This is Draft 2A of my second novel, written in 1996, after Radio Mary. I've always loved Hollywood novels. (I later wrote a version in which all of the characters are women.)
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party. One of a thousand. One of the rare ones that Larry got
invited to, almost by accident.
Coldwater Canyon. The
canyon scene. Everyone acting
casual, hyper-aware of everyone else.
Everyone determined to seem like more than they were, with slick raps,
or with the cultivated blasé of having already arrived at a state of empyrean
grace. Larry wrote
screenplays. His last - his only -
screen credit, shared, was seven years ago. He had no ambitions to direct, not anymore, it was too late
for that. He had a constellation
of deals that he could talk about, make them sound like more than they really
were, less dormant and former than they had all become. Problem was, he had to will himself
into a state of belief to be able to pass that belief along to others. That was the thirty minutes he spent in
the bathroom, greeting himself in the mirror. He hated these kind of parties. He was desperate to go to as many of them as he possibly
could. They took their toll.
came to the party with Larry. She
was an interior designer. She
picked furniture and fabrics, colors and textures. She spent other people's money. She tried to impose her better taste upon their
well-financed but less refined palates.
She hated all things Southwestern.
She had few Industry clients.
She wanted more.
was surprised that there was valet parking. That upped the already high stakes. The trick was gambling his self-esteem
on a winnable hand.
house was bigger and the density of guests less than Larry had imagined. There was more color on the walls than
Leslie had expected. After Larry
got their drinks, by unspoken agreement, as was their pattern, they slipped anchor
and went their separate ways.
Leslie had given little signals that she was going to the party as a
favor to Larry, but Larry knew that she was angling to pass out her own
evening went as those evenings tend to go. Larry said hello in passing to the three people he knew, who
were doing much better than he was.
He knew they'd never give him work, so fuck 'em - but with a smile,
because you never know. He met two
people, neither of whom seemed promising, although he promised to send one a
script of his that nothing was happening with. It was the kind of evening that left him feeling hopeless,
closer to dead than he ever thought he'd be.
was ready to leave, even though it was still early. Otherwise he'd be forced back through the same circuit of
people, and would be further diminished by staying at the party too long. Then he saw Leslie talking with Jack
Brown, waving expansively, then specifically - what must have been her decorating
pitch, using the party house as a examplar of the good, the bad, and the
ugly. She had Jack's full
attention. Larry felt torn. Didn't she know that Jack was hustling
her, he had to be - damn Leslie, she refused to wear a wedding ring. She was flirting with Jack Brown. Larry felt shy and angry. Shy about approaching his own
wife. As Leslie made a sweep with
her hand to indicate a vase, her eyes swept across Larry - and kept sweeping
past - with only the merest flicker of eye contact. It was really too much. Larry had no alternative. He came over, and was kept hanging while Jack finished what
he was saying.
people pick one set of furniture and keep it for fucking ever - even if they
get divorced - even if they lose custody of the coffee table or the couch -
they ten to one go out and buy the same goddamned thing over again. I've got more the new car mentality, if
you know what I mean, no sentimental attachments - try a new model - keep
things fresh, ya know?"
for the moment, with his peroration, Jack let his glance slide back over to
Larry, whose presence he had noted and let pass when Larry first arrived at
Leslie's side. Jack assumed, by
noblesse oblige, that Larry was yet another supplicant, wearing his best sport
coat for the occasion. Jack waited
for Larry to speak. Jack Brown
never had to introduce himself.
Unless it was to a presidential candidate - someone of that ilk - a
higher breed of supplicant.
this is Larry. My husband."
to meet ya." Jack gave a
pre-emptive nod to avoid a handshake.
Jack had a famous phobia about germs, and was known to avoid shaking
hands. If Jack Brown shook your
hand, you had arrived - unless you were already there - on the mountain top
I was saying..." Jack said, turning back to Leslie.
at his desk at home, while Leslie performed her angry ablutions, Larry found it
impossible to reconstruct the conversation. His practiced hands hovered motionless above the familiar
keyboard. Not even a
sentence. Just a smile, the wave
of a wineglass, a glance, a pause, the space between two faces, between three
faces. What was the important
part? The words? Or what he felt? Why do I feel bad? Because of me, because of her, because
of us, because of everything? The
night diffused into laziness, the impossibility of describing, of nailing his
feelings with words. Words, always
invitation came later.
learned about it indirectly.
wanted to redo a guest house. He
invited Leslie to Bel Air to take a look, to talk, implying the job was
hers. Leslie told Larry about the
meeting only after it had been canceled.
Jack had invited them out to the desert.
The project had shifted, expanded beyond a guest house in Bel Air to a
pool house in Palm Desert. Leslie
told Larry that Jack had hired her on instinct. Larry had another word for it. Several words, however many necessary. But they hadn't talked about it.
and Leslie were tense. Nothing
unusual about that. Larry felt
exposed to what he was seeing. He
was thinking about yesterday.
the morning he had written a good scene, a dinner party, with a nice flow to
the dialogue, the subtext clear, advancing the plot. He'd felt good about himself, good about his skills while writing
it had gone dead. He felt
dry. He only got three phone calls
that day. A call from his lawyer
and a call from his agent, both returning calls that he had made to them. The only other incoming call was from a
young woman to whom he had given a free option on one of his scripts. Their relationship was still at the
stage where they talked every day.
Larry tried to present an image of unflagging optimism, to buoy her
efforts to try and get the film made, but there was the memory of pain in his
muscles - it would be a miracle if the film ever happened.
weeks paraded in no particular order, driven by the calendar. His life was like a mountain or a river
or a glacier - moving slowly, imperceptibly, grinding.
spite of the dead phone, this could be a big weekend. The big weekend. He was nervous. There were possibilities to
looked over at Leslie. Her eyes
were on the road. She was a
careful driver. This was a good
time to talk, the last time to talk, before they got there.
try to have a good time."
plan on having a good time."
know what I mean. This is kind of
like a vacation."
"No. This is business. You know this isn't a real vacation."
with sunglasses, the hard light hurt.
He closed his eyes, slouched.
Leslie pouted that she was doing all the driving. Larry thought about pretending to be
asleep before he finally spoke.
"I'd be glad to drive.
If you feel like switching."
chose not to respond.
watched the road stripes wind past.
She was waiting for the big plaster dinosaurs, somewhere up ahead on the
left. The dinosaurs were where the
desert began. The dinosaurs and
then the windmills. She was
embarrassed by their Accord. A
declassé car to park in Jack Brown's driveway - no doubt about that, even
having never seen Jack's driveway.
houses on the hill. Faux mansions
perched on the edge of the freeway.
Why? For who? They were just a valley or two away
from the dinosaurs.
got a job."
rewrite of an action comedy."
Bellamy, a producer on the Paramount lot.
It's not necessarily a studio picture, but the job's for scale."
did you wait until now to tell me?"
know how these things go. I hate
to talk about them until they're real.
This one's finally real enough for them to start doing a contract. But it's not really real until money
it's been going on for weeks."
"Months. But everything goes on forever, you
looked annoyed. Remembering other
false hopes. "You should have
it better this way?"
didn't reply. She hadn't expected
the balance to shift back to him, not out of the blue, not on the road, right
before the dinosaurs. So. He had a job again. Finally.
Jack at Paramount?"
Jack is at Paramount."
was debris on the road.
Pipes. A handcart. Leslie signaled to change lanes, but
the pipes were scattered across all the lanes. It must have just happened. She hit her brakes as they felt the jolt, the car starting
to spin, something weird about stopping, until they both realized that another
car was rear-ending them. It got
slow and blank and
tried to roll down her window but her arm wouldn't work right. There was blood everywhere. This couldn't be right, Larry had his
good points, this wasn't what Larry wanted, couldn't be.
were helpful faces, ghastly faces, faces glad not to be her face, crowding near. Poor Larry. And I've got to tell Jack, we can't keep Jack waiting...
surfaced from his daydream about a car wreck.
wondered for a moment if there was something wrong in imagining his own
death. Not worse than going
someplace you didn't want to go, in slim, desperate hopes of self-advancement.
dark, clear and strange, tilted
still and quiet, buzzing and stretching.
Leslie looked over.
Something was wrong with the other side of the car, it was crushed and
she felt dizzy and she couldn't see Larry. No, not dark and crushed, this couldn't be right, not so
close to the windmills.
cars were stopping.
they arrived at Jack's house, following the map that Jack's assistant had
faxed, a Salvadoran housekeeper answered the door. The mini-estate was high in the foothills, past a dying date
grove, hidden behind oleanders and palms.
Jack wasn't there - he was late coming in from Los Angeles. Or he was out shopping. It was one explanation or both or some
house was large, impersonal, oppressively beige. To Leslie's eye, it looked like an early seventies hotel
lobby. Badly dated designer art. Predictable desert tones. Clunky, over-sized furniture.
were shown to their room, apparently the first weekend guests to arrive, and
abandoned. The room was spacious
and tacky, with sliding patio doors opening out to the pool. Outside were mountains, palm trees,
captive desert light.
place is ugly."
that what you're going to tell Jack?"
like to get his take on things first."
about your standards?"
service the client."
say it like a dirty word."
can be. Service his needs. Service my needs." He made a pass at her, a pass as a matador
would make at a bull.
"Later. Maybe. Let's go for a swim." Without pulling the drapes, She opened her suitcase. He flopped on the bed, took off his baseball cap, his
sunglasses. Things were
scattered. The room suddenly felt
started to undress.
found that basic motion required considerable conviction. He was tired. The desert felt strange, now that the car had stopped and
the windshield was no longer shielding him, now that the desert space wrapped
around his head, even in this bedroom.
Outside, sunlight refracted off the water and the windows of the pool
house. He put his sunglasses back
changed into her bikini quickly, efficiently, with no regard for Larry. She didn't bother to invite him
the patio the air was warmer, bigger.
Leslie looked around - palms, aloe vera, birds of paradise, flagstone,
jagged brown mountains, blue sky.
She felt like she was standing on the edge of the condition of
nature. Not quite in it. Slowly, Leslie realized that the
bobbing reflection inside the pool house wasn't from the pool, but from a pair
of sunglasses, a man on the phone, looking her way. Leslie waved a little hello and stepped closer to Jack,
glancing back at the bedroom to confirm her not so blushing suspicion that he
had seen her changing into her bikini - but the man in the pool house wasn't
Jack, it was someone a little fatter, a little balder, though still
attractive. He was talking on a
cellular phone. Faint words
hammered at the closed patio door, and after a quick shrug and another wave to
somehow try and convey apology for falsely recognizing the wrong man, Leslie
turned back toward the pool. She
tried to act like the man on the phone didn't exist, that she was enjoying her
little stroll around the pool, thank you very much, that she could care less if
he was watching her. Let him get
an eyeful, she was a married woman, basically.
Sunlight. Too tense to swim. The rectangle of water wasn't
inviting. Leslie strolled around
the patio, examining the furniture.
The ironwork was deceptively shoddy - it only looked tacky if you really
looked at it closely. Approaching
the sliding glass doors, disappointed that they weren't French doors, Leslie
saw her own reflection against the reflected desert mountains, and inside, past
the reflections, she saw the maid dusting an end table, a pile of screenplays
on it, a bright red CAA cover the boldest color in the room. Leslie wondered why she felt timid
about going back inside - maybe because it felt strange being in Jack's desert
house for the first time without Jack.
She - they - had been invited, but it was somehow invasive. Still, Leslie couldn't help looking. It helped her gauge her job pitch. Coffee table books, sprays of dried
flowers, examples of African art that had been all the rage in Hollywood five
years ago, a Leroy Neiman silk screen.
thought: I wish I was hipper. I
wish I was in a hipper situation.
Is that just a function of age?
Did I used to feel hipper?
I did. Didn't I? Wasn't it more effortless, or am I just
tried the door - it was locked.
Glancing over her shoulder, she decided against doubling back. It felt important to continue onward,
to uphold her aloofness from whoever was in the pool house. She rapped softly on the glass. The maid gave a delicately calibrated
dirty look and came over to unlock the door, just as more bodies joined her
reflection in the window. Leslie
turned to face the mysterious Mr. Phone as he walked out of the pool house,
followed by a pixieish woman/girl wearing an oversized man's white button-down
came closer. He had a beautiful
face, not classically beautiful, but animated, very alive, not greedy. Sean stepped into the pool. She descended the steps until her shirt
tails were wet. She stood patiently
on the bottom step, running her fingers through the water.
must be a friend of Jack's."
I'm a friend of Joe's."
"Sure. Isn't this Joe's house?"
smiled. "I'm just
laughed without turning around.
might as well be Joe's house - or Jerry's - or Jay's. Jack's going to be late - I was just on the phone with him -
something came up. What do you
run a studio."
went blank, computing, working down some inner list, trying to place her.
interior design studio."
design. Houses, offices. Pool houses."
you want to smoke some grass?"
smiled, understanding his pauses now.
Not that they were acting overtly stoned, but he and Sean seemed to be
someplace else. She could
join them there. It had been a
long time. Not that there hadn't
been occasional opportunities. But
the opportunities had dwindled, until it wasn't something that she thought much
about anymore. Her prayers had
been answered, sort of. She had an
opportunity to be hip, sort of.
"Good. Great. Righteous, as they used to say."
smiled. Harry had a sense of humor
that worked for her. Maybe they
were simpatico. It seemed so. They had no history together. That always helped, at least in the
over, Leslie saw that Sean had descended the final step, conquering the shallow
end. She wore nothing underneath
the white shirt, which was still demurely buttoned. Leslie had been wondering who Sean reminded her of, someone
on the tip of her tongue, and then it came to her - Audrey Hepburn. She had hair and eyes like Audrey
Hepburn, but that had been hard to place because nothing else about her seemed
at all like Hepburn.
the cocktail hour."
saw a gold lighter set flame to a joint.
There was a nostalgic scent in the air. Harry got the coal burning and passed the joint to
Leslie. Their fingertips
touched. He had soft skin and
Relaxation / tension.
Burning / smoke. As Leslie
inhaled, she felt the heat rolling down her throat.
didn't feel a thing.
she felt a lot. The volume, the
decibels of reality were dialed up.
Thoughts raced through her slowed-down brain. Paying closer attention to everything, but in little pieces,
it was easy to be distracted.
politely handed the joint back to Harry and exhaled, coughing as the escaping
smoke snagged her unsuspecting throat.
walked over to the pool. Sean
propped her wet elbows on the tiled edge like an ingenue. Harry held the cigarette to her lips. "You're a love," she said and inhaled deeply - smiled -
lifted her elbows up - and dropped under water.
a hoot." Harry took another
drag and brought the joint back over to Leslie.
was feeling good, more intense, a pleasingly different version of herself, as
she took another breath of the smoke, this one a little deeper, a little
braver. As she handed the
cigarette back to Harry he embraced her hand longer than before, at least
that's how it felt to Leslie. They
were standing close beside each other, as if at a party. But the patio was empty. After the announcement of smoke
breaking through the chlorinated water, Sean surfaced, eyes closed,
smiling. Leslie glanced nervously
toward her bedroom - their bedroom - wondering about dealing with Larry. She knew him to be judgmental about
dope, ever since he had recanted a couple of years ago. Never touched the stuff. And he had been a head. Every day. Said it didn't effect him. It wouldn't be fun to face him right now. Well, let Larry deal with Larry's attitude.
Better if he was napping. Getting stoned reminded Leslie of so much. It was something she had done so often,
too often, in so many circumstances.
Her youth. When did that
stop? Where was the blurred border
of that? Youth wasn't an issue,
not if you were young, it was a given, it was what you were, it wasn't what you
thought about. Youth was a country
you couldn't re-enter - but - but - wasn't that what was happening here - now -
joint was back to her. She was
teetering on the edge of something.
was pleased with Leslie for liking him.
They were a mutual admiration society. Maybe not deep or permanent, but here, now, relaxed. Leslie remembered that she had
forgotten about Larry. For a
little while at least.
noticed that the sun was gone. No more
yellow light. It was cold in the
shadows. The sky was getting
poised to creep toward violet.
Dropping her eyes from the sky, she saw Harry sprawled on the patio
kissing the aquatic Sean, sharing more smoke. Larry was right, the desert was strange.
next question - the final question - the pertinent question - the question of
the moment - was relaxing - deciding what to think - what to be - what to do -
not letting anything stop that simple beautiful thing from being the thing that
happened. Yes, the grass was
strong. Very strong. It had been so long, it was like
getting stoned for the first time.
and Sean had stopped kissing. Sean
was swimming, lazily, the back stroke.
Harry was lying face up to the sky, smiling. Leslie was standing where she had been standing for a very
long time, where she had first talked to Harry. Why? No reason
why. And what about
Jack? What would it be like seeing
Jack while she was stoned? That
made her nervous. But a slower,
clashing thought, put that to rest - Harry knew Jack - so Jack probably got
high - no sweat - it might actually be easier this way - and with this new
little burst of confidence - maybe even inspiration - Leslie went over to the
pool and stuck her legs in - smiled at the water's cool feel. This was a vacation. If the work happened, it happened, but
there was no work right now, there was no Jack, there was water, sky, air -
elements contained and construed in Jack's desert backyard.
was comfortable until she worried about getting uncomfortable. That was the problem with nearly
perfect moments - they called too much attention to themselves. There could be something bad on the
other side of a good moment.
got another call and wandered with his phone to the far side of he pool. Sean got cold and climbed out of the
water, dripping and shivering as she disappeared into the house. Leslie hadn't found out very much about
them, nothing really, except that they were friends of Jack, they smoked grass,
they knew how to have a good time.
went back into the bedroom feeling dreamy and battered, and a little
guilty. She remembered now what it
was like on that long slow slide down from getting high, what it was like
coming back to Mom and Dad after a night cruising the streets listening to
was awake. Larry had been
were those people?"
Larry seen her smoking dope? How
much had Larry seen? How much was
worth re-iterating, apologizing for, whatever?
didn't you come outside and find out?"
didn't feel like it. I was
friends of Jack's. Harry and
Sean. They're nice, fun, you know.
air conditioning hummed. She
couldn't hear the desert in here.
Leslie sat down on the edge of the bed, facing the glass door, watching
the sky. Larry touched her with
his foot, rubbed her back with his toes.
Leslie felt her muscles tighten.
She told herself to relax.
She made herself relax. She
leaned back against Larry's foot.
Pressure felt so good right now.
She closed her eyes. She
slid off his foot, down onto the bed, a sleepy rag doll.
were you talking about?"
you like to know."
pitched him a story idea. He liked
it. Loved it, actually."
didn't know what to say.
thought I was a writer. I went
with it. You always wanted us to
write a script together. Maybe
I'll get us a deal this weekend.
Or maybe I'll just write it by myself."
scooted up the bed, all the way on to it, slinked toward the pillow. It felt crisp and cool under her
head. It was everything a pillow
leaned over, contorted, just to kiss her on the lips.
you see us?"
missed that part."
kissed her again. She stayed somewhere
in the middle. Not moving. Not admitting that she liked it.
kissing me like licking an ashtray?"
a contact high."
turned away from him, more lazy than spiteful.
you in the mood...for anything?"
didn't know what Harry did, but he was more glamorous than Larry. He must be something, someone, to be
hanging out with Jack. But it
wasn't that, it wasn't a matter of status. She decided that her fantasy life had been dead too long,
not from not smoking grass, but from not doing anything romantic,
unpredictable, bold, strange. The
grass reawakened that. Some deeper
stirring. She closed her eyes to
the beautiful sky. It was just too
hard to keep them open. She felt
his hands on her back, on her shoulders, drawing his body closer, bending
against her, she felt him hard against her, but she was a bit too tired right
now to do much about it, even if she wanted to, it was better to just to sink,
to drift, to chase down that one last thought, more like a tune, a little
ditty, what was the name of the song, that familiar song...
woke up, alone. The room was
dark. The pool glowed liquid
blue. It took her a moment to
remember where she was, and why.
Her mouth tasted terrible.
When she thought about it, she still felt a little stoned.
bathroom was the most hotel-like room in the whole hotel-like house - clean,
bright, impersonal. Hardly the
place of private functions. Leslie
thought she looked old in the mirror - older - she felt strange looking at
herself. There was a tiny tube of
toothpaste with a Ritz Carlton logo among the bathroom condiments. Leslie squeezed some paste onto her
finger and brushed her teeth.
Sucking in the clean taste of mint made her feel much better. She unwrapped a tiny bar of oatmeal
soap and washed her face. She felt
restored. Her thoughts, still slow
and repetitive, dwelling on sensation (the light, the ugly texture of the
marble countertop, the cheap sheen of the brass faucets) and anxieties (where
was Larry, where was Jack, what had she missed, was she up to being witty) at
least felt ordered. The ritual of cleaning her teeth and her face gave her the
brief illusion of morning freshness.
the hallway she heard Larry's voice, then laughter. Her husband was seated between Harry and Sean at a long
glass-topped dining table.
was wearing a Coogi sweater and a tam o'shanter. Sean was wearing the same oversized man's shirt, dry now,
and perfectly torn jeans. Larry
was wearing a raw silk shirt and the khaki pants Leslie had bought him for
Valentine's Day three years ago.
They were eating Chinese food by candlelight. There was an extra place setting. The flatware was clunky. An old Elvis Costello album - was it "Get Happy!"?
- came from speakers somewhere: ...everything you say now sounds like it was
worried about what she had missed - it felt like walking into a room where
everyone else was deep into watching a movie, annoyed with having to fill in
the plot. Not that they didn't
include her. Had Harry and Sean
gotten high in the meantime - higher?
And had Larry joined them, broken his dope celibacy? Lots of questions bubbled underneath
Leslie's smile as she traversed the closed-loop carpet and sat down in one of
the comfortable but ugly off-white padded chairs.
didn't want to wake you, Les. We
got you moo shu - like you like it - no eggs."
"Thanks. Where's Jack?"
on the phone," Harry said.
"Wherever he is, somewhere Jack's on the phone, I'm sure. He called again, with more excuses and
apologies. Well, not apologies
exactly. That's not Jack's style."
"Apparently." Straining in the yellow candlelight,
leaning forward for the shrimp fried rice, Leslie thought she saw red stains of
agitated veins in what should have been the whites of Larry's eyes.
his stead, let's enjoy the banquet.
The Mojave's famous for Szechwan food." So Larry was
stoned. The tip-off was his oddly
a little rude of him." Leslie
jumped in with a strong opinion.
is beyond rude." Harry held
up a bottle of Chateau LaTour.
"Some wine?" It
seemed like an invitation to more.
Something about Harry was pleasantly insinuating. She never expected so many
secrets. That wasn't what she
anticipated as they drove down Bob Hope Drive, past Frank Sinatra Street, on
the final leg of getting here.
Leslie nodded and Harry poured the wine into the inelegant glass. Things weren't matching here - the
vintage of wine clashed with the crystal - Leslie felt dissonance with every
turn of her head: the accretion of unpleasant objects, all magnified by the
last fizzle and pop of the cannabis in her bloodstream.
grew up with Jack," Larry explained.
we ever actually grew up."
around the table, Larry thought, if the hypothetical camera angle were an
overhead shot, this would look like a reasonably conventional dinner. Two couples. A husband and wife.
Chinese take-out by candlelight.
Breaking bread. A basic
conversation. Then the image began
to fall apart. He had trouble
fictionalizing what would happen next, or even what was happening then, in
everyone else's head.
wondered if Harry produced films.
More specifically, did he buy scripts? Leslie wondered if Harry needed an interior designer. Coming out to the desert to see Jack
had put them both in a mercantile mood.
The desert was empty. They
would fill it with desire. Not for
each other, but for other things.
told herself that she just didn't want things. That she was more human than that.
But how much do you learn at the table? How hard do you try?
you in the biz?" Larry asked Harry.
"No. Not really. I produced a film once."
more than some people ever do.
People who are really in the
was constantly threatening to fall apart.
It could happen between bites.
has artistic inclinations. Or at
least Harry had artistic
inclinations," Sean said. It
was the first time she had spoken since Leslie had sat down. "But that was before I met
did you guys meet?" Larry asked.
Leslie could tell that Larry was interested in Sean, by the way he was
looking at her - and she knew that he wouldn't do anything about it. If she was sure of one thing, she was
sure that she knew that much about Larry.
didn't even know we were coming out here.
We went to this party last night and Harry just dragged me out to the
desert. I didn't bring any clothes
- just what I'm wearing."
ate his noodles carefully, daintily, not wanting to slurp. Leslie could see that he was enthralled
by Sean's limited, impromptu wardrobe, that he was jealous of Harry for being
filled the dead air. "So you
produced a movie?"
an art film, with a buddy of mine.
It was fun, but it's not really a business."
that what you tell Jack?"
what does Jack tell you?"
with nuts and bolts.
Literally. My family's been
manufacturing hardware since the Gold Rush. We didn't dig for gold; we sold shovels and pans to the
dreamers." Harry seemed to
cheerfully accept his destiny.
what do you do?" Leslie asked
Sean. Leslie thought she was doing
a pretty good job of being easy-going.
mean what's my major?"
were exchanged. Harry and Sean and
Larry seemed to simultaneously laugh.
make espressos for a living. But
someday I hope to make cappuccinos."
was dragging on now. Leslie didn't
have much of an appetite; she stopped eating the lukewarm, congealing
take-out. She was ready to get
high again. She wished that this
really was a vacation, that she could be completely satisfied with where she
was, with who she was, just sit in the sun, carefree. "So what did I miss while I was sleeping?"
looked at Harry and smiled.
wasn't much else to say.
were all sitting outside.
the pool light was on.
all sat in the watery blue light, under the dark desert sky.
felt privileged in a way that he didn't deserve - it wasn't earned, just an
invitation, an address that he'd shown up at.
lit another joint. In Jack's
absence, he was the provider of entertainment.
passed the joint to Leslie. She
gave Larry a look: guilty - then defiant - then defiantly indifferent. Finally, she smoked.
rustled open a newspaper.
"Let's see what's playing at the local cinema."
Jack have cable?"
a satellite dish. If there's
entertainment out there in the universe, Jack's got the gear to receive
joint made its way to Larry.
Leslie was waiting, watching.
Their unspoken communication was complex and shifting. He, too, was defiant - indifferent -
then, after puffing, guilty. He
was playing from the same deck.
They were married.
think it's more fun here."
Sean cuddled against Harry.
He took it in stride, smoking, still studying the newspaper in the
wavering blue light. She snuggled
closer. "We can smoke, make
our own popcorn, take off our clothes..."
had to walk, he had to move, he had to do something. He stood up, ready to make an excuse about bathroom but no one was paying any attention - Leslie looked
at him - he didn't have to explain to her - suddenly, it was all too much and
he wanted to be by himself.
went inside through the sliding doors, past the remnants of dinner, down the
long beige hallway - it was all getting so familiar, so fast, the lay-out of
the house no longer a mystery - but he still hadn't seen the master bedroom,
didn't really want to. The other
rooms were at least bearable, but he knew that he would feel diminished in the
thoughts were racing. It pained
him that he and Leslie couldn't talk, not really, that they both seemed to have
unspoken, irreconcilable agendas.
went into their bedroom - their temporary
bedroom. But he didn't want to lie
down. He wanted to feel
better. He wanted to escape. His head felt clogged. He thought he was getting bright
ideas. That long festering story
about Las Vegas - somehow - somewhere inside of him it felt more complete, more
do-able. Larry felt both confident
and scared. If he could just take
out a pen and paper and scribble some notes down - there was so much to write
down - but where to begin - what were the specifics, when there were so many
things to say. Larry dug into his
shoulder bag, got out his notebook, uncapped the green pen that he favored, and
waited. But it just wasn't there
the moment he tried to focus it down to a word, a sentence, whatever.
sat down on the beige quilted bedspread.
He felt alive. He felt
alienated. He was exploding with
old feelings. He was trying not to
give up. He dropped backwards,
settled with a bounce against the worsted fabric. He worried about going back outside. He felt obligated. He sat back up. He couldn't sit still.
came in. "I was wondering
where you went." She sat
down, not nearby, but in the middle distance, not to touch, but to talk. "I didn't think you were
didn't think you were."
in the desert. I wouldn't have
ordinarily, but the temptation...and I wanted to see what it would be like,
after all this time."
long has it been?"
years. I got stoned two years ago
on my birthday."
what's it like?"
same. I'm just older doing it,
less accustomed. It's a bigger
high - it's harder to deal with - being out of practice."
kind of like it."
do you think you used to get high so much?"
didn't you ask me that then?"
asking you now."
want to know."
don't know why. How much do you
ever understand about what you do?
It was fun. It made
everything more intense. It felt
like a painless way of learning things.
Does that make sense?
Why? Why do you think you
of the same reason. It was
fun. It made music better. Food better. Sex better. But
I didn't do it nearly as often as you did."
more obsessive." He slid
toward Leslie. She let him hug
her, but didn't move - remaining neutral, neither pro nor con.
sat for a while like that, the duration stretched by the drug. Those few seconds seemed very slow
indeed. They were married, but
there were decisions to be made, moment by moment. There was a rhythm, a momentum to staying together, but the
specific minutes were a matter of negotiation, apportionment, vindication,
was thinking about sex, in an abstract way because he wasn't specifically
horny. It was more out of habitual
advance and retreat than any need he might have been feeling at that exact
moment. The thing about retreating
was covering his flank, defeat with honor - it bothered Larry how appallingly
apt the Vietnam metaphors were. He
couldn't seem to need sex, to want it too much. They'd been married for four years and it was still like
dating - within their parameters of familiarity sex was no guarantee - and if
there was sex it wasn't necessarily good.
Thinking about all this, his arm loosely around Leslie, her thoughts
most likely someplace else, or, if in the same place, then resisting the same
impulse, Larry felt less stoned.
Not straight, but no longer high.
This was not the kind of soaring that he craved. Here they were, married, and high, and
in bed - or at least on a bed - and sex
seemed as unlikely as - as unlikely as - Jimi Hendrix bursting through the door
and playing solo guitar. Now he
was remembering younger days, when the drugs were fresher, when the thing had
been not to play games, but to be honest, to get beyond the bullshit. This high was now more like a cocktail
than a drug. Leslie was still
staring at the ceiling. She didn't
seem at all interested in him - but wasn't she just drifting in her thoughts
like he was? We know each other,
but I don't think she's at all interested in me - is it because she's too angry
to be interested - is it something we can talk about? - talking now seemed like
writing had a minute or three ago - there was too much to say, a tangle of
contradictory impulses - one sentence contradicting another - a tangle that
reduced Larry to silence - until he felt like he was bursting with silence - there was so much to say that it
threatened to just tumble out as intricate gibberish - and somewhere within the
gibberish might be something that would connect with Leslie, re-connect, make
it all less of a battle. But just
now he didn't have the energy to conquer that big thing. And his arm felt twisted and uncomfortable
on top of Leslie. It just didn't
feel good. He had come in here to
be by himself, and she had joined him, and now she was ignoring him - why was
that? Did she have to be near him
in ways that she couldn't admit?
