Amelia [Character]

Amelia thought about death a lot. She didn’t consider herself morbid. She told people she was a realist. “Every time you cross a street, you might die,” she would say. “A freak tornado can happen at any time. Earthquakes aren’t that rare. All it takes is one moment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you’re dead. And that’s a fact.”

She ran a finger underneath the velvet choker tied round her neck. Lifting the long-stemmed glass in front of her, she took a sip of champagne. The bubbles burned her tongue. The restaurant was brightly lit, clean and simply decorate, but Amelia saw dozens of opportunities for death all around her. If the waiter slipped right there, he would bang his head on the corner of a table. If the bartender poisoned the beer barrels, everyone who was ordering on tap would be in trouble. If the electric chandelier fell, it would crush the angry family sitting at the table directly beneath it.

“Ah, Amelia! Welcome back, welcome back,” the head waiter said, shuffling over rather nervously and drying his sweating hands on his tailcoat. “What can I get you today?”

“Nothing much, nothing much. This champagne is rather nice, you know.”

“I’m glad it’s to your liking!”

“Yes. Do you know that if you swallow something the wrong way, the fluid stays in your lungs? You can accumulate so much fluid there that it can kill you.”

“Indeed?”

“Hm. I think so. Maybe not. But it makes sense, doesn’t it?” Amelia realized she was a little tipsy. This was, after all, her third glass. “Death is a beautiful thing, my dear sir, did you know that?”

“Amelia, now,” the head waiter extended his hands forward, trying to ward off the oddness. “You remember what happened last time we had this talk?”

“Yes,” Amelia said, her voice serene and her eyes gazing far away. “You ended up escorting me out very rudely and then calling the police. The police, mind you, could have been very rough with me. Did you know that there was a kind of thing as ‘suicide-by-cop?'”

“No, I wasn’t aware. The cops weren’t rough with you, were they?” The head waiter’s anxiety levels were rising and he could almost feel the blood pressure closing his arteries and making it difficult to breathe. Amelia, or maybe it was Amelia’s money, often had that effect on people.

“No, no, of course not. But they could have been, you know. I just think you should get us both some lemon pie and then sit down and have a chat with me. What do you say?”

The head waiter made his excuses and hurried away to get the bill which he would put, not so tactfully, beside Amelia’s plate of pie. He sometimes had nightmares about Amelia. It was hard for him to envision her as someone like him, with a family and a past and some future. She had significantly less future than he did. Maybe that was part of why she frightened him so much.

It was so convenient and easy to see her as a scary old witch who was fascinated with her mortality; it was rare that people saw her for what she was – her friends dead, her family members all involved in their own lives, she was an old woman who was, indeed, fascinated with her mortality.

Arrived

Los Angeles is one of the most special cities in the world. Even when the weather forecast announces that it’s going to be overcast with possible showers, you can still feel the presence of a bright yellow sun behind the clouds, and within hours the sky clears and that bright orb makes its appearance just in time for a last walk in the sunlight before dusk falls.

Beautiful as it still is and will always be to me, there are things that have changed. Nothing that’s unique to LA, but rather things that have changed across the United States. Melrose, the hip-happening street of fashion, food and fun, has now more FOR LEASE signs that it ever has before. Shutters are drawn across the empty store fronts, and the glass looks dusty, as if it’s been waiting for a new tenant for longer than it’s used to.

When we ate lunch today, a dark-haired, scruffy, tall homeless man walked over to the table behind us and took the tip that was left there for the waitress. We saw it, as did a woman inside the restaurant, and none of us did anything. It seemed to happen so fast. We all were sure he was going to take some item of food, but then he was gone and so was the waitress’ tip. What do you even do in a situation like this?

I’ve been taking photos. Too many, and probably mostly bad ones, but I’m finally going to try to catch some of the essence of this bizarre half-city-half-suburb in more than words.

I’m jet-lagged and exhausted and our trip took more than twenty-four hours. I think now is the time to sleep.

3. Heather [2]

At around eleven, Heather finally switched off the lights and locked the door of Miranda’s shop. Miranda herself lived above the store, and ever since hiring Heather she’d taken to going up to her room a bit early and letting Heather close up for her. Not that Heather minded in the least. She enjoyed having a few moments of peace and quiet in the shop, all by herself. She felt then that maybe someday she’d be able to own a place like this – or maybe a place a bit nicer than this – and be independent. She hadn’t been independent yet in her life, not really. Not since… but no, that wasn’t something she wanted to think about.

