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“You‟re not in it.” Vanessa promptly reminded her, taking the pages I had just read of my completed work away from me. “Max, this is more than transcription. I want to call Ernest and give him a piece of my mind! Better yet, I‟m calling Bernie.” “I‟ve never dated a Bernie,” I blurted out, confused. “Bernie is the family business manager. He needs to know about this.” We were gathered in the creepy room with not much more than the light from the old television casting a blue glow in one part of the room. It competed with a desk lamp from where I sat. Vanessa clutched the pages close to her chest. An episode of Alfred Hitchcock was running as Vanessa looked over my handiwork once more. Her lips moved as she read. She paused to close her eyes and recite back the lines she had just read. It was an appropriate response coming from an actress. It was also pretty exciting to see her reciting my writings of her recollections of her life as if it were a worthwhile script. The weird thing was, I didn‟t expect she would want to relive these events. I thought she only wanted to share her memories with me for a feature article meant for someone to pass the time at a dentist appointment with “That‟s OK” magazine. A
commercial jarred the room with a promise that anyone could call a number and get life insurance without being turned down. “I need a snack,” Alana announced. She had grown bored of the unveiling of my first few pages of Vanessa‟s story. I guess because she wasn‟t in it. I continued watching Vanessa. I couldn‟t tell if she was repeating back her lines or if she were repeating back lines I had written in which someone else was speaking. “It‟s hard to tell, Max just how Chas‟s voice sounded from reading this. That‟s no fault of yours, but he had this slow, dreamy Southern taint to the way he spoke,” she explained to me. Her eyes looked teary. “We can edit it in there somehow.” So, she had been reciting Chas’s lines back to herself. I hoped I wasn‟t hitting any nerves. Maybe she still loved him. Maybe she really missed him, and I was opening up a can of worms that I had no business getting my hands on in the first place. Maybe, I should have just stopped and booked a flight back to New York. I had two texts from Ernest which I had yet to answer.
He‟d be pissed if I let them go for more than six hours, so I grabbed the phone and tapped out a plausible excuse for my delayed response. “Pretty awful to have some guy walk up to you and recognize you as Mom‟s sister,” Alana returned to the room with a bag of organic popcorn. “Not the way he meant it.” Vanessa went to lower the volume on the television. “You really should call your mom, Alana. Don‟t you think this silent treatment has gone on long enough?” “It‟s our house, too,” Alana said through a pillow of popcorn in her mouth. “She didn‟t buy the whole thing with her money. Then she hauls off to Africa for a year and makes us watch it like we‟re her peons.” Alana munched some more, “So -- plastic.” “The popcorn sucks? Then don‟t shop at Trader Joe‟s anymore. Here, Max.” Vanessa reverently placed the pages neatly on the desk and patted me on the shoulder. “No! Mom is.” Alana jumped up, swatted popcorn bits onto the floor and, as she left the room said, “I am not calling her.” “Kids.” Vanessa sighed. “I guess I am lucky I never had any of my own. Are you going to write more tomorrow?”
