Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Wailing Woman

By Kimberly Mack
Residents in the small, upscale community of La Jolla said sometimes you could see her walking on the beach just before dawn, when the tide was out and fingers of fog clung to the top of the cove and nearby hills.  But, you could only see her for a few moments and then she’d disappear.  Sometimes over the sounds of the surf pounding on the rocks, you could hear her crying.  In town they called her “the wailing woman.”  I didn’t believe these stories, of course.  I'd never seen a ghost.  Nor, did I want to.

I was house-sitting for my cousin and his wife one weekend.  They had a beautiful home overlooking La Jolla Point.  I’d been up late trying to work on my book when I fell asleep.  Sometime later I woke on the sofa and was stunned to notice it was almost dawn.  I rose to put another log on the fire.  It was then I heard her.  It was soul-wrenching sobbing and seemed to echo throughout the house.   I quickly went to the balcony and scanned the beach below.  She was there; standing on one of the rocks, oblivious to the pounding surf as it washed through her.   Her transparent arms stretched upwards, towards the sky as if reaching for someone or something.  Her cries were none I’d ever heard before, almost like a wounded animal.  They were gut wrenching and disturbing.  My heart was pounding in my chest as I stood rooted to the railing.  Then she turned and looked right at me.  I felt sucked into her dark scrutiny and could not move had my life depended on it.  Her eyes were full of such despair and something else I could not identify.  Then suddenly, without warning my legs turned to jelly and gave way beneath me.  I crumbled in a heap on the deck.   When I came too, the woman was gone and the sun was rising, its giant orb casting a golden light across the water, banishing all things dark and mysterious.  I welcomed it.    I felt cold all over.  There were only the sounds of the waves crashing and an occasional gull crying.   I turned and made my way back into the house telling myself to breathe.  As I rounded the corner of the living room, I glanced down at the hard wood floor, suddenly puzzled.  There was water beneath my feet as if I had spilled something.  I know I had not.   I froze, understanding suddenly dawnng.  I was not alone.   She was here.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Lover's Deception

Artwork by Colleen Ross
By Kimberly Mack
The words “I hate you,” slipped so easily off her tongue.  She laughed when she said them. 
It made me wonder.  Perhaps she did just a little.   I watched her and began to notice things. There was a new hesitation in her touch, a passion missing in her kiss.  Her beautiful sea-blue eyes would never quite meet mine. 
Suddenly there were more lunches with “the girls,” visits to the museums and shopping trips.  But, she never bought anything; never brought home any “souvenirs.” Then the funny phone calls started.   The person on the other end always hung up. 
She said she was running off to meet the girls for their weekly bowling night.  With a light kiss and a wave of her small hand she was off.  I stood looking down at the driveway as she pulled her light blue Plymouth out of the garage.   She hadn’t taken her bowling ball.  It was still in the hall closet.
I tailed her down Highland three cars back to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.   I had a sick feeling in my gut. 
I was losing my girl.  - Mick

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Slow Burn

Photography by Kimberly Mack

The rain had barely cooled off the city. The suffocating heat was a killer. I was driving back from visiting an old pal of mine in Echo Park. I left an hour later, twenty bucks lighter and wishing I’d never gone. I decided to step into my favorite watering hole to shake the heat and my mood. Fifteen minutes later I stepped through the door of The Formosa. The place was quiet. It was early.  I waved to Joe. He was wiping down the bar. I took a seat.

He nodded. “Hey Mick. How are things?”

“Not bad,” I said reaching for my cigarettes.

“What’ll ya have?”

“Give me a bourbon, would ya Joe? Heavy on the ice.”

He nodded, threw the bar towel over his shoulder and moved away. I lit a cigarette and turned to check out the scenery.

The Formosa was a favorite of mine. Even if you weren’t thirsty, it was a great place to people watch. Nobody really bothered you. If they did, Joe would throw 'em out. Or, if you were broke somebody would always loan you a couple of bucks. If you got really lucky, somebody would pay you back. I was hoping I’d get lucky.

So, there I was, minding my own business, working on my second bourbon when I saw her. She was sitting in the back booth facing the door. I could tell just by looking at her she didn't belong.  A voice in my head said, “Careful Mick.” I didn’t listen and moved further down the bar. She lifted her eyes and looked directly at me. Her eyes were the deepest blue I’d ever seen. Like the color of the sea on a hot summer day. I stopped breathing. She looked away. Somebody fed the jukebox and the music of Miles Davis floated out. I heard the front door slam and laughter. It echoed down the bar and off the walls. I watched her nurse her drink. She had small, well manicured hands with red nail polish. There was no ring. She looked at me again. I nodded. She gave me a little smile. That was my cue. I took it and moved towards her table.

“Mind if I sit down?” I asked. She shook her head, her dark hair floating around her shoulders. I sat.

