The Immediacy of Ancient History

Figure on Beach FullOlivia Script

It’s too cold outside for the dress I’m wearing, but I don’t really care. It’s only autumn, and the coldest November in San Francisco is still warmer than the warmest one back east. Goosebumps never killed anyone.

I have my shoes in my hand and I am walking the sandy edge of the Pacific Ocean, leaving footprints behind me which are dissolved by the relentless washing of the waves almost as soon as I leave them. The sky is cloudy and dark, but I don’t think anything will come of it. The drought in California is tenacious, and I doubt that this afternoon is going to be when it loses its grip on the west.

There are still ribbons in my hair, thin and red and woven so that they will be difficult to take out on my own. I want to think that I can still feel Christopher’s fingers working the ribbons in, but if I am honest with myself, I can’t. Some histories become ancient even if they are only hours old.

I haven’t smoked in years. The need for a cigarette now weighs on me like the pressure at the bottom of the ocean. I am weak enough to know that if I were at a market, I would buy a pack, but strong enough to know that I will make myself stay at land’s end until the need passes.

Ahead of me stands a young girl with blue hair, also with her shoes in her hand, also letting the waves splash up her legs. Her jeans are rolled up to her knees, and she looks out over the ocean as though she is waiting for something, something that is hidden over the curve of the horizon. As I come closer, I can see that her makeup is smeared, her eyes black, the back of her hand smeared with mascara. She glances at me as I near her, and I nod, saying nothing. If I were wearing makeup, it would have looked like hers. The briefest shadow of a smile slips across her face, and then she turns back to the horizon and whatever she imagines is over it.

I can’t feel Christopher’s hands, but I can see them, soft and small, caught in the rectangle of morning light which had come into our bedroom this morning. His delicate fingers, more like a woman’s than a man’s, and knowing that mine hadn’t been the only hair he’d put ribbons into this week. He said that she didn’t exist, but his phone said that her name was Kalie.

Ribbons like a trail of breadcrumbs, leading in reverse from fairy tale to reality.

I left broken dishes on the kitchen floor.

A man is walking along the shore toward me, pants dry, boots on. He keeps near the water, and moves in tandem with the rolling waves, up nearer to the highway as the water comes in, then back to the shore as the ocean recedes. He carries a closed umbrella in one hand, and the other is on the canvas satchel that he wears strapped across his shoulder. His gaze is fixed on me, and I hold it a few moments before turning my head to look at the sea. I am in no mood to be regarded in a stranger’s eyes, and as a child would, I pretend that if I can’t see him, then he can’t see me.

As we approach one another, it becomes impossible to ignore him, because he speaks to me. “Olivia,” he says. I stop and look at him, dark-haired and tall, neither handsome nor ugly. He knows my name, but I don’t know his. His face is one I don’t recall having seen before.

“You don’t remember me,” he says, having picked up on my confusion.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t.”

“Arthur,” he says. “Arthur McIsaac. We met at Tina’s party.”

“Oh, of course,” I say. I don’t remember him, and I don’t remember going to a party at Tina’s. He must be mistaken, but he does know my name, so we must have met at some point. “How are you?”

“Cold,” he says. “It’s going to rain soon.”

“I don’t think so. It never rains anymore.”

He raises his wrist and checks his watch. “Trust me. It’s definitely going to rain. It’s nice to see you again,” he says, lowering his arm. “I was wondering when I was going to bump into you.”

“It’s a small town,” I say. “It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“Are you still working at… where was it? Camera store?”

“Richman’s,” I say. “A studio, not a store.”

He nods. “Right. I made that mistake last time too.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“You never know,” he says. “It’s the little things that can derail you sometimes.” He looks up at the dark sky. “It really is going to rain.” He looks at me again and says, “You’re still dating Christopher, right?”

“Yes,” I say, although I really can’t say if I am. Probably not, but I haven’t had time to fit the idea into my head yet.

“Good,” he says, “because then I can ask if you want to go get some coffee without it sounding weird.”

“It doesn’t sound weird.”

“Have you been to Trouble?” he asks, and I am confused by his use of the word a moment until he continues. “It’s on Judah, like five blocks from here.”

