Mary Lisa was minding her own business, wearing big Audrey Hepburn sunglasses that covered most of her face, tatty plumber jeans that would have showed off a lot of stomach if she hadn’t been wearing an equally tatty over-sized Packers sweatshirt that pooled around her butt, and high-top sneakers. A Yankees baseball cap sat low on her head, her hair, too distinctive, as red as a violent sunset over the ocean, stuffed under the cap, unseen.
She was fretting over the upcoming plotline: Should Sunday really go that far over the line to actually sleep with her weak treacherous half-sister’s sleazy husband? Tit for tat—her half sister Susan had gone over the line, hiring that bozo to terrorize Sunday, something Sunday knew her mother was actually behind, but the two of them were like evil twins—but still, actually sleep with Damian? That was the best revenge they could come up with?
She immediately took back that stupid question. In the world of soap operas there were no lines the writers wouldn’t cross. Well, maybe still a couple. On Y&R they’d cut off a budding interracial romance, and on another soap—she couldn’t remember which one—a mother and son very nearly slept together, barely avoiding a kinky Oedipus deal. Hmm, maybe they’d flinch too at a relationship between athletic Nurse Markham, at Community Hospital, and her rescue Saint Bernard. Not a good visual. She stopped, burst out laughing.
Then she realized another reason she didn’t want her character, Sunday, to sleep with her half sister’s husband, maybe the real one. It was a case of art imitating life and it gave her indigestion. It had been three years since her sister Monica had married Mary Lisa’s ex-fiancé, Mark Bridges, and left her hollowed out with bone-deep humiliation, and goodly dollop of rage. What a fool she’d been. At least it had been more than a year now since she’d wanted to smash Mark’s face.
Art imitating life, she thought again, and crossed the road between the Malibu Library, one of her favorite places in Malibu, where the staff was efficient, friendly, and still talked about how Robert Downey, Jr., had been hauled into court right next door in shackles. It was the corner building in the Malibu Civic Center.
Down the road a bit, across Civic Center Way, was the Malibu Country Mart, one of three small shopping centers in Malibu, all nearly within spitting distance of each other. It was only a block from Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, or simply PCH, as she’d learned to call it when she’d moved to the Colony in Malibu a year and a half before. She loved Malibu, not really a town, she’d tell visiting out-of-towners, but it was quite a place, loaded with movie stars and just plain rich folk who wanted privacy, a precious commodity, and they found it here because, she’d learned, most long-timers who worked here in Star Mecca didn’t really care if you were Jennifer Lopez or Godzilla.
Malibu started out as a skinny strip of highway set between high bluffs on one side and the ocean on the other until the cliffs receded making room for some scattered strip stores, inns on the water, lots of eateries, from Chinese to fat-heavy beach cuisine, the library and city hall, a small sheriff’s station, and not much else except beautiful homes, outrageous sports cars, and truckloads of money. Besides the local high school, Malibu was home to Pepperdine University, just to the north, which had expanded to its current size in the early 1970s.
It was in the mid eighties today, the hazy sun scorching gold overhead. She’d walked to the library tro check out the newest Harry Potter, and had it tucked in her huge tote.
Suddenly she saw a man duck into the shaded doorway of a small bagel shop—a paparazzo, a blight on the landscape, his camera at the ready. The paparazzi were everywhere, even in the lovely private Malibu, the jerks. She’d bet the Baby Ruth in her tote it was Poker Hodges, her nemesis for years now. She called him Puker, ever since he’d caught her on film squeezing a roll of toilet paper at a local 24/7 six months ago and her photo had appeared in the Star the next week with some dumb caption that she thankfully couldn’t remember. That must have appealed to his perverted brain because she now was his main target. He’d tracked and stalked her to the extent that she’d managed to get a restraining order to keep him at least one hundred feet away from her. That had helped, up to a point, but he was still there, whenever she happened to look up. Was that bagel doorway one hundred feet away? No, she’d bet it was no more than eighty feet. She knew he was taking photos of her with a telephoto lens. But who cared? Who would publish them if no one could recognize who she was? And thus her cap and huge sunglasses. She ducked into Luther’s Army Salvage, caught by the sight of army combat boots piled high in a barrel. She looked through them but didn’t find her size. Then she saw the pile of pea-green knit sleeveless T-shirts, perfect for workouts and running on the beach. None of the three older guys in the store gave her a second look. She bought three identical pea-green T-shirts, paid cash, pulled one on in a cramped dressing room, and slipped out the side door, then ran the block to PCH. She looked back, didn’t see him. She turned right and ran a steady pace on the side of the highway, her tote banging against her side. When she reached Webb Way, she paused at the red light, then charged across just as the light was changing, the traffic on PCH still idled. All she had to do was keep up a nice fast pace until she reached the kiosk at the entrance of the Colony just blocks away.
