Sometimes, in spite of severe technical difficulties and the relative merits of Blogger (pretty, and I know how to use it now) versus WordPress (complex, I’m playing with it but am still not familiar, though it’s definitely a better platform for writers), I am completely and utterly delighted to bring you this:
Lovelies, it’s really happened – brand new, unpublished-and-wonderful RIGHT HERE ON MY BLOG – please be upstanding and put your hands together for the incomparable Helena Hann-Basquiat, who has kindly allowed me to share the second part of an utterly splendiferous tale.
No ado, just read it: she’s marrrvelous.
Catch up on Postcards from California Part One
“Here’s one from Santa Monica Pier,” Penny said, handing me one of the many postcards that had poured out of the manila envelope. My ex-boyfriend and would-be rock star had been keeping them for me, for years it seems, and I suppose getting a postcard out of the blue a couple of weeks ago prompted him to put them all in a package and send them to me. I honestly hadn’t heard from him in years, but a phone call on my birthday brought him back into my life, if only for five minutes.
With that unwelcome re-entry came a flood of memories, not all of them pleasant.
I said that I’d been a fool, but if I was a fool, than it was only because she made me one.
I’d long ago stopped being angry with her, but seeing her handwriting, reading the messages in her delicate script sent me spiralling backward through time. Reading the text – so carefree, so oblivious to the hurt she’d caused – just made me feel the pain of being discarded all over again. She had no idea – she was so full of herself; so selfish.
I felt like a little kid again, and part of me experienced a twinge of guilt. Before I’d left for California, I’d promised little Penelope (not yet a Countess, at the age of ten she was always Penny Arcade to me, or, sometimes Penny Dammit when her mom was out of earshot) that I’d someday take her for a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica. There I was, on the Ferris Wheel, Maya laughing along with me. Robert was off at some… wherever yet again, and I had to fill my time somehow. So I called Maya.
Maya was different from the other fast-moving crowd in L.A. Sure, she attended all the same parties I did, and would stay out all night dancing – but at the same time, she always seemed peripheral – like she was there and not there at the same time. If wanderlust is a communicable disease, I’d say that I contracted a rather nasty case of it from Maya, and I’ve yet to find a cure. Sometimes I think that the death of my sister and brother-in-law and my subsequent guardianship of Penny is the only thing that slowed me down and kept me in one spot for longer than a year or two at a time. But not unlike with Morphine withdrawal, every once in a while, I still get that itch.
Maya must have constantly felt that itch, because she always looked like she was getting ready to leave. I should have noticed that earlier, but frankly, I was having too much fun.
We ate at the best restaurants, danced the night away at the swankiest clubs, went for long drives at high speeds, Maya going on and on about the places she’d been, the things she’d seen, the cars she’d owned, the men she’d dated. I was enraptured. She’d lived a life I could only dream about, been to places I’d only ever read about, had experiences I could never afford.
And yet, for all that glamour, all that luxury, all that opportunity, I just couldn’t wrap my head around one thing. She seemed so restless, and often unhappy. I wouldn’t have said that at first, but after I’d spent a few weeks with her, I began to see a sadness in her eyes that I hadn’t notice before. In all fairness, I probably didn’t want to see it.
One night, over drinks (I had my customary vodka and grapefruit while Maya drank only Guava juice – she never drank, never smoked, never did any drugs) I asked her: “What do you do?”
I had assumed that she was either on vacation, or an actress or model or something. Someone who had an open schedule and a lot of money.
“What do I do?” She asked, with a bit of a sour smile.
“Yeah,” I said curiously. “I mean, what do you do when you’re not picking up strange girls and spoiling them rotten? Do you have a career? Hey – are you someone famous in disguise? Are you slumming it with me?”
She didn’t seem to be amused at my teasing.
“I do anything I want,” she smiled at me through pursed lips.
“Yes, but surely you want to do something – play music, write, paint, make Lego castles for underprivileged kids, I don’t know – something.”
“And what do you do, Helena?” She asked me.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I haven’t figured it out yet. But you have so much opportunity! You could do whatever you wanted!”
“And I do,” she replied. The smile was fading from her face. “I do whatever I want. Today, I wanted to eat sushi with you and watch boys play beach volleyball. Who knows what I’ll want to do tomorrow?”
“So, this, then?” I asked, unaware that I was on very thin ice. “This is what you do?”
“Yes,” she said, picking up her keys and standing up. “And sometimes I do this. Good-bye, Helena.”
And then she left me sitting there, not quite sure what had just happened.
Two days went by and I didn’t hear from Maya, which wasn’t a big deal, and I wasn’t going to call her. I figured that I’d pushed some buttons or something – maybe she had a father or mother who was always asking her what she was going to do with her life – I know how that goes. And part of me knew that it wasn’t something that was meant to last. But at the same time I’d gotten used to having her around. Robert and I were all but through. I knew it, and he surely knew it, because every time we were in the same room together I smelled strange perfume on him. I wasn’t that big a fool.
So what did I have left, then?
And so, with nothing to lose, or so I thought, I did something very stupid, and made an assumption that I really shouldn’t have. In retrospect, I’m probably just as much to blame as Maya in this regard. I had thought about Maya’s chosen vocation – that of decadence and self-indulgence – and decided that I could get on board with that. I was young and free and unburdened with responsibilities. I found myself shipwrecked on the shores of Southern California with pretty much only the clothes on my back, and I could either let that be my prison or my opportunity. Maya was my ticket to a world beyond my means, and she had offered it to me freely. In my mind, she was just looking for a partner in crime, and of course that was me.
