“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” (W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hollywood Darling pt ii

(if you did not read pt i, please go back and do so before continuing)

The next morning Ryan wakes about eight. After shaving and showering, he goes to Jackie’s room. He knocks for several minutes before giving up and decides to go in search of food. When he walks past the front desk, he notices an older version of the girl who checked them in the day before. Well, mornin’ stranger, she hollers, startling him a little. Good morning, he replies. So, what brings you fellas ‘round these parts? She wants to know. Uh, movie, Ryan says, adding quickly, anywhere I can get some food? Sure, you can go to Hawley’s, just ‘cross the street from Buck’s. Your friend gonna join ya? She asks. No, too busy, I guess. You know, I did some acting in high school, she calls after him as he half runs out the door, pretending not to hear her.
                Ryan, seeing the bottom half of Buck’s greasy overalls sticking out of the gaping maw of a beat up old pickup truck, starts to cross the street, getting half way across before hearing Buck call, hey, Hollywood. Ryan turns to see the mechanic with fresh oil smears on either side of his toothy grin. Where’s ya friend? He asks. Still holed up in his room, he answers before saying, hey I was going to get something to eat, care to join me? Sure, let me wash up right quick, he says. Ryan watches him as he drapes an oily rag he had strung through a loop in his overalls over the bed of the pickup and washes his hands with some gritty green goop, completely ignoring the stains on his cheeks and forehead.
                Before they are all the way through the door, Buck bellows, morn ev’one. Voices call back from every direction, it seems as if the whole town might be here. An older woman behind the counter calls out, hey ya Buck, how goes it? Who’s ya friend?  Mornin’ Miss Betty, he says removing his ball cap, this here’s Hollywood. Ryan actually, Ryan corrects him. Nice to meet ya Hollywood, I’m Miss Betty. I run this place, husband’s Hawley, he’s dead now, going on three years she says rather matter of factly. Sorry to hear that, he offers. Don’t be, son of a bitch did it to himself, smoked three packs a day for forty-five years. I’m surprised he didn’t go sooner, stubborn old goat, she added. Ryan is glad Buck starts to move on.
                Ryan stands behind Buck as he lingers at a table where a huge mass of a man sits sipping coffee. The man is wearing a suit seemingly two sizes too small for his immense frame which hints at former athletic glories. The man looks up slowly at Buck and Ryan. Mornin’ Bobby Ray, Buck manages. Bobby Ray simply says, Buck. The mechanic quickly introduces Ryan using his real name. The large man takes a long, slow drink of his coffee before asking in a slow southern way. What brings you to our sleepy little hamlet? Just as Ryan opens his mouth to reply, Buck jumps in, explaining the previous day’s events. Bobby Ray cuts him off with a cold stare. After a moment of awkward silence, Buck reaches into his pocket and pulls out some money. Here’s that fifty I owe ya, he says pushing the wadded up bills towards Bobby Ray. Without counting or un-wadding the bills, he shoves them all into his jacket pocket.
Instantly, a wide smile reaches across his face and he says, why don’t ya’ll sit down. Buck squeezes into the booth that is almost completely occupied by Bobby Ray, who doesn’t seem to mind at all. Ryan takes the booth opposite them. So what’s your business? Bobby Ray asked. This time Buck knows to let the man answer for himself. He tells Bobby Ray about the movie and what he and his partner are doing there and how they came to meet Buck, who had been a great help to them. Yeah, Buck’s alright, he says ruffling Buck’s hair. Buck seems to relish the attention. Ryan later learns from Sammy’s own history of Delta, that Bobby Ray gave Buck the money to open up his repair shop.
