The Incandescent Valley
“That Capitalism is a prison for most of us. Everyone should have access to the same basic necessities of life… For free.”
It was more than just a scoff scraping against his half beating heart like Flintstone flint on steel. It was an incantation of dehumanization. There they were, down in the incandescent valley of the broken, the spires of architects piercing the yellow cast, two cups of cooling coffee on a table at a red booth by a big window looking out upon the stepless street of shapes moving toward the bridge that crosses over to another place and time. The people there just floated.
Slowly he breathes. Her eyes are gazing down toward hell as she thinks, a glossy fingernail of race car red rhythmically tapping against the rim of her cup stained with the same mouth of scathing rebuke. “I don’t even know what to say,” she finally said, looking at him with those candle flame-colored eyes. “What were you thinking?”
There was a globule of chattering that floated in the air. Someone cackled like a witch. Everything suddenly seemed louder. Everything hurt more and more and more. “You don’t understand psychological torture, that’s all,” he said to her.
“You never make any sense,” she replied. “I can’t take it anymore. I need something better… Someone better. Someone who doesn’t shoplift.”
A city bus paused on the street outside the window. It looked like a white whale splattered with nonsense advertising. He sarcastically thought, I’m surprised humans haven’t come to that: Billboards stapled to wild animals… Imagine the revenue we could generate from a safari!!
He watched with painful disinterest as people got off, people got on. The bus lurched off, leaving a cloud of prosperity in its wake. He could almost taste the diesel in the next sip of his coffee. “It wasn’t shoplifting… I was making a statement.”
She parted her full mouth in disbelief. “A statement? What statement? Hey world, look at me. I’m an idiot.“
“That Capitalism is a prison for most of us. Everyone should have access to the same basic necessities of life… For free. It’s called sharing with and helping your fellow man for the good of all people. Not just for the good of the rich and the elite.”
“That’s not the way the world works, Lant. It just isn’t. You’ll just have to accept it and live with it like the rest of us.”
Lant started to imitate a sheep. “Baaaaa, Baaaaa.”
“Are you seriously doing that right now… In public?”
“Yes, Grace. I am.” Again, he made the sheep noise, but this time much louder. “Baaaaa! Baaaaa!”
Her eyes widened and she clenched her jaw. “Stop it!” she hissed through an exuberant whisper. “People are starting to stare at us.”
“So,” Lant said, and he lifted his cup of coffee to his mouth and took a sip. “I don’t care what other people think.”
“Well, I do!”
Lant chuckled, and then started imitating a cat. “Meowww, Meowww.”
“You have some serious problems… And you wonder why I’m breaking up with you.”
“Really, Grace? The reason you’re breaking up with me is to be with that beach bum boyfriend of yours.”
“He’s far from a bum,” Grace let it be known. “He’s an architect… A very rich and handsome architect. He lives in Malibu. The view of the ocean is orgasmic.”
Lant made a mocking noise and turned away to look out the window and dream of a better world.
“I’m sorry,” Grace began. “What is it you do again? Hmm. Let me think… Oh yeah. You work at a convenience store.”
Lant turned back to look at her as if she had eaten his first born. If he had a first born. “It’s not just any convenience store… It’s Pump n’ Jump.”
Grace laughed out loud, the force of it tossing her 90s Laura Dern hair into the diner’s butter-laden air. “Pump a Lump is more like it.”
“You’re just jealous,” Lant said to her.
The shadowy waitress brought the check and Grace dug in her purse for some cash and threw it down on top of the small rectangular shaped piece of paper colored light green and white with red numbers printed on it. “I’ll take care of this. Because, well, you know. You make like six dollars an hour.”
Lant soured. “I’ll have you know I’ll be eligible for a substantial increase in a year.”
Grace laughed again and started to work herself out of the booth. “Right.” She stood, slung her purse over her shoulder and looked down at him one last time. “Well, I guess this is it,” she rattled like a snake with a six-shooter for a tail. “Goodbye, Lant. It’s been… It hasn’t been much at all.”
He watched her as she left the diner and stood outside on the sidewalk. She had her cell phone against the side of her head now and was smiling and laughing while she spoke with gusto. The Saint of Everything on the other end was just leaving his office in downtown Los Angeles. It would be a while. The traffic. The congestion. All that battered heart failure leeching out of the asphalt. Grace and her Ken doll architect were planning to rendezvous at their favorite hotel for lava-like hot love… Island lava. Spewing lava. Lava that burned. And when done they would bask in the afterglow of the incandescent valley and reality would be selfish and all nonsense to them.
Lant enjoyed the view through the diner window as she balanced herself on the curb. She wasn’t paying attention to anything, he thought. And he knew something bad would come to her, and he almost felt sad. His eyes narrowed as she stepped into the busy street to get to her car parked on the opposite curb. Then Lant heard the screech, the thud, the screams… And for a moment he saw Grace floating in the air like some broken angel across the pale of the City of Angels, the coffin keepers of the incandescent valley ready and waiting with the padded lids wide open and singing welcoming hymns of a spiraled Heaven.