Movieland - Chapter 25
As he came off the elevator, Tom saw the door to his apartment was ominously ajar.
“Eden?” he called, entering the living room, but the name was absorbed into the walls, not resounding but hollow, the way words sound when called out in an empty apartment… his many empty apartments.
“Eden!” he called again, this time with force. He entered the bedroom and found the bed smooth, made. On the night table, the note he had left for her: “Have to run to the theater. Back in an hour or so.”
All that jumble and police business was behind him. It was now noon, several hours later. Tom had made a promise. What did she usually do with her days, he had asked last night on their walk along the marina.
She looked particularly dreamy under her mysterious lights, slightly blurred as if she were subtly out of focus. “Wander,” she replied huskily
Of course. The plot of Fog. Her character’s mandate. He should have known better. Tom tried again.
“Second favorite thing, Eden?”
“Well …” She looked down with an embarrassed smile. “I do like to go shopping.”
Tom chuckled with delight.
“I mean, I love to go to museums too,” Eden added hastily, realizing how dimwitted she must sound.
Excellent! A shopping spree. Something he could easily provide in this world.
“B-but,” she objected, “I have no money. I left it in San Francisco. I lost it in the bay.”
“Let’s not worry about that now,” he said, thrilled. “I’m going to show you Los Angeles!“ And already he was imagining a more upmarket tour than the plastic-fantastic circus his teenage daughter had wanted. There was Rodeo Drive, the smart shops in Santa Monica …
“Eden?” he called again in the empty apartment.
Tom stared at the tidy, made bed in the silent bedroom. How long he stood there, he did not know, but when the silence became oppressive, he went through the motions of going to his office. He immediately noticed the difference. His bed was folded back into the futon couch, and on a plumped pillow was a neat stack of fresh sheets and pillowcases. How nice to have a woman in the house again. A partner.
On the desk, he spied a sheet of looseleaf paper, ripped from an open spiral notebook. A euphoric rush overcame him as the elegant writing came into view, with its rounded loops and balanced dips, reminiscent of the penmanship placards that paneled schoolrooms a half-century ago, a cursive as perfect and impossible as she herself.
“Tom, “ the gliding script ran, “Come up to the rooftop garden. I have a surprise for you!”
In the condo’s brochure, there were glamorous sketches of the rooftop garden:
White deck chairs were lined up to face the setting sun amid large earthen basins overflowing with green succulents. Here and there, a decorative palm tree. The rooftop terrace was to be a going concern, with a cash bar and dancing at night, its palm trees outlined in twinkling lights. In the night sketch, envious condo towers looked on in their darkness, while below the gay nightlife on the roof, the traffic arteries of Greater Los Angeles flowed by in a stream of glittering diamonds and rubies.
Those were the sketches. And as sketches went, they were gauzy and abstract.
In truth, no one in this young, hard-working building had the free time to watch the sun burn down the Pacific sky. Or to dance the night away. Everyone had a job that in some way touched on the entertainment industry, and these young workers needed to earn their desk, bring in the big whales. All that remained now of the condo’s high-flying sketches were the chairs, the palms, and a stinging rebuke in the form of a growling ice machine.
Tom scanned the misaligned deck chairs and saw Eden, in one of his daughter’s breezy pastel shifts, standing at the end of the row. Her face was shaded under the big brim of a straw hat, also his daughter’s, and wrapped in a scarf tied below the chin to protect her white San Francisco complexion from the hot Southern California sun.
“Tom, look,” she called, letting go of the chair back. Slowly, steadily, she walked toward him, hands-free. “I’ve been practicing!”
Tom could not be more overjoyed and caught her hands up in his as she arrived before him.
“When we came up here last night,” she said excitedly, a bit out of breath, “I made up my mind, I made a decision, my very own decision, that I was going to find my balance with the help of these chairs, this long walk. Now watch: I look up, I look down. I look up, I look — I’m getting very good at this! I’ll be walking around with a dictionary on my head next, the way we used to do at boarding school when we were going to be the great society hostesses of the age, gliding around like fashion models!”
It was wonderful to see her enthusiastic. There was a girlishness about it, and it was new, for it was a side of her never called forth in the ominous suspense that hung over Fog.
“I’ve been going back and forth all morning like a trolley car on Market Street!” she proclaimed with a breathy laugh. “I didn’t say anything last night, I wanted to surprise you. Did I surprise you?”
He had to resist the urge to catch her up in his arms. “More than you know.”
“And I made another decision, Tom.” She paused, pressing a hand to her chest to stop the heaving. “I’m going to learn to breathe here.”
Learn? The idea amazed him.
“It’s what the soldier told me. The air here is harsh, it’s heavy, it’s full of smog, but you can make up your mind to ignore it.”
“Well, I’ve made up my mind!” She took a deep breath. It made her sway a bit. “I may still need to lean on your arm, though,”
“You don’t mind?”
“Eden!” He wanted to kiss her but wondered if the spontaneous embrace might make her uncomfortable, make her feel something was expected in return. “Tell you what,” he said playfully.
She took his arm, looking up into his face from beneath the straw brim.
“Let’s go….” He watched her eyes sparkle with anticipation.
“To a museum,” he teased.
Her eyelashes fluttered. “Oh.”
