The Jungle of Injustice

A story by Nora Johnson

Standing by the pool, Mandy Rivers was singing along with her own voice on stereophonic tape, watched and admired by her mother and her lover. She wore a black string bikini and an old felt fedora, and on her feet were cork-soled wedgies that laced up her ankles. She had long, honey-colored hair which flopped around as she sang, for she performed with a good deal of energy. She had a strong voice, and the double sound of it poured across the pool and patio and over the other pools and patios carved out of the side of the mountain. The arrangement was precarious, and during heavy rains (which always astonished the inhabitants), houses, or large sections of them, sometimes slid down the side and buried the property below. But John and Anita Rivers had propped up their notch with three tons of cement, which was the most that could be done short of moving down into the flats. It was worth it to live up here where there was always a breeze and the traffic on the freeway was only the faintest murmur, almost soothing, like white sound. Far below, under a perpetual dark golden haze, lay Hollywood.

Anita, stretched out in a lounge chair on the other side of the pool, watched her daughter fondly. Mandy had been endowed with every physical glory that Anita, at her age, had just missed having. Her legs were long and beautiful (Anita’s were only long); her breasts were perfect, proportionate globes—inherited from some buxom ancestor, for Anita was flat-chested; the line of her gleaming tanned body from her halfnaked behind up the curve of her back to her shoulder was an artist’s dream. Her shoulders were straight, her neck was long; if her nose and mouth were a little large, that gave distinction to her face, set her apart from the hundreds or thousands of her kind, struggling up the same constantly narrowing ladder of success. She had a smile that could melt the cruelest heart, and that, along with her considerable talent as singer, dancer, and actress, plus her years of training, gave Anita hope for her in what she knew was a jungle of injustice. It was a world Anita could negotiate fairly well, and John excellently, but she feared for Mandy, who was only twenty-three, and whose dear, funny way of putting her foot in her mouth could be disastrous with the wrong person, and whose tendency to lateness could cost her a job.

Sprawled on a towel at her feet, Mandy’s lover, Flash—Flash—smiled up at her through his aviator glasses, missing not a curve or a wiggle. He wore a small, shiny, white bikini, and he lounged alongside the pool in almost permanent appreciation of the situation he found himself in, one which Anita regarded alternately as natural and incredible. John thought Flash should be thrown the hell out, but Anita, first at Mandy’s urging and then for her own reasons, kept staying his hand.

“They’ll just go live in some rathole together,”she told him.

“Well, then there’s got to be some deadline. I’ll put up with him for another week, period. Does he ever have any auditions?”

“He had one yesterday. He didn’t get the job.”

“Naturally not.”

It was natural, inevitable, and annoying that Flash’s career didn’t move, but it was natural and understandable that Mandy was having a difficult time. There were a million Flashes, there was only one Mandy. To Anita, an eastern emigrant, Flash was some strange indigenous fauna. John had grown up in southern California, and didn’t find anything remarkable about him, but Anita, even after twenty-five years in the southland, was still fascinated and horrified by that quality known as laid-back. Flash’s presence in this family of achievers was disturbing; he was a lazy butterfly in a colony of ants. When they all got up at seven in the morning, John to be on the set at eight, and Anita to be in her office in the Valley, and Mandy prodded into action for a class when she had one or an early audition, Flash lazed naked on the twin bed he and Mandy shared in her room or floated in the Jacuzzi at the far end of the pool. Mandy would kiss him good-bye tenderly before jumping into her Fiat to go to dance class, and he would frequently be there when John and Anita got home. What he did in the meantime was unclear—the occasional audition, some surfing, a certain amount of hanging around the right places hoping to be noticed.

“Noticed for what?” John asked.

“Oh. . . just noticed,” Anita replied. She and John were old-fashioned believers in hard work, and Anita particularly had gone to great lengths to instill this value in Mandy—not so easy in a place where success (whatever that meant) did often come for not much more than simply being noticed at the right moment.

“But it doesn’t last,” she had told her daughter. “The really great careers, every one, were built on dogged determination and an obsession to be better than anybody else. There is a certain rough justice, you’ll see.”

“But Tina Reynolds has already done two Barettas and a Mary Tyler Moore special and she’s a no-talent screw-up.”

“You can never afford to sit back and say you’re better than the next girl. Assume she’s better and see what you can learn from her.”