Heather finished locking up the door and turned into the cool summer night. It always got to be so much cooler at this hour, and she breathed the air in thankfully as she began to make her way back home. Home for her was a small and cozy apartment that she shared with her mother in downtown Hartscreek, just about fifteen minutes away from Miranda’s shop. On the way home, Heather usually stopped in at Lila’s for her final treat of the day – Lila’s Warm-and-Fillin’ Hot Chocolate. There was no better drink in town, as far as Heather was concerned. She thought back to the days when she’d only looked at the option on the menu, never quite daring to order it. She stopped herself from following that line of thought again, and pushed open the door to Lila’s, hearing the usual tinkle of the bell and seeing her favorite new waiter, Jake, smile at her from across the room and yell out a greeting.

Heather smiled back. It was so very good to finish work each evening.

At the Diner

It was Halloween night, and fourteen people sat around one long surface made up of tables pushed together. They were a loud bunch, all talking and laughing animatedly, despite the fact that it was past two in the morning. They were elated. They’d just finished what felt like the greatest, best, most amazing and spectacular experience of their lives, and they weren’t likely to forget that night for the rest of their lives.

They were a variety – all shapes and sizes, both young men and young women – but what they all had in common was the sweaty, running make-up that none of them had bothered to remove. In loud voices, they yelled up and down the table to each other, congratulating a night well done and feasting on everything from pancakes to onion rings to spaghetti-and-meatballs. They were ravenous, having completed a feat to which they’d devoted countless hours over the last two months.

Anyone nearing their table would have been able to feel the warmth, friendship and fierce-if-fleeting love they held for each other in that hour. Even the tired waitress, decked out in forced-Halloween-uniform and looking tired beyond measure, smiled at the bunch, allowing herself to be patient with them and trusting that, distracted as they were with each other, they wouldn’t complain about the slow service.

It isn’t surprising that this group wasn’t the only one sitting at a diner at two in the morning after Halloween night. The booths were filled with pirates and princesses, butterflies and Peter-Pans, all of them young people on their way back from various parties. The surprising element was that of men and women well into their middle ages, decked out in elegant finery fit for an extravagant office party or dignified family event – and there were many of these at the diner that night as well, looking happy and content, conversing just as loudly and merrily as the young folk.

If the diner could have felt the happiness and excitement that was filling its tables and chairs that night, it would have sprouted wings and begun to float above the ground.

Sorry-Sorry-Service

The waitress was pretty, in a conventional way. Her hair was that sort of natural bright yellow that all those who dye their hair want to have. Her figure was trim but womanly, short without being stocky. Her eyes were big, brown and innocent looking. Her school-girl looks were probably the only reason people were being semi-patient with her.

She’d been running around tables all day. She had no idea why she was lucky enough to get this job at Patisserie Valerie, one of the most popular hangouts in Soho. She had no idea how she was there with her English being so imperfect. She also, unfortunately, had no idea whether or not she would be allowed to stay; so far, she was a disaster.

A group of three came into the cafe: a red haired woman, a girl in her late teens who looked like her daughter and a young man with dark, curly hair. They sat down at a table, and the waitress was shooed over to them by the woman who’d been helping her on and off all day. She bobbed over to the table and asked in her broken English what they wanted to drink. They answered, and the flurry of words was almost too much for her. She went to the kitchens to relay the order. Once she brought it, she realized that she’d forgotten two items. She hadn’t understood what they wanted, she supposed.

Asking about the food was worse. The young man, bless him, merely wanted the sandwich as it was written in the menu, but the woman and her daughter asked for all sorts of changes. Simple enough, if she could only understand what it was they wanted. She felt like her brain had turned to mush, and she only understood every third word, though she dutifully scribbled in her notepad obligingly the keywords that she could understand.

It took her three runs to the kitchens and back to make sure she had everything right. Then the kitchen botched one of the orders. She lost her head completely, and took the order out anyway, saying as she did so that she told the man what to do and he hadn’t done it right. She was about to set down the plate anyway, but the three stared at her uncomprehendingly and then asked her to please get them the order they’d asked for. They didn’t mind waiting, but they wanted to eat the food they’d ordered – not whatever the kitchen’s whims were.

The waitress felt the tears well up, but they didn’t break out. She quickly brought the things back to the kitchen. When she came back, finally with the correct order, she bobbed a sort of half curtsy and explained that “It’s my first day, so sorry, so sorry.”

***

The really strange thing was that when I returned the next day for another meal at the same place, I got the same waitress. It was, again, her first day – sorry-sorry – and again the orders weren’t done right. I don’t blame her. I’ve waitressed. It’s hard, it’s pressuring, and it requires some knowledge of the language. I do, however, blame the restaurant for not even pairing her with a more experienced waitress for a couple days. My mother tells me, however, that Patisserie Valerie has been known since she lived in London more than twenty years ago as a place with good food but notoriously bad service.