                As the men continue talking, Ryan notices an attractive young woman flitting around the diner, dumping coffee into every cup in the room regardless of the level of liquid inside. She appears to command the attention of everyone around her, just as she was his. Buck and Bobby Ray are deep in a conversation he barely hears. The light pink dress she wears is fronted with a crisp white half- apron with pockets for her order pad and pencil, though she kept the pencil tucked into her pinned up hair. Her hair a tawny brown is pinned neatly except for one thick strand that hangs down caressing her slender cream colored nape. At each table she leans over it slightly and reaches one leg back touching her toes to the ground while she fills the cups. This gives him ample time to study the anatomy of her long, lean, spray-tanned legs, contrasted by her dress, starting mid thigh.
She is laughing and joking and trading friendly barbs with the customers, all the while stealing glances at Ryan, who can’t keep his eyes off of her. He started watching her in hopes that she would come by to fill his cup but he quickly became a spectator to her little game carried out across the diner. Somewhere in his consciousness though he can tell she is as intrigued by his presence as he is unnerved by hers. Every time she looks his way, he smiles awkwardly and she replies by smiling and tilting her head down while cupping her hand to her creased lips lightly shaded to match her dress.  Ryan notices that Miss Betty has on the same uniform but it’s hard to imagine she ever wore it like this girl he and every other guy in the diner was ogling. Maybe when she and Hawley first opened the diner but years of slinging hash and talking trash had taken all that away from her. Ryan can’t bear thinking that this lovely creature will ever go through that same metamorphosis.
                After refilling every cup on the other side of the diner, twice, she makes her way to their table. How ya’ll doin’ today? She asks. Hey Sammy, Buck gushes. Bobby Ray smiles and ruffles Buck’s hair again. This time Buck tries to hand comb his hair back into place. Who’s yer friend? She asks Buck, just like Miss Betty, Ryan thinks. This here’s Hollywood, he replies just as before. It’s Ryan, Ryan corrects again, nice to meet you. Hollywood, huh, why they call you that? She wanted to know. Well, they don’t, Buck does, he offers. I guess because I work there. You an actor or something? she prodded, doubtfully.  Assistant director, actually, he says, a title that Jackie has yet to bestow on him officially.
                She fills Buck and Ryan’s cups and refills Bobby Ray’s, then motions for Ryan to scoot over so she can sit with them. Buck’s smile widens at this and Bobby Ray takes another swipe at his head. Buck is ready though and avoids his pawing with a deft bob and weave. Sammy turns to Ryan after shooting a disgusted look at Buck. Assistant director, huh, not good enough to be the director? she asks. The other two get a good laugh at this. After a stunned moment, Ryan laughs as well and explains that he just recently moved to LA from New York and is just getting started in Hollywood. Well ya’ll gonna order? She asks indifferently. Ryan can see that her curiosity is piqued but she is trying to play it cool. Just bring three of my usual, would ya darlin’? Bobby Ray tells her. Alrighty, I’ll see you in two shakes, she says as she walks away, glancing back at Ryan.
Sammy returns a short time later with three plates running up her right arm and a coffee pot in her left hand. She sets down the plates, each of  which contain a heaping mound of scrambled eggs, three fat sausages and four triangular pieces of oversized white toast all slathered in a thick white gravy. As Ryan surveys the enormous breakfast, Sammy tops off their cups and scampers away.
The three men sit eating and making small talk for at least an hour. Ryan never gets more than two sips out of his steaming hot coffee before Sammy tops it off, each time giving him a long stare as if studying his features for some future test. Ryan, not sure if it would be an insult not to, was trying to finish his meal, with great difficulty. When Bobby Ray finishes, he takes out the wad of crumpled bills Buck had given him earlier. He straightens out a twenty on the side of the table before placing it under his plate, which was wiped clean as if food had never touched its surface. Buck, seeing this, scrambles out of the booth to make way for Bobby Ray’s shifting mass, thanking him for breakfast. Yeah, thanks Bobby Ray, Ryan says through a mouthful of eggs. You boys have a good day now, OK? He says as he turns and walks away, saying the same to everyone else in the diner. The chorus responds in like.
