7. Leaving Los Angeles, A Novella in Three Parts
Part 2 — Coda (for Mrs. Glassman)
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 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 2 — Coda (for Mrs. Glassman)
by John Anthony, 2021
Mrs. Glassman slowly wandered around the periphery of her Pacific Palisades estate, contemplating the choices she had made and how she might re-consider those choices if there were such a thing as a second chance. White roses, as white as her skin, red roses as red as her lips, dead roses, hung upside down to dry, as black as her preferred ensemble. Why be so dour, she thought. The Birds of Paradise announced that she had willfully brought this Eden into being, the agapanthus were like blossoming fireworks, the impatiens were delightfully delicate and colorful and always a surprise (even though she instructed the gardener to plant them each year), the oleander faithfully protective with their abundance of leaves, the night-blooming jasmine taming the darkness with their exotic erotic scent. It had been a year since her last Memorial Day summer welcoming party and several months since her last soirée of any kind. Luncheons were a fading memory. It was troubling times for her and the rest of the world, she supposed. Aiden Anderson, lovely man that he was, had experienced a terrible year she told herself. When he called me last year after the party to tell me Janie had committed to leaving him my heart had skipped a beat, for I knew he once had carried a torch for me back when I burned brightly and was told by so many how desirable I was; mais c’était alors et c’est maintenant, she thought. A year ago Aiden was still young, closer to forty-five than fifty, and climbing to the heights of his career — still on a course to reach his zenith — and she almost a decade his senior. He sounded so forlorn, beaten, so not himself, not the man I had watched him grow into, confident, clever, and striving, always striving. She loved the way he called her Sheri, so obstinately intimate in the face of her measured distancing — social distancing she mused with a little smile, I had practiced my own form of that bitter phrase long before it became so voguish.
The next and last time Aiden called was after that awful behemoth had acquired his studio. He seemed, and I’m sure I wasn’t mistaken, to have lost his joie de vivre — such an important component of success — and there was a desperation in his voice that was discomfiting. He unmistakably asked if I could help, unless I’m so prepossessed as to believe I’m everyone’s last resort she thought as she ambled along. Then looking up: What an outstanding sight! The complete and unobstructed view of the bay, from Point Fermin to Point Dume; who could desire anything more? And what exactly did Aiden expect of her? Sympathy because these ghastly corporate disruptions so often arrive at the holidays? Investors now trade in billions and even Sid, with his millions and his infinite connections admitted he had no recourse when it came to the decisions of those that commanded the actual heights of commerce. Studios were merely one small asset in a much larger portfolio and I had to plan for the holidays, and my celebration of the New Year. Poor Aiden. She hadn’t expected that would be the last time she would hear from him.
Mrs. Glassman set herself down on a bench, one she had carefully planned to be her own at moments like this. It’s simply the story of the pearl, she told herself. A natural pearl, of course, because we are all born naturally. Three tons of oysters to produce three pearls of worth, but of those three, how many are matching in size and luster? How many tons of oysters to find two that match? How many more tons of oysters to find enough for a collar, a choker, a princess necklace? How many thousands of tons to create an opera length of pearls, each within micrometers of the others? How many tens of thousands of tons of oysters are needed to create a rope length necklace of pearls long enough to hang yourself on? So very, very few make it to the elite, Aiden dear, and you and I, we are nothing.
Mrs. Glassman stared out across the sea; observing from her height and distance it seemed so still. She knew this wasn’t the case, but without the whitecaps of windblown waves, no movement could be discerned. The Pacific was far from a pacifist; how odd! She had never bothered to do the research as to why this, the largest and most tumultuous of the seas had been blessed with such a peaceful name. The onshore breeze blew up and over the protective sea cliff and caused her to blink as tears formed. She pulled her handkerchief from a sleeve in which it had been tucked so she might dry her eyes. “Kisses fall as free as rain, but love’s cost is paid in pain.” the embroidery read, and she laughed and sighed simultaneously. How foolishly romantic. I’m such a silly old maid! Hardly old and not a maid she protested immediately. I brought Seth, my grown son, and Sarah, my grown daughter, into this world. They are my legacy, two for one, better than most, although Sid was biologically more capable of beating her in that competition. Sarah had told her that she and her beau, Seth and his partner, and their father and his dalliance along with the half-sibling had chartered a private jet to Sid’s place on the Kona Coast when all of this fuss had begun, and there they stayed, contentedly she supposed, while she, the giver of life, was left to contemplate an uncertain future. How fair was that?