“We can‟t stop where we left off.” “You need more time to work on this. You can stay as long as you want!” Vanessa squealed like a teenager, jumped up and down and clapped. She then took my phone from me and mouthed that she was sorry. In another instant: “Bernie? I‟m sorry it‟s so late, but I need you to help me with a new venture…Can you see me first thing tomorrow?...Good. I have to be up in the Valley as usual by about ten….See you then.” She tried folding my smartphone closed then made a goofy face at herself realizing it was impossible and asked, ”Max, do you know how to use the internet to find flights?” Well, duh, of course I do. “Cancel your Monday morning flight. Let Ernest down easy. You are going to be staying here while we officially collaborate on my biography!” We are? We were? Everything was happening so fast. Didn‟t I need to let my friends over at “That‟s OK” magazine know that my feature article was now being turned into a book? “Ernest is going to freak out,” was all I could blurt out. Nyack‟s Main Street Fun Festival was only a week away. It was one of the highlights of the fiscal year for Ernest‟s gallery. He would literally bean me if I missed out on
supporting him and the artists he supported by not working the entire festival for Quantum 512 Gallery. It looked like I had to choose between Vanessa and Ernest. I imagined putting their names on pieces of paper and pulling them from a hat with my eyes closed. Only, I would have written just one name on both pieces of paper: VANESSA. What was happening to me? Had my mind already become so expanded in L.A. that Ernest was going to fall right off its precarious edge? I found myself alone in the house the next day. It had happened before. Vanessa and Alana left without telling me. Not that I expected to be given notice ahead of time. It was Vanessa‟s house, after all. Of course, that detail was debatable. What had transpired the night before taught me that the home actually belonged to Angela. I think. Things were getting confusing, but exciting. I assumed Vanessa was serious when she said we were going to write the story of her life together. I emailed my editor at “That‟s OK” about it. I didn‟t think a magazine would be too keen on publishing a full-length book. However, they would no
doubt pay me more to publish a few excerpts especially once they discovered it was going to be really and truly published. By whom? I couldn‟t tell you, but I had complete faith in Vanessa. Besides, I had to be convinced of something good in my sad and boring existence. Ernest didn‟t reply to the text I sent him about staying a while longer in California. He was pissed. It was for the best that I extended my stay in California. Nyack‟s Main Street Fun Festival had already happened for 49 consecutive years, so what was going to keep it from happening for a 50th? I figured I would be able to help Ernest and the gallery out next year. If he didn‟t kill me first. I am exaggerating, naturally. But, I have to say, for all intents and purposes, it was pretty fortunate I had a good excuse for staying in California. Thus began the second day of my new routine. I helped myself to some coffee which I understood Alana made for Vanessa every day without fail. Ever since I arrived, Alana never forgot to include an extra scoop for my cup when getting the brew going. After that, I packed up my things and headed out for my now-routine walk to the library.
I was still using Vanessa‟s diaries for reference, and I had quite a few left to read as you can imagine. With my newfound status as biographer, I couldn‟t wait to delve into every juicy detail about her life and make sure she was cast in the best light ever. At her age, what actress wouldn‟t need great lighting to look her best? Ah ha ha. In all truthfulness, I did still want to find out what happened to Chas Childs. I also needed to find out, carefully, what the deal was with Vanessa‟s relationship with her sister. How is it that Vanessa wound up living in her sister‟s house with her sister‟s kid while her sister up and moved to Africa? Something wiggy was afoot, and I was in charge of figuring it all out. That turned out to be the very reasoning I gave Ernest when he finally did reply to my text. He said: “….!?!...” So, I wrote back: “……” And then he said:
“You need to call NOW.” So, I called and told him exactly what I just told you. He told me that if it really meant that much to me to miss the Fun Festival and figure things out for a poor –but fantastic- soul like Vanessa Gardner then, as long as I could solve her problems within one month‟s time, I would still be able to come home to him. He also told me that if it took me one hour over 30 days, he‟d start looking for someone new. My heart couldn‟t take that. Secretly, I am a geek. I love libraries. There is something about the ambiance, the whole idea of the world opening up to you in a seemingly endless supply of books and other media that just gets me going. I love being able to slip into my own private mental space and just explore whatever subject it is that grabs me with the help of a library. A long time ago, it was my neighborhood library where I got to find out more about Vanessa Gardner. I was being plagued at school for being a geek as it was, but I didn‟t mind living up to the term when I was deep in the throes of investigative factfinding at the library. It was really great to think that I was now working for Vanessa as her biographer- and, I was getting to do the job at her local library.
