Issue 12

From Somewhere Else

 · Fiction

The distance from Woodside, Queens to Los Angeles, California is nearly three thousand miles and Annie decided to drive every one of them. An airplane would have gotten her there faster but, in her heart as much as her mind, she felt the continuous drive was a way to keep her better connected to home than stepping off a plane into a new world. She wasn’t yet convinced than she didn’t need to maintain a strong connection to home. It was three thousand miles of road but light years away from the world of Anna Rossa Zadanie and, though she was determined and ready, she had never been farther from Woodside than New Jersey and she was scared witless, or something like that.

She made a left onto Route 80 and another left in Salt Lake and that was about it for the next three and a half days. Her little Ford Pinto was packed with clothes and plants and kitchen supplies and there wasn’t much room for anything else except the driver. In her wallet, she had the five hundred dollars her parents had given her and, in the bank, she had twenty-five hundred more. Without a job, she didn’t expect the money to last long. With a job, she figured she’d be alright.

For the first week, she planned to stay with an aunt who lived in Woodland Hills. After that, well...she knew she needed a job. How hard could it be for a trained beautician to find a job in a land full of beautiful people?

For meals as she crossed the country, she existed on cheese and chocolate, washed down with warm diet Pepsi. Each evening, after the Pinto settled into the lot of a budget motel but before she got into bed for the night, Annie wrote out a postcard to her mother and father and another to Irene.

Dear mom and dad,

I’m in Indiana. I stop every three hours for gas and to stretch my legs and so far the driving has been easy. I miss and love you and I’m doing fine.

Dear mom and dad,

I’m almost out of Nebraska and I can’t believe how many cows I’ve seen. I may never eat another hamburger ha ha. I think I’m more than half way there.

Dear mom and dad,

I’m in Utah and I’ve never seen mountains so high. They’re brown in the summer and don’t have many trees like the ones back home. They look like the backs of camels. I may have to learn how to ski.

*  *  *

She wrote the same things to Irene.

*  *  *

At five in the afternoon, four days after turning the ignition of the Pinto, she was in Aunt Cora’s living room and the evening sky was as soft and blue as a precious opal. Coney Island was never like this. To celebrate her great adventure, she and her aunt went to a real Mexican restaurant and Annie tried the flautas and had her first sip of a margarita. She went to bed early that first night and woke up on New York time. No one else did and she sat in her bedroom and looked out as the sun rose just for her, a canvas of crimson and purple over a thousand hot, thirsty hills. Not once, in four days, had she thought about Joey.

*  *  *

The second thing Annie did during her first week in California was to look for a job. The first was to look for the stars. With Aunt Cora in tow, the two women got on a bus on West Sunset Boulevard with a guide map in hand and sat back and waited to be wowed. At least Annie did.

“Who’s ready to see some fabulous sights?”

The crowd of mostly middle aged women and tourists squealed with excitement — except for Aunt Cora.

“Well, get your cameras ready, because this morning, you are going to feast your eyes on at least fifty homes of the biggest stars in show business. Lucille Ball, Bob Barker, Elvis Presley. Who wants to see the Playboy Mansion and Grauman’s Chinese Theater?”

They all did. The guide was young and her hair and make-up were just about perfect. She knew what her customers wanted.

“Well, you’ll see it all and more and there will be lots of opportunities for you to take pictures so I hope you brought a lot of film for those cameras.”

They all had.

“Who knows,” continued the guide. “We see celebrities all the time so you might get some pictures of your favorite stars.”

Every head turned to the person in the next seat and there wasn’t a frown on the bus.

“By the time you get off this bus, you’ll know Hollywood like a native. Anybody here from Indiana?”

Not a one.

“Too bad. I lived in Indiana in another lifetime. Actually, it was only nine months ago, but it seems like I’ve lived here forever. Where are you all from?”

They were from California mostly. And New York.

*  *  *

There were palm trees, more palm trees than she ever imagined existed, and gates and fences and long driveways that led to houses that looked nothing like Woodside or anywhere else in the Borough of Queens. That was a good thing but they didn’t see a celebrity on the tour. Only people who worked for celebrities, who trimmed their shrubs or cleaned their pools or fixed the lights on their front porches but none of that mattered. Once they got off of Sunset and up into the hills, it was magic. It was better than magic, it was paradise and Annie felt like the last few days of high school before it all got serious.

“You know, Aunt Cora, this is exactly what I hoped it would be...California, I mean. It’s so different from home. The sun, the hills, the people. Nobody’s gonna knock you down for the last bagel on the shelf. You can cross the street and cars stop for you. They actually stop. I feel like stepping into a crosswalk every time I see a car coming just to watch them stop. In New York, you’d do that once and they’d have to scrape you off the pavement. People seem so relaxed, so happy.”

“Well, honey, so far it’s just a vacation. All those smiling people you see are tourists. The natives are pretty relaxed though but they’ll still run you over for a parking space.”

“Do I look like a tourist or do I look like I fit in?”

“You look happy. I hope you look happy two months from now. After you’ve been working for a while. Just remember, if you don’t like it or stop being happy, you can always go home. Nothing’s lost, except a little time but we’ll see. You’re doing what you want to do and I really hope it works out but, if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. At least you can say you tried. Most people never try and spend the rest of their lives regretting it.”

“What made you come out here, Aunt Cora? Was it your idea or Uncle Phil’s?”