No sooner had she gained the other side of Webb Way, right next to the Malibu Plaza, when she ran smack into an old woman pushing a grocery cart piled high with brightly colored afghans, all neatly folded. She apologized profusely, saw the woman eyeing her pea-green T-shirt, reached into her store bag and pulled out another one. She thought the woman would kiss her, but she only nodded and gave her a stingy smile. Mary Lisa looked back to see the woman unbuttoning her ancient red blouse with it’s Peter Pan collar. She really didn’t want to see the woman wear the T-shirt, she really didn’t, not weighing two hundred plus pounds.
Mary Lisa looked around and didn’t see Puker. Only another couple of blocks to go and she’d be safely through the gates into the sanctuary of the Colony. She began whistling, feeling quite fine, and found herself thinking about the where the writers were heading with the plot. She’d cornered head writer Bernie Barlow yesterday morning. “Listen, Bernie, Sunday doesn’t even like Damian. She knows he’s a jerk and a sleaze, that he’s a fake, she knows he married her half sister for her money, knows he’d like to finagle his way into her mother’s company. There’s no way Sunday would ever sleep with him, no matter the provocation.”
Of course the writers never listened to the actors although they tried hard to pretend they did. Bernie patted her shoulder, nodded enthusiastically, and said, “Good, good,” but ended with “Sweetie, Sunday sleeps with Damian for revenge against her half sister and her mother. It’s that straight forward, at least that’s the way it’ll appear for a couple of weeks, then—well, we’ll just have to wait and see.” She knew she should hang it up, stop pestering him about it, but where were they heading with this?
She paused a moment before crossing the gnarly Malibu Road, its name not posted to discourage outsiders. She didn’t see a single car coming and crossed the road. She heard a gut-jerking song from Phantom at the same instant she heard the screech of tires and saw the flash of an old Buick LeSabre coming straight at her. For an instant her brain and her feet froze, then air whooshed out of her lungs as she hurled herself towards the opposite sidewalk. The car clipped her right side, sent her tote flying, and her crashing onto the sidewalk where she landed at the feet of a woman with a white toy poodle on a leash. The poodle barked maniacally in her face, his sequined collar nearly blinding her.
The woman, wearing too –tight white Capri pants that barely covered her hip bones, and a tube top of bright lime green, wasn’t, however, a sloucher. She fell to her knees beside Mary Lisa.
“Oh my God, that maniac tried to kill you! I saw it. Are you all right? What hurts? Are you bleeding inside? Sorry, you wouldn’t know that. Don’t move.” She pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911. The poodle stopped barking at the sound of his mistress’s voice telling the dispatcher what happened. When she punched off, the dog started licking Mary Lisa’s cheek.
She didn’t hurt yet, but she knew, somewhere deep where such knowledge resided, that pain would come, and it would be arriving soon and it wouldn’t be good. She pictured a tsunami, nearly to her coastline. She looked up at the woman, but couldn’t think of a thing to say. So she lay there listening to the woman talk to her while lightly patting her arm, as the dog’s tongue scratched her cheek.
“An ambulance is on the way, you lie still, it’ll be okay. My name is MacKenzie Corman and I’m an actress, but that isn’t important now. Well, yes it is since I have an audition in two hours in Burbank, but I’ll stay with you until the paramedics arrive. Calm down, Honey Boy, don’t lick her face off. There, there, you’ll be all right. Maniacs, they’re everywhere, even here in Malibu. Damned fool. He wasn’t a crazy boyfriend, was he? Do you hurt anywhere?”
Mary Lisa thought about that. “I don’t hurt in one particular spot yet, and that’s a relief. Thank you for helping me.”
“That’s okay.” Honey Boy, now curled up around Mary Lisa’s head, and occasionally licked her hair, pulled free of its French braid, her baseball cap having flown off her head when she’d gone airborne. MacKenzie sat down beside her and kept patting her shoulder.
Mary Lisa heard voices coming closer now, some low and worried, some excited and loud.
“Is she a drug overdose?”
“Is she dead?”
“Who is she?”
“I sure like that green T-shirt.”
MacKenzie called out, “A car hit her. Everyone stay back, give her room. An ambulance is on the way.”
Mary Lisa whispered, “Ask if anyone saw the car that hit me.”
MacKenzie asked, but no one had seen anything. Until an old man wearing a black bikini Speedo and black sleeveless shirt, a surfboard balanced easily over one wiry shoulder, jogged up. “Yeah, I saw the silly bastard, aimed right at her, did it on purpose, you ask me. I saw him do a big skid onto PCH going south. No cops around when you need ‘em. I hope she didn’t happen to owe Breaker Barney money, that wouldn’t be good.” He managed to step through the growing crowd of people, and gasped. “Mary Lisa! Oh my God, dear girl, oh my--”
Mary Lisa smiled. “Hello, Carlo. How’s the waves today?”