Even though I have already expressed some of my complaints (it was a very noisy place where the librarians contributed sometimes to that noisiness), I still loved going there to work each day. It sure beat being behind a desk at some grinding job in Manhattan. It also kind of beat being behind the desk Ernest set up for me at Quantum 512 where I counted almost every second until I could go outside for a cigarette break. How‟s that for a sign that maybe I needed this fortunate opportunity to get to California and work on Vanessa‟s story? Before doing anything further in my relationship with Ernest, I still felt I was perfectly within my rights to explore sewing my oats more. I had several more diaries to read. I figured it would be best to finish perusing them, take notes and then fill in the blanks with Vanessa. One afternoon, after a day of reading and note-taking I returned to Vanessa‟s house ready to have dinner and then get some comments from Vanessa on the tape machine. But, there was a change in plans. I stepped into Vanessa‟s house, (by that point she had let me have her extra set of keys) and there was a bonafide party going on in the creepy room. About half a dozen or so people were sitting around the coffee table playing cards and smoking. There was a lot of chatter and laughing going on over the sounds
of Vanessa‟s computer speakers. They were blaring some old 60‟ssounding tunes. Alana waved hi to me as she passed a tray of what looked like formerly frozen pizza bites around. She was dressed up nicely complete with her knock off Louboutins. “Hey, Max glad you could make it.” She shoved the tray in my face. “Pizza roll?” “Not right now, but thank you.” I felt a little uncomfortable because just then it was like the song on Vanessa‟s computer changed so there was a lull in the music, together with a lull in the chatter. Everyone stared up at me. I thought I recognized a face or two, but wasn‟t sure. “Everybody, this is Max.” Vanessa came from another room in the house. She had on a satin gown and lots of makeup on. She was barefoot, but she really looked vibrant, beautiful and happy. “Max…this is everybody.” Everybody waved or smiled a polite hello to me. Vanessa leaned in close to me and whispered in my ear, “You‟ll recognize some of them from Children of Now and from the neighborhood.” “How nice to meet you all.”
“Isn‟t Max just the cutest!?” Vanessa enticed them all with a flourish of her hand then mouthed the words, “so polite!” to everyone. That was when Alana signaled for me to head over to where she was. The music came back on. This time it was something by the Beatles only it was being sung by an unidentifiable group. “Help me with the pizza rolls, Max.” We were in the kitchen, when Alana grabbed me. “They‟re the Wax Works version two point oh. I‟m not kidding. They bore the hell out of me. Please tell me you can take over for me and help serve. I need to get out of here. I„ve been with her all damn day.” “I actually have some experience cooking frozen foods. I‟d be happy to.” “Max you are a doll. My feet are killing me,” Alana said pulling one shoe at a time off. It made her about a foot shorter than me. “Sorry. I know you‟ve been busy today, too.” “Think nothing of it. I‟ve been sitting on my behind all day reading your aunt‟s diaries.” “Oh my God, Max, you‟re so cute.” She pulled off her hot pink oven mitts and busied herself with the contents of her purse which was nearby. She began touching up her makeup. “If
she asks where I am just tell her I ran out to Ralphs to get some dessert. Honestly, I can‟t take it much longer,” she smoothed lipstick over her lips as she spoke, ”I have to help her with all her errands all day, every day. It‟s exhausting.” “I am only too happy to fill in for you.” I don‟t know why I said that. “All you have to do is tell them I‟m at Ralphs.” She fussed with putting her shoes back on. “They get stoned and eat a lot. They‟ll forget all about me. There‟s some Hot Pockets in the freezer, too.” She kissed me on the lips and off she went. I wiped traces of Alana‟s lipstick off my lips and scoped out the kitchen in order to get my bearings. Pizza rolls to the right of me, Hot Pockets in the freezer, oven set at 400 degrees. I had a handle on things. “Max!” “Coming Vanessa!” I rushed to the creepy room with a baking sheet, wearing Alana‟s oven mitts. “We don‟t need any more snacks, Max,” one of Vanessa‟s friends informed me. “No, we need you to join us. Keep us company,” said another one of Vanessa‟s friends who was holding a guitar while sporting a stovepipe hat. “Gonna have a sing along.”
