Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 18, Part 1

Sunset Boulevard was a filigree of neon, offering up its incandescent scribble like a hasty autograph written to a sky that didn’t really care. Women teetered by on clear plastic heels that looked as cheap and crushable as bottles of spring water, giving their gait a trussed-up, clumsy sexiness that can only be achieved with impractical shoes. Vanity billboards for movies loomed high above half-sleeping homeless people like kites on invisible strings—worlds apart, yet each somehow implicating the other.

Amy was mostly watching the tourists, who were more used to being the watchers, and therefore oblivious. They usually wore one of two uniforms. There were the pointers and photograph-takers, who unfolded maps in front of themselves like giant napkins to catch their awestruck slobber. Then there were the hip, tourist-hating breed of neo-tourist, their eyes set on a deliberate dimmer switch, feigning cool, casual indifference, pretending to live here. Amy found herself relating to these types; she knew what pretending looked like.

She didn’t really want to be here, especially with Lynette, but she really had scant other options.

Lynette, no longer a secret, was already beginning to weigh on her a burdensome, embarrassing responsibility. It amazed Amy, how quickly her escape has turned into a trap. An escape, by definition, can’t be the only option—it’s dependent on the thing from which it flees, it’s circumscribed by what it doesn’t choose—the fraction of silence in-between notes that define a tuneful melody. But just that quickly—and through no real fault of her own—Lynette had ceased to be the Lynette Amy needed. Life was now a full-on cacophony, all tunes blaring and melding unremittingly into one another with painful dissonance.

They’d boldly started out at a straight bar, not having to sneak around for a change, and it should have been a relief, a small perk in the otherwise dismal situation. It should have been freedom. But instead, it somehow felt like a punishment to Amy, like she was being forced to lie in the bed she’d made, and she was tossing and turning fitfully, tripping along from insomnia to nightmare and back again.

She was beginning to wonder if the sneaking around, the furtiveness of it all, had actually been the best part of this affair, or maybe even the only part. Much of their intimacy, it seemed, was wrapped up in the cozy circle of secrecy. It was like when she and her childhood best friend Julie would hide together during hide-and-seek games, in the tool shed out back. Since Amy’s father had left, the shed had mostly sat vacant, like an abandoned house, preserved in the exact state in which he’d left it. Amy would ritually choose this shed as her hiding place, and Julie would invariably accompany her. They would whisper conspiratorially as they scrunched down in the dark among the cobwebbed hammers and half-empty lawnmower bags full of grass and dead crickets, and they would giggle uncontrollably.

But for Amy, it was also a moment of quiet awe, hiding there in the mysterious dark of her dad’s world. When they were finally found, she could never quite recall what had been so special about it; she only knew that it was.

Now, she and Lynette had been discovered, and in the glaring light of day, in that wide-open vastness, where it was harder to explain things that happened in the dark, it felt like nothing at all was binding them together—it felt like the game was over. She wished she could simply tell Lynette they were done, and go their separate ways with no hard feelings, but she knew it wasn’t like that. It seemed that they were going to have to play this out, to continue hiding—not so much from others as from each other, now, in plain sight.

“I’ll think I’ll just help myself to another one of these,” Lynette said, her bourbon-soaked slur moved over the syllables with the shadowy grace of a cat as she gleefully stole another martini olive from the bar. “Mm, lovely; nothing tastes better than a stolen olive.”

Lynette was becoming drunk with an alarming franticness, almost as if she, too, recognized the burden of their newfound legitimacy.

“Lyn, it’s one thing to keep taking them, but could you stop saying ‘stolen olives’ so loudly?” Amy knew she sounded bitchy and school-marmish, but she didn’t much care at this point. Lynette was bound to be prickly and confrontational anyway—that’s the way she got when she was this drunk. So Amy figured she may as well say whatever she wanted.

“Oh, sorry, Miss Goody-Goody, head of the anti-olive theft taskforce,” Lynette snapped. “Don’t let me stop you from fulfilling your noble mission of preventing the senseless plundering of decorative vegetables.” She threw back her shot with a violent jerk of the head, exposing her slender white neck, where presumably her pulse moved like a river. “Are they even vegetables?”

“Huh?” Amy was half-listening, as she’d been doing since they’d met up that evening. She’d been playing over the surreal events of the day: the meeting with Ashley, the girl’s shuddering sobs and cold bony hands. Greg’s face when she’d arrived home. What he’d said to her.

“Olives. Are they vegetables? That’s an interesting bit of trivia.” Lynette’s slender, impeccably manicured hand crept toward the tray of olives yet again, ensnaring one and popping it in her mouth while the bartender’s back was turned.

“Actually, I think they’re fruit,” Amy said absently, willfully ignoring the trivia crack as she stared out the window. She tried to read the bar’s neon sign backwards, but it was a pointless exercise, because she knew what it said already. She couldn’t tell whether she was understanding or just remembering.

“Really, fruit? They taste more like vegetables,” Lynette said, her voice filled with a faux wonder that only someone devoid of real wonder could manage. “I guess they’re what you would call bitter fruit.”

Bitter fruit. Amy cringed. She still couldn’t believe the series of events that had brought her here. No, that wasn’t quite true: she knew it would happen eventually, but just never now. She’d been thinking of it as a distant inevitability, like death: she believed in it, but she didn’t quite believe in it.

