Authors: Dyan Sheldon
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Gabriela knows either.
“I… I saw somebody I know.” Her sigh is no less heartfelt for being silent. “At least, I thought I did.”
Her arms folded across her chest, Delila eyes her room-mate in what can only be described as a suspicious manner. “You saw somebody you know?
” She glances at the nearest house, the top of it rising grandly from behind a screen of trees. This is not a neighbourhood of low-income housing. “
know somebody who lives in a house with eight bathrooms and a swimming pool?” She tilts her head to one side as if trying to get a better view. “Who’s that? Somebody you met the last time you bought make-up on Sunset Boulevard?”
Gabriela gives her a don’t-be-silly smile. “No, of course not. I never—”
“Well, who then? I didn’t think you knew anybody in LA.”
Gabriela doesn’t know anyone in LA. But Beth Beeby does. And suddenly Gabriela hears Lillian on the phone this morning saying in her hand-wringing voice:
You know Aunt Joyce would be happy to run over with anything you need, honey…
“Well, you’re wrong. It just so happens that I have an aunt who lives here.” She’s pretty pleased with herself for remembering this. “Aunt Joyce.”
“Your auntie?” Delila’s entire face seems to narrow. “Your auntie lives in LA?”
Delila’s eyebrows come together, as if holding her thoughts in place. “Up
? Your aunt lives in one of these mansions?”
Gabriela shakes her head. “No. No, she lives in—” Gabriela searches her memory for a name in the area that isn’t Hollywood. “In Santa Monica. In a bungalow. But I thought it was her.” Her smile is as thin as organza. “I figured she was taking a walk.”
“From Santa Monica? You thought she walked here from
Gabriela laughs. “Well, obviously it wasn’t her, was it?”
“Hold on. Obviously
wasn’t her?” Delila’s expression of scepticism takes on an edge of concern as she remembers a small but significant fact. “Since you decided to take me mountain climbing, the only person I’ve seen who wasn’t in a car was that dude with the umbrella selling maps. Way back when.”
Gabriela opens her mouth and shuts it again. She was going to say that Delila
have seen them – they were as clear as the stitching on a pair of jeans – but, of course, this is not a day that plays by any of the usual rules. “You didn’t see those girls— those two women up ahead of us?”
Delila looks as if she’s planning to suck the truth out of Gabriela’s words through a straw. “Do I look like I did?”
No. No, she definitely doesn’t look like that. She looks as though the only person she’s seen was the lonely map seller under his beach umbrella.
Delila stares into Gabriela’s eyes. “Leaving aside the tiny fact that I never saw these women of yours up ahead of us, where would you say they are now? You know, just a rough guess.”
“Well…” Unless Beth and Lucinda went – very silently and very quickly – into a house or managed to get into someone’s yard, they couldn’t have got back to the through road without passing Gabriela and Delila. “I don’t know. I guess they must’ve gone into one of these houses.”
“How? By osmosis? Because I, for one, didn’t see anybody walking up a driveway or hear any doors opening or shutting, either.”
Gabriela laughs the way she used to when she knew what she was doing. Yesterday. “Maybe they were beamed up.”
Delila’s look of concern deepens. “Why is it that I get the feeling you’re not being exactly a hundred percent honest with me? Why would that be?”
Gabriela makes an I-give-up face. “Because you’re right, Del. I haven’t been completely honest.” Gabriela is in a very interesting position. Since Delila won’t believe the truth, she has no recourse but to come up with a lie that she will believe. “I should have levelled with you, but you know…” She shrugs. “I guess I just feel kind of dumb. I mean, I don’t want you to think I’m not as serious and into culture and everything as the rest of you…” Her voice trails off.
“I’m still listening,” says Delila.
Gabriela rocks back and forth. “Well, it’s just that …it’s just that I really couldn’t face looking at any more old pictures. I mean, my God, we can do that any time. You don’t even have to leave home to look at old pictures. You can do it online. But we’re in Los Angeles! We’re here! Really here! Even people living on ice floes dream about coming here. So, I don’t know, when I saw the hills up there like a magical kingdom, I thought,
Hey, let’s be spontaneous
Delila’s mouth looks the way vinegar tastes. “
thought we should be spontaneous?”
“Uh-huh.” Gabriela’s smile couldn’t be more enthusiastic if it were waving pompoms. “I figured we could have an adventure.”