“Wait, you mean coffee now? I couldn’t right now. It’s not a good time.”

He checks his watch again. “It’s a great time. It’s the best time. If you stay out here, you’re just going to get wet.”

“We can do it another time,” I say. “It’s not going to rain. Seriously.”

He raises his umbrella up then, and without saying a word, slides it open and steps closer to me to hold it over the both of us. At almost the same instant, as if a faucet were being turned, the sky above us opens up, and great sheets of rain begin to crash down. Involuntarily, I press nearer to him, startled by the sudden storm.

“Told you,” he says. “It always rains now. Always.”

“You’re some weatherman,” I say, and I am struck by the nervousness in my voice, unfamiliar and a little frightening to me. “How’d you know that was going to happen?”

“Come have coffee with me,” he says. “I’ll tell you, but we have to go have coffee first.”

The rain is hammering the top of the umbrella like stones, and the noise is almost deafening. The wind off the ocean blows the water against my back, and already my dress is beginning to stick to me like another skin. Umbrella or not, I’m going to be soaked before much longer.

I look up at him on his side of the umbrella. “Did we really meet at a party?” I ask loudly, straining to be heard over the rain. “Did we?”

He waits a beat, and then says, “No.”

A peal of thunder rips across the sky. “Are you going to tell me where we did?”

He looks away from me at toward the trees at the edge of Golden Gate Park, and without turning his head back, slips one hand into the bag hanging at his side. He removes something—a photograph—and hands it to me. I take it and hold it up, keeping it dry beneath the umbrella. It is dusk in the photo, and Arthur is standing in the center of a cobbled street, between two rows of wooden houses, which recede into the dim light before being lost to the darkness. There is a woman standing next to him, with dirty blonde hair curling behind her ears and over her shoulders, holding Arthur’s hand in hers, and smiling for the camera in a way that I’ve not seen her do in so very, very long.

The woman is me.

“What is this?” I ask. “I don’t remember this.”

“Over coffee,” he says. “I’ll tell you over coffee.”

“You made this, right? Photoshop?”

“Come with me and I’ll tell you. Keep the photo and I’ll tell you everything.”

I decide there is no way I am going to go anywhere with this man—Arthur, he says. This rain is weird, the situation is weird, and I have had enough weirdness for one day already. Everything is off balance and unsettled, and all I want to do is to go home.

Although my home is not just mine. Christopher will be there as well. Of course he will.

I am not ready for Christopher just now. Now yet.

I look at the photo again. I work at a studio, and I know Photoshop. It’s an excellent creation, a magnificent forgery. Everything about it is perfect. My smile is perfect.

Why is everything there so perfect?

“Okay,” I say to Arthur. “Let’s go get coffee.”

He grins like a little boy. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that.”

“I’m driving myself,” I tell him. “And if I decide this is too weird, I’m just going to keep on driving.”

“Trouble,” he says. “Not me, the name of the coffee shop. Right up Judah. Big piece of driftwood on the sidewalk out front. You’ll probably have to park on a side street.”

“If I’m not there in twenty minutes, I won’t be.” I grab the handle of the umbrella. “I’m taking this with me. Don’t walk me to my car.”

He reaches into his bag and pulls out a small travel umbrella. “I thought you might say that,” he says. He opens the umbrella and covers himself with it, holding it low and close to his head. “Go ahead to your car. I’ll wait here until you’re off the beach.”

“I may go home anyway. I’m cold and wet.”

“I’ll take the risk,” he says.

I look at him, and then I look at the photo again before handing it back to him. “I don’t have anywhere dry to put it. It’ll get ruined.”

He takes the photo and returns it to his bag. “I’ll give it back at Trouble.”

“If I’m there,” I say.

“If you’re there.”

I nod and start to walk away, the liberated umbrella held above me. Before I’ve gone three steps, I turn my head to Arthur and say, “If you think this is some creative way of hitting on me, I’m telling you right now, I’m going to kick your ass.”

“I know you will,” he says. “You’ve done it before.”