The room felt small and Larry felt like walking under the desert
sky. He was stoned - it wasn't too
late to feel high.
in the dark, alone. That was what
he wanted, wasn't it? Big palms
silhouetted against the sky. The
air was cold. Larry wished he had
a sweater, but he wasn't turning back.
was a long street. There were no
moving cars. What did he want to
think about in the darkness? Were
his steps an impulse toward
something? The night was empty out
here - it didn't feel dangerous, like the city night, waiting for attack, the
siege of darkness. He wanted to
walk toward, walk into a big
idea, the one that pulled the lever of the giant slot machine, the
jackpot. He wanted suitable reward
for all the pages he had sprayed words with. But where was that idea, what dark palm tree was it hiding
under? His searching was
distracted by - well, distracted by so many things - Leslie was the first thing
that came to mind. Exactly what he
was feeling kept squirming away, but she had seemed so real to him back in the
borrowed bedroom - wasn't it all a borrowed bedroom? - flesh - solid - his mate
- it was so much more complicated than anything he could say to her - "I
love you" had been debased into weightlessness. It was ridiculous, their being annoyed with each other for
being stoned. Larry felt sad that
instead of enjoying the soft rush of altered sensation, they were angry with
each other for feeling the same thing, for having smoked - where did irony step
over into tragedy? And ultimately,
in this diminished incarnation, wasn't his life too small to make any claim to
tragedy? Now that was tragic - the
failure to be truly tragic. Who should he blame? Here he was, walking alone, it's what
he said he wanted to do.
Sentiment. It was so hard
crawling back to zero. How had
they quit being friends?
couldn't solve that question in the darkness, so Larry let a story play, as
pure kinesthetic sensation, something he felt in his body, the Las Vegas story,
which was little more than an imagined hotel room, with a view of the
strip. A woman came into that imaginary
room. She wore a black dress. She looked like a wanton Audrey Hepburn
- she looked like: Sean. The woman
and the hero (his surrogate, who looked just like him) had apocalyptic, safe
sex. Sex that healed the hero,
that advanced the plot. But where
was the story going - and how did it get there? If he sat down it would work itself out, somehow, not just
the story, but his life, if he could key into the pattern, if he could reduce
the night to a definable darkness.
If he could just...impossible...
turned back, feeling a tug of not wanting to stray too far. He was cold. The walked hadn't helped. He just felt smaller, outside in the night.
stepped into the hallway, no shoes, just socks, feeling casual. She was determined to be perky, not to
dwell. She had been dwelling far
too much lately. She didn't feel
comfortable, but she tried to look comfortable, like she belonged. The pool rippled and refracted in the
night wind. At the far end of the
hall was an open door to a room that Leslie hadn't seen. The house felt as tense and empty as a
horror film. The dope had made her
feel both alive and oddly diminished.
door was open.
the open door she saw Harry and Sean.
didn't like Larry using that word to describe love-making, but that's the word
she heard herself using in her noisy brain. She wanted to keep watching. They both seemed so lost in it, such an unlikely couple. She backed away, free of discovery, the
image still burning as she retreated back up the hallway. Leslie felt so left out. And where was Larry?
house was quiet. It felt like a
tomb. Larry was sure that Leslie
would be angry. Some things were
inside the house he didn't feel tired.
He felt trapped. And angry
that Leslie would be angry - that was another kind of trap. Larry was angry about even having to
think about traps. It felt weird -
weird enough so that he plopped down on one of the sofas, sunk into its deep
cushions, to think about things: suddenly, now that he was inside, he was angry
about everything. Why?
was an excuse.
was waiting for an excuse, to think of an excuse.
must be an easier way.
knew that he wasn't thinking clearly.
He didn't even know what he was thinking about. He knew enough to know that - it was
too large - it was his life - what he comprehended of the pattern was so dark
that it made him turn back - there was no percentage in this kind of
comprehension, if what he was doing could even be graced with such a word. Comprehension. It sounded so fucking pretentious. What he really needed was an excuse
that worked. That helped him
up from thoughts that he had had again and again, loping, looping thoughts
that, in the end, went nowhere, Larry saw Sean looking at him, wearing only her
white shirt, bare feet, bare legs.
Larry wondered how long had she been watching.
else. The other two."
turns in early."
zaps him. That and dope."
felt titillated. They were talking
in a darkened room, like conspirators.
The darkness was intimate.
Larry didn't know quite what to say next. The longer he waited the more the silence said - or could be
assumed to say. He was startled
into asking the obvious.
"Why? Are we going to have group sex?"
felt breathless. "That
depends on the group."
laughed and slouched down on the opposite couch.
sex. Larry, Sean, and Leslie.
with Leslie, she'd never go for it.
Larry, Sean, and Harry.
Larry had never had sex with a man. He'd fantasized about it, abstractly, once or twice, more
out of writerly obligation, or at least that's what he told himself. He was interested in having sex with
Sean, but within the limited mathematical possibilities that the current
occupants of the house offered, he couldn't imagine a "group" that
was conducive to his real motive.
Would it take a group to get Sean interested in him? Was she really interested? It could easily just be a taunt, a
little flirty jest - and if Larry took it that way, then there was no danger of
social awkwardness or rejection - but there was the danger that she was serious,
that she was direct, and Larry was missing an opportunity that he might always
regret. He had so many regrets,
but the most recent regret always had that special tang. And even if the concept of group sex
was successfully re-negotiated, down-sized to just the two of them, what about
discovery? Would he have to act
cool about it, like he didn't care?
Could he overtly ask for Sean's discretion? And if he asked for her discretion, would she laugh at him,
think him hopelessly square and call the whole deal off? Or if he did ask and she agreed,
wouldn't he be fearful that she would let something slip - a word or a touch,
and then Leslie would know and there would be hell to pay. God, he wanted it. Her. Whoever she was.
Sean. He didn't have the
slightest idea. But just now, it
seemed like she could save him, at least in some small way, if he could just
find a graceful way to negotiate the temporarily vast distance between the two
couches. How? And how much more did he need, hadn't she broached the topic? Larry felt an overwhelming urge to be clever, to let words
help him, but he didn't know how.
smiled again, played with a button on her shirt. "What are you
do you ask?"
your mind seems busy."
in the dark."
in the dark," she repeated.
impressed. Well, to be quite
honest, I was thinking about group sex."
many people does it take - I mean - what's the minimum?"
laughed again. "More than
what I was afraid of."
wondered what to say next, what was the right thing, the words that would work.
bet that's not all you're afraid of."
don't you tell me?"
don't you tell me?" Larry threw back - it seemed a clever thing
to say - noncommittal - and then he feared what she would say - that it would
be the truth - that it would be more than he cared to know about himself - that
she would know too much for who she was, someone who had met him just a few
hours ago - that what he was should not be so obvious - not to her - not to
someone so young - not to anyone - especially not to her.
was smiling. She enjoyed
waiting. She was looking into his
face as if it was an amusing sitcom.
He was entertaining her. In
other circumstances that was okay.
More than okay. That was
great. He hadn't picked up a woman
since the early days with Leslie, when they were first living together, but
were still uncommitted. And that had only happened once, right
after he had sold a script, rather, had it optioned. He had felt omnipotent - or at least potent - there was a
chance that the world was his - and in that elastic moment of surging
possibility, for a magical week or two, he did everything right, he actually picked
up a woman at a matinee.
was a lifetime ago.
of all, you're afraid of getting caught."
am?" Larry's voice didn't
sound quite right to him.
course you are."
could take precautions. So we
wouldn't get caught."
course we could take precautions.
You're also afraid of me."
course you are."
assuming a lot."
really. You're afraid."
saying all the right things. To
make me feel great."
of. I mean, I like you."
wondered if he should make a move.
And if so, then how. The
distance between them - two opposing couches, a glass coffee table - felt
awkward. Insurmountable. But. The moment had come.
Was he confident enough to do it?
Was it pleasure or labor?
Was he moving away from or toward something?
have you been?" Leslie asked
from the doorway, in silhouette, her voice both sleepy and accusing, rising
from sleep to accuse.
went for a walk."
"No. I went for a walk alone."
came in and sat down on yet another couch, the middle of three. The semicircle was complete, encircling
the dark fireplace in the desert.
was thinking of going for a swim," Sean said.
it a too cold?"
looked outside. Leslie looked
outside. They both saw steam
rising in the aqua colored light.
your body a favor."
too tired to do anything."
you want to smoke some more grass?"
felt like he was a bystander to what was going on between Leslie and Sean. The jealousy. Leslie was jealous that Larry found Sean attractive, no
matter how much he denied it, no matter how studiously he avoided looking at
Sean. No, he couldn't remember
giving Sean anything like a real look since Leslie had spoken from the darkness
and come over to sit down. So how
could Leslie know? What
micro-gesture alerted her? How
much had she heard, had she watched, hidden? Leslie was jealous of Sean - that she had youth - that she
had Harry. Larry wondered if
Leslie really wanted Harry. Why
couldn't they just switch partners?
Habit. Fear. It kept coming back to fear. The promise of temporary bliss - and
then emptiness and terror on the other side of the weekend, shorn of Leslie,
alone, in a world of diseases and decisions, driving back from the outer desert
to the inner desert, the next-to-the-ocean desert. Right now, his attention exhausted and diminished, Larry
would settle for a moment of uncomplicated pleasure, where he could feel good,
without having to worry about the next thing to do, or worry about what Leslie
thought, just a couple of unclouded moments with no consequences.
you won't join me?" Sean got
up from the couch, her movements blurred in the darkness, her white shirt
covering the chassis of flesh underneath.
ahead, Larry, if you like."
felt guilty. The way Sean was
looking at him made him feel guilty.
She was saying too much, even not speaking. They hadn't done anything, and yet he looked guilty. And even if Leslie didn't say anything
about it, she would convict and punish him for it, in unspoken ways, all the
same. Larry did his best not to
watch Sean walk toward the sliding glass door. He tried not to watch her at all. Was it his fault that she took off her shirt before she
stepped into the pool, was it his fault that she was naked?
spent an awfully long time going for your walk."
did I miss something?"
do you mean?"
know what I mean."
"No. Why are you doing this?"
know what you're doing."
would have been nice to go to a movie or something. I mean, we haven't done anything since we got here."
one wanted to do anything!
Everyone was stoned."
down. I was just asking. I think I'll go back to sleep."
was too angry to say anything.
felt pleased walking away, not pleased in the sense of pure happiness, but
pleased with her effect on him, that she could deny him whatever she didn't
have. Whatever that was. Happiness.
felt angry about having to dutifully follow Leslie into the bedroom. He wanted to yell at her. He wanted to explode. He wanted to explode in proximity to
her. Give her credit, she did know
how to make him angry. It was so
stupid he didn't even want to think about it. Why did he have to
think about it, why did she make
him think about it?
walked down the dark hallway. It
was alien country. It was a place
to die forgotten. But he was
already forgotten, wasn't he?
Everything was alien here - the walls, the light bulb glowing faintly in
its chrome home, the stainless steel door knobs, all the objects carted into
the desert, organized into a house, a hallway in the desert, a room connecting
empty rooms. For a moment Larry
felt like an astronaut in a spaceship.
Light glowed under the doorway of their assigned room. Larry didn't look forward to joining Leslie. Had things come to that? Of course. But why were things so much worse, so suddenly. Was it the house? Was it them? Was it them in the house?
opened the door. Leslie was in
bed, on the far left side of the queen sized bed, reading a mystery novel. Larry didn't even bother to look at the
title. The title meant nothing,
the book was always the same. Leslie
didn't look up from the book, her eyes continued their ratcheting, devouring
stared at her: prim pink night gown, reading glasses, face scrubbed clean for
sleep. Had she been wearing her
glasses in the living room? He was
annoyed with himself for not remembering that detail, that clue - had she
dressed up for her visit - hoping to see Harry, or putting on a show for Sean? How had she gotten ready for bed so
quickly? Had he been brooding that
long? And how long would he have
to stare at her to get her to look up from her book at him? Quite a long time, or so it
seemed. He was too angry to find
out. Instead, abruptly, he turned to the bathroom, fumbled for the light.
was a very bright bathroom. Alone
with his body, he felt alive. He
felt dead. He felt dead and alive. He was alone with himself. Wasn't that the permanent
condition? But what about what was
waiting for him on the other side of the door?
he came out of the bathroom, the bedside light was off, the curtains were
pulled shut, the room was dark, Leslie was turned away from him - sleep was the
best excuse of all to ignore him.
sighed and climbed into bed, felt the cool sheets against his skin, wondered if
he should read himself to sleep, but was distracted by sadness - was there a
cure for it? His feelings had been
heightened by the unexpected drug that evening - it made him realize how long he
had been living with sadness, somehow the marijuana made that more
obvious. Larry felt his anger
dissolving in a tender creep toward Leslie's side of the bed. He started to cuddle against her, to
bend his body into the shape of hers - when she scooted away, not saying
anything, not acknowledging that she was awake. For a long moment Larry didn't, couldn't move. He started to say "Leslie"
but didn't - waited - her movement settled, a few inches away, a safe gap of
space separating their bodies.
waited. Nothing. He thought he heard a splash
waited. He didn't like where he
was. He was reluctant to
move. Gradually he inched back to
his side of the bed. His
Waited. Heard Leslie's breathing slow
down. No, he didn't like where he
was. He had tried. He climbed quietly out of bed and
pulled his pants back on. He stood
on the carpet, trying to remember the layout of the room. He fumbled quietly toward the
opened without a creak.
back in the hallway, Larry felt that he had escaped into an adventure. Maybe everything that happened - if
anything happened - was Leslie's fault.
No. That wasn't the
issue. He had to get beyond that
as an issue.
toward the living room, Larry felt his penis stirring, just with the
possibility. Wouldn't it be clear
what he wanted when he came back to Sean?
Wouldn't it? Larry felt
nervous, empty of what he should say to Sean as he crossed the living room.
was in the pool - he saw her head in the clinging layer of blue steam. He stopped, ready to turn back, afraid
- he was afraid, just as she
claimed. That made him stop, but
it also made him want to continue on, made the fear something to conquer -
wasn't this a turning point? - the rocket escaping gravity, Mr. Spaceman
stepping out of the spaceship - it was now or never to try and reclaim the
adventure - no, it was stupid, he was stupid, he had been reduced to these
fears by a girl - virtually a girl, by someone that young.
air was cold, colder than he remembered from his walk.
Well. This was the moment to say hello. This was the moment.
walked to the edge of the pool. He
was waiting for her to notice him.
But she didn't. She was
drifting, her eyes closed.
"Hi." Eyes still closed, she didn't sound
surprised to see him. "Coming
don't have my bathing suit."
got your birthday suit."
is what Larry wanted. Why was he
having such trouble with what he wanted?
No more. Not this
time. He started to undress,
turning half-away from her. She
watched him - smiling - daring, or so it seemed from what little Larry saw,
half turned away. He felt
embarrassed, betrayed by his erection.
Not betrayed enough to stop.
No. He hurried down the
steps and into the water. Sean was
at the other end of the pool. He
could see her through the steam.
He tried to enjoy the water.
wished that he had his notebook, that he had a pen, that he could write
something down, that he could be separate from the moment, doing what he was
supposed to do. He remembered a
series of sun-drenched streets, sad streets, driving, walking, waiting, wanting
someone to say yes.
in the pool, this was a good moment to be a better version of himself.
he treaded water, kept his limbs moving, building body heat, he thought about
Leslie. He was angry with
her. He was remembering moments
with her that made him angry.
Nothing was working right.
If he could forget her totally, then couldn't he be something else,
himself, again, somehow.
didn't feel like swimming?"
swam tentatively toward Sean.
looked toward the dark window behind which he hoped Leslie was still
sleeping. He was determined to
seem relaxed. He felt he had a few
minutes to decide what to do. He
didn't feel free. He felt a
headache growing. What would
another man do? What would his
buddy Burt do? No, imitation meant
failure - he had to decide who he was now. He had to be brave enough to be direct.
were in the deep end. Her breasts
were refracted, distorted by the rippling water. His eyes already ached with chlorine. He rested his hand on her shoulder.
hand's on my shoulder."
all the thing's she could say.
that bother you?"
just makes me wonder."
felt awkward. It had to go one way
or another now.
you want me not to?"
"Yes!" She smiled and abruptly swam away.
felt confused, abandoned. He
didn't know what signals he should be reading. Suddenly, absolutely, he wondered: what the fuck am I doing
out here? How can I gracefully
saw Sean walking in the shallow end, her head an island in the steam.
cringed at what Leslie might hear.
But he came closer.
you put your hand on my shoulder?"
felt an erection, involuntary, unbidden.
Could Sean see it? Averting
his eyes, he saw the darkness between her legs, a magnet, blurry, underwater.
awfully quiet. I thought writers
liked to talk."
mind's a blank. Pick a
you want to touch my breast?"
felt high again, traveling a new drug to a strange place. Stepping back in his head he saw himself
in a pool, shrouded in steam, his hand on a new body - it was all so far beyond
what he had imagined. His hand
dipped below the water, found the soft shape of her breast.
asked if you wanted to, I didn't say to."
didn't move his hand. "Do you
like to tease?"
you like to tease me?"
been fun so far."
touched her other breast. It would
be so easy. It had never been this
you faithful to your wife?"
moved closer. He was proud of his
erection. He wanted her to feel
it. He kissed her.
are you doing?"
have to ask?"
you didn't ask permission."
I have to?"
I kiss you?"
mean can I kiss me again?"
I kiss you again?"
don't want you to think I'm easy."
don't think that."
felt her slip away. He wondered
about following. He wanted to
follow - but what was the protocol?
He only felt water from the neck down, and above that the cool air.
climbed up the steps, into the air, until all of her was in the air. She didn't shiver. She didn't look back.
are you going?"
thought we were having a good time."
wrapped herself in a towel. Larry
wanted to get out of the pool now, but it seemed too graceless. What were the words he need to get Sean
back in the pool?
do you want?"
laughed. "You don't want me."
but I do."
don't know what you want."
don't know that."
smiled at him. Neither coming nor
could have fun together," he tried.
did have fun together."
watched her go. He wondered what
she thought of him. He wondered if
he had escaped humiliation. Then
he wondered if he had escaped detection.
He looked sharply toward their bedroom. Safe, it seemed.
felt shriveled. He began working
on himself. A step back, that much
deeper into his head. He had to
tell himself that he had had an adventure. Had to. He had
touched her breast. Both her
breasts. Pressed himself against
her. How much more was sex than
that? Even if they had fucked,
wasn't the prelude the most important thing? Because the prelude was always different, unlike sex, which
in the end, was almost always the same.
If it worked, you forget everything except exploding. Yes, he had had an adventure. An episode.
now it was safe to get out of the pool, wrinkled, shriveled, chlorinated.
down at the empty pool, the water still lapping, refracting, Larry had to
wonder if Sean had ever really been there. He hurried into the pool house and found a towel. The bamboo bar was discolored,
collapsing, covered with bird shit.
As Larry rubbed himself dry he saw the hole in the ceiling, a handful of
stars peeking through the hole.
The pool house actually did need remodeling.
outside Larry picked up his clothes en route to the living room. The air was too cold to stand outside
the other side of the glass doors, looking at the three white couches as he
pulled on his underwear, he began to wonder. Should he go to her bedroom, Sean's bedroom, Sean and
Harry's bedroom, was she expecting him, were they expecting him? He stopped to consider. Was it a test that he had to pass to
get what he wanted? Maybe.
was annoyed that there were so many questions, when all he wanted was a simple
thing - sex. No, sex wasn't
simple. Of course not. But the mechanics were. Friction building to release. Frozen here at the beginning - before
the beginning, actually - he kept imagining the end, the release. If all he wanted was release - wasn't
release a prelude to sleep? - then why didn't he just go to sleep? But he didn't feel like sleeping -
couldn't sleep - that meant the bedroom with Leslie - he was sick of the
bedroom with Leslie - Leslie didn't even want him in the bedroom.
now, Larry felt frozen, tentative, standing in the dark living room. Was Harry bisexual? Was Sean pimping for Harry? Was Sean the bait? Larry was annoyed with himself for not
understanding what was going on.
Maybe nothing was going on.
Maybe Sean was just an innocent flirt. They'd just had an innocent kiss. That he had initiated.
What could he blame Sean for - letting him kiss her? The more Larry thought about it, the
dumber he felt.
could it hurt to walk down the hallway?
was interesting. It was
exciting. Larry felt like a
prowler. It was useful
experience. For a writer.
door at the end of the hall was closed.
Was that a test? Should he
open it? He listened but heard
only the gentle whoosh of central air.
put his hand on the doorknob, to see what it would feel like, to take things to
the next step. The knob was
cold. He felt on the verge of
something. Something. Opening the door would be a big
step. If the door was even
unlocked. He tried the handle. It turned; it was unlocked. This would require some thought.
stepped back from the door. He
thought he could hear his heart beating.
Certainly he felt the hammering in his chest. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this
excited. About what?
blinked, backed away. He wanted a
drink. He felt sophisticated. He was the last one up. He was wrestling with something. A beer. Walking to the kitchen he saw a crystal decanter. The hard stuff. Why not. Larry poured himself a drink. He couldn't tell if it was scotch or bourbon, but it tasted
smooth. It burned, but it was
smooth. Larry still couldn't
decide, but if he had this drink and maybe another then he might feel bold
enough to open that door, see who was awake, see if she was willing. Maybe Harry liked to watch.
belatedly realized that he was watching his own dim reflection in an antique
mirror. He marveled at having been
that lost in thought. And even if
he didn't go into that bedroom tonight, he had come close, and there was
tomorrow, Saturday, it wasn't like this was the last chance this weekend. Larry finished his drink, coughed,
poured himself another.
heard a car.
front door opened.
room exploded with light.
Brown had arrived. Black bomber
jacket, pressed khaki pants, ostrich skin boots.
been a long day. I can't remember
"Larry. Nice to see you again." A crisp nod of the head. No handshake. "Where's the gang?"
you found the Springbrook."
nodded at Larry's glass. "The
whiskey. Finest single malt in the
world. I'm glad you could come. Where's Leslie?"
she have a chance to take a look at the pool house?"
nodded grumpily to himself, as if he had been failed in some basic way by
either Leslie or Larry or both of them.
He poured himself a drink.
"I'm glad you drink.
Not many people do these days.
Everyone's losing track of basic pleasures."
might have seen it. Knowing her, she
probably did. We just didn't talk
about it." He felt
weird. This was a big opportunity. Alone with Jack Brown. But it was too sudden, in the middle of
nursing this new lust for Sean.
Bonding with Jack was a lot more important, but his mind wasn't obeying.
led the way into the living room.
He clicked a remote control at the fireplace and gas flames leapt to
life. "Leslie's very
talented. You're very
talented. You're a very talented
didn't know you'd read any of my scripts."
know your work. I need a
writer. I mean, I always need
writers. But this week, Jesus,
what a day. Things are
fucked. How do you like the
"Great. The best."
wondered for a moment if Jack had forgotten, if he was always propositioning
writers - was it a way at getting at Leslie - a step deal - he needed a break
and here was Jack so painfully close.
Larry hated himself for being such a supplicant. It didn't take much. God, he was cheap. If anyone knew. No. He hadn't said anything. He hadn't said much.
"What's the project?"
talk about it tomorrow. I'm too
beat to run it down for you. I've
got the first draft out in the car.
Pure shit. Tomorrow. What a fucking day."
found his way back into bed. He
was too excited to sleep, but he didn't know where else to go.
have you been?" Leslie's
voice startled him in the darkness.
went over to Bob Hope's house.
Where do you think I've been?"
don't have to get nasty."
the way you've been acting?"
I have been, can we start over?"
only wish we could."
turned toward him. He couldn't see
her face in the darkness. He
assumed that she couldn't see his.
didn't say anything. He felt
stranded between anger and guilt - suspended between intention and
actuality. "Don't you already
I was swimming."
are you interrogating me?"
not interrogating you."
had peeked out the window. She
knew the whole story. She knew it
without looking out the window.
Larry didn't know how to cheat - he didn't have the instinct, the
experience, the skills. He was too
obvious. But it would be
interesting to hear what he had to say, how honest he would be.
just because he was honest - about the obvious - that didn't mean anything.
finally showed up."
was appalled how perkily she said he did? "Why don't you go say hello?"
he still up?"
seem to be having a second wind."
our lord of hosts. He's our
sat up. "So Jack's still
up? And the others?"
through the house, I'm sure you'll find them."
"Larry. I needed some sleep. I haven't smoked grass in I don't know
how long. I'm sorry if I was
turned away from her. He felt
guilty of the same things that she wanted. New sex - fresh sex.
Sex. To succeed. Not to be saddled with an inadequate
mate. Like she was his
problem. And vice versa. Maybe they could start again. It couldn't be any worse than
this. He turned back to her, put
his hands on her waist. Waited.
I should go say hello. What do you
turned away. "Jack's gone to
bed. But maybe his door's
don't know a thing about it."
know too much about you."
not do this."
sorry. For whatever."
snuggled against him. Larry felt
himself weakening. She still had
his number. It was pathetic.
thought: if Larry was in a mood tomorrow, that just wouldn't do. She didn't feel like sleeping. The drug was still pulling at her. Her mind felt cloudy. She couldn't say exactly what she was
thinking. And he could be sweet. Sometimes. Fucking, when it didn't hurt, helped her sleep. And Larry would be grateful. He was always grateful. Almost always.
kissed his neck. He turned toward
her. He didn't understand. Weren't they angry with each other? But why question a good thing, a gift?
me go to the bathroom."
didn't move. He felt her warmth
withdraw, her weight shift off the bed, saw a light thrown across the beige
wall, eclipsed and extinguished as the bathroom door closed. Solitary, contraceptive moments while
Leslie lubed and loaded her diaphragm.
He didn't know if he even liked her anymore. They felt so wrong together, if he thought about it. Somewhere, somehow he must love
Must. Might. Maybe.
everything felt wrong in the desert room.
already knew what he was going to do - fantasize about Sean.
then it occurred to him that Leslie had a similar gig - that they would have
mutually surrogate sex - was this her way of keeping tonight in line with
felt too wrong. It felt too easy.
felt himself drifting on the edge of sleep. He pulled back - his eyes cracked open, then shut again. A fantasy etched in the darkness. Leslie was sleeping beside him. How much had they said? Where had the conversation gone, where
had he drifted away to? No, they
hadn't made love. They hadn't
fucked. Leslie wouldn't do that,
wouldn't let him do that, not under the present conditions. The enforced truce.
could only think about the bad state of things for so long, before sleep pulled
at him again. At the end of the
blackness was the sun. It was all
so strange out here. Everything
was too close, too far away. His
skin felt strange. The air was
weird. He felt alive, but in a way
that he didn't want to be. So this
was the desert. This was sleeping
in the desert.
left the room at eight-thirty, carefully made up to look like she wasn't made
up. Larry was still dead to the
world. It felt like a good time
for her coming out. She was ready
to make her entrance. Big things
depended on the most minute points of courtly etiquette. Larry just didn't get it.
down the hallway again, it didn't seem the same. The house looked smaller. Where was Jack?
followed a noise toward the kitchen.
She rubbed color into her cheeks, practiced a couple of different
smiles, arrived at relaxed, expectant, glad to be here, comfortable with
whatever. The smile matched the
rhythm of her steps, she felt ready, now, on, as she pushed through the swinging door.
housekeeper was making coffee.
There were grocery bags from Gelson's on the counter. Leslie's smile downshifted to polite,
I the first one up?"
no, the last."
was shocked. She forgot her
smile. "The last? Where are they?"
housekeeper waved vaguely toward the outer world.
woke staring at an unfamiliar ceiling.
Enough light bled through the blinds for Larry to see that he was alone.
just get uglier and I have no sense of time.
mornings, between a dream half-forgotten and whatever the first spoken word
might be, a snatch of song would come unbidden to his inner ear, stay with him
all day, repeating, echoing.
inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.
mornings Leslie was gone when Larry got up. Maybe they'd stayed together so long because their schedules
were so different.
morning he had the worst taste in his mouth. He didn't want to move.
wondered what he was missing. He
wanted to hurry into the other room.
nostrils felt dry. He felt the
desert even in this closed room. Larry
decided that today would be his last day with Leslie. But he had decided this before. He'd had too many unfulfilled premonitions.
sat up, lowered his feet to the floor.
just get uglier.
intuitions aside, he wouldn't defend Leslie today. Why do you think they call it dope. He remembered razor words in the dark,
not the specific words, but the teeth behind them. Take a look at Friday, how had things felt on Friday? Larry felt perpetually stupid - he
hadn't thought through the implications of staying in Jack's house. Of course he'd seen them flirting at
the party. It was so blatant that
he wasn't worried.
he could think of himself as free of Leslie, then he was halfway free. That was something to work on.
sat on the patio, in the shade, with her coffee and an untoasted, unbuttered
bagel. Her mystery, a Patricia
Highsmith novel, carefully chosen for the trip, rested on the pebbled glass end
table. She glanced at her Movado -
it was after nine. Leslie closed
her eyes, practiced her deep breathing, determined to control her
impatience. Where had they
gone? When she opened her eyes
again, disappointed that she had clocked less than five minutes of quiet time,
it seemed that more than five minutes worth of color had drained out of Jack's
aloe vera, out of the bougainvillea, out of the sinister surrounding
mountains. Thirty minutes ago the
morning light had been yellow, rich, promising, and now it was washed-out. Even the shadows were compromised
heard voices. She thought about
turning her head. She thought
about picking up her book. It was
important that she not seem to be waiting for them.
stepped onto the patio, glistening with sweat, a water bottle in hand. He was wearing an Adidas tank top,
royal blue running shorts, leg weights.
A serious runner, with a runner's lean body.
leaned over and gave her a kiss, on the lips, lingering. Jack waited for Leslie to move
away. Leslie was in no hurry. She pulled back, fractionally, before
the kiss went on too long. Maybe
it was already too late. Jack stayed
close, leaning over, his eyes hidden behind Persol sunglasses.
all sweaty. I hope I didn't drip
yet." She lightly pushed him
away. Jack laughed. Leslie felt off her game. He seemed to be seducing her even when
she pushed him away.
took a deep pull from his water bottle.
"Let's go for a swim."
was about to say no as an assertion of self, to show that she could be
contrary. Being contrary had
heretofore served her well.
pulled off his tank top. He wasn't
waiting for an answer. Maybe being
with Larry had blunted her instincts.
Contrary was supposed to be a strategy, not a trait. If it had become a trait, a habit, that
was no good. And anyway she wanted
to swim. She wanted to swim with
stood up. She unbuttoned her Anne
Klein blouse with the passionflower pattern.
smiled as he unlaced his Nikes.
felt like a striptease. What was
the difference between her black bikini and her black underwear? They covered the same number of square
inches. The underwear was a little
slipped out of her sandals as she unbuttoned her white twill shorts.
pulled off his socks.
stepped out of her shorts.
took off his headband, then his sunglasses.
felt a momentum, unspoken, tit for tat, to continue. She could be contrary to that by not doing another thing,
which was the proper thing. It
wasn't even ten o'clock. They were
just going swimming.
got a nice body."
was at a loss. For a moment. "Thank you, kind sir."
I being politically incorrect?"
couldn't help noticing." Said
with another kind of smile, notched a level up, a transitional smile as Jack
moved from shade to sunlight, from air to water.
had just happened, Leslie was left to wonder as she applied her Clinique
sunscreen. Jack hadn't volunteered
to do that. Rubbing on lotion,
that was too routine a move.