Lynette leaned over to grab herself another olive, but her brusque, impatient touch was too rough this time, and she knocked over the entire tray, causing the rubbery, pitted orbs to rain down behind the bar, on the bar, and onto their laps, pelting them like hail. She’d pushed her luck too far.

“Oh, shit,” Lynette said, shrugging as the bartender turned toward them with annoyance. “I only wanted one more.”

“We should go,” Amy said.

She’d told Greg everything, slowly, as the afternoon had stretched into dusk with its sleepy rituals; sprinklers drawing back like arrows in bows, and then soaring, dancing showily with their canasta clicks as she watched blankly through the window. With each new revelation, Greg’s face seemed to become less recognizable. The expressions, and the emotions that led to those expressions, seemed to be revising who Greg was, what he was capable of, right in front of her. She saw that he was capable—more than capable—of despising her.

“So, a woman,” he’d said. “Her. That pottery teacher? Jesus, Amy, are you kidding me?”

“Greg, look, I really am sorry.” But then, with shocking stubbornness, her ego had reasserted itself, and she couldn’t help following up on his condescending tone. “What do you mean, kidding? Why would I be kidding?”
He looked at her with the decisive, liberating hatred that a person feels for someone who they’ve given up on, finally. Obviously, Greg had been masking this hatred for some time, had been wearing the neutral disguise of a referee, patiently awaiting the game’s outcome. “Because, Amy, anyone can tell she’s just an opportunist, a cheap, small-time opportunist. She was flirting with me, for God’s sake.”

“She flirts with everybody,” Amy said dully. “It’s just the way she is.”

“And so you think that’s a person to risk your marriage for?” His face wasn’t red, like it usually was when he was emotional. Instead, it was frighteningly, somehow radiantly pale, like phosphorescent bones on an X-ray.

“No,” she said truthfully, her fingernails idly raking over the ribbed fabric of the loveseat, making an embarrassing, almost flatulent sound. “You don’t understand. I didn’t risk our marriage for her. None of it was for her, Greg.”

His face pleated with disgust, which he deftly smoothed into cool sarcasm. “So what, it wasn’t for her; what was it, against me?”

“It was for me,” she said quietly.

“For you,” he repeated. “Of course it was.”

If Lynette was going to be this drunk, Amy was going to have to get even drunker. It was the only solution. Lynette was pulling her down Sunset as the slow-moving traffic snaked along. It was slower even than the pedestrians, its artificial pace like that of a mall escalator outraced by its impatient passengers. Cab drivers honked habitually to each other, as if they were animals and this was their call. A woman a few steps ahead of Amy and Lynette told her husband, “This is the bar where River Phoenix died.”

Amy knew this, of course, had even thought that very thing on occasion when plans sometimes took her through this part of town. But she wasn’t such a fan that the tragic death meant much to her. Hundreds of people OD-ed in bars every year, she was sure. Why was River Phoenix’s more noteworthy than someone else’s?

“Let’s go in here,” Lynette said, yanking Amy roughly toward a small store that advertised psychic readings.

“I don’t think so,” Amy said.

“Come on,” Lynette said. “It’ll be fun.”

Fun, Amy thought. Fun for who? Little did Lynette know, years ago, when Amy was living in New York City, before Greg, before P.J.’s death, hell, before River fucking Phoenix’s too, she’d been told by a gypsy psychic that there was a hex on her, and wound up parting with close to $1,000 over the course of several weeks so the gypsy could remove it. Apparently, this could be achieved only by buying a plot of land in a cemetery somewhere in Yonkers and “burying” the evil spirit.

In retrospect, she was now convinced her money actually bought the gypsy the new A/C unit that mysteriously appeared in the store window shortly after Amy’s last visit. Clearly, if there really was a hex—and Amy was aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy of such things, which is how she got sucked into the mess in the first place, trying hard to give up the gypsy without bringing on her ire—it hadn’t been buried in Yonkers or any other cemetery for that matter.

“I’m not in the mood for that kind of fun,” Amy said now to Lynette, looking into the store at a little girl, about eight or nine, possibly the psychic’s daughter, careening around on those dangerous looking skate-sneakers, under the artificial purple light. It gave her an ethereal presence, this smooth, gliding motion, and a shudder passed through her.

He’d been watching an inane nature specials with the sound turned down as they talked, and he’d refused to turn it off when she asked. She knew this was an act of willfulness, of control, and also of mild, vengeful sadism. He knew she hated to watch graphic depictions of the cruelty of nature; she didn’t understand how anyone could enjoy it. Usually, he’d accommodated her when she’d ask him to turn it off. Now, though, he seemed to have no inclination to spare her; it was as though he wanted to force her to see the cruelty of a lion taking down a gazelle. Under the circumstances, she couldn’t argue.

He persisted in interrogating her even though his voice was dried up, and was completely lacking an interrogator’s zeal. It was obvious he was questioning her out of some sort of protocol; he didn’t really need the answers. He’d already made his judgment.

“Do you love her?” His face seemed locked, like it was unsafe to allow it to relax.

“No,” Amy said. This was easy; she didn’t. Whatever it was that drew her to Lynette, it was something much more confusing and tortured than love. Whatever it was, its origin was purely selfish.

“Do you love me?” She could tell this question hurt him; he flinched almost imperceptibly when he said it, as if he’d just given himself a needle.

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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