I frown at that, but say nothing else before heading for my car. The going is slow in the wet sand, but whenever I glance back over my shoulder to see if Arthur is following me, I see that he is not. He isn’t even watching me walk away, but has turned to face the open sea, umbrella low, rain splashing down on him from the thick clouds above.

Home, I think. I need to go home. He’s going to cut off my head and put it in a bag.

Definitely home.

I start the car, pull into traffic, and head for Trouble, five blocks away.

Deleting the Dead

Car Dash Full

Boone

“There’s something remarkably sad about a website that belongs to a person who is dead,” Tina says. Her bare feet are up on the dashboard of my car, the window cracked so that she can periodically ash her cigarette out of it. I don’t let anyone smoke in my car, but Tina is the empress of the passenger seat. Her reality is as she wills it.

She has a flower in her hair, some pretty blue thing she had picked from the floral display at the grocery store, snapping it off the stem and putting it behind her ear as we passed. I’d never seen her pay for anything yet in the time I had known her, and I doubted that I ever would.

“I knew this girl once, back in high school. She got her head cut off in a car accident, all Jayne Manson-like…”

“Mansfield,” I interrupt.

“What?” she says.

“Jayne Mansfield. Not Manson.” I slow at a corner, and turn right, down a side street. “And she didn’t get her head cut off. It’s an urban legend.”

She sucks on her cigarette, obviously irritated with me. “Whatever. The point is that I was on Facebook yesterday and I saw that her page is still there, you know? She’s been dead five years, but she’s haunting the internet. She’s even got a couple of pictures of us together on there, which totally creeped me out.” She takes a final puff of her smoke, and tosses the smoldering butt out the window. “Somebody ought to have a job curating that stuff.”

“That would be a big job,” I say. “Facebook’s got a billion users.”

“So outsource it,” she say. “Everything’s run out of India anyway, right? Have a bunch of people whose job it is to look through obituaries and delete people off the internet who are dead. Or not delete them. Maybe just move them into an archive someplace.”

“An internet graveyard,” I sat. I slow at what I think is a parking space, but it is taken by a motorcycle that had been hidden in the shadow of the SUV parked next to it. I keep driving.

“Yeah, just like that. And they could store them all on special servers, put them in Palo Alto or someplace like that. And people could come and lay flowers by the computers. Like a new religion or something.”

Ahead of us, a car is backing out of a spot in front of a sushi joint. I pull up and wait for them to leave, then slip into the space they’d vacated. “Maybe that’s where we are right now,” I sat. I turn off the engine, but don’t open the door. “Maybe we’re dead and living in Cupertino in the back of some computer repair shop.”

“That’s a depressing thought,” Tina says. She takes the flower out of her hair and holds it in her hand, plucking loose a petal, and then another. “You’re such a downer sometimes, you know?”

“I knew a girl who drowned,” I say. “It was an accident. She went out too far, and the riptide got her. She didn’t have any family, don’t even know if she really had any friends other than me. Funny thing though, somebody took down all of her online accounts. Facebook, Twitter… all gone. I don’t even have a picture of her. It’s like she never even existed. Just a shadow against a cloud, and now nothing at all.”

Tina pulls the rest of the petals off the flower and drops them onto the floor of my car. “Goes to show you that everybody needs somebody to love them. Everyone needs to be remembered when they’re gone.”

“There’s too many everybodys,” I say, “and not enough somebodys. There’s not enough love to go around.”

She takes the pack of cigarettes out of her purse and shakes one halfway out of the box, before pushing it back inside and tossing the entire pack onto the dashboard. “I lost my appetite,” she says. “Take me back to your apartment.”

“You sure?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says, and then suddenly, as if she’s just realized I might have other ideas for the evening, she adds, “Unless you want something?”

I shake my head. “I ate a couple of hours ago,” I lie. “I’ll have something later. Maybe a sandwich or something.” I turn the key in the ignition, and the car starts up immediately.

“You should have some soup too,” she says. “Do you have some there? I could make it for you.”

I back the car out on the street, then put it into drive and start the trip back to my apartment. “It’s fine,” I say. “We’ll come up with something.”