Nothing had happened. Not
overtly. The game was interesting,
different than what she had imagined.
More direct, more complex - direct and complex at the same time.
was swimming underwater, surfacing for air at regular intervals like a tan
dolphin. He was wearing Speedo
stepped into the pool. The water
was a perfect temperature - cool, but not cold. Still wearing her sunglasses, Persols, the same brand as
Jack, she began swimming her own version of the backstroke. They fell into a pattern of parallel
lanes. Jack glided to a stop,
lifted off the goggles and watched Leslie swim. She didn't feel like swimming but it felt wrong to stop too
how do you like the house?"
love the desert."
the desert. The house."
long have you owned it?"
came with the furniture?"
laughed. "A point of
want me to express a point of view. That's a another matter entirely."
laps had devolved into treading water.
It took too much effort to pay attention to swimming. They finally arrived at a dynamic
stasis - the pool was the medium they were standing in - like at a cocktail
party - recalling the origins of their association, one long week ago.
would you do? If it were your
was startled blank for a single moment.
And then he laughed. His
timing was both odd and perfect.
Leslie was intrigued, unbalanced, but confident now of saying the right
thing without thinking.
I inherited the house from my dad."
you've got sentimental attachments."
no. I hardly ever came out
here. This was his fuck pad."
it your fuck pad?"
"No. I'm politically correct."
can only imagine."
"Don't. It's just a weekend place."
you want the pool house redecorated."
been forced into it." Leslie
looked puzzled. "Harry didn't
tell you about the meteor?"
meteor the size of a tennis ball hit the pool house. Can you believe it?
And my insurance doesn't cover it as an act of God. If that's not an act of God, what the
fuck is? You want to see?"
got out of the pool. He offered
his hand to Leslie, and even though she didn't need it, she took it.
led her into another room that he owned and let go of her hand. He had a perfect instinct of just how
long to hang on. Casual contact. Casual contact escalating.
marveled at the hole in the roof, the hole in the floor. "A meteor?"
is it now?"
took it to Malibu. I've got it on
to the Oscar?"
to the Giacometti."
roof tiles had been shattered. The
linoleum floor was singed black.
The bamboo bar was sagging from water damage. Bird shit fanned in Poisson distribution below the hole in
the roof. Leslie was secretly
pleased with how the meteorite had deconstructed the ugly decor. She didn't believe in God, but it was
an act of God.
what would you do?" Jack was
standing in the doorway, silhouetted against the void of light, watching her.
much do you want to do?"
possibilities. On what you talk me
looked around. She felt Jack
looking at her. The pool house was
the same faceless beige as the house.
The furniture was both outdoorsy and stuffy. Any sense of style was inadvertent. A time capsule that no one was
interested in. Leslie could
imagine some faggy decorator from Canyon Drive talking Jack's Dad into the
earthy color scheme.
impressions," Jack said, stepping inside.
everything white. Tear out the
linoleum, polish the concrete.
Lose the bar, lose the furniture." She turned toward him.
"Do everything in primary colors." She nodded at his wet blue running shorts. "Blues, reds, yellows. Put in French doors, maybe a canvas
awning. Turn this into a cabana,
open it up to the pool."
a ton of money into it."
this the place where you hang out, entertain."
"Interesting?" Leslie repeated, with a mocking lilt.
"Dude!" Harry hobbled onto the patio. "What a fucking run." He collapsed on a chair. "I don't feel too good."
dehydrated," Jack said. "I told you not to overdo it."
looked at Leslie. "I like
your ideas. They're good."
"Good." She was pleased. She was surprised. She expected nothing less.
were baking in the sun. They were
baking safely. Sunscreened. Larry and Leslie were lying an arm's
length apart, reclining on similar lounge chairs.
held her mystery novel on her lap as she sketched a floor plan on the back of
an envelope. She stared at the
pool house, directly across from her on the far side of the pool. Sean was swimming, wearing a tee shirt
and shorts. Leslie was distracted
by her and annoyed, but at least she was clothed. That muted the competition. Leslie saw her reflection in the pool house door. She saw Larry's reflection reclining
nearby, the shape of him, the outline, without details. She looked over. He was napping. That summed up his life. She was annoyed. Because she was working.
came outside, wearing a light blue polo shirt, royal blue swim trunks and a
black Spago baseball cap. He was
talking on a cordless phone. He
smiled at Leslie while he talked. "We
don't have to do that deal. We
don't have to. Fine, we'll
walk. It's only money." He laughed. She found it disconcerting, she felt vaporized: she was what
he was seeing, but he wasn't talking to her. Jack threw a couple of red CAA scripts down on the empty
lounge chair next to Leslie.
"Hey, I've already made two pictures this year. I don't need it."
woke up from a light sleep, a dream of rearranging footsteps in a big white
room, a couch in the sun, words, green banners, wind, a fragile dream that was
gone before he tried very hard to remember it. Hidden behind Ray-Bans, he cracked his eyes open. He saw Leslie's profile, and behind
her, Jack. They were all joined by
the sun they were sitting in.
There was a palm tree high above Jack's head. The air was so clean he couldn't feel it. There was no wind. The sun was in a different place. It felt later. Larry slowly sat up. Everything was hard to do. "Wow...I zonked."
Leslie gave him a look - quiet, but
was pacing the pool. The world was
his. He didn't care who heard
what. "You want to go to
Italy? We'll go to Italy. No, week after next."
long did I sleep?"
wasn't timing you."
felt like hitting her. He'd never
hit her, but he'd felt like it before.
He felt like it now.
"Don't push it."
got a script I want you to read."
looked toward Jack, who was now sitting next to her. "Really?"
you - you." Jack was looking
past Leslie, to Larry. It was hard
to tell exactly where he was looking because he was wearing sunglasses. Everyone was wearing sunglasses.
like your opinion."
cringed at how obvious Larry was being.
He was blowing it before it even happened. She could see the fractal of all his bigger failures in this
little moment. Nothing changed in
Jack's face while all this was happening.
Jack leaned toward her. His
arm brushed against her stomach - it was warm and dry - as he leaned over her
to hand the script to Larry.
opened the script to the title page.
He'd never heard of the writer.
He felt awake now. Very
awake. He was already wondering
what to say. If this was a
potential rewrite job, how much should he like it? If he liked it too much, then he would talk himself out of a
job, because what would need reworking?
If he didn't like it enough then maybe he wasn't the right person to do
the rewrite. He needed this job,
if it was a job. But should he
read it right now, would that make him seem too eager? There was a danger in that. Larry knew that he wasn't good at this,
at protocol, at the right way to do things. Just trying to be himself, it was hard to decide what to
do. And now it was doubly hard to
do the right thing. Not just
because of Jack, but because of Leslie.
Well, he was curious enough to read it right now. He watched Sean swimming her laps, back
and forth, boundless energy in a bounded pattern. He started to read.
It was a thriller. A
thriller with sex. A sex
thriller. It was actually
erotic. Larry felt a little
horny. And it wasn't just the
sound of Sean splashing water. The
writing was good. Very good. He was waiting for a flaw. He was getting depressed. He'd never heard of the writer. The guy was probably twenty years old. He already had an agent at CAA. Jack Brown and God knows who else was
reading his script. It was
hopeless. Larry felt too far
behind everyone else. It was
impossible. He would never catch
up. These thoughts distracted him
from reading, but the story was so well laid out that he kept following it,
turning the pages. It was a page
turner. In his right ear he heard
Jack talking on the phone, Jack talking to Leslie, but he couldn't follow their
conversation, he was too depressed by this very well-written script, he had to
figure out what to say about it.
it must be pretty good. Right,
Lar? Right, Larry?"
jumped out of his thoughts, out of the script. What had Jack asked him?
good script, Lar?"
you read it?"
laughed. Larry didn't get it. Some kind of inside joke. So they already had an inside joke.
but that's been my problem. I'm
trying to correct that. I've seen
too many people get ahead by not committing."
D-girls. But not writers."
writers," Larry repeated as a question.
boned, my boy."
I've been told."
did you want me to read it?"
reason. We're just hangin', ya
worst reason of all. Larry
deflated. He felt defeated. It was beyond his worst imagining. He wasn't even worthy of being courted.
you want me to write up some coverage?"
looked blank and then laughed.
Leslie had seen that laugh before.
"Touché!" he said.
didn't give me a script to read," she said.
you read scripts?"
reads my scripts."
gave Larry an openly peeved look.
She didn't like any help answering questions.
too busy to read a script, Leslie.
You're designing. I guess
you can sit outside and interior design."
phone rang. "Hello? Gene. You're in the desert this weekend? Really. I don't
know. We'll probably end up at one
of the usual places, ya know?"
turned back to the script. He'd
lost all enthusiasm for it. He
could continue to read, hoping for the third act to fall apart, hoping for some
big flaw that he could pounce on.
But what was the sport in that?
And the way the script was going, there might not be anything wrong with
it. It was all such a dirty
fucking trick. A taunt. Here, Lar, read something by someone
who is really happening, see what's it like, what the good life could be
like. Fucker. Let Leslie read the fucking thing.
closed the script. He didn't
bother to mark his place. God damn
if he'd read any more of it, waste any more of his time.
He felt rebellious. Maybe
that would get him somewhere.
Nothing else had.
didn't look at Leslie.
tried not to listen to Jack.
was doing anything. Nothing out of
the ordinary. It was such a weird
place - the desert, this house, Jack, Leslie, the way everyone was acting. Sinister. No one really lived in the desert. It was like a people museum. People in an unnatural
setting. Under a glass bubble of
blasted blue sky. You could see
people naked. Not just imagine
what they were like underneath their bathing suits, but see them. Ugly
stuff. People just get
uglier and I have no sense of time...
there was Sean - innocent - mobile - teasing - she wasn't ugly. Larry felt dizzy, his mind too full
now. Maybe he had something to
write down. Leslie Bitch, have
your big moment with Jack. It was
all so absolutely fucked. He
pulled the sliding glass door open and walked inside. He was glad that he made it in one piece.
Inside. Outside. They were almost the same out here. He was inside, but he was still standing
in the desert. He felt the desert
outside, pressing against the windows, the walls. He collapsed on the couch. But only for a moment, and then he was pacing, away from the
glass, out of sight, not that anyone outside was paying attention to him.
paced the hallway. At least it was
air conditioned inside. Dead
air. The air conditioned
nightmare. Two hallways. East wing, west wing. The floor plan a stunted X, a deformed
pair of wings. At the end of the
east wing, the tourist class accommodations, was their room, disorderly,
segregated: Larry left, Leslie right.
He saw the car keys on his night stand. He thought about picking them up, getting in the car, driving
without destination - or, driving home.
That was too convenient for her.
He should calm down.
Something could come of all this.
made an abrupt about face, the slap of his bare feet a mirror of arrhythmic
impatience as he headed west.
Through an open door he saw Harry propped up in bed, surrounded by
pillows, watching TV. Larry started
to step back, to avoid eye contact, but the movement caught Harry's eye. Larry hesitated, wondering if he could
step away without it being awkward, but he was caught.
on in. I was just watching
"The Three Stooges." You
like watching The Stooges?"
for a while."
came in and sat down on the only chair.
This room was a little bigger then his and Leslie's. No discarded clothes. Larry expected a little more in the way
of carelessness from a doper.
you want to smoke some grass?"
laughed. It was hard not to like
Harry. He didn't have an agenda,
unlike Leslie, unlike Jack. Unlike
himself. At least no apparent
turned off the volume. The Three
Stooges continued in silent mayhem.
Larry didn't know what to say next. He didn't know why he was sitting there, other than to be
polite. But where else could he
go? He could be by himself. There was that option. Anywhere. He just had to walk away. You'd think that the desert would be perfect for that.
long have you and Leslie been together?"
years. We've been married for
wondered about answering.
I being an asshole? Sorry. I was curious. Forget I asked."
you happy?" Larry asked
reflexively, without thinking.
suppose. When I don't think about
it. If I start thinking too much
about how I am then it sort of goes away."
nodded. "Yeah." He saw Harry's eyes wander briefly back
to the Stooges. "We've been
happy, off and on, I guess. I
ever made me go jogging? How do
worry. That burns calories."
I do the StairMaster. Climbing
that staircase to nowhere."
got a feeling my legs are going to really feel fucked up tomorrow. Do you like writing?"
question out of the blue. Not so
out of the blue. A natural
question to ask a writer. "I
do. At times."
and on. There are good days and
bad days. Like anything else. What about you?"
business is a bed of roses."
at least you're in a business that is a business."
nodded. "You've got a
do you. I know there are assholes
everywhere. I guess I tend to lose
sight of that."
there are assholes everywhere. If
that's any consolation."
Harry looked at his watch and rubbed his thigh. "I took three Advil an hour ago
and I still feel like shit."
He picked up a silver art deco cigarette case from the night stand and
extracted a joint. "Care to
was tempted. Smoking grass was a
different way of escaping. Without
footsteps. "Tempted, yes. But I quit smoking."
got high last night."
was a relapse."
if I led you into temptation."
was willing to be tempted."
it bother you if I smoke?"
not at all." Larry stood up.
I can put it away, I don't need it.
It's just something to do."
it's not that. Go ahead and
smoke. It's just that I'm
closed the door. There was no TV
in their room. The blinds were
pulled shut. He turned on the
bedside lamp. He picked up his
clothes from the floor and stuffed them into his Sportsac. He picked up Leslie's clothes, with no
tender feeling for her lingerie.
He started to stuff her things into her overnight bag but anticipated
her complaints about wrinkles and tossed her clothes into the dresser
instead. He pulled the bedspread
approximately into place, tried to smooth out the bigger lumps. Satisfied with the new sense of order,
he took the gray Powerbook from his green shoulder bag.
turned on his computer, opened a file, a screenplay, the screenplay he was
working on, and scrolled to the end of the document. But it felt tired, dead, an unfriendly, unpaid
obligation. He was in the middle
of writing the script, but he was afraid to read what he had written so
far. If the words were inadequate,
or even just merely adequate, then that wouldn't do. He suspected the worst. He believed in his suspicions. He trusted his worst intuitions.
closed the file, conjured up a blank screen. Staring at the empty blue pixels, poised, he became suddenly
aware of himself: sitting cross-legged on the bedspread, in a casual pose,
casualness remembered from adolescent sitting around. He was posed on the bed like he was in front of a campfire
or at a lonely slumber party.
Sitting in the bedroom by himself, the space evoked childhood, youth -
alone in his room, doing his own thing, planning his domination of the
world. But it was too late to do
what Alexander The Great had done, too late to top Mozart, too late to be the
youngest, the greatest that ever was.
Always too late. Always
struggling against that. Until it
got to the point of just wanting to stay even, or to catch up - not to be
behind - as he kept slipping, getting older, his ambitions became more
desperate. The twill of the
bedspread had warmed to the temperature of his leg, but if he moved it fractionally,
the fabric felt cool. Beyond the
low hum of the central air he heard faint, erratic splashes from the pool,
conjuring the image of Sean in the sunlight beyond the drapes. He heard a muffled burst of Leslie's
laughter. He didn't visualize her
smiling as much as he visualized Jack making her laugh. It was too late. That was the outside world. Inside, the computer screen was the
brightest thing in sight. The
beige walls were brown in this dim light.
His neck ached. The causal
posture was beginning to bug him.
There was a solitary drip from the bathroom faucet. Larry felt himself sitting here. It didn't have to be a screenplay. It could be anything. Maybe it would be a screenplay later,
whatever he wrote. Whatever he did
- couldn't it add up, somehow?
are friends who find me intriguing.
did that come from? Go with it, go
somewhere, don't care where you're going, just go.
me refuse you small favors if I want to.
The wine is sour. The
dinner is dour. Where do we go
from here? Is that you I
hear? Are you thinking unhealthy
thoughts? There is a bedtime story
that I want to tell you, a bedtime story that will keep you from sleeping. Do you want to be scared? It isn't your choice. I drugged your wine. It doesn't matter if your eyes are closed. You have to listen. My words will seep inside. You might not remember. But you will feel different
things. You will feel
different. You will be
changed. For the worse. Worst. I owe you that.
For what you did to me. For
what you did. To me.
started thinking about where it could go, the next step. The pain of what next. He thought wearily of facing the
blankness, again and again, that Arctic whiteness beyond the reach of the last
word that he had written.
were no more words that he wanted to write. If there was a train, it was gone. He looked at the words on the screen. Some of them were good. All of them were his. He felt fond of his personal
rhythm. It was his. He was familiar with it. For now, he had another fragment - to
name, to store, to somehow someday join to all the other fragments, into
something big. The big thing. That big thing. Another muted laugh intruded. A masculine laugh, followed immediately
by another Leslie laugh. What was
the point. There were always
words. He hit delete. There would be other words.
the words gone, he felt emptier than before, the emptiest yet. He had violated a basic rule. He saved everything. But not this time. Why? That was the question to answer. He was proud of asking it. No, not proud.
Tired. He sank back onto
the bed, stared up at the ceiling.
He heard the hum of his Powerbook, waiting. There was no reason to move. This would do nicely for the moment.
question was. There was always a
question. The question was how
long you stayed with a certain moment, how long you stretched it out, found new
things, got inside the moment, used everything that was there. And when did you move on, to the next
thing, jump the story ahead - abruptly, pleasingly, whatever, not letting the
reader get ahead of the story.
Stay or go. He wished he
had more control. After all this
time it still came down to throwing out words, sorting them out later. Tidying up moments of inspiration, so
called. Saved or destroyed.
knew he should go back outside. It
was important that he go back out there.
He needed a job. Badly. The rewrite for Burt at Paramount was a
fantasy. Most likely it would not
happen. He regretted telling
Leslie about that. But he needed
some leverage, he needed some balance.
He couldn't seem desperate with her. He'd learned that the hard way. And if there was no job with Burt, then he needed a job from
Jack. Who else? He could think of a few names to call
on Monday, but he'd called them all before, and nothing had come of it. No, he needed Jack. It was a wank. It was fucked. But what else was there? Who else was there? This room, the curtains, the bedspread. The dead air indoors. The impulse to move. Why move. He knew he had to move.
the options. Total them up. Decide what he wanted. Not the great things, the best things,
but survival, basic things. He had
two thousand dollars left. He
could sell stuff, but how much would his TV, his computer, his car get
him? And where would he be with
that little bit more? The rent
control apartment in Ocean Park was Leslie's, he had moved in with her. An apartment of his own would be much
more expensive. He was alone, it
was time to be honest, and given the grim state of things, Leslie was an
economic necessity. They'd always
kept their money scrupulously separate.
But there wasn't that much money to separate, at least on his side. And she was such a half-assed
feminist. She expected him to take
her out to dinner, to pay for vacations, she had a convenient sense of what a
male's obligation was to his mate.
And beyond the money, what about her. It had been a long time since he had lived alone. He wasn't any great catch. He didn't exactly have prospects. If he could present himself as someone
up and coming, hopeful. No. He couldn't see that working. If things didn't work out with Leslie,
he didn't see any promising alternative.
That was a bad place. And
they did have a relationship, more than a relationship, a marriage. Wasn't that worth working on?
No. He felt the lie in his mouth, even
without speaking. Felt the lie in
his brain. Just the legal expense
of a divorce would wipe him out.
Two thousand bucks.
Pathetic. Leslie was a
survivor. They were probably
doomed. What did feelings have to
do with that? Feelings got in the
way of seeing what was going to happen, no matter what he felt. How could he use Leslie to get what he
wanted? Wasn't he old enough to
figure that out? This was the weekend.
This was the time. He
couldn't imagine facing another week like last week, or the week or the year
before. Pivotal. He was feeling pivotal. Without moving. This silence was a good thing. He needed it to get ready. For whatever.
came into the room. Larry looked
up from the slow string of glowing words.
She pulled the blinds open.
Outside it was twilight. He
hadn't looked at his watch in a while.
you been in here all day?"
you really care?"
do you think I'm asking?"
don't know. Why are you
looked at him. She hadn't expected
him to be so angry. "I would
have thought that you wanted to hang out with Jack."
why would I want to hang out with Jack?"
I'm really asking."
he might let you write a script."
hell freezes over. No. When this fucking desert freezes
can't deal with this now. Have you
lost your mind?" She looked
around her side of the bed.
"Where are my clothes?"
put them in the dresser."
the room was a goddamn mess."
went over to the dresser, a walnut laminate. She pulled open a drawer. Empty. "I
thought you said-"
other drawer." Larry's legs
ached but he didn't want to move.
It was important that he seem to be doing something, that he maintain his position, his posture, in her
presence. But he wasn't looking at
his Powerbook. He was looking at
Leslie's backside, the shimmer of her black bikini. He'd never understand it, how he could be so angry with her
and still want to fuck her. The
sex could drain away the rage. But
not now, not tonight.
turned quickly, caught him looking.
going out to dinner."
of us. You too. But you don't have to come."
course I don't have to come."
place that Jack says is great. I
forgot the name." She went
into the bathroom, closed the door.
sat there, alone, replaying what they had just said, what he might have said
differently, imagining different versions of the conversation, amending the
outcome, balancing the past more in his favor. But however he imagined it, the conversation was always in
this room, always Leslie and Larry, and within the limits of that there wasn't
much that his imagination could improve.
saved the file he was working on - it was small - and turned his computer off,
unbent his legs, stretched with no pleasure.
walked over to the glass door.
Behind him he heard the shower hiss to life. Outside the courtyard was empty. It was the nicest part of the day. Was he the only one looking? Larry thought about stepping out into the purple light to
feel the air, but he didn't want to see Jack until he had decided exactly how
to explain his absence this afternoon.
He would say that he was working, but he wouldn't elaborate, wouldn't
reduce the work to a high concept that Jack could either accept or reject, buy
or pass on. No use in
pretending. He wasn't a
success. Jack knew that. There was no way around that. The parameters were defined, no matter
what he said. But he had
talent. He still believed in his
talent. He had to convince Jack of
that. No. That was the wrong way. There was some other way of getting at
what he wanted. Look at Leslie. Take a leaf from her book. Not the flirting part, but the
calculation that went behind the flirting. It was important not to seem needy. That much he knew. He would have to be edgy, almost
reckless, verbally snarling before he rolled over and let Jack scratch his
belly. Maybe not edgy, but
something. He would have to be
fearless. Or at least act
fearless. He would have to be
something other than what he had been.
That was a big lesson. That
was the new lesson. The desert was
the right place for this. He had
to do something different. Had
turned away from the window. It
was time to think about changing clothes.
The room had a purple cast that he hadn't noticed before. The end of the day.
unzipped his suitcase. His olive
green raw silk shirt was neatly folded on top of his black linen pants. The shirt went with the intricately
patterned Armani socks that Leslie had bought him for Christmas. He wanted to ask her about this
restaurant they were going to, and what he should wear to it, but he caught the
thought and stopped. He would have
to get out of the habit of asking her opinion about social and sartorial
heard the shower stop. They were
in different rooms. They were
living in different rooms at exactly this moment. As he buttoned on the clean shirt he turned toward the
window. It was getting darker
outside. Not much daylight left to
enjoy. Could they start over? Was he being unfair? He was jealous of Jack, he was willing
to admit that, and the jealousy was coloring everything. Leslie needed clients. He couldn't fault her that. Her clients were people with money. Had to be. That was the nature of the beast. Even trying to feel reasonable felt like a lie. He didn't want to be in this room. He didn't want to step out of the
room. He was tired of the
desert. He couldn't think of
anything that he wasn't tired of.
Behind the bathroom door Leslie's blow drier whined to life, sounding
like a jet engine that was going nowhere.
stepped out of the bathroom, fully dressed. Larry was surprised by her modesty. It was uncharacteristic. She was wearing a red blouse and white
twill slacks. Their clothes were
on opposite sides of the color wheel, Christmas colors out of season. He went into the bathroom without a
black bikini was hanging on the shower door, the negative space of her
erogenous zones. The counter top
was cluttered with her ointments and emollients, the hidden stagecraft of her
public face. He couldn't get away
from her, even in here, alone. He
wasn't looking forward to stepping back out of the bathroom.
he came back out, she was gone. He
picked up his suede jacket and followed her voice, and Jack's voice, into the
living room. He didn't bother to
hoist a welcoming smile - there would be time for that later.
and Leslie were waiting in the foyer.
They were both wearing black leather jackets. Like they were going steady. Jack was all in black - tooled goatskin boots, black jeans,
black linen shirt. A
by-the-numbers outlaw. A Rodeo
just us three. Harry hasn't quite
recovered from our morning run."
thought this was said for Leslie's benefit, a backhanded boast, a preview of
Sean feels sorry for her weekend warrior, she doesn't want to leave him
was disappointed. Sean was one
thing about dinner that he was looking forward to. And Harry too.
He was okay. No ax to grind
could get some take-out, or do a barbecue outside."
I want to go out. Cabin
too," Leslie said.
they might join us."
go," she said, pushing the evening along.
for the ride.
sat in the back seat of Jack's black Range Rover, chivalrous and
kind of music do you like" Jack asked.
rock," Larry said, a fluid, cantankerous, intuitive choice.
laughed. "It's your lucky
had this "Lar" business taken root? Was it too late to get him to stop the irritating reduction
of his name. Should he just start
calling him "Ja" or "ck"?
CD clicked into place and the car was filled with Crosby, Stills, Nash and
Young, Deja Vu. As the car descended the hill, it felt
like a very long time since the journey up yesterday.
have all been here before.
outside world. Inside today it
hadn't seemed like an option.
Nest had the aura of being expensive, but Leslie thought it looked kitsch, and
not even interesting kitsch - neither ironic nor over-the-top. White trellis work, climbing vines
(possibly plastic), a wall mural of the Bay of Naples in curly, pastel brush
strokes, hundreds of mini-lights, white tablecloths, padded red chairs. The lighting was low and
flattering. Leslie had expected
Jack to take them someplace hipper.
But this was the desert.
And the point was who she was with, what they ate, not the
interior. She didn't do restaurants. There was nothing to feel competitive
about. So it wasn't like walking
into a house she didn't like, knowing that she could do better, seeing the
house as a job that she should have, that she would have if the world were
menu that she held was bulky, calligraphy on parchment in a maroon leather
binding, an outdated notion of Sophisticated Continental. There were no prices - it was a Ladies
menu had the prices. They were
high. He expected no less. When he put down the menu, that would
be the time to talk. What would he
say? Were he and Leslie a happy
couple, was she the jewel that he had, that Jack wanted?
good?" she asked.
"Everything. Especially the seafood."
share it with you."
"Sure." Jack closed his menu.
closed her menu.
felt left out.
still had to decide what to eat.
Sometimes that was an agony.
Like now. Reducing several
tempting choices to one. Only
one. And what if the choice was
the wrong one. He'd have to live
with that. Whatever he decided, he
would have second thoughts. But
unlike other decisions, decisions questioned after the fact, some of them
unquestionably bad decisions, the decision of what to eat he only had to live
with until the next meal. He
didn't want to linger too long over this.
Ironwood '82. Is red wine okay,
looked up from his menu. Jack was
already ordering wine.
a red but it'll be good with the paella.
What do ya think André?"
with the paella, Mr. Brown."
waited, but Jack didn't ask what him what he was ordering or if he even liked
red wine. He closed his menu. Surely this qualified as a slight. He didn't want to dwell on it. He looked around.
Nest was filling with well-dressed people. They had the look of Resort Town Saturday Night, vacationers
in their best clothes, out for the evening. Across the room was a Persian family of twelve, in the
throes of a family vacation, looking grimly determined to have a good
time. A wizened man wearing a
well-tailored blue blazer shared a red leather banquette with a young brunette,
a strand of pearls set off against her black strapless gown. Two tables over, directly in Larry's eyeline,
were two thirtyish women, well-dressed and well-preserved, drinking
martinis. Girls night out. And there were Industry Types scattered
throughout. They had the Industry
Look: expensive eye wear, perfect haircuts, their body language an ideal mix of
relaxation and tension, body language that said I enjoy being a shark, sharks
have fun, I'm a shark with my own swimming pool.
came back with the bottle of wine and held it out for Jack's approval. He nodded and André went to work on the
sandy-haired kid in a black leather jacket stood over the table. His ethnic origin was inescapably
preppy. Jack nodded hello without
never thought I'd see you out here."
got a house up the road."
the desert's a happening place."
kid looked at Leslie and Larry, wondering if he should know who they were. Jack made no introductions. A blond woman, aerobic and patrician,
appeared at the kid's side.
Jack. Debbie Ziegler. We've talked on the phone."
started to offer her hand. The kid
looked pained by what he knew was a breach of etiquette. Jack reached instead for the glass of
wine the waiter had poured.
guys did good. This is the best
food in the desert." He tried
the wine. "Fine."
seeing you. We'll talk
left. The waiter poured wine for
Leslie and Larry.
have the paella, André.
And..." He looked
have Caesar salad to start," Jack said.
sounds great. Me too," Leslie
Bobsy Twins, Larry thought.
"Caesar por moi," Larry said. "No egg," he added.
don't use egg in our Caesar," André the waiter said. "Will there be anything
bowed and left.
tried her wine. "This is
it's okay," Jack said.
was that guy?"
was embarrassed by how hard she was trying.
twerp at Warner Brothers. Like my
dad used to say, I could carve a better man from a banana."
Teddy Roosevelt said that," Larry said.
smiled but he didn't seem happy about it.
"Really. Well, he
stole from the best."
Larry said and tried the wine. It
tasted good enough to get drunk on.
you read any more of that script I gave you?"
read the coverage."
laughed. Encouraged, Leslie joined
him. Her laugh sounded phony to
poured himself another glass of wine.
do you like the Ironwood?"
don't you think?"
notes of peppercorn and chocolate.
And long in the finish."
looked annoyed. He didn't like
being put on. The game didn't work
looked annoyed. She didn't mind
Larry self-destructing. Just not
tonight - they had come out here together, it reflected badly on her. They were, after all, sitting on the
same side of the table. And if
Larry put Jack in a bad mood, anything could happen, that is, nothing could happen,
she could lose the pool house job and whatever largesse might flow from
it. It was important to enforce
conviviality, but in not too obvious a way.
like your shirt, Jack. Is it
like your shirt. What a nice
do you think about this red for the couch?"
took a sip and stared at Leslie's chest.
"Let me see, let me see.
Maybe. I'm not good at
visualizing stuff like that. I
guess I'm a little too here-and-now."
make movies," Larry said. The
more wine he drank, the better it tasted.
Maybe because it had time to breathe.
make deals. The mother of all
read scripts. It takes imagination
to read scripts."
takes no imagination to read scripts.
In fact, imagination is a hindrance. A liability."
know something. You're right. You've just changed the whole way I
look at the world."
could see that Jack didn't know if Larry was putting him on or not. No wonder Larry never got work. "I think all that pot you smoked
changed the way you look at the
frowned at his wife. He wanted to
save the frown, for something bigger than a frown, for later, but he couldn't
control his expression.
ignored him, determined not to let her anger distract her. Better to save the anger, use it later,
when she was alone with Larry. She
kept her eyes on Jack. "So
what do you think about a red couch?"
was an old Frank Zappa song about a couch. How did it go?"
