Renegade Valkari (The Moonflower Chronicles Book 2)

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I was bricks sewn into the hem of her clothes, I was a steel dress. He had to do it under a pseudonym, Wolfram Malevich, because it was nonunion. We could hear him every morning, very early, through the wall. It was full of notes and Post-its and underlines. I leafed through the book. She says anybody who ever read him knows why there had to be a revolution.

That was where she belonged, in furs and palaces of rare treasures, fireplaces large enough to roast a reindeer, ships of Swedish maple. My deepest fear was that someday she would find her way back there and never return. It was why I always waited up when she went out on nights like this, no matter how late she came home. I had to hear her key in the lock, smell her violet perfume again.

And I tried not to make it worse by asking for things, pulling her down with my thoughts. I had seen girls clamor for new clothes and complain about what their mothers made for dinner. I was always mortified. But how I envied the way their mothers sat on their beds and asked what they were thinking. My mother was not in the least bit curious about me.

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I often wondered what she thought I was, a dog she could tie in front of the store, a parrot on her shoulder? I never told her that I wished I had a father, that I wanted to go to camp in summertime, that sometimes she scared me. I was afraid she would fly away, and I would end up alone, living in some place where there were too many children, too many smells, where beauty and silence and the intoxication of her words rising in air would be as far away as Saturn.

Out the window, the glow of the Hollywood sign was slightly blurred with June fog, a soft wetness on the hills raising the smell of sage and chamise, moisture wiping the glass with dreams. I sat on her bed, watched her change clothes, adoring each gesture. Someday I would do this, the way she crossed her arms and pulled her dress over her head, kicked off her high heels. I put them on, admiring them on my feet. They were almost the right size. In another year or so, they would fit. She sat down next to me, handed me her brush, and I brushed her pale hair smooth, painting the air with her violets.

The grinning Pan, cloven hooves peeping out from under his pants? When I saw us like this, I could almost remember fishing in cold deep seas, the smell of cod, the charcoal of our fires, our felt boots and our strange alphabet, runes like sticks, a language like the ploughing of fields. Can you imagine? You could do anything you wanted, as long as you were beautiful, as long as you did things beautifully.

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She had drummed it into my head since I was small. What could she possibly be thinking? She saw him at a party in Silverlake. Wherever she went, she complained, there he was, the goat man. I thought it was only coincidence, but one night at a performance space in Santa Monica where we went to watch one of her friends beating on Sparkletts bottles and ranting about the drought, I saw him too, four rows back.

He spent the whole time trying to catch her eye. After it was over, I wanted to talk to him, but she dragged me out fast.

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When he turned up at the annual publication party for Cinema Scene, I had to agree that he was following her. It was outside in the courtyard of an old hotel on the Strip. The heat of the day was beginning to dissipate. The women wore bare dresses, my mother like a moth in white silk. He saw me, and his eyes immediately swept the crowd for my mother. She was behind me, drinking white wine, gossiping with Miles, the photo editor, a gaunt, stubble-chinned Englishman whose ringers were stained with nicotine. He started through the crowd toward her. I was close behind him.

Her eyes flicked cruelly over his mustard-colored tie hanging to one side, his brown shirt pulling at the buttons over his stomach, his uneven teeth, the shrimp in his chubby fist.

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He put his finger alongside his nose, winked at me, and walked on to another group of people, put his arm around a pretty girl, kissed her neck. My mother turned away. That kiss went against everything she believed. In her universe, it simply would never happen. We went down to the apartment pool and swam slow quiet laps under the local stars, the Crab Claw, the Giant Shrimp. A window onto grace.

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When I glanced up, he caught my eye and put his finger to his lips, crept up behind her and tapped her shoulder. Her knife went slicing through the type. She whirled around and I thought she was going to cut him, but he showed her something that stopped her, a small envelope he put on her table. She opened it, removed two tickets, blue-and-white. Her silence as she examined them astonished me.

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She stared at them, then him, jabbing the sharp end of her X- acto into the rubbery surface of the desk, a dart that stuck there for a moment before she pulled it out. It was a gamelan concert at the art museum. Now I knew why she accepted. I only wondered how he knew exactly the right thing to propose, the one thing she would never turn down.

Had he hidden in the oleanders outside our apartment? Interviewed her friends? Bribed somebody? Everything had turned to static electricity in the heat. I combed my hair to watch the sparks fly from the ends. Forced to wait, my mother made small, jerky movements with her arms, her hands. How despicable. I should have known. Remind me never to make plans with quadrupeds. All around us, women in bright summer silks and a shifting bouquet of expensive perfumes eyed her critically.

Men admired her, smiled, stared. She stared back, blue eyes burning, until they grew awkward and turned away. He grinned, flashing the gap between his teeth. Only peons made excuses for themselves, she taught me. Never apologize, never explain. The drum began, joined by one of the lower sets of chimes.

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  • Then more entered the growing mass of sound. Rhythms began to emerge, expand, complex as lianas. My mother said the gamelan created in the listener a brain wave beyond all alphas and betas and thetas, a brain wave that paralyzed the normal channels of thought and forced new ones to grow outside them, in the untouched regions of the mind, like parallel blood vessels that form to accommodate a damaged heart.

    I closed my eyes to watch tiny dancers like jeweled birds cross the dark screen of my eyelids. They took me away, spoke to me in languages that had no words for strange mothers with ice-blue eyes and apartments with ugly sparkles on the front and dead leaves in the pool. She sat in her chair, her eyes closed.

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    She liked to be the last one to leave. She despised crowds, and their opinions as they left a performance, or worse, discussed the wait for the bathroom or where do you want to eat? It spoiled her mood. She was still in that other world, she would stay there as long as she possibly could, the parallel channels twining and tunneling through her cortex like coral. She raised her hand for him to be quiet. He looked at me and I shrugged.

    I was used to it. We waited until the last sound had faded from the auditorium. Finally she opened her eyes. I was hungry, but once my mother took a position, she never wavered from it. We went home, where I ate tuna out of a can while she wrote a poem using the rhythms of the gamelan, about shadow puppets and the gods of chance. It was called Crossroads of the World, a courtyard with a streamline-moderne ocean liner in the middle occupied by an ad agency. Along the outside ring of the brick-paved courtyard, fantasy bungalows built in styles from Brothers Grimm to Don Quixote were rented by photo studios, casting agents, typesetting shops.

    I sketched a laughing Carmen lounging under the hanging basket of red geraniums in the Sevillian doorway of the modeling agency, and a demure braided Gretel sweeping the Germanic steps of the photo studio with a twig broom.

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    While I drew, I watched the tall beautiful girls coming in and out of these doors, passing from the agency to the studio and back, where they bled a bit more of their hard- earned money from waitressing and temp jobs to further their careers. It was a scam, my mother said, and I wanted to tell them so, but their beauty seemed a charm.

    What ill could befall girls like that, long-legged in their hip-hugger pants and diaphanous summer dresses, with their clear eyes and sculpted faces? The heat of the day never touched them, they were living in another climate.