Monday, November 16, 2009

"The Vanity" - a Louise Brooks short story, part 2

Here is the second installment of "The Vanity," a short story by Robert Murillo.

Before I continue with my tale, let me say I'm not a Beverly Hills kind of guy. But my wife, Jeanne, liked nice things. So when she inherited a bundle from Daddy-dear, we bought this oversized piece of history. That was more than eleven years ago. Then, less than two years ago, Jeanne passed away.  Gone.  I'm still not completely over it. But who would be? We were married close to thirty years and we loved each other. She was a magnificent person, I depended on her, and I miss her. 

Our small mansion was built in the mid-twenties. It is unique, it's gaudy, it's Hollywood. Jeanne and I spent a goodly amount of time and money prepping the house before moving in: new paint, some re-wiring, repaired the plumbing and removed the dry rot. We restored the light fixtures, the cornices, the sinks and tubs with the clawed feet, and the wonderful Art Deco designs over the five fireplaces. We brought in a 'wood doctor' who was able to salvage the handsome built-in cedar bookcases; we fixed the dumbwaiter and added a few Persian rugs atop the restored hardwood floors that have inlaid mother of pearl.  The project was quite an endeavor. And worth it just to see Jeanne's face when we moved in.

This place has six bedrooms, nine closets (four of which you can walk through), a huge dining room (where I've set up my office), a living room (the size of a small Costco), a kitchen that still has the original green and black checkered tile on the floor, and four and a half bathrooms. And there is an abandoned attic and a dark, gloomy basement the size of a hockey rink, both of which remain unexplored. At the end of the driveway, in the backyard, there's a dilapidated, single garage that stands as a monument to what happens to those things forgotten.  This simple, wooden structured, consumed by a vicious blackberry bush, an insatiable ivy plant and Father Time, remains more a tribute to wild, unsupervised plant propagation, than a safe haven for a vehicle or a small warehouse for storage. Yet, surprisingly, it wasn't as unattractive as it was useless.

Jeanne and I did do some research on our new home once we settled in, and, intriguingly, we discovered that the house was originally occupied by a Hollywood actor, later turned director, by the name of A. Edward Sutherland - Eddie Sutherland. And as the story goes, he was fairly famous: he began his career as a Keystone Cop, later worked with Charlie Chaplin in the mid-twenties and, with Chaplin's help, became a director. He went on to direct fifty films over a thirty-one year career. Eddie lived here well into the thirties - 1937 in fact -  when he sold it to some chap by the name of J.D. Stephens from Rochester, New York. Stephens had been transferred to the West Coast to become the new distributor for commercial cameras and film for the Kodak company. He and his wife lived here for over forty-three years. No family. The estate was ultimately sold off to a real estate agent whose intention was to flip it but he ran into a recession. He lived here for awhile, then rented it out and eventually abandoned it. Pretty much that's the story; it was empty when we bought it. Like I said, that was over eleven years ago.

Friday evening Molly staggered in - somewhat red-eyed and lethargic - and we spent the night together, still able to pound out over 2000 words before I finally clicked the 'shut down' button. She had fallen asleep on my shoulder, using my neck as a pillow. I yawned, found the remains of a tepid Corona, finished it, and then moseyed to the kitchen, where I found a fresh one and continued out to the front window to see what was playing tonight. Maybe another rerun of The Car that Stalked Beverly Hills. I checked my watch. Three o'clock. I looked out the window.

And damned if the car wasn't parked in front of the house! With the damp weather having moved south toward San Diego, clearly visible was at least sixteen feet of gleaming chrome and sparkling, black metal - undoubtedly designed by a pencil-mustached German or a monocle-wearing Frenchman. This was no Ford. In fact, this was no car. This was a motorcar. An automobile massaged and molded and stroked into an Art Deco dreamwork on wheels.

Inside, the overhead light glowed, providing some detail of the interior. The driver, sitting on the left, was mostly silhouette. He wore a chauffeur's cap and was staring straight ahead. In the back seat, I saw gloved hands and part of a white hat or a hood. My stalker appeared to be a woman. She leaned toward the passenger window that was closest to the house and there, framed in the glass of that rear door, was a face for the ages: maybe twenty, large dark eyes, and a cascade of black bangs that touched the top of her eyebrows. She forced a smile, and despite the forty feet between us, it was clear she was someone extraordinary. She began to speak- seemingly trying to tell me something, her face now a coil of concern. Then, turning away, she spoke to the driver and sat back in her seat. The massive, gleaming vehicle quietly rolled away, black into black, disappearing into the night once again.

I stood there. What the hell had just happened?

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