“It wasn’t my idea. I never wanted to leave Queens but he heard about a job in the aircraft plants out here and I came with him. I can tell you now I was miserable for the first year but I got used to it and made some friends and, when your uncle decided to take off for Oregon, I said ‘I’m not going’ and that was the last of him.”

“Are you sorry?”

“About what? Comin’ out here or not following him to Oregon? Doesn’t matter, really. The answer is the same either way, yes and no. I’m happy enough out here but I still miss my family. Your mother would never come out here to visit and, after a few years, I stopped going back there. As for Oregon, I just didn’t want to make another move. Your uncle was always restless. I’m surprised he’s still up there. I just knew that wouldn’t be the last move and I didn’t feel like following him around for the rest of my life.”

“Mom will come to visit me, won’t she?”

There was a hint of panic in her eyes but not enough to overcome the determination that was behind it.

“Oh, yeah, sweetie. Don’t you worry. She’ll come out here if she has to crawl every mile. With me, I think it was partly to teach me a lesson. She was never too fond of Phil. Thought he was a little too wild. I think she expected me to turn around pretty quickly and come home and, when I didn’t, I think she dug in her heels. You’re her little girl. She loves you too much for lessons.”

*  *  *

With a list in her hand that she took from the yellow pages, the day after the tour, Annie was up and out of the house by nine. Not a beauty salon on or near Hollywood Boulevard didn’t receive a visit. That was the plan for day one of the job search. Day two and after, she wouldn’t be quite so selective.

She didn’t land a job that first day but she did get a few maybes and promises to call her if... Day two, she hit the grocery stores and pharmacies. Day three, she tried every shop that had a cash register. Day four, she did the same in Woodland Hills. Day five was a Saturday and she sat at the kitchen table with a newspaper and a pad and began answering ads. Day six was spent parked in her car not far from her aunt’s house where she cried until her eyes were sore and her head hurt.

Monday morning, she was prepared to do it all again when the phone rang. It was Fabulous Fabio’s Palazzo di Beauty. She had a job. Until Thanksgiving, and it was only part-time. Annie worked Fridays through Sunday at one of Fabio’s shops on Melrose and La Brea and, after that, it was strictly full-time. In no time at all, she had clients of her own. She was warm and friendly, good with the scissors and they loved that accent that mixed up the a’s and the er’s.

She told Aunt Cora she’d found a place to live and moved out after her first day of work but that wasn’t true. She checked into a cheap hotel on Sunset and paid the difference from her savings. She didn’t have to stay there long though. By the end of the first week at Fabio’s, she moved in with a girl from Ohio who worked at the shop and slept on her couch. From then on, money wasn’t a problem.

They became friends, the two roommates. In the evenings, they ate take-out Chinese or got hot dogs topped with chili and onions and mountains of cheese from the stand across from the salon. They went to the movies and jogged on the beach at Malibu and Annie collected stones, smooth and flat and cleansed by time and the sea. She learned to roller blade and dodged tourists on Hollywood Boulevard and started to lose a little weight. She looked good and felt better. Her mind was as clear and untroubled as the sky on a warm California night but, when she looked in the mirror, she began to notice the little lines that had formed at the corners of her eyes and the hardness in her face as age and exercise slowly melted the softness.

*  *  *

Saturday mornings were sleep-in mornings of tee shirts and pajama bottoms and coffee and talk on the balcony that overlooked a courtyard and the pool. A radio played in the background, so softly it could barely be heard, and the sliding doors were open to capture the morning breeze.

“You’re so lucky.”

“Why’s that?”

“You’re so pretty. When I’m with you, no one notices me so much. They all look at you. I’m not jealous. They start to notice me after a while but you’re the draw. You’re what gets them to look.”

She called herself Avril, pronounced the French way, but back in Ohio, she was just April. In Ohio, she had a last name but that went away when she got off the plane. She didn’t need a last name in LA. She had the same dreams they all have when they follow the sun but, after a year at Fabio’s, they were growing colder by the day.

Annie gave her the look that says ‘nonsense’ but she knew truth when she heard it and hearing it was what, at the moment, she needed.

“You’re just fishing for compliments. I think we make a very nice twosome, two good looking ladies. Hey, turn that up. I like that song.”

“Thunder is your night light” she hummed softly as the music floated from the radio. “Magic is your dream”. On her face was a tight, satisfied smile. Her eyes were closed, lost in the magic of her dream.

“Oh, I didn’t mean I was jealous”. It was April speaking now and she was serious and perhaps a little jealous. “I know I look okay but you’re really pretty and pretty people rule the world and don’t have to answer for anything.”

“Unfortunately, my dear, pretty doesn’t last”.

Annie had age on Avril and experience. She had been married; technically, she still was but it was hard for her to remember that distant life. Each day now was so new and fascinating and she didn’t have the desire or the need to think of the past. Paradise was all things fresh and different but age and experience gave her a feeling of maturity and wisdom that she was willing to share.

“I’m getting older by the day. I don’t feel it but it’s there, in my skin. That’s the thing about pretty. Maybe things are only pretty ‘cause they don’t last. Maybe that’s what gives them their beauty. Deep down, we all know it’s true but we can enjoy it while it lasts.”

The two women were friends and shared the hidden thoughts that friends share, at least some of them. Heaven was all around them. The warmth of the sun greeted them each morning; there was no end of things to see and do; the food was good; the wine was better; it never rained. Life in the little apartment was contentment and harmony. For a while.

Return to Issue 12