Sweet Thyme Baby – 38

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

38

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 37 first)

 

He said, “I’ll get you dressed, Snooky. How ’bout you put on that little bitty bikini I bought you and we go for a swim, huh?” He stepped toward the kitchen. In the doorway he turned around. “You try it, Dee. What’s more important to you? Serena or having lunch with Robert Altman? You think about it.”

 

Victor was practically a professional gambler. Dee could not tell if he was bluffing, and she was too frightened by the stakes to take the chance.

 

She called Eddie Mann later. He asked her, “You got a cold or you been crying?”

 

“Cold.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“I’m okay, Eddie.”

 

“Maybe now you are, but the time’s gonna come, that’ll change.”

 

He had been a good friend. He had tried to help her career. And later he had found and paid for a good defense attorney who got her three years plus time served, probation after twenty months. It could have been so much worse.

 

*

 

Despite all the Valium in her bloodstream, Dee had begun waking up before dawn with the weight of a dead thing lying frozen on her chest. She couldn’t breathe until she got up and sat in the recliner at the picture window. She kept the outside lights on so she wouldn’t see her own reflection. Those nights dragged like the headachy end of a party, and she was trapped with a guest who told the same story over and over again.

 

It was a story she knew by heart. It told her to leave, get out, take Serena and vanish. She could take what there was from the bank account, but what would she do when that ran out? She had no skill except taking off her clothes and as much as she wanted to start a new life with her daughter, she needed to stop making movies because no matter how hard she tried to separate her real self from the woman who moaned on cue, she had felt in the last year a blurring of the boundary between the two. Shopping one day on Rodeo Drive, she caught an inadvertent glimpse of her reflection in a store window and whirled away from what she saw, a very tall blonde woman in a tight jersey halter top, short shorts and stacked heels. She was no one Dee cared to know.

 

Victor had always been selfish. Always he had massaged the truth to make it serve him. He had never liked it when she disagreed with him. Even as a boy he had a temper and could be cruel. But in the early days he also knew how to apologize and sound like he meant it. She sat in the darkness and stared into the yard, seeing Victor as if he were one of the strangers who ambled into the Encino house and looked at her with oily eyes. He was a gambler, a conman, a liar who cared more for himself than for her or Serena. He was deceitful, selfish and a wishful thinker. Not a dreamer, he hadn’t the imagination for that. And he was using her and using Serena; he would use them both until they were all used up.

 

Sometimes, in the gray light of dawn, she glimpsed another possibility and once she even went so far as to call Eddie Mann. She dialed his number and waited through three rings until a sleepy woman answered. Was this his wife, a girlfriend? What did Dee really know about Eddie? She hung up.

 

*

 

They spent another year in the Encino house. Delight made more movies, the last four with an Italian director who would go on to win awards for serious films. Victor was a tireless promoter and they made what seemed to Dee a great deal of money, but it was never enough for him. There were debts, she knew that; but she let him handle the bookkeeping rather than stand eye to eye with the truth. When he won at Blackjack or poker he was regally generous. One day she came home from the gym and found a new Mercedes coupe in the driveway.

 

“Loaded,” he bragged. “Even heated seats.” In Southern California.

 

Dee didn’t fool herself into thinking it was the same between them as it had been, but she stopped trying to remember when it had been any different. The doctor gave her a new prescription, and she slept a little better. She no longer believed that when she quit making movies she and Victor would lead a normal life and the old sweet feelings would come back. What was it she did not believe? That the feelings would return or that she would ever be able to quit making movies?

 

Dee didn’t like cocaine much, but she liked the white bang behind her eyes. Coke kept her weight down and made the hours fly without time for thinking. When she stopped long enough to ask herself if this was any way to live, the answer was that she sometimes liked it okay. Everyone she knew moved at the same frantic pace. In the business, it was normal to live and work on a diet of scotch and cocaine, salad and grilled fish, coffee and pills. One to make her sleepy, another to wake her up, one to make her happy, one to help her relax and moan appropriately, more to make her happy again. Sometimes the mix made her crazy. She cried in public places and once during a scene involving two men and another woman she thought how ridiculous it all was and broke up laughing. She couldn’t stop and shooting had to be delayed an hour. The crew groused and the director raged. With his face in front of hers he screamed, showering her with spit, “Do you think you’re worth the money you’re costing me? Do you? Goddammit, do you?”