After his brother- in- law’s curtain call, Buck says he should get going too. Ryan asks if he can give Jackie any good news. You can tell ‘em the car ain’t no broker than it was yesterday, he chimes. Alright, thanks, Ryan says half laughing. See ya ‘round, Hollywood.
                As Buck turns to go, Sammy makes a bee-line for Ryan and his surprisingly half empty coffee cup. See ya, Sammy, Buck oozes with an aw shucks grin. Bye, Buck, she shoots back, obviously annoyed. The brief interruption is enough to allow Ryan to drain his cup. More coffee, Hollywood? Only if you join me, he says. She takes a quick glance around the diner before launching herself into the seat across from him. She immediately puts her feet up on the booth next to him. He looks down to see her thick soled, all white shoes and her dark stockings. He isn’t sure exactly why but at that moment he thinks about calling his mother. It has been a while since they had a good talk. They bothering you, Hollywood? She asks. No, no it’s ok, he assures her. Is this your only job? Hell, Hollywood, most folks ‘round here don’t even have one, she says. Sorry, I didn’t mean… he trails off. When do you get off? He asks. Why Hollywood, you got plans for me? I just thought we could hang out, he offers. Give me a minute she says, jumping out of the booth. He watches her disappear behind the counter, hurriedly. She comes back, grabs his hand and says let’s go. Where are we going? He asks while being pulled out of the diner. Anywhere but here, she answers. He takes a look back and sees Miss Betty leaning on the end of the long Formica counter with a knowing smile, waving at him. He shrugs his one free shoulder and waves back.
                Still holding his hand, she leads him toward the road that leads to Gramp’s Catfish Farm. Are we going fishing? He asked jokingly. No, they only let you do that on Sundays after church, she informs him. The guys at Gramp’s let me feed the fish sometimes.
When they arrive, Ryan notices several large concrete encased ponds. Around one of these stands a group of men guiding a large net being lowered into the water by a small crane. The net makes its haul then swings over to a drop-off bin where another group of men stand waiting. The second group of men deftly grabs the net, guides it into the bin and unhooks a side to release the fresh catch into the bin. They quickly sort through the catfish, extracting the larger ones, still wriggling with life and toss them into another bin, which when filled is wheeled into the processing plant. The bin containing the small fries is wheeled back to the pond and unceremoniously dumped back in.
                After watching the men repeat the process in an adjoining pool, Sammy asks one of the guys if she can feed the fish. Sure, Sammy, they could use some fattening up, we got some runts in these two here, the man replies, nodding his head towards the two ponds they just extracted the fish from. Who’s ya friend, he asks her. Oh, this here’s Hollywood. Hollywood this here’s Hank, he’s the day-foreman here at Gramp’s, she says. Nice to meet you Hank, the name’s Ryan actually. Same here, Hollywood, he shoots back, as he plops down a sack of feed and walks away.
Sammy grabs the scoop from the bag and fills it with the grain, motioning for Ryan to follow her down the dividing walkway between the two ponds. As she scatters the feed over the water, the whole pond comes to life. Fish are scrambling and slithering over each other; a few are even jumping out of the water and catching their meal before it even touched the surface. Ryan hears a splash behind him. Thinking someone fell into the other pool, he whirls around, nearly losing his balance and falling in himself, he sees that the fish there were jumping and skimming the surface as well. I guess they know its feeding time, he says, regaining his footing. They ain’t no dummies, she says as she shakes the pellets over the second pond. Come and get it she hollers to the fish. Ryan watches amusedly as they continue their acrobatic display. After another scoopful is scattered over the pond, she replaces the scoop and yells, thanks, Hank. Hank, who is now inside the plant, gives a wave without looking up. Then as if he forgot Ryan is with her, he looks and shouts, see ya ‘round Hollywood. Ryan thinks about shouting back its Ryan, then considering it pointless, he simply waves.