We drive in silence for a dozen blocks, until she says, “I’m going to spend the night. I don’t want to go back home tonight.”

“Okay,” I say. “You can have the bed. I’ll take the couch.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s your place.” She touches her finger to a button on the door, and her window slides up, blocking out the night air. “We can share the bed.”

I take my eyes from the road and look at her, but she is looking away from me and out the window on her side. The lights of the night city pass by in a rush of neon blues and greens, casting her in alternating washes of color and darkness, and all I can see of her face is the ghost of a reflection in the glass, her features faded and blurred, like the finger of an outsourced god had tried to erase her from the world, but given up halfway through the job.

Donuts of Evil

Hardwood Floor FullSebastian Script

The light through the bedroom window is bright, horribly bright, and focused through the bent slats of the Venetian blinds like East German spotlights during the Cold War. First thing I do is get new curtains, I think to myself, once I am awake enough to be somewhat coherent. Or at least hang up a sheet.

I fumble for my phone on the small table beside the bed, and check the time: up at the crack of noon. Too early to suit my tastes, but seeing as I’m awake already, I decide I might as well get up and have some breakfast. I generally do some of my best writing on an empty stomach, but then following that I also do my some of my best file deletions after a donut or two afterward, so I’m trying to work on a more efficient route from one to the other.

I grab my glasses and slip them on as I stumble out the bedroom and down the hall toward the bathroom. The hardwood is cold against my feet, and I think that I maybe should have put on socks before going to bed last night. I probably also should have put on pants and a shirt, because the rest of me is also exposed, and now suddenly chilly as well, which is rather odd. I hadn’t been able to find a way to turn off the heat in the apartment on my first night here, and so I’d resigned myself to going to bed with nothing but a single thin sheet between my skin and the scorching air, which had overnight achieved the nuclear temperature of burning hydrogen.

It’s like I’d fallen asleep on the surface of the sun, and then woken on the back side of Pluto. In winter. In the shade.

I quickly debate the advantages of returning to the bedroom to grab a parka and a bundle of kindling from the closet, with which to build a life-saving campfire, against the suddenly nearly-overwhelming need to visit the toilet, and decide that a little frostbite never really hurt anyone. With a bit more urgency in my step, I move with purpose toward the closed door, grasp the ice cold knob, and fling it open without breaking stride.

“Do you mind?” Rivi asks from the tub, waving a wet arm at me and splashing. “I’m in here!”

I shriek in a high-pitched, although extremely manly, fashion, and slam the door shut. The hardwood feels even colder as it presses against my bare bottom, as I have now stumbled backwards over my own frozen feet and fallen, although also in an extremely manly fashion, to the hallway floor.

“And put some pants on!” she shouts through the door. “Have some consideration!”

“Dammit, Rivi! How the hell did you get into my apartment?”

“I was right about the bars on the kitchen window,” she replies. “Hardly even needed the screwdriver to get them off.”

I crawl on my hands and knees the few feet from the hallway to the kitchen, and peer around the corner to see the window there raised wide open, security bars dropped haphazardly across the floor. The autumn wind blowing in across the concrete tundra of the parking lot outside raises a fresh mountain range of goosebumps across my bare skin. “Dammit,” I say again.

“Not my fault,” Rivi yells. “I don’t have a key yet.”

I get up off the floor and walk past the closed bathroom door in the direction of my bedroom.

“Because it’s my apartment, Rivi. Why would you need a key to my apartment?”

There’s a splash from the tub. “In case I need to take a bath, obviously.”

“Last time I was at your place, there was a tub in your bathroom.” I take my bathrobe off the back of the bedroom door and cocoon myself inside it.

“Your tub is iron. Obviously it’s superior to mine.” There is more splashing, and then a moment later the bathroom door opens. Rivi comes out, hair wet, my only towel wrapped around her. “You need better shampoo though. That stuff is way too cheap to be any good.”

“I’ll make a note of it for next time I’m at the store.”

She walks past me into my bedroom, where now that I’ve got my glasses on I see that she’s left a fabric bag on the floor outside my closet. She picks it up and upends it on my bed, making a small pile of her clothes and toiletries. “Only chance to back out,” she says, rooting through her things. “Five seconds and the towel comes off.”