Jack sipped his wine, coaxing his memory. "My love is a couch. She lets me sit on her."
blinked, then laughed.
didn't blink, didn't laugh. He
liked Zappa and it bothered him to hear Jack quote The Goateed One.
didn't know you liked Zappa."
don't. Not anymore. But I used to."
shrugged. "I changed. I like what I like, ya know?"
brandished an enormous wooden pepper mill. "Would you like fresh pepper, sir?"
the men's room?" Larry asked.
He needed a moment alone.
He was agitated. He left
without excusing himself.
mind him," Leslie said.
don't." Jack's tone was curt.
gets cranky when he misses his nap."
laughed. "He's a
me about it."
pastel fresco of a vineyard wrapped around the terra cotta bathroom walls. The toilet was a white American
locked the door behind him and leaned against the sink. He didn't bother looking in the
mirror. He turned on the
faucet. It reassured him to feel
cold water flowing against his hands.
His fingers seemed like distant things - were they his? Where did they come from? How long would he own these fingers,
what would he do with them?
Forever in this case, his case, meant, what, forty years or so? He felt himself disassociating,
dropping back inside of his head, to watch himself as a disembodied
presence. A fleshy robot. He watched himself in the mirror,
waiting, seeing if his reflection would stir from its reverie. And what if it all starting fracturing,
if nothing meant anything, if, say, mirror
wasn't even a word, what if the contract was broken and mirror was just a sound. Then. What
then? What would he call that
thing on the wall? Without the
word could he even understand mirror? Did dogs understand mirrors? At least dogs didn't have to worry
about what kind of wine they were drinking. If it got to where he couldn't understand what a mirror was,
if it all stopped making sense - who would take care of him then? Not Leslie. He felt close to the edge. So close. If
everything stopped meaning anything, what then? Would it even matter, if he no longer knew?
rushing water felt good on his fingers.
That was something to remember - that there was a basic level of
sensation that he could return to.
He saw himself as a man standing in a bathroom in the desert. He thought of the context in which he
was standing. A biblical landscape
tamed and franchised. The assholes
had inherited the earth.
turned off the faucet.
worst moment was over.
felt bad, but he knew he wasn't going crazy. He was just thinking.
Just thinking. Wasn't
he? He reached for the paper
towels, had to dig his fingers under the polished metal lip of the dispenser to
get them unjammed. That made him
smile. Paper towels. The will to survive. There was an obstacle - he overcame it
- he wanted the goddamned towels - and now his hands were dry. A simple thing. Maybe the beginning of an empire. As soon as he decided to step out of
the bathroom. That moment was
coming soon. He was surprised, now
that he thought about it, that no one had knocked.
first thing that he noticed on the other side of the door was the noise. Kitchen noise from behind - dishes,
pots, ceramic noise, metal noise.
It felt busy and warm behind him.
In front, in the direction of his future footsteps, there was a carpet
of voices. A mustached man in his
fifties, wearing a maroon tuxedo jacket, not a strand of gray in his brown
hairpiece, sat down at the black baby grand. He began to play something familiar. I left my heart in San Francisco. Larry
smiled at the irony as he walked back to the table. Irony would get him through the evening. He needed a little distance, enough to
let him enjoy things, the folly and foible of human behavior, his behavior,
Leslie's, Jack's. That was a
healthy attitude. His hands were
clean. That pleased him. He looked around the room as he walked
through it. It wasn't a bad room
in which to pass a couple of hours.
The trick was thinking about it as human comedy, the trick was finding
the distance to survive whatever Leslie was doing, however he felt about Jack,
the trick was to transcend the table he was sitting at. Larry felt balanced by these new dinner
principles. He didn't know where
they came from. Dinner was just
another meal. It was
survivable. If he had to, he'd go
wash his hands again. Approaching
the table he saw a third person sitting there, the back of a head, her
smiled. Finally, things were
looking up. She was wearing the
oversized white button-down shirt again.
saw her husband's face, his unguarded reaction to their unexpected table
mate. It made her angry - but
didn't she want him to be in a good mood, whatever the cause of that good mood
might be? Didn't that good mood
suit her larger purpose? But she
felt jealous. She still felt
attached to Larry, somehow. She
felt complicated. She wanted to
let go, she couldn't quite let go.
She felt angry about what she was feeling. They were married.
They hadn't spoken of separation, of severance, of dissolution. Not in a very long time. Leslie wanted to file away her reaction
to his reaction as something to figure out later, not to let it take her out of
the moment, because now was the
thing. Jack was sitting in front
of her now. She had his ear. She had to work at making dinner
work. Emotional life had its own
lightening speed, between footsteps, the end of Larry's journey back from the
smile was unmediated and uncomplicated.
He felt like kissing her hello, the return of a long lost love. Glancing at Leslie he suspected the
danger of expressing too much emotion.
He sat back down. Jack and
Leslie had finished their salads, their bowls identical, empty.
you like some of my Caesar salad, Sean?"
love some of your Caesar salad."
filled up her bread plate with some of his salad.
were gone a long time," Leslie said.
who's counting," he answered without looking at her. Sean was sitting across from him. Who would have thought. "How's Harry?"
live. He didn't feel like coming
out and I didn't feel like staying in.
So here I am."
returned with a menu and a wineglass for Sean. He went around the table refilling their glasses, hastening
the bottle of Ironwood to its end.
are you guys having?"
it too late to change my order?" Larry asked.
hesitated, glancing quickly, almost imperceptibly toward Jack. At this table anything was possible.
you like to have paella? With
me. It's for two."
"Sure." She closed her menu, handed it to André
without looking up.
have the paella. We'll have the
the shrimp scampi?"
"No. Cancel the shrimp scampi."
held the empty wine bottle.
"Another bottle, Mr. Brown?"
the wine list."
nodded and left.
took a sourdough roll from the basket and tore it in half. "What did I miss?"
did you miss," Jack repeated.
"The Sixties, the Seventies."
laughed. They all laughed. Larry was having an okay time
again. He wasn't left out.
sexual revolution," Jack added.
I didn't miss the sexual revolution."
mean free love."
know what you mean."
era before sex safe. Before there
was even the phrase safe sex."
don't feel that left out."
do. And I was there," Larry
was never any such thing as free love," Jack said.
"Sure. There's always been free love. Even today."
"So? What's that got to do with it?"
not so sure."
liked that Jack and Sean were arguing.
He felt a kinship with her.
She was the right person for him to share paella with.
there some other way you can win your argument besides saying that I'm
smiled at Sean. "It's not an
blinked, then laughed.
Larry's ear, Jack's laugh was brittle, disturbing.
talk about something other than sex."
that what we were talking about?"
there anything else to talk about?"
think the weather's sexy."
weather. Here. The desert weather. The heat"
not hot now."
agree. This weather's sexy,"
Jack said, his eyes on Leslie. He
didn't seem to mind if anyone else was watching what he was watching.
determined to be neutral, to let go of Leslie, to keep from letting her hurt
him, saw their table cinematically.
How the dialogue would flow from shot to shot. He had prided himself on writing for the screen, writing
scenes that would work on film, not just slick shit that read well on the
page. Being conscientious had
probably been a handicap. He saw
Jack's dialogue playing under a shot of Leslie. In this inner movie that Larry was playing, editing in his
head, what Jack was saying was even more blatant than what he was saying here
at the table.
we agree on something."
agree on lots of things."
can only disagree with people you agree with," Larry said.
was miffed that Sean was stealing her thunder. It didn't pay to agree too much with Jack. You don't like weak women, you get
bored so quick, and you don't like strong women 'cause they're hip to your
tricks...who sang that? Leslie looked at Sean. trying to
didn't look at Leslie. She
finished the salad that Larry had given her.
all that swimming."
long did you swim?"
don't know. Hours."
addicted to the alpha rhythms."
mean the endorphins."
dolphins have endorphins?" Larry asked.
and Jack laughed. Alliances kept
shifting. Depending on what was
said. Hard to predict wit. Hard to predict a response. Something rolled off the tongue. Hard to predict what it was until it
funny," Jack said.
seemed to be thinking. The word
profit had triggered something primal.
returned with the wine list. Jack
pondered the next choice, as if green lighting a movie.
you be so obvious?" Leslie whispered.
"No. Spell it out. Be obvious."
Leap. How's the '86?"
"Done." He handed the wine list back to
André. "What are you two
was mortified. She made a silent
vow to never again have sex with Larry.
called an impassioned marital discussion."
was impressed with Larry's comeback.
In spite of herself.
you ever been married?"
"Twice. But never for more than a year. Does that count?"
you say I do then it counts."
thought you had to sign a marriage certificate to make it real."
for a loophole, Les?"
don't need a loophole."
me it was more like a deal memo."
you paid for a script but never made the movie?"
"No. I had pre-nuptial agreements. Do you guys?"
an innocent question."
about you is innocent."
smiled. "Sean's the innocent
"Very. I'd never sign a pre-nup."
"No. I think they just doom things."
you guys have one?"
felt herself blush. At the
unspoken thought: because we don't have that much to divide.
felt himself beginning to like Leslie again. The modulations in her hostility were turning him on. Embarrassment was a form of
vulnerability, a counterpoint to her anger. Even after all this time, he didn't understand his
attraction to her, but still, he felt it.
Was attraction even something that could be understood? It just was. Maybe
someone more analytical or more emotional or more emotionally analytical could
understand it. He couldn't.
between Sean and Leslie, he could fantasize about both, it had no
consequence. It was exciting to
live without consequence, in the gap between salad and entree. It was a new kind of freedom that he
had never quite felt before. In
the presence of Jack there was a mood of moral suspension, of dissolution as a
successful lifestyle choice. Even
if Jack's success was independent of any choice he made.
was a lull at the table. Larry
heard an animated conversation in Persian, female laughter, fragments of a golf
long have you been married?" Jack asked Leslie.
"Four. That's a good number."
was amused. "Why?"
a convenient length of time. A
presidential term is four years."
you in college?"
was. I might be again."
shrugged. "I got distracted
by real life. I'll get back to
mean what was my major?" Sean
was your major?"
know you're supposed to call them men.
But they're always boys, aren't they?" Sean looked at Larry as she said this. It got him excited, even though the
words, in and of themselves, seemed a put down of men in general. But was it men in general if she was
looking right at him? And
directing the words to him with a slight smile, taunting, teasing. She knew the effect she was having. Definitely. Certain nerve endings were excited. He felt like crossing his legs.
no, it doesn't."
shit. I should've known he'd be
here." Jack got up and
crossed the room. Leslie was
disappointed. She thought she was
handling Sean quite nicely, thank you, provocative and amusing.
And Jack got up. How could
he walk out in the middle of that?
Leslie and Larry watched, Jack shook hand with a curly haired man who looked a
lot like Norman Mailer. He was
seated with two well-dressed, leggy blondes. Leslie couldn't say exactly why, but the women seemed too
sophisticated to be bimbos.
back was to Jack. She buttered the
other half of her roll. "What
do you guys think of Jack?"
was surprised by the directness of the question. "He's great."
real human being," Larry said.
smiled between bites. "Don't
be so sure. Ya know?"
arrived with the bottle of Stag's Leap.
He glanced at Jack across the room as he uncorked the wine.
he's not a human being what is he?"
sounds like a good movie."
an alien vampire."
even better movie."
was uncomfortable with their repartee, in earshot of André. Was she a participant, was she guilty,
just by sitting here?
an alien vampire film producer.
His films are really secret messages to a distant species."
distant retarded species."
saw that Jack had sat down at what she now thought of as the Norman Mailer
table. Jack was talking
intensely. "Norman" was
listening closely. Jack's hands
swung in a big arc, describing God knows what.
poured the Stag's Leap into a fresh glass and placed it in front of Jack's
vacant chair. Sean picked up the
glass and handed it to Larry.
André's eyes dilated involuntarily. Larry took a sip.
"Very good, André."
stood frozen in a posture of good manners. He hesitated, delaying to the brink of insult while he made
quick calculations of protocol and loyalty. Leslie and Larry both felt the moment of André judging
them. It was debatable who was
more sensitive to slights. It was
a shared trait that neither acknowledged.
Sean looked pleased with her subtle mischief. She was shrewd enough to act like she didn't know what she
was doing. She aroused all of
gave the impression of sighing as he silently began pouring the wine. He walked stiffly around the table as
he filled their glasses, aloofly polite, and then left without a word.
Leslie glanced at Jack, he and everyone else at "Norman's" table was
took another sip of wine. The room
lights dimmed, hundreds of twinkle lights suddenly a notch darker, as if the
voltage had dropped. Weird, the
world darkening when he drank, the dining room tied to private sensation. He hadn't gotten drunk in years. The idea of getting drunk was
unfamiliar, untested, scarier than getting stoned.
alien vampire producer idea."
tell Jack. He might steal
seriously doubt that," Leslie
said, rejoining the conversation.
seriously doubt everything," Larry said.
do think you're doing right now?"
more years, four more years," Sean chanted.
laughed. Sean laughed. Leslie acted like she was
laughing. She carried the
Christ-like burden of keeping dinner pleasant.
talk about something besides movies."
dish on Jack."
cares about nice."
suppose I do."
can be quite a cunt."
thine own nature be true. I
learned that in college, Les."
"Ladies. Please act lady-like."
they both asked. And laughed. Together. They had that much in common. Women.
Something that Larry would never understand.
so funny?" Jack was back.
had to be here."
fill me in."
were you visiting?" Leslie asked.
"People. The usual bullshit." Jack tried the wine. He seemed pleased with it but didn't
young men, both short, both wearing red cutaway coats, both with Mediterranean
complexions, brought two stainless steel platters of paella to the table. Jack's timing was perfect: he returned
to the table, the food arrived. A
fragrant steam rose from saffron-flavored rice and seafood.
were all eating the same thing, but there was the question of who was sharing
what with whom. The waiters were
used to couples sitting on the same side of the table. Leslie and Larry were served from the
same platter. Events had circled
around to where they were sharing dinner.
André presided over the servers, personally dishing out Jack's portion
of shrimp, clams, mussels, yellowtail, salmon. André waited for Jack to try a bite, a repeat of the wine
good, Mr. Brown." André left.
best seafood's in the desert.
Harry's really missing it."
a vegetarian," Sean said.
again. For how long?"
since I've known him."
and Leslie exchanged what they thought was a private smirk.
been on this health kick."
not a doper. It doesn't effect his
not like he's always stoned."
guys don't seem to mind smoking his grass."
it's the weekend."
said once is curiosity, twice is perversion."
writer." Jack offered a
salute with his wine glass.
producer." Larry plucked a
mussel from its shell.
started to amend the description.
"And...Sean?" Jack looked for help.
kidnap victim. I'm here against my
working up to it." He
finished his glass of wine. If it
was red wine, did it give the world a reddish cast, because the twinkle lights
were glowing warmer. One of the
girls at the Girls Night Out table reached into her dress to adjust her bra
strap. Larry was charmed by the
intimate, inappropriate gesture.
The world suddenly shifted.
Not exactly dizzy, but dizzy's first cousin. The white tablecloths were beginning to float against the
dark carpet. Not a magic
carpet. Not magic. Jack was looking sunburned. Everyone looked like they had too much
sun. Too many years of sun. Except Sean. Sean was the exception. Thinking too long between bites, Larry knew he should eat,
the food would absorb the wine, but he didn't feel like eating anymore, it
didn't feel good. He felt queasy
but maybe it was just a phase, getting his sea legs, the boat leaving the dock. Jack refilled Larry's glass. Attending to his needs. As far as dinner went. And after that, come Monday, back in
the city, on the other end of the phone, then forget it.
don't like the paella?"
gave Larry a you're drinking too much
gave her a fuck off look. Pushed along by this new anger, there
was a lull in how the wine was making him feel. Belatedly, he realized that he was staring at Sean's plate,
watching her eat. She was
surprisingly methodical, sampling mussel, clam, shrimp, salmon, yellowtail in
alternating bites. She always
combined the seafood with a dab of rice before she lifted the tines to her
mouth. Variety. Pleasure. Hidden elegance.
now of the ingestion of food as a clue to character, he saw that Jack was
eating aggressively, quickly taking the pleasure from each bite and pushing on
to the next, devouring what was closest to his fork, without the rotation of
flavors that Sean was cycling through.
him, Leslie was barely eating. A
few polite bites. Her mind was on
other things. Jack. Status. Career. The
importance of not seeming to try too hard. She looked relaxed if you didn't look closely. But Larry saw the lie. He was the only person at the table who
really saw her - maybe that was what she couldn't stand. There was a lesson there, if he wanted
to look closely - if he dared.
what else do you do in the desert?" Sean asked Jack.
depends on what you've already done."
can go golfing, play tennis at the club.
You can do the nasty."
felt like a bystander. How could
Sean flirt with Jack, thinking what she seemed to think about him. Something was going on between them. Something was going on between
everyone. Except him. He sipped the wine, contemplating
conspiracy. The problem was that
he felt, just now, unworthy of conspiracy.
can do all that stuff in L.A.," Sean said.
want desert stuff?"
want desert stuff."
take a drive tomorrow, go for a hike.
What do ya think, Les?"
know a great place. It's like
being on another planet."
is like being on another planet."
where you're wrong."
suppose we do need another bottle.
appeared with the wine list. It
was uncanny. Larry didn't remember
blinking. He nursed what was left
in his glass, hoarding the liquid for the passage of minutes until the next
know it's déclassé, but maybe we'll switch over to a white. What do ya guys think?"
already said that."
with the red. It's working."
bit too well."
thought you were easy."
was too mad to speak.
easy," Sean said, her eyes shifting from Leslie to Larry.
you're not," he said.
the Chard. Do you mind, Lar?"
already told you what I thought, Ja."
"Okay. I mean, if you really mind."
you going to do what you're going to do or what?"
Lar, I was just asking."
you weren't really asking. That's my point."
studied the wine list. Leslie
studied Jack, trying to read him for tension. His lips were pursed in a slight smile, that might have been
a tight smile. Was he amused or
Merlot LaTour, André."
handed back the wine list without looking at André.
Merlot's a delicate red."
mouth dropped open.
worked back into a smile. Would
wonders never cease. "I
didn't know you were so opinionated about wine."
when I'm drinking."
else are you opinionated about?"
"Writing. Or rather, I used to be."
worn me down."
"Me?" Jack was amused. He reached for his wine glass, then
remembered that it was empty.
generalizing," Leslie defended.
A." He sipped his wine. For the moment he had wine and Jack
didn't. "I've had experience. I'm generalizing from experience."
point of this being?"
I'm easy. I'll do whatever. Cooperate."
instead of red?"
I don't believe you."
I don't believe me." Larry
laughed. Sean joined him. The laughter fell between party lines.
not inspiring confidence."
confidence got to do with it?"
comfort level, ya know?"
looked appalled. The best thing
now was being a bystander.
returned with the Merlot.
finished the wine in his glass, pleased with his pacing. Concentrating on each word, not looking
very far beyond the next word or two that would tumble from his mouth, he no
longer felt queasy. The wine had
warmed him beyond that, the reddish glow downshifting into a dull purple. He saw the Persian pater familias
talking on a cellular phone.
Jackster, where's your cell phone?"
the car. Do you need to make a
"No. I just thought you'd have one at the
table. I'm surprised."
"No. Just surprised."
this is time off for good behavior.
I'm not working."
reminded Larry that he didn't qualify as a professional acquaintance. He was not the one being courted. Everything about his life was right
here at the table, good, bad, indifferent. Good, bad, ugly.
It was all there. All he
had to do was look. The wine was
another way of looking, peeling back the obvious. His eyes were starting to hurt. He didn't like the way the light felt. Each twinkle light panging at him. Not quite tunnel vision, but dopplering
light. Mocking blindness. Problem was, the more he thought about
it, he wasn't sitting in the restaurant - he was sitting in his body. His body was a car he couldn't get out
of. He couldn't open the door,
step out and stretch - unless that was what the wine did - or sleep, perchance
to dream. So much shit. Getting drunk was scary. But he couldn't wait for the next
bottle of wine. He wished he knew
why. The piano was playing Greensleaves. Wasn't
that the music from John Wayne's Alamo? Perfect: this was a
polite massacre. The wine high was
different from last night's grass, he felt slower, clumsier, a reckless driver
of the car. His mouth felt
independent of his brain. Waiting
for the wine, he took another bite of shrimp. It was, at best, lukewarm. Chewing slowly, the texture decayed into something unpleasant. And how long should he chew, when would
the fleshy mess reach the critical mass of no longer threatening to choke. The more he thought about swallowing,
the harder it seemed to do. And
why did he have to swallow what was left in his mouth - tasteless, of
unpleasant texture, of doubtful nutrition - he had to swallow because that was
the course he was on - the mouthful of masticated shrimp was his life in
microcosm - if that passed for a profound thought then he was seriously fucked
up. Seriously. He swallowed. Sean was looking at him. How long had she been watching? The gap between words was weird. And could he even describe her face, what would the sentence
be that did that? No, her features
wouldn't resolve into a handful of words that would echo what he saw. And if he wasn't a writer now, at his
age, would he ever be a writer?
The key. The key was that he
had talent - he believed he had talent - and that talent was thwarted by the
Jack Brown's of the world, the Elect who did not elect to transubstantiate his
words into images, screenplays into movies.
was wine in his glass.
long had he been gone? Only Sean
was still eating, with the same methodical pleasure - clam, shrimp, salmon,
yellowtail - that only he seemed to notice. Jack was in the middle of telling a story. He had the floor. He was telling a story to the table. But the story was for Leslie first,
Sean second, and for Larry only because he happened to be sitting there.
have to remember this was back before AIDS, back in B.C."
were always condoms."
child, not like there are condoms now."
sipped his wine, slowly, appreciatively, as if he had been listening from the
beginning of the story.
very impressed with your conquests," Sean said dryly.
the story was almost over.
not about conquests. It's about
mean she thought you were Harry."
got it! She thought I was
what did Harry think?"
the same room."
what did she think? Debbie, wasn't
that her name?"
"No. Deborah. She was a princess, she
insisted that you call her Deborah.
Debbie was drunk. I guess she thought I was Harry. I never asked her. But the way she looked at Harry the
next morning, man, those were bedroom eyes."
"Ohmygod!" Leslie laughed. It sounded phony to Larry, because he
knew her laughs so well, the entire catalog.
did this happen? Up at the
at Two Bunch Palms. Back in the
that why you're plying us with wine?
Are you hoping to repeat history?"
can't force serendipity."
that kind of like you can't hurry love?"
look like a foursome. Two
twosomes." Sean was flirting
with Jack again. An omniverous
habit, Larry glumly concluded. So
much for his conspiracy theory - how many glasses ago was that?
this table maybe. But I'm the odd
man out tonight."
don't have one?"
you're such a curious character."
available, if you're interested."
This spoken to Sean, but Jack's eyes darting to Leslie, his eyebrows
raised in ironic question marks.
excluded in direct word and gesture from Jack's repartee, drank his wine and
revised his conspiracy theory.
Jack was outclassing him, finessing with bluntness. The directness, timed at the sluggish
end of the entree, was disarming.
He was being so obvious it was subtle.
interested, but not the way you mean interested."
how do I mean?"
smiled. He knew.
red jacketed second-string waiters appeared. "Are you finished?"
finished," Larry said. That
said it all. If anyone was
listening. To what he said. He finished what was left in his glass,
gestured toward the bottle. Voices
were swirling in stereo, dinner voices.
If he tried to listen it hurt.
And why did he need to find out what was being said - it wasn't being
said to him. His wine glass was
refilled. A red sleeve floated
through Larry's field of vision and his plate was lifted away. All the plates were lifted away. A lonely grain of saffron-stained rice
sat on the white tablecloth in front of him. The white tablecloth was a constellation of crumbs and minor
stains. He crushed the grain of
rice with his finger, squishing it into the tablecloth. The red coats were gone. The wine was beginning to taste
medicinal. He was trying to
remember why he was drinking like he was drinking, but the idea wouldn't
conjure. The dénouement of dinner
was upon them.
you like to see the dessert menu?"
André was back. Jack took a
silent poll, waited for an answer that didn't come. No one ate dessert in Hollywood. Larry could have told him that.
one eats dessert in Hollywood."
There, it was out. The
unspoken thought was spoken.
in the desert."
eats dessert in the desert?"
one seemed interested. Larry felt
anchored to the table. Drinking
had gotten less fun. Because he
was thinking too much about it.
us a minute."
nodded in complete understanding and left.
we have coffee? Or an after dinner
might be getting lonely."
Hearing Sean's concern for Harry, Larry felt, unreasonably, like an
unsuccessful suitor for Sean's hand.
A Victorian drama with no victory.
Clever phrases - vapid - meaningless - appeared like bubbles to
Larry. He could almost see the
words floating in front of his face.
could have coffee back at the house."
dessert." Sean threw this
phrase with a smile at Larry.
not sure what we've got."
stop at the store on the way home."
will pack something up for us.
Anything you like."
"No. I've got already got something in mind,
" Sean said. With a
smile. Smiles all around. What was the secret? Larry wanted to catch up to whatever
was happening. But he was still
hunkered down for dinner, and it was ending too soon, concluding abruptly,
inappropriately. And here he had
thought about sitting at this table forever.
the check arrived, Jack handed André a platinum card without even looking at
the bill. This was when Larry
usually made polite conversation, avoiding the issue of money, accepting the
largesse indirectly, thanking his host afterward, after the money had been
dispensed. The moment felt awkward
to Larry. He was very sensitive to
these moments. The wine didn't
help. He felt diminished with the
ladies - he couldn't grandstand for the check. He was the token male.
He wasn't keeping up his end of the ritual. But when he had sat down to dinner, the whole time he was
sitting here, didn't he know this was coming, the check that Jack would
grab. When would he ever learn to
think things through, to see what was coming? Like now. What
about now. That required some
thought. Sipping wine, just a
taste on his lips, feigning a thoughtful gesture to avoid watching Jack sign
the credit card slip. Looking
around the restaurant, familiar faces were gone - the girl in the black dress
and pearls, where was she? And the
Persian family, how had they slipped away without his noticing? Empty chairs. Fresh faces.
was time for them to turnover.
the restaurant door closed behind them, the chorale of dinner voices hushed to
an undertone. The world outside
was darker, blanker, easier to deal with.
Larry felt drunk but harmonious.
Nothing was hurting him.
valet scrambled for Jack's Range Rover, which was parked ten feet away. Jack extended an open hand to Sean.
don't have one."
know." Spoken with
annoyance. "I parked it
myself." Jack looked
around. "Right over
opened all four doors of the Range Rover.
ride with Sean," Larry said.
handed the valet a five dollar bill.
"Okay. See you back at
was all smiles, climbing into the front passenger seat. "See you." The valets closed all four doors.
black car eased into traffic, its occupants abstracted to two glamorous
silhouettes. They could have been
driving off into the sunset, except it was night. Larry waved.
"Bye bye." Sean
smiled. What would it be like if
he never saw them again?
followed Sean across the parking lot.
She pressed a key chain like a remote control. A car alarm yapped, defanged, and she opened the door of a
large silver BMW.
drove with her seat pushed all the way forward. Her feet barely reached the pedals. Her fair skin glowed in the amber light
of the dash. The upholstery was
black. Larry's mood was
light. He was careful not to look
at her too long. Leslie had
hammered home the bit about not seeming too needy. The scenery outside didn't interest him. Strip mall America. The kind of desert that was everywhere
question was what to pay attention to.
He had gotten what he wanted.
He was alone with Sean. For
a little while. Whose choice was
that? She shoved in a CD. Nirvana. In Utero. Kurt Cobain necrophilia.
worried about false steps. He
could only be quiet so long. The
Leslie Anger was dissolving. If he
really thought about separating from Leslie, then she wasn't so
dismissable. There had been some
good moments. She was shrewd. She was the only one he could ask for
certain kinds of advice. She was
driven, in her own way. If anyone
could help him get somewhere, she could.
He could still learn things from her. But there was more than that, there was more to let go
of. They had a history
together. That would vanish. The more he thought about it, there was
pain waiting to be felt.
his feelings reversed, the tentative tenderness evaporated, and the anger
returned. He reminded himself that
he was too mad, that the way she was acting this weekend was unforgivable.
could drive him anywhere in this amber interior light. He was with what he wanted. This was his chance to live up to an
adventure. But the distance
between their seats was enormous.
She was blank, what he knew about her. It was possible, for the moment, to believe that some sort
of absolute harmony was possible.
He could dream that sex, sex with her, could save him. Salvation was behind the wheel, her
foot on the gas.
wine was roiling weirdly. The Las
Vegas Story, untitled, was slipping away.
Being in the desert this weekend, tonight, should have helped. Experientially. After all, this was the desert, like
Vegas. But not writing for almost
two days felt fatal. He was in a
mood for fatalistic pronouncements.
Now, tonight, it felt so much easier for things to die. The work evaporating. For what. To watch Sean's smile.
was an alternative. Just
write. All work and no play makes
Jack a dull boy. Words. The important thing was to get going
again. Set a page quota. Do it. Throw out the shit.
Something good would come of it.
A fragment at least. A
sentence. A phrase. Maybe.
took a corner sharply, the tire's squeal muffled by the German steel. The centrifical lurch pushed him
against the door. The wine swayed
in tidal pull. He realized he
wasn't wearing a seat belt, but to put one on now would queer the deal -
another Leslie lesson - somehow he had set her up as the lesson plan for
seduction, an internal monitor and mentor. Four years he had listened to her scheming, appreciatively,
appropriately. At least he'd
grasped the mind set.
was naive to trust his life to Sean's driving. He couldn't remember how much wine she had drunk. Factor in how stoned she probably was
when she got to the restaurant.
But the BMW was big.
Barring a head-on, whatever crash might happen was probably
survivable. Put it in
context. How dangerous was this,
compared to driving on acid, late night highway horrors in death trap VW
Microbuses, Beetles, Carmen Ghias.
Or coked-out eighties L.A. freeway odysseys.
says it all."
out the window, working back to paying attention to the world, he saw that they
had turned off of the main drag.
Outside were tired looking apartment buildings, dark heat-blasted
artifacts - tract houses - an endless brick wall, the backside of a country
club. Why would anyone live out
here? Why would anyone live anywhere? He was
lost, with no sense of direction, but there was a certain delight in the spatial
confusion. He could be
anywhere. He was anywhere.
For the moment. He felt
okay, as long as he didn't throw up.
Air would help. He was
mindful of cures. He punched at
the buttons on the door. His
window whirred down. The wind
roared in his ear. It was cold,
but that was okay. Sean's hair
whipped around her head. She
smiled. This was the time to be
clever. Words to unlock. But wasn't getting laid as far-fetched
as making a movie? Was that a
defeatist thought or a realistic one - was defeatism realistic - or was realism
defeating? And. What was real about driving through
this alien darkness with her, an alien.
A silent movie. That words
what do you think about Jack?" she asked.
my platonic ideal. The perfect host."
smiled. It seemed that she was in
sync with his irony. It was fresh
enough not to seem compulsive.
Unless he did it too much, too soon. He was on his best behavior. He had to keep reminding himself of that. He had to concentrate on presenting the
best version of himself to her, for as long as possible, careful not to let
sarcasm slip over into bitterness, careful to keep verbal attack from being
symptomatic of weakness.
question was what to say now. The
hardest part was getting started.