A nita had learned this, as she had learned a great many things, from John. At Mandy’s age, she had lived in a sleazy little two-room apartment on Vine Street with a Texas beauty-contest winner named Gardenia Vance. Anita, who had worked all her life for the things she had, never took Gardenia seriously until she got a part that Anita wanted.

“But it’s crazy,” she had said to John, whom she was “dating” at the time. “We aren’t the same type at all. She’s Mitzi Gaynor. I’m Rosalind Russell. Besides, I’m ten times as talented and I work ten times as hard.”

John said, “She has something you don’t, or she wouldn’t have gotten the part. My advice to you is, find out what it is.”

John Rivers was so serious and intelligent, so unlike the rest of the men she had met in California, that she took his advice to heart. She examined Gardenia as she lay sprawled on the couch covering her nails with hotpink polish. She watched her panther walk as she went into the kitchen in her blue rayon negligee, flicking on the radio as she filled the basket of the percolator. She listened to Gardenia’s stupefyingly dull phone conversations and her brainless comments on the state of the world and her flutelike soprano in the shower. She looked at Gardenia as she wandered naked around the tiny bedroom, fishing through the piles of clothing for a clean bra, digging her toes with their hot-pink nails into her marabou-trimmed mules, admiring herself in the mirror.

One day, with a dreadful sinking feeling, Anita realized what Gardenia had—she had everything. Not only was she beautiful, but because of a certain unselfconscious detachment, she allowed you to stare at her without feeling like a voyeur. It was a trick she played on you, or a deal you made together. Every star that Anita could think of engaged you in the same complicity, or had the same self-framing quality, for it was quite unconscious. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. It didn’t matter that she was a moron and could hardly read a line—heroines were morons in those days. Thinfaced, intelligent girls like Anita were always the wisecracking best friend who couldn’t get a man, and they got parts only if they had a good comic talent. Girls like Gardenia became stars.

But Gardenia didn’t care; after the picture came out she married somebody and went off to live in a trailer camp near Thousand Oaks. She had had very good reviews, and Anita, who had long gotten over being angry about losing the part, was now angry at her for not using what she saw as a precious gift. A couple of years later, when Gardenia came down for a visit, she told Anita that she had never believed she could be a success and wanted to get out while she was still ahead, rather than end up dead in the pool of the Chateau Marmont.

Now that treasured quality could be seen in her own daughter, as unmistakable to Anita as a caul. She watched as Mandy finished the song and dove into the pool, shoes and all, followed by Flash. Together they splashed and plunged about in a giggling effort to get Mandy’s shoe-ribbons unwound from her legs and the shoes off her feet, which Flash tried to do with his perfect white teeth while Mandy, unbalanced, ducked and sputtered. It was a Sunday afternoon and the mountainside was quiet except for other splashings in other pools and the occasional shift of gears as a car roared up the steep road. The flame trees rustled and billowing purple bougainvillea on the roof moved in the slight breeze. John, a director, was at a preview in Santa Barbara. The moments of rest were few and dearly bought, and Anita had worked so hard for most of her life that she hardly knew what to do with them when she had them. Even now she had to make a conscious effort not to get up, go inside, and work on the script she was supposed to be revising. When the telephone rang she started to jump up, but Mandy was already out of the pool, one heavy clog still flopping from her ankle by its ribbons. Mandy opened the big glass sliding door that led into the living room and picked up the phone, turning her back to the patio and closing the glass door behind her. Anita made herself lie back again and Flash slowly swam toward her. He leaned his elbows on the side of the pool and smiled up at her.

“Want me to turn on the sprinklers, Anita?”

She shook her head and smiled musingly at him. Strangely enough she liked Flash; disapproval struggled with a little core of affection. He seemed to be entirely without guile or suspicion. If life were like her television scripts, she and Flash would sleep together, thereby destroying her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. Then he would callously go off to wreck another home. Flash was such a willing and good-natured houseguest (though the term didn’t seem quite accurate) that she imagined he could be seduced, if that was what she wanted of him, out of sheer politeness, the desire not to be rude to his hostess. But Anita’s hungers lay elsewhere, and Flash tried to please only by watering the garden in the late afternoon and occasionally straining the leaves and bugs off the surface of the pool, as well as being agreeable to his elders.

“Thanks, I did it before.”

“You’re going to have a few tomatoes out there,” said Flash. He had a pleasant cowboy twang which went oddly with his bleached hair and chest-bangles. “And some more of those baby lettuces are ready.”