“Would you like another drink?” I asked. She shook her head. Her hair danced again with the movement.

We looked at one another across the table. A few seconds passed. Her eyes had flecks of green. She wore no makeup, other than red lipstick. Her skin glowed like freshly polished porcelain.

“You have a name?” I asked, trying to get the ball rolling. She nodded.

“Leonore,” she whispered.

I leaned towards her to hear.

“Mick,” I replied, offering my hand. She hesitated, then quickly placed her hand in mine. She was trembling. I watched her.

“You okay?” I asked.

She looked away and rummaged in her purse. She pulled out a handkerchief.

“Please,” she said raising her eyes back to mine. I saw the threat of tears. “Would you get me out of here? she whispered. "I'm afraid I'm in a bit of a mess."

I nodded. I was in big trouble. I was about to go down for the count. We left The Formosa and walked out into the muggy night air. The heat was suffocating. I couldn't have cared less.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sore Loser

Photography by Kimberly Mack
Rain had come to the City of Angels and it was coming down in truck loads.  The streets were sloppy and flooded.   It’d been raining for weeks, and the skies were bleak and grey.  So was my mood.

I didn’t like driving in the rain, but I got a call from a buddy, so was headed downtown to the county jail.  He was in a jam.   I took my last five hundred bucks to bail him out.  

Seems he was at his weekly poker game last night and had won big.  Good for him and good for me.  He owed me money.
Next thing he knows he wakes up in a hotel room with this doll curled up next to him.  Would have been okay with him, but she was just a kid; and only sixteen.  He’d never seen her before in his life.  But she was telling a different story and sticking to it. 
Another kicker, he'd been rolled. They took all his winnings.  Somebody was a sore loser. 

The place depressed me.  It reeked of urine, sweat and despair.  I was glad I had my place over on Las Palmas.   The sergeant at the desk had a two day’s head start on a beard and a bad attitude.  The soggy cigar stuck between his teeth had gone out long ago, but he kept chewing on it.   A tired looking janitor at the far end of the room was mopping up someone’s accident.    In the distance the clang of a bell was followed by the grating sound of steel clashing on steel; it was the lock up.   The halls echoed with each sound.   I wanted some fresh air.
“Wait over there,” growled the cigar chomping sergeant when I paid Roger’s bail.  I sat and checked out the scenery.  At 7 a.m. the place was already buzzing with activity.  Cops were coming and going hauling in drunks, prostitutes and gang members sporting some pretty nasty war wounds.  Some of them were still bleeding.  The janitor wasn’t going to be happy about that.  Suddenly the clientele took a turn and a couple of men dressed in snappy business suits and sporting wingtips came in.  I watched as one stepped up and whispered to the desk sergeant.  The other two hung back.  The guys looked familiar, but I couldn’t place them. 
Ten minutes later the bell rang again. I waited.  I could hear footsteps on the tile floor.  I stood up, but it wasn’t Roger that came around the corner.  I was stunned and suddenly forgot my growling stomach.  It was the blonde I tangoed with two weeks ago and who had “borrowed” my car. Her buddies were the suits.  Suddenly it all clicked and I knew why the guys looked so familiar.  I’d seen them all together at The Formosa.    She looked good and like she’d spent the night at the Ambassador and not in a cell at the county jail.    She kissed the big guy and saw me.   Our eyes locked across the room.    She winked at me.   She was Trouble, with a capital "T."  I could see it in her eyes. I tipped my hat.  Suddenly Roger was standing in front of me and the moment with the blonde was gone.
“Hey buddy,” he said.
I roused myself like a man sleep walking.  Roger looked and smelled like he’d been on a two day drinking binge and then hung out to dry.  I was suddenly glad I’d come to bail him out.   As Roger signed for his belongings I looked around.  The blonde and her friends were gone.  I pushed her out of my mind.  My friend was in trouble and needed my help, but my troubles were just beginning.  

A Man and His Chips

bonaventureI was in an elevator the other day with a young man, maybe mid-30's, who was eating a bag of Doritos. It was silent inside except for the whirring of our descent to the main floor and his crunching and chewing of his chips. The rustling of the bag echoed off the walls. We were alone. He was quite intent on his chore, as he never looked anywhere other than into his little cellophane bag. I was hesitant on speaking to him for fear of breaking his spell. He seemed so...focused. And I was fascinated by his focus. And as the elevator doors wooshed open I suddenly thought...okay, this would make a great commercial. The ideas came pouring out. So, you see you never know where inspiration may strike. Stranger things have happened in an elevator...and I found some in an elevator with a man and his chips. And not a word was spoken.