                They leave the “farm” and walk further down the same road. Sammy reaches out for his hand and Ryan silently obliges. They walk leisurely and silently as she gently swings their hands back and forth. Ahead, on the left are two dilapidated structures standing maybe a hundred feet apart. Passing these dusty buildings, Ryan figures this must be Delta’s once booming manufacturing district. On the right is an old abandoned gas station/convenience store meant to look like an old general store. He tries to imagine the hardships the people of Delta must have endured when the factories shut down. Sammy, sensing the chills running through him, drops his hand and starts sprinting down the lane, imploring Ryan to follow. Around a slight bend she stops short at the first cluster of homes. All of which are in various states of disrepair.
                When he catches up with her, she tells him to wait here. Though it was a short distance, he was out of breath and leaning on a fence post holding his side. O… K… he says between puffs, trying to regain his composure.
She laughs, disappearing inside the house belonging to the post he was leaning on. She emerges minutes later in faded blue jeans and a plain white tee shirt. Her hair no longer pinned up, frames her high cheek- boned face. Her lips now bare and face without makeup seems even more beautiful than minutes ago. Ready? She asks playfully as she brushes past him. Ready for what? He wants to know. To have some fun silly, she answers. At least she didn’t call me Hollywood, he thinks. You’ll see,” she says as she starts walking down the same way they were headed before. Small clusters of homes keep popping up on the right as if out of nowhere. It reminded him of the Indian village back home that was on display at the museum. He asks her why they were arranged in such a way. My momma says its cause families used to put their money together to buy land and they built their homes together and farmed the land together since no one could afford the big farms no more. She grabs his hand again and he lets her, again.
                He hears the whine of small engines before he sees the dirt course where kids are riding ATV’s and motocross dirt bikes. They’re flying over squares of murky water hidden behind mounds of dirt built into the track and weaving in and out of obstacles. Others are standing nearby, behind tires cut in half and placed rounded end up marking the boundaries. They’re shouting encouragement (he assumes) and raising bottles of beer or their hats in the air. Well, she says to him. Well what? Wanna give it a try, Hollywood? Uh, no, no I do not. Scared? No, well maybe a little, he admits. I’ve never ridden one before. She pulls him to the side of the track and waves to a couple of riders whizzing by and points to a dirt bike and a four wheeled ATV. I’ll let you have the four-wheeler, she tells him.
                Ryan gets a crash course on the ATV which consists of this is stop and this is go from the kid, maybe all of twelve years old who just got off the machine. Ready? Sammy asks. I guess so. He relents. She revs the bike and takes off, spraying dirt back towards him. He can hear her laughter over the roar of engines. He gently turns the throttle and is surprised by the power, nearly falling backwards off the seat. More laughter heard from the sidelines, as Sammy comes zooming past him, looking back, imploringly. Finally he starts moving, slowly as if easing out into traffic from a parked position. Once again Sammy goes zipping by, this time he watches as she guides the bike over a jump. In midair she lets go of the bike with both hands momentarily, straightening the front tire out just before hitting the ground. He shakes his head and continues, at a beginner’s pace, guiding his vehicle around the first jump he encounters. Watching Sammy, he noticed there was a patch of dirt next to each jump that would divert him around the obstacle.  She comes behind him slowing to his pace, and shouts Come on, Hollywood, give it some gas.
The gathering crowd outside the boundaries, start whooping and hollering when he pulls back on the throttle and really starts moving around the course. Sammy stays behind him, shouting encouragement, trying to get him to take a jump. He avoids two more before he finally works up the nerve to try one. Revving his engine he puts his head down and heads toward a mound of hard packed dirt. Thinking about what the hell he is doing, he tells himself to stop thinking about it and just go for it.  Mid jump, he feels as if he is being suspended by some great hand. Like he is just one part of a toy being flown through the air by some giant child.  The jolt from landing is harder than he expects and he loses his grip on the handle bars and is thrown from the ATV. He lands hard on his backside and feeling a little dazed, he lays there, eyes closed. Sammy stops quickly, spraying dirt at him again. You ok Hollywood? He hears her ask. No answer. Hollywood? Yeah, I think so, he answers. Adding, well, that was fun. He opens his eyes. She laughs and extends her hand to help him stand up, he grabs it and notices that she is not the only one standing over him. Quite a few of the bystanders crowded around him as well. He wasn’t sure if they were concerned or wondering what they would tell the cops if some newbie died on their course. He gets up holding his back, and walks over to the sidelines with Sammy guiding him to a bale of hay to take a seat. A few people from the crowd came over to check on him, slapping him on the back. This here’s Hollywood everybody, she exclaimed. He had given up on telling the folks of Delta his real name. He simply waves and says, Hi, everybody.