No. The hardest part was
whatever he had to do now. And what he had to do now was get
started. She was alien because she
was young, because she was a woman.
More that she was a woman than that she was young, because he had
experience in being young, but not in being a woman. Girl was more accurate, but girl was no longer a proper word
to use for girls. The point
was. The point was he could be
fun. As long as he had something,
someone to attack: Jack, Leslie, the world.
do you ask?"
curious about your opinion."
do you think of Jack?" he asked.
an interesting word for it."
take it you don't like him," she said.
not that I don't like him. It's
just that he's the enemy."
think he likes you."
told me he thinks you're funny."
"Really." The game was shifting. Rules kept bending. Looking out at the
street lights, Larry wondered how they got lit, how the power flowed down the
line, how all the pieces fit together.
It was magic, all of it, if you really thought about it.
do you mean, enemy?"
I've got to fight against."
seems a little strong."
tend toward extremes."
with strange girls."
can only hope."
was strange about last night?"
enough. The lack of strangeness
was easy when the words were circling.
He was good at that. He
felt himself pulled toward the middle.
Was that his natural place?
Even without a normal job, permanently without that normalcy. Normalcy not as the median or as the
middle, but as a risk-free place.
But wasn't he risking everything by not having a normal job? No. There was a predictability to his lack of success. He had evolved a strategy of getting
by. It couldn't just be the wine
that had him muddled. The wine was
drawing out slow thoughts, sending out pulses of ideas with dull edges. He had thoughts about his life, but
didn't think about his life. But being a tourist in the desert, in
this car, left him stripped of the familiar, except his body, except his
clothes. He felt like he was
someone else. He was in the
passenger seat. Was it possible
that there was an opportunity? The
middle was where he had been, without result. Drunk, for the moment, he could try to be someone else.
when did the strangeness slip into sadness? When did the alcohol begin boiling maudlin in his
blood? How did he pick his
stories? Did the stories pick
him? In the matrix of such harsh
determinism, the desert dormant at night, why did he have to try so hard? In a deterministic universe couldn't he
just coast, or was his destiny the peculiar anguish of a screenwriter? If it was never his choice to aspire to
what he aspired to, then a new kind of freedom leaked into the night.
he felt the burden to entertain Sean.
But the calculating voice that he had internalized from Leslie told him
not to try too hard. She would
want him only to the extent that he didn't seem to want her. As he let the music fill the void of
what he was thinking, he came to realize that this lesson applied to
Leslie. To Jack. The point of the struggle was not to
struggle. The trick was
remembering to act differently.
drove into the bright habitat of a parking lot, a Lucky supermarket. There was an empty parking space at the
front of the aisle that Sean pulled into, as if it was her birthright, the best
space in the lot. Everything came
easy tonight. As long as he was
looked at her questioningly, wondering what was next.
was so bright inside. They were
embarked upon a domestic ritual.
They could have gotten by without a basket but Sean wanted to ride in
it. She wove her fingers through
the metal mesh and balanced her Doc Marten's on the silver tube chassis. Larry pushed the cart. A ritual rolling into an
adventure. Housekeeping with
Sean. Hunting and gathering just the
right sugar products. In the
bright supermarket light, down the naked lunch aisles, Sean looked younger,
wrinkle-free. He wondered if he
looked older. Her white cotton
shirt was pristine. She
acted careless. How did she keep
her one shirt pristine? That was a
measure of her grace. Was her
underwear unstained, her hidden skin unblemished, were there no hidden
picked up a pair of $2.98 plastic shades.
The sunglasses muted the light down to a tolerable level. Sean liked the way they looked on
him. He felt like Jack Nicholson
among the Saturday night misfits, oddball shoppers.
Chocolate, sugar cones, Milano cookies, Devil's Food Cake, Ben & Jerry's
Ice Cream (Cherry Garcia, Rocky Road), Haagen Daz Frozen Yogurt (coffee, vanilla),
Smucker's Hot Fudge, maraschino cherries.
pulled a can of Redi-Whip from the dairy case. "Ever get high on this stuff?"
almost said in my youth. "Laughing gas."
you think the joker laughs at you?"
picked up two more cans of Redi-Whip.
He almost said did you ever cover your body with this stuff.
again. The aisles were all the
same. The products were
different. The boxes seemed to
silently promise immortality. If
he could just climb inside the right box, close his eyes, float on painless
we forgotten anything?"
a little refinement. Hostess
be democratic. Both."
at the collection of sugar that filled the bottom of their cart, he remembered
without wanting to remember what every item tasted like. He no longer liked being drunk. It wasn't helping, it wasn't teaching
him anything, it wouldn't let go.
It wouldn't let go until it was gone.
about marshmallow sauce?"
know, liquid marshmallows."
was losing his enthusiasm for the project. "If you like." The trick was keeping up. With the cart, with appearances, with the appropriate
smile. With Sean.
wonder which aisle."
with the ice cream."
the hot fudge. Wasn't that
beginning to look green."
just the light."
fluorescent light's green on film."
this isn't film."
I interest you in a pair of sunglasses."
laughed. Whatever he was doing was
they found the marshmallow syrup it looked like glutinous bleached-bright
toward the check-out stand, in the express lane even though they were over the
ten-item limit, he realized that he would be paying for it all. In this situation he was the man. What a waste. Outside it was dark.
That was something to look forward to.
you purchasing those sunglasses, sir?"
was something to think about.
don't think so."
check-out lady looked indeterminately young, an ageless late twenties, strong
as a horse. There was dark peach
fuzz over her lip. Punching in
numbers. What a life. But the check-out lady made a lot more
money than he did. Leslie had told
him that. He had to keep
remembering the right place to put his pity.
$33.89. Without the
"Right." He took off the cheap sunglasses. It was bright, the waves were rolling
again. It was dizzy time. So bright. He squinted and steadied his arm against the credit card
machine, it just wouldn't do for Sean to see him tremble. He opened his wallet, lifted out two
twenties. It seemed to take
forever. Time stopped for a
me buy them for you."
don't know when I'd wear them."
you go shopping."
I go shopping drunk."
"Maybe. I'm still trying to decide."
on the dark streets, riding in the big German car. Cornering well.
Handling nicely. But there
was a gap in the tape - how they got in motion - a dark gap between then and
now. He couldn't remember the car
starting, couldn't remember the car pulling out of the lot. Through the gap, back in the darkness,
Sean's face glowed again in amber light.
They were listening again to the dead man's music. The dead man's music was Nirvana. That was perfect somehow.
me on, dead man. Remember
song sort of fits. Rape me, my
friend. Rape me again."
smiled. "I get it. Turn me on, dead man."
pretty hip. I usually don't eat
wondered if there was another gap of black as he puzzled out her non sequitur.
"Dinner. What did you think about dinner?"
mean the food or the cannibals?"
trying to stop eating meat."
living flesh. It was. My sister's a vegan. She doesn't consume any animal
products. No leather."
stopped eating leather."
had a very bad experience with animal rights."
waited for the story. He had the
floor. He hadn't rehearsed.
sold this script - optioned it - to these producers, a husband and wife - the
Smalls - what a perfect name - the kind of name that would be a cliché if I
wrote a script and called the producers the Smalls. It was really the wife's project. Her pet project.
She loved it. She said that
she absolutely loved it."
was the script about?"
was a thriller. About food - set
in a restaurant - but that doesn't matter. What it's actually about never really seems to matter. Anyway, she said she just wanted me to
fix up the ending a little and then we could shoot the movie. It was low budget. Intentionally. Very do-able. She said I could direct it.
followed was six months of rewriting.
Now the Smalls, their big thing in life was animals. Protecting poor little helpless
furballs. They didn't have any
kids, but they had something like twelve dogs and eighteen cats and a couple of
crippled parrots and a partridge in a pear tree. Between fucking over writers the wife went around saving
gerbils and hosting dinners to protest mink coats. They built this big house and they had bedrooms for their
pets, you know, this is Spot's room and this is Boots' room, she shares it with
Puff and Taffy. I remember once we
had to cancel a story meeting because a possum bit her hand. A possum bite - that was a new one.
at the end of six hellish months of doing everything this crazy lady wanted me
to do to the script - mangling what was a good script to begin with - listening
attentively to these deranged suggestions and trying to make sense of it all -
after all this, she read the script that she had virtually dictated to me and said that she didn't like it any
more. I wanted to kill her - and
since I couldn't kill her I vowed
to kill animals instead. By eating
as many as possible. Actually, I'm
not a big meat eater. That's my
story of being treated cruelly by Mr. and Mrs. Animal Rights."
horrible things often are."
the story had sobered Larry in a way that fifteen minutes ago he wouldn't have
thought possible. Until now he had
forgotten how angry that episode had made him. His anger surprised him, how angry he still was. How many other buried stories were
waiting, how much buried anger? Do
you eat meat? Yes, because of
these asshole producers. Not
strictly true, but close enough.
There were so many triggers.
Glib was the way to go.
Less pain. Lighter. And he hadn't told the story of the
Smalls very well - accumulating humorous detail, building irony, factoring in
Sean's response, playing to his audience.
she had a story to tell him, she wasn't saying. The music filled the void: I miss the comfort in being
miss the comfort in being sad.
this street? Outside the
windshield's curve of tempered, tinted glass, the night looked the same. Nights were like that.
funny but it sounds fucked."
kind of fucked."
agreed. It was a new kind of
this Jack's street?"
thought it was."
did I. I was looking for a
familiar landmark. Like his
car. Wouldn't his car be
what I thought."
mean we're lost?" There were
worse things than being lost with her.
mountains are in the right place."
laughed. "That's a funny
thing to say."
circle the block. We could call,
but I don't know the number."
was sitting, for the moment, in the sheltered world of German steel and
Japanese car phones. The green
lights on the back of the cellular phone reminded him of something poignant he
couldn't quite place - some other green lights - the memory was sloshing with
the wine - it was irritating, not being able to recall whatever it was he
wanted to recall.
anxiety of uneasy, incomplete forgetfulness.
was about to suggest that she call information, but he didn't mind their
isolation and wasn't pressing for their timely return to Casa Jack. It was too late for them - him - to be
timely - wasn't it? He wasn't
wearing a watch. He could imagine
Leslie being peeved - it wasn't much of a stretch - how long had the odyssey to
Lucky taken? The real explanation,
the innocent explanation, even with the bags of sugary evidence, sounded
suspicious as he tried saying it to himself. Well. He was
fucked either way, whether they got there or not.
this look familiar?"
you like being lost?"
is the house. Isn't it?"
must have parked the car."
let the Range Rover get damp."
pulled into the circular driveway and stopped the CD in the middle of a
song. He was waiting for
something. If she noticed she
didn't say. There was a moment
between them that passed for a smile.
She opened her door. The
dome light came on. One kind of
privacy ended. He couldn't,
shouldn't wait too long. They were
here. There was no sense moping.
house had felt empty of Leslie and Jack even before their unanswered hellos.
a note. Where are you guys? We waited and waited. There's a party at one-twenty-seven San
Andreas. See you there. J &
L. Should we go?"
about the dessert?"
gave him a look. "Let me
check on Harry."
was alone again. The plastic
grocery bags dug into his hands.
He looked down at the sagging brown appendages. They had become a critical prop in
maneuvering through this part of the evening. When to have dessert - and with whom - seemed central to his
tenuous scenario of sleeping with Sean.
After the grocery spree, standing here, Leslie's note a flat white
square on the black lacquered vanity table, he could imagine a dismal scenario
of no dessert. Starting to fix
dessert, was that presumptuous?
And what if Harry tagged along?
He frowned at the absurdity of his calculations. What was he thinking? How could a little flirting get him so
went into the kitchen and fumbled for the light switch. Fluorescents hidden behind Plexiglas
illuminated the room like a phony skylight. He put down the grocery bags and opened the freezer. Putting away the ice cream, wouldn't
that presume that they were going to the party? He didn't want to face a sea of faces.
he had no desire for sugar. Let
the ice cream melt. The time had
come to be careless.
spitefulness reversed into timidity, habitual caution, and he stowed the ice
cream in Jack's freezer. It was
amazing what he did for women, without their noticing, in secret hopes. Unnoticed secret hopes.
felt cold, walking through the dark rooms. Was it the air conditioning or had his body's thermostat
gone wacky? Dining room, living
room, day room, enough light spilling from the foyer to guide his
footsteps. Stopped by the sliding
glass door, a transparent boundary.
His nose pressed against the cold glass. Stepping back, he closely studied his nose print. He thought he heard a voice and turned
around but there was no one. No
one else. Had he been abandoned
again? The night kept shrinking.
became aware of himself as a body standing at a door that was a window. He thought about what cool pose to
assume for Sean's return. What had
been carefree how many minutes ago had left the room with her. Sustaining mood. That got to the heart of
screenplays. At one time he
thought he had a gift for it. He
still believed in himself for scattered minutes. Sustaining tonight's mood - the good part of it - wasn't
that the same thing? And who said
you had to even write a screenplay down?
If you weren't getting paid for it, why bother? There was the option, occurring to him
only now, that he could let a movie play in his head, for an audience of
one. If even a hundred people read
a script, that was exceptional.
Reduce the audience. That
was an alternative. Alternatives
could last how long, not just a lifetime, but a week, an hour, a minute -
consider a moment's relief of imagining a life without the fatigue of staring
at pixels, agonizing or rhapsodizing to fill them with just the right
combination of words, the words that opened the combination lock that led to
nirvana. Nirvana. I miss the comfort in being sad. I'm sad
missing comforts. Let me return to
your womb. Can you return
someplace you've never been?
on the other side of the glass was another life that he might have led.
are you thinking?"
night is spread against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table."
he write Cats?"
he judge her by what she'd read?
joined him beside the glass.
"I tucked Harry in for the night."
was sharp. He couldn't, shouldn't
forget that. And she was standing
within the reach of his arm, in the darkened room. Conspiracy.
No. Complicity. In her willingness to stand in the
darkness with him. Was that
reading too much into an innocent, an inadvertent situation? Imagine that this was a movie that only
they were watching. Could he be
suitably aggressive in that nearly private movie?
- she had joined him at the window.
stepped closer to her. His one
step to match the forty or so that she had taken. But getting this close, that was a different thing.
was watching his eyes. She was
smiling. It was an ironic
smile. If he couldn't describe her
face then he could describe her smile.
kissed her lips.
getting fresh again."
standing next to me."
you kiss everyone who stands next to you?"
are you teasing me?"
not good at defining things."
rested his hands on her hips.
Couldn't she make a move? A
I kiss you?"
I kiss you again?"
if you have to ask."
asked me to ask last night."
was last night."
kissed her again. She didn't
move. But she seemed impatient.
we going to the party?"
already got a party. We've got ice
party with people."
you like." His voice
was his choice to follow.
we don't even know how to get there."
drew a map."
party. Another L.A. party, in a
suburb, in a colony, in a mansion.
just get uglier.
room was brown and white; the people were white and tan. It was loud enough that they didn't
have to talk unless they wanted to.
And if they wanted to, then they had to lean close, mouth to ear and
vice versa, they had to point the words at their target.
I have no sense of time.
do you think they are?"
have no idea."
walked side by side, then single-file to squeeze through the gap between two
adjacent clusters. Everybody
looked like someone else, someone he had seen or known in high school, college,
wherever. An elastic, inexact gene
pool that he was swimming in.
Familiar faces, similar faces, all those faces he had never quite known.
was moving her shoulders in time to the music, her hands balled into locomotion
fists. No one was dancing. The tune was infectious - metallic,
urgent, angular. Tonight's hidden
Gatsby was hip, and schizophrenic, if he owned this house, because the house
didn't suit the music. It was a
joke, if anyone was listening. His
natural instinct - with Sean - or Leslie - was to ask her who the band was, but
he hesitated and stopped, doubled back on his instinct - doubled back on
doubling back - twisting an unasked question - why this infinitesimal torment -
increasingly complicated thoughts at a party he didn't want to be at looking
for someone he didn't particularly want to see. His wife. And
his wineglass was empty. His
little sips had led to this.
"Who's the band?"
Inch Nails. Their second
I am the voice in your head, and I control
you, I am the lover in your bed, and I control you.
good dance music."
"Yeah?" She dipped her shoulders in time to the
chain saw guitar. "Wanna
to the slow songs. The bear hug
have feelings too."
you like judgmental women."
be so sure."
don't like judgmental women."
talked back and forth, single file, up the carpeted stairs. In movies, at movie parties, everyone
looked happy, engaged in chitchat, smiling, wall to wall. But emptiness was more intriguing -
couples trapped unhappily together in eddies of shared solitude - temporary
misfits, eating chips in quiet desperation. With each step upwards the vista of faces flattened into
pockets of predictable movement - by the time he reached the second floor
landing the universe of the house was deterministic. He felt good to be self-centered and short-sighted above it
all. But it was crowded here too.
we still looking for Leslie?"
shrugged his openness to whatever.
"I've got to look."
was a game room. Pool was the only
game. Guys with cigars. Girls with cigars. Everyone held cue sticks. Everyone looked expert. No one was moving.
you seen Leslie?"
question left them blank. Blanker.
he was getting warmer.
almost didn't care. He had to
convince himself that he had nothing to lose. The important thing was to try and seem reckless. Fearless. That seemed the only way to be.
on their quest, heroic, anti-heroic, necessary, unnecessary, the rooms got
bathroom. He could use a quiet
moment alone. Would it break the
you excuse me?"
an odd look. Was he acting odd?
with the mirror. His face looked different. His skin worn. A different face from last time he had
looked - but how? Staring seemed
important - learn by looking.
But. He wasn't learning
ran the faucet. The towels were
damp from over-use. There were
puddles and waterspots on the faux marble countertop. A dish was filled with shell-shaped soap, the rills soggy
and water-blunted. The quiet was
relative - party noise bled through the door. He wondered if he was taking too long, if Sean was outside
the door, or if she had wandered off.
Anticipation had gone south.
If only. The best thing
would be not to want anything.
Whatever came next. On the
other side of the door.
she wasn't waiting.
had turned into something else, a conversation with a Cue Stick Boy. Manchild in the Promised Land. Larry felt awkward about coming
over. Her back was to him - his
agony was hidden from her. She
leaned forward, she leaned back, talking, listening, with the limber body
language of acceptance. Larry
could imagine her leaving with Cue Stick Boy for a different version of the
night. Left alone. First there was Leslie, then temptation
- what an odd bible-beating word - and then he was alone. The script that didn't sell. The one with the wrong ending. The high concept that wasn't quite bold
enough. No one wanted to see the
movie that was never made. He was
starring in that movie. The bold
thing to do in his private state of anticipatory defeat was step forward - what
could be worse than what he already imagined - he was afraid but his feet were
moving - her back was to him, she couldn't see how brave he could be, at times,
in little ways. Baby steps.
Poinsettia, near Crescent Heights," she was saying.
on Hayworth! At Romaine. We're neighbors."
slid into Sean's line of sight with his best try at a party smile, a
seemed glad to see him. He was
abnormally sensitive to these kind of moments. He was thrilled out of all proportion to what was
happening. He knew that. He knew that it didn't matter what he
knew - he was always helpless about these kind of feelings - any feelings,
actually. They had a life of their
own. Why was he always along for
this is Larry."
man." A laconic nod of the
cue stick. Larry sensed Rick's
temperamental shift regarding Sean, available to unavailable, unless Larry
could be displaced. The gunslinger
didn't expect much of a gunfight.
and I are neighbors," Sean explained.
nodded appreciatively. A platitude
was called for. "Great."
and I are looking for someone."
was patient with the situation. He
had cobalt blue eyes. The pool
game wasn't going anywhere.
guys need some help?"
was waiting for Sean to invite Rick along on their search. It was the worst thing that could
I've seen her. What does she look
kind of hard to describe. I'm not
good at describing people. How
would you describe her?"
laughed. Rick was smart enough to
smile. He was the kind of guy who
knew how to get with the program.
I'll see you back in Hollyweird."
should trade numbers."
held up her hands - search me - no purse, no pen, no paper.
I've got a card."
drew his wallet and smoothly handed her a black embossed card. She slipped it in her hip pocket
without looking. Larry could fall
in love with her. He was convinced
of that. Because she knew how to
be casual. Even if he didn't know
her - yet - she knew how to be herself.
There was a workable solution somewhere.
good-bye. Everyone had to be
cool. Larry had what he wanted,
for the moment. He was alone with
her, for the moment.
like you made a new friend."
think he's my friend?"
he wants to be." Why had he
isn't what he wants."
was waiting. With the smile that
was her natural state. It was
bait. She wanted to play. He was the plaything with a voice that
didn't have any say.
today the day?
another word between them. Because
they both understood the quest.
bedroom that nobody lived in.
bedroom that somebody lived in.
bedroom. A guy and a girl sat on
the edge of a bed. Larry assumed
that he was trying to talk her into something, into that one thing. He wondered if Sean assumed the
opposite. The guy had the look of
wanting something to happen. The
moment before the move. The Museum
of Dating. Mating. The Archeology of Fucking. Man. If escape were that easy. If that's all there was to it.
man, the door was closed."
"Sorry." After all, the door wasn't locked.
in the hallway. The continuity of
you think they're in a bedroom?" she said with a surly sweet smile. One of a thousand kind of smiles.
mean do I think they're fucking?"
I answer that question, I'm boned, and you know it."
Sean, a different kind of smile. A
different kind of knowing. A
sliding scale of smiles. Learning
them approximated intimacy. A way
of knowing her.
passing. The hallway crowd. Wandering. Everyone looking.
Everyone looking like they weren't looking. To see just the right person, in passing. Sucked through dark pockets of
hallway angled away. Looking for
that special room. Where was the
coke room? Weren't those revved-up
bloodshot eyes rolling past? Where
inside were the incrowd drugs?
Sugar glazed happiness.
Somewhere nearby. If only
his radar still worked.
familiar face, a pretty face, looking tan, even in this windowless corner of
the night. He knew her. But who was she?
said you might be here."
said she was looking for you."
what she said?"
was amused, but who was she? Her
hair was red. Had she liked one of
his scripts? Which one? She was an out of context face.
was amused too. It was an amusing
situation. But he knew what
reckoning was waiting for him, deserved or not. Leslie would not be amused. Not when they were finally alone again.
she here with Jack?"
what she said. I saw her
downstairs. But that was a while
ago. This is Alison." She nodded at her companion, another
woman, pretty, wearing complicated clothes - scarf, blouse, polka dots against
stripes, a beaded belt - too much to take in without staring too long. Where had all these clothes come
from? How had the desert gotten so
filled with stuff? "Leslie used to have the office
across the hall from mine," the woman whose name he couldn't remember
random place where bad things happen.
names were forgotten.
don't want to be forgotten.
remembers me, I don't remember her name.
Sherry. Her name was Sherry. Maybe. He felt almost confident enough to give that name a try.
were supposed to meet her here.
It's a long story."
This said with glances and nods to include Sean. But he felt Sean getting annoyed that
she wasn't being introduced. Or
was he projecting what Leslie would have felt? His instincts felt blunted by conditioning. Introductions, contacts seemed more a
part of Leslie's make-up than Sean's, but wasn't Sean here - in the desert -
the girlfriend of - Harry - how accidental was it that her boyfriend was
rich? How clever was her apparent
indifference? All these status
calculations were instantaneous - electric - it was one of those supposedly innocent
moments when everything could go wrong.
this is Sean."
didn't object to being called Sherry.
The name worked.
long have you been here?"
don't know - a couple of hours?"
Sherry looked to Alison for confirmation.
not wearing a watch."
did Meg's house," Sherry said.
"Really? I love that house."
very gifted. Your wife's got a
where is she? Downstairs, you
must be in love." Sherry
stared at his shirt as she said this.
Larry looked down - there was a grease stain where the pocket would have
been if it were a more practical shirt.
Leslie had picked it out. A
stain from the paella. A blot on
the green silk. Evidence of
do you say that?"
you seem so desperate to find her."
white shirt was perfectly clean.
Untouched by dinner, unblemished, uncomplicated.
that's just desperation."
laughed. She thought she was
supposed to laugh.
Sherry repeated, trying to turn the word into something else.
that's not the right word."
he'd turned her against him. An
ally of Leslie's, encountered in suspicious circumstances.
was mute. She was happy to watch.
tried to start over. "Isn't
this is a great party?"
Alison said. At least she didn't
seem to hate him. "Bruce
always throws great parties."
Bruce. Their host had acquired a name.
been to other parties here?"
is our third."
party girls. Can't you tell?"
way she said party girls let him know
that they were anything but.
Maybe. Or should be believe
what she said? What held the most
and Sherry shared a smile. Smiles
were strange things to share.
Happy until you looked too long.
Looking longer, they were things of pain.
that you mention it, yes."
let Larry get the wrong idea."
not party girls every night."
glass slippers are cracked."
age, he almost said. The danger of
flirting was speaking without thinking, getting caught up in the irresistible
was lying when I said I was desperate."
I that obvious?"
was waiting for him at the end of the evening, whatever that bad thing might
be, he wasn't doing too badly now.
The trick was learning to forget that was ahead - after the fun part -
at the end of the night.
Leslie. Death. What came after fucking. The relationship, so-called.
got a house in La Quinta. It was
was Alison telling him this? Was
she sending a signal? Another
alternative to consider. Could he
love a woman who owned a house in La Quinta? This was a perfect opportunity to make Sean jealous. An absurd notion. But it seemed like Alison liked
him. Because she was a
cipher? Because he was a cipher?
waiting for the market to turn around.
But until I sell it, there's always Bruce's parties."
does this every week?"
likes party girls."
smiles. From all the girls.
like to meet this Bruce," Sean said.
haven't seen him around tonight."
he's with Leslie."
Leslie was with someone else."
might be in Vegas. That's his
other home. One of his other
he's just waiting for the market to turn around."
did have a thing for him. He was beginning to be convinced.
mean he throws these parties even when he's not here?" Sean asked. He'd never seen her so impressed.
likes to keep people in the habit of coming."
it get kind of old?"
if you don't come very often."
be a party girl every week."
you can try."
laughed again. All three ladies.
was something other than cleverness that was eating at him. The suspicion that he was wasting words
again. But just because he stopped
saying them didn't mean that he would start writing them down. It wasn't just words, even clever
words, dialogue words, like these - it was the right structure for the words,
the story that everyone wanted to hear, a journey that other people wanted to
take. The democracy of a
typewriter - a computer - a guitar.
Heroic solitude. Solitude
that might prove profitable - art with the sense of commercial promise. The problem with enjoying the moment was
that he kept remembering his life, what he had to go back to tomorrow, what he
didn't have to go back to. That
was something to tell them about.
If anyone was asking.
You let me violate you, you let me penetrate
violent music was seeping at him.
The music told him he could do anything. It was a lie he kept trying to believe. They'd been standing in the hallway a
Alison's eyes were on him. Sean's eyes were on him. The conversation was back to him. "Pardon me?"
said, you don't seem in much of a hurry anymore."
said you were."
was trying to save my marriage."
laughter. It was all so close to
pain. The truth was so
flabbergasting. It suited the
harsh dance music.
I want to fuck you from the inside, my whole
existence is flawed, you get me closer to god.
anyone was listening. If no one
was dancing, was it still dance music?
If no one was listening, was it still music? Were they interested in any of these questions? It seemed an uncertain way of getting
kissed. There was so much to
assume, he assumed.
you've given up on finding Leslie?"
head's been turned." He
looked at Alison - balanced by a glance to Sean - then Sherry. Democratic. No exclusion.
When would the bubble burst?
a married man."
women are attracted to married men."
might regret it."
regrets everything," Sean said.
you know all his secrets?"
isn't that secret."
are so uncomplicated."
mind me. I'll step aside so you
ladies can talk."
Larry, this is fun."
long have you two known each other?"
both house guests."
sound very interesting."
one way to spend the weekend."
was standing with three women. Two
were romantic possibilities. It
was hopeless. He would never kiss Alison.
He would only kiss Sean,
nothing more. When he wanted so much
more than a kiss.
we should go."
having a good time."
was exasperated. There was no
place he could go that he wanted to be.
Sean had the car keys. It
was important not to pout.
going to get another glass of wine."
care to join me?"
takers. Why had he lost? What had he done wrong? He would be happy with an explanation.
he had an explanation.
he would want something else.
away, back down the angled hallway, decisively, for their benefit.
he was alone.
to his native state.
at a party. One footstep after
another. Who was watching
him. Who wasn't. Who he was watching. Who he wasn't.
crack of a pool ball. Cigar
smoke. Reinventing the wheel. Rick and everyone like him. Larry's eyes locked on his destination
- the staircase down - he went past the pool room door without looking at what
he didn't want to see.
he stared at the heads that would become faces. Alone.
Self-contained. There was
no easy way to talk to anyone new.
He dreaded seeing anyone familiar, a face that knew his face.
was a marvel that his footsteps worked, that he could get down the staircase
without gravity doing its worst.
had been at this party forever. He
would never leave. In hell the
wine was free. In hell the wine
was cheap. There was no girl he
wanted. There was no girl he could
get. No one saw him. He was dead. Turn me on, dead man.
He was a ghost. If he
turned around, he was sure he would see Sean leaving with Rick. He patted his pants pocket - he was
without his wallet - panic slivered across his chest - neural dread - he was
even less than he thought he was - no money - was his wallet stolen or forgotten
- it would be a struggle to just get back to Jack's locked door.
crowds parted - he squeezed between who he needed to squeeze between - he felt
a woman's butt against his own in passing - a nakedness unremarked - an easy
path to the wine.
the counter - not looking at anyone - hoping no one was looking at him - he
drank a quick glass - the wine was warm in his throat, coating his
stomach. It wasn't courage, but it
would do. He drained one glass,
poured himself another, and walked out of the kitchen, as if he had someplace
were faces everywhere. He only
wanted to look at the women. He
didn't look at anyone. Any habit
was a bad habit. He wanted to sit
down, but he couldn't sit down. He
had to have a place to go.
night. There was nothing left but
was a pool outside.
was always a pool outside.
French doors were open. The
swimming pool was the centerpiece of an ahistorical Greco-Roman fantasy. Mussolini's dream of a beach house in
Morocco, if the Fascists had won the war.
There were unseasonable green Christmas lights on the faux stone
balustrade. The city was stretched
below. Like a patient etherized
upon a table. More clusters of
party people. Quieter ones
here. Some couples
kissing. Other couples close to
kissing. Or wanting to. But acting like they didn't want to.
walked over to the balustrade, where he could seem contemplative looking out at
the night. It was important that
he gave the appearance of wanting to be alone. He must never go to another party like this. He must remember how this felt. Ridiculous. Ridiculed.
green light. The one on the
dock. That was the light he had
been trying to remember, earlier.
Their absent host, did he have similar romantic aspirations? He touched one of the green bulbs. Warm but not hot. A glass nipple between his
fingers. The light was burning
into his eyes. He was seeing red
spots, after-images. He was
out at the desert lights he was bored out of his mind. It was a sight that he didn't want to
see again. If he had real
discipline, if he had been granted a different state of selfhood, then he would
do something other than what he was doing, hanging around, hanging on.
he felt two hands on his back, startling him, stereo sensation.
"Hi." Not Sean's voice.
was looking all over for you."
don't have much time."
saw the way you were looking at me."
