7. Leaving Los Angeles, A Novella in Three Parts

Part 1 — Memorial Day

This is the last title in my serialization of my collection Stories from The Last Basin currently available on Amazon. Due to shared characters across stories, they are best read in the order of Table Contents:

7. LEAVING LOS ANGELES, A NOVELLA IN THREE PARTS

PART 1 — MEMORIAL DAY

PART 2 — CODA (FOR MRS. GLASSMAN)

PART 3 — THE TENTH FLOOR

I knew I would ultimately have to combine the last three stories into a short novella of approximately 22,500 words. I also trust that the reader who has made it this far in my collection will appreciate that rather than break the three stories that comprise this literary triptych I have left each of the three stories whole, rather than to serialize them further. All comments are welcome but I would particularly like to hear what you think of this editorial decision.

Part 1 — Memorial Day

by John Anthony, 2021

Sheri Glassman held a soirée every Memorial Day at her home high in the hills above the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. The house possessed expansive ocean views, including Catalina Island on good, clear days, and Santa Barbara Island on exceptionally clear days. The lot, elevation, and construction were architected with entertainment as a foundational purpose, and the purpose was lavishly achieved. The lot wasn’t measured in standard square footage but in acreage, slightly less than eight-tenths of an acre, which was a veritable country estate along the overbuilt parts of Los Angeles’s western edge that harbored the ocean views. Mrs. Glassman had overseen the construction two decades earlier, and when her loving husband, whose infidelities bordered on that fine line between famous and infamous, divorced her to marry one of his paramours, she kept the property, the means to maintain it, and his surname. Her insistence on being addressed as Mrs. Glassman was not negotiable, nor was a rationale required as she felt it unnecessary. There could be only one Mrs. Glassman — any others were pretenders.

The gathering was not in the spirit of the solemn Memorial Day holiday; however, it was in the spirit of the season, on the precipice of summer’s eternal promise, which is not to fault the party or its hostess but is to point out that the promise of summer was reason enough for an outdoor dinner party. Mrs. Glassman was holiday-agnostic, an accepted but little noted offshoot of her liberal faith, and she and many others looked upon all holidays as opportunities to celebrate the agency born of living, not the mandated law of dying, and therefore she gracefully and equally ignored all political, religious, or cultural roots accorded these special days and was able to escape the qualms that might entrap others.

“Happy Memorial Day!” she said as a greeting, planting a smudge of lipstick on each guest’s cheek then dutifully wiping the men’s cheeks semi-clean with an embroidered handkerchief she had acquired with specificity some years before and held in her right hand throughout the welcoming ritual. The embroidery, sewn in small cursive along the edge tucked into her hand read, “Kisses fall free as rain, but love’s cost is paid in pain.” To the women, she said, “You look so beautiful this evening! But what a mess I’ve made with my enthusiasm! Will you submit to the handkerchief?” she asked mischievously, “Or do you prefer the powder room?” Most veterans chose the powder room.

Mrs. Glassman was a tiny woman, both in height and weight, but made up for it in spirit and energy. She kept her hair dyed meticulously black as ebony, her lipstick sanguinely colored red, and her skin as white as newly fallen snow.

“Welcome to my fairytale!” Mrs. Glassman would frequently say without a hint of irony although she was undoubtedly aware it was ironic.

“Bettelheim would respond that fairytales are but the repeated tellings of the collective experience of the human condition most useful in anchoring prepubescent free-floating anxiety upon a safely shared social fantasy,” responded florid-faced Professor Victor De’Lytle, knob-nosed and with long wispy grey hair that failed in its duty to camouflage the baldness of his pate. He preferred “professor” to “doctor” as to distinguish himself from the vocational and unsanitary labor of medicine. He was a Classics Professor which to everyone who knew him only socially meant that he had a erudite opinion on everything. While he had moved to Los Angeles to do what professors do, Hollywood eventually found him, and occasionally utilized his credentials to add veritas and an air of verisimilitude for films that were felt to require some extra juice in those areas. In exchange, Professor De’Lytle received a little compensation and a lot of invitations to parties and premiers, all of which he thoroughly enjoyed attending.

“Oh, posh on your abstract theories! Have a drink, Victor. Enjoy!” she would respond, and flit away just like a fairy, her favored subterfuge. The professor, finding himself without an audience, heeded her advice and headed to the bar, before poking around for a more receptive student among the guests.

Mrs. Glassman was dedicated to fun, but to conclude only that would do her an injustice. She had loved Mr. Glassman and perhaps still did, but that wasn’t going to stop her from collecting the fifty percent of his earnings due her for a quarter century of committed marriage, which amounted to a small but ample fortune, or from secretly enjoying the fact that the now sixty year old man was experiencing the fun of raising two children conceived at the insistence of his new and fecund young bride (call it schadenfreude-lite). She even forgave the misplaced loyalty of her own children.

“How are Seth and Sarah, Mrs. Glassman?” asked Rebecca Slatt, an independent feminist documentarian who, having learned from prior experience, had slipped past her hostess upon arrival and picked up a bourbon, neat, and had almost finished it before running into Mrs. Glassman who was circulating among her guests.

“I’m quite sure they are having a great amount of fun,” Mrs. Glassman replied, with unforced ebullience. “They both work for their father at his production company. They’re so talented! I follow their work on that movie website…”

“IMDB?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“Will they be joining us this evening?”

“Of course not. I am not their golden goose.” Mrs. Glassman said sincerely smiling despite the less than subtle enunciation. “I don’t poke around on that website much,” she continued, “But I did notice that you haven’t had a new entry in several years.”

“Funding for my work is hard to acquire. Perhaps…”

“So good to see you, Becky! Why not refresh your drink at the bar?” she suggested, and then with a flirtatious smile, “You know the way, of course.”

