"Have I told you what your old friend Sasha is up to?"
He hadn't ever been old friends with Sasha. They'd been in Guys and Dolls together fall of seventh grade. Then in the spring Sasha was cast as Romeo, he was cast as the Friar. He remembered complaining to Max over a joint of schwag that the Friar had just as many lines as Romeo. Max was the kind of old friend his father would never narrate over cognac.
"He quit that job at Goldman Sachs. He's over here now, up in San Francisco. He's on board with an app. His father was saying he finds the work much more rewarding. Much more creative."
Andrew knew the evening would end up here, though he'd taken all the appropriate steps to avoid it. The restaurant was all fairy lights and pretty people, the back patio dropping off into ferns that somehow eked out a living from the gulch below. It even had a 'small house' cognac that Andrew had stopped by and sampled beforehand. He'd suggested to his father they have a cognac after dinner, and so when the waiter came his father ordered two Hennesseys. It was all Andrew could do to pretend his father was a diehard Puff Daddy fan. But instead he sat there in a boxy Italian suit whose pant cuff would come to mid-ankle when he crossed his legs and a swept back dirty snowbank of a haircut, Michel Douglas style.
Andrew had already logged his debit card with the waitress. This was going to be on him. The check from Manuel had cleared just before his father's rent-a-car pulled up to the inn Andrew had picked for him. A yellow Mustang convertible. There must have been a shortage of French tourists at LAX.
"Are you still editing bullfights for that Mexican?"
Andrew had written and directed a feature based on a failed indigenous rights campaign in the Yucatan. The Rotterdam Film Festival digest said it was "a very detailed film filled with unreality and symbols." Candid people told him over plastic champagne flutes that it was depressing. Now he was editing a bullfighting documentary for Manuel, who backed the feature. Manuel kept burying him in new footage from the latest fight, which was not only the most graceful murder, but might be the last in Mexico if the animal rights people had their way. Andrew didn't mind the work, except Manuel was paying a friend rate that hardly kept Andrew in Trader Joe's vino.
Andrew did have the satisfaction of watching his father reach slowly for his suit coat pocket, only to exhale as the already swiped ribbons came straight to Andrew. He did his level best to give the waitress the case-of-Trader-Joe's-wine worth of tip that her service deserved and society expected. Sasha and his like probably never thought in those terms, unless they were thinking in grams of coke or gold.
The altitude and the high desert aridity of Ojai could still sneak up on Andrew. He'd planned to go to bed after walking his father back to his inn. Mission accomplished, he could dream of his father's relatively traffic free trip back down the PCH to whatever rapacious meeting he had scheduled with his pharma reps in Redondo Beach, and his smooth flight back to Philadelphia where he could report to Andrew's stepmother that the boy lived in a hippy commune, but he lived on his feet. But even in his dreams he knew his father would get stuck in traffic in Camarillo. Andrew never understood why there was always traffic in Camarillo. His father would probably try to cut through Oxnard just as everyone got off work in the berry fields. He'd be late. That alone would obviate the whole dinner. After all, the dining experience was probably on the low end of 'expense account-esque.' So it was going to be one more for Andrew at the Deer Lodge.
Wendy was there, farthest barstool from the door. Beneath the bar's prize collection of jackalopes, five in all. Seeing her he could play the whole thing forward: the small wedding, her in a vintage dress, good 'small house' champagne and tacos; their infant bandaged to his chest as they gracefully declined bruised peaches at the farmers market; some kind of Faustian bargain with his father to have the child in Montessori school and then the day their kale and Greek mythology progeny comes home to complain that the virtual reality rig is out of date. He sat next to her.
"Do you fancy a molly, neighbor?"
"Aren't you just supposed to slip it in my drink?"
"I thought we had a more modern relationship."
Wendy had somehow survived her name in a place that billed itself as never-never land. Maybe it was the cargo shorts, maybe it was the cowlick that shot from the middle of her forehead. She manned the sociology and history kiosk of Bart's Books. Which was as close to a sacred position as one could have in a valley where crystal healers outnumbered all other professions combined. When Andrew had moved up to Ojai he'd spent his early days in Wendy's section looking for that accidental title that was going to set him down the path to his next feature. He hadn't found his muse, no fault of the store. But there was Wendy.
"You probably shouldn't be offering people illicit drugs at a public bar."
Drugs were surprisingly hard to get in Ojai. Most people got by on the vibes and 14.5% abv Syrah. Andrew had loved it when he'd first moved up from LA. Now he loved drugs.
"I pulled something for you," Wendy said. From her Andean knit purse she revealed a copy of Death in the Afternoon and put it on the bar between them. He found its declaration, all italic caps against a sienna backdrop, oddly comforting.
"Hemingway," the bartender volunteered, "he invented the Bloody Mary." He was looking at Wendy through his thick eyebrows. Was there something between them? Andrew had never considered it.