The food, at least, was indeed delicious.

Three Dreams

One

I am at a wedding. I’m positive that it’s some sort of traditional Scottish wedding. I dance in circles, kicking my legs in and out in a pattern which seems correct, but as I’m doing this I’m sure that I really don’t have any clue what I’m doing and I hope that no one will notice the fact that I’m completely faking whatever the dance is supposed to be. Two people are doing the same thing beside me, but they seem to really know the dance. I end my circle by slowing down, almost to slow motion, and then with the thought of making a dramatic exit, I leap into the sky. I’m shooting up, when suddenly some thing, some sort of beast, whizzes past me, almost biting my head off. I wake up in terror.

Two

I am in the lobby of a restaurant. Leonardo DeCaprio is there, as is Angelina Jolie. They are lying back in beach chairs and are completely still, like wax statues. I go up to the restaurant, and the waiters are all standing around, leaning against the walls. I talk to them, and I come to understand that there’s a problem with the boss – that he’s stopping business or some such. I get a mental image, like a vision, of a dark room with something prowling around it, commanding the restaurant’s boss. A sense of dread pours over me, and I feel that the boss isn’t the ultimate boss in this place – that he’s being manipulated by this beast, this evil thing. I want to get out. I go back down to the lobby, where two girls are now chattering about the famous actors there. They’re speaking in Hebrew, so I can understand them, but Leo and Angelina can’t. The girls try to tell me how they met – something to do with their eighteenth birthdays. I smile, I nod, I wonder why they’re telling me this when I have no clue who they are, and I quickly exit the restaurant.

I am now out on the street and it’s dark, dusk. I turn right, and walk down the street. The sidewalk and street are separated by fences enclosing dirt, as if the gardens are blocked off for planting. I walk down further, and at the end of this semi-enclosed walkway, I see a mattress. A man is lying on it, upper half naked, asleep. Next to his bare back – for he is lying on his stomach with his face averted to me – I see what appears to be a hole in the mattress. In the hole, I see a woman’s face. I get an overpowering feeling that she is dead. I walk past quickly, but just as I turn the corner, I feel a tug at my unbound hair – the man is hauling me back, and I know in my bones that he will butcher me and stuff me inside that mattress along with the others. I wake up in terror.

Three

I am out camping with my friends. There is a bonfire going, and one of my girlfriends tries to heat water over it in a Styrofoam cup. I want to yell out at her that it will burn, but I don’t, as I’m distracted by a bread basket that is being passed around by my friends. I take a piece of bread and eat it, suddenly realizing that I’d eaten a McDonald’s dinner earlier and thinking that I’ve eaten too much and that I don’t want two dinners. I wake up in terror, and then smile at the silliness of this last dream.

The Businessman

The Businessman sat at the same restaurant every day during his lunch break. Every day was the same for The Businessman, and one of his few joys was ordering a different thing for lunch every day. He would take the specials each day, and if the specials contained something he absolutely hated or was allergic to, he would take one his favorite regular dishes. In this way, he managed to keep the favorites special, and he never got sick of them.

The Businessman had the same routine at the restaurant every day. First, he would find a table outside. Rain or shine, he had to sit outside. If there were no tables available, which happened sometimes during tourist season, he would wait. The waiters, the servers, even the manager knew him, and they always managed to find him a seat quickly. Once he found a suitable table, he would sit down and reach into his bag. He had a worn black leather briefcase, one that looked dignified but not stuffy and too new. He would take three things out of his bag at first.

The first was a bag of tobacco. The second was a box of rolling papers. The third was a lighter. Until the waiters came over – and indeed, the waiters knew not to come over until this ritual was over or they would need to deal with a very flustered man – he would meticulously roll himself three cigarettes. He would smoke one before the meal, the second after the meal, and the third after his post-meal coffee. He felt that rolling his own cigarettes was the one roguish behavior that he’d kept from his college days when he’d been wild and carefree.

The Businessman considered himself to be rather homely. He didn’t think he had particularly interesting features, and he knew that he blended in with the endless flow of suited men in their late forties. He didn’t realize that his eyes were a beautiful and rare light blue. He didn’t seem to notice the fact that he cut a fine figure. He wasn’t entirely aware of the fact that his face, lined as it was, was full of character and intelligence. He only saw himself as The Businessman, a man who knew and understood his trade but couldn’t explain what he did to others very well. Because of this, he was convinced that he was boring.

The Businessman ordered a different thing every day at the restaurant. He hoped that one day he would take a last meal there, shake the waiters’ and the servers’ and the manager’s hands goodbye, and turn his back. He hoped he would have the opportunity and the courage to go somewhere different one day and leave the business district forever. He hoped.