Mrs. Glassman moved through her throng of guests with charm, wit, and a cultivated elusiveness that was mandatory to maintain both her independence and social standing. Her kids might be mercenary assholes, but she would never admit the thought into her carefully curated world — that was the topic of hushed conversation between Aiden and Janie Anderson who, seated nearby, had been listening in.

“A force of nature,” Aiden said.

“You’re turning her into a cliché,” Janie instructed him.

“And how would you describe her?”

“As a walking, talking lesson: When life hands you lemons, make what you can of the consequent divorce settlement,” Janie answered.

“That was cheery,” Aiden said with a forced little laugh and Janie smiled as coded messages were sent and received. They had grown into their forties together, staying fit and attractive, projecting success, enduring pain, coding messages because words so often failed them. “I love you, Janie.”

“You love Sheri,” Janie said dismissively, a barely coded reply.

“I had a crush on Sheri, and that was way before we met.”

“And here we are, twenty years later.”

“Which makes her an old friend.”

“You were definitely a child back then,” Janie said. Aiden smiled.

“It seems I was.” And he retreated into the memory of a young married woman, first available, then resplendent with child, then forever lost to his childish fantasies. “She still holds a place in my heart, but it’s a very small place, tiny in fact. Microscopic.”

“I’m sure, my love,” Janie said and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Sid did help you,” she reminded him.

“A bit,” Aiden said. “But Sheri is the one to respect.”

“Why do you think that is?” Janie wondered.

“I’d like to think it’s the strength of the wronged overcoming the weakness of the wrongful. She’s a symbol.”

“A cymbal? Aren’t you suppose to hit those with a stick?”

“Haha. And I was trying to elevate the conversation,” Aiden said with a straight face.

“Of course you were,” Janie said and this time they both laughed a little. “Face it. She’s a woman with an affinity for parties, nothing more or less. Now shush!” as she saw Mrs. Glassman approach, otherwise Aiden would have vehemently disagreed although Janie had said nothing that wasn’t obvious to her.

“How did I miss you in the foyer!” Mrs. Glassman said earnestly. Janie smiled politely knowing Aiden was the one the question was directed at.

“Good evening, Sheri! We crept in quiet as field mice . . .” Aiden said.

“As though you’ve ever seen such a creature!” Mrs. Glassman replied.

“You’re right! But I can imagine them and feel that the tiny mice are an apt analogy. We are also just little creatures in this giant field of Los Angeles society. You were busy when we arrived and didn’t want to disturb you.” Aiden was one of the few who could still call her Sheri without rebuke, he knew her when she was young and though married, still seeking acknowledgement of her style and sexuality. Aiden had seen her repress that trait for many years, before it returned with a vengeance after she turned fifty.

“Nonsense, Mr. Studio Exec. Now it’s time for a proper greeting!” Mrs. Glassman said and planted two lipstick smudges, one on each of his cheeks — a double blessing. “And my dear,” she said, “So good of you to join us.” But Janie only offered her hand. She found herself in no need of the platitudes.

“You’re too kind, Mrs. Glassman. This little field mouse is here out of respect, and to make nice with Mr. Studio Exec.”

“Your honesty is delightful!” Mrs. Glassman said. “Is it true you two are on the mend?’ Aiden made hand motions in an attempt to ward Janie off, but the question lay suspended in the luminiferous ether.

“Mend? I’m not sure a heart can be mended. Memory is not the same as a bruise. It’s more like a deep cut. The scar always remains. But I wouldn’t want to spoil the mood, Mrs. Glassman. I’ll simply say we are both here, sitting together, trying . . .”

Trying. The relief of hearing this word spoken by Janie was like an electrical charge that refilled Aiden’s lagging energy. Conjured to life with this unexpected promise, he quickly interjected, “The separation was necessary, as is a reconciliation, I hope. I accept both. One as a deserved remittance, the other as a welcome security.”

“Which is why I love the two of you, Aiden! You balance the ledger! Otherwise life can be so trying.” and with a practiced tee-hee and hi-de-ho, she was off on her rounds. Aiden looked at Janie, and Janie looked at Aiden, and they both tried to suppress their laughter and failing that, muffled it as best they could.

“The two of you! Does she even know my name?” Janie asked.

“Of course she does! I think…” and another round of muted laughter until suddenly the long shadow of Professor De’Lytle cast them in darkness. Aiden looked up.

“Dr. Doolittle!” he said with enthusiasm.

“Professor De’Lytle,” the professor said.

“Professor! I apologize!” (not really, he thought), “It’s always a pleasure to see you!” (but the pleasure would be at the professor’s expense — did he catch a glimpse of Janie pleading with him to be nice?).

“Apology accepted,” said Professor De’Lytle, bowing with the slightest European affectation.

“How is your work?” Aiden said.

“Well, if you must ask, I’m deeply engaged in an extension of Frederic Jameson’s Marxist criticism of Joyce’s Ulysses. Capitalism breeds commodity fetishes, as you must be aware.”

“I actually am not aware,” Aiden said and was positive he didn’t care.

“It’s fairly obvious. In 1904 Dublin, commodities were already being anthropomorphized, if in rudimentary ways. Now we’re awash in them!”

“Are we?” A light kick from Janie, but Aiden ignored it.

“I dare say! Don’t you watch the silly commercials? Singing bars of soap and all of that nonsense? Ha ha. I made a joke: Awash with soap!”

“I’m sure,” Aiden said, “But actually, we don’t watch silly commercials, but that’s not to say you aren’t entirely correct. We’ve cut our cord precisely because of advertisements such as those.”

“Cut your cord?” the Professor asked suspiciously.

“Figuratively, Professor. We no longer livestream contemporary TV shows. It helps keep us sane.”

“Indeed.”

