M. Robert Fisher
I sat down at the table wading inside of this quaint and obscure coffee shop on the corner of Lincoln and Washington in West Los Angeles. I sat down across from her, an old professor from the college I never graduated from and she looked up over her blackberry at me and just stared at me before she would speak. Like she was taking a short glimpse into the future. Like she was even capable of it. After some time I finally broke the silence.
“So?” I asked.
“I think you’re very good, Ray. You write very well. You’re good, young, and you’re growing. And if you don’t die of liver failure by the time you’re forty,” she paused to chuckle quickly and condescendingly, “you could really make something of yourself.”
I sat silently playing with the sugar imitations lined perfectly, color coordinated inside of the frail wicker basket, on the table. Pink, yellow, then blue. I spun the blue packet on the smooth counter top. And while I did this all I could think was, “Who wants to live to see forty?”
I needed to get out of the city. I had nowhere and no one to turn to. The consequence of this isolated life meant that when you needed people they were few and far between. And the pride, the pride was the dagger. Are you willing to kill yourself for a chance at happiness? I never was. I don’t know what I thought I was saving my heart for; I still don’t.
I drove north. I had no destination in mind but the city at my back. Once I got just outside of the city, “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner started to play. I was the oldest twenty-seven year-old I knew. And I drove down the vacant and saddening freeway toward nothing. I drove down that road willed by hope, a pinch of direction-less internalized compassion… with stars in his eyes.
I stopped off in Ojai, a city just outside of Santa Barbara. I’d packed one change of clothes. Nothing extravagant: Jeans, shirt, jacket, socks, belt, dress shoes, tie. I’d also brought along a phone charger and a bottle of whiskey. As I pumped gas at the gas station I saw two young girls, one in a kind of turquoise colored bikini top and white shorts, the other in a yellow bikini top and blue shorts. I decided right there I’d stay in Ojai. I drove down the anonymous street looking for the first motel with rooms available. This would be my home-base for the weekend. I didn’t require luxury. I hadn’t earned it yet.
The man working at the front desk of the motel was gray and hairy, had a mustache, a thick, woolly mustache, that of a cartoon character or a stereotype. He had a thick Russian accent. Maybe Czech. Eastern European, I was sure. He would intermittently scream at the computer monitor whilst throwing his hands in the air and then scream into the back room for what I think and presume was a woman named Muriel but I couldn’t tell and that bitch never came, anyway. I never found out for certain. She may have only existed in his own mind. Tell me you can’t relate to that.
Finally, after battling the computer for a good twenty minutes or so, Mustache gave me the keys to the castle and I sauntered up the steps to my safe house. First, I put away my things, very little, and plugged in my phone charger and then my phone into the charger and let it charge. I had three missed calls from Walker but I had no intention of calling him back. He wouldn’t understand why I’d left for the weekend and he’d only try to discourage me. Trivialize my plight, my misfortune; make me out to be pathetic or weak. I knew these things and didn’t require reinforcement. I got undressed and masturbated while fantasizing about a life, long gone but hardly forgotten. The past 4 years had been the constant mourning of a life I’d given up to the Gods in an effort to be something else that I was failing to amount to. A sad, constant state of nostalgia. Fuck growing up, I thought.
A few hours later (9:17 p.m.) I went downstairs and asked Mustache where the nearest bar was and he attempted to give me directions but I couldn’t understand passed his accent and just set out where I thought he might have been pointing. There were a lot of gas stations I noticed as I walked. I didn’t drive because if I am going to drink and drive I’d like to know the streets I am navigating beforehand. There was an orb of light off in the distance. That is where the life is, the people, the sex, I thought. In the time it took me to reach it I’d built it up in my head to be some kind of fetish orgy that everybody, even myself, was invited to. We would all fuck and laugh and drink and come and it would feel endless but forgotten by tomorrow. When I got there it was just college kids being loud and obnoxious and drunk and falling over each other and making out and NOT fucking. And I wasn’t invited.
Off to the side I saw a bar that didn’t appear to be swarming with petulant children, taking for granted every good thing that is handed to them, laid at their feet just so they could kick it and shit on it and fuck on top of it only to demand a newer, shinier version. I walked in to loud music playing over the jukebox and it wasn’t Foreigner. And there wasn’t a hero in the bunch. I took a seat at the bar and waved down the bartender.