Someone hands him a cold bottle of beer from a cooler resting between hay bales. Thanks, he says to the anonymous hand. Ryan spies the twelve year old checking the ATV for dents and scratches, before hopping back on and running the course. Sammy points with her head and says that’s my little brother Jake. I don’t think he’s too happy with me right now, he says. Oh, he’ll be alright, he beats that thing to hell anyways, she insists. She sits with him and they talk a little but mostly just watch the aeronauts on two or four wheels.
He loses time sitting here with her, he has no idea how long they had been at the track. As if reading his mind, Sammy puts down her nearly finished beer and grabs his hand, again saying, let’s go. She waves to everybody and he does the same. A few of them call back see ya ‘round, Hollywood. You be careful, she yells at Jake as he goes cruising by them, giving Ryan a long stare before saying, bye Sammy.
                They head back down the road towards her house. So… what now, he wonders aloud. Now we dance, she says with a dramatic flair. Uh… I don’t dance, he tells her. What do you do for fun in LA? She wants to know. Not dance, he says apprehensively. At the walkway leading to her house she asks him to wait again. She goes inside and emerges minutes later in a denim miniskirt and a clean white tee shirt. He is happy to see that she is still not wearing any makeup and still has her hair down. She takes his hand and leads him further back down the lane past the abandoned buildings and Gramp’s. Ryan sees the road leading back to the diner and motel and Buck’s and is all too happy to see that they are continuing to go straight.
                He can hear the country-blues music filling the air before he sees the small square, wooden building with a hand-painted sign that reads Hank’s Place. The music seems to quicken Sammy’s pace and she pulls Ryan along behind her. Once inside, Sammy gets them a table and a couple of beers. Ryan does a double take at the band when he notices Buck sitting behind the drums banging out the time. He is still wearing his oil slicked overalls and a toothy grin. Ryan waves and Buck gives a nod in his direction.
                The music reminds him of his father. He has vague memories of his father grabbing his mother and twirling her around the kitchen to some old Hank Williams tune on a random Saturday morning. Ryan would watch them dance, happily as he ate the banana pancakes or strawberry waffles his mother made for him. He doesn’t have many memories of his father other than those related to the hospital. Whenever he trips upon one he makes sure to take note of it. Misreading the smile that creeps across his face, Sammy grabs his hand and leads him to the dance floor. Before Ryan can object, she is swaying her hips and dancing wildly all around him. He struggles to keep up, but she doesn’t seem to notice, or care. After a couple of failed (in his mind) dances and a disastrous line dance, during which he knocks a lady down, they laugh their way back to their table, arm in arm. They down a couple more beers before Sammy says, let’s get out of here.
They walk a little ways before she turns them down a well worn path that suddenly appears, intersecting the road. Every ten feet or so there is a lantern nailed to a tree on alternating sides of the meandering trail. Ryan notices that the lanterns are placed so that just as the light was fading from one, the next would appear, keeping the tree- lined path bathed in ethereal phosphorescence. When they emerge from the pathway, she asks, what room? Confused, Ryan looks around and notices that they are standing outside the room-side entrance of the Delta Motel. Oh, he says, bashfully, umm… 201. She leads him silently up the outside stairs and onto the landing outside his room. She squeezes his hand as he fumbles with the key, before they fall into his room, laughing like lovers.

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