I had never been to America. My friend, the publisher, had three cats and a sofa for me to sleep on. The black cat, neurotic, kept trying to pee on my suitcase and I was constantly trying to stop her being raped by her brother, a genial tomcat who resembled a portly man I had met at a nightclub when I was seventeen. At 6 am the jackhammers would start on West 6th. The valor with which I meditated against it seemed to give me the correct answer to the question of what film noir I was to inhabit.
The kitchen was infested with roaches that had been dislodged by much earth shaking and even though the publisher had hired pest controllers an army of minuscule black cabs swarmed over every surface. The safest times were daybreak. The publisher would offer my vodka and when I declined, she would traipse over to her office to read more manuscripts. I would see her sturdy Russian ham of a leg propped over the edge of her worktable, adorned by worn down red patent shoes.
Suddenly, she would yell that there was only rubbish being accepted by agents everywhere. “Do you want to walk to Central Park?” she came to ask. “It will take us an hour.” She used to buy cheap sausage in a waterfront neighborhood for lunch with her dour-looking cronies who observed me in a savvy and contemptuous fashion like spies from the Cold War, and we would eat last night’s blintzes and sip on kvass that brewed in a dank corner of an apartment’s tiny stove. I was surprised to find out that her father was a famous pianist. It explained the Blüthner. It took enough real estate to provide a resting place for apparel shed immediately upon entering the tropical warmth of her apartment. When I inquired about him she began to weep. I steered clear of that subject. In any case, I encouraged her towards eating out since I could never be sure about black cabs precipitating into the stews.
My friend Donna invited me to Los Angeles, I was feted with my own room. I had been warned about the dogs but I did not mind them too much. I was quite experienced by then and did not worry about the turmeric color stains on the couch. She was proud of me, my accomplishments, especially when introducing me to the star quality. Her mother was schizophrenic and I felt so comfortable with her. “Meet my friend,” she said to them, “a very famous writer.”
Her son was with the FBI but we were not to talk about that. On a good day, we went to vintage shops where she bought paperweights, a rare seventies Pyrex orange mixer bowl set, and an English wheel barometer that she called a real find. She packaged her items and send them off to her various children and we were excited by life till we got home and her husband chewed her up for spending money. I retreated to the shower. When I came out I heard creaking in the bedroom.
I had met Donna at the retreat of a famous Hollywood producer. There was also a famous writer who would give workshops and since I had won a tremendous fiction prize, I could afford it. Donna was usually at the bar with the others and I would sidle up, feeling anxious, very much like a visiting everywoman.
The famous writer spoke about art. He said that James Joyce was not art, and he gave examples from his own books. I had enjoyed his work but I began to stop liking them.
My mother died on the fifth day. I got the call from my husband. Initially giddy when I heard his voice, I was choked up when he said, Your mother passed away this morning. I went to breakfast with the other writers, and I was crying. I was surprised about that. This was the first time I felt connected to my mother. I felt like she had waited for me to get to the kind of place she had aspired, and the smell of the frangipani and the intense flowering of pale yellow gold hibiscus undid me. My mother spoke in my ear. She told me not to come back for her funeral. She said she had not worked so hard to earn the money to make me who I was. She told me to go to the Cave of the Dead to pay my respects.
Donna asked me what was wrong. Everybody was so beautiful to me. One woman tried to give me her entire supply of Zoloft. I felt like I belonged.
Girija Tropp’s fiction has appeared in several Best Australian Short Stories editions, and recently in New World Writing and Cherry Tree. She has published in The Boston Review, Agni, and has also won or been short-listed for major awards. Her work has been anthologized in Café Irreal and Smokelong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years. She lives in Australia where she studies Traditional Chinese Medicine.