tragedienne — short fiction chapter from my memoir “whitegirrrl”

“My father built that,” he says, pointing out the restaurant on Sunset.

You’re whirring by so fast it all looks like a blur from the window of his sleek navy Cadillac.  It’s 1977, and he’s driving you around Hollywood late at night.  You’ve been for dinner.  Was it Musso’s?  Was it that place on Main in Santa Monica known for the Surf and Turf  that he loved?  Or was it out in Malibu that night?

You ask yourself this as you peel back the layers of memories held shut for years.

He was the love of your life at nineteen.

It was the restaurant by the sea, you think to yourself.  The one named for the shadows that fall across the face of the moon.  The restaurant he loved best.

You were nineteen and you were in love with him and he was a friend of the family and everyone said, “No.”

Whatever it was that thrummed between the two of you kept building, and building, and building until you knew he was going to be the one.  And then he was.

“I’ll have a Shirley Temple.”

You sip this because it will be three years before you will be able to order a drink like the one he is having.

“Ruby,” he says.  “That’s our song.”

The two of you dance to this again and again in the dreamlike haze of smoke and mirrors that is love when it flames in the way that yours did.  His friends stare at the two of you out in public.  They’re wondering how he made off with such a prize.

At thirty-six he is already washed up in Hollywood, but you don’t know this yet.

He’s been helping your Uncle make a few films.  He knew you since childhood.  Since you were maybe twelve perhaps.

It’s 1977, and your Uncle passes away suddenly.  Everything falls apart after that.

“That’s where she was in the accident,” he says as you head down Normandy.  “Right there.”

He points to the place where the crash occurred — the crash that left him a single father in his 20’s.  He’s married to someone in Santa Monica who is raising the little girl.

“I never loved her,” he says.

“Not like I love you.”

Your Uncle is gone, and he’s left her, and all of a sudden the two of you are going together and it seems as if it happened overnight or in a blur as you try and make sense of your Uncle’s house down in Hollywood.  Somebody had to be the strong one in your family.  This ends up being you, almost like an accident.

“What are you doing with him?” asks your best friend.

What made you very different from her was that you really took it seriously.

It was love.

It was first love, and the first time, and he was supposed to be the one until it all ended that one night when he did something that you’ll never forget.  The thing that left a scar inside you that will never heal.  The thing that lots of men do to women because they think they can get away with it because you are smaller and weaker and defenseless.

It’s a low blow.

The lowest blow.

The lobster that night is perfect as usual.  And your shiny pink drink fizzes next to his Chivas on the rocks.  He’s having the first drink of what will be many that night.  But you don’t know this yet, do you?  This is something that he hasn’t told you about.  The fact that if he drinks to excess he is going to become someone else entirely.

For some reason that night he decides that he wants lots of drinks after dinner, and as the car spins around the curves in Malibu you’re just quiet.  Your mother becomes like this after too many Gimlets, too, so you’ve seen it before — this blackness that starts to descend over a mood.

All the way back into Hollywood he stops at things he calls “watering holes.”

You wait in the car.

It seems like hours have passed by the time you finally make it home and he’s reeling by then.  For some reason he is furious.  It came up out of the blue like a storm over the sea.  All he can see is the fruit that you bought earlier in the day.  Lush peaches and cherries, and you had walked to the nearest market to get them.  One of the few places he allowed you to go alone.

“What the fuck are these?” he says, picking up the bag.

“What in the fuck are these?”

He starts to shake it until the colors all roll together blush red into yellow and crushed cherry before he hurls them into a wall.


He says that before he lunges, before he hurls you into a wall too.  And you run, you run upstairs and manage to wedge yourself into the bathroom, hyperventilating.  You’ve never been so afraid in your entire life.  Not ever.  Your mind scrambles to formulate a plan.  You end up in the space between the toilet and the wall because you are so thin you can fit there and he can’t get to you.

He waits for a long time.  You can hear the music floating up from downstairs.  He’s playing your song.

“Come down here, sweetheart,” he says.

“Come down here or I’m going to come and get you.”

The walls of that bathroom were pink and black like out of some noir film.  It’s your Uncle’s house and all of his things are there but he isn’t because he’s gone and not even his ghost is there and there isn’t anyone to call and this is your first love and you are in love in the middle of Hollywood and it’s so late at night that there is only one thing you can do.

Nothing you can do that night except eventually go back downstairs.

“What’s wrong with you?” he says at the bathroom door, alarmed by your breathing.  You can’t stop gasping.  It’s as if the air isn’t going in.

“What’s wrong sweetheart?”

Years later you look at your Victorian bed.  It was your Uncle’s, and it was the bed where that night you went back downstairs as he held your hand.  You kept it all these years.

You remember exactly what he wanted you to do that night, don’t you?  And you gagged as you did it.

In the morning his best friend dropped by, out of the blue.

You said, “I’m just going to walk over to the market.”

At the corner of the block you began to run.  You ran so fast in the center of the city your feet blurred against the pavement.

You ran to the market full of peaches and apples and cherries to the pay phone just outside.  You phoned home to your mother and she told you who to call and you ran with this safety plan across blocks until one of her old Hollywood friends came to get you in his car and he saved you that day.  He saved you from what might have been a life of hell that you might have lived had he not come or had you not made up your mind.

You escaped into the center of the city and somehow your boyfriend figured out where you were because he knew you couldn’t get very far by yourself and suddenly he was on the phone to your mother’s oldest friend who had taken you for something to eat and then was going to put you on the train home and Bob said, “She’s not here with me.”

Your lover had the schedule for every train, and every bus that day.

So your mother’s friend drove you way far away.

Click went the clattering of the rails of the train he put you on.

Clackety, clack, clackety clack, clackety clack and you think about the sounds that that train made so many years ago now and the thing that had happened, and the scar that lies forever inside and the fact that your mother’s friends were civilized.

“tragedienne” — copyright 2010 by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved.

For Robert Gary, who put me on that train.

Author’s note on the music of Sam the Man Taylor who did the song “Ruby.”  This is one of his recordings…

*** I came across a site in the web that makes an analysis of your text and compares it to other authors.  This piece came out as Raymond Chandler.  Wow! Proof…

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