“No, Barry,” Vanessa corrected him. “We‟re going to tell stories. Come sit down, Max. Max loves to hear stories. He also loves writing them, isn‟t that right?” Vanessa emptied a carafe into someone‟s plastic cup. “Shit. We need more booze. Alana!” “Alana‟s – at Ralph‟s.” The look on everyone faces was that of disappointment. “She‟s getting dessert for everyone.” “Who the freak wants cake?” Barry blurted out and began laughing. “Young people today are so boring. And dumb,” said another one of Vanessa‟s friends. This one was a woman who looked about ten years older than Vanessa only her hair was jet black – a jet black, shoulder-length bouffant. “Max, this is Tina. She lives two houses down.” “The one with the cat food bowls outside? That‟s me, nice to meet you Max,” she held out her hand expecting me to kiss it. “I hope you don‟t think I‟m odd.” “…Of course not,” I fibbed, reaching out to shake her hand instead. “...but, the little stray kitties out in the back that way need someone to take care of them,” Tina squelched a burp. “Love those kitties, Tina,” Vanessa said, patting her on the shoulder. “You take such good care of them.”
“I make sure they have their shots, their annual vet checkups…” “She does, Max. Tina is the neighborhood cat advocate. Oh, so let‟s finish telling stories. Max might just help us all get famous again.” I‟m not sure what Vanessa meant by that or anything else that she said that night. But, it was the night she and her friends helped piece together –albeit unaware- of what happened when they had all met a during the filming of “Children of Now” in 1967. I thought I recognized Barry. It struck me as amazing if it was the guy who appeared along with Vanessa in my favorite movie of all time. I mean, these people actually still kept in touch and maintained friendships? “I hate to ask you this, but do you think you could make a trip around the corner to get us some more alcohol?” Vanessa stood up and made her way close to me. She put both of her hands on either side of my face and looked at me as if she were a mother about to give her child a bedtime kiss. “I‟m afraid I don‟t yet know my way around the corner unless it‟s to the library,” I said. Vanessa moved her hands down and away from my face to the front of my shirt. Then she snapped her fingers in disappointment. “I‟m too drunk to walk, Max.”
I was beginning to understand what Alana must go through spending each and every entire day of her life with her Aunt Vanessa. I really didn‟t feel like walking anywhere either, if you must know. I had a long day researching for her book, then I became a short order cook on short notice. The thought of making a beer run in a strange neighborhood in the dark was just not doing it for me. “Call and have them deliver it,” hiccupped the guy in the stovepipe hat. He began strumming his guitar. It‟s sounds clashed against the music still streaming from the computer speakers in the room. “I‟m calling it an early night,” sighed Tina as she stood to leave. Another couple got up with her. I didn‟t get to know one single detail about them except that, as per Alana, they did smoke pot, get stoned and snack. “Yeah,” Vanessa decided with some resignation. “It‟s gotten pretty beat in here. Let‟s do it again tomorrow after you feed the cats. See ya, Ron. I‟ll call you, Debra.” Tina gave Vanessa a polite air kiss and then offered me the same. She and the couple left. The stovepipe-hat guy yawned. “Stay on the couch if you want, Billy.” “Nah, I can hoof it back.”
Vanessa noticed my look of surprise. This guy looked like he came from another stratosphere nevermind a place within walking distance. “He lives a few blocks off. Near the liquor store. Right before you hit the studio. Not Fox, the other one. MGM.” “Sony,” Billy corrected her. He heaved himself and his guitar up and saluted as he walked out the door. The music played for itself for a minute until Vanessa made it to another room to turn it off. “Max,” she said from around the corner of the hall, “Someday, will take you on a tour of one of those studios. Would you like that? Have my own golf cart and parking space.” She reappeared and plopped herself down on the sofa. “You‟d be my very special guest.” “Why not?” “I‟m sorry, maybe I should have told you there was going to be a get together. I should have officially invited you. Where‟d Alana go?” “She just needed to get out.” “Who can blame her? So, where did our last chapter leave off?”