She stepped closer. There
was no denying it. There was no
denying anything. If only he was
relaxed. It was such a problem,
getting what you wanted.
kissed. It always surprised him,
how warm lips could be. What about
Leslie? What about Sean? What about witnesses?
you do this often?"
"Never. What about you?"
a garden down those steps."
that he had never seen before.
Alison swayed against him.
She wasn't shy. About
anything. It was the surprise he
had always been waiting for. She
was smiling yes in the green twinkle lights.
dreams. Daydreams at night He'd
had enough dreams. He needed one
that worked. He opened his eyes. The spinning slowed but didn't
stop. He pressed his erection
against the balustrade. The
pressure felt okay, better than nothing.
feet away, a woman leaned against the balustrade looking down at the
valley. She was close enough to
speak to. Was she waiting for him
to speak? He didn't know what to
say. The small talk had been going
so well this weekend. Where had it
gone? He glanced at her. Long red hair. Prettier than Alison. The longer he waited the worse he felt.
Sean. Really Sean.
redhead turned to meet his eyes.
He was real now that another woman was interested. It put him on the map.
been looking for you."
what the phantom had to say. Ghost
ready to go home."
to Jack's. Are you?"
through the night, one careless step after another, walking thoughtlessly,
outside, following Sean to the BMW, it occurred to him that he hadn't said
good-bye to Alison, that he would probably never see her again. But the party was behind him, another
typical aberration. Sean was quiet. It was only dead air space if he
thought of it as dead. She was
walking ahead of him. Her hips
were swaying. In what was left of
his field of vision, she held the immaterial, irrational, pathetic promise of
eternal life. He kept having the
same thought, one thought, a circular disorganized thought. And if he died, between footsteps,
between heartbeats, between blinks, what then? He was lost.
No, the patient wasn't etherized upon the table. The Waste Land was what he was after,
the desert after dark. Not the bit
about the hollow men, but an emptiness that wasn't empty. Sean led him down the street, the curbs
lined with cars of all colors and nations, a melting pot of cold metal. He felt dreadful. He wanted to analyze the dread, to try
and understand what he was feeling, but that one disorganized thought, the big
thought, kept slipping away.
very quiet," she said.
do you want me to say?"
you're feeling. What are you
up," he said.
not fucked up."
just think you're fucked up."
you think you're fucked up then you are fucked up."
all you have to do is stop thinking."
laughed. He had to laugh. "Yeah. That's all you have to do."
air was cold. The car was
waiting. Sean was just the girl to
drive him home. She believed in
simple solutions. At least she
said that she believed in simple solutions.
thy name is Leslie. She was easy
to blame. She wasn't there.
home, Sean didn't play any music.
He found the shoulder harness unbearably irritating. He thought that he smelled perfume, but
he couldn't be sure. His feet felt
cramped inside his shoes; he wiggled his toes. He dug his fingernails into the leather seat - it felt good
to scratch something other than himself.
Outside his window were houses, cars, rocks, mountains, dark sky, palm
trees. Outside was a plotless
desert movie. He was watching a
movie that was accidental scenery.
His whole life was street corners, driveways, sidewalks, places without
drama, unpeopled spaces. If he
thought of one thing, from anytime in his life, it was this same kind of
accidental scenery. The one big
thought, his one big thought, the disorganized thought, was that it was all the
same, that the oneness of the particular universe that he had chosen was not
pantheistic but claustrophobic, trapping him in both space and time, a movie
that was a loop, variations on the same scenery always rolling past, writing
different screenplays that were all variations on the same screenplay, poetic
phrases that never broke through into poetry, dialogue that was never
spoken. It was almost too
dignified to call it the waste land.
His marriage was the same sort of ghost movie, a relationship that was
accidental scenery, tension without resolution, holding on without touching,
afraid to let go, binary stars in spastic orbit, victims of gravity. It was inconceivable that things could
go on in this indeterminate, inconclusive way, indefinitely. But they could. And they had. The streets went on forever. This time the tires led back to Jack's house. He could get out of the car. He could always get out of the
car. He had to remember that was
an option. Reinvent the wheel.
BMW glided to a stop. This time
Jack's black Range Rover was parked in the driveway.
killed the engine. The amber dash
lights were extinguished. They sat
in the car. Larry didn't feel like
moving. Leslie would be unhappy -
not simply unhappy, but unhappy with him.
Sean didn't move either. He
looked at her. She looked
back. He decided that she looked
ironic, with a half-smile that lived a half-life upon her lips. If she was waiting for him to kiss her,
it wasn't working - he'd had enough of kissing, the promise of things that were
not to come. He'd seen that movie
before. He waited for her to ask what
are you waiting for. But she didn't ask. Their silence might be construed as
conspiracy, complicity, if someone, or something, such as a movie camera or a
surveillance video, was watching them.
But this silence was something else. This silence was nothing. It was everything that he wanted but couldn't have. Humans were such strange creatures. She wasn't beautiful - she was odd -
because they were all odd.
out of the car was a struggle to regain lost footing.
had a key, which surprised him, until he thought about it. Why wouldn't she have a key? The obvious was all around him. He didn't feel sharp, but that wasn't
because of the wine. What he felt
was another kind of dullness.
stood outside in the dark. The sun
was a long way off. Visiting the
desert was all about avoiding the sun.
there was no point standing outside.
He didn't enjoy being outside.
the foyer. Where you say goodnight
or move on to the next thing, whatever you decide to do if you don't say
dessert items, all that sugar purchased but never consumed, felt like part of
another night, a long time ago. He
remembered feeling hopeful back then.
had a nice time. As those times
those times go." He had
gotten in the habit of repeating the last thing that she said, the she being
Sean, or in other circumstances, Leslie.
Repeating the words but shifting the tone to something else, something that
he could lay claim to, a tone of distance, ironic distance.
they were back to that.
should go check on Harry."
should go check on Leslie."
It sounded wrong the second he said it - Leslie didn't need any checking
on. He was hanging on. Nothing was happening. He was inured to nothing happening, but
with Sean, standing here, there was tension to the stasis, dynamic tension. With another person, of the opposite
sex, there was always the possibility that something might happen. Like a movie might happen, all the
right people might say yes and he might finally be on his way. Was this a conclusion of a date? When
was the moment to kiss her? Was
there that moment? All the eras of
his life were jumbled in this instant where he had to decide what to do
you in the morning."
was too late to do anything. It
was always too late. It had been
too late for a very long time. Too
had to be faced. Please let her be
asleep. Dessert wouldn't
help. Nothing would help. Sean would have helped. But she hadn't helped. His legs were starting to ache from
standing still. There was an ivory
Buddha on the lacquered teak table.
Above the table was a mirror, but from where he was standing he couldn't
see his reflection. He always
seemed to be standing in the wrong place.
torchiers in the living room were dimmed to a yellow glow. Enough light to be inviting. With Sean gone there was the stillness
of nothing happening. Three empty
white couches. How late was
it? He remembered a deco clock on
the white brick mantle. It was too
dark to read the numbers from where he stood. He had never felt more alone. The blue pool lights flickered over a dark shape. A human form, exaggerated, two shapes
together as one shape. Before he
knew what he was seeing he knew what he was seeing: the crescent of Leslie's face, eclipsed by Jack's
head, a statuesque kiss, and not in a secluded corner.
assault of the image left him breathless.
His heart beat chaotically, blood loud in his ears.
and Jack were kissing.
was watching them kiss.
was what he expected. But he was
outraged. Primitive things were
beating at him. He felt perversely
grateful for the drama. It filled
him with something other than emptiness.
If someone else desired his wife, if a desirable man desired his wife,
then at least she was desirable, at least he hadn't made a mistake about that. But what good was feeling bad?
was an opportunity to act outraged.
But he was afraid. Of the
consequences of confrontation. He
was afraid to be where he was standing.
He didn't want them to see him until he had decided that to do with this
new, secret knowledge. It was more
potential conflict than he could handle at the moment. He didn't like being left out. Jack had everything else, why not his
wife? Problem was, Larry felt so
ambivalent about Leslie. Maybe the
moment of freedom was near, maybe without her he could finally become something
else, a successful version of himself.
Maybe without her he could be what she wanted him to be, prove that she had been the impediment all along.
would require some thought. What
were the consequences of the moment of discovery?
stepped back from the window.
factor in Sean - hadn't he wanted her, kissed her? He was willing to compromise himself with her - if she had
let him. But she hadn't. He didn't want to compromise himself with her, he wanted to fuck her - weren't those two different things? He wanted sex - wasn't desire always
compromised, either the act or the emotional architecture surrounding it?
he had an alternate way of telling the story of tonight - a conspiracy - a
pitiable low-concept Oliver Stone film: that Sean had conspired with Jack -
been paid - somehow - to keep him occupied, separated from Leslie. Larry had done his part. His desires were both predictable and
thwarted. But: could he do
endless kiss ended.
kiss became a hug.
would become something else.
was always becoming something else.
rested her head against Jack's shoulder.
looked at Larry.
felt caught. That he was
trespassing. She was challenging
him with her stare. Did he
dare? The point was what she was doing.
Wasn't that the point?
he had the eerie sensation that he wasn't there, that she wasn't seeing him,
that she was just taking a breather between kisses. If he wanted to be seen, then he would have to step
forward. Maybe she didn't see
him. Even if she didn't, he felt
her contempt, in what she was doing, without him.
lifted her head, ready for another kiss, and her face slipped behind Jack's,
like a moon behind clouds.
stepped backwards, bumped into the coffee table. The carpet surged to his face, tickled his nose. He was standing and then he was on the
floor and there was no discernible moment between. His brain was receiving no signals of pain from the outposts
of fingers and toes. Everything
seemed in order except that he was standing in the wrong place, namely, he
wasn't standing. As he stood back
up, there was a stripe of pain across his left shin where he had collided with
the thick glass table. He was
feeling a thousand things and he was feeling nothing. He felt trapped and released. There was nothing he wanted to watch. But what he imagined was worse. There was nothing he wanted to
imagine. Any surprise was a bad
surprise. He wanted to find a
place to live, other than his head, a new place besides, outside, of his
head. How drunk could he get? On the goddamned Springbrook. Would that be drunk enough? It didn't matter where he went now,
what he did. If he went outside,
that wasn't big enough.
thinking, he was walking, retreating, the walls surging past him in vacant
browns. Without sound, in a world
of reduced sensation.
to the bedroom.
breathed and stared, breathed and stared, sat on the edge of the beige
bedspread, stood back up. The room
was too small, the world was too small, right now there was nothing new that he
wanted to do. He saw his green
shoulder bag on the floor next to Leslie's black overnight bag. He was too angry to do anything. He was too angry to sit still. They and their luggage would go their
separate ways. On the dresser sat
his computer, dormant. Maybe he
would write down what he was feeling bad about. If he could only move.
have you been?" she said.
Even before hello. Instead
have you been?"
went to the party."
guess we missed each other," she said.
you miss me?"
I don't. I really don't."
too tired to play games." She
took off her earrings, bronze with a maze pattern, the ones he had given her
for her birthday, after she'd asked for them by Neiman's catalog number.
you don't seem tired."
opened one of the dresser drawers, closed it in annoyance, tried another
drawer. "I don't appreciate
you unpacking my things."
"I don't appreciate having to look at all your crap."
pulled her nightgown out of the drawer.
where did you go with Sean?"
told you, we went to the party."
mean where did you go after the restaurant?"
went to the store and got stuff for dessert."
looked like she didn't believe him.
in the kitchen, see for yourself."
believe you," she said disbelievingly.
admired the way she so skillfully shifted blame to him. "What about you? What's your excuse?"
excuse for what?"
took a step toward the bathroom, stopped, started unbuttoning her blouse. Her urge for privacy was replaced by a
need to show her indifference.
told you I'm too tired to play games."
didn't see you when I got home."
it was getting delicate. This was
could have looked for me."
she been watching him? He could
say that he saw her with Jack, but he wanted her to confess, or, barring
confession, to add a new lie to her recent deceit. He wanted her cooperation in lowering his opinion of her.
looked for you at the party."
unbuttoned her blouse. She wasn't
wearing a bra. Hadn't she worn a
bra in the restaurant? He was no longer
sure. He hadn't paid enough
attention to her breasts this evening to be sure. Her nakedness, however temporary, was tempting. He tried not to think about it.
by the pool." She pulled on
her nightgown. It was a demure white,
lacy but not frilly. It was the
most old-fashioned thing that she owned.
It made her look like a reluctant virgin. He didn't want to desire her anymore - desire was too
she seen him? Had she had she had
was talking to Jack."
answer was a victory only if he took the trouble to define victory in some
favorable manner. But isn't that
what victors did? He had an
opportunity now to be king of this borrowed bedroom.
like talking to Jack. He knows how
what he's famous for."
you ever get tired of being sarcastic?"
get tired of everything. I am
tired of everything."
not do this tonight."
unbuttoned and unzipped her slacks.
As she pulled down her pants, her nightgown dropped like a curtain to
keep him from seeing what she didn't want him to see.
play innocent. You know what
you had a nice night?"
nice. Until now."
got under the covers. From where
he sat on the bed, he could no longer see her, but he felt the pull of the
bedspread underneath him. Her
bedside lamp clicked on.
other time. I'm tired."
could talk. We could go out by the
pool and talk."
already done that."
could do it again. You could do it
picked up her thick murder mystery from the nightstand. She opened the book; she preferred
looking at the book to looking at him.
"We can talk right here."
not the same thing."
you don't really want to talk. You
just want to torment me."
studied with the master."
looked up from her book. "Do
you have something you want to say?"
strategy of concealment was unraveling.
Why wait? He had seen her
kissing Jack. She had lied about
kissing Jack. He was impatient to
do something with the pain. He
scooted back on the bedspread, leaned against the headboard, side by side with
Leslie. She was under the covers;
he wasn't. He was married to her,
but it didn't feel accurate to call her his wife.
said I saw you."
saw me where?"
saw you by the pool."
you. I'm tired of playing
lied. I saw you with Jack."
put her book down. "We
kissed. Big deal. We were drunk and we kissed. We didn't fuck."
is a prelude to fucking."
done your share of kissing this weekend."
was caught. Or was she
guessing? "What's that
supposed to mean?"
could be lying. Again. What was the point? Conspiracy theory. Was he the victim of court
intrigue? Did Jack want Leslie
that badly? Or was it simply that
Jack always had to win?
so annoying, the way that you always ask what."
told Jack what?"
you were kissing her. Would you
like to sleep in another bedroom?
With someone else?"
an absurd question." Sean was
sleeping with Harry - wasn't she?
And even if she wasn't sleeping with Harry, that didn't mean she'd sleep
with him. "Are you looking for permission? To sleep with Jack?"
don't need permission for anything. You're getting me angry."
insanely, she'd won again.
smoothly moved to the next level of manipulation. He was aware of that much. How had she done it?
At what point had it started going wrong? If his life depended on it, he couldn't reconstruct this
I'd like to do is read my book. Before I go to sleep." She picked it up again. He turned away from her and stared at
the brown wall. There was an
abstract painting that he hadn't noticed before. Because it wasn't worth noticing - bands of bland color. If he was brain dead, he might find it
soothing. He heard Leslie turn a
page. He was feeling dead. Maybe she had an easier time of it,
maybe feeling dead came naturally to her.
Were they supposed to put on appearances, when everyone knew everything,
when he seemed to be the sole victim of secrets? There was no chance of going to sleep. His muscles were taut with the drama of
their silence. She was only on the
soundtrack of the blank movie screen that was the bedroom wall. Motionless, waiting to hear her turn
the next page, he was a thousand miles from sleep.
woke, a bad taste in his mouth - stale garlic - paella breath. Still wearing his silk shirt and
slacks, he felt sleep-twisted and confined. He pulled his shirt out of his pants. Every motion cost something. In this dark hour, with no table clock
to define where he was in the night, his body was an unfriendly host. He reached across the bed to verify
Leslie's absence by touch. He
slipped a hand under the sheets - they were cold - no trace of her body
stumbled until he found the light switch and squinted at the bathroom light's
painful flare on mirrors, tiles, polished metal. His hands fumbled with the familiar task of toothpaste,
toothbrush, faucet. As he brushed
- it had to be done - he looked at himself in the mirror.
smaller, shrinking, shrunk.
eyes were asking a question he couldn't answer.
rinsed the toothpaste out his mouth.
The cold tap water hurt his teeth.
was bright again.
bird twittered absurdly in the happier outdoors.
was back. Her back was to
him. She was sleeping. Deeply. It seemed. She
might not be sleeping at all.
his pillow the world felt tilted.
wanted to scream.
knew that he would not scream. He
knew that much about himself.
Harry, and Sean sat on the patio at a frosted glass table with oxidized green
metal legs. There were boxes of
cereal, a carafe of coffee, lox, bagels, cream cheese, a glass pitcher of
orange juice, bananas, apples, oranges, southwestern-themed Dansk on turquoise
place mats, with matching napkins.
The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were spread
across the table.
from both the guys. Sean smiled,
but didn't speak. She was wearing
the white shirt again, the only thing she ever wore. Wasn't she speaking to him this morning?
everyone," Jack said.
Leslie. Larry wanted to hit him in
the face. But he'd never hit
anyone in the face. In his experience
it wasn't something someone did at breakfast. He would get through the day somehow and then his life would
be something else. It was finally
time for his life to be something else.
He'd made that promise before.
Maybe this time he meant it.
He poured himself some coffee.
coffee's not decaf."
for the warning."
and bagels to begin with. He was
surprised that he had an appetite.
"How did you
sleep?" Sean asked.
she was speaking to him. "I
had a nightmare."
love nightmares. Tell me."
dreamed I was sleeping in a house in the desert. I woke up and I was all alone. And then the nightmare ended." Sean was waiting for more. Harry was reading the business
section. Jack was smiling -
complexly - deceptively, it seemed.
don't get it," Sean said.
get what?" Leslie asked, as she stepped onto the patio.
had a nightmare." Jack smiled
always having nightmares."
Leslie smiled back.
were all smiles for each other. It
was pathetic if you knew what was going on. Maybe everyone did know what was going on. Leslie was wearing a sheer white blouse
and jeans, a dressier version of Sean.
The blouse draped down in twin tents from her nipples. It bothered him that she looked so good. He felt like the odd man out. Breakfast in hell.
hate being the last one up."
it's a vacation. All things are
sat down in the last vacant chair, beside Larry. They didn't look at each other. He wondered what would be in her eyes when he did. He was afraid to feel things. He knew that he was afraid to feel
we all are."
day was a big thing. Seen from
this early hour, it might last forever.
had a plain bagel. Sean slathered
cream cheese on to hers. Youthful
metabolism was on her side - it was a competition. Every bite Leslie took irritated Larry - polite, mincing,
crumbless. It was obscene, the way
that she sustained herself.
was feudal, germ-free, self-assured.
"Did you sleep well?" he asked.
well," Leslie answered.
"I don't like sleeping this late."
you eat fast, you can catch up."
up to what?"
who got up early."
not a race."
that's where you're wrong.
Everything is a race, ya know?"
you're the one who said it's a vacation."
vacation's a race against time.
Hurry up and have fun, ya know?" Jack laughed.
He was teasing Leslie.
felt angry and foggy. The coffee
wasn't doing any good. It was too
bright. He should have brought his
sunglasses to breakfast. He felt
stoned - not the giddy good part, but the long draggy afterwards - he hadn't
smoked yesterday - but the day before - Friday night - a long time ago - he had
felt more married back then. He
kept drinking coffee - the fogginess was changing into edgy caffeine
anger. He wasn't speaking, but no
one seemed to notice.
put down the Los Angeles Times business section, looking pleased by
something he'd read. Maybe he'd
made more money in his sleep.
"I feel like taking a nap." Harry yawned and picked up the New York Times
"Already?" Sean hooked her arm through
Harry's. Her cuddliness panged at
slept too much yesterday. It makes
me tired the next day, whenever I do that."
some more coffee."
doesn't affect me."
didn't want to hear any more about his breakfast-mates. Yes, he supposed, facts could help him
as a writer, he could store them away and use them somewhere, somehow, in some
future work. But he was tired of
storing facts, moments, details - the archive felt useless - and he was
burdened with the anxiety of always working, being attuned to what was around
him so that he could possibly transmute that observed experience into something
else. Everything wasn't about
writing. In fact, very little
was. The point was: what was the
clear sunlight reflected in diamond echoes off the pool. Certain flickers were pleasing, others
not. As soon as Larry saw a
reflection he liked, it was gone.
The water was not inviting.
we still going for a desert drive?" Leslie asked.
if you like."
like," Leslie said.
love the desert," Sean said.
feel so lazy," Harry said.
don't have to drive."
"Lazy?" Sean cuddled closer, leaning over her
chair, into Harry's.
this the desert?" Larry asked.
but it's not the wilderness. Where
we're going there's nothing."
Mecca. About an hour away."
"Mecca. Mecca, California."
"We have to
drive an hour to get to nothing?" Harry asked.
don't have to come."
the breakfast tableaux from the head of the table, Jack had a proprietary
prepared another bagel, generous with the cream cheese and lox. Leslie looked unhappy with his
indulgence. He smiled at her. He almost looked like a loving
husband. "You're not too
tired to go out to the desert - I mean, the wilderness?" he asked her.
"No." He was pleased by how annoyed she
was. "Why would I be
was a busy night. Very busy."
wasn't that busy." She glared
at him. Could only he see that she
was glaring? Was such observation
a matter of training?
but it was."
leaned close to Larry, mimicking intimacy. "What's your problem?" she hissed.
looked in her eyes. He felt cold
and hot. He lost track of what the
temperature was. He felt numb but
it hurt. "Do you really want
thought about it.
got up from the table. "I'm
going to go get ready."
rush, I just want to get ready."
watched Leslie go.
watched Jack watch Leslie go.
looked good. That was the sick
part. No. The sick part was how civilized this fucking breakfast was. When in the march of human evolution or
his particular socialization had he been weaned of violent response because
Jack really did deserve to die.
started reading the New York Times Magazine. Sean sipped orange juice and watched Larry. She smiled, knowingly, but what did she
know? He felt an erection -
surprising, unbidden. It was all
so fucking hopeless. He picked up
the New York Times Entertainment Section. Skipping the lead article on the new staging of Woyzzeck, he
opened the section and was assaulted by a half-page ad for a new film of
Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," produced by the Smalls, the idiotic
animal-rights producers. Should he
read more ads, gather more information on those doing better than he was? He didn't have his name in an ad in the
Sunday Times - he had lox and bagel at an asshole's house in the desert. Was there such a thing as The Last
Breakfast? Would Judas pass the
think we should go, before it gets too late. Before it gets too hot."
already is too late. Let's not
"No. It's time to go."
had he heard that before, Larry wondered.
just being lazy. Come on."
stood up and surveyed his ranch-style realm. "It's time to go."
up, please. It's time to go. Of
course. The Waste Land.
up, please. It's time to go,"
Larry repeated. Jack looked
puzzled. "It's from a poem."
public domain, so I'd rather not say." Jack looked worried that he was missing out on something -
not poetry, but a commercial prospect.
The effect was pleasing.
had survived another meal.
stepped into the sunlight, the shuffling first step of the journey, the black
driveway hot beneath his Nikes.
The black Range Rover looked ungainly and sinister to him.
seating arrangements in the car were supposedly casual, but they followed a
social Darwinism that had to be on someone's mind.
got in the driver's seat. It was
his car, there was no question of that.
had been trickier. Leslie wanted
to be in the front seat, it would pair her with Jack, but somehow that was too
obvious. The queen was reluctant
to claim her black leather throne in this blatant daylight. Harry, the best friend, with the
equality of wealth, was the logical candidate to occupy the shotgun seat.
Larry grabbed the opportunity, the kind of grabbing that he should have been
doing for a very long time. Not
that he had any desire to sit next to Jack, much less talk to him. But he wanted to be away from Leslie,
and he didn't want her sitting next to Jack. He imagined Leslie's peeved eyes boring at him, but let her
bore, the more boring the better.
If he could be nothing else, he could be as much trouble as possible.
in the car sitting in the driveway, he had aspirations to be an insect, to
accept a limited life span. The
sun was the great leveler - clear and endless - they were all under it. His seat secure, the black leather hot
against the skin not protected by his khaki shorts - let the back seat sort
itself out - Leslie behind Jack, Sean in the middle, Harry behind Larry. He didn't want to be in the car, but by
the virtue of whatever momentum, he was in the car, somehow that was what he
had decided to do. Still, he could
keep from getting sucked under. If
the people were fucked up, there was still the world outside the window.
again. A new destination.
do some of my best thinking out here, ya know? I'm taking you to my secret spot." Jack adjusted his rearview mirror to
look at Harry. "Can't you
course I can wait, but as long as I'm sitting here I might as well roll a
get any seeds in the carpet. I
could get busted for seeds."
Captain Jack, this is sinsemilla.
Believe it or not," Harry said to the car in general, "but
there was time, a long time ago, when Jack was actually cool."
am cool, ya know?"
you're really cool you don't worry about being cool."
not worried about it."
are friends for."
car window was cold to the touch, with the surface chill of AC. Holding his finger to the tinted glass,
Larry felt warmth from the air outside.
Larry looked out the window at the road movie that he was in.
sign glided past - Entering Thermal -
old stucco buildings with a funky texture that he found appealing in passing,
scruffy brown children, dented trailers - the town was gone - replaced by
orderly rows of date palms, strobing as he looked at them - unreal, all of it,
on the other side of the glass, a movie that was this second of his life, and
Leslie, the living flashback, somewhere behind his head, out of sight,
stared out the side window at the world.
was a sign for Mecca with a left-pointing arrow.
nearly missed it. The town was out
the other window - a convenience store, a patch of grass, a dozen or so cinder
block homes, fields of grapes, then walls of orange trees, hiding the horizon.
would ever live out here?"
who work out here."
of it under the sun, going by fast.
car shot up an overpass and a concrete aqueduct passed below them, a long
channel of water seen in a blink.
When the Range Rover bumped down on the other side, everything was brown
- tan - chocolate - yellow - earth tones - dry. The mineral kingdom.
sped past a couple of rusting station wagons and trailers that didn't look like
they would ever move again. A man
sat sleeping under a tattered blue plastic awning.
Jack explained. He turned onto a
side road and accelerated. Through
his window Larry saw austere, unearthly foothills.
did you find this place?" Leslie asked.
for a science fiction movie."
never got made. The writer wanted
to direct and it wasn't going to work."
"Nah. I got my fee and I found out about some
great places. Everyone buckled
was supposed to be the good part.
there was no poetry left. It
didn't matter what he saw.
veered off the road, bumping brutally, following a dry creek bed.
went to driving school."
is child's play. I'm taking it easy
grabbed the overhead strap and glanced back at the back seat.
be a ninny, Harry."
be a jackass. Slow down."
was smiling, digging it. Leslie
was tightlipped. There were
stunted scrubs, no cactus, nothing that Larry recognized, other than dirt and
sky. There was a purity, even
though he was in Jack's movie.
Details. In his mirror he
saw the cloud of dust behind them.
Ahead, a frightened jack rabbit fled.
is what it's all about."
"Survival. Primacy of the species."
driving like a jerk."
you go too slow you get stuck in the sand. Do a number.
car slowed as it followed the curves of the creek bed.
Leslie said. It paid for her to
love wherever Jack took her.
heard the click of a lighter and soon he smelled toxic sweetness, intoxicating
fumes. Harry's hand came into
view, holding a smoking joint. He
was tempted - that was one way to go - but today was already too strange - the
thought of looking at his estranged wife through a drug haze qualified as a bad
trip - for the moment he wanted to keep whatever wits he had left intact. "No, thanks." The hand withdrew. His mood was gliding over the bumps -
his mood was the bumps, softened by the
car's expensive suspension.
if we get lost?" Sean asked.
won't get lost."
wouldn't mind getting lost, for a little while."
were streaks in the hills up ahead - red - maroon - purple - his mood was
soaring - he felt fragments of dozens of things - each thought was a universe
that appeared, disappeared, radiated and was forgotten - he was on a spaceship,
he was in a car, he was in the future, he was in a western, if didn't matter
where he went, he was nowhere, he was nothing, he was forgotten, he was god, he
could kill everyone, he could get killed.
The broken rhythm of tires over rocks suited the fragments of what he
was, second by second. Was Leslie
getting stoned? What was her mood
- why did he even still care about her mood?
car came to a stop. The dust cloud
caught up with the car. The
stillness felt strange.
all in one piece."
let that pass."
got out of the car. The warm air
felt good. It was so quiet. The softest wind. No birds. He stepped away from the black car. He heard the pings of the cooling
metal, the trailing voices of his temporary companions. He was free to walk away, to break the
invisible tethers. He turned
around, to see what was tethering him.
was looking his way, stretching, smoking.
climbed out after him, took the joint from his fingers, took her own deep pull,
handed back the joint, and holding in the smoke, walked over the rise. Untethered.
was chatting with Jack, in a low voice that didn't carry. Were they saying words that meant
something big, words that he should hear?
He had to let go of what was gone, think ahead to what was next. Sean was gone.
climbed up the rise. At the crest,
a bowl-like canyon stretched out before him. The ground was gray, gnarled, crumbly. Foothills rose behind, like sedentary
waves, a rainbow of receding earth colors. It looked like either the beginning or the end of the
world. It seemed vast. Until he saw Sean. She wasn't that far away. It occurred to him that there was no
sense of scale.
here, he could go wherever he wanted.
Into the desert. Really
into the desert. The wind was all
he could hear. It was so quiet he
could hear himself. Loudly, like a
throbbing radio that would not stop.
around, he saw Harry climb a neighboring hill, close, but not next to him. He thought about going over to Harry to
ask for a hit, but he didn't want to make that big a point of it - he was
afraid to ask - shy about seeking out some smoke.
walked away from Harry, away from everything, along the lip of hills that
defined one side of the canyon.
Now it was hot. The air
conditioning had worn off. He was
sweating. He wondered how he was
different from the earth - he was in motion - this was his moment to move, his
moment of release from being dirt.
That felt profound - nostalgic - trite. He had to think something worthwhile. He needed something to hang on to.
he could work, even here, be inspired - Vegas was the desert - this was the
desert - the elements transposed - this was the proper place to solve what
needed to be solved.
situation of jeopardy.
the right idea he could defeat Jack, all the Jacks of the world. The pen is mightier than. Whatever. He didn't even need a pen. He could work out the idea, match it to the rhythm of his
trudging feet, feet over sand, sweating uphill, in the wilderness, he was
living the metaphor, it was in his head ready to be pulled into a story. He remembered how good writing could
feel - for a few scattered moments - until he re-read what he had done - and
then it was either bad and he felt betrayed by his own stupidity, by the hard
evidence of his lack of genius - or it was good and then he feared that he
could not sustain whatever was good about what he had done, it was an accident,
a product of a fickle muse - and the more he thought the more tangled he became
in trying to imitate what was good, losing the unconscious, unforced rhythms of
good writing. He was trapped in
the Vegas Story.