“I am what I am and there is no more I therefore sleep with the bleached bones of lost brethren pining for the plank and pitch lost to them while tied to the wind-rivened mast howling the oily siren’s call,” Aiden recited as if from memory.

“Excuse me?” the Professor asked. “I’m not familiar with that quote.”

“Of course you aren’t,” Aiden said. “I just made it up. It’s Ulysses commoditized as Popeye in the style of Joyce.”

“You seem to be trivializing my work.”

“Professor, I would never trivialize the importance of your work. Joyce’s work is full of jokes, shouldn’t he be celebrated in the same way? Popeye as the tragic Ulysses, just add punctuation wherever you like. And Olive Oil as Penelope. It’s funny, isn’t it?”

“Oh my Lord, save us from your nonsense,” the Professor chuckled. “Thank your heathen gods you aren’t one of my students!”

“Please excuse, Aiden, Professor De’Lytle,” Janie interrupted. “His jokes are more often than not hilarious to him but not so much to anyone else.”

“Of course I will, dear Janie. All in good fun. But my glass is empty so I must excuse myself,” he said with his affected bow. “I am what I am and there is no more I. Good grief! Good one, Aiden!” and he wandered off in the direction of the bar.

“Dilettante,” Aiden said in a stage whisper to Janie.

“Asshole,” Janie scolded in a sharper whisper to Aiden, who cringed.

“It was a pinprick!” he protested. “Although had it been a sword it couldn’t have wounded him more. The man is as thick as a brick.”

“And that’s why we come to Sheri’s parties? So you can make fun of her guests?”

“I came here to sit with you, sipping good wine, and look at the ocean and wait for the sunset, so we can share it together.” Involuntarily, she moved closer, pressing against him.

“It’s always different, but always beautiful, isn’t it?” Janie said.

“The infinite guises of beauty.”

“Is that a quote?”

“Of course not. I’m not smart enough to remember quotes. Maybe some. The ineluctable modality of vision comes to mind.”

“What does that mean?”

“There’s no escaping what we see.”

“What do you see?”

“Right now? I see the only woman I’ve ever loved,” he said and Janie leaned away from him.

“I think you mean the ineluctable modality of memory,” she said correcting him. Aiden felt perplexed. He thought he had told her what she would want to hear. “You can’t escape your own memories, history proves otherwise.” Janie said. “You loved me once, do you really love me now?”

“More than ever.”

“Ha! Love as a commodity. The more dear, the more precious. I withhold, you value it more highly. I’m beginning to think the Professor is onto something important.” Aiden went silent for a moment. This wasn’t what he meant at all and he felt trapped, likely because she had trapped him.

“You see that rock on the horizon?” Aiden said, changing the subject.

“Yes.”

“Santa Barbara Island. It doesn’t look like much from here. I wish you had come with us that day. There are so many things I’ve seen I wished we could have shared.”

“You said it was the most frightening cruise you’ve ever been on.”

“It was, and it wasn’t. Sure, at the bottom of a trough all we could see was the wave in front and the wave behind, but when we reached the island and anchored in the lee harbor, if you want to call it that, the water was calm as a lake. Spinner dolphins raced past us, shadows of sharks snaked by in the crystal water, the beaches were crowded with bellowing sea lions and elephant seals by the thousands, the sky was literally darkened by screaming seabirds, baitfish balled up to sacrifice the outliers to yellowtails, there were rocky cliffs and sea stacks, it was the California coast two centuries ago, before we ruined it. That rock we see from here is so much more. It’s life without us. It was,” he paused, thinking, then said, “abundant.” He paused again, reflecting.

“There was one other boat moored there. We hailed it on the radio. The owner said he was a lone lobster trapper from Port Hueneme. He told us his catch was meager, but who knows? His holding tank may have been full. Abundant. The people who labor to extract their living from the earth’s resources seem much more clever than we are. Why would they give up their secrets?”

“And you wish you were more like the lobster man?”

“Yes. No. I am what I am, right? And there is no more. I admire him in the same way I admire Ulysses. The gods said, you are alone! Find your way home.” Janie leaned against him again.

“I want you to come home,” she said, but you don’t need me to, Aiden thought. “That trip to the island was as selfish as all your,” Janie stumbled, searching for the right word. “. . . adventures. Were they all simply points on a scorecard? And are they born of your fears or your conceits?”

“Selfish?” he asked, stuck on that word alone.

“Not because of me. Your children. Did you think about what it might mean to them to grow up fatherless?” Yes, he thought. Fatherless was likely better than having him as a father. However, they had been fatherless for some time now, and they seemed little affected, so there was that.

* * * * *

The sun gently touched the tip of Point Dume. Most of the guests were too busy exchanging industry gossip to notice. Movies had recently opened with box office rankings to debate, newer movies were in the can awaiting their release date, others were shelved awaiting a decision akin to a capital murder defendant awaiting a jury’s verdict. Three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, yet some dates were coveted as though they were the Holy Grail, while other dates spelled a fated damnation for the film regardless of merit, dooming a project that may have taken more years to reach a limited release than a child takes to graduate from elementary school. None of this was of any concern to Milton Apexus, who now appeared in the foyer. He was a senior vice president with 1st United, a commercial bank whose success had been entirely dependent on being the financial underpinnings of the studio enterprises.

“Milt!” Sheri called, “You’re here!”

“I am, my dear,” he said in an Oxbridge accent, which no one had ever ascertained its origin’s legitimacy. He received the compulsory kiss on the cheek and subsequent cleansing. She grabbed his hand. “Quickly now. The sun is setting.”

“As it does every night. You do realize the world turns?’

“Go ahead, deny the beauty. Your world is what, internal rates of return? Actuals realized against booked assets?”

