|Posted on 2004-05-19 07:09:44 by Denver|
They had just left the stark, lonely images in the Edward Weston photography exhibit when he heard her make that exasperated sigh of disappointment. That was the first time he'd heard it on this trip. They were walking from the Boone Gallery along the pathway curving to the right and brushing up against the Dorothy Collins Brown Garden filled with its shrubbery and sunlight, interrupted only by a tall juniper grove. They had been at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino for an hour already; a brief visit to the tearoom for finger sandwiches had been futile; too formal and too filled with corpulent tourists smacking their lips on scones and jelly. No possibility of intimacy or quiet revelation. They had barely spoken in the three hours since she picked him up from LAX; the fullness of her thighs, the glint in the brown eyes of her freckled face and the familiar smugness of her grin enough of a conversation for him. But she had something to tell him, she insisted. He considered the agenda for this, their eighth annual meeting. After eight years of this episodic romance, of nurturing a faint hope for a common future, what did he have to tell her?
Still hungry they retreated from the teahouse to the herb garden. A sun saturated gardener, middle aged, with a striped shirt, floppy hat and oversized sunglasses, sat at a wooden table gesticulating with a short metal shovel. They approached cautiously.
"Those are the herbs you make beer with." she said, pointing across the garden, as if she knew the intellectual limits of his horticultural curiosity.
The stepped gingerly along the path to the beer herbs and he finally stopped them and took her hand.
"How are you?" he murmured over the distant sound of jays and the wind surfing off the San Gabriel mountains.
"I thought you would never ask." she sighed. Then followed a dramatic pause in which it was difficult to separate her emotional state from the practiced indignity that he recognized from having directed her in so many plays over the years.
"I've been extremely busy." she continued, "As you know. With the store. My parents. My dad. He's impossible. And of course, my grandmother. Oh, that is such a drain, you can't imagine it. But she needs me, and I love her so much."
He had stooped to where the gardener had pointed and he was looking around for seed packets - any kind of sign with the color and shape of the herb pictured and the name identified. Squinting, he could see only small plaques with tiny letters and strings of unpronounceable latin-
Michelobian Sloveurum, et, hoppa, horticulturae
A tangle of words. Still, he could smell the fragrance of Michelob and it was pleasing.
"Lucy, are you ready to move out of El Paso?" he asked her.
"As soon as I sell my house. I want to leave and run away to Europe with all my possessions in a backpack. I want you to come with me."
"You know I can't leave New York."
Last year they had met on the edge of a desert. They ate tacos with lime and cilantro, drank beer and had sex on the veranda of a New Mexico hotel during a lightning storm. The discussions concerning their relationship had not progressed. She had tried to broach the subject numerous times in emails and on the phone.
"You can do anything you want to."
"You have to take charge of your life."
"I believe in you."
These were the bromides she tossed off in the conversational trenches of their long gestating love affair. His inertia in their relationship ran parallel and was entwined with the career inertia he suffered after graduate school. He felt paralyzed by circumstances and regretful of past decisions. He had nothing left to say on the subject of romance amidst these flowering herbs of indeterminate name and origin.
They climbed to the Japanese Garden, passing through a faux mountain Gate and descending a small hill into the empty courtyard scene of a feudal era Kurosawa film; the green ponds with oversized goldfish, the little wooden bridges suspended over water and stones. He stalked on and off the bridge and through the courtyard facing the archetypal Japanese house. They walked past the living room and the dining room- the sliding doors were open; the floor composed of geometrically perfect square tiles and minimalist décor. A private, ordered universe.
He remembered a date they had years ago - dinner at a little Mexican restaurant in Gerber near the Sacramento River.
"Do you remember that place in Gerber?" he asked.
"Of course I remember Gerber, we drove around and around and you weren't sure where it was and we stopped at the place with the greenish/ turquoise walls, and the food was not that good but I was so happy to be with you, it was rare that we ever spent any time together like that- remember?"
He felt the little dig and the memory dissolved as somewhere in the distance a gardener started up a compressor, putting up a small flock of birds. They climbed the steps to the rock garden behind a couple of tourists in tight white polyester pants.
"I went to this new restaurant that is supposed to be one of the best in the city." said one.
"oh yea, what was it called?"
"Aoili. It's in Westwood. It was in Gourmet."
"Was it good?"
"Y'know it was. But they serve you too much. I walked out of there and I just felt like a slug. You know?"
Circling around the gourmands they confronted a rock arrangement; an immense, crushed, stone sheet cake. A Japanese model of an ocean-surrounded island. He imagined shores where distant castaways waited for rescue. They walked around the Asian potted plants and circled down a steep pathway. Light splayed through Japanese saplings beyond which lay a golden green meadow, the ruins of a Greek temple at the far end. Sitting silently on a wooden bench in this field he gazed at her profile and her long blonde hair, and he was afraid to touch her. A father ran through the other side of the meadow with his two young boys of nursery school age. They laughed and ran ahead of him bouncing up and down on the grass steering zig zaggedly toward the Temple ruins. The father grabbed one of them and threw him in the air.
The last play Lucy ever acted in was a dark portrait of southern california subculture called "Wino Time". She played the drug addled phantom of a Southern California rehab center. During the play the audience gasped when she emerged naked from inside the couch in the lobby of the halfway house, swollen breasts bobbing low over the cushions as her body uncoiled itself and rose up like an avenging angel. Onstage she choked back tears as she fiercely espoused hope amongst the filthy mouthed barbarians around her. Every character she played had a steely strength, was experiencing pain but furiously searching for the antidote.
That was eight years ago.
One of the little boys disappeared into the ruins.
They sat on the bench in silence. Later they walked to the Desert Garden and surveyed a thousand cacti from around the world. That evening they drove to the Holiday Inn in Pasadena and made love in the hotel Jacuzzi. As they lay on the cold cement in each other's arms there were tears in her eyes. He didn't make any declarations. He just held her.
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