The story wouldn't go
anywhere. Why why why?
with a hotel room.
with a hotel room.
expect anything to happen.
was drifting away. Nothing was
happening in the hotel room that he was imagining. Here he was, in the sun - without sun block - he had
forgotten - a few burning hours, would that kill him? There was no story - he was alone - he felt angry - about
what wasn't there - about Leslie.
saw sand, dirt, earth.
felt very tired.
was a long way off.
stopped climbing and stood on the incline - where had Sean gone?
was no one. Just the earth, the heat,
hotter than his blood.
was very empty.
was clear. Nothing was
hidden. The sky was too blue. When had it gotten so clear, somewhere
between the car and here, but where?
sat down. The earth crumbled
beneath him, the dirt underneath lighter than the dark crust on top. Sand trickled into his shorts. As long as he didn't move, it didn't
heard a jet. He looked up, but
didn't see anything except empty blue sky, no clouds. He didn't want to think about Leslie - Jack and Leslie - he
forbid himself to think about them - but - he imagined them fucking, he
couldn't stop from imagining them fucking.
Vegas Story. All those dead
stories - supposed to be movies, but never movies. The story wasn't in a hotel room in his mind, the story was
in a bedroom or two back in Palm Desert.
A horror story. The details
were beyond him. He was
impatient. It was getting
worse. Looking closer, the ground
nearby was alive with ants.
Something larger than a bee buzzed erratically nearby. An orange and black insect with more
than one stinger - two insects mating?
Would the bug's erratic path lead to him, to a sting? He felt under siege. The wind had died. Breathing was hard work. He was so empty he couldn't even scream. That was too much work.
stood up, shook the sand out of his shorts. A big black ant scrambled up his leg. Panicked, he flicked it off, feeling
violated. He went back down the
hill in sloppy skidding steps, leaving tracks in the soft dirt, filling his
shoes with sand, skiing down the hill, enjoying the drop down to the gray
bottom of the canyon. It was
probably time to think about what to do next. He found a rock to sit down on, untied his shoes and poured
out a surprising amount of sand.
Larry." Jack's voice, from
above. "Larry, up here."
looked up and saw the producer above him, waving for him to come up.
want to show you something."
wasn't rescued, but he was no longer alone.
had another chance to play the game.
was simply a matter of climbing back up the hill. After he put his shoes back on.
what would happen back at the top?
He was breathing hard - breathless in the hot dead air. He imagined, without looking up, that
Jack was watching him, that he was on display, that he shouldn't look
tired. Glancing up to check his
upward progress he saw that Jack had stepped out of sight. He slowed, he panted, he trudged, he
sweated, he was thirsty, what were the odds of expiring, what would he do at
was waiting on top, binoculars around his neck, wearing a fanny pack with dual
high-impact water bottles, an REI version of two six-guns. Well-equipped, he looked both superior
surveyed the moonscape with a possessive smile. "This is what it's all about, ya know?"
Nature? What about emptiness, a hostile
environment, death? Larry was
thirsty. He had never been
Jack turned a circle, looking
down at the world. He volunteered
no water. Was he just waiting for
Larry to ask? Did his survival
depend upon asking?
is drama." Jack waved
expansively. "All you need is
a story. The right story."
the other side of the hill was a sheer drop. They were standing on the edge of a cliff.
felt that he had lost it, whatever it was that he had ever had.
word deserved consideration. There
were so few words, when you came down to it.
trying to get started, he thought.
I'm still trying to get started.
skin looked too good to be true.
landscape was poetic. Why bother
to say something, anything about a poetic landscape?
unvelcroed a water bottle and took a sip.
"It's very important to stay hydrated out here." Larry waited for him to offer him some
water. But he didn't.
was a lot left to describe. There
was a world to describe. He didn't
have the energy to describe anything anymore. The world was fine by itself, it didn't need him to
re-describe what was already there.
of the small things had ever added up to something big.
I please have some water?"
reached for the water bottle in Jack's hand, but Jack withdrew it, and
unsnapped the water bottle still mounted on his waist. "One for me, one for my
guests." Jack handed Larry
the second bottle. The transfer
was made without their fingers touching.
So Jack's phobia about shaking hands survived in the wilderness. Personality structure resisted the
water was tepid. But water had
never tasted so good. He could now
enjoy where he was standing, the couple of level feet at the top of their
little brown mountain. Well. He was on the mountain top with Jack,
for a moment or two.
got a thing about germs, don't you?"
was surprised by the question. It
was an aspect of common knowledge that was not commented upon, out of
courtesy. Given the circumstance,
two men in the wilderness, Jack smiled back with forgiveness. "Germs have a thing about
everyone, actually. We live in a
you avoid contact?"
haven't had a cold or a flu in six years."
about sex? That's contact isn't
really. Not with condoms."
what about kissing? You do kiss
women don't you? Maybe you don't
think it's sex, but you do do it, don't you?"
your instincts for conversation are lacking."
weird, gut punch that. Standing
still, the sun burned hotter. The
cocktail party syndrome. Standing
and talking. There was a tropical
smell - coconut - Jack was undoubtedly properly slathered with sun block - he
had all the tools of survival. The
ridge was short and crumbly. The
options were either climbing back down the alluvial slope - or falling down the
lot of guys would kill for the opportunity to get me alone. No phones, no next meeting, a captive
audience. I don't get you."
was getting angry. He didn't want
to tremble with anger, but that was a possibility. "You don't get what?"
haven't you pitched me a story idea?
You're a writer. I know for
a fact that you pitch stories all the time."
do you know that?"
much had she told Jack?
are you holding back? Haven't you
got a story to tell me?"
suspected that Jack was looking for the final humiliation. One step beyond the circumstantial
evidence, the circumstantial humiliation that Jack had slept with his wife last
night. If Larry presented an idea,
an idea that he believed in, and Jack rejected it, then he had asserted a more
complete mastery. Larry drank some
more water. He was thinking. Nothing was simple with Jack.
on. You never know. Give the wheel a spin."
world tilted. Between blinks. He was standing in the same place, but
he was standing someplace else.
"Okay. But this is a dangerous idea. Think you can handle a dangerous
can handle anything." Jack
parked his water bottle back in his fanny pack. As long as he avoided germs, he thought he would live forever.
it was a Hollywood pitch meeting, complete with designer water. Maybe. Larry took another sip. "Is this Evian?"
was pleased. "You can taste
the difference, can't you? Okay,
Lar, I'm impressed, lay it on me."
"Okay. One morning our hero wakes up. Things are pretty much the same. But they're not."
the guys name?"
salesmanship. Always give the hero
a name. It makes the story easier
"Okay. The hero's name is Larry."
funny," Jack said flatly.
"Larry wakes up one morning, and something's different, the
whole world is different. It's no
longer the world, it's the afterlife.
He's living in hell, everyone is living in hell, but only he knows it, so he walks around trying to convince
everyone else - that they are all in hell."
high concept, but I don't like it."
why did you tell it to me?"
don't know. Why did I tell it to
mean, Lar, you couldn't come up with some better story to tell me? You probably don't even know why I
don't like your story."
don't you tell me."
even if it is hell, who wants to know?
You got an okay concept, but you got shit for a plot. There's no rooting interest. By your age, you should know the
what if it's true?"
if what's true?"
if this really is hell?"
gives a shit?"
that worse than germs, Jack? I
mean, what if you're living in hell?"
I'd have to say that hell isn't half-bad."
got a problem, Lar. You make
everything too complicated."
Jack took his personal water bottle back out. He turned away from Larry to survey his new domain. "Carpe Diem. Enjoy the scenery."
the pitch meeting was over. With a
little Latin, no less. Of course,
the only Latin that Jack knew was from a Disney film. Larry was furious that he had been goaded into giving up an
important idea. Maybe this was
hell. If hell was other
people. So if you got rid of the
other people, would it no longer be hell?
There was one way to find out.
Larry looked around, turned his own full circle - the others were
someplace else, out of sight. It
was a big desert. At the end of
his revolution, there was Jack's back, solid, arrogant. There would never be a more perfect
moment. Unless he could see the
expression on Jack's face. But
there was a danger in that - Jack might defend himself - no, it didn't pay to
get greedy with pleasure, he should settle for what he had.
had to do it before he thought too much about it.
pushed Jack, in the small of the back, a hard push, following through, for once
went neatly over the edge. Larry
stepped back. He heard the
impact. It sounded bad. He didn't want to look. He was breathing hard. His heart was wondering. It was like a drug. He saw Jack's water bottle, the
germ-free one, lying on it's side, the sunlight refracting through it, water
dribbling into the sand. It felt
good. The next story he would tell
would be the most important story of his career, about the terrible
accident. It would probably make
the front page of Variety.
was one way to rid himself of his most immediate tormentor. A daydream, in harsh daylight.
more stories?" Jack asked.
about a Hollywood story."
could be good."
sort of like The Player."
this time the writer kills the producer." Larry stepped closer.
Did Jack get the point, the immediate danger?
thanks. No one cares about
am I even talking to you?" Larry asked. The question leapt unexamined from his lips.
was shocked. No one had ever asked
him that. It was always the other
way around. "You've got
just you, but you in general.
Everyone like you."
there would be no murder. But he
didn't want to stand here any longer.
he walked away first, wouldn't that be surrendering the high ground to
Jack? That on top of Jack having
fucked his fucked-up wife.
know what you're up to," Larry said.
should I tell you?"
why did you even mention it?"
don't know. To get you
fuck it. Right? It's not over till it's over."
Jack looked worried.
trudged down the hill, away from what hadn't happened. He didn't think of his moment with Jack
as a story, but as only part of a story.
Larry was a collagist at heart, not a true strategist of screenplays -
plotting character arcs, nimbly foreshadowing, folding subplots neatly within
master plots. But collagists
didn't go very far. There wasn't
any money it in.
Jack & Leslie fucking - did she moan with him, did she try and make it seem
better than it was? Did
enthusiastic acting, in and of itself, improve the act? Undoubtedly. Immeasurably.
Jack expected performance.
Girls would act for him.
Larry felt doomed.
Again. It all pointed to
the mildest form of doom.
was the memory of other moans.
Honeymoon moans. And
before. How many years, how many
fucks ago. Remember enough of that
shit and maybe he could forget the sun he was standing under.
he closed his eyes, could he forget what the world looked like? He tried. It was dully blood red underneath his eyelids. He remembered sand. Forget it. Forget about forgetting.
was wandering in the sand, alone.
No one had talked about going anywhere. No one had talked.
Maybe they would consider him lost, leave him behind, think of an
excuse. It didn't take much of an
excuse. It didn't take much. Whatever it took he didn't have.
skin on his arm looked weird. The
flesh seemed speckled in a way that it never had before. What was he allergic to? Something new? Something that he was thinking?
there was pain - piercing, specific.
Followed by a buzz. He
yelped and jumped, twisted his arm to see what hurt like hell on the far side
of his biceps. He found a
blistering red spot. What had
bitten him? Why? All for taking the wrong step where,
when? The bite hurt - how toxic
it spread, would he die, why did he feel dizzy?
stood up. He wanted to walk it
off. He wanted it to go away. He touched the pimple of pain. Yow, fuck, leave it alone. There was no ice. There was no water. There was no one else. Why didn't the wasp or whatever sting
then the welt seemed to be subsiding.
He remembered that welt meant world
in German - it was one of the few German words that he remembered from
school. Was there really all that
much to the pain? He would
survive. Again. Who would he tell? There was no one who would be sympathetic,
appropriately sympathetic. He was
nowhere. It didn't matter where he
stood. Did it?
didn't have to take footsteps. He
never had to take another footstep.
No one was telling him to.
this a movie that he was walking through - the etching sunlight, the arroyo he
was walking in - aimlessly - hoping to get lost, searching for a more dramatic
predicament than talking with a man who owned a Range Rover. He tried to make sense out of what he
could see: sand - dirt - crumbly rocks - a scraggly bush that he didn't know
the name of. Did it matter what
the names of things were? Was he a
man who truly trafficked in names?
inner state was what he most wanted to describe - but wasn't that a bore:
non-lethal pain - self-induced sadness - the struggle to make movies, to give
people fantasies. And who wanted
his fantasies, what was happy about his fantasies? Maybe he wasn't even trying to tell a story to someone else
- maybe he was trying to tell a story to himself - but he wouldn't listen.
heard chirping, more insect than bird-like. It reminded him of the bite on his arm. Remembering, the hurt returned.
- a history of footsteps - his history - blazing a path in the sand, this sand,
the sand in his shoes.
trudging, alternate versions of the conversation with Jack crowded into his
head. Maybe he should have really
tried to sell a story to him. A
real story. There were so many
things he could have done. Other than what he did do.
arroyo came to an end. It was time
for a minor climb, up to the little ridge, either that or turn around, retrace
his steps, follow the crumples that he just made in the sand.
climbed, one footstep after another.
No shade. Anywhere. If it wasn't so hot, if there was
someplace comfortable, then he would lie down and sleep, forever, maybe. He squinted, closed his eyes to slits,
and still it was too bright. He
was so exhausted. He plodded
uphill, as if in a nightmare, closed his eyes for a moment, challenging gravity
to do its worst, opened them again, open, close, constant course corrections,
his eyelids a bright red, so bright.
the top of the soft ridge the foothills were to his right. The geography was so specific that it
was hard to get lost - he didn't even have that excuse. Excuse - that was a familiar word -
maybe he should make a list of familiar words - those words that he kept saying
to himself - or writing - the nucleus of his vocabulary - no - that would be
depressing - analysis only confirmed limitations better left unexplored. Why was he walking back? Define back. As in back to. Back to what? Leslie?
voice came to him, intimate, as if across a living room. In this world of dirt and convolutions
of crumbling earth, the direction of her voice was not obvious.
felt foolish, turning to look for her, his eyes unsuccessfully scanning the
here." Now he sensed
amusement in her voice at his predicament, the searching man.
saw her now, tucked between two tiny hillocks, reclining, as if upon an earthen
chaise lounge. She was naked, the
white shirt spread beneath her, her jeans rolled into a petite pillow. That was why she had been so hard to
see, because from this distance her skin blended with the earth.
felt self-conscious walking down to her.
Was her voice an invitation?
are the others?" he asked.
don't know. Why do you care?"
don't know. You're right. I don't care."
saw her body, in passing, in glancing.
Naked in the sun was very different from naked in the night. He saw her differently. He saw her. Was he expected to act like it was just part of the
scenery? Sean was smiling. Was she smiling at his discomfort?
stood awkwardly. He had to sit
down. Not too near, not to
far. Maintaining the attitude of
casualness. He smiled. She had his number. With nothing being said.
why are you asking me?"
tired of being amusing."
be. There's nothing wrong with being
always been misinterpreted."
was naked. What do you explain to
someone who is naked? Maybe he
would explain the concept of clothes.
He had no control over his voice, over what he said. How did he decide what he said? Where was that premeditated, how deep
in his brain? And why was he even
thinking about brains when he had her body to stare at, as long as he stared
subtly. But she seemed not to care
what he was doing, how long he was looking. He looked around, nervous that they were not alone. Who was looking at him? Was the conspiracy still in force? Was he spiraling down to the next level
of passive victimization? Had they
calculated how pliable he was to distraction, enough time for Jack and Leslie
to tear off a quick desert fuck?
that was okay, but touching, that was a different dimension, that was crossing
Her breasts, seen in this
absolute light were small, nearly perfect. She was still too young for gravity's flaws. Her pubic hair was sparse, tightly
curled. He grabbed pieces of
description in quick, raiding glances, careful not to stare too long - even
though her eyes were closed again.
Her skin glistened with ointment.
Sweat beaded on her forearms, her belly. She lacked tan lines.
She was an entire creature, undivided by earlier bouts with the
sun. Posed, poised, there was no
mystery, except to wonder how she would feel if he were inside her - would she
be hard or soft or both? Her lips
curled slightly upward, as if she had found paradise in this heat. As if his hell was her heaven. Or was her lip curled in ironic
amusement at his predicament? Yes,
she was shrewd enough to imagine his squirming dilemma while she enjoyed the
sun. Is that why she had called
him over? Did the conspiracy begin
and end with her? Or was she only
one of several off-hand plots against him? Looking at her lips, he was annoyed that he wasn't spending
more time dwelling upon the more traditionally forbidden aspects of her body
that were now available for extended study. But he had to wonder about those writers - novelists - and
painting critics - who always seemed to have so much to say about how someone
smiled - they could take an image and spin out a riff that explained someone's
whole life, almost. Something he
could never do. Like: her smile
was slight, bounded by the high regard that she held for herself, with a trace
of disdain for the man that she had come to respect less the more time that she
spent with him, her lips thin, but sensuous, not quite relaxed, but settled
into a habitual position of self-possession, she was young, but it was the kind
of smile she might spend the rest of her life wearing, already, at her age, she
had arrived at the smile that best suited herself. He was good at that kind of nonsense riff as long as he
began with the idea that whatever he said meant nothing, really. Once he tried to mean something, the
gears began to freeze, and he was faced instead with a blank truth that he
could not elaborate.
was as surprised as if a statue had spoken to him. Or the earth.
what?" He had forgotten the
question, if there had even been a question.
I could explain that, then I wouldn't be misinterpreted."
talk about the strangest stuff."
don't really think about normal."
She smiled in another way, eyes open to see him again. "Is that normal?"
not the right one to talk about normal."
"Sure. You're very conventional."
of. I'm self-employed, so to
speak. I'm a dreamer."
got goals. You're part of the
are we even talking about this?"
should we talk about?"
he brave a braver question?
"Why did you call me over?"
was glad to see you."
was still abstract. The sun had
flattened everything out. He had
denied himself certain thoughts.
He felt twisted, static, somber.
In the dead blue sky above he imagined a constellation of Jacks.
glad?" he had to ask.
too bad you're married."
right. It is. I've been meaning to do something about
that." Dangerous words to say
to her, words that might be repeated.
But what did that matter?
Wasn't he on the other side of the lie? It wouldn't be that long before they were all dead - how
many moments did they get to crawl around in the sun, anyway? Leslie was unseen, but of course it was
hard to forget her. When he looked
back over at Sean, she had closed her eyes again. Tanning her eyelids evenly, no doubt.
you want to sunbathe?" she asked from behind closed lids, with an ironic
know what I mean."
mean do I want to get naked."
you don't mean anything by it."
remains to be seen."
was the one thing he knew better than to talk about. Of course, there was nothing left to talk about, other than
the absurdity of a normal conversation in this abnormal context. She was naked in the desert. He was with her and she was naked in
the desert. He could pretend that
they were alone. He could imagine
they were alone if he didn't try to imagine anything else.
couldn't take another step just now.
Sitting silently he felt the strangest percolations. There was something implied in the
silence. It made the moment
pregnant to pounce. Wasn't he
supposed to be the desert man, the soul man, the manly man, the breeding man in
this situation? It was so primal.
Wasn't fucking the only pertinent option? Considering that he couldn't walk away. He had to talk. Talking required a topic.
me about your job. You've never
told me anything about that. You
haven't told me anything about anything really."
didn't know you were so curious."
guess writer's are. I answer the
who owns a phone."
didn't seem to lessen his desire.
He was glad that her eyes were closed again. It made it easier to watch her. His eyes would drift to nature in it's state of dry decay
and then wander back to her. Her
flesh, so impervious, was much more exciting to watch.
last job was more interesting."
So. She had volunteered something.
was going to carry this guy's baby."
she could still shock him. He had
to remember to stay open to that.
did that come about?"
saw an ad. He lived up in Santa
Cruz. He had a lot of money, but
he'd been a druggie and he was kind of impotent."
about artificial insemination?"
wife was pretty holistic. She
wanted natural conception."
you worried about..."
"Disease? He'd been tested. And he wasn't exactly active. It was
safe. That wasn't the
problem. He just couldn't get it
up. They paid me real well for the
weekend, considering that not much happened."
was wondering what new parameters this set on what she was. A whore, in some sense of the
word. Like he was a wannabe whore
in another sense of that same word - because he was willing to sell part of
himself, the part that was supposed to be his best part, the writing part.
He wanted to sell, but no one was buying.
what do you think?"
what do you think?" she repeated.
want you to bear my child."
explosive laugh echoed off the canyon wall. "We could try."
was tantalized by the possibility of sudden movement. Could he have what he wanted, just by asking?
odds of getting caught seemed extreme.
ho!" Harry called from up on the ridge.
both looked up at him but didn't answer.
He felt guilty just sitting next to her.
you want to try?" she asked.
he breathed. He was watching Harry
descend, puffs of sand at his plowing feet, puffs of smoke from his narcotized
mouth, the descent of the smoking man, dropping down the heated gradient, to
them, to those in repose. Sitting
beside her, seeing only her ankle now in his demure, revised point of view, it
occurred to him how little our bodies tell us about who we are. I am my finger, I am my hand, who am I?
she giggled. She taunted him with
didn't deserve an answer. Or did
your move," she giggled.
saw a hawk." Harry said breathlessly upon arriving. He was sweating, smiling, smoking. He sat down in the dirt, thumping a
bottle of Evian into the sand, just part of the picnic. He looked up at the sky. Larry followed his gaze. It was empty. Harry smiled.
"You should have seen it."
Sean was naked seemed an unremarkable fact to Harry - he paid her neither more
nor less attention than under more clothed circumstances. Larry felt caught, weirdly compromised
by her teasing, flirting words, as inconsequential as those words were. Harry offered Larry the joint.
was tempted. But things were
already on the wrong side of strange.
Because out here in the sun, at this shadowless hour of the day,
everything was revealed. And still
he didn't quite know what was revealed.
It just was. Wasn't it?
passed the joint to Sean.
smoked, smiled. Everyone was
staring at the desolate, dramatic earth.
Naked City popped into Larry's head.
All he saw was Sean's leg.
Maybe her body had triggered it, but he was thinking of something
else. He was thinking of the same
old thing - sex. In the emptiness
what else was there to think? I
live in a land where nothing happens.
I have lived in that land a long time. Longer than I ever thought possible. A world of phone calls and mild praise
and the distant possibility that something might happen, someday.
took off his shirt. He was in good
shape for a doper. But he wasn't a
doper. This was his vacation,
remember, supposedly. Larry never
had a vacation, not from his head, not from the absurd thing that he was trying
to do, wasn't he a screenwriter twenty-four hours a day? There was no escape from the identity
that he had failed to capitalize on.
He was always sitting where he didn't want to sit. He was always sitting inside of his
body. Static, seated, he was
always aware of where he wasn't.
The best part was always somewhere else, on the other side of the
ridge. Leslie. Jack. He couldn't help remembering.
think I'll take a hike."
were still smoking. He had no
sense of who they were. Strangers
who were sitting with him. Once
the idea was in the air it was everyone's idea. Was he truly superior to those who were stoned? Was he the leader of the voluntary
put her socks and shoes back on.
I should get a house in the desert," Harry said.
we go, you always say maybe you should get a house there."
you wonder about living different places?"
are living different places. You
don't need a house to do it."
it up my homesteading instinct.
What do you think, Larry?
Could you get into living in the desert?"
think I'd go insane."
talked about that before."
that's why L.A. drives me crazy."
looks so close."
it's not just the grass. It looked
close before. You know what I
stood up. He was impatient with
stasis. If in no other way, at
least on his feet he could move, he could pace the sand, the washes, he could
assert himself with motion.
heaved himself erect. Standing up
was more work than he remembered.
rose and stretched with limber grace, wearing only her sneakers and white ankle
socks. She shook out the shirt and
tied it around her waist, her public triangle outlined by the dangling white
arms. She held the rolled up blue
jeans in her hand and smiled a good camper smile.
blind leading the blind.
set off. This was not his idea of
you could write a desert story."
was unenthusiastic, but it couldn't hurt to troll for a new idea. "About what?"
about a treasure story? Everyone
loves a treasure story."
disadvantage of leading was that he saw nothing but the desert ahead. At least he could choose the path,
along the floor of the canyon, across the soft rills of an alluvial fan, the clay-like
sand giving slightly under his feet.
He imagined Sean, a Botticelli in Adidas behind him. His imagination was so much more than
he was, so much more than he did.
Treasure stories didn't appeal to him, but who was he to say. "I never really thought about a
treasure story. Buried
treasure?" It was hard to
think of a fresh take on that. It
was hard to think of anything, actually.
gold. People still hunt for
gold. You'd be surprised."
like that," Sean said.
"Maybe we could hunt for gold sometime."
"Sure. See, Sean, likes the idea."
what's the story?"
let's see, let's come up with a story.
How do you do that? You're
the professional. But you can't go
wrong with greed"
blank." Maybe it was the
scenery. He stopped. It was time for a choice between
forking paths. He turned
around. Sean surprised him, her
eyes riveted to his, as if she was trying to remind him of some secret he had
forgotten. He felt caught, as if
she knew that he wanted to look at her, that he wanted more, she had to know
that, but still he was surprised.
The white shirt tied around her waist set off her tan. She looked erotic, yet well-placed in
the landscape. Harry's mind was
say we climb. It's a nothing
hill. You won't believe what I
hugged Harry's arm, amused by his enthusiasm, by the promise of a
surprise. It didn't matter what,
or so it seemed.
was uncertain whether or not he was supposed to still lead the way to where he
had never been but Harry had.
Well, he was tired of leading nowhere. It wasn't as if he was surrendering. If he fell behind, then he could look
at Sean, he could torture himself with what he saw of her. Maybe she would lag behind with
him. Maybe she would lean against
him. Maybe she would want
him. Maybe Harry would forget them
in the press of his own private adventure. He could hope for that, depending on how stoned Harry
was. But they weren't acting
stoned in a place where everything felt stoned.
led the little climb. Larry
gallantly waved Sean on ahead. He
thought he caught suspicion in her sunglassed eyes. Following, undaunted by that mild reproach, he was eroticized by her unencumbered
back. Or maybe it was the sway on
the white shirt tied around her waist.
wasn't far to the top of the hill.
By now Larry thought he deduced a thousand shades of yellow and brown,
the whole chroma of the earth. He
had been suspended in this desert long enough for some subtleties to become
apparent. He was beginning to feel
like an observer of parts of nature for which he had no name.
can't go wrong with greed," Harry repeated from a long time ago. Taking up the rear, Larry heard the
echo of Harry's words from far ahead.
"All you need is a group of modern prospectors, weekend
prospectors, it could even be a little group like us, out on a weekend
lark. If they found some gold,
that's enough to start a murder story."
what more do we need?" Harry asked.
was surprised by his persistence.
Actually, it was a good question, the best question.
need characters. Personalities to
people the story."
about us? We're
it's not simple."
"Well..." Why wasn't it that simple? Because you had to hunt for what was
not obvious? "Actually,
couldn't see her face, but he felt sure that Sean was smiling. At his indecision. He didn't know anymore. He just didn't know. He was willing to admit that. To himself.
I be in the movie, Harry?"
not naked. I'm wearing a
you going to make another movie?"
"Why? Do you want to audition?" Harry
bad it wasn't serious. He felt
duped. Seduced. He would never learn. The absurd agony of plodding footsteps
in the desert. He felt the heat
through the soles of his Stan Smith shoes. Why couldn't he just enjoy Sunday afternoon like everyone
was pressing close behind Harry.
Was she acting romantic just as a taunt? Was he the real audience for her display of affection? It didn't pay to look. Mindless was the best bet, not
not to look at what was ahead of him, he passed through crumbling gray canyon
walls, a maze-like path that lead toward the base of the mountain. Everything looked temporary, ready to
fall apart, like the paper maché set of a cheap desert movie. This world of sculpted dirt might only
be an inch thick - he felt tempted to punch his fist through to the emptiness
on the other side of the illusion of depth. Trudging behind, following the twisted path that his
temporary companions had chosen, he momentarily lost sight of Harry and Sean up
ahead. They came in and out of
view. He could pretend that he was
alone. Again. How much pretending did that take? He felt the heat everywhere. Nothing felt good. What did he really feel? That was a noisy thing to think about.
noticing, he was with them again.
He was getting closer to Sean, closing the distance. She was wearing her shirt again, but
not her pants. What he saw of her
backside was demure enough, if he weren't so recently acquainted with her
underlying nakedness. Maybe he
wouldn't slow down, maybe he would collide with her - even if she knew the
collision wasn't innocent, it would be interesting to see how that felt in this
heat, if anything could feel worse than what he felt now. There was so much that he didn't feel,
that he didn't want to feel.
the treasure cave."
ahead was the mountainside, it's surface a lattice of cracks that blurred
toward the sky. Everything looked
thirsty. There was a dark opening
at base of the hill, vaginal in shape, an ellipsoid of black, the first evidence
of shade, a black hole. But
weren't all caves vaginal?
took Sean's hand and led her close to the opening. "It feels great.
Natural air conditioning."
stepped closer, rubbing shoulders with Sean. He heard a steady whoosh, low and dull, and felt cool air
against his face. He looked into
the pure darkness and felt refreshed.
must be a crack on the other side of this hill, some kind of fissure. The air cools as it flows out. Air cools when it expands. That's the basic principle of
you, Mr. Science."
welcome, Miss Muffit."
you could work this into the treasure story."
when he'd decided when there was nothing new under this sun.
stepped away from Larry and climbed into the darkness.
you worried...about snakes?"
didn't say a thing.
unscrewed the top of his Evian bottle and offered it to Larry. The water was warm, almost hot. Harry gave Larry a smile, his only
comment on Sean's fearless disappearance.
there were snakes in the cave then they would either bite Sean or be scared
away. Larry swallowed a mouthful
of water and climbed in after her.
was like walking into an air conditioned house. It gave him an immediate taste of a better life. "It's very cozy in here," he
heard her say even before he could see her. He kept his back to the light. His eyes began to adapt. She was sitting on a ledge of dirt.
could live here. If I had a man to
do you need a man?"
never know. There are strange
folks in the desert."
you could live out here?"
I love it."
was no easy way to sit beside her.
Could he have a secret kiss?
A secret kiss with Harry outside?
The closeness was titillating.
The air felt forbidden. But
the darkness was closing in, he imagined the mountain collapsing, the womb
sealing, and he felt dizzy, a sinister spinning, a downward spiral. What would his last words be? Would something memorable finally come
to his lips?
you live out here with me?" he asked.
smiled. Was it fair to call her
smile tempting? Not fair, not
accurate. And what about a fair
smile? The darkness almost seemed
normal now. He wanted a moment
alone with her. He felt stoned -
tranced - but he wasn't stoned - and that felt deranged - was the derangement
about your wife?"
you can swing it?"
Taunting. Impossible. Impossible to tell.
guys lost in there?"
for treasure," Larry said. He
accepted the trance. He blamed the
trance. He did not want a
kiss. That was an old
reached forward, slowly, in a gesture that Sean could stop, and ran his hand
between her legs until he felt her vagina. He slid his middle finger inside of her and looked into her
eyes. He wanted to know what she
was momentarily fearless. He was
off the map. Was she waiting for
him to move forward, or waiting for him to retreat? They were connected, suspended. His aggression was ebbing. It was hard to say if he really wanted her. What would her flesh feel like now if
they kissed? She seemed so
completely alien - everything was alien - outside the boundary of his
skin. It no longer seemed dark in
the cave. Was her smile saying what
are you waiting for?
was he waiting for?
did he want?
he done enough?
there room for me in there?"
hand shot back, moist, startled.
His head scraped against the membrane of dirt above.
poked his head in. His eyes looked
unfocused. The darkness was still
new to him. There wasn't room for
anyone else. The cave had become
too popular. Turning back around,
Larry saw Sean smile - a victory smile - but hadn't he possessed her most
private place, had a finger hold there?