“Mrs. Glassman! You wound me. Studio heads worry about actuals; missing them has an immediate impact on their studio’s income statements. For me, it’s always and only about the portfolio. Tell me this,” he asked, as though it was an interesting question, “what movies can turn a profit and still diminish the wealth of shareholders?”

“Is it a riddle or a joke? I’m sure I don’t know.”

“And I’m not sure I know if I’m good at delivering punch lines for either of those genres, but here’s trying: Every movie!” And they both laughed, likely for different reasons.

“I suppose we all know that,” Mrs. Glassman said to fill the vacuum, “This is dreamland. Everyone dreams.”

“Dreams most likely that will be dashed. Vegas has better odds and the casinos always win. What’s a poor development producer to do?” and Milton offered his off-key chuckle.

“Look. Look at the sun,” Mrs. Glassman said desperate to change the subject. And Milton looked, and saw only that there were times the earth blocked his view of the closest star in the sky. He wasn’t equipped to see anything more. Disappointed at Milton’s lack of enthusiasm, Mrs. Glassman pointed towards Aiden and Janie. “Milton. Over there is your friend Aiden. Why not say hello?” Milton, having little intention other than to arrive uncomfortably and stay uncomfortable, obliged his host’s singular instruction, and wandered in Aiden’s general direction, stopping for an Old Fashioned along the way.

“Dear Aiden. Are you here to worship the earth as it engulfs the sun?”

“Why would I worship something that occurs as regularly as the earth spins? Worship should be reserved for things far less quotidian.”

“Yet so many still think the sun sets beyond the horizon rather than the horizon rises to meet the sun,” Milton said.

“Ha-ha! Ever the stickler for objectivity, Milt. The enduring illusion fooled us for a thousand millennia. Still there’s an aesthetic aspect when watching the earth’s movement obscure the sun with its impertinent orbital spin. I appreciate it, as does Janie,” Aiden added, in order to direct Milton’s involuntarily constrained mind towards the social convention of acknowledging Janie’s presence.

“And good evening, Janie,” Milton said, as if it had been his plan all along. “You are more lovely than I last remember.” Milton bent down for a cheek kiss then dutifully stood up, back on subject, as if all the years of greetings wasn’t worth the ten dollar bill he had palmed to the valet in exchange for a front row spot for his Maybach S600 (giving him a quick exit from the pain of having to mingle with the haute bourgeoise). “It’s such a waste to continue to patronize these soirées.”

“Why is that?’ Aiden asked glancing at Janie who rolled her eyes at him.

“Well. It’s their loathsome unctuousness for one, I’d say,” Milton replied.

“Ha-ha.” Aiden laughed. “Oh please, their unctuousness is all reserved for you. You’re the well-spring of movie-money. You are their Mammon. Accept their pitiful offerings.”

“That’s a bit derogatory, but funny none the less,” Milton said, while failing to laugh or smile or even offer his tone-deaf chuckle. This feature of Milton’s personality Aiden found endearing, as he believed that he alone, or among the few, understood it. Milton was incapable of exhibiting mirth, although he clearly felt it somewhere; Aiden was simply unsure of its locus.

“And how is the movie-money business?” Aiden asked.

“Always profitable, unlike the movies themselves,” Milton said, making Aiden smile. Milton surely did have a sense of humor, dry as Death Valley, but it existed.

“Tell me, Milton,” Janie said, “how can you finance films and your bank always be profitable?”

“If you’re making a distinction between films and movies, it’s easy. Films are vanity projects and they have to find financing elsewhere, because with the rarest of exceptions, they will make their financiers less wealthy. The bank only works with studios. Studios make movies with the intention of also making a profit, one way or another and they invariably do. Do you want to know the secret?”

“There’s a secret?” Janie asked.

“Not really,” Milton replied. “It’s more of a collective, irrational denial of the obvious.” Aiden watched Janie listen. She was so beautiful, just as she was the day he met her. Twenty years and her beauty had aged accordingly, to the full and complete promise of a woman. He just wanted to hold her and love her and love loving her and love the love she felt for him, but Milton continued and Janie kept her attention fixed on his explanation.

“Studios don’t finance movies with their own money. They borrow it from us. Let’s say we charge them six percent on a three-year production loan. They will then turn around and lend it to the development producer at twelve percent.”

“Twelve percent interest?” Janie asked.

“For the sake of argument. Whatever the amount, the studio starts the whole production process with a built in profit on the loan, and that profit always gets paid back first.”

“It seems the definition of avarice,” Janie said quietly.

“Avarice? Surely not on our part. We pay our depositors interest of course, and our shareholders receive dividends and capital gains, what’s left goes to operating expenses,” Milton said, pausing for effect. “We provide the capital that underlies capitalism!” he declared.

“Yes, but what about the creators that want to add to our artistic heritage. It seems as though the whole industry is built upon using their naïveté.”

“Again, you’re confusing movies with film. Those who want to contribute their assets to cultural heritage do so,” he said. “Aiden?” He was looking for help, but Aiden was not about to take sides against Janie, not now, not ever, and he swore an oath to himself. He would make this whole thing right again, tonight. He was energized.

“Milton, just admit you’d fit in well in Carthage. You’re a Carthaginian. A great and powerful civilization of mercantilists who gave no thought to aesthetics, leaving a somewhat large hole in our understanding of their culture. When is the last time you heard someone say, ‘I’m off to see the collected works of Carthage, they’re on display at LACMA for three months!’?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, although I believe LACMA is closed for renovation.”

“That’s not the point. There are no collected works of Carthage because they left no cultural aesthetic. What is culture to you?”

“Culture?”

“Exactly.”

“That’s not fair. Are you asking for an exact definition or a broad definition? I’m not so dull as to fall into some rhetorical trick.”

“Any definition will do.”

“Then culture is the expression of a society. A society has a culture.”