“I don’t know why I bother with that vegetable patch.”

“Just one more thing to fuss with, Anita.” He had her number. “I went back east last year,” he went on. “Visited a guy I know in New York. Man, I was glad to get out of there. Everybody was in too much of a hurry.”

“That’s how they get things done.”

Flash grinned and suddenly submerged. She watched the water close over him and then he surfaced again in another spot, still grinning. “You got to go with the flow, Anita.”

“If John and I had gone with the flow all these years you wouldn’t be splashing around in that pool.”

Flash laughed. “I don’t need this pool,” he said. “1 like it, but it sure isn’t worth killing myself for.”

Behind the door Mandy put the receiver down and went over to the bar on the other side of the room. She took a handful of ice cubes out of the plastic bucket, put them in a glass, opened a can of Fresca and poured it in. Then she took the glass to the telephone and continued talking. She sat on the back of the sofa, legs hanging down, picking with one hand at the shoe-ribbons. Finally she hung up, opened the sliding door, and came out onto the patio, where she lay down in the lounge chair next to Anita. She rested the Fresca on her satiny brown stomach, where tiny hairs marched in a delicate golden line, and closed her eyes.

Anita had grown up in Connecticut, in a place where communication was as sharp and clear as the winter air. In her parents’ white clapboard house there were bulletin boards, note pads with pencils next to them, magnets on the refrigerator to hold messages, and a telephone in the small front hall where all conversations could be easily overheard. Everyone announced his or her comings and goings—“I’m going to town to get eggs, back in half an hour.” “That was Jane on the phone—she’s returning those books on her way to the dentist. Oh, and she said Bob Davis is coming next week, his mother’s seriously ill.” The conversation at dinner was mostly about what everyone had done all day—dull though it might be, it was considered to have a place simply because it had happened.

“I’m going in search of stimulating conversation,” Anita had said when she left. Of course that wasn’t true; she was going in search of acting jobs. But she assumed that people who did interesting things would talk about them in an interesting way. John did, about being a director, but he had said that when it came to making pictures, the single perfectly chosen action could be more telling than the best dialogue. He told her that after she had given up trying to be an actress and had decided to try her hand at script-writing.

She watched Mandy, waiting for the announcement that never came of its own accord. Then, as always, she gently pried.

“Was it anything about Bronstein?”

Bronstein held Mandy’s fate in his hand: he was considering her for a part in a feature film. He was “hot,” he was “top enchilada” at Fox. The mention of his name broke glass at twenty feet. The air shimmered, and Mandy said nothing for a moment. Her eyes pressed closed more tightly, and then she sighed and reached under the chair, groping around on the concrete for her pack of thin black cigarettes.

“Tomorrow,” she said, without opening her eyes. Slowly she pulled one of the cigarettes out of the package and lit it, then inhaled and blew out a great lungful of smoke in a kind of sigh.

“Oh, Mandy, darling.” Anita excitedly reached over and pressed her daughter’s inert hand.

Flash had gotten out of the pool and now he walked over to where they were sitting, sprinkling diamond drops of water around. He bent down and kissed Mandy’s silken middle.

“You feel good about that, baby?” he asked.

“Sure,” Mandy said from behind her sunglasses. “I love to have my head chopped off.”

The lighting in the kitchen was indirect, coming from under the cupboards, and it created a bright circle at the end of the long, dark living room. Outside the rough surface of the pool water picked up little points of light from the interior rooms, all of which opened with sliding glass doors onto the patio. There were tatami blinds for privacy, but Mandy’s were open, and as Anita put the tew dishes in the dishwasher she could see her daughter sprawled on the bed watching television. She had eaten alone. Flash had gone out to meet some people who “might help” and Mandy had said she was tired and didn t want dinner. Mandy’s face was devoid of expression, her room a spectacular mess, and Anita was glad that fastidious John wasn’t around to see it. She would pick it up later tonight, or first thing in the morning.

Anita closed the dishwasher and sat down at the butcher-block table with a cup of coffee. At the same moment Mandy flicked off the TV and walked toward the kitchen. She was wearing a white terry cloth robe, her hair untidily tied back with a ribbon, and she looked rather sleepy and cross.

“Is there anything to eat?” she asked, opening the refrigerator.

“I’ll fix you something.”

