By Betty Underground © 2009
It was a guest house behind a Spanish adobe style mansion just off 7th St. near Montana Ave in Santa Monica. Painted an authentic pink, it stood out like a sore thumb in the block of white and beige.
The owner was an old eccentric lady, all but completely deaf so she never bothered us. She never heard us. We occasionally saw her barking orders at the gardener about the care and tending to of her prized Hydrangea. He was Russian and would yell back at her in his native tongue prompting her to throw her hands up in the air and storm back into the house. I watched them from the kitchen table and was struck by the obvious sexual tension between them. Wondered if she called him over late at night to tend to her other needs.
We shared, for the second time in our long relationship, this guest house tucked in the corner of the property. Our entrance private and parking was included. A small storage shed out the side door housed our washer and dryer. Bonus for as much laundry we seemed to go through. Him with is numerous sports and me, well, I was just a girl in need of frequent daily wardrobe changes.
It was a one room flat. But it was huge. A separate kitchen with one of those great old Wolfe stoves. Tiled countertops and open shelving instead of cabinets. It was a chef's dream kitchen with plenty of space to hang pots and pans and a massive pantry. The refrigerator was a 1950's replica icebox in sea-foam green. I hated sea-foam green but it worked on the fridge and I was half tempted to steal it when we moved out years later.
The bathroom was well appointed with a bear claw tub, separate water closet and a porcelain sink with a horrible blue Danish floral pattern and gold fixtures. Must have cost a fortune but it was ugly as sin.
The main room, as I said, was huge. At one end, our king size bed centered on the wall under the window. Foot of the bed away from the door, because it is bad luck if your feet point towards the door. That is how they carry the dead out.
The opposite wall was covered in built-in redwood bookcases. Ceiling-to-floor and we had them stuffed with books. No room for knick-knacks. Books laying on top of rows of books and books stacked on the floor next to rows of books.
The walls were fairly sparse. He had acquired two Henry Miller prints when his grandfather, an art collector, passed. Miller was one of his favorite writers and he felt no other art should share a wall with him.
The middle of the room was our living space. Sofa, chair and an oblong Eames coffee table he bought in Chelsea the last day he lived in NYC. It had a shelf underneath where a small box sat on a beveled edged mirror with a gold swirled pattern in it. I had found that mirror at one of the estate sales in the neighborhood and had intended to frame it but never got around to it.
On this evening we had returned early from Father's Office where we had met friends for drinks. I had drawn a bubble bath and was relaxing in the candlelit bathroom. The door open and we continued a conversation about Dante's Inferno. We had both re-read it recently and had varying opinions of the underlying meaning. That was what we did when we were coked up. We analyzed great pieces of literature as if we knew the author personally.
He had pulled the mirror and the little box from the coffee table shelf and was cutting and lining up the next round. It was the 90s in Los Angeles. We had fallen into the alteration that cocaine had provided for our creative minds. Neither of us addicted to the drug, but walking a fine line of destruction to our relationship. Being almost unable to communicate with each other without it.
I finished my bath and did a line through a rolled up $20 bill. He used a glass straw he had picked up in a head shop on Venice Beach. It was a clean batch. We had gotten some a few weeks before that was cut with aspirin. Just horrible. The drip was enough to make me ill and I chased back my gag reflex every time, I loved the affect cocaine had on me. My mind clear, unlike the haze that pot always created. Coke brought us closer. Like E, we wanted to be near each other. Touching and talking. Kissing and grabbing at one another. We were frisky but sex waited because we had things to talk about. All things. Every thing. Every topic leading to the next in an endless flow of thoughts. Connected thoughts. We were connected to each other in an almost ethereal manner.
Nothing could explain what had gone wrong this night though. He was passive. When I was unhappy, he shut down. When we did blow, he opened up, but this night he was in his own head. He started writing. I remember how loud his pencil scribbling in that book was. He always used pencil. I could smell it. Yellow No.2. It rang in my ears and penetrated my thoughts and I felt like I would scream if he didn't stop. Stop writing. Stop not talking to me.
I was enraged. Not even slowly. One minute I was perfectly content to be rinsing the glasses we used for our Scotch. The next minute I am yelling at him to stop that noise. Then I slammed one glass on the tile counter. Shattering part of it and knocking the other into the sink, smashing it to pieces. I was high on the noise of breaking glass. Drowning out his god awful scratching on the paper in the other room.
Still screaming, but only in my head, I pulled the china we had received for our engagement. Nasty, ugly fine china with horrible flowers and gold trim on the edges. His mother's taste and I loathed it being in my house. One by one the salad plates shattered on the floor. Then the tea saucers and cups. Leaving the dinner plates in case his mother came over and we had to serve her on them. It felt like it took hours for the 8 piece set to be obliterated onto the kitchen floor and my ears were ringing from the noise. When I was done, there was silence in the house. The noise from his pencil ceased.
A breeze came from the side door as he came back in from the laundry shed with the broom and dust pan. Standing across the kitchen from me, the pieces of our engagement present coating the floor between us. I walked towards him to get the broom and start cleaning up my mess. Giggling a little as the realization of what I had done set in. Taking two, maybe three steps towards him when he yelled, "Stop" and looked down. My feet, bare, were bleeding from the shards of fine china imbedded in them. "Don't move."
He quickly swept away the debris between us and scooped me up. Carried me to the bathroom and placed me gently on the sink cabinet. Blood pouring from my feet. He wet a towel and slowly wiped my feet. Wiping the glass that was stuck to my feet away first. Using his nails to flick and pull the glass out.
He filled the tub and carried me to it. Gently placed my feet into the hot water to allow the rest of the glass to fall out. His face white, brow furrowed with worry he left me there to soak while he swept the rest of the china from the floor of the kitchen.
When he returned, he had a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a tube of ointment and a pair of his cashmere lined wool socks. He never let me wear those socks because he knew I would ruin them walking down the driveway to the mail box.
He dried my feet and dabbed them with a cotton ball soaked in the hydrogen peroxide. It stung. He blew lightly. His breath cold on my hot feet. After he spread the ointment ever so gently over the cuts he carefully placed the socks on my feet. Rolling the tops down as far as he could first so as not to wipe the ointment off when they slipped on.
He gathered my off the counter into his arms and I instinctively tucked my head in the curve of his neck. I remember thinking how much I loved him in that moment. I loved that he could so easily carry me in his arms. How the curls of his long waves played on my face when I was in the nook. How caring and attentive he always was and not understanding the rage that had come over me in that kitchen.
He placed me on the bed and curled up next to me.
"It was just a bad trip, babe. Don't worry. I hated that fucking china anyway. I'm glad it is gone."
We both roared with laughter and then calm rushed back through us and we dozed gently off to sleep.
Betty Underground is a writer from Northern California.
July 18, 2009
Yellow No. 2
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