“What can I get ya pal?” He said with a supposedly reassuring smile that came off more unsettling than anything.
“Shot of Whiskey and a beer,” I said surveying the crowd. About fifteen or so kids, keeping quiet for the most part, more boys than girls, but content and off in their own sector of the universe.
“What kind?” The bartender asked.
“What do mean?”
“What kind of whiskey and beer?”
“Jameson and Amstel,” I said pulling out my wallet.
“Got any ID on ya, bro?” The bartender asked whilst making a half-square gesture with his thumb and index finger in case I didn’t understand what he meant by ID. I opened my wallet and showed him my Driver’s License, still in it’s flap. “Gotta take it out, bro,” he started, “I can’t read the dates.”
I took out the ID for the first time in months and crammed behind it, folded up in six ways and now flattened by my ass was the letter. I’d completely forgotten about the letter and it was all I needed now given the state of things in my own rat maze of a head. The bartender looked quickly at my ID and nodded. Then he said as he started to pour my drink, “You don’t look twenty seven.”
I’d already began reading the letter. I paused, decocted in the moment for a short time, and finally said, “You don’t even look like a man.” But he just smiled and got my beer and whiskey and set them down in front of me. I’d caught him in the middle of pretense, small talk, one-sided and boring as ever. I took down the shot and began sipping at my beer, blocking out everything around me. I was the only living thing left in existence for that short time. It was beautiful. A beautiful, short, dark girl took a seat next me.
“Whatcha reading?” She asked as looked over me with a smile and light green eyes.
“A letter,” I said folding it back up and putting it in my back pocket.
“From who?” She asked.
“Aren’t you prurient…?”
“I don’t know what that means,” she giggled. She had an inviting laugh.
“Neither do I, just wishful I suppose,” I said to an even more confused stare from her. “It’s from someone that broke my heart.”
“Ex-girlfriend?” She asked.
“Not exactly, but might as well have been.”
“Oh, sorry. Am I being too nosy?”
I got the sinking impression that I was wearing my melancholy on my sleeve. I’d never been blessed with enough bravado to mask it, either.
“Nah, you’re fine,” I finally said.
“I’m Amanda,” she said putting out her hand.
“Ray. Ray Beaudry,” I said as I clasped her cool, clammy hand with my own.
“You have warm hands, Ray,” she said.
“Sorry,” I started, “I don’t know why my body does that.” I’m not entirely sure what I meant by that.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” She asked.
“No,” I started, “Sorry, do you want a drink or something?”
“Vodka cran?” She smiled.
I waved down the bartender and got her a vodka cran.
“Where are you from originally?”
“Originally? Northern California. But I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past nine years. Still do.”
“What brings you up here?”
“You, apparently.” That got another addictive and alluring smile out of her. Bashful, coy; almost made me hard.
“I’m from Virginia, originally. Moved out here earlier last year with my boyfriend.”
“Are you still together?”
“No, not at the moment.”
At this moment someone tapped me on my shoulder. It was a group of kids, four of them; three girls and one boy. One of the girls was holding up a camera, offering it up to me before she even spoke.
“Would you take a picture of us please?” She asked as the guy stood in between the other two girls, arms over their shoulders, poised, ready for a photo-shoot.
“No,” I said as I turned back toward Amanda.
“What the fuck is your problem, pal?” The guy asked with much hostility. Not sure if it was rhetorical or not.
“Pal,” I quoted, “What is it with you people and your love affair with informal synonyms for the word friend? And coupled with your connotation I’d also say it’s insincere or even a lie. I don’t feel like your friend.”
Amanda just watched. I couldn’t tell whether she was amused or disgusted. My friend was getting angry.
“Whatever, man. Why are you being a prick?”
“Why do you automatically assume people are going to do things for you just because you asked them to?”
“It’s just a fucking picture, bro,” he said getting redder and angrier.
“Are you going to try and hit me over this?” I asked jokingly.
“Would you like me to?” He asked.
“No, thank you. I’m a pacifist.”
And that’s when everything went dark for a moment. As I came to, Amanda was standing over me trying to help me up. Everything sounded muffled, drowning under water, or maybe I was and they were on the surface. Everything felt close and far away at the same time. She was screaming over her shoulder at the guy but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. The only thing that mattered was I knew she was on my side. Totally worth it, I thought.
