Going to the CVS in Malibu suddenly seems like a better idea than staying here at the CVS around the corner on La Cienega, where a woman in a dirty tank top and sandblasted jean shorts grasps at my arm with long, brownish nails and asks me for change. I dump a handful of quarters in her hand and take a lap around the store. Kids are everywhere. The pharmacist eyes me as I loiter in the allergy aisle. A little boy practices karate chops against his father’s backside, and I nearly run into him as he flails. I buy a Starbucks energy drink and bolt for my car.
Improbably, everything is making me giggle. I had woken up too early that morning, to find Cat #1 stretched out at my side, a regular little genius of ecstatic sleep, mimicking my own position perfectly, all lazy blinks and outstretched limbs. “Were you here, with me? All night?” He lifts his chin for me to scratch and then shudders, paws clasped over his face, like a kitten just waking up from the most delicious dream. Cat #2 yowls companionably from the floor. Somebody’s making coffee in the next room.
I consider my hangover, and then decide against it. Alka-Seltzer and sunshine will have to do. Let’s not even take a shower. The bedding crackles, stiff from activity, and I can almost smell it still — something like baby powder, maybe a little of my perfume, and good, strong sweat. I can’t sleep more. There’s things I need to do. I should drive.
PCH is thick, logey with bodies and machines: cars, trucks, bikers, tourists, surfers, motorcyclists, CalTrans vehicles spraying orange traffic cones, gravel and dust in all directions. Once I hit Malibu city limits, I see women briskly pushing strollers alongside residential enclaves that manage to be both neatly manicured and roughly sea-sprayed. The jogging mothers all wear practical sports bras, but their breasts (smaller than mine) still jostle busily against the fabric as they run. Yoga pants. Responsible footwear. Probably wearing a Fitbit, monitoring their steps, calories burned. You can’t ever see the babies, tucked away in cavernous strollers, inured against the low-hanging, cloud-thickened sun with layer upon layer of “child-safe” shade, plastic and fabric and mesh. I think, maniacally, of Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, and I giggle more. There is a distance in my head that is making everything funny, diffuse. Tiny bruises pock my knees but they don’t hurt, not yet.
A motorcyclist pulls behind me. I like watching the dudes on bikes because I always imagine they are probably some celebrity — Brad Pitt! Ewan McGregor! Ryan Gosling! — riding incognito through down the highways of Los Angeles. This one is wearing jeans, a short-sleeved white t-shirt and a balaclava patterned like a death’s head mask. Death! Yes! Here, now, riding behind me on the Pacific Coast Highway! I laugh, again.
I get to Zuma Beach in time to read 200 pages of my book. Hours pass before the sun starts getting too sticky to stay. I feel the prickle beginning at the back of my neck, my shoulders, and I remember, despite the magnum-strength sunblock I’ve applied, there’s always a spot to miss. You’re never safe. The red won’t creep in until later, but it’s coming. Nothing is safe! Death always rides behind! And the mommy joggers just ahead! I rub the back of my neck and laugh more.
Just before I leave, I walk straight out to the ocean. It’s a little rough. My feet sink into pebbles and jagged shell shards, not soft sand, but I let the surf slap at me anyway, like a test to see if I can keep my feet. Only every tenth wave rolls in with a perfectly cylindrical shape. The dad surfers are frustrated, give up. A kid, who looks to be about twelve, hovers near the edge of the water and flings handfuls of muck about with a beatific look on his face. I realize he’s probably autistic. I watch him for a long time before I put my book away and leave.
At the CVS in Malibu, sand still sticks to my calves, and my hair is a nightmare. The pharmacist is young and coltishly thin, with a sheet of fine blonde hair and a pinched, pretty face that looks Russian, maybe Eastern European? She’s flirting with a security guard and I detect a cadence that might be an accent. I wait for him to leave, then lean in, conspiratorially, to ask my question.
“Aisle 18. If we have it. It really flies off the shelves here.” We both chuckle a little. Women, solidarity, right? Right. It’s Sunday. “Here, let me see — “ She speaks softly, but moves quickly and I follow her.
“I feel like a college kid!” I guess I’m trying to be funny, but maybe she’s too young to get the joke. And then, “I mean. I’m younger — I mean, no — I’m older than I look! Much older!” She’s polite, not unsympathetic, but distant. I consider pulling out my driver’s license, to show her, but I remember it’s expired and my face in the picture is much wider than it is now, I lost all this weight cause I was sad for so long and now I always get worried cause I have to carry around this little piece of paper from the DMV to prove my renewal is on its way, but of course I put down the wrong address and so it’s not really on it’s way, and I’ll probably have to go to the DMV again and explain it to some super-capable lady who will look at me askance and I’ll have to use my softest voice and my biggest eyes and it’s like this dumb reminder of how terrible I am at being an adult.
“Ah. Yes. All gone.” She points to an empty shelf. “Maybe try the Ralph’s? Next door?”
Both the 20-year-old inside of me and the expired-license-self outside of me put our head in our hands and giggle more. Then we visit three more pharmacies. Finally, at the CVS on National and Sepulveda, the check-out lady rings me up, brusquely. She does look at me askance. I walk out with three coupons attached to my receipt: vitamins, hair dye, feminine products.
On the drive home, I look at my texts: “how’s…today?”
“Thank god it was you and not…” erase
“thank god I don’t have a heart you can break” NOPE
“the cat took care of me” nope just sad
“you’re fine we’re fine everything is fine let’s just laugh about this forever” I’m crazy now he’ll know
Finally, “It’s been an adventure, let’s say that.” Ellipses.
“You owe me $55 and a stiff drink.” I put the phone down. There’s a little bit of red creeping over the bridge of my nose. I’m sleepy. I know I’ll hear back. And I do.