Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"The Vanity" - a Louise Brooks short story, part 10

Here is the tenth and final installment of "The Vanity," a short story by Robert Murillo. Thank you for reading.

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What could possibly be in the garage? What would Eddie have given Louise for a wedding present that George wouldn’t want her to keep? Could it actually be the car? That seemed a little exorbitant. And what type of condition would it be in today? Was it a fur coat? I could imagine its condition! A diamond engagement ring? Other jewelry? Possibly. Just what thing of value could still be sitting there after all these years? Something not taken by Eddie when he sold the house. Something never investigated by the Stephens family, something never checked out by the real estate agent. What could it be—if it’s still there—that Louise would want me to have?

For the next thirty minutes, I hacked and hewed and attacked that unyielding hedge from hell in front of the garage. Vines and ivy fell. Weeds toppled. Still, they fought back. I took a couple of thorns in the forearm through the sweatshirt, was doused by dust clouds that caused vicious and prolonged sneezing attacks, and possibly suffered a pulled muscle in my lower back due to some exuberant swings with the hatchet. Finally, I had the advantage: I had taken the enemy down to ground level and raked my opponent into a neat pile. I stood there triumphant and beaming, leaning on the rake, sweat pouring tap-like down my face, my UCLA sweatshirt drenched.

“Veni! Vidi! Vici!”

While I had battled Mother Nature’s merciless garden, the lock had enjoyed several generous dousings of WD-40. I cradled the padlock in my left hand and, with my right, I took the key from my jeans’ watch pocket and inserted it. I cautiously turned the key to feel for some internal give. I wiggled it and put a little pressure on the tumblers. A little more. A little more. Suddenly, there was a click and I could almost hear the lock yell out “Hallelujah!” The arm popped out the base and I pulled the padlock off  and flipped open the metal latch plate that held the doors together. I stuck the lock and key in the pouch of my sweatshirt and pulled open first one door and then the other. I wiped the persistent sweat from my forehead and shaded my eyes. Though the sun had passed overhead, there was ample light to see clearly into the garage.

An Egyptologist discovering a pharaoh king’s tomb could not have been more awed. I gazed upon Louise Brooks’ pristine Duesenberg. Not over eighty years old. Not decomposing or rusting out. Not a home for rats and insects. But in perfect, showroom condition, exactly as I had seen it Sunday morning in front of my house. Could it be? I looked at the license plate number on the car:

255-323

Of course! Louise had figured it out! Anything sent now—during this time connection—would retain its age in the future—and vice versa. Otherwise how else was I able to receive her letters in the condition I did—and she, mine? The car then, delivered to the garage in her time, would also be preserved as if it were just parked there Sunday morning. After all, it had been! 

“Wow! That’s a  ‘27 Duesenberg,” came a female voice.

Still stunned with my discovery, I continued to stare into the garage before realizing that someone was behind me.  I turned to see who was there—and was about to say, “That’s right, but how did you…?”—when I locked eyes with an athletic, lithe and lovely woman, not too tall, with large green eyes and a silly smirk that can only be described as adorable.

She stood there, holding two tall glasses of what looked like lemonade. She wore a maroon sweatshirt with white letters that spelled TEXAS A&M across the front, white capris that went—and fit—well with the white sandals that finished off the ensemble. Her dark hair, loose and falling, was damp. For a few awkward seconds, our eyes would not let go till finally we broke the silence with an embarrassed laugh.

“I was watching you from the window next door. I told Lorraine that you were attacking the garage. She said, and I quote, ‘Darlin’, he’s nevah done that before. He mus’ be sufferin’ sunstroke. Now you go out there and take ‘im a glass of lemonade, right now!’  So here I am.” Her green eyes sparkled. She took a step toward him. “I’m the infamous Connie. And you are Mike Lundy?”

I awkwardly nodded.

She handed me a glass of lemonade, we clinked glasses but didn’t drink. I still hadn’t said a word; we continued to stare at each other.

Connie?” The word popped from my mouth like a hiccup. I stood there like the Scarecrow in search of his brain. “But…I thought…Jay said…” And promptly and properly stuck my foot into my mouth.

“I can imagine what Jay said!” she laughed, her teeth gleaming as white as the letters on the sweatshirt. “He’s got a good heart but he’s not a good listener. I teach Comparative Languages at A&M. Mostly French and Middle-Eastern dialects. I’m up here teaching classes in Farsi at USC.”

“So…you’re not some lonely-heart schoolmarm from the dusty plains of Texas?”

“Not exactly. But would it matter?” Putting me correctly in my place. She winked a forgiveness. I smiled.

“So how did a totally restored Duesenberg get into a garage that looks like it hasn’t been opened since FDR ran for class president?”

“Well, the thing…” I said, attempting to regain some of my cool. Was I really shuffling my feet? “…the thing is, the garage hasn’t been opened since 1927. So the car is actually original.”

“Well, well, I find that a little hard to believe,” she said, her twang nothing like the syrupy Lorraine’s. Just damn appealing. “Can’t be more three or four left in the world.” She stood there watching me perspire, smiling—those eyes could have melted steel—and then with a quick nod toward the Duesenberg, she said, “So tell me, Mike, why’d you pick today to exhume the body?”

“You really want to hear the story?” I looked back and stared long at Louise Brooks’ gleaming wedding present before turning back to Connie. “You’re not going to believe it.”

Connie looked down at her lemonade. “Well, try me—that is if you’ve got something better than lemonade.”

THE END

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