No, God. Please. I was not in the mood to lug my tape machine out and start working. I could hardly believe I was saying this considering how much time I spent in life being fascinated with Vanessa and her work. “Don‟t you want to hear another story to write down?” “Honestly? I‟m kind of tired.” “I‟m never going to divulge this part of the story ever. Not unless you sit down now and take a note.” She ignored the last part of what I had said and instead began going on a tangent about what day the infamous Christmas party where she made Chas‟s acquaintance was. I excused myself from the creepy room, scoured the kitchen for a pen and some paper and returned. “No tape machine right now, Vanessa. Pen and paper only.” She bit her lip and grinned at me. “All I was going to tell you was that after Chas took me for that drive to the hamburger joint –the one where he told all the kids there that he was dating me – he took me back to Grace‟s. He led me up the back walkway into her laundry room and, in the dark of that laundry room, where just a tiny streak of moonlight fell, he gave me my first kiss. Now, you put that down on your little piece of paper and go to bed.”
With that, she fell back on the couch and passed out. The following morning I awoke to the smell of the coffee Alana was brewing, dutifully. Since Vanessa had taken over my spot on the creepy room sofa, I was able to make use of her bed. Birds chirped amidst the phffft-phfft-phfft of lawn sprinklers. The sunshine made it hard to keep my eyes closed, although I would have loved to sleep a little more. Instinctively, I moved my hand across the bed noting how empty it was. I had about twenty-eight days to meet my book deadline. The one Ernest had set for me. Actually, what Ernest set me was an ultimatum. Still, laying there in the bedroom sunshine in an actresses' bed all alone made me miss him something fierce. I knew I could trust Ernest back home and all, but it began to dawn on me how chatting, texting and even calling was just not enough to sustain our relationship. I hoped I wasn‟t making a bad mistake taking on this project. The pleasant sounds outside suddenly were jarred by a taptap-tap from nearby. I bolted up and looked out the window. An old man with nothing but a white undershirt and black Hanes boxer briefs stood there. He looked lost. “Um….Alana?” was the first thing that came out of my mouth.
The man heard my voice and followed it right to the window where he caught sight of me sitting up in Vanessa‟s bed. “Ho there,” he said as he approached. “I can‟t work my coffee maker.” He held up an empty white mug. His hair was styled in a neat buzz cut and although he had some stubble, it didn‟t look like he could be homeless. Alana finally arrived to the room in an outfit that went head-to-head with the old guy‟s except her bottoms were cut with the female form in mind. “Sherman! Wait right there. I‟ll go get Vanessa.” A moment later, Vanessa was roused and I saw her appear outside the window next to a very obedient Sherman who stood still holding his coffee mug. “We‟re going to go and figure it out. Take my arm,” she said and led him away. They made it about two feet across the lawn. He grabbed the trunk of an old tree and shook his head and his coffee mug at Vanessa. “It‟s okay. We‟ll figure how to make it work.” “He‟s done this a few times,” Alana informed me as she exited the room. “Speaking of coffee, you want yours there in bed?”
“I can get up, don‟t go through so much trouble. Who‟s Sherman?” “Our next door neighbor. When his son or daughter forgets to visit on weekends when his regular nurse is off, he gets lost. Can you imagine how awful it must be to be ninety-five and find yourself all alone first thing in the morning? With no recollection of how the hell to use a coffeemaker?” Alana slurped at hers, then realized the way she was dressed. “Oh my freaking God! I‟m sorry, Max.” “It‟s okay. I swear, I didn‟t really notice.” I noticed, but I just didn‟t really „notice‟, so that wasn‟t a lie. “I‟m fixing my cup myself,” I called out to Alana who was now in her own room opening and closing dresser drawers. “I swear, it‟s really okay.” “You better not be lying,” she warned. She was beginning to feel like a roommate. “Couldn‟t Vanessa have just invited him in to have a cup of our coffee?” “No, because she also has to make sure he‟s got CNN on, the daughter‟s been called, the doors are all locked - stuff like that.”
