painting by Gabriel Metsu

The Los Angeles traffic slowed to an afternoon crawl. She rested her head on the steering wheel and tuned into the DJ on the radio. Recently, she’d switched from music to talk radio.  The LA music scene had become tiresome. Her latest obsession was a talk show about sex and relationships. The show was hosted by a smart psychologist and a smart-ass comedian. The people who called in ranged from fourteen year olds calling in on a dare, to attention starved semi-celebrities hoping to shock the public into talking about them. Occasionally, there would be some interesting, legitimate questions.

RADIO HOST: “J in Newport Beach, you’re on the air.”

“Um, thanks for taking my call (sobs). I just can’t do this.  I can’t stand hurting him like this”

Comedian Radio Host: “Well use a little lube why don’t ya?”  (laughs at his own joke)

Psychologist Radio Host: “J? Tell me why you think you’re hurting him.”

“I can’t make him happy, I’m such an asshole.  I can’t keep doing this.”

Comedian Radio Host:  “Well duh daddy-o, just stop being such a jerk. Whaddya do; cheat on him?”

Psychologist Radio Host: “Okay J, calm down, let’s talk about why you are feeling like this.”

The voice was unmistakably Johnny’s.

In this valley brimming with of millions of people, there was no doubt in her mind.  He was exhausted and frayed like she’d never heard him.  Her mind flashed on her commitment not to take his call and she moaned.  She grabbed her phone to check to see if she had missed any of his or Mark’s calls.  She hadn’t.  Little relief.

“Look, I’m sorry I called.  I’m just a mess.  I have to go.” J clicks off choking on sobs.

Comedian Radio Host: “Dude, he’s a mess. Sounds like he needs a weekend in Palm Springs.”

Psycholgist Radio Host: “He’s really hurting.  J, if you can hear me, call the radio station back and I’ll talk to you privately.”  He sounded worried.

Ann dialed Johnny’s number to no avail, the same with Mark.  

Jeezus, how did I get pulled back into this?  I just need to go home and do some billing work on the computer, have a glass of wine, a salad and at least six hours of sleep.  Is that too much to ask? 

Her pleading to a God she quit believing in years ago seemed pathetic at best.  If only she could be like her mom and go to a church, light a candle, say a decade or two of a rosary, spend some time on her knees praying and feel like she’d done everything she could do. She hadn’t thought to envy her mom in a long time.

Her mind wandered back to the days when her mom forced her  to dress up and go to Mass on Sundays.  By the time she was 13 years old, her brother was driving and they both conspired on Sundays to tell their mom that they were going to later Mass on Sunday afternoon. The would shower and get dressed, pile into his 1968 Mercury Cougar and drive directly to the back of the town park to smoke dope and listen to loud music.  It was deliciously wicked. Maybe, if she would have attended church, she’d have the tools to help her figure out how to untangle her messy life.  Her mother certainly thought so.

In due time, she pulled into the carport of her little duplex.  It was the place she had called home for over four years.  She thought briefly about swinging by Peter’s to pick up Luke, but the thought of talking with one more person, even if it was Peter, was more than she could imagine.  She noticed the un-mown lawn and the weeds that had started to grow through the cracks in the driveway.  Mateo always did the gardening  and now there was one more thing she needed to add to her list of things to get done.  Maybe she could talk the neighbor kids into taking on the job. 

Placing her keys on the ring by the door, she surveyed the tidy space that she called home.  It wasn’t stylish, it wasn’t fancy, but it was hers.  Her books on the shelf, a hodgepodge of mysteries, westerns and a few treasured poetry books thrown in were neatly arranged around the battered, second hand couch covered with her grandmother’s crocheted blankets.  The middle of the couch was permanently indented with the shape of a resting Luke. It was his favorite place. The kitchen was sparse – the kitchen of someone who doesn’t  cook. It was clean and orderly and she could find those things she regularly needed with ease.  She opened the shades that kept her place dark and cool against the unforgiving Los Angeles sunshine.  The place smelled musty and close, so she opened the windows of the kitchen and promptly closed them when she realized the dearth of noise from the roads, the lawnmowers and a teenaged neighbor’s blast of Hip Hop music that the windows let in. She placed her bag, along with tomorrow’s Racing Form newspaper on the table and thought about the several hours worth of billing work that she’d need to complete before bills needed to go out on Tuesday the first of the month.  If she really wanted to take Monday afternoon off, then tonight was her best bet.

She opened the freezer and selected one of a dozen frozen meals, popped it into the microwave and went to the cupboard to treat herself to a glass of wine.  She hesitated and opted for three fingers of Silver Tequila.  It had been a hell of a day.  She ventured back to her computer and started up her accounting and spreadsheet programs.  Bookkeeping was relaxing to her.  Making all of the receipts and bills fit into their respective slots, recording and categorizing them was restful and meditative.  All the columns added up if you were careful and if they didn’t, there was a good reason for it that you could solve if you were diligent.  At the end, things were neat and finished and absolute.  She’d worked her way though lean times by straightening out the books of farriers and the tax problems of exercise riders. Organizing the lives of others was simple and gratifying.

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