The Long Walk

Photography by Kimberly Mack
The street was silent as he parked beneath her building.  She lived on one of those crazy winding streets high up in the Hollywood Hills that boasted of past residents from the '20's and '30's like Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin. He could hear Frank Morgan floating out over the hills…a jazz fan.  He smiled to himself.   

He grabbed the bottle of red wine and began the trek up the steep stairwell.  The occasional bark of a dog and the music echoed through the hills.  The music got louder the higher he climbed.  He arrived at her front door.  It was 35 steps to her door and was surrounded by bright Bougainvillea and a breathtaking view of Hollywood and downtown LA.  He had to catch his breath.  The stairs were a killer.  He knocked.  She answered.  She was the one playing the jazz.  Things were looking up.

“Hello,” she breathed in her soft Veronica Lake voice. 

“Hi,” he replied back.  She stepped aside and he stepped in.   He caught a whiff of her scent as he moved past her and into the livingroom.  She smelled of baby powder and lavender.  There was a fire going in the fireplace.  

He held out the bottle of wine.

  “Thank you.  Won’t you sit down?” she said with a floating gesture towards the white sofa.  He would, and did.    “A drink?” she asked.  

“Bourbon … on the rocks,” he replied.  She glided over the polished hardwood floor to her liquor tray to fix his drink.  He drank her in like a man dying from thirst.   She was a petite little number, lean with hard angles and cheekbones like Lauren Bacall.   Her shoulder length hair was blonde with red highlights when it caught the light.   Her eyes were emerald chips, the irises flecked with gold.  Her skin was smooth and pale.   She was intoxicating.  

She sat next to him.  He studied her over the rim of his glass as he took a swallow.   A bell went off from the kitchen.  

“You’re cooking?” he asked.  She nodded.   He had planned on taking her out.  

“Yes.  I thought it would be a way to repay you for helping me last night.”  

He nodded.   He met her the night before at The Formosa in Hollywood.   She’d gotten herself into a jam and had too much to drink.  He stepped in and helped.   She hadn’t any money on her.  He paid her tab and gave her a lift home.  

“I have the money to repay you now,” she said, pulling a twenty out of her purse.  “So silly of me to have grabbed the wrong bag.” 

He studied her and waved away the money.  “Does that happen to you often?”  

She shook her head, her hair falling forward.  She brushed it off her forehead with a carefully manicured hand.  Her nails were short and painted red.  He liked that.   He never cared for long fingernails on a woman.  They could get a man into trouble.  

 “No, I don’t do that very often.” She moved suddenly off the sofa and over to the dining table.  He watched her intently like a starved man. 

 “If you’ll open the wine and light the candles,” she whispered. “I’ll bring dinner out.”  He nodded and like a man hypnotized, rose.  While he opened the wine, he gazed out over the city.  The view was impressive, and the lights twinkled like gems in the dark night.    The music of Miles Davis filled the room, and he was suddenly struck with a strong feeling of déjà-vu.   He had been here before.

  Chapter 2

He didn’t know what time it was when he woke up.  He only knew that she was gone.  He reached out across the bed.  His hand fell away empty.  He lay quietly, listening.  There was nothing but silence, and the faintest scent of her perfume.   He didn’t like what he was feeling.   

He waited around.  He took a shower, stalling for time, and thinking she’d show.  She didn't.  If this was his place he would’ve thought he had dreamed the whole thing.  But, that was her rumbled bed he’d crawled out of an hour ago.  He felt like a dope;  like he’d been dumped. 

He walked out the front door into the bright, smoggy sunshine of Los Angeles.  He descended the steps he climbed last night. 
Images of her floated through his mind as he made his way to his car.  He wanted to see her again.  She’d gotten in.  

He turned, glancing up the street. His car was gone.  He reached into his pocket for his keys and swore.  His pocket was empty. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Birthday Party

It is Sunday, and we have a group of children this afternoon who are celebrating a birthday.  
The children are excited, curious, and a little in awe of the horses. After all, they sure don't look as big when you see them on TV! They laugh together and chatter away, their faces eager for adventure, their eyes as round as saucers.   
Shirley, their riding instructor, has a captive audience as she takes them on a tour through the barn, while our resident pigeons look on. The horses poke their soft, velvet noses between the steel bars of their stalls to greet the children, hoping for a tasty carrot or two. Each child picks his or her favorite horse to ride.  