“Fair enough. You’ve managed to equate society and culture. My question, your point.” Aiden leaned into Janie with a confident moment of intimacy, then leaned forward. “A different tack, perhaps. Why does one society cultivate culture while another doesn’t?”

“Let me ask you, what the hell does culture have to do with a society’s success or failure? The Carthaginians were a great success in their time.” Milton said not backing down. For a moment he looked like he was lost in thought, then he found what he was looking for. “I’ve been to the Mauna Kea Resort and have seen Laurance Rockefeller’s collection of Pacific Island Art. I say, so what? What did the Pacific Islanders’ art add to their success or failure?”

“Nuance,” Aiden said without hesitation.

“What?”

“Success or failure? There’s more to the world than our adopted Aristotelian classification system. The earth, and all life on it, is an analog system, yet we’re trained to fit one thing here, another thing there, as though everything is discrete, digitized. That’s not how many if not most cultures saw the world. Most probably, at least. There’s drifting with the ocean currents, following the floating coconuts and the soaring seabirds. Trying, failing, and accepting. Trying, succeeding, and starting over. Challenging the static, imagining the horizon isn’t a barrier but a passage. Having faith that faith alone will be enough. And of course, realizing that your societal aims are important enough to memorialize in cultural artifacts.”

“Nonsense. Culture is nothing more than an artifact.” Milton was becoming agitated, an unusual response in such an emotionless man.

“It’s as though you have one eye! You see only what you’ve been trained to see, you’re a two dimensional being sliding along a flat backdrop. Open your other eye and experience the dimensionality!” Aiden said, and for his trouble he received another kick from Janie, then she grabbed his head and pulled his ear close to her mouth, “Be careful. You are what you are.”

“I believe I need another drink,” Milton said. “May I fetch something for you?” Janie shook her head and Aiden waved him off.

“We appreciate the offer, though,” Aiden said. “I’m sure we’ll chat again before the end of the evening.” Janie wasn’t sure of that at all, but she was fine with the outcome. She thought Milton was an ass.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Aiden said.

“That’s unlikely,” Janie replied.

“That you didn’t need my help putting Milton in his place. The ancient city-state of Carthage, no less.”

“Truth? I was thinking that Milton was an ass,” she said, while considering Aiden, the man she had known for so long. “Now I’m thinking you are too.”

“I’m an ass? Because I skewered Milty? He’ll be fine.”

Skewered Milton? With a clever sounding but insubstantial fantasy about culture, influence, and artifacts? And from you, the great defender of Western traditions. You just don’t know when to keep your mouth shut. I don’t have to think, I know you believe I’m some kind of helpless thing who can’t defend her position. You might try thinking, though. Carthaginian? Why not a Philistine or Hun?”

“Well, they’re not exactly the same . . .” Aiden said instinctively, distracted by how agitated Janie had become. He had thought it had all been just good fun.

“Not the same? Why don’t you teach me?” she said, but the edge in her voice made it a challenge.

“Janie. Let’s not do this tonight. I’m sorry.”

“A child is sorry when they spill a glass of milk. Here’s a thought: Try and consider someone else who has stumbled through life with one eye closed,” Janie said, pausing. “You are who you are.” This time it stung.

“I’ll be right back. Save my seat?” Janie asked, and Aiden nodded as mindlessly as the question was needlessly posed. Where exactly did he stand? Point Dume ungently, urgently swallowed the sun in one whole gulp.

* * * * *

As soon as Janie began her search for a free bathroom, Shelly Clarity planted her tall, skinny body next to Aiden.

“Shelly. How are you?” Aiden greeted her, knowing in advance the tone and timbre of her reply.

“As well as can be expected, and I keep my expectations low. I spend a lot of time refining my reel.” Her reel being highlights of the TV work she’d done. She had spent a couple of years as a writer/performer for a late-night weekly comedy show, specializing in iconoclastic skits, then moved quickly into television acting, playing the mom to a ‘tween heroine.

“My show’s been canceled so it’s back to refining my reel and hoping for a break. However, when I watch my reel, there’s not much there really, is there? I mean, everything seems so yesterday, which it is of course, but how do you sell yesterday to tomorrow’s audience? It used to be so easy to just be funny, but it’s not like that anymore.”

“Contemporaneous humor versus universal humor, right? One gets weekly laughs, the other gets syndication.”

“You bet your ass,” she said, sucking the last liquid from the ice in her glass and then looking around for someone to refill it. “I can’t catch a break.”

“Always the break, right Shelly?”

“Seems to me to be.”

“You started in stand-up. What about the college circuit?”

“Are you shitting me?”

“No.”

“What do those little pinholes care about a white woman who raised a ‘tweener adolescent with super powers?”

“You’re typecasting yourself.”

“You’re typecasting me!”

“Now you’re projecting.” Shelly was a genius of projection, an Einstein of neuroses, Aiden noted to himself. Shelly’s shtick was to write sketch gags about her severe anxiety which her creative imagination then made manifest in a limitless palette of ways. When she went on to a syndicated sitcom, it was still her shtick, though toned-down by the show runners. And now here she was, a new bouquet of neuroses, tweaking her “best of” reel in the hope she’d land another TV or movie role. The trouble was, she was typecast, and the older she got, the less funny it seemed. When she was young, it could be cute indecision or cringe inducing social disasters, but as she grew older it became paralytic stasis. Just not enough fun when her screen persona was so close to many viewers’ reality.

“Are you casting?” she asked Aiden while trying and failing to get the attention of a passing waitstaff by waving her empty drink.

“That’s not in my job description, Shelly. I green light films based on only a few inputs: Development producer, writer, director, and editor, cinematographer, slate of appropriate actors committed to the major parts in the screenplay, that kind of stuff. Find a development producer with the need for someone as unique as you are.”

