TOPANGA

Don Bajema Issue: Section:

1. Abner

    "She came off the Pacific Coast Highway one afternoon dragging her suitcase down our dusty lane and slept that night in a rusted car hulk buried in brush and flood sediment off the old rotunda.
    By itself, not that unusual an occurrence. We get vagrants, fugitives, escapees, psycho's, and runaways down here all the time.  They come off Highway 1 looking for brush to sleep in and find themselves amid a little community of shacks hidden away in the delta of Topanga's creek winding its way down the mountains serving as the boundary between Malibu and Santa Monica.
    They stagger off the highway shoulder, some with bedrolls, some wearing hospital issue clothes, sunburnt, exhausted, not a few hopelessly psychotic.
    Dusty babblers lurching through our dirt roads twisting through half buried shacks with old fences festooned with razor wire and hung with welcome signs depicting Smith and Wesson's and crazed Doberman's.
    Old wrecked cars, stands of trees, dusty trucks. Voices carrying from open windows. To someone breathing car exhaust all day, escaped from the loony-bin, released from prison, recently slipped from the bedroom window pursuing youthful desperate dreams the place is probably like landing in Oz.

    This girl looked like typical Manson-bait, though much prettier than any of his girls, very young, probably hungry and without their weird bemused malice.
    She'd stayed for three nights in the old rimless Plymouth, getting up around eight and wandering off to the beach and who-knows-where. The fourth morning I coaxed her into my place for pancakes and eggs.
    She cut to what she thought was the chase, laughing with her mouth full and pointing at me with her fork,
    "Ah...Okay...See, now you're gonna try to get on my good side..
    "No..it's not like that. Not like that at all."
    "Oh. What's it like then?"
    Made ya sad  watching her sitting there, tough, on the road, still fresh enough to be attractive, sober enough to have most of her marbles. But probably doomed.
    "I just meant, it's dangerous around here for girls on their own."
    "I ain't no little red riding hood, Mister, believe me."
    She spooned the syrup soaked pancakes up with the side of her fork.
    "Fact is, I'd love to meet the big bad wolf."
    "Well, it's mutual then. Because he's out there looking for you, or don't you read the papers?"
    She scraped the egg yolk off the plate and licked the fork clean,
    "If I needed the papers to know that...."
  
She gave me a prom queen gone wrong smile and leaned back in her chair, rubbed her hands together and asked if I had anything to get her high and I told her it was time for her to leave.

I saw something register behind her eyes and though I didn't know it, that instant marked the beginning of our friendship.
    She got up from the table, extended her hand,
    "Sissy."
    "Abner."
    "See ya, around."
    And out the door she went.
    That night a primer coated Camaro parked in front of an actor's place who was off living in Chicago after being cast in a cop series.
    This specter emerged from his muscle car. long white beard, gray hair down to his shoulders, the moonlight flashing off his reflector aviator's seemed to me aman in a prison yard--acutely tuned that way to his surroundings. He was built lean and loose, not big but somehow seemed formidable.
    He keyed open the Camaro's trunk and starting carrying various items through the gate. Things that brought to mind a hunting camp, there were rifles zipped in bags. Haliburton cases, clothes, boxes of books.
    After awhile I lost interest and went back to procrastinating the rewrites I had to bring into the theater the next day. The dishes needed to be done, and the music to write to hadn't been chosen, I should make the bed, maybe get a beer from the liquor store on the highway. That took about six hours and when I'd finally sat down and found a rhythm.
     This stone faced hillbilly, still  wearing those sunglasses, who'd gone around knocking on all our doors, came to mine, pulled out a picture of this girl Sissy and asked had I seen her.
    "No. Why?"
    "Because she's my daughter."
    An owl kited low over our heads, rose through the sycamores and swooped down toward the Burnett's roof across the lane,
    "Whew, spooky those things."
    "Yeah, the Indians say they're the worst kind of luck."
   He seemed agreeable enough. But you felt like standing up straight around him, something in the timing of his words, his  slow gestures, his own strong posture, the distance he kept, like he'd once held rank, and the air he carried made him someone you'd be hesitant to try to fool.
    He handed me the picture.
    I looked again,
    "Nope. Sorry."
    He knew I was lying , but hell, I didn't know him from Adam.
    "Well I know she's down here. If you see her tell her I been asking."
    I thought to myself I'd do just that.
    Around dawn he drove in again, this time with four women, the roof had steamer trunks lashed to it, the whole car full of clothes. The women laughing and cheerful. From then on it's been a never ending party over there."

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