What a horrible thought! I know things matter. In the hospital, having given birth, holding Sarah in my arms, what could possibly matter more? And Seth, so lively and bright and troubled until he found himself and his life partner whom he loved so deeply, more deeply then Sid and I ever felt, I truly believe. Yet, I had so little to offer. Was it me or the seductive environs they had grown up in? I was so simple, perhaps too simple for them. Sidney could offer them so much more: Status, maybe fame, and wealth of course. It was wretched, but so was I, with my socials and parties and impatiens replanted every year, so who was the umpire keeping score? No one she thought. That would have leveled the playing field.
It was Memorial Day, once again and she never felt so alone.
She turned to look over her shoulder at the house she had once envisioned and then brought to life. It was her masterpiece. Fifteen foot ceilings on the first floor, with glass walls that folded open, and above a terrace overlooking the pool, with twelve feet of floor to ceiling glass protecting two master suites on each end, and in the middle, a second story mezzanine that looked down upon the capacious living room. Aligned with Mrs. Glassman’s aesthetic, the floors were tiled in custom cut and polished Italian Blanco Carrara marble while the four fireplaces (two on the ground floor leading to one in each master) were clad in complementary Negro Marquina quarried from the Pyrenees’ marble in the Basque border region of Spain. The house was austere in form, all parallel and perpendicular lines, but that was a matter of form following function, and no one would mistake that its function was entertaining. She let out a sigh. Sidney’s only taste was for money and he laughed when I told him my building plans, she remembered, calling her a nouveau riche striver on his dime. The ass would never admit I earned that dime and the results of my plan had been such a success. People, her people, had gathered here for her parties, and why? Because to be here, surrounded by her carefully curated guests and gardens, was far more enjoyable than sitting with a bunch of noisy, self-absorbed strangers in a chintzy movie theater watching the fourth sequel to one of Sid’s bombastic, violent, prurient, simplistic action movies. This was culture, cuisine, conversation, and nature, something the Ancient Greeks would have held in esteem. His world was pandering and decadent, much as he was — or turned out to be. There was a time they were in love and shared the same philosophy: People, whether simple or educated, whether without means or brilliantly successful all contributed in their own way to the wonder of life. Sid changed. The more money he made the more he cared only for those who would bring him more wealth. But I hadn’t! she told herself. I had stayed true.
She stood up and started following the path through the hardscape, the concrete sitting areas with gas-fueled fire pits. All empty of people now. Had she stayed true? Her guest lists had hardly changed in twenty years, that is, the lists had only grown smaller, through death or departure or neglect. And what of Aiden? Sarah had emailed her with news, not much, but between the lines; the rumor was Aiden had signed over his seven-figure severance package to Janie and then simply vanished. There was talk, but that was all. What had happened to the wonder of life? Wasn’t he a pearl? At what point had she abandoned pearls for something else? Comfort, conformity, class; these words lashed her like a whip, rebuking her and punishing her, how was this fair? She had no role in Aiden’s fall, had she? Or had she?
She hadn’t forced him to marry Janie. In fact, she had told him to wait, that he was too young and Janie was too . . . what? . . . not her perhaps? “But I was married,” she heard herself say aloud. I was, she answered, and what did I want, for him to always be there vying for my attention like a little puppy? And then to prove myself right, a disgusting game, introducing him to surrogates for her own subjugated id, pushing him onward but not overtly encouraging him, maybe highlighting an imagined slight or tiny flaw that Janie may have done or revealed. It was so easy and Mrs. Glassman had been wicked.
Wicked? Simply truthful. Hadn’t her assessment been proven when Janie left him after he had been good for so many years? Hadn’t her generosity, her philanthropy, proven her bona fides as a net contributor, someone who gave more than she took? I was not wicked, Aiden was simply weak, just as Sid was weak. Mrs. Glassman had reached the main patio, with the pool and its recirculating waterfall that sang like a brook as it cascaded over polished river rocks. What a lovely spot, she thought. Tranquil. Almost better without guests and she allowed herself a tiny laugh. Thoreau loved the solitude of his pond and here I’ve built my own, yet never really appreciated its magic. Just a basin filled with water. Water made it special. That’s what Los Angeles needed: More water, less basin.