For all the work Vanessa seemed like she was turning out to be, she also appeared to be genuinely caring. It was first thing in the morning, and she probably had a hangover. But, like a makeshift live-in nurse for dementia patients, she trodded over barefoot, still wearing last night‟s clothes, to help Sherman make his coffee. After Sherman‟s situation had been brought under control, Vanessa left with Alana. I still had no idea where they went to every day. It was still none of my business. I didn‟t see myself asking Vanessa, “So, how was your day? Where the hell did you two go off to?” I had to wonder. I highly doubted that they both had shifts at Norm‟s Restaurant. Maybe Alana took her on more errands, brought her to see her business manager, pick up prescriptions, and things of that nature. All I know for sure is I was usually left alone to busy myself with writing Vanessa‟s story and, on this particular day, I was armed with a shitload of inspiration and information. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ It was true that Chas had introduced Vanessa to his friends and fans as his girlfriend during their secret jaunt from Grace Adam‟s Christmas party to the local hamburger stand. After failing to measure up to her sister‟s network superstardom by
botching a commercial audition, having a hunky hot rod movie star fawn over her was just the thing she needed. He drove her back to the party and strategically parked his XKE a block behind Grace‟s street so that he could sneak Vanessa inside Grace‟s house via the backyard walkway. It involved trespassing and cutting through a neighbor‟s bushes, but the payoff was worth it. Halfway up the walkway to Grace‟s, Chas turned to Vanessa and made out with her. The kiss turned her into gelatin and forced her to white knuckle the railing that led to Grace‟s laundry room to keep from fainting. Fortunately for Vanessa and Chas, the laundry room was the one room in the house that did not contain partygoers. Deep in the house – where the full moonlight of that evening could not reach – was one partygoer who actually could have used the extra light to find her husband. She had been looking high and low for him for half an hour. Loretta Childs was ripped to the gills and teetering on her black heels. Her nylons had a run in them. More of her lipstick was on her wine glass than on her lips, and more of her wine was on her lips than in her glass. She tottered her way into the living room where George and Marjorie were allowing Angela to say her good-byes to just about every single person there.
George made sure Angela kept up with making connections despite her success on the Peggy Powell show. Vanessa entered the living room area feeling woozy from a huge dose of her first fling with what felt like true love. Chas noticed Loretta and ducked behind Grace‟s awe-inspiring, twinkling Christmas tree. He wasn‟t able to enjoy very much privacy. A connectioncrazy Angela Gardner spied him and approached with George close behind her. “Oh, Daddy – LOOK it‟s Chas!” she cooed. “Hey there, how are ya?” George offered a handshake. “George Gardner. Nice to meet you, Chas. I‟m Grace‟s partner.” The handshake went on as George explained, “We‟re Adams and Gardner? The casting agency? I let the lady get top billing.” “I have all your posters,” gushed Angela, pretending to be honest. Chas smiled politely and extracted his hand from George‟s grasp. He managed to make his eyes light up when he lied back to her: “I watch your show every week.” “Fabulous party. Have a very merry!” George waved to Grace and led Angela off to join Marjorie. She was helping Vanessa put her sweater back on, having freshly reclaimed it from Grace‟s bedroom coat pile.