“You mean quirky, neurotic, damaged, right?” she said.

“No, no Shelly! I mean someone who can embrace that kind of character.”

“Thanks for your help, Assden, I mean Aiden,” she said then looked away. “Sorry. I didn’t intend that to come out like that.”

“No offense, Shelly. Kind of funny, actually. Objectivity keeps me employed. I’ll get you a meeting with Judd. Are you good with that? I promise. His people will be talking to you. Give me until Wednesday, the latest Thursday. Is that good? You know I wouldn’t let you down.”

“You’re a sweetheart, Aiden. What’s your direct number?”

“Sure thing,” he said, patting his jacket down. “But it seems I don’t have my private phone with me. I just can’t remember my latest number since having to constantly change it. Here’s my card. You’ll get through to Mel and I’ll make sure she knows I’m expecting your call.” As he finished, Janie returned with enough time to hear his patent spiel about calling Melanie. Shelly shook Janie’s hand and bounced away, looking forward to a couple of days of promise.

“Of all people! You just blew off Shelly,” Janie said.

“No. I told her I’d get her a meeting with Judd.”

“How many meetings does he take?”

“Enough.”

“Seriously? I guess she’ll be perfect playing the Emma Stone character as a ditzy grandmother in the 2025 release of Superbad II,” Janie deadpanned.

“What do you expect me to do, Janie? Great actors play comedy well, great comedians play themselves. History reveals the odds.”

“There’s my Aiden, always standing on the right side of history,” Janie said. She settled back in her chair. “Kind of a self-selective history to me, but what do I know?”

“Janie, sure there are exceptions, but I’m not paid to bet on the long shots . . .”

“Right. Missed my point — again.” Before Aiden could fully parse Janie’s reply, there was the sound of a splash, then another and another and Janie and Aiden’s attention was drawn to the pool. Several of the younger guests had brought or borrowed swimsuits and made the commitment to try the water. Into the pool they jumped, characters on display: Muscling rippling dives and slightly suggestive while also hesitatingly demure dives and sadly beseeching, attention begging leaps of vaudevillian belly flops. Mrs. Glassman had been heating the pool for most of the day, so it wasn’t that much of a commitment, but it was an opportunity to share with the world their young and toned bodies. They called to their friends surrounding the pool to take photos as they struck poses casual, carnal, intimate. Epidemic narcissism, Aiden thought, loosed on the world by the advent of the smartphone. The DJ was spinning a minor hit from the late nineties which was a far from subtle critique of Los Angeles chic juxtaposed against Los Angeles reality. Danceable, the lyrics are almost completely subsumed by the staccato beat; the message lost in the medium.

Pancho sweats ditches while Juana sweeps for her Missus,

Missus lounges by the pool, dialin’ up some hugs and kisses.

Eucalyptus trees snapping like crackers in the heat,

Wearing only coconut oil and sandals on her feet.

When Daddy comes home he’s gonna love that tan,

And she’s gonna love him back, call him her man.

Aiden wondered at the chance of it. They sat with a backdrop of eucalyptus, a pool filled with the young and beautiful, and the caterer’s waitstaff was never far. Was it a subversive act of the DJ or merely a feature of the dance-heavy play list? Wistfully, he wished he had more photos of his body when he was in his twenties. God knows he’ll never look like that again. Janie was different, she never changed: Not with children, not with years. When he looked at her it was with wonder. How had he been so lucky to have found this strange morphing creature, every change matching his desire, so desirously desirous. Tonight he would confess all to have her love him again. Anything she asked of him he would give. How could he be so full of love and she not reciprocate? He was about to suggest they leave when Mrs. Glassman drifted into their space with two young women in tow.

“Aiden! Janie! I’d like you to meet Shebang and Consuela. I don’t believe they use last names, but ladies, these are the Andersons.” The two young ladies both wore bikini tops and printed wraps around their hips, each with a smartphone in one hand and what appeared to be a glass of hard lemonade in the other. They said, “Hi,” in unison.

“I met them at a dinner party last week and they were so charming I had to have them over tonight,” Mrs. Glassman continued. “Aiden is a studio executive,” she added.

“That’s awesome!” the one called Shebang said. “We’re social influencers.”

“Really? I’ve never met one before. What do you influence?” Aiden asked.

“Trends, styles, product. You know, popular stuff,” Shebang said.

“Yeah, we just post a picture of ourselves on Instagram and then write about something we like, like a movie,” Consuela said, then added, “And we get paid.”

“Now that sounds more awesome than my job,” Aiden said. “I do film distribution deals. Do you know what that is?”

“No,” they answered, again in unison while shaking their heads.

“Well that’s too bad. It’s terribly interesting and I’d tell you all about it, but that wouldn’t be fair to Janie, now would it? I mean, she already knows what I do, so it would simply bore her.” Janie nodded her head in vigorous agreement. “Plus, you’d probably find it more profitable to find a marketing executive. There’s no money in my budget for influencers.”

“Oh,” Shebang said. Then, with some unexpected self-reflection, she realized she’d been rude. “What do you do, Mrs. Anderson?”

“Janie,” Janie corrected her.

“What do you do, Janie,” Shebang rephrased her question as directed, not being that far removed from grade school.

“I’m an influencer, too.”

“Really!” they both said in unison again. “How? I mean what?” Consuela asked.

“I try to be a good influence on our two children. Being their mother and all.”

“Oh. I see. What do they do?” Shebang asked.

“Uh . . . teenage stuff? They go to school and hang out with friends.”

“Oh. Okay. If you want to follow us, just look for Shebang or Consuela on Instagram,” Shebang said, and they wandered off, maybe to look for a marketing executive.

“That was weird,” Aiden said.

“You didn’t think they were hotties?”