Didn't that say something?
Wasn't that something to look back on?
But. If that was a high-water mark, then
wasn't he fucked. Truly
fucked. Without having gotten
are guys doing in here anyway?"
didn't seem to care. "Christ,
this air feels good."
world was closing in. They were
quiet in the darkness.
Magical. Then bored.
withdrew into the light. Larry
followed him out, without looking back.
He'd had enough.
daylight was familiar, something that would never go away. The light was permanent, the sun frozen
in the sky. The heat felt good for
the few seconds that his skin was still cool. It was all downhill from here - was he really thinking that
- could he think in anything other than cliché - and who had convinced him that
he was special - where had that misshapen lesson come from?
echoed in his mind like a trashy pop melody.
was the way back to the car? Was
the way back to the car the way back home?
canyon was littered with rocks that looked ready to crumble apart. Not real rocks but the shape of rocks,
the idea of rocks. It was like this was someone's idea of
a desert, and the idea had been discarded. He was beginning to feel at home.
really notice it now."
stood in the cul-de-sac. It was
the patio of the cave. It was
where they would barbecue breakfast if they lived out here. There was only turning back. Sean's shoulders were bobbing
slowly. She hummed a song that
Larry didn't recognize.
mountain looked too steep.
could smoke grass."
already done that."
could smoke some more grass.
wants to marry me."
laughed. "What do you
want to go swimming."
raised his middle finger to his nose.
He smelled salt, something more. Sean was watching him, but she didn't seem to notice.
hadn't something happened?
there been darkness in the middle of the day?
relit the joint. In the sunlight
Larry couldn't even see the flame.
No one else was interested.
was only turning back.
Leslie Leslie. You had to wonder.
He had to wonder. Words
were what he said to himself. That
was the first thing that words were.
was tempted to get stoned. To turn
back the clock. But the clock had
already stopped. Stoned, would he
have dared with his finger? No. Dope just put him that much more inside
his head. And he was already
there. There was already too much
there there. He smelled the
naughty finger again - now that no one was watching - just the hypothetical
camera that he imagined up on the ridge, watching three insects trek toward two
other insects (were those other insects mating?) he smelled only salt - with
his tongue he tasted the reservoir of sweat on the top of his lip.
car was the tomb they could not enter.
They were excluded from the dead world inside. It was hard to imagine the car ever moving again. It just didn't seem possible.
radiated off the black metal. If
he wanted to burn his hand he only had to touch it. Why did he feel tempted? The only shade was under the car.
for us maybe."
Harry really innocent, or was it just a role he was playing?
ready to go home."
wish we could."
want to go swimming."
didn't answer. She looked
petulant. When she deigned to look
Larry's way her lips were sarcastic.
Why, exactly why, that was the question he was too heat-fried to answer
just now. He would have to look
too long at her lips, at her crooked smile, to figure that out, and he didn't
want to look at her that long.
Staring at the brown earth, the dry ugly brown earth, he imagined Sean
as melting flesh.
stood around the car. There was
the whole world that they could wander off into, but they stood loosely
together, accepting the wisdom that there was nowhere else to go. They all wanted back into that black
going to answer the call of nature."
Harry wandered off behind a scrawny screen of branches to take a
leak. Sean paced along the dry
creek bed, kicking at pebbles.
Larry heard Leslie's laugh - a polite dinner table laugh - a mocking
mockingbird - directionless in the dry air. He glanced around - no one else seemed to hear - only he was
attuned to the sound of the subspecies.
silhouettes crested the hill. His
and hers. They looked like they
were holding hands, but he couldn't be sure. Jack was the conquering hero of
casual chic, keys in hand, the metal jingling in high transients. Leslie looked relaxed, like she
belonged with him. Until she saw
Larry looking at her.
was time for excuses. Everyone had
were looking for you."
was looking for you."
desert's a big place."
were in the next canyon over. Just
spacing, you know."
face was flush, her cheeks crimson - from more than the sun, Larry
surmised. The third button of her
blouse was undone. She looked
defiant. She looked so defiant he
knew she was guilty, because she was going to such lengths to prove otherwise.
lifted his key chain. The car
fuck." The door handle was
hot when Jack opened the door and released hot air into hot air. Then he unstrapped his personal water
bottle and drank slowly, as if sampling a Pinot Noir. He offered the bottle to Leslie.
you guys had an adventure?"
had a nice walk."
call it a walk?"
knew what he meant. And in this
blinding/dark moment he wondered - he more than wondered, he knew - that he was
as bad as Leslie, and though he hadn't done what she had done, it was only
because he had been unsuccessful in lust.
where did you go?"
saw a cave."
found this cave."
grabbed the water bottle from Leslie.
She was surprised. He took
a sip, swallowed, took another sip, spit it out on the ground. That's how he'd seen it done in
Westerns - he always wondered why - he still wondered - but it felt good. He coughed into his hand, working hard
to conjure up germs, then handed the bottle to Jack, enjoying the squeamish
turn of Jack's mouth.
kissed Leslie," Larry said.
kiss is a kiss is a kiss."
didn't even say Larry.
hot as fuck."
there was a gun, if they were less socialized, if they were more drunk, if they
were south of the border, then somebody would die.
all sat in the same seats driving back.
It was the same world as the trip out, going by in the opposite
can't swim in the same river twice.
were riding in the same car, but the condition of nature no longer united
them. They were wilted, damp,
air conditioning chilled what was left of Larry's brain. He pointed the vent at his face. He felt a pain in his forehead like
eating a popsickle too fast. It
was too cold to smell anything; it was too cold to smell sex. As the sweat dried on his face, his
skin tightened. Without looking in
the mirror he imagined that he was shriveling into something ghastly. His thigh stuck to the black seat
leather. The bite on his arm hurt
him again. He wanted aspirin, but
he would not ask for aspirin. He
would not ask for anything. A fly
buzzed against the window: another insect was along for the ride. Outside he saw sprinklers in a low
field of green - he didn't recognize the plant - something to eat, someday,
somewhere - the atomized water refracted in the sunlight, brilliantly - it
surprised him that something could still be beautiful, something seem from this
car. Jack pushed a CD into the
slot - Tony Bennett - nightclub music in the scorching light - a torch song
from whenever - no one had to say anything - no one had to think - at least he
didn't have to think. He was
expecting someone to say something, but
no one said anything.
Leslie. How could he hurt
Leslie? What was left to hurt?
car phone rang. Jack looked
pleased by the attention, annoyed by the interruption.
car phone rang again.
abandoned the car. Everyone looked
smaller, distilled, red-faced, wounded.
The warm air lasted the distance from the car to the front door. The desert was what came between spurts
of cold air. Everything was clear,
but it was nothing he could explain.
He wasn't thinking straight.
He couldn't even say that he was thinking. His arm hurt like hell.
had forgotten what the house looked like.
Until he was back inside.
Then he remembered everything.
If Proust had the smell of madelaines, he had central air conditioning.
walked straight through the house and out the sliding glass doors to the pool.
changing into my suit."
the others dispersed into bedrooms, Larry went into the kitchen. It was as white and empty as the room
at the end of "2001."
Life was outside the window, in the Bird of Paradise, in the manicured
palm fronds swaying in the unfelt breeze.
The freezer was filled with last night's absurd sugar purchases. Last night was a long time ago. Was that really only last night? He took out a carton of Haagen-Daz
coffee ice cream and a tray of ice cubes.
welt had grown into a hard crater, a fiery point of red at its center, a
souvenir of what Jack had called the real
desert. He wrapped an ice cube in
a pastel dish towel and held it to his wound. With his free hand he forced a spoon into the rock-hard ice
cream. The carton slid along the
white Formica countertop until he finally pinioned it against the splash
guard. Finally, after more work
than he had ever expected, he had his first bite of ice cream.
was he doing here?
Jack's house. It was
contemptuous. Leslie had
identified the right emotion, for the wrong reason.
least he had bought the ice cream.
He wasn't putting Jack's food in his body. And the air, that wasn't Jack's, Jack didn't own the air.
removed the melting ice cube and contorted to look at the welt - still there,
but numbed. He stabbed the spoon
into the ice cream and left the carton on the counter to melt.
he walked out of the kitchen he said a silent good-bye, kitchen. It was
one of the rooms he never wanted to see again.
goal was to get from here to there without any unwanted eye contact. He wanted no eye contact.
course, he imagined a dramatic departure that benefited his wounds.
was no longer the Vegas Story.
was no longer a hotel room he imagined.
was the guest room that he was heading toward, that was the indelible setting
for turgid, unresolved psychodrama.
for the moment, he felt the surge of release, lying to himself, a lie that gave
him pleasure: he was no longer a screenwriter. He would take his marbles and go home. The addiction was over.
thoughts, as he walked down the hallway, the next to the last time. The last time, that would be his exit,
bags in hand. Really, in the grand
scheme of atoms and molecules, carpet wasn't much different from sand.
bedroom was as he remembered it.
As he would never forget it.
It gave emptiness a new name, took it to the next level.
sat down on the bedspread. It was
uncomfortably lumpy underneath - the bed wasn't made - it only looked made -
the illusion of order that his butt gave lie to. But what was comfortable? Not his body.
Not anything he saw. Not
anyplace here. Not anyplace he was
leaving, the closer he got to that, was no simple matter.
he call Leslie aside to talk to her?
Wouldn't he need some privacy for what he had to say? But what was private between them? And what would he say?
of outrage. But. No sentence would form.
best thing - the easiest - would be to sneak out of the house - drive away from
the whole mess.
needed to pack. It would take five
minutes. It was more than he had
the stamina for.
life beckoned from beyond the blinds.
knew that he preferred the cowardly exit.
It hurt that he knew this.
That was something to examine, to think about. Maybe honesty would come to his defense. Maybe maybe maybe.
there was the matter of throwing Leslie into Jack's arms. Not that much throwing had to be
done. But why give them another
excuse? Or did they even think in
terms of excuses? He didn't
know. He would never know. What revelations could he expect in an
except for furniture.
except for him.
he looked toward the sound, the slats of light that leaked through the blinds
were blinding. He fell back on the
bed and felt the archipelagos of percale lumps underneath him. Ghostly spears, afterimages of the
retinal burn, hung against the ceiling.
It was so gloomy he could tease along the idea that he was going blind.
he moping? If anyone was wondering
about him, isn't that what they would wonder?
had a headache now. Maybe this was
the headache that would never go away.
Maybe he would have this headache for the rest of his life.
would happen next? What would
happen if he closed his eyes? Did
he have anything to do with what happened next?
was faltering. He knew he was
faltering. He didn't know what to
didn't want to move. But he would
have to move. He couldn't stay in
this room forever. He couldn't
stay in this room for another minute.
Walls. And what was beyond
the walls. His brain was
freezing. There was no other idea
to seize upon. What he had
done. What he had not done. Dragging his tired body to and fro. It didn't add up. Nothing. From here to there.
There was no torrent of words that could save him from what he had
failed to become.
he found himself standing. He did
not understand the impulse of muscles that had gotten him back to his feet. He threw his clothes into his overnight
bag. He didn't care about
went into the bathroom and plucked his toothbrush, razor, deodorant, aspirin,
from the surfeit of Leslie's unguents and emoluments. Intimacy, as it attached to objects, was severed: their
toothbrushes were no longer cohabiting.
picked up the dead weight of his Powerbook and shoved it into his green canvas
he was packed.
he felt like he was going somewhere.
for the moment he would leave his bags behind, he would not announce his
he had to step out of the bedroom.
Larry walked across the living room, conflicted, determined but uncertain, he
saw that the others were all in the pool.
The momentum of his footsteps carried him toward them. He was a reluctant participant to the
motion of his own body. It was
bathing suit time, except for Sean, who swam without her white shirt, a child
of nature, a child of Sunday afternoon.
If he was the camera, if this were one of his unfilmed movies, then he
would have to say that the swimmers' body language was that of two couples:
Harry/Sean and Jack/Leslie.
Larry stepped from the shade into the sunlight he felt the snapshot clarity of
their reaction to him.
looked pleased. He had won, no
matter what happened next. He
didn't even have to think about winning - it was the way things were. Things were fine.
was smiling, stoned, maybe shrewd, maybe not.
swam laps, not paying any attention to Larry.
looked guarded, expecting the worst, but pleased to be in the pool, on the
stood outside of their watery alliance.
Was everyone really against him, or was it just how he felt, and if was
how he felt, wasn't that enough truth for here, pool side?
was no easy way to do what he had to do.
you coming in?"
don't think so."
can I talk to you?"
pool's not going anywhere."
said in a while, okay?"
felt drained of the drama that he had intended to provoke. He was embarrassed to openly pronounce
what he thought the truth to be.
Why couldn't he too just enjoy the pleasure of the blue water?
was trembling. So there was truth
to the cliché, trembling with anger.
He wanted to shout. He felt
absurd. There was no graceful
option. The awkwardness was
exponential, increasing the longer he waited. There was nothing he could say to Leslie that could convince
her of anything. If his years of
screenwriting had taught him anything, it was the futility of language, because
who had he ever convinced, despite hard work, good intentions, careful choice
of words, sentence by sentence, across thousands of unsold pages.
dazzled on the water. Once again,
he was standing in exactly the wrong place - he caught the full force of the
sun's reflection. Once again, he
was ill-prepared for life's great moment - he had left his sunglasses back in
the bedroom, with everything else.
This was his chance to deliver his great pool side oration. But he didn't want to speak, didn't
want to give them the opportunity for rejection. He didn't want an audience for what he had to say to Leslie.
just frazzled from the heat. Come
on in, Lar. It'll make all the
didn't speak. He was embarrassed,
shamed, and still he felt contempt.
If could walk away, didn't that make him superior, in some small way, at
that it mattered.
that any of it mattered.
couldn't think straight. Had he ever been able to think straight?
turned around and began the long march back to the glass doors.
felt their eyes upon him. It had
been a brave thing, hadn't it, coming outside? Wasn't he excused now?
Hadn't he tried?
he walked back through the house, deflated but exhilarated, he felt the pulse
of the insect bite on his arm and the dizziness of darkness in the chill
the bedroom he picked up his shoulder bag and his computer. He didn't look around to see if he had
left anything behind. He felt
uncollected but at least he was leaving.
Space got so strange in memory - how would he remember this room? Not at all, that would be the best way. But. It annoyed him to no end, knowing that he would always
walked down the hallway and into the foyer with averted eyes. Once again, he imagined that everyone
was looking at him. He was always
imagining the worst thing: a car wreck on the drive home, a heart attack alone
in the car, a bad man with a gun at the first stoplight back in the city.
he stepped out of the house his heart palpitated with the mixed feelings of
great escape. What now? Another life waited on the other side
of this driveway. Or so he
hoped. If only it was different,
then that might be enough.
walked past the dusty black Range Rover, past the silver BMW, to his
Honda. He felt his pockets for the
car key, and feeling nothing, panicked that he would after all have to go back
into the house. He rooted through
his shoulder bag and finally found his key. His joy was intense, momentary, ultimately matter-of-fact -
finding the key wasn't a good thing, it was the absence of something bad, a
double negative. He unlocked the
hatchback and stowed his bags. He
winced at the heat as he got into his car and started the engine. He turned the AC to max and removed the
sun shade from the window. After a
weekend of luxury cars, he felt like he was returning to an old friend, someone
who knew who he was, who was used to him, who liked him. He had never before felt sentimental
about his car. But he was already
lonely. Was he really leaving
she said in a peeved voice. She
wore a white shirt over her black bikini.
Was it Sean's white shirt?
Or was it one of Jack's?
Water stains darkened the fabric in the shape of her bikini top. She dripped water that quickly
evaporated from the black pavement.
was looking. He was deciding. He was always deciding. The easiest thing was to argue. Wasn't that the easiest way of letting
are you doing this?"
she knew why. She had to know why.
not staying out here."
were just going to leave?"
tried to talk to you."
was very angry. He was pleased
with the effect. But why did her
pain please him so? That made him
wonder. That diminished the
perverse pleasure. Was it just the
lowest common denominator of their marriage? Somehow he had expected to feel more self-righteous.
we can go home after I go swimming.
What's a couple of hours?"
felt disadvantaged talking up to her as he sat in the car. He put the clutch in neutral and left
the car idling so the air conditioning could continue to run, and stood up,
back in the sun.
can't stay here, not another minute, not after what's happened."
glared - calculated - schemed - hardened.
Her mood was quick, fickle, resolute. He could almost enjoy the lightning way she thought and felt
- if it weren't directed against him.
Even though he was sure that she had arrived at a new strategy, he had
no idea what that strategy would be.
"You practically threw us together," she finally said.
chest tickled with the first compressions of panic. He was speaking with an alien creature. An alien creature who knew his name,
who knew which buttons to push. He
was alone in the world. "What
do you mean?"
night. The way you disappeared
were getting stuff for dessert."
in the kitchen. Go see for
tired of arguing."
were the one who wandered away."
didn't have an answer. She had
bottled him up again. It was
hopeless. "Well, I'm not
not so innocent."
know. I'm horrible, okay?"
stared at him, calculating. The
sun was beating down. Once again,
he was standing in the wrong place.
The sun was to her back, it was beating harder at him. Everything was empty around them. It was just them. Deciding what to do. "Can't you understand how I
had the opportunity to say something, something that would change her
mind. He'd felt these moments
before. Or, rather, looking back,
he could see moments like these that had come and gone. But it seemed that she merely wanted to
acquit herself well, to say the right things, the expected things, and get back
into the pool. Was that really so
satisfying, he wanted to ask her.
Did the world really just come down to surfaces? Was that what he had never understood,
never been able to live by? He
looked at her face for something he recognized. He felt guilty that he wasn't thinking about her. But who was she, really?
being a jerk," she said.
clip-clopped, flip-flopped back into the house on borrowed thongs. He closed his car door. Who left who, that depended on your
point of view.
saw his hands on the steering wheel.
his hands really look that old?
radio was a pathetic companion. He
kept switching channels, impatient with each fragment of sound. He cycled through the pre-selects, then
digitally notched up and down the dial.
was heavy, the Sunday race back into the city.
forgot what he was doing.
drove past the plaster dinosaurs.
Outside the windshield, climbing through the San Grigornio Pass, the
earth looked so big, it frightened him.
The wind buffeted his car.
Today, the windmills were turning.
He was fighting against the wind to get back to where he did not
particularly want to go. He could
go anywhere, that was the secret that he had lost. No, he did not have to travel back to the door with the lock
that he had a key to. There was
the whole world outside that apartment.
at the world. Look at the world
closely, that was the best way to forget about today. The light was brown, the ugliest brown that he had ever
seen, feathering into gray. Rude,
bare mountains climbed off to his left.
Hostile rocks were the home of the windmills to his right.
canopy of smog blowing in from the city was mysterious and toxic. The daylight was a tunnel filled with
cars. Sometimes sunlight
penetrated the gray air, sometimes not.
It was a mysterious, premature, swollen twilight.
lanes were crowded with vicious cars, hurrying, hurtling back to Los
Angeles. There were vans decorated
with ugly air-brushed murals of hobbits and babes, towing motorboats in their
wake. Boats coming in from the
desert. Where from? The Colorado River, Lake Havasu, the
London Bridge? It was weird enough
to sidetrack him from the agenda of suffering that he had set for himself. But he was free, wasn't he? When, if ever, would Leslie stumble
home? Or leave a message? The most logical devolution of their
marriage was into a phone relationship.
big cars, the big rigs, the pickups with big wheels, were an absurd parade that
dwarfed his little hunk of Japanese metal. He was rattled.
It was hard work staying in his lane. Everyone was in a hurry.
was upset. Or maybe not. Maybe not. Not tragically moping.
This was called denial - wasn't it? It was hard to pay attention to the road. But what was left of himself, truly
left, that was his, undiminished by disappointment, anger, a sense of
unfairness, a varnish of unhappiness?
What was there about himself that was still undaunted, that he truly
liked? He was projecting his body
in space even as all he saw of his body were his hands on the steering
wheel. And what kept him within
the bounds of the lanes, what kept the thousands of other cars driving
correctly - instinct? training?
Getting from point A to point B, wasn't that a miracle?
had felt alone with Leslie. Now he
felt alone with himself. Wasn't
that an improvement, wasn't that a more honest appreciation of his true
kept visualizing the set of rooms that he was going back to. The apartment. Their apartment. But it had been hers first. Where else could he go? Every freeway exit seemed dangerous,
offering an alternate life, unexplored.
If he thought about it at all it was too much to think about.
felt the bumps of the lane markers and re-awakened to where he was, drifting
dangerously out of his lane.
would be the flashback part of the movie.
Or the life-flashing-in-front-of-his-eyes part. He tasted dried sweat on his lip. Maybe he should have hung on to Leslie,
jumped in the pool, cleaned up for the trip back.
were dormant factories, anemic Eucalyptus trees, cars, all kinds of cars,
beaters, the shapes of dark heads seen through rear windows, he was traveling
in the river of the world, maybe it was a Hindu freeway. It was so fucking symbolic it was
saw a sign for the La Brea exit.
Somehow he was back on a familiar stretch of freeway. He felt rattled and blitzed. He felt buzzed and fuzzy trying to
conclude something about himself.
He didn't know what to think about. A BMW cut sharply in front of him.
beamer shot across another lane and was gone before he could honk his bleating
horn. Back on the home turf.
sun was low enough to hurt his eyes, a sickly orange ball, dimmed by the marine
layer, muted by the dense air.
road was gray. The sky was
gray. But overhead blue was
breaking through, hinting at a natural world up above that was obscured down
here. Stretching beyond the
freeway was the dusty green of West L.A.
It was so ugly it suited his mood.
was on auto-pilot.
apartment was empty, and it was as he remembered.
dropped his overnight bag by the door.
On second thought, it didn't make any sense that he had even carried it
up from the car.
air was stuffy. Dead. He slid open a window but kept the
he lazily inventoried the room, mindful of their impending separation, he
realized that Leslie owned all the major furniture.
he seeing the room for the last time?
Was he seeing it with naked eyes?
walls were off-white, the carpet was straw brown, the couch was ash, the chairs
were intricate wicker. It was a
muted room, whites and browns, with subtle color accents. Everything was so fucking subtle. She had a knack for making cheap furniture
look less so. It was all designer
accents, but accenting what?
sat down in an angular Phillippe Starke chair, Leslie's kick-back from a
furniture company for an office remodel job in Century City. The chair dug into his back. And there wasn't a comfortable place to
sit in the whole apartment. In his
new place, however small, however derelict, he vowed that there would be a
saw the blinking green light of the answering machine. A single blink, a single call. Leslie. He was so tempted to listen. But it could wait.
Let her wait.
didn't want to sit here.
thought about going out to eat. It
was something to do.
he didn't want to walk, he didn't want to drive.
green light pulsed in secret code, repeating, repeating, tempting him.
would she say? What if she said
something horrible, made him feel even worse. Did he feel bad or scared? It was a new life stretching beyond Sunday evening. It would be a different kind of Monday.
stood up. He told himself that he
was going out to dinner, but he went over to the answering machine and hit the
message button. It was no big
deal. He was on his way out the
is Officer Garcia, California Highway Patrol. Please give me a call at..."
dialed the number and was connected to the voice of Officer Garcia.
had been an accident.
was stunned, his chest swollen with fear, as if his life were threatened.
was a world outside the apartment, on the other side of the blinds, at the end
of the telephone line. He picked
up the phone and dialed.
Garcia described an auto accident.
what accident wasn't?
black Range Rover belonging to Jack Brown had rear-ended a propane truck. On Interstate 10, at Cabazon. There had been a fire on the desert
highway. Both passengers were
dead. They had Leslie's drivers
was invited to the morgue to identify her body.
wasn't a mystery that needed solving.
hung up the phone.
green message light still blinked.
It would blink forever, or until he rewound the tape.
had walked, what, ten feet to the phone.
He had heard, what, fifty, a hundred words, from a man he would never
talk to again. Words had changed
his life - there was something to be said for words.
wasn't this the movie he had chosen?
if it were a courtroom drama, an existential courtroom drama, what had he
done? What had she done? What had they done to each other? What was the evidence?
had seen a stolen kiss, pool side.
Later, he had felt her empty side of the bed. How much evidence was that? Was that enough to convict her? Then there was the gap in time, the desert hours, where had
Leslie been when he had gone into the cave with Sean?
all this, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, against the backdrop of fucked-up
had felt certain of her guilt in the driveway; there was nothing else he could
do but leave. And she could have
left with him. It had been clear
then, he had felt a certain moment of certainty, hadn't he? Certainly he had felt bad. She had been a big part of his feeling
bad. But how much could he trust
of what he remembered?
one wants to see another unhappy relationship movie.
hadn't killed her, but had he wrongly set the chain of events in motion?
unhappy relationship movie was getting cross-wired with the what if what if
what if movie.
had acted decisively.
had not expected this.
if he was just grandstanding.
sat back down in the uncomfortable Starke chair. He couldn't think beyond a single sentence. The room felt smaller, the white walls
closer. Now he was glad that the
vicious looking black French chair hurt his back. He wanted things to hurt, at least a little bit, that was
some kind of atonement for being alive while she wasn't.
hadn't expected to feel bad. Not
at all. Not at something that had
been Leslie's fault. And Jack's. Jack and Leslie's fault.
was his decision to ride home alone.
He could have waited. He
had not waited. It was her
decision not to ride with him. It
hurt to think about what was, what had been, what never was, what he had done,
the chain of events he had set in motion, the tire treads leading here, wasn't
he finally alone, now, weren't these his walls, without her, his
furniture? He had inherited her
furniture as the meek should have inherited the earth and he would live in the
museum of Leslie's taste, a memorial to a moment in time that was gone and yet
would last forever. Had it all
been his fault? All his
anger. Her anger. Their anger. But. She wasn't
the worst thing - she had been on his side hadn't she? They had slept on the same side of the
door, in the same bed. An abstract
thought was what he couldn't see, it was the clear thing distorting the
air. His eyes weren't focusing
right, he felt either fatigue or clogged tears. Whatever. He
felt bad. This was something more
than a fight. She wasn't there to
fight with. Anymore.
try it again.
one more time.
watched the green light blink. It
could be the rhythm of a song.
was what came after.
felt was emptier than he had ever expected. Who said that things could not change. He was sitting in the same room. It wasn't the same. Would the smell of her shampoo still be
on her pillow? And the funeral,
what about the funeral? Someone,
anyone, who would ask why had he come home first, why weren't they together? What would he say? He felt the spin of absurd
calculations. His stomach hurt.
was a faint red beyond the blinds.
Outside it was probably sunset.
His legs felt cramped. He
would not move them. Another
penance. He anticipated a very
long list of penances. And the
bite on his arm, the insect that had been alive when Leslie was alive, the
insect that maybe had survived her life span. He reached with his right hand to touch the bite of his left
bicep. The pressure hurt, then
felt good, then hurt even more.
The bite felt more alive than his mind. And what was he thinking, other then seeing the blinds, the
monkey grass on the drop-leaf oak table, the aloe vera in its terra cotta
planter. Had his mind left his
head to reside in the room - could he walk out of this room and leave his
consciousness behind? He couldn't
remember just now exactly who he was, other than someone who had driven home
alone, impatient, petulant.
the blinds it was blue, twilight over the unseen ocean. He crawled onto the floor. Wouldn't somebody call? He wanted a phone call to ignore, he
wanted to hear a voice on the machine.
heard the faint strum of a television.
A car alarm chirped to attention.
A plane hummed, presumably in the sky. If he listened closely, there was city life on the other
side of the walls. He had done one
thing. Now he didn't want to do
anything. Ever again. He felt melodramatic. The years were gone. So was the day. This day. The ache of minutes.
Could he die of boredom? Would
he die of boredom even before he died of starvation?
he reminded himself that his eyes were open. Had he been sleeping?
His back ached. Strangely,
absurdly, lightly, lucidly he was enjoying his penance, his mild bed of nails.
heard the scrape of metal from somewhere either in back of or in front of his
dream - what was the dream - what was that thing that had slipped away? There was light on the ceiling. There was a shadow on the ceiling, in
the center of the light. This
occurred to him slowly as he pieced together what he was looking at.
front door closed. Darkness, then
are you doing on the floor?"
was home. He looked at her
stupidly. Confused. She looked like she had gotten too much
wrong with you?" she asked.
sat up. "You're okay?"
frowned without answering and went into the bedroom with her suitcase.
green light on the answering machine was not blinking.
felt trapped in a different way.
He tasted sleep in his mouth.
He heard the bathroom door squeak closed. He needed to pee, fiercely. He was alive again with calculations and needs. He stood up. Would they sleep in the same bed? What would they talk about? Would he apologize?
Would he ever know what had happened with Jack? Moment by moment he would construct a
new version of the truth. Who was
mad at who? Would he have to talk
to her in passing to get into the bathroom? If he could just pee then it would be easier to think. If he just felt a little better about
standing inside his body. It would
be better in a hotel room. The
Vegas Story. That would be a
better place to be. Maybe that
would be the story that wrote itself.
It was like going into battle going into the other room. They were back in the apartment. Together. Together again.
Certainly there must be a polite way to speak. The night was survivable. All he had to do was go into the other room.
did not have to imagine any more disasters.
would imagine no more disasters.
promised himself that.
was that promise, the other promise, the one that was always slipping away?
he had to do was go into the other room.
walked the bold dozen or so steps.
Into the bedroom. Their
bedroom. Dark now.
sat down on the white coverlet, on his side of the bed, obeying the territorial
rules, and leaned against the Shaker bed frame, exhausted. He saw his stack of books on his night stand.
He wondered what her mood would be when she came out of the
bathroom. It was a blessing in a
way. Whatever happened was a
was already in her night gown when she stepped back into the bedroom. She looked grumpy. He expected no less.
you glad you came home early?" she asked.
you?" He felt the old pattern
leaping into place.
made a fool of yourself."
you want me to apologize?"
you have to ask?"
didn't think he was expected to answer.
Answering, however he answered, would just make things worse.
course you have to ask. But don't
you know, that ruins everything?"
do you mean, let go?"
don't know." He needed to
pee, but now wasn't the time to move.
It would ruin everything - what was left to be ruined. What was left? That was worth asking, if there was
some successful way to phrase that question.
got under the coverlet. He didn't
turn to face her. He looked at the
dresser. He saw her black purse on
top, its mouth open, poised to disperse or receive personal objects. She had put her purse on the dresser. The purse had been placed there by
Leslie, a body moving in space.
She had parked the purse for the night, then parked herself.
was looking at the wall. He was
thinking about her. Was she
looking at him? Could he solve the
mystery by turning around?
glad you're home."
didn't say anything. Was he
speaking to the wall? Was he
speaking to her?
said I'm glad you're home."
we talk about it tomorrow?"
really need some quiet time."
wanted to say something. He could
feel that something licking at his tongue. Some words that would pull it all together, the perfect
words, he felt them inside of his mouth, waiting to be born. He felt safe as long as he did not
move. He felt better imagining her
face than seeing it. He heard a
low sibilant and felt the shift of pressure as her foot moved under the covers,
away from him. He heard a book
open, the turn of unseen pages.
There were no shadows on the wall he was watching.