April 21, 2010
* The following short story is experimental fiction
She knew she was in Los Angeles because she felt no chill. They were shopping. Alexis and her mother had decided to drive down for the weekend. But this couldn’t be because they lived in Canada. It couldn’t be – but it was. Where else would there be palm trees, bars on the windows, and this much shopping. Alexis drummed her nails against the rubber ledge of the window and hummed to herself: what you waiting, what you waiting, what you waiting for…’
She heard her dog whining. No. It wasn’t the dog. They wouldn’t have brought Scoot. It was sirens, quivering in the distance.
‘Where are they coming from?’ her mother asked.
‘I don’t know.’
It didn’t occur to Alexis to be afraid. She hadn’t done anything wrong. Except what was this? – a Jean Paul Gauthier dress draped across her knees – purple and red patterns crisscrossing against a sheer yellow bodice. She didn’t remember buying a dress. Maybe she hadn’t bought it. Maybe she had stolen it. She listened again for the sirens. Alexis’s mother gripped her long red nails around the steering wheel, ready to drive. But her mother never had her nails done. Maybe she’d had them done for the trip – after all, they were in L.A.. A special occasion. The dress still lay draped across Alexis’s lap. Should she put it on? Then the cops would think it was hers. If Alexis changed in the back of the van, they might pull up just as she was taking off her clothes. Then they would see her naked. What else could she do? Throw it out the window? Alexis looked over at her mother only to notice that it wasn’t her mother at all, but her father. She looked out the window – they were no longer in L.A., but in Northern California, driving through farmland. A distant blue ocean lapped at golden fields ahead.
‘What did Mom buy on the trip?’ her father asked.
‘Um… I don’t know,’ said Alexis, ‘she got her nails done, though. Red.’
The van glided dolphin-like through the falling twilight. They were almost there.
‘Where are we going?’ Alexis asked.
‘I’m taking you to school, remember?’
Ah, yes. School. Alexis had forgotten – it was the first day. Shouldn’t it be morning? she wondered. Driving over a series of curved bridges that looked like mini-golf walkways, they pulled into the school. It reminded Alexis of her elementary school and her high school mixed together. The same layout as her elementary school, but in her high school’s colours: green and blue. She watched three blonde girls in blazers and berets kick around a soccer ball on one of the vast green fields. And there were more of these uniforms. Everywhere. Riding shuttle buses, eating at tables, hooking arms. An excitement bubbled inside her as she watched the students go about their day, which is was now – daytime. It was all so perfect. But just then she remembered – she wouldn’t be able to go to this school because she’d already graduated.
‘At Sunken Meadow,’ said a passing teacher, ‘we are technically a high school, but we allow students to do their university degrees here as well.’
Alexis was overjoyed. She would get a second chance. She would be able to be a part of this. But then she remembered: she’d already graduated from university as well.
‘Damn,’ she whispered, and wondered if she couldn’t just pretend she hadn’t. Maybe she could attend the school simply out of interest. Get another degree maybe. She stepped inside the girl’s locker room. Endless rows of lockers mazed off in every direction. She ran down one, dropping the padlocks against the peach-pink metal in a series of clangs. In the centre of the locker room was a fountain where girls bathed in yellow one-pieces and flowered bathing caps.
‘What a great way to get clean,’ thought Alexis, ‘this is so much better than showers.’
There was a boy standing to the side of the lockers. He wasn’t spying; he looked like he was waiting for someone. It was Cody. Cody was here. Oh God. Maybe Alexis would get another chance with him, too. She walked over to where he stood.
‘Do you want to kiss me?’ he asked.
‘Well,’ she looked down, ‘your eyes do match the stripes of plaid on my shirt.’ She looked down, hoping she was wearing plaid. She was. She gently tapped her eyes shut as though trying to sink a put, and as their lips met she felt a row of spiky hair above his lip.
‘Oh my God,’ she drew back.
Cody didn’t have a moustache. It wasn’t him after all.
Suddenly it was hot. They were outside. She could feel the heat crushing her against the sky.
‘God it’s hot,’ she said to the stranger with the moustache. ‘I don’t know how you can stand having that thing on your face in this weather.’
‘Oh,’ said the stranger, ‘it’s a peel off.’ The stranger peeled off his moustache and shrunk four feet into a little girl.
‘C’mon,’ said the little girl. She took Alexis’s hand and began to run through an oceanside ruin of smooth white walls. They were at a resort built in Mexican architecture. Inside the white walls were series upon series of dining halls – all empty, having just been used for some sort of celebration. Yellow and black helium balloons still buoyed from the chairs, a rain of ribbons scattered on the white tablecloths of the banquet tables.
‘Where did everyone go?’ asked Alexis.
‘Who?’ asked the little girl who wore a tight dress in shades of watermelon pink and green. The dimples on her cheeks were like black seeds. ‘C’mon, we’ve got to get to class.’
‘We have class?’
Was this part of the school?
‘But I haven’t been to class all semester,’ said Alexis.
The girl was running now, away from Alexis down the red carpet of the white walled halls.