“Fine, perfect actually. Hey, who’d you piss off?” Carlo squatted beside her and lifted her hand in his. Honey Boy growled at him, received a consolation kiss from his mother, and subsided again, wetting a hank of Mary Lisa’s hair with drool.
“I’ll be okay, Carlo. It happened so fast I didn’t see the driver. I don’t owe anyone any money. You know I’m not stupid enough to gamble with Breaker in his house of sin. You know Breaker and I drink espresso most mornings over at Monte’s. He likes me, says I’m cheap to keep.”
Carlo thought about this and nodded. “This isn’t Breaker’s style anyway, particularly when his mark is female. It’s okay, I’ll stay here. Hey, who are you?”
“I’m MacKenzie Corman—nice name, don’t you think?—and I’m an actress. I have an audition in an hour and fifty-one minutes in Burbank.”
“You’re gorgeous,” Carlo said, giving her the professional and objective eye, “but so is every other girl I know in L.A. You’ll need buckets of talent and O.J.’s luck. You related to a movie star, maybe a successful money-making director or producer? That’d be the ticket.”
“Well, no, but I’ve really got this role down. I’m going to play Lena Cross, a noble, dedicated nurse who’s ministering to poor Indians in backward mountain villages when she happens to find out there’s a gold treasure chest in an Andean cave.”
“Low budget, huh?”
Mary Lisa moaned. She didn’t mean to, it boiled up out of her throat. The tsunami had struck and pain ripped through her side. Carlo angled his surfboard so it shaded her face. “Hot sun today,” he said to Mary Lisa. “I hear sirens, close now. You hang in there, baby doll.”
Well, there was really nothing else she could do, Mary Lisa thought. She listened to all the conversations around her, not really understanding the words, and not really caring.
“You’ve called her two different names now. Which is it?”
A beautiful smile broke through Carlo’s sun-seamed face. “She’s my favorite bitch-goddess.” He looked back down at Mary Lisa. “You want me to call Bernie at the studio? Maybe Lou Lou or Elizabeth? What about that idiot agent of yours?”
Mary Lisa shook her head, closed her eyes against a sharp pain in her side. “Not yet. Maybe a Band-Aid will fix me up. I don’t want them to freak out.”
MacKenzie went en pointe. “What do you mean, bitch goddess? What studio? You’re not famous, are you? Maybe it’s the same studio where I’m having my audition. All the stars dress like dog meat down here so they won’t be recognized and have their photos plastered all over the fanzines. You don’t mind?” And MacKenzie fingered Mary Lisa’s curling read hair, pulled off her huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, and leaned down to study her face. “You look familiar. Who are you?”
Carlo grabbed the sunglasses and slipped them back over Mary Lisa’s eyes. “Don’t you watch Born to Be Wild? It’s the best soap on TV, noon every day on Channel Five. Mary Lisa won the Emmy for Best Actress, the third year in a row. Never been done before.”
MacKenzie shrieked. “Oh my God, you’re Sunday Cavendish! Oh my, I see—the bitch goddess! But you don’t look like her, you look like a regular person, kind of ratty, actually, but that’s okay. You don’t look like a bitch, but someone sure tried to run you down. Maybe it’s revenge, you know? Oh goodness, Honey Boy, no, no, sweetie, don’t lick her mouth.”
Carlo’s face faded from Mary Lisa’s view, but he kept his surfboard above her to shade her from the sun. The pain in her hip started drumming big time now.
The tsunami had hit hard. She felt dizzy and light-headed, nauseous. She swallowed. No way was she going to vomit. She heard Honey Boy panting close to her ear. When she finally heard a paramedic shouting for people to move aside, she wanted to sing Hallelujahs.
As they strapped an oxygen mask on her nose and loaded her gently onto a gurney tio pout her in the ambulance, she heard MacKenzie announce, “I helped save Sunday Cavendish’s life. I’m a nurse by nature, Lena Cross, Angel of the Andes.”
Honey Boy barked.
And suddenly Puker was there, snapping photos over a paramedic’s shoulder, grinning down at her like a maniac.
“I’ve got a restraining order on you, Puker. I’m going to put you in jail for this.” She didn’t know if she’d said the words out loud because Puker didn’t stop clicking until a paramedic shoved him out of the way.
“Nah, the restraining order expired last week,” Puker called out, and snapped more photos.
“Get out of the way, you moron,” a woman said. “Not you, dear. You hang in there. We’ll have you to the hospital in under twelve minutes.” Mary Lisa felt a hand on her forearm. She felt it stroking her even as she floated away.