“Oh, I’ll do it.” She took out the makings of an

enormous Dagwood sandwich, and Anita smiled. “God, I feel really weird. Dizzy, kind of. Maybe I’m just hungry.” She piled salami, cheese, lettuce, pickles, and hard-boiled egg slices on a piece of bread and put mayonnaise on top.

“What do you have to do for the audition?” Anita asked. “Read a scene?”

“I guess so.” Mandy’s voice was low as she poked the monstrous sandwich together and opened a can of Fresca. Then she laughed. “Maybe I’ll get laryngitis again. Remember that time in Pasadena, at that amateur night, and the time at CBS when I couldn’t warble about the margarine?” Her eyes were bright as she took a huge bite of the sandwich. She chewed and then gulped some of it down. “I’ll never forget Jimmy What’s-his-face’s expression when I opened my mouth and out came this croak.”

Exasperation settled over Anita’s head like a lowering cloud. “My God, Mandy. You laugh at the strangest things. Now if you’re nervous, I don’t blame you a bit. When I had my audition with Zanuck. . .”Mandy’s eyes glazed over.

“I’m not nervous,” she said. She held the monstrous sandwich in her graceful hands, one piece of lettuce dangling down between two long, lacquered nails.

“How about a glass of wine, to relax?” Anita submitted to a violent urge to get up and move around. She took out a jug of wine and poured them each a glass.

Mandy said, “It’s not such a big deal.”

1 Jesus, Anita said, “it is so a big deal.”

“But I mean, if there wasn’t any audition on Monday, we’d all live, wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t just lie down and die or anything, would we? We’d keep on going to the studio and swimming in the pool and driving on the freeways, we’d eat and sleep, we might even be able to smile. The sun would rise and set, wouldn’t it?" Mandy’s voice was accusing, but her eyes were lowered. “I’ll be all right, Mom. Okay? Everything’ll be just fine.”

The next morning John said, “Flash has to go.” John was a bald, fattish, serious man with sunbaked skin, full of energy and an exuberance that was a life force to the rest of them. As he finished dressing, Anita said worriedly, looking out of the bathroom, “All right. But not until after she sees Bronstein.”

“Oh, is that this week? All the more reason he should go right away.”

“Let him stay two more days, John.”

“I don’t want him here another hour.”

“But she needs him somehow. He’s a nice kid. He’s sweet, really.”

John laughed. “I told you that when he first came. But enough’s enough.”

Through the blinds a shadow moved. Anita went over and looked out, but no one was there. The surface of the water was ruffled by tiny breezes and a yellow towel lay in a soggy ball. Under one of the lounge chairs were a plastic glass and an ashtray full of cigarette butts. John looked over her shoulder.

“When are you going to make her pick up after herself?”

“I can’t make her do anything. She’s twenty-three.”

“She’s a slob,” said John cheerfully, going out into the hall. “Hey, Mandy! Come and have breakfast with me!”

Anita finished dressing hurriedly and went down the hall to Mandy’s room. Delicately, she knocked on the door and waited—for order, for a pretense of respectability—and to her surprise Mandy opened the door fully dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt.

“Daddy wants Flash to leave,” Anita said. “I’ll try to get him to change his mind.”

After a slight pause Mandy said, “Never mind. It’s all right.”

“I’ll try to talk him into a few more days.”

“Oh, don’t bother, Mom. Let’s not hassle about it.”

“But don’t you want. . . ?”

“Flash knows he’s supposed to go, just stop worrying. Okay?”

She was elusive, this prized daughter, as hard to catch as a raindrop and as strangely, frustratingly formless. When she was small she had begged for a certain talking doll that was exhaustively advertised on television, and after Anita had driven all over Los Angeles to find it (supplies having been snapped up quickly), Mandy received it listlessly and said she wanted a rubber raft for the pool.

“Where is Flash?” Anita asked suspiciously.

“He’s out somewhere.” Mandy pulled a comb through her hair. She didn’t invite Anita into the room, rather in the most subtle way blocked her every time she tried to move forward. Anita felt a surge of unexpected disappointment.

“Will he be back?”

“Oh, sure. He wants to thank you for being so nice to him.”

“I’m sorry,” Anita said. “I’m sorry he can’t stay.”

“Mom, it’s all right!” Mandy’s tone was impatient. “I don’t blame Daddy or anything. It’s cool, okay?” She edged out the door and closed it behind her. “Had breakfast yet?”