‘Hey,’ shouted Alexis. ‘Do you think I’ll still be able to pass?’
Alexis considered running after the watermelon girl but she was already out of breath and slumped against an arcade game. Green and purple flashing lights came on. She’d set the thing off. ‘Good Day,’ it introduced itself.
Hearing it speak, Alexis realized it wasn’t an arcade game – it was one of those fortune telling machines. Not the kind you put your hand on that tells you whether you’re a heartbreaker or a dud, the kind that really grants wishes – like in the movie where the boy wishes to be big at the carnival and gets turned into a man. The plastic face of the fortune teller, Alexis noticed, was her fourth grade math teacher, Mme. Lavalle.
‘Mme. Lavalle,’ Alexis began, trying to muster up her French, ‘je ne savais pas qu’on avais une classe a cette heure. It was an accident. Je m’excuse.’
‘Why should I believe you?’ Mme. Lavalle asked in French. ‘How is it possible that this has all been juste une accident?
Alexis knew she was innocent – that her gaping absence from school had been a mistake at least in part, just another product of her scattered brain. She attempted to explain why she’d missed each class: the first time she’d fallen asleep waiting for class to start, the second she’d had to go somewhere important with her mother… Shopping in LA. It was all coming back to her. As Alexis spouted off the excuses, she became sure they were true. She looked into Mme. Lavalle’s marbled eyes. ‘C’est pas ma faute.’
The tide was coming in now. Tiny starfish began to float around Alexis’s ankles.
How was the ocean coming through the white walls? They were so thick. Everything would be ruined.
‘Je dois partir,’ Alexis told her teacher, looking up out a circular window to a cliff above. She had to get to higher ground. Fast.
Opening the circular window and squeezing herself through it, she fell several stories into the ocean. Snakes began to surround her in the sea-foam green curls of the tide. Wide snakes, with bodies like eels. Their eyes were yellow. Their tongues were slit. A bullet of panic sped through her chest. She pressed down on the surface of the water until she lifted herself into the air. But the snakes began to rise up out of the water as well, like the balloons on the backs of the chairs. They stood upright as if they were being charmed, their mouths open and twisted brimming with teeth. She pressed down on the air below her and rose upwards. The more she pressed down, the higher she floated up. She knew that the moment she forgot she was floating she would fall.
But she no longer had to remember to float, thank God, because she was at the edge of the cliff she had spotted from the circular window in the white wall. She had floated up all this way. Stepping gingerly from flight onto the cliff, Alexis saw flickering images on the roof of a white dome ahead. There was a movie playing inside. It was a theatre. Finding a seat for herself in the dark, Alexis picked up the familiar scent of sawdust and nicotine. Her grandfather was sitting beside her.
‘What movie is this?’ she asked him.
‘It only looks like a movie,’ he said, ‘really there is no story. It’s just a series of random events.’
On the movie screen, a young boy and a young girl held hands in a picturesque meadow. A flat expanse of verdant grass hidden in the woods, tucked away so secretly that perhaps no one else had ever been there before. The girl had a crown of white Gerbera daisies on her head. She planted a kiss on the boy’s cheek.
‘There is a story,’ Alexis told her grandfather. ‘There must be. Because it’s making me cry.’
The lights flicked on. The usher came onto the stage in a velvet red coat. ‘A natural phenomenon is occurring!’ he announced. ‘I would advise that everyone forget the movie and go to the side of the mountain. You will never believe me,’ he said, ‘but natural waterslides have somehow formed in the mountainside.’
Ignoring the suggestion, the moviegoers lingered and chatted. They were teenagers, Alexis reasoned. Left unattended in this pristine white movie dome. Inevitably, a party began to start up. There was music. A techno disco beat. Yelling and laughing. Girls with their shirts rolled up past their belly buttons climbing over the seats. Someone swinging from the chandelier. Alexis wanted to stay, but the waterslides…
Arriving at the mountainside, Alexis was disappointed. She had expected there would be an entangled series of clay chutes with water running down them into an immaculate lagoon basin. Instead, there were only fibreglass tubes, like the ones you could see at any waterslide park. It was an unnatural natural phenomenon. Although she was wearing her uniform (she must have changed into it in the locker room) she sat down in a tube, the water pressing against her back and then moving her through the tube. The waterslide took her down the mountain slowly, frustratingly slowly. And at the end of the long ride, she had reached ocean level again. Except she was not ejected into the ocean, but a river. A very shallow river, though it carried her with much more ease and buoyancy than the waterslide. Under the river’s clear surface were smooth shining pebbles the colour of walnuts. It was more like a brook. A very wide brook, with pockets of sunshine speckling its surface through willow trees. Eventually, she was joined with a crowd of others floating on objects. The teenagers from the party in the movie dome. She hadn’t missed out after all. The kids drank beer in various flotation devices: inner tubes, loungers, rafts. Never had she been to a party like this before. It wasn’t a party, she decided. It was a forever. The trees on either side of the river were weeping jubilant pink and golden petals into the water. Their lower branches drooped into the water, their shimmering leaves dipping into the brook’s glistening surface. It was so quiet. The noise of the party acquiesced to the silence of the surrounding trees. What was the destination of this forever party? Where would it end?