“Not in the least. Too self-absorbed. What was weird was why were you being cute?”

“What do you mean?”

“Telling them you’re a mother.”

“Well, there’s no denying that I am.”

“But you’re so much more.”

“I don’t define myself by what I do. I define myself by what I am.”

“You’re the executive director of a major art museum. That’s a phenomenal achievement.”

“Well, I hope that doesn’t define me, but thank you for the acknowledgement. You’ve always been very supportive.”

“No I haven’t.”

“Then we’ll call it adequately,” Janie deflected. “But my point is that job will end someday. I will always be a mother, though. And what did you expect me to do anyway? Impress those two with my grant writing cred? That I hit the trifecta ten years ago with a combined $50 million to add to our endowment from the Gates, Dell, and Walton Family trusts? You’re the one that signs off on $300 million deals every other month.”

“In my own defense, Sheri was the one that told them I was a studio executive.”

“And you lied to them. At least I didn’t lie, or, more correctly, I only lied by omission.”

“I wasn’t going to tell them what I really do, so I told them I did something they likely had never heard of. All these little creatures think if they oil up, make that creepy smile thing, and collect fifty thousand followers their next step is Hollywood.”

“Maybe you’re undervaluing them. I hear some of them make a surprising amount of money. Definitely more than an aspiring actress landing a couple of commercials a year.”

“What do I know about their world?”

“Probably less than you should know. Some ambitious kid might just trample right over you one of these years.”

“Let them. I’m tired,” Aiden said, staring out at the ocean, which had turned inky black except for one spot. There a fishing boat had turned powerful spotlights on the surface. Drawing squid to its nets, Aiden thought. Squids influenced to their doom by bright shiny objects. None of us things are all that different.

“Here comes Becky,” Janie said. “She looks a little wobbly.”

“Becky!” Aiden called. “All okay with you?”

“Just fine, Aiden. Hello, Janie,” she said. Janie watched the glass of bourbon Becky was clutching tip dangerously in one direction and then the other.

“Sit with us, Becky. Aiden?” she said. Aiden jumped up and grabbed a chair, placing it close to where they sat.

“Thank you,” Becky said, effectively pulling off a bit of a hard landing but saving her drink. “How are you two? Enjoying the party?”

“Having a blast,” Aiden said. “And you?”

“Just fine,” she said reflexively, then, “Yeah. I’m just fine.” She took a big drink from her glass. Janie looked at Aiden.

“Becky,” he said to catch her attention, then took the glass from her hand. “Let’s set this on the end table here. You’ll be more comfortable.”

“Thank you, Aiden. You’re always such a gentleman.”

“That’s my Aiden. A prince among men,” Janie said.

“Is he princely enough to finance my next documentary? It’s going to be on the . . .” she paused, searching for something. “Indigenous! The indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin.”

“That sounds very important, Becky,” Janie said. “I admire your courage. My understanding is that they tend to kill outsiders and then, well . . . that’s all they do with them.”

“That’s not . . . not all they do,” Becky answered. Conversations are hard when no one really listens. “If that’s what you think, then that’s why we need a documentary. They do lots of other stuff. The women do stuff . . . you wouldn’t believe what . . .” Becky reached for her drink but couldn’t find it. “I thought I had a drink right here.”

“I believe one of the waitstaff took it. It happened so quickly I couldn’t stop him. Would you like me to get you something, perhaps a Pellegrino?” Aiden said.

“I see what you’re doing,” Becky said. “Always the adults in the room,” then looking dizzily around, “. . . Or outdoor space . . . or wherever.”

“Do you want another bourbon, Becky?” Janie asked. Becky looked back at Janie, her head bobbing and weaving.

“The indigenous women do a lot, so much, they take care of everything!” she laboriously continued. “What do the men do? Make arrowheads and bring home bush meat?”

“And kill the occasional filmmaker,” Janie added helpfully. Becky pondered this for a moment.

“I’m so fucked,” she said. “Financing’s dried up. Next step is to move back to Indiana and move in with my mother. I’m fifty fucking shades of old and I can’t pay my rent.”

“Then the best thing to do is call a car service for you. We can do that, right Aiden?” Aiden nodded, took out his now easily located phone, and moved a few steps away. “When you get home, drink lots of water, and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, when you wake up, think about Indiana, that’s where you grew up, right? That’s what you know. I’m confident there’s a story there waiting to be told. And told by you! This is an opportunity. I’ll call you tomorrow. We can talk about this some more when you’ve rested. I really like this idea. Indiana! There’s something there that America is waiting for . . .”

“Yeah, like Bigfoot.”

“There’s a Bigfoot in Indiana?” Janie said, surprised.

“Hell yeah! Lots of ’em. Big hairy ape men running through the cornfields. Hairy ape women too, probably, but no one ever sees them . . . subjugated by the patriarchy . . . tending the hairy little ape babies . . .”

“Well, there you go. Someone should be concerned with the Bigfoot patriarchal subjugation. I can’t recall it ever being mentioned in anything I’ve seen,” Janie said with a smile, “So it’s yours to own!” Aiden loved that smile. He stood still a moment just watching her, then approached the two of them.

“The car service will be here in ten minutes. Let’s gather your things and we’ll walk you out to wait for your ride.” Fifteen minutes later Aiden and Janie walked back into the party.

“Becky would have a better chance at finding funding, while also chasing sobriety, at the Palisades Methodist Church A.A. meetings,” Aiden said.

“Maybe,” Janie said thoughtfully, then unable to contain herself, “Bigfoot!” Janie laughed. “I never expected that for a response!”

“I thought you had a really nice idea about how she should approach moving back to Indiana.”