“An adventure?” repeats Delila. “
wanted to have an adventure? I thought having an adventure for you was drinking water that doesn’t come out of a bottle.”
Gabriela laughs. “I guess LA must be working its spell on me.”
“Or maybe you’re over-medicating.”
Gabriela laughs again. “No, really. I feel like a new woman.” She could even tell her which one.
“Yeah? Well, you’re going to have to excuse me, but I come from Brooklyn, the Capital City of Doubt.”
“What does that mean? That you don’t believe me?”
“You could put it that way,” says Delila. “Don’t get me wrong, Beth. I’m not saying museums aren’t like wheatgrass juice – a little goes a real long way if you ask me. And the Good Lord knows I was starting to lose the will to live cooped up with the smarter-than-thou brigade all morning. Personally, I’d just as soon be up here seeing how the rich folk live than dragging around with the culture coven all showing off to each other how smart they are. Only I still have this niggling feeling that there’s something else going on with you today.”
Meet Delila Greaves: poet and psychic.
Gabriela doesn’t blink. “With me
“No, with your dog.” And Delila proceeds to tick off the major events of the day on her fingers. “First we had the food fight. Then the great art theft. And now charging up into the Hollywood hills like you were in some kind of marathon…”
“OK, I did start the food fight. I admit that. They were just being so incredibly irritating, it was like having pins stuck under your nails. I had to do something. But what happened in the museum was not my fault.”
“You were the one who tripped the alarms.”
Geesh, the girl’s like a prosecuting attorney. “Yeah, I did … but that was an accident. And I explained why I decided to come up here.”
“Because you were being spontaneous.” Delila is shaking her head. “Only you are not a spontaneous kind of girl. And you are also not the kind of girl to throw fruit or touch priceless oil paintings. Or argue with a professor. There’s something else you’re leaving out—”
“But there isn’t,” protests Gabriela. “Really, Del. I mean, you act like you know me and everything about me, but you don’t. You’ve just met me.” She opens her arms in a let-me-embrace-the-world gesture. “I’m full of surprises.”
“Well, I hope that one of your surprises is a talent for dealing with really angry academics, because if you think the Gryck is going to be in a good mood next time we see her, you’re the one who’s in for a mighty big surprise.”
“Don’t worry,” says Gabriela with a confidence that doesn’t belong to Beth, and probably shouldn’t belong to her, either, right now. “I can handle her.”
“Oh, yeah, I noticed that. Especially when we were being marched out of her favourite museum. She seemed really charmed by you then.”
“She just needed somebody to blame. And anyway, I don’t think it was me she was really mad at. I think it was the security guards. They were the ones who caused all the trouble.”
“Are you delusional? You’ve been working every everlasting nerve in that woman all morning.”
Gabriela dismisses this information with a wave of her hand. “I don’t think it’s me, Del. The Gryck’s a very uptight type of person. You can tell by her shoes and the way she does her hair.”
“Totally. I think she has a very deep-seated neurosis. So I don’t—”
“Beth Beeby? Earth to Beth!” Delila cups her hands around her mouth. “Beth, this is ground control trying to make contact. No matter what shoes she wears, Professor Gryck is going to be madder than you’ve ever seen anybody. We have got to get back to the group pretty pronto.”
“OK. You don’t have to get all warped. We’ll go back right now.” There’s certainly nothing to keep them here since Beth and Lucinda have vanished as if they’d never been there at all.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. And you know the way?” This is definitely a question and not a statement.
“We’ll go back the way we came,” says Gabriela. What could be easier?
“And you remember what that is?” persists Delila. “Because I can tell you right now that sure as there’s snow in Alaska, I do not have a clue. I might as well’ve been blindfolded for all I saw. I just followed you.”
“Yeah, of course I know.” Gabriela has no idea. The network of lanes and cul-de-sacs that snake through the lush hills are more like a maze than a recognizable trail. Which side of the hills are they on? Is she looking towards Sunset Boulevard or the valley? Did they come from the left or the right? Have they been going in circles or been walking miles?
“Good,” says Delila. “And that would be…?”
“Well…” Gabriela points to a large white house to the left, its terracotta roof vivid against the shimmering green of the trees and the delicate blue of the sky. “Didn’t we come past that?”
