serrated knife, carved out a slice of all three that resembled a geological core sample. He took a bite, chewed thoughtfully and swallowed.

“What about girls?”

“Girls?” Tim asked, trying desperately to catch up.

“Was he fucking all the dusky native girls? Or boys. Like I said, sixteen years of Catholic school. Was he fucking every pre-teen boy he could get his shovel into?”

It seemed to Tim as if Des was purposely shouting. On the plus side, the woman who had been frowning about the cigarette smoke now had something new to be upset about.

“No,” Tim whispered, hoping Des might take the hint, “He wasn’t…doing anyone. The Lama was celibate.”

Des snorted and ate another core sample, now doused in hot sauce.

“No one’s celibate by choice, Ted. The only reason I’m not getting laid right now is I’m waiting for the dead rat in my wall to dry up enough so the smell goes away. I promise you, your priest was diddling boys.”

Des was back to shouting. 

 

* * * * *

 

19. Carrington

 

Carrington slouched down on the bench across from the pickup basketball game at Silverlake Rec. Her mother was off someplace, Carrington didn’t have an audition and while she was disappointed to note Cute Dreadlock Guy wasn’t playing today, Alex Skarsgard If He Stopped Working Out was playing, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. She pulled out a joint and lit up.

Someone shouted,“ Excuse me, Miss? Miss?”

Carrington looked around. A minivan had pulled over and a middle-aged woman was frantically waving a piece of paper at her like a napkin. Carrington palmed her joint. 

“Yes?”

“Do you live around here?”

“Sort of.”

“We’re trying to find…” the woman held up the unfolded map and squinted.  “Micheltorena. Is that nearby?”

From the woman’s pronunciation, Carrington guessed Wisconsin didn’t have too many streets named after Mexican generals.

“Yeah but, um, Micheltorena kind of goes everywhere. Do you have an address?”

The woman squinted again.

“2518.” The woman leaned out the window and took on a conspiratorial tone, “It’s where Johnny Depp lives.” 

Oh my God, Carrington thought, these morons found the last guy selling “Maps To the Stars’ Homes” in Los Angeles. Jesus, didn’t anyone ever tell them about Google? They could have gotten the same wrong information for free.

“It’s right up the hill,” Carrington said and glanced in that direction, noticing that Dreadlock Guy had arrived after all.  “Well, good luck,” she said, having instantly decided to quit navigating these tragic tourists. “Have a nice time in Los Angeles.”

Minivan Lady was now squinting at her with the same sharp focus she had been applying to the poorly-printed slip of paper.

“Wait, are you an actress?”

[2000]

The casting director, whose name was Beverly, stood in the hallway and rubbed her eyes in exhaustion. After thirty years of doing this job, there was very little a client could do to erase the professionally pleasant smile from her face but, by God, these schmucks were bound and determined try. In the previous month, she had shown the Wee Wonders marketing executives every single working baby in Los Angeles. Every hair color, every skin color, twins, triplets – all trotted out for their new Wonderful Baby and no baby was wonderful enough. Finally, by sheer force of will, Beverly found them five babies to bring back and see in person, which had been this morning’s session. The babies were adorable; any one of them would have caused a nation of women to set their birth-control pills on fire.  But now the ad agency guys and the company executives were sitting around, picking apart these babies. When one of them said “Is it just me or do all these babies look a little bloated?” and the others nodded in agreement, Beverly took hearing the mailman arrive as an excuse to get away from these fools, if only for a minute.

But it wasn’t the mailman. It was a woman in her late twenties with a big nervous smile and an armful of manila envelopes exactly like the one she’d just slid through the mail slot. Wannabe, Beverly thought, and never going to make itNot quite pretty, not ugly enough to be character. Just another headshot in an evergrowing pile.

“Who’s that?”

Beverly jumped. She didn’t realize the Wee Wonders senior marketing guy had walked up behind her.  He was pointing, but not at the actress. He was pointing at the stroller parked a few feet behind her. In the stroller a blonde curly-haired girl pointed back at him and giggled.

“That’s…my daughter,” the woman whispered. “Carrington.”

“Why didn’t we see her on callbacks?” he demanded of Beverly.

Beverly turned to the mother.

“Does she work? Does she have an agent?”

“Yes. I mean, no. She doesn’t have an agent and yeah, I guess she works. I mean she hasn’t, but…”

The executive had used up his capacity for small talk.

“Whatever. One of you people figure it out and get her in here,” he barked, and strode back in to the audition space. Beverly could hear him shouting at the others in the room. “Well, I just did everyone’s goddamn job for them and found our new Wonderful.”

Beverly glanced at the giggling baby and said, “Thank your mommy, Miss Carrington. You’re now a working actor.”

[ 2016 ]

“Oh my goodness,” the woman in the minivan breathed, “Are you famous?”

The woman and her husband stared at Carrington in fascination.

Carrington plastered a pleasant smile on her face and said, “No. I’m no one at all.”

 

* * * * *

 

  • (Copyright 2016. Quinn Cummings.All rights reserved)