“No, I mean let’s go shopping!” he corrected to her delight.
The Pacifica Galleria dazzled her, the whiffs of chocolate and perfume coming from the open-door boutiques, the metal and glass escalators leading up and down to more shops, a city of shops, window displays full of marvelous alien technology that spoke and sang and winked at her.
That morning Eden had awakened refreshed, energetic, believing her three days here had acclimated her finally to this place. More than anything else, Eden felt justified. The cave, the screen, the ball of light — Tom had seen them too. He had been shaken, just as she was, and this too was comforting. He would stop doubting her now. He would stop making her doubt herself. No more wild talk about portals and other worlds.
Buoyed by confidence, by the old sense that things would spontaneously come up right, she went into his office, made the bed, put away the futon, and was about to tackle the mess on Tom’s desk when she remembered the plan from the night before. If she pushed herself, she could really surprise him. She would practice walking the long chair-lined corridor on the roof. She would grab onto the back of deck chairs until she could do the walk without their aid. She would force herself to breathe deeply if she could manage the dizziness, the syrupy sludge of this heavy Los Angeles air. She would do it, really, not for herself, but for him… as a present, a thank you. He seemed so much to want it.
And now they were arriving at the mall!
By the time Tom locked his car in the Galleria’s underground parking complex, Eden was beginning to falter. In the elevator that took them and a group of others to the main level, Eden couldn’t escape the defeated realization that she was hanging on Tom’s arm as heavily as ever, fighting the urge to cling to it with both hands.
Tom noticed it too. He wanted to believe it was only a momentary lapse, and perhaps it was, for upon entering the shiny terrazzo floor of the Galleria, a wintery blush came faintly back to Eden’s cheeks, and she seemed to get swept up in the excited hubbub of buying bright new things.
Tom knew her character well and brought her to the Neiman Marcus that anchored the Galleria at one end. She would want something familiar and, by today’s standards, conservative. As expected, she passed over pantsuits for a trim blue skirt and jacket, some fine silk blouses the color of cream, a black scarf to replace the one that had drowned in the bay, and, on Tom’s insistence, a lavender turtleneck because it gave her gray eyes a lavender cast, as it had famously done for the actress Madeleine Gray.
“And I think I need these,” she said, trying on dark glasses that concealed her eyes behind blackout lenses. The glasses were branded with a famous name, glamorously oversized, and sat on her face, as Tom could have predicted, perfectly. “I feel so greedy,” she said apologetically, then dropped to a whisper, “Are we spending too much money?”
“I have plastic,” he told her and took a card from his wallet. “Everybody buys on credit nowadays.”
They went from boutique to boutique. She looked about her at all the clever new things with a childlike sense of discovery, finally confiding that shopping like this was a new experience. She had no memory of ever buying off the rack. In her San Francisco, she would make an appointment at exclusive salons where gowns were modeled by tall, slim women, where there would be several fittings, where she would pay for the garment by signing her husband’s name on a scented account sheet.
When Tom and Eden returned home with their many boxes, and the tissue paper lay scattered across the bed, Eden caressed each new item and hung it in the closet. Tom went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. A steak for himself. Would she like one too, he asked gamely. No, she assured him, looking in from the alcove. A light salad then, he promised, something she could handle.
With an overwhelming sense of gratitude, Eden slipped away to Tom’s office to finish what she had abandoned that morning. She began straightening up his desk. A stack of books was haphazardly piled up, interspersed with blue plastic cases that had photos on the cover and the logo “Blu-ray Remaster.” She began to separate out the cases and organize the books, which she now saw were all written by her host, “Thomas Day.”
The book titles ended in the same phrase “by the Numbers,” and when she turned up “Twisted by the Numbers” and saw a blonde woman on the cover, midway up a stairs, half in and out of moonlight, Eden shuddered. This was the terrible movie, the very scene, that had sent her careening up the aisle of the Palatine Theater. Beneath the book was a “Blu-ray Remaster” of the same film, this one with the motel clerk on the cover, his eyes white with fear, one hand covering his mouth, the other outstretched as if to fend off a blow. She hastily put the book and blue case aside. But there were bigger shocks to come.
Tom was shutting off the flame when he heard her cry out. He hurried to his office and found Eden holding forth a DVD.
“Why am I on the cover?” she asked smokily, casting a bewildered look at the photo of her ash-blonde self, the iconic white coat, the black scarf caught up in the breeze, as the figure on the cover stared in alarm at a towering lighthouse.
Now she was studying the notes on the back of the Blu-ray.
“What does this mean,” she asked pointing to the line that had terrified her. She pushed the case into Tom’s hand. “What does it mean, ‘the doomed heroine, Eden Windess?’”
Tom tried to soothe her. “None of this can happen anymore,” he said, putting the DVD on the desk. He moved to hide it behind him. “You’re not doomed. Not here. Not with me.”
Compulsively, automatically, her hand flew up to her neck as if to protect it. Gathering her resolve, she sidestepped him and went to the desk. But her bewilderment only increased as she turned the Blu-ray over and stared deeply into the photo of herself in the shadow of the lighthouse — a lighthouse that had a wide crack across its tower like a sinister sneer.
Preview: The Palatine turns in its sleep.