Edendale: Chapter 15
WEST FAT HILL
By Phyl M. Noir
After the city tore down all the old mansions, the stores and the apartment buildings on Bunker Hill in 1960, Joy moved to a house in Cerro Gordo, which means Fat Hill in Spanish. From her hill she saw Bunker Hill, which was bare for many years, and – after about a decade — the skyscrapers that replaced the bare hill.
Purple-blue Jacaranda blossoms carpeted Fat Hill. When the weather was hot she smelled cat pee and saw cat paw prints in the soft black asphalt.
Joy’s trouble with staying alone in house she rented near Vestal was that it was noisy at night. Its noises unsettled her.
Something clicked in the attic when the heat was on. The house’s wood frame contracted when it was cold and groaned.
She didn’t hear the refrigerator during the day. At night it sometimes sighed like a tired human being.
Heated air rattled out from a furnace in the basement up through a grate on the floor. If something was wrong with it she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t even know how to turn off the pilot light. When she phoned the landlord he said, “Do you want trouble? I’ll give you trouble.” She did not want trouble.
That night Joy Justine sat in the chair under the floor lamp and read from her Catholic Bible.
Later she was to remember the voice as a man’s voice but that night she didn’t know if the speaker was a man or a woman. It was a real voice but she saw it in her head rather than hearing it.
The voice said, “It’s all right. It’s time.”
She got out of bed and walked around the house trying the windows and the doors. She went into the kitchen and listened to the refrigerator. She put an ear close to the heater grate on the floor.
She opened the front door and stood outside under the porch light. A moth beat its wings on the light bulb with a papery noise until it died. There were no other sounds but the rustling of leaves in the dry Santa Ana wind.
She felt calm and light. The banal furniture, knickknacks and wallpaper patterns in her apartment looked different. Everything was enhanced. The moonlight created a chiaroscuro of the building’s interior. She hadn’t known how remarkable everything was. The concerns that had occupied her were gone.
The voice said again, “It’s all right. It’s time.”
The sky grew light.
The voice said, “It’s all right now. You’ll know the answer soon.”
“When?” She said.
The voice said, “Soon.”
Daylight made everything ordinary again. She had been awake all night and she wasn’t tired.
Joy felt – not happy, she was never happy – a sense of depth.
Mary Kappas was the old Greek woman who worked in the drycleaner’s down on Sunset. She had a long, horsy face and the circles under her eyes looked like bruises. She wore giant framed eyeglasses with silver sparkles that had been fashionable forty years earlier.
Mary said no one respected fine hand sewing. When a button fell off shirts or zippers stuck customers bought new clothing that women in China sewed.
The drycleaner’s smelled like talcum powder and steam. A truck’s passage shook the windows. Mary went in back and returned with her uniforms on wire hangers. She slipped plastic over the uniforms and hung them on a horizontal chrome bar.
The air was humid and dark outside the store. There was no reprieve from that air. There could be no repose in it. The morning’s gold had promised something quite different from that terrible air.
Joy parked in front of her house and ran up the stairs. The uniforms and the plastic around them flew out behind her. The thin plastic filled with air and billowed. The plastic was shiny lime and pink in the afternoon light like two big soap bubbles.
In the evening Joy turned on the radio and listened to Shostakovich’s ninth symphony. She was pleased with this. As the piece began she continued to be pleased. When the music ended the announcer said Jade Yee had played something by Franz Liszt.
He said Jade Yee had been a promising young pianist trained by Frances Mullen who had founded “Concerts on the Roof” in Los Angeles with her husband Peter Yates.
Joy straightened the house and opened the covers to her bed so the heat would warm the sheets. The phone rang. It was Roland.
“Mother died tonight, Joy,” he said.
“Sam called me. He was watching television and fell asleep during the morning news. He woke up and called her but she didn’t answer. He looked all over for her but couldn’t find her at first. He found her fallen on the floor by the bed in Cyd’s old room. A little blood came from Mother’s mouth.
“He called for an ambulance. The paramedics cut off a perfectly good sweater that would have cleaned up beautifully. They went to the hospital. The doctors gave her tests. They said she had a slow growing brain tumor for most of her life. Sam held her hand and told her he loved her until she died.”
Joy thanked Roland for calling. Sam had been too cheap to pay for tests on Justine’s brain. Maybe something could have been done but it made no difference any more.
She was colder than she had ever been and took off her clothes and stood in the hot stream from the showerhead until she was warm.
She put on clean flannel pajamas and sat in the chair under the lamp.
The ceiling of the house opened to the night sky. She was in the sky moving through the night. The clouds moved like clouds move in high winds but there was no sound of wind. The sky was the color of blue sunglass lenses. The clouds were dark at the edges, inside-out clouds. They were the color of the moon’s penumbra in fog. She moved through the sky like a key in a lock and felt no longing, no remorse, no anger and no fear.