“Beats me. Maybe.” Delila points to a similar sprawl of terracotta below them. “Or maybe it was that one we passed.”
“Well, what about that map you took from the hotel? You still have it?” Since she doesn’t have to worry about dirt or showing her underwear or wrinkling her clothes or any of the other things that spell sartorial disgrace, Gabriela plonks herself down on the kerb “Let’s take a look.”
Delila drops beside her. “You look at it. I’m going to see if I can save us from total annihilation.” She thrusts the map into Gabriela’s hands. “I’m calling the Gryck.”
This, however, turns out to be a wish more than a statement of fact.
“Damn.” Delila shakes her phone. “All I’m getting is noise.” She shakes it again. “It sounds like I’ve contacted a planet that’s being pelted with asteroids.”
Gabriela looks over at her. Delila hardly wears any make-up. She thinks sandals are dress shoes. She’s never had a makeover or been to a spa. Her eyelashes are her own. She does her hair herself. She wouldn’t recognize a fashion statement if it sat on her lap. What are the chances she can actually work a cell phone?
Gabriela holds out her hand. “Give it to me.” For a few seconds, she studies the small, black rectangle in her hand the way one might study a nineteenth-century candle-making machine –
that? Like Beth’s phone, it’s not exactly the last word in mobile telecommunications; more like the first. “This thing still works?”
“Yes, it still works. It was dandy as candy this morning. Remember? When I texted my grandma?”
“Well, maybe it’s because we’re way up here.” Gabriela, too, gives the phone a shake. “You know, maybe we’re too far from a signal.”
Delila, it seems, has quite a repertoire of sarcastic, you-have-to-be-kidding-me faces. “Because we’re up
? We’re in Beverly Hills, Beth, not the Andes. These people would have a signal if we were in the middle of the apocalypse.”
She’s right, of course. Movie stars and directors live in these houses: people who probably take their phones into the bath with them. People whose phones wouldn’t dare not work.
“Yeah, but their phones aren’t going to be relics from the past, are they?” says Gabriela. “That’s probably why they work up here.”
Delila is also developing quite a repertoire of world-weary sighs. “So let’s try your phone.”
But Beth’s phone is in their room at The Xanadu, inside her suitcase at the back of the closet so that the voice of Lillian Beeby can’t dog Gabriela through the day.
Delila laughs. “I should’ve known it was too quiet. Your mother’d be calling you every five minutes if she was on a space shuttle halfway to the moon.” Delila slips her own phone in her backpack. “We’d better find Sunset quicker than a flea jumps, then.” She stands up. “What does the map say? How far away are we?”
In the closet that is Gabriela’s mind, there isn’t really a lot of room for the finer points of navigation. Most places she goes, she’s taken. Which means that the only way Delila’s map would tell her anything worth knowing is if it could actually talk.
“This thing isn’t really any good,” she says, folding it away. “You know, it tells you where Rodeo Drive and Grauman’s and Universal Studios are. Stuff like that.” She waves vaguely down the road. “I still think we should just go back the way we came.”
“And you’re absolutely sure that’s it?” Delila isn’t so sure; she isn’t very sure of anything any more.
Hope pushes up the corners of Gabriela’s mouth. “Positive. What goes up has to come down, right?”
This will turn out to be less a statement of fact than a prophecy.
You might think that anyone living in a neighbourhood such as this – a neighbourhood with such valuable properties and such priceless views – would be in a perpetual state of bliss. Living the dream. But Remedios Cienfuegos y Mendoza has been looking around while Delila followed Gabriela, and Gabriela followed a mirage, and as she would be quick to tell you, you’d be mistaken. This is not the home of happiness. Put another way, it’s a lot easier to build an infinity pool than achieve bliss.
As Gabriela and Delila march off in the wrong direction, a jogger rounds a bend two blocks away. He is not one of those look-at-me urban joggers in Lycra shorts and aerodynamic trainers. He is a tall, heavy-set, tired-looking, perennially grumpy, grey-haired man in busted old high-tops, baggy work pants and a faded T-shirt who trots more than jogs. He performs this ritual every day only because he spends a lot of time sitting down and his doctor says he needs the exercise – or else. He is listening to Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three play a song that makes him want to drift down a river on a raft with one hand in the water and the sun in his eyes.