Of course it was! Wasn’t it?
I would call her and suggest we get out of Los Angeles. Go to one of the many places she’d told me about. I’d grab my shit and get on the next plane to Marrakesh or Bangkok or Rio or wherever she wanted to go. After all, why couldn’t I go with her?
So I called her. I called her for days. I left messages. I asked her to call me. I begged her to call me. I apologized for imagined slights, and I neurotically agonized and scrutinized every word I ever spoke to her, every gesture. Did I thank her enough? Was I cool enough, was I sufficiently aloof for her liking? What did I do wrong? Why wouldn’t she even pick up the phone?
Finally, one night, alone in the apartment, sitting on the bathroom floor crying, the phone rang, and a far-away voice called my name, irritation dripping from the three tiny syllables.
“Hello, darling,” Maya said, sounding bored and annoyed at the same time. “I understand you’ve been trying to get a hold of me.”
“Yes,” I said, sniffing and trying to hide the fact that I’d been crying. Hearing her voice, any slights were forgiven. I was back in the game. “Where are you?”
“Oh, I don’t even know, isn’t that ridiculous, darling?” She said with a chuckle. “Ou sommes-nous?“
A voice in the background answered in French, and Maya relayed the information.
“It seems we are at the Hotel Raphael,” she said.
“Is that up north? Near San Francisco or something?”
“No, darling, I’m afraid not,” she sighed. “I’m in Paris. Just felt like a change, you know?”
“Paris?” I asked, feeling my heart sink into my stomach. “As in, France?”
“Well, it sure as fuck isn’t Texas, darling! Oops, pardon my French,” she laughed.
Somehow, I wasn’t nearly as amused as she’d hoped.
“But, I thought…” I began. I wasn’t sure how to voice exactly what I thought.
A huge sigh came over the telephone.
“Really, darling,” Maya cooed, as if talking to a child. “Come now. We had some laughs, you and I, but now you’re just being tedious. Quite frankly, this is boring me, so again, good-bye, Helena. I’ll drop you a postcard.”
Then the phone went dead, and so did I for a good five minutes. I didn’t cry, I didn’t speak, I don’t even remember breathing.
I sat in the dark in the bathroom, still and silent. I have no idea how much time passed when the door to the apartment opened, and I heard Robert’s husky breathing, and the fumbling of hands on clothes. I sat perfectly still, nearly outside myself, as I listened as the man I’d moved across the country to be with, the man I barely recognized anymore, assured some stranger that they were alone in the apartment, and that yes, he thought she was beautiful; the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. I had to listen to their sex noises, had to listen to her scream that she was going to cum. I could tell from her voice that she must be an actress, but not a very good one.
I could have stood up. I could have stopped them. I could have embarrassed him and humiliated her, but I just didn’t care. I sat on the floor, my back against the wall, and waited until they were finished, and he sent her away, as I knew he would. I waited until he came into the bathroom to take a piss, and then I asked him:
“Did you at least use a condom?” Which was probably bad timing on my part, because apparently he thought I was a burglar, and in his startled state, turned and pissed all over me while screaming like a ten-year-old boy.
“Jesus!” He cried, spraying the rest of his urine more or less in the direction of the toilet. I had retreated backward into the tub, but had still gotten enough on me to make the scene a great deal less comfortable for me than it already was, if that’s possible.
I turned on the shower, and he kept apologizing, but I tuned him out. Everything was far away and out of focus, like a radio station that just won’t quite come in, or a photograph so blurred that you can’t make out what it is. I peeled my clothes off in the shower and stood with my head in the spray, wet clothes at my feet, until the water went cold and my teeth were chattering.
I got out of the shower and wrapped a towel around me. When I came out of the bathroom, my bags were packed, and Robert was holding out a set of keys, offering them to me.
“Take it,” he said. His brand new convertible. I’d picked it out, mostly because I liked metallic orange of it.
I grabbed the keys from his hand, avoiding physical contact as best as I could.
“You’ll change your mind,” I said cautiously. “You’ll report it stolen.”
“I won’t,” he promised. “I am sorry, Helena. I…”
“Don’t be,” I cut him off. “Better now than later. I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for, Robert. And I hope it makes you happy. Just…”
“What?” He asked, trying to make me look him in the eyes. I pulled away from him, cringing at his touch. I needed to leave. I couldn’t let him see me cry.
“You’re better than this,” I said, pushing past him to the door with my bag in hand. “Or at least, you used to be.”
He hung his head and let me pass. By the time the morning rolled around, I was gone. Headed north. Headed nowhere. Wandering.
I crumpled a postcard from Paris, a picture of the Arc de Triomphe on the front, all lit up in green and red lights at night.
Penny wrapped her arms around me and let me cry into her shoulder. I had thought that I’d been all cried out, but I guess some wounds never really heal, they just scab over, and it’s best to leave them alone.
I picked up what I thought was another postcard, but was instead another, smaller envelope, again with my name on the front, and with a postmark date of maybe six months before.
I opened it up, and pulled out a photograph of a familiar, smiling face, alongside a smaller version of the same face. There was a date on the back, and Maya’s name, as well as her daughter’s.
Also in the envelope was a stack of folded papers – a letter – a long one, it looked like. At the top was Maya’s name, but more importantly, her phone number and email address.
I opened it up and began to read.
I am very sorry…
Follow onwards for Postcards from California (Part Three)