“But Sasquatch? I was thinking the Indiana Dunes National Park on Lake Michigan or the Indy 500 or The Music Man or something along those lines. Hilarious. A big hairy ape man running through the cornfields!” And then they both laughed together. Aiden knew Janie would make a sincere effort to help Becky through this crisis, but he also knew there was an established pattern with Becky as well which had not helped her professional reputation. Janie was all about good deeds, though, and he wasn’t going to fault her for optimistically pursuing lost causes.

“Shall we make the rounds and say our good-byes?” he asked.

She took his arms and said only, “Yes.”

* * * * *

Aiden and Jane held hands with arms touching while they waited for the valet. It all finally seemed perfect to Aiden. Tonight would be the night he would make it right and he was filled with excitement, as though he was on his way to the very first time he had awoke in the morning light with Janie next to him. Janie was quiet, lost in thought perhaps, but she had accepted his hand without hesitation. Aiden’s car arrived, he opened the door for Janie, waited until she was seated, then gently closed it. He tipped the valet, slipped in behind the wheel, and the valet closed his door for him. Not wanting to break the mood, he made the short drive to their house in Santa Monica in silence. Janie’s house, actually. He had been living in a furnished apartment for several months, but he always hoped and believed it was temporary. It wasn’t going to end like this, apart. His thoughts were full of memories of the two of them together. They had shared so much. He had believed that years ago, when he almost lost her due to his immaturity (and all men are inherently immature he believed), when he fundamentally changed his behavior (as he sincerely believed), altered his thought pattern (suppressed with force of will), and embraced a monogamous life with Janie (for that was what she had always expected), that all had been saved. Yet his past behavior had been as corrosive as unchecked rust hidden under a superficial layer of paint. He hadn’t seen it and that was probably his fault too but rust never rests. Janie had felt it, felt it grow every passing year until she couldn’t stand it anymore. They grew farther apart rather than closer together, and Aiden didn’t or wouldn’t understand why. It wasn’t comfortable. He found himself sleeping in the guest room and growing angry, how was he responsible for this dissolution? He’d done everything she had asked. By then they were barely speaking, so why was he still living there? Janie had arrived at the same conclusion and was the only one of the two of them willing to speak the words, please move out. He did without protest. These memories, the difficult ones, were mixed in with the other ones, the wonderful ones. Aiden had come to embrace them all, they represented his life with Janie, and he knew he needed to love all of it. They were making new memories now, enjoying each other’s company again, Aiden needed, wanted, expected another chance, and he felt his years of penance had more than equaled the indulgence required.

He stopped the car in front of the darkened house. “Don’t park. I’ll see myself in,” Janie said. Aiden hadn’t expected that.

“I thought we could talk some more, maybe say hi to Lee,” he said.

“I’m tired, Aiden, and you know Lee’s out with his girlfriend,” Janie said, demanding clarity from Aiden.

“I wanted a chance to talk to you.”

“I’m just tired.”

“I thought we had a fun evening…”

“We did. I always have fun with you. What does that have to do with me being tired?”

“I’m sorry. You’re tired. I just thought that after this evening it would be a good time to talk about . . .” Janie placed a finger on Aiden’s lips to stop him. She lowered her hand and looked directly into his eyes. Aiden knew that look, which triggered his limbic brain/vagus nerve connection, that contextual good/bad feeling of anxiety peculiarly centered in the stomach, for reasons only evolution might teach us. The memories he had believed to have been finally buried and forgotten were still very much alive. He placed the car in park and leaned back against the driver’s door, involuntarily bracing himself and creating space at the same time.

“I’ve been asked to apply for a position in New York, in Manhattan. It’s a big step up. A member of their board reached out to me basically telling me it was mine to accept. Lee graduates in June, in two weeks! Hard to believe isn’t it? Then he’s off to school and the house will be empty. Sandy’s ending her freshman year in Boston and plans on staying through the summer. You know how much I miss her.”

“Yes. I miss her, too. I miss all of us, all of us together.”

“There are times I miss all of us together and there are times I don’t. I know you still don’t get that.” Aiden’s mind froze. He didn’t know how to respond. The car idled so quietly he wasn’t sure it was still running. He stared at the dashboard. It told him the engine was running. That made sense to him, but nothing else did. The whole evening slipped away as he realized that from the moment he had picked Janie up, everything he had conjured in his mind had been the opposite of what she had been thinking. His will to believe had outrun the reality of their lives. The dissonance of there being two future memories rattled him. The idea that two future memories cannot occupy the same place at the same time entered Aiden’s mind, was that Pauli’s exclusion theory? and that the timing was precisely now, when all probable possibilities collapsed into this moment and Janie owned the outcome.

The silence between them grew longer. The space between them grew larger. The powerful energy he had felt throughout the evening had dissipated completely. In its place entropy, the promise of loneliness, a fatiguing finality, a forever of lost hope. But Janie had told Sheri they were trying. No, not exactly. Sitting here. Sitting here, trying. A missed ellipsis? As trying . . . as it is? Missing an ellipsis is a discontinuity and discontinuities are ambiguities. A discontinuity makes it impossible to integrate the area under the curve. A moment is a point on a curve. An asymptotic line is tangent to a curve at infinity. You can count finitely forever but will never reach infinity. He was the asymptote and Janie owned the moment.

“If you’re not going to say anything,” Janie said, reaching for the door handle.

Aiden started to shake his head then stopped himself and said, “You will be incredibly successful. I love you.”

Janie leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “I know,” she said, opening the door and sliding out. She stood on the curb, then leaned back into the car. “I also know what you’re doing. You’re overthinking this. Don’t. The answer is simple.” Aiden held the steering wheel and stared straight ahead. Janie waited a beat, then she closed the door and walked away.

* * * * *

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I am a native of Santa Monica, California. I enjoy writing fiction and mentoring those who would like to begin writing. Email me at johnanthony.medium@aol.com.

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