Martha hummed to herself as she pushed her shopping cart along Hollywood Boulevard. She had just found an entire cheese pizza in the trash behind Dominic’s Pizza Place and it was still hot! Must’ve been too well done for one of its snooty customers. Just because it was a little burnt around the edge, that didn’t hurt nothin’. She could hardly wait to get back to her place and eat it while reading yesterday’s sports page that she had found in the same trash bin. No one had discovered her little room at the abandoned car wash yet and if she was careful sneaking in and out, she could very well have her cozy hideaway for many more months to come. A hand on her shoulder broke her concentration.
“Hey, Martha, when you comin’ up again?”
It was that nice boy, Josh, who didn’t know how to care for his plants properly. With animals, he was a wonder. He could nurse any hurt animal back to health, but plants turned brown and died at the very sight of him. He was lucky she was willing to help him out.
“I’ve been very busy lately. You’re not my only customer, you know.”
“You’ve got to help me out, Martha. They can’t survive much longer without you.”
The poor boy was desperate. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of bills. “Maybe tomorrow?”
She drummed her fingers on the handle of the shopping cart and considered his request.
“You’re the only thing that keeps them alive, Martha.”
She grabbed the bills and put them safely in her blouse pocket, underneath her coat and her sweater. She shoved off down the street and he yelled after her.
She waved without looking back. “I’ll be there!”
Josh watched the old lady make her way across the street to whatever hovel she was living in now. Her clothes were nothing but rags and her brain had to have been pickled in vodka long ago, but something kept her going—pride, stubbornness…he had no idea. He just knew he wanted to help the poor old broad stay alive since, for whatever reason, that’s what she wanted to do.
Martha was ecstatic. Now she would be able to buy some beer to have with her pizza! Pizza and beer—nothing like it. It reminded her of happy times long ago, with somebody, somewhere…but never mind that. Better not to wallow through hazy memories and come up with things that would only depress her. Tonight, it was pizza and beer and the sports pages. Yesterday didn’t matter and she didn’t have to think about tomorrow till it came.
Josh slammed through the door and flopped down on the couch, barely aware of the piles of sheet music and scraps of lyric scribblings that littered the floor and the couch and were crushed by the weight of his body. He was not entirely oblivious to the labyrinth of litter that passed for a two-bedroom apartment. Once, a long time ago, he had considered cleaning it up and trying to keep it that way, but considering his steady stream of temporary visitors, what was the point?
“Hey, Gilbert, come out here!”
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a grey and white bundle of fur bounded out of the bedroom and made himself at home on Josh’s chest. He looked at the mountain lion cub accusingly. “What have you done with Susie? Did you take another bite outa her?” He laughed as Gilbert covered his face with kisses. “I don’t smell feathers on your breath. You two staying apart, like I told you?”
On cue, the cockatoo landed on the arm of the couch beside his head in perfectly good health. “Guess you been behaving yourself, Gil.”
He took his cell phone out of his shirt pocket and, before listening to his messages, examined the healing cut on Gilbert’s leg. “I hate to tell you this buddy, but you’re getting too healthy to stay around here much longer.” He dialed up his voice mail and a woman’s voice reminded him, “Gower Towing calling again, Josh. We’d like your payment before we have to send the bill to a collection agency. Please call.” It was great how having money in your pocket could make even a bill collector’s voice sound friendly. He’d stopped by Stan’s bungalow that morning to update him on Lila’s progress and Stan had handed him an envelope with five hundred dollars in it. “Make it work, pal. Make my life easier.” Josh assured him he would and took himself and his money out of there, hoping against hope he wasn’t lying.
The next voice hit him like a punch in the solar plexus. “I’m working on one of Julie’s songs, Josh. I think you’re going to be proud of me.” He closed his eyes and indulged himself in the pleasure of remembering the softness of Lila’s lips on his cheek. The memory started the juices flowing and his mind racing with possibilities. Her wedding ring obviously didn’t mean a hell of a lot to her and just the sound of her voice tempted him to forget all his good intentions. But no way was he going to self-destruct this time, no way. Not for Lila, not for anybody.
He looked at the landline phone, saw that the message light wasn’t blinking, and scooted forward on the couch. “Excuse me, guys.” He lifted Gilbert off his lap and headed for the bathroom. He hoped that the Department of Water and Power hadn’t made good on its threat, because right now the only thing that could cool down his fiery imagination was a cold shower.
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