 

She was the highest grossing star of what they called “adult” films. She was practically a goddess in South America and the Far East. Victor called her his investment property, his depression-proof portfolio of love, and everyone laughed, including Dee. But when he criticized, he made her cry.

 

“You don’t look so good. You holding water? You look like a chinaman.”

 

“It’s nine in the morning. We were shooting until almost three. What do you expect?”

 

“I expect you to look good. Tonight’s the wrap.”

 

She folded her arms on the breakfast table and laid her head down.

 

“What’s the matter? Are you sick?”

 

“I think I’m about done here,” she said.

 

Victor said she was being melodramatic. He had a new plan. He would buy a restaurant and club and when he found the right deal, they’d be set for life. Dee could quit work then. She made herself believe him. It was like pretending to be eager and hot when she knew beyond any doubt that no man would ever arouse her again. She made a space in her mind she named The Future. She furnished it with everything she wanted: Serena, a quiet life, Victor as he used to be. Pills and coke and scotch let her climb inside that space, settle in and believe. “Not much longer, honey. I know a guy who knows a guy…”

 

*

 

It was the Fourth of July, the glorious Fourth as Victor informed the guests who began arriving late in the morning for his “brunch” – a blender concoction called a Pineapple Dream made of ice and raw eggs, vanilla ice cream, pineapple juice and lots and lots of vodka. Dee had hung the Stars and Stripes from the patio overhang. There were red, white and blue beach balls floating on the surface of the pool. The air smelled of tanning lotion and broiled meat, pot, cigarettes and chlorine. Victor was in the dining room laying down lines, smoking a cigar, telling jokes.

 

By evening the crowd had doubled in size and Dee was incandescent. She lay on the cool leather couch, still in her bikini, and a man with a black Vandyke beard that tickled cut lines and snorted off her stomach. Below her navel minute cuts oozed blood, but she felt nothing. Victor was in the den and never did hear the scream.

 

Later, he explained to the jury that the den was also used as a projection room. He was playing cards; there was a movie on at the same time. Upstairs music, laughter, and everyone talking over everyone else. He cried when he told the jury he thought Dee was watching Serena. He left the care of Serena up to Delight and maybe that was a mistake. He blamed himself. He told the twelve earnest men and women that Dee loved Serena and was a good mother when she wasn’t using drugs.

 

“And had she been using drugs on July Fourth, Mr. Detroit?”

 

“Well, yes,” he said.

 

“What drugs did you yourself see her use on July fourth?”

 

Victor had stared straight ahead.

 

“To your knowledge what drugs had Miss Larue been using?”

 

Alcohol. Since about ten a.m.

 

“Was that normal for Miss Larue? Would you say it was typical?”

 

“We were celebrating the Fourth.”

 

“What other drugs was she using?”

 

Uppers, downers, all-arounders. Marijuana, a little cocaine.

 

“Would you say, Mr. Detroit, that Miss Larue was stoned or drunk at the time of the accident on the Fourth of July?”

 

“Objection. Calls for an opinion. Mr. Detroit was in the basement playing cards.”

 

Dee watched the judge’s face. He looked like a man who had eaten too well, too quickly. “I’ll allow.”

 

“Was Delight Larue drunk or stoned or a combination of both on the day your daughter drowned?”

 

“Yes,” Victor said, “she was.”

 

*

 

The police came to the garden and searched for Hamish. Two officers sat in the kitchen and asked Dee questions.

 

“Am I making you nervous, Ma’am? I seem to be making you nervous.”

 

“Pastor Whitby says there’s homeless, drunks and addicts, living in this garden. Is this true?”

 

“Is there a reason you don’t want to answer our questions, Ma’am?”

 

“I’ve never seen any homeless in the garden.” Her voice was – somehow, amazingly – strong. “I walk this garden every day and I’ve never seen any sign of homeless people.”