I’d been thrown out as a result of the very one-sided fight. Amanda drove me back to my motel.
“Why didn’t you want to take the picture?” She asked as she drove.
“I don’t know,” I said in the passenger seat, rubbing my jaw, “I just felt like telling them no. I get the impression they don’t hear that very often.”
She smiled and remained quiet for a moment, staring straight ahead to the road.
“You’re an interesting guy, Ray Beaudry,” she finally said out of the silence.
“That was my first time being punched in the face,” I said.
“How was it?”
“Don’t really remember it, honestly.”
In the motel room I poured Amanda a whiskey and coke. I sipped at my whiskey neat and held the half empty can of coke up to jaw from the vending machine.
“You never told me why you’re here,” Amanda said gulping down her drink and motioning for another.
“I just needed to get out of L.A.,” I said while pouring her another drink.
“But why Ojai?”
“Why not? It was the first place I stopped off in and decided it was as good a place as any. What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh. I’d always wanted to move to California and then Ryan’s work transferred him here. He asked me to come and I said okay.”
“Not the brightest idea, in retrospect, I imagine.”
“No, I love it here. I haven’t really done any of the things I thought I’d be doing when I came out but it’s still better than Virginia. The weather is nicer. The people are friendlier,” she paused and brooded for a moment, “I guess it’s the same, otherwise.”
“Just a small town girl,” I said.
“Living in a lonely world,” she sang and we laughed.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to model. I’ve done a few shoots for a few people but it doesn’t pay enough for me to live off of.”
I didn’t know what to say. My instinct was to point out that she was too short and that the business was likely too cutthroat and depraved for someone so angelic. But my instincts tend to be self-destructive, so I just gave her a seraphic smile. She leaned over and kissed me. A big, long, passionate kiss. I ran my hand up her shirt. She was wearing a bikini underneath her clothes. She began rubbing the outside of my pants. Her touch was electric and within seconds I had a ravenous beast between my legs. She unzipped, whipped it out, and fed. I closed my eyes, fell back in repose, and accepted.
After a few hours or rapacious, vitiated fucking I lit a cigarette as the smoke wafted around her sweaty, naked, mauled body.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to smoke in the rooms,” she said.
I just shrugged. The rapture could come at any moment, I thought. She sat up and looked at me.
“You want a drag?” I said holding up the cigarette, offering it up to her. She took a hit right out of my hand like I was feeding her. It was romantic in a debased and less than vile way.
“Can I read your letter?” She asked suddenly.
“Sure, but it’s not what you think it is,” I told her.
“What is it, then?”
“It’s just a rejection letter from a literary magazine I tried to get published in; cruelest I’ve ever received.”
“Really? Why do you keep it?”
“Impudence. So, I don’t forget. I’m not entirely certain, actually.”
“So, you’re a writer?”
“Not according to them,” I said with a smirk.
“You should burn it.”
“Why?” I laughed.
“Because burning things is fun,” she started with a hint of joviality in her voice, “And it would be a fun, symbolic gesture.”
“And what would this symbolic gesture represent?” I asked.
“You’re the writer. Make one up.”
She then got out of bed, still naked, took the letter out of my pants and lit it on fire with my lighter. I watched it burn in her hand. She placed the burning piece of paper in the glass I was drinking whiskey out of. She has no idea just how beautiful she was in that moment.
When the flame finally went out she said, “I should go.”
“Why? I got the room for an entire night.”
“If I get home too late Ryan will get mad,” she said.
“Thought you weren’t together anymore?”
“We still live together and he still loves me,” she said as she pulled her bikini bottoms up.
“Sounds healthy,” I said slightly annoyed but even sadder.
“Yeah, well, I gave up a job to move out here with him and I can’t afford a place of my own. I’m trapped.”
“You can run away to Los Angeles with me,” I said as I put out my cigarette.
She rolled her eyes as she tilted her head and smiled down on me. She then leaned over and kissed me one last time. Before she left I gave her my address. I told to find me if she was ever in L.A. She never came. A few months later she wrote me a letter and told me she’d moved back to Virginia after Ryan went crazy and tried to kill her in a drunken rage. She made a point of telling me that she wanted to move to L.A. one day but she wanted to do it on her own. In the post script she wrote “And you are an amazing writer. Don’t ever forget that.”
Now, I keep her letter in my wallet. I just don’t hide it behind my ID.