“Vanessa! Where the hell have you been?” “In the den with the young people like Mrs. Adams suggested.” Marjorie nodded in George‟s direction. It was plausible, after all. “You make any contacts?” “George, honestly,” said Marjorie in a parental tone. ”Did you girls thank Grace for the lovely time?” Just then, Loretta detected Chas from where she stood, holding on to the wall. Chas caught Vanessa‟s glance just as she and her family exited the front door. Knowing Loretta was watching, he motioned for Vanessa‟s phone number with his finger and the palm of his hand. She mouthed that it was in the book, and then proceeded as gracefully as a newborn calf to smack into the doorframe. She didn‟t learn about Loretta until a few years later when she and Chas had a more intense and lasting encounter after “Children of Now” was released. That movie was the one she had auditioned for when she took the bus up to North Hollywood without Grace or George‟s knowledge. It was a low budget picture with big budget success. It made Vanessa a star big enough to
rustle Angela‟s feathers. By then Loretta was long gone – and so was every dime of Chas‟s money. It was late in the afternoon and the sun coursed through the creepy room, having finally made it around the house where the creepy room was positioned. Streams of light ran over the walls, gracing the vintage portraits of Vanessa and her sister Angela, and landing on top of the ancient piece-of-furniture television. The tree outside that Sherman had stood by while waiting for Vanessa that morning was tossing the sunlight around at its own whim, it seemed. I realized after a moment that the birds who nested there were the real culprits. They flew back and forth from the roof of the house to the tree, chasing each other just to have fun and make the most of such a gorgeous day. I got up from the desk where I sat and pulled the cord from my tape machine. My work day was at an end and I wanted to put everything away. That‟s when Vanessa entered the room. She acknowledged me with a soft “how are you” and wandered over to a stack of her diaries on the desk. She began flipping through one. “Need a hand with that, Max?”
“I‟ve got it, thanks.” “Your mom taught you well.” “How‟s that?” I heaved the tape machine over by my suitcase on the floor near the couch. “You put your toys away after you‟re done playing.” She gave me a smile that made me feel good for being so conscientious, but then it made me think of my real mother for an instant. As if she read my mind, or the look that came over me, she asked: “Don‟t you like your mom?” “I care for my mom.” She carried on perusing the pages of her diary and plopped herself down on the sofa. “But, you don‟t like her?” When I didn‟t answer, she added, “I‟d be proud to have son like you, Max.” “My parents live in Maryland. I send greeting cards. I call on holidays. We‟re like that. It‟s fine.” Just as soon as she was interested in my business, she became quickly more interested in hers. “Holy crap! Listen to this - May 3, 1969, Had ribs for dinner. Mmm. Delicious.” “Sometimes that‟s what diaries are for.”
“I had ribs for dinner? Are you kidding me? That‟s awful, I‟m tearing that page out.” “No, don‟t. My gosh, you may as well try selling them on eBay, but don‟t tamper with them. They have historical import.” I reached for the offensive tome. She yanked it from my reach. “The fact that I made a big stink about eating ribs on May 3, 1969 is not of historical import. Max, I wrote lies in my diaries sometimes to keep the truth about what I was up to with Chas from being found out. Now, I feel like crap. I would love to know – to remember – what I was really doing and feeling.” She flipped through some more pages and frowned. “Bought pink frost lipstick at Longs. I hope Angela gets the mumps….That‟s an entry I can almost understand. How the heck would I have ever known I‟d get old and forgetful and want to remember what I can no longer recall?” She fell back onto the sofa with dramatic, but honest flair. “I hate myself enough to end it all.” “Korean barbecue sounds like the best thing ever,” Alana announced, entering the room with a fistful of menus. “Hi there, Max. Hungry?”