“You’re evil,” I tell her.

“I brought donuts. They’re by the microwave.”

“Still evil,” I say.

“Towel’s coming off,” she says.

I sigh, defeated. “I’ll make coffee.”

“Good idea,” she says. I start to back out of the room and move to pull the door closed behind me.

“And hey,” she says, before I have it fully closed.

“Yes?”

“You should really shut the window in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s colder than Walt Disney’s cryo-tube in here.”

Crime Scenes of Christmas Future

Kitchen Full

 

 

Sebastian Script

Rivi insists on helping me to unpack, although I try telling her that it isn’t necessary. “Shut up,” she says cheerfully, and starts taking my books from the banker boxes in the living room. “Go do something in the kitchen,” she says. “Make yourself useful.”

It’s a change, this apartment, but it’s temporary and necessary: one bedroom, kitchen, bath, living room. Space enough for living and for writing, which is all that I am in need of just now. The plan is to stock up on unhealthy boxed meals and caffeinated beverages, adopt a flexible bathing schedule, and to put one word after another until typing “The End” at the last page of… something.

Temporary, as I say, although the definition of the word is fluid in this case. It will be as long as it needs to be.

The kitchen is small, but so are all the rooms here. I only have two sets of dishes, one for me and one for Rivi (although she doesn’t live with me, she has a habit of appearing unannounced and not leaving for days at a time, so it’s best to be prepared), and I have brought nothing edible with me from my old place other than a half-empty bag of coffee and a small cardboard box of low-sodium chicken stock.

Adequate nutrition isn’t on my to-do list as of yet.

“These would be easier to unpack,” Rivi shouts from the living room, “if you had some bookshelves to put them on.”

“Furniture is for the weak,” I call back.

“A couch would be good too.”

“Couches are for the weak and the sick.”

“I’m only thinking of your well-being,” she says, walking into the kitchen with me. “Where are you going to sleep when I come stay the night? The floor isn’t good for your back.”

“We’ll think of something,” I say. “Like maybe letting you sleep in the tub.”

“You’re not as funny as you think you are, you know.” She looks through the bars of the kitchen window, which reveals the parking lot of the building next to mine. “Quite a view. I think I can see the site of a future stabbing from here.”

“I pay extra for that. You don’t get that sort of front row carnage without greasing a few palms.”

“You might have saved a few dollars and just rented the dumpster in the parking lot, you know. More money for stitches and reconstructive facial surgeries then.”

“Envy doesn’t become you, Rivi,” I say. From the empty cardboard box on the counter, I remove a single refrigerator magnet and place it on the fridge: India Cuisine and Kabob, with the phone number for delivery.

“You’d better have a washer and dryer here,” she says. “I’m not going to take my clothes to some laundromat, like a barbarian.”

“In the basement,” I say.

“There’s a basement? Does it look like a nineteen-seventies rec room? Beige carpet and wood paneling?”

“Actually it’s sort of like an abandoned apartment from the seventies. The super used to live there, but there was some problem with it not having a fire exit, so now it’s where everything gets tossed when people move out and leave stuff behind. The only light fixture that works is the one where the washer and dryer are, and you have to go through a room full of old coffee tables and console televisions to get to it.”

“You’re not actually kidding,” she says.

“The old bedroom next to the washer has a baby’s crib in it. There’s something underneath the blanket there, but I haven’t had the nerve to lift it up to see what it is.”

“You’re just trying to scare me out of using your washer,” Rivi says. “It’s not going to work.”

I shrug. “Just saying what’s down there.”

“Just means you’re going to have to go down there and do my laundry for me,” she says.

“Could mean that you have to do your laundry at the laundromat, like a barbarian.”

She studies me a moment, and then turns and takes the bars on the window between her hands and gives them a rattle. “I bet these aren’t really all that sturdy. Odds are you’ll probably be murdered within the first couple of days.”

“At least I’ll die with clean underwear on.”

“Odds are you won’t,” she says. “You’ll just have to trust me on that one.”