 

A third officer came into the kitchen with the news that Hamish’s shoes and socks had been found beside the pond. It seemed that he had probably gone for a swim and like Serena, he had drowned. The police were preparing to drag the pond for his body.

 

Late in the afternoon, Dee walked back through the orchard, across the meadow and into the woodland. At the intersection with the Cloud Forest path she turned right at the great oak and in a few moments reached the gate that opened onto Wood Road opposite the Whitby’s house. Several cars were parked in front of the Spanish-style house, the stucco painted an improbable pale green. Dee recognized Janet Wexler’s big SUV. She stopped and asked herself if she was doing the right thing. At her feet, fool’s gold in the gravel sparkled, it’s message clear. Go home, go home. Nevertheless, she straightened her back, crossed the street, and pressed the bell.

 

Janet Wexler opened the door and stared at Dee.

 

“Who is it, Janet?” Dee recognized Sharon’s voice. “Oh. Let her in.”

 

Janet stepped aside with noticeable reluctance. The small living room was full of women staring at Dee. She knew each of them by name. They had come into the garden shop and begged for advice about cut worms and wasp nests. Now they looked at her as if she were a stranger.

 

Dee asked, “Has he been found?”

 

“They dragged the pond but didn’t find him. Just his shoes and sox,” Janet said. “They’ll try again tomorrow.”

 

Someone murmured, “She’s got her nerve.” Sharon rose from the couch and walked to Dee. She took her hands and looked into her eyes.

 

“I let him go, Dee. Don’t blame yourself.” Tears streamed from her eyes as she spoke. “I was so busy being righteous, I forgot him. I let him wander off.”

 

“It’s not your fault, not at all, not one bit,” Janet said and tried to make Sharon go back to the couch.

 

But Sharon put her arms around Dee and held her. Sharon’s sweet-smelling sand-colored hair touched her face. In the midst of everything, Sharon had found the will to shampoo her hair. A wave of tender feeling and respect came over Dee.

 

“I shouldn’t be here.”

 

“No, you shouldn’t.”

 

“But I couldn’t stay away.” I know what you’re feeling.

 

Janet seemed to believe it was her role to restore the appropriate feelings of resentment and blame. “We all know you didn’t do anything on purpose, Dee. But the fact remains that if it were not for the garden, Hamish would be here now. You should at least have signs posted –.”

 

“Hush, Janet, a sign wouldn’t have done any good. Hamish couldn’t read.” Sharon’s face was rashed, her mouth bruised and swollen and her voice cracked. “None of this is Dee’s fault.”

 

“You say that now, but you’re upset. Naturally. Of course, you’re upset. I just want Dee to know that I’m convening an emergency meeting of the community council tomorrow. I want the garden declared a public nuisance.

 

Sharon laughed. It was a sound that jarred all of them. And even Dee wondered if she had lost touch with reality.

 

And why shouldn’t she?

 

“It’s purely by God’s grace something like this hasn’t happened before. It’s a tragedy but if I have my way, Hamish Whitby will not have died in vain. No other child will ever –.”

 

“He isn’t dead,” Dee said.

 

“That’s right,” Sharon said and laughed again. “He’s playing somewhere and he’ll come back to us when he’s ready.”

 

“You poor, dear thing. You’re exhausted. You’d feel so much better if you could rest a while.”

 

“He’s not dead and he’s not even hurt. I’d know if anything bad had happened.” Sharon’s tone defied anyone to contradict her. “He’s just a little bewildered. That can happen in the garden. Isn’t that right, Dee?”

 

Lance and Sam came into the room.

 

“What are you doing here, Dee?”

 

“I’m trying to get her to lie down, Pastor,” Janet said. “Maybe you can talk sense into her.”

 

“This is a family matter.”

 

Lance went on talking. Dee watched his mouth move but what she really saw was his eyes when he looked at her, the loathing in them. This was something new and she did not believe it had anything to do with Hamish’s disappearance. In the few days since Con and Carlotta’s funeral, Lance had changed in some deep, atomic way. Unlikely as it was when she analyzed it, Dee was afraid of this altered Lance Whitby and immeasurably relieved that she had not sold him the Sea Meadows. She felt as if she had just missed stepping on a coiled serpent.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

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