Inside, within a filing cabinet, was a set of folders. Within each folder was a set of plans for each day of the year she planned a party. There was her guestlists, each year’s version notated and saved and a draft for the current year, then her master checklist, then the checklists for the caterer, the florist, the groundskeepers, the parking valets, the security (as required for the political fund raisers), and the cleaning crew. Every year the guest list would be slightly modified for each party, but not by too much; she intuitively knew people were averse to change, although change was inevitable. Included were her notes on special themes, honorees, philanthropic funds raised, if applicable, and other miscellany. The complete collection was an invaluable compilation, worthy of the library at Alexandria or at least the Huntington, although surely unrecognized for the achievement it represented. But now all it represented was the epitome of unplanned obsolescence. Memorial Day with no guests. Yet it was lovely and tranquil. She’d never thought of solitude in this way, something positive. It had always been imposed on her, never sought by her. And now this great imposition, this sickness so hard to conceive of, so distant until it was too close, so close to destroying the industry that had been built on a fantasy, not the fantasies of the stories it produced, but the fantasy of the fabulous social lives of those that created the stories, in truth most often social lives that were vapid, dysfunctional, or depraved. Without that fundamental fantasy, what else did Hollywood have to offer? Far better stories, more satisfying stories could be found just about anywhere else. Of course there was literature and art and religion, but also in family histories: One’s own family’s, or one’s neighbor’s, or one’s gardener’s or hairdresser’s or a stranger’s. There were more stories created across Los Angeles in a single moment than all the films produced since the first studio was built upon some former orange grove or horse ranch. Mrs. Glassman could see it clearly now, Hollywood was, if not dead then dying, and with it the life she had constructed upon it.
She entered her empty house and stopped first in the kitchen. There she took a bottle of vodka from the freezer and poured a crystal tumbler half full. She opened a cabinet and selected an amber-colored plastic medicine bottle filled with 10mg diazepam tablets. She poured out a handful of the pills, then placed them in her mouth, washing them down with the vodka. Then she walked through the living room to the coat closet. There she selected a heavy, belted Burberry coat. She had loved that coat so much when she found it! She had even considered how impractical it was but she simply had to buy it. And how sad she was that she had so very few opportunities to wear it. She slipped into it and tightened the belt snugly. She was feeling a little wobbly from the vodka and perhaps the diazepam, and she didn’t want to get distracted so she went directly back to the main patio. She sat by the waterfall and watched the waterfall. Every splash exploded differently! Why had she never seen this before? And one had to listen carefully, but the sound of the falling water never repeated itself either! Another miracle she had failed to recognize so caught up was she in her constructed life, now deconstructing around her. She relocated to the edge of the water feature, reached out and touched the falling, splashing streams. It felt different somehow, not like the water in her shower but thick and ropey, it entwined her hand, inviting, as though touched by a lover for the first time. She reached down and selected one of the polished river rocks, as large as her hand, black and so very smooth, hard yet soft, she slipped it into a pocket of her coat. Then she selected another rock, and another, and another, and slipped them all into the pockets of her coat until no more would fit. She failed at her first try at standing, but she was prepared the next time. She stood and steadied herself. She was calm now. All of that anxiety had dissipated. Perhaps, she thought, she would find Aiden and apologize, although she couldn’t quite remember for what, but there were a few possibilities, such as pretending she could barely remember Janie’s name. She wasn’t sure but maybe she should look for Janie and apologize to her; it had become hard for her to sort out the streams of thought that were now flowing through her. Loneliness wasn’t so bad as there was an easy solution. She took a step and realized she still was wearing her Tory Burch flats, so comfy and not to be mistreated, so she slipped them off and paired them neatly on the stone decking. Barefoot now, she walked to the wide steps in the shallow end of the pool and stepped over the coping and into the pool. The water was well-heated, as earlier she had remembered it was Memorial Day, the day she traditionally fired up the burners; she had reviewed the party file that morning. The warmth enhanced the earlier invitation. She stepped down and was delighted by her lack of buoyancy. Walking solidly on the bottom was a new experience. Perhaps she should have tried other new experiences, but now was not the time for regrets or new ideas, now was the time to join her new world in the deep, deepest end of the pool.
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