by John Michael Flynn
You know what ‘Todd’ means in German? Death.
Maybe Flora knows that, just as she knows I’m on the rebound, even though I never told her. Delaney knew. My sweet, gone Delaney.
Flora keeps glancing away, looking fearful. Makes me nervous. She wasn’t that way on the bus down Vermont Avenue. Did she think I wouldn’t show up? I’m a man of my word, but I don’t want to come off as harassing. I order a tuna sandwich and she starts making it. I ask the skinny kid who works there if her name is Flora. The kid won’t answer. A Mexican guy, paternal-like, who runs the cash register, gives me the hairy eyeball. He must know what’s going on. He and Flora don’t say a word. I smile, try to be friendly-like. Flora finishes my sandwich, wraps it to go. I hadn’t asked for that. It’s her way of telling me to get back into the LA sunshine.
I walk out, I mean steam out, talking to myself. I hate the city for what it does to people. What it does to me. Hate the walls between light skin and dark. I start thinking maybe Flora has a baby and no husband. Maybe she’s in a bad marriage. Maybe while riding the bus she doubted her good looks and flirted with me because she wanted to see if she was still attractive. I’m one of few gringos who live in this part of LA. Probably look like a sucker, like I’ve been played before.
Window down, riding home with my sandwich, the air clings like a yellow sleaze. I drive as if watching a movie of all the strange Angelinos behind their wheels. When I get to my hole, my cell, my earth-ship, I pass Whiffle’s room. I don’t know his real name. He told me to call him Whiffle. He’s the hippie surfer brother I never had, an AA grad with a ponytail who once tried to convert me to Jesus. His latest kick has been the sci-fi fiction of L. Ron Hubbard. I feel like talking to him. I often feel this way when I get back to the boarding house. I knock a few times, get no answer, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in.
Whiffle’s no stranger to my life story. He likes having a place to parcel out his earned wisdom, so I leave my door unlocked. Once in my room, I try to forget Flora. To forget Delaney. I need to move on. I feel consumed by loneliness and the ironing board incident with Delaney. She’s blue-eyed, cinnamon-haired, rents in Glendale, originally from Iowa. Like so many others, out here for movies. I’d had too many beers, in a fit of rage knocked over that board, and sent a pair of cherished ceramic candlesticks crashing to her wood floor. They’d been a gift from her grandmother. She started ranting, calling me cheap and irresponsible. I argued it was an accident. I’d raised my fist to her, but I’d never brought it down. She’d threatened to call the cops. I talked her out of it. Bolted from Glendale, and then phoned her night after night trying to make amends. I took her to the Bowl for a classical concert, and then a dinner afterwards, but it wasn’t the same. She hadn’t even kissed me goodnight.
So after keeping to myself a while, questioning my choices and daily m-o, I got back into the mix. When I sat next to Flora on the bus, she started the conversation, not me. I joked with her about how I was wrestling an illusion of self-control back into my life. You know how it is. You have to let off steam somehow, and when I met Flora, I thought it was happening again, that I could be with someone, so I opened up to her.
On the edge of my bed, I drop chin into hands and let my fan blow cruddy air into my face. The landlord still hasn’t fixed my AC unit. I feel weak inside, unsure of myself. I remember my car accident – man, when it rains it pours – how that collision set me back, got me doubting myself in a way I’d never doubted before. Cops yanked my license because I had past fines due. Had to phone my mother in Puerta Vallarta and beg her to cover the lawyer’s fees so I could get my license back. She sent the money, but did it to spite my old man, still in Detroit. If I’d asked him, he’d have said suck it up. Next time I phone, just to piss him off, I’ll tell him Mom helped me out of a jam.
Hard to live in LA without wheels and a license. I should be happy to have a ride, at all. Whiffle doesn’t. He says that LA’s public transport gets a bad rap. Can’t say I disagree. Living downtown, it makes a difference, puts you in touch with the common folk, the good hard-working girls like Flora.
Mom had wanted to know when I was flying down to see her. Always a room there for me in Mexico. Didn’t Flora see what she was missing? We could work at Mom’s hotel. My Spanish was already decent. Maybe I’d learn hotel management. It’s nice down there. Mexicans are the sweetest people on the planet.
I chew my sandwich and replay my LA dramas. Is there a screenplay idea in any of them? How out of place and sawed-off I feel downtown. For a while, I was getting calls to substitute at an LA High. I had the most fun teaching city kids mathematics, a language I understand. When I was earning my BS at Wayne State, I learned that its logic would never let me down.
Cannot finish this Flora sandwich. Sapped, dehydrated, I wander to my bureau, open the top drawer and take out my Glock. I’m not sure it’s loaded. Only one way to find out.
God, somebody save me. I put the Glock to my temple and stare at myself in the pitted glass of a mirror. Delaney, then Flora, and so many before them – all these women, these dreams driving me mad.
I’m about to squeeze the trigger, finish it all in a blaze of glorious self-pity when Whiffle swings open my door and crows, “Hey, Zen Master Todd, it was unlocked.”
Whiffle. He’s not a person. He’s an experience. In a triple extra-large tai-dye shirt he stands there part kaleidoscope and part Humpty Dumpty fresh off the wall in sandals and over-sized cargo shorts, his legs so skinny they make him look a children’s toy.
“Dude, I’ve done nothing but sleep for the past twenty years. I mean, it’s all there. Drones, clones, and safety zones. I’m telling you, man, there’s a lot to be said for the paranoia of the 50s sci-fi writers.” He sees the Glock. Does a double-take. “Dude, what are you doing?”
I slip the Glock back in the drawer. Why explain?
With two hands, Whiffle yanks up his shorts. He smells like peanut brittle and sour cream. “Know the feeling,” he says. “Hey, I got an idea. Venice Beach. That’s what you moved here for, isn’t it? No pussy like that in the Missouri hell-hole you’re from.”
“Detroit,” I say. “Hockey town.”
“Whatever,” he says. “I need a freak-show right now. A little people-watching while I munch a fish taco for breakfast, even though it’s dinnertime. Way I see it, that ain’t asking too much of la vida loca.”
He has a point. “But no drinking, and no weed,” I say. “That’s our deal.”
“Betty Crocker, c’mon, you’re killing me.”
“You’ll thank me one day.”
“So out with it,” he says. “You’re playing with guns again. She got a name?”
“I thought Delaney was the one.”
I shrug. I don’t know a damn thing.
Whiffle sees my sandwich. “Gonna finish that?”
I hand it to him, still in its wrapper. He stuffs it into a deep wide pocket. Then he yanks the car keys out of my hand. “I’ll drive. You’re dangerous, and I need to feel like I’m in control.”
On our way to my car, looking around at all the bars on all the windows, I start laughing. I want to stop, but I can’t. The laughter pours out of me in hysterical surges.
Whiffle just smiles and mumbles something about heat, lunacy and hanging around too much indoors.
John Michael Flynn’s website, http://www.basilrosa.com, contains publishing credits and samples of published work.