I nodded. “I am, but I don‟t think your Aunt will be joining us for any more meals.” “Oh my God, she‟s dead.” Alana went over and lightly tapped at Vanessa‟s knee. When Vanessa carried on with playing dead, she sat on her Aunt‟s lap and read off a few specials. “You can get off of me now, Alana.” Vanessa pushed Alana off of her lap and tossed me the diary. I missed and it crashed to the floor. A few pages bent from the force of her toss. “There are more entries than the ones you‟ve looked at just now,” I said, picking up the diary like a wounded bird and carrying it off to the safety of the stack I had arranged on the desk. “Alana, go order dinner. Let me talk to Max alone. You‟ll eat whatever she gets, right?” I nodded. Why wouldn‟t I? It was obvious that I really didn‟t have a choice. “I blocked a lot out of my mind. A lot that should still be there, Max. Since it isn‟t, you and I are never going to have the whole story pieced together.” Either I was really hungrier than I thought I was, or I was salivating because of the notion that there was a huge missing
piece to her story which she was wanting me –and only me – to know of for the purposes of writing her biography. “It‟s not like we can go and ask Chas for his recollections.” She sighed heavily and looked up at me with a genuine hint of despair. “I wanted to slam the door shut and forget a lot of that stuff happened. Now, I‟d really like to remember, and I can‟t. I hate myself.” “Something really bad happened?” “Kind of, Max.” Her face grew pale. “It‟s one reason he‟s not around like he should be.” Ernest Skyped me early the next morning. He could not believe how much I had missed at Nyack‟s Main Street Fun Festival. Mick Jagger was spotted slinking around and had entered Quantum 512 to take a peek at Ernest‟s latest artistic finds. He didn‟t buy anything, just in case you were wondering. All the same, Ernest was walking on a proverbial cloud by the time he got talking to me. Vanessa walked into the room at one point, stood behind my back and then exclaimed, “Man alive!” Ernest looked at her in shock from behind the computer screen. He looked amazing, as usual. At least he did to me. His
hair was impeccable. How he highlights his grays to look so natural, I have no idea. His chiseled features and narrow, piercing blue eyes stare at anyone from behind those Tom Fords with an over-confidence I don‟t think the whole world has the pleasure of knowing. It should. The Donna Summer song pulsing from his computer speakers across the country made me homesick. I think Ernest is the perfect male specimen. Hunky, strong and aloof. It‟s like he‟s part android and part person. He strives for perfection and achieves it professionally and personally. Beside all this, he likes me. “That‟s your boyfriend?” She jabbed me with her elbow. “Hey, I love disco, too! I want to talk to him.” I was slightly mortified. “You already are. He can hear-” I used the pencil I had been pretending was a cigarette and turned it into a pointer,”and see – everything.” Ernest appeared more disgusted than I had ever seen him be before. “Hi, there. I‟m Vanessa. Who‟s look are you going for? A very young Martin van Buren or Barnabas Collins?” “Max, perhaps there‟s a private patio where you can lug that ancient laptop to?”
“I love the Edwardian look,” Vanessa taunted as she, herself, discovered the use for my pencil as a presentation pointer. She jabbed at Ernest‟s face with it. “It wouldn‟t be Edwardian if I were Martin van Buren. Do some Googling, lady.” “Wow, people from the 1800‟s are so rude,” Vanessa and the pencil pointer were amused and began drawing a square shape around Ernest‟s image on the computer monitor. I was embarrassed. “Now, Max!” Ernest demanded. I should not have to write how at this point, Vanessa practically did my relationship with Ernest in. Ernest was already annoyed with me and my book-writing venture which Vanessa herself had helped to create, and to have missed out on Nyack‟s Main Street Fun Festival was a huge no-no. Still, I took him, via the laptop, out to Vanessa‟s backyard bench where I had my first dinner with her. I made up with him quick by telling him that, yes, he could book my plane ticket back for three weeks from that date. Vanessa wasn‟t far off. She stood at the doorway of her back yard, overseeing things. It was as if she knew something about my relationship with Ernest that I didn‟t. When she saw
that I had ended my talk with him, she approached and plopped herself down next to me on her backyard bench. “You do know, Max, that it‟s one thing to move away and see things back home from an entirely new and liberating perspective, right?” Had I done something bad while speaking to Ernest, I wondered? “The biggest thing about spending an inordinate amount of time across the country from where you originate, is the distance - both physical and emotional, but, just because you have perspective now doesn‟t mean you want to destroy the relationship you have with Ernest.” The sun beat down hard on the laptop, making it and my fingers that were gracing its touch pad burn. “Really?” I challenged her like a teenager. “Really. Being across the country and not speaking to someone when you should are synonymous. Get back home and work it out in person. Anything else is just dramatic, narcisstic futility.” I think you feel the same way as I did when Vanessa uttered these gems of wisdom to me, but when taken into consideration she had - and still does have - a point. She also made me feel
guilty for not speaking to my own mother for four years. Yet, here I was supposedly working on her life story, not mine. Like Ducky says in “Sixteen Candles”: “Toush!”
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