Why doesn’t she fight? Anita wondered, sitting at the kitchen table with her coffee, while John made them all an omelet. Her own growing up had been shaped by the violent pull away from her parents and the fighting off of their values, and so, as a matter of fact, had John’s. Why was this child so different? Mandy’s mouth was stretched over a piece of Granola toast while she read, with the intense preoccupation of the young, the entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times. Anita relaxed a little, her tight shoulders lowered. Mandy had her own style, that was all, and a more mature one than hers had been. She saved her energy for work and she worked hard. She talked less. Maybe she and John pressed her too much, she had to be allowed to become her own person. Anita looked at Mandy and asked silently, What do you want of us? Do you love us? Hate us? Can 1 do anything for you? And if so, won’t you tell me what it is?

“How many girls are auditioning?” asked John from the stove.

“Just three,” Mandy said.

“Wow. It’s that close.”

Mandy put down her toast. “I can’t eat,” she said. “I’m sorry, Daddy, I don’t want any.” He stood over her with the omelet pan.

“Are you all right, baby?”

“I’m fine. But I don’t even want to smell it.”

John gave Mandy’s share to Anita. It was a glory of mushrooms, cottage cheese, and parsley, and she didn’t want it either, but she began eating it anyway.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Anita asked.

“No,” Mandy said, “and for Christ’s sake don’t just happen to drop by.”

“Is Flash going?”

Mandy’s green eyes met hers. “Flash says screw the whole thing,” she said, and before they could say anything, she turned and left the room.

By three o’clock Anita knew she could do no more work that day, and she left to go home. There was no way she could spy on Bronstein without looking like an ass, or without Mandy’s finding out, and the frustration of the day lay curled up in the pit of her stomach in a small tight ball. She would have stayed home, had not John almost pushed her out the door. The driveway of the house was visible shortly after leaving the Hollywood freeway, and as Anita’s BMW crept down the white street late that afternoon she looked through the tops of the eucalyptus trees to see who was home. John’s Mercedes wasn’t there, nor was Mandy’s Fiat, but Flash’s Mustang was.

She parked and went quickly inside. The house was dark in contrast to the glare outside, a place to hide. In the hall stood Flash’s suitcase. She went down the hall to Mandy’s room, which was empty and quite neat. The bookshelves were empty, the bare sheets smooth, the blinds closed.

She opened the glass door and went out onto the patio. The pool was quiet, sun-dappled turquoise, a vast, opaque eye that gave away nothing. She walked around it to the living room doors and slowly opened them. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, and then she saw Flash sitting on the sofa. He wore white jeans and a Hawaiian shirt knotted over his middle, and he held a can of Sprite.

“Hi,” he said.

She looked at him in his gay getup—except he wasn’t gay, he was her daughter’s passionate lover, given to lying around in the sun with lightener in his hair. Slowly he stood up.

“Did she go to the audition?” Anita demanded.

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“Damn you,” she said, “I don’t believe you.”

He looked at her in surprise. “Man, I can’t help what you believe. I don’t know where she is.” She stared at him uncertainly. “Her suitcase is gone. And her drawers are empty. Go see for yourself.” While she did so he took another drink from the Sprite can and lit a cigarette with John’s leather table lighter.

Anita came back slowly and sat down in a chair. She felt weak and faint, and there was a dreadful pressure in her throat, the pressure of imminent tears. He wasn’t kidding. Only a week ago they had all had dinner together, the four of them. She had cooked steaks outside on the grill and Flash had made the salad out of vegetables from the garden, their own tomatoes and cucumbers and parsley grown in a sandy patch on the mountainside. John had told stories and they had drunk two bottles of wine, and Mandy had laughed and laughed.

“You did it,” Anita said, and her voice broke. “You never wanted her to audition with Bronstein. ‘Flash says screw the whole thing.’ With one eloquent sentence you destroyed everything, so she could go with the flow like the rest of you. Damn you, why did you ever come here?”

Flash, at the bar with his hand in a can of peanuts, turned and stared at her. “I didn’t want her to audition? You think I’m crazy? I pushed her. You think I like sleeping on the beach, spending my time with losers?”

Anita said slowly, “But didn’t you say. . . ?”