The brook was nowhere in sight. Alexis was alone and swimming in the ocean again, out in open water, the sun a speck in the sky. She could see land at a very far off distance. She was petrified, but at least she could see land. She would have to swim back. The horizon engulfed her, seemed to suck her towards it. And now there were rows upon rows of houses with docks and boats attached. These waters were safe. These waters were the waters of dolphins. Finally reaching one of the docks, she pulled herself out of the water and rested her upper torso on its wet wood. She was home, she realized under the steady sun. This was where she lived. This was her dock. And yet she also knew that she was on the other side of the world.
She turned around to see Cody standing where the land met the water on the dock. The sun shone behind him, darkening his contour. He was just a black shape but she knew it was him.
‘Didn’t you see me at the party?’ said Cody.
Alexis couldn’t remember seeing him. Had he really been there?
‘I was waving at you,’ he said. ‘I was calling you, but you didn’t hear.’
Alexis wanted to cry. She wished she’d had the chance to share that moment with him. Now, it was over and she would never be able to get it back. If only she’d heard him calling.
‘Cody,’ she called for him now. But he was gone. And Alexis was propelling forward at high velocity, skimming the surface of a wide deep river in the Amazon. It was half ocean, half river, and she was hydroplaning over it with motor force in standing position as though she were waterskiing, though she held on to nothing. She was barely balancing. She could fall over at any second. Long reeds cut through the river’s surface and whipped at her ankles. The soles of her feet on the water’s surface burned with friction. How did she get herself into this mess? Careening at such speed across this dangerous body of water with no flotation device? It seemed she was always finding herself in the midst of disaster. If she could just slow down, she could think.
Though she didn’t want to sink into the wild waters, not knowing what lurked below, she had to come to a stop. How could she stop? In a moment of epiphany, she understood: the speed wasn’t coming at her from the outside – the speed was coming from within.
‘I want to slow down,’ she thought, fimrly, ‘I want to slow down.’
And then she did. Slowed into a stroll as the surface of the Amazon river turned into red and green patterned carpet. A hotel carpet. Alexis was walking down a long, long hallway, boutiques on either side. She was in the underground mall of a hotel. One of the boutiques was overstocked with items of alluring fabrics and materials. Alexis entered the store. It comforted her, how heavily packed it was with goods. She brushed a black feathered boa up against her face. Along the walls were a full rainbow of colours of every single product. Sequined visors in greens and blues and purples, fun fur in yellows and oranges and pinks. Alexis was thrilled. She was tearing things off the shelves and racks and piling them into her arms. So many colours and textures and shades.
‘You see,’ said a saleslady, ‘we have so much to offer you.’
‘But how much?’ asked Alexis.
In response to her question, the sales lady pointed to the clock, tapping its glass surface with pearly white nails. ‘Closing time,’ she shrugged.
There was a bustle outside of the store. Everyone was rushing. Rushing to get out. Alexis dropped her pile of clothes and hurried into the crowd. But everyone was going in the opposite direction of her no matter which way she turned. Unless she wanted to be caught inside the mall, Alexis figured she had better just choose a direction if she wanted to escape. So she marched against the flow of the crowd. Maybe she was the only one going the right way after all. The hard, tightly stretched Christmas-coloured carpet sprawled under her feet. The hall seemed to never end. She arrived in a grand, airy hotel lobby. But this was not her hotel. She couldn’t remember which hotel she was staying at, but she knew this wasn’t it. Trailing her hand over a brass railing, she continued past several other lobbies, all adjoined, and with her next step, stepped onto the pavement of an empty mall parking lot lit with a grid of white lights in the midnight sky. She was in Texas. The lights hummed above her as the last car in the parking lot drove away. She sat on a cement meridian and looked at the grassy field beside the lot. If only she could remember where she had come from. She was always ending up this way. The light above her shut off. It was dark now, except for a blurry spot of light in the field. Alexis navigated herself towards it. Following the light to its source, Alexis came to see that it was a single exposed light bulb dangling from the ceiling of a very large house. Its cord swayed above her head as she stood under it. The house was almost empty. It had white walls and old, abused carpet the colour of sand. There was a rocking horse to her left and an antique green velvet couch. All she could think of was to pull the string, to turn off the light. But something inside told her not to. She sat down on the green velvet couch. She didn’t know what to do.
She remembered the young girl and the young boy in the field with the flowers. And then, she was the girl. And Cody was the boy. Younger versions of themselves. They were standing in a meadow sunken into a valley between two mountains. The sun was shining down in diamonds and a gentle breeze played. Trees surrounded the meadow like curtains around a stage. Chirping birds accented the silence. Sparkles of butterflies rose up from the wildflowers. It was entirely possible that no one but them had been there before. As the girl in the movie had, Alexis moved over to Cody to place a kiss on his cheek.
She wondered, how long could she stay here?
How long would this moment last?