Fiction

Stella Silvers and the Secret

Thirteen Forever

Cassie Finn

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Non-fiction

The Ride is the Experience

Patterns Created with Words

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House

Stella Silvers and the Secret

Chapter 1

            I sat in the kitchen and checked the sky for signs of the gray mist that floated on shore this time of year. It was my annual signal that the rose scented air would soon be filled with static electricity as the dry Santa Anna winds return. The nearby lush Santa Monica Mountains would turn a fire-ready-brown, and a permanent fog would move into the city of Santa Monica. The average daytime high in west Los Angeles would soon drop into the sixties. Not everyone noticed the mist. To me it was as obvious as the first day of school.

I sipped bitter coffee and looked at Carmen who refused to measure the ground beans in the brown-plastic scoop.  Instead, she insisted on using her Guatemalan intuition as her grandmother had.  Each day her intuition changed.  Carmen stopped sweeping and smiled at me.  She was Martin's idea.  My husband, Martin, a busy pediatrician, thought it would be too hard for me to continue work as a part-time photographer, take care of our son, and keep the large new house in order.  But it wasn’t working. Carmen had commandeered my kitchen, and I wanted it back.

            For the last six nights, Martin had not come home before midnight.  It was a new record.  He told me he had a newborn in crisis.  I wanted to tell him we had a marriage in crisis.  By the fourth night, I forced myself to stay up.  My hair looked perfect, and my latest peach-colored lace nightgown complemented my small bust.  By eleven-thirty my eyes closed. 

             In the morning, I rolled over to turn off the alarm and slip into his arms, but he was gone.  Last night, his new nurse, Fantasy Levine, called and said a baby's liver was failing.  She said I shouldn't wait up.  I thanked her for calling.  But I didn't mean it.

            The Los Angeles Times was still folded on the pine table when Craig rushed into the room.  "Mom! It's almost seven!"

            I looked at Craig and then my watch.

            "Mom! I don't want to be late on the first day of junior high!"

            "Craig, I'm sorry.  Let's go." 

            I drained my cup and shivered away the taste.

            "Carmen?"  I said as I grabbed my camera bag.

            "Si, Missis?"

            "Mom!  We have to go.  I'll miss the bus!"

            "Craig, get in the car."  I turned towards Carmen, "Para la dinner, I mean la cena, prepare el pollo con pappas."

            "A que hora you eat?"

            "A las seis y media."

            "Six-thirty, muy bien."

            "Mom!"

            "Adios, Carmen."

 

            The early morning canyon smells floated in the car window.

            "Step on it, Mom."

            I looked over at Craig who slapped down the sun visor, pushed his upper lip out with his tongue, and squinted through the morning sun to check for any signs of hair.

            "Only bare skin," he announced as he flipped the visor back up.

            We pulled up to the bus stop on Sunset Boulevard where a group of students had gathered.  I checked my watch.  Seven-fifteen.  The bus was due.  I turned my cheek in Craig's direction for my good-bye kiss.                             

            "I'll see you later," Craig said as he slammed the car door.  I watched him for a minute, waiting for him to wave good-by, but he didn't look back.  As I accelerated into the thick September air of Los Angeles, I thought about the old neighborhood we left eight months ago. 

 

            Craig still missed his friends, and I missed the long walks that Martin and I used to take on summer evenings when the scent of jasmine filled the neighborhood.  The perfume was so strong that bees who had lingered to collect pollen sometimes forgot to return to their hives.  Even the neighborhood dogs stopped barking when the delicious odor hit its peak.  Martin’s smooth, cool hand would slip in mine and although I had the neighborhood memorized, I'd pretend it was the first time I'd seen it.

            The blue home with white trim had four cars parked on their front lawn each evening, cars with thick tires and polished chrome trim that reflected my image like a wide-angle lens.  Then we'd pass the house with tricycles and red wagons scattered around a plastic wading pool full of water that was sluggish with cut-grass.  As we'd pass the vacant house on the corner, I'd snap a picture in my mind of who once sat on the rusted lawn furniture, now tangled with ivy.  I hated leaving the old neighborhood behind, but I have to admit that I liked where we were going.

            In the new neighborhood, all the houses look like the ones I'd seen paging through interior design magazines.  Martin had worked hard to get where he was.  After putting in his time as an associate in a large west Los Angeles pediatric practice, he started his own practice.  His patients, actually their mothers, would follow Martin to the end of the earth.  At the supermarket, I was standing in the checkout line when I overheard two mothers talking about Martin. 

            They raved about what a great doctor he was, and couldn't believe the great bedside manner he had with kids. They both agreed he was "off-the-charts" handsome. Then they confirmed with each other that he was married, and they wondered what I was like.  Of course he's handsome; actually he's gorgeous in my eyes.  It was the bedside manner that he was lacking lately.  Anyway, he took on four associates and bought a chunk of the building where his practice occupied half of the eighth floor.

            I had stopped shooting pictures of weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.  Instead, I photographed the subjects of Jeanine Langly's feature articles. She wrote for a Los Angeles magazine called Around L. A.  Most of her stories covered the latest trend, or an important newcomer to the area.  It was perfect part-time work, just enough to stay busy and feel needed.

           

            By the time I reached my assignment in Hollywood, the temperature had soared into the high-eighties.  Jeanine was waiting for me at the office of a chiropractor named Johnny Goodtime.  He was from Korea and had invented a liquid-filled shoe support that, he claimed, would keep spines in alignment with every step.  Jeanine's editor had created a new feature section of Around L. A. called Pulse.  The first edition would highlight alternative medicine.

            When I took Doctor Goodtime's picture, he refused to smile.  Science, he said, was a serious business.  I watched him demonstrate his invention for Jeanine.  He offered me a pair of supports as I left.  I declined and explained that my back felt fine.  His finger pointed at me as he insisted my life would be better with the light-blue fluid-filled insteps.  I didn't argue as I accepted the supports.    

             I dropped the film off at my favorite color lab on La Brea, and headed for an air-conditioned coffee shop down the street.  I ordered an iced-tea and flipped open a new issue of Redbook magazine.  I was interested in a cover article about the latest acid-peel technique.  Maybe the wrinkles around my mouth were keeping Martin away.

            Before I finished my iced-tea, my pager went off.  I pushed the button down and read a number I didn't recognize.  I inputted the number into my cell phone.

            "George Washington Junior High," a high-pitched voice said.

            "This is Mrs. Silvers.  I was just beeped.  My son, Craig, is a new seventh-grade student and . . ."

            "Hold a minute please."

            My fingers tightened on the phone.

            "Mom?"

            "Craig?  What's going on?  Are you alright?"

            "It's kind of a long story," he started.  Then he cleared his throat.  "The principal wants you here when school gets out today."

            "Why?" I asked. 

            "Just come."

            "What is going on?"  

            "I was sort of in a fight."

            "A fight?  Did you get hurt?"

            "No way!" Craig said.

            "Who were you in a fight with?" I asked.

            "Some jerk from New York," Craig whispered.

            "New York?" I asked.

            "Just come at three, Mom."

            View from NJ