"A myth," Andrew said. Best to nip this in the bud. "He did invent a drink though. Pint glass, crushed ice, four good purple splashes of Angostura Bitters, squeeze and zest one lime, fill to the top with Dutch gin. Death in the Gulf Stream."
"You want one of those?" Tupper asked.
"Nope, got other plans." Andrew picked up the book, leaving in its place the little smiling molly. Wendy looked askance at it. But in a second she'd knocked it back, chased it with the wet end of her drink. Andrew did the same with his.
"So are we going to a rave?" Wendy asked. She had her hands wedged in her pockets, thumbs out. They were walking the state route, Miners Oaks to the right. There probably was a rave in there, or some kind of Wiccan ceremony. Ursus Major sat just above the mountains.
"I was thinking more your place or mine." Andrew was trying to keep his teeth from grinding.
"But tell me truly, do you think you could actually still enjoy the press of all those bodies, for hours, under strobe lights. Lollypop locked in your mouth."
"As opposed to the press of one body for a few minutes with the lights off?" She laughed. Cackled really. Andrew laughed too, despite thinking of his prowess in more generous terms. But when he pulled her blamed lips to his, she was there with him.
"Well," Wendy said climbing back into the loft of Andrew's tiny house, "at least you knew what to do with all the nervous oral energy." Normal tiny house sex is rear entry with the guy on the ladder for head clearance. Sounds awkward, but works like a Cosmo tip. This time though, when Andrew emerged from between Wendy's legs, he didn't turn her around. Instead, he climbed on top of her like a sixth grader trying to 'sleep together' for the first time. Which is how she became acquainted with the tattoo on his chest. "Is it possible you've never told me about your monkey?"
"You named your monkey after the martyred Marxist premier of Congo?"
"No, he was named that. The gorilla. It was a condition of his donation to the San Diego Zoo, on the part of the DRC. Sort of a living memorial. But everyone called him Patty."
"Patty, huh. So why is Patty permanently perched, printed even, on your pancake of a pec?" He flexed involuntarily at her drug-induced alliterations. She gave a kiss just above his left nipple. "Don't ever work out," she added.
"I killed him." Andrew said flatly.
Wendy propped herself up, brushing the hair out from her face. Her eyes were the color of the book she'd given him.
"Well," he added, "I didn't personally kill him. I caused him to die."
Andrew had been four years old when, in an unsupervised moment, he slid beneath the handrail and down the sloped edge of Patty's enclosure. He had a hard time separating what memories he had of being down there in six inches of tepid water from the stories told after. His mother, who had been stylusing something into her PalmPilot, was screaming like she was giving birth again. That was what brought Patty out of the cool rock corner where he passed most days, frustratingly just out of any zoo patron's line of sight. Afterwards there was a lot of debate as to what Patty's intentions towards Andrew were. He'd got Andrew by a chubby leg and the outcomes seemed to be 1) he'd drag the child to the dry safety of his corner, perhaps serve him a mashed green banana, 2) he'd bash the offending hairless ape's little cranium on the concrete wall of his prison. No one would know which direction Patty would have gone because the assistant zoologist put a fifty-caliber slug in his avocado sized brainpan. The guy, like everyone in fucking San Diego, was ex-military. Andrew felt the soft pads of Patty's grip loosen. They were like dog's paws. That was a real memory, he was convinced. The rest, who knew?
"So Patty is imprinted there why? Guilt?"
"More of a challenge. People were always saying it was his life or mine. So I wanted to remind myself. To make sure I did Patty proud. Did something. For the both of us."
Wendy looked at him. Her left nipple bent against his last rib. "I'm going to make coffee," she said.
They sat out on the porch of his tiny house on the two pull-down stools, the Chemex perched between them on a foldout table. Wendy's tiny house was two rows over to the left. It was a pretty good park as far as those things go. One got 250 square feet with water/sewer/power for $500 a month. There were still some holdouts in corrugated eyesores, probably cooking meth. But for the most part people were cool in their one and a half stories of cedar siding and modular furnishings. The speed of the molly was gone, so Andrew let the following dribble out of his mouth: "You know, if we sold our places, we could probably get a place together in Miners Oaks, like a real place without wheels."
He instantly regretted it. Wendy put her mug down. It was from a trip to Quebec City, doing postproduction on a car ad. Je me souviens.
"Look, um, this was fun. It's always been fun with you. But I want to live on wheels. Actually, I was going to tell you I'd scoped out a spot in south Oregon. Ashland. A little less expensive, a little cooler. Temperature wise. Nice bookstore too. College town."
"Leaving California is giving up." Something which he also regretted saying. Wendy stood, glorious in the rising sun.
"It was good, Andrew. But you should get that monkey off your chest."