"I want to ride Alabama!" announces one little girl in braids as she jumps up and down.  
"Blue Cheese! Blue Cheese!" another shouts. 
"And I'm going to ride Florida and go real fast!" a little, red-haired boy with freckles
declares to the others.
"Can I ride Missouri?" a small girl asks, pulling on Shirley's hand. 
"Sure," says Shirley as she smiles down at the bespeckled girl with a pony tail. 
Some of the other working students and I saddle the horses and help the children to the arena. The children are. all chattering excitedly, ready to mount and ride their chosen horses.  
"Are you coming with us?"a small, wisp of a girl asks me. She is about 10 years old and has a little, brown pony tail and glasses.  
"Yes, I am," I reply, "would you like that?"  
"Oh yes," she answers, skipping along beside me, her pony tail swishing back and forth.  
"I've never ridden a real horse before," she whispers.  
She shakes her head. "But in make believe I have. Lots of times. And I've won lots of
ribbons, too." 
"You must be very good then!" I replied.  
"I pretend I am."  
"Well, today will be a lot more fun than pretending, and I'll be close by to cheer you on."
"Okay," she says as she catches hold of my hand.  
I smile at my little friend and give her hand a reassuring squeeze. We continue to talk on our way to the arena. I soon discover that her name is Kelly, and she's very excited about her first ride, but a little nervous, too. She loves horses and has always wanted to ride. She has a stick horse named Star that she gallops down the side-walk. The horse's mane is made of red yarn, and they make a lot of noise as they gallop past the neighbors.  
"Do your friends like horses, too?" I ask.  
"Oh, yes," she answers matter-of- factly. 
She runs with a very horse-oriented crowd. They set up jumps in their back yards or in open fields with whatever is handy: buckets, brooms, sticks and branches—they have their own horse shows. I enjoy listening to Kelly's light, pleasant voice and like the feel of her hand in mine. I, too, did the same things when I was little. I was in love with horses at her age and have never outgrown it.  
"Do you have your own horse?" she asks.  
"No, I don't, but I feel like all the school horses are mine."  
"How many are there?"  
"At least forty."
 "Golly," she sighs "forty horses!" We laugh.  
Kelly and I momentarily stop as we approach the arena and then join the other horses lined up waiting for their riders. Parents and on-lookers are standing by with encouraging smiles and ready cameras. Shirley calls out the children's names and assigns them to their requested horses. Kelly is given a little gray Arabian named Vermont.  
"Oh," exclaims Kelly as she strokes Vermont's soft nose, "he's so pretty."  
Kelly watches closely as I check her cinch and stirrups. Then I help her mount up. 
"Now, don't worry," I reassure her when I notice her pale little face. "You'll have a wonderful time, and I'll be right with you, okay?"  
"I'm not scared," she bravely replies. "But you'll be right here with me?" she asks, clutching my hand.  
"Yes, I promise. And if you want to stop, you just tell me, okay?"  
"Okay," she sighs.  
We give a little wave to Kelly's mom, who is standing outside the arena, and start our walk around the arena. Kelly, like many of the other children, clutches the horn of the western saddle. I speak encouragingly to her as I walk along side of Vermont, and she soon begins to relax and smile. Vermont seems to like Kelly and behaves wonderfully.
 We pause while Shirley explains how to trot the horses, and then off we go. Kelly is grinning from ear-toear, bouncing every which way in her saddle and loving it.  
Soon the lesson is over, and Shirley calls for everyone to line up the horses in the center of the arena. I help Kelly dismount. Her face is flushed and perspiring.  
"Well, what do you think, Kelly?"  
"It's the best time I ever had!" she cries, "and I want to come and do it again! Can I?"
I remove her helmet for her and smooth back her damp hair.  
"You'll have to talk to your mom about that," I answer.  
"Maybe I can come and visit you and watch you work sometime?" she asks quietly, looking up at me.  
"Sure," I say,kneeling down. "I'd love it. You can come by and see me any time you want."  
Kelly suddenly throws her arms around my neck and gives me a quick peck on the cheek.  
"Bye," she mumbles. Before I can hug her back, she's off and running to her mother.  
So I wave goodbye to my new little friend from across the arena. I help the rest of the children dismount, and we lead their horses back to the bam. The children talk about their favorite parts of their ride, looking forward to the birthday cake and punch waiting for them. Up ahead, I can see that the tables under the umbrellas have been set, and the paper cloth is gently blowing in the breeze. It has been a nice group of children,
and I hoped Kelly would come back to visit. Somehow, after today, I didn't think she would be satisfied riding her stick horse.
The other working students and I untack the horses, check their feet for stones, and put them in their stalls. I feel a sense of accomplishment after the lesson and a renewed sense of excitement about riding Having shared something I love with the children, my love for the animals and the sport is much greater. I smile to myself as I make my way into the tack room.  
"What are you all dreamy-eyed about?" asks Melody as she struggles with a heavy Western saddle. 
"Nice day," I answer as I help her with the saddle. 
"Well, snap out of it," she barks, "and let's get cracking." 
"What's up? I ask, puzzled. 
"We've got 18 girl scouts coming," she pants as she hauls the saddle on to her hip, "and one of them is having a birthday party!"  
© 1991-2000 by Kimberly Mack. All Rights Reserved.