“I never said it. She wanted me to say it. She’d say, ‘This thing with Bronstein is making me crazy. I can’t sleep. I have pains in my chest. I’m not right for the part. If I don’t get it my mother’ll kill me.’ I said, “If you don’t go, I’ll kill you.’ We’re a good pair, Anita. We drove her right out of the house.” Anita, sitting in the darkness, was silent. “Listen, there’s a million like me out there. But Mandy’s something special. I’d have to be nuts to want to stop her.” He looked at her. “Oh, come on, don’t cry. Kids disappear all the time. She’s probably in Venice.” He came over to her. “Listen, I want to thank you for putting me up all this time. You and your husband and Mandy are the first things in this town that didn’t turn out rotten.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, and her voice shook. “I’m really sorry.”

“Hey, nothing to be sorry about, man.” He looked around the pleasant room and gave a small, involuntary sigh. “Well, I’d better split.”

“Don’t you want to . . . wait for her?” The abruptness of this announcement and the ease with which he was ready to depart their lives was a little startling. “Would you like a drink? I mean, she might phone. She might even come back.” She turned on the lamp. “You know, she might even have gone to Bronstein and not want us to know.”

Flash looked at her for a moment. “You’re crazy,” he said, matter-of-factly. He got out two glasses and began putting ice in them from the ice bucket, and then Scotch—he knew what she liked to drink. “Some cheese?” He went into the kitchen and got a piece of Brie out of the refrigerator, and put it on a plate with crackers. “It’s always so damn hard to leave,” he said.

The last fiery rays of the sun burned over the Pacific and across the white beach, so wide and magnificent that it made the tiny, rocky little edgings in the East seem hardly worthy of the name. The sand was denied with thousands of footprints, and a few late stragglers were gathering up towels to go home. Along the boardwalk floated the roller-skaters on their plastic skates, bending and dipping, ducking back and forth like ghostly birds in the fading light. The oldest people in sight were a pair of silver-haired, bronze-skinned gays strolling along the boardwalk, but everyone else was young and lovely limbed, children playing at dusk in some never-never land.

Mandy left her Fiat in a parking lot and walked along the boardwalk for a while, then sat down on the edge and looked out over the beach. She lit a joint and smoked it slowly, enjoying it as she enjoyed the warmth of the fading sun and the heat of the sand between her bare toes, the smell of the sea and of french fries from a fast-food stand. She felt as though the cold of the pool were being baked out of her, slowly thawing whatever it was that made her feel so hard and chilly in the daytime and so terrified at night—that sapphire coolness she dipped in again and again until she was coated all over with something she didn’t understand. In a few minutes she’d get a hamburger from the stand, and some of the fries, and after she had eaten she’d go and find Liz, or Ralph and Dicky, and stay with them for a while till she got her head together. Not too long—you had to be careful about staying with people too long—it could do funny things to you, as it had to Flash. She knew that, and now she also knew the precious power of splitting.

She leaned back against one of the pilings and smiled, her eyes half closed. Somebody’s radio was playing Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.” The longer you stayed the harder it was to leave, the more you hated yourself for staying there, helpless and half strangled and exhausted from the effort of not telling them to shove it. When the time came to get in touch with her parents, in a few months or whatever it took, her explanation would be very simple: “You wore me out.” Not that they’d have any idea what she was talking about. But possibly, if she worked on it in the months to come, by that time she’d have a better way of putting it—though it was stupid to think that at twenty-three there had to be an explanation.

She looked down the boardwalk, half expecting to see her mother barreling along in her big sunglasses, her well-cut pants, her gigantic leather handbag full of checks and credit cards, her mouth pulled into that tense smile. How had she gotten like that? She called it “drive,” and said the rest of the Connecticut relatives had it too, but none of them were as bad as Anita. If that was drive, Mandy didn’t want it, though she didn’t know what she wanted instead—except, at the moment, to sit here and get stoned. She hadn’t done it for a long time, since about three years ago when she used to smoke dope all the time to get her mother, before she had become a “serious actress.”

She got up and went over to the hamburger stand and bought herself some dinner, and as she sat down to eat it she felt a little twinge of loneliness. She would sleep alone tonight, for the first time in weeks—alone on somebody’s couch or in somebody’s sleeping bag. It would be so easy for Flash to find her, if he wanted to. She was in this obvious place, hanging out like a sore thumb. Part of it was, probably, a test—the kind most people never dared make. She thought how strange it was that the strongest statements people made to each other were silent—acts or the absence of acts—and how you knew in some gut way what they meant before your head understood them. He might come, it was possible—just stroll along the walk in his white jeans and say, “Hey, babe, let’s find some place of our own to live. I don’t care if we’re poor.” Now that was the real fantasy, the ultimate dream.