Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 20: disturbing

In our previous episode, our hero Buddy Best found himself talking on the telephone to none other than Cordelia, the daughter of the dreaded Ancient Mariner, the man who stole Buddy’s wife away...

(Those who have arrived late to the party may click here to go to the first chapter of this “this hard-hitting melodrama of the lurid lower depths of La-la Land” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Reader’s Digest.)

A slight pause. Then --

“So, how are you?” said Buddy. “Make any cheese puffs lately?”

“No.”

“Okay,” he said. “So, um, uh, is your father --“

“They’re still in France. In Brittany.”

“Right. Good old Bretagne. In his little, uh, whatchamacallit --"

“-- chaumière.

“Right.”

“By the sea. That he goes to every year.”

“Yeah. With the well.”

“Except he couldn’t get the chaumière this early so they’re staying in a hotel.”

“Oh. Well, I, uh, hope it’s a quaint hotel.”

“Oh, you can be sure of that,” she said, and Buddy was just about to say, well, okay, nice talking to you, when she suddenly said, “How are you?”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

“Um, I’m okay --”

“Good,” she said, sounding pensive. And then even more pensively, or maybe just psychotically, “Good.”

“Well, uh --“

“Yes?”

“Um -- well, when they get back, uh, just tell ‘em I called.”

“Right. I sure will.”

“Okay -- so --”

“Mr. Best --”

“Yeah?”

“Listen, I’m sorry if I was weird that night at my father’s party, but I wasn’t having a very good time at all, and plus I felt a little weirded-out talking to you --”

“Weirded-out? Why? I’m a nice guy.”

“I know, but it was just, just --”

“Oh.”

“Just --”

“Because you knew about my wife and your father?”

“Yeah. It was -- weird,” she said, the weird sliding up and down over two syllables.

“Yeah, well --”

Stop it!” she yelled.

“Stop what?”

“Sorry, I was talking to the stupid cat. He was scratching the sofa.”

“Oh.”

“I should just let him scratch it. I hate this house.” Pause. “I suppose you hate it too.”

“I -- don’t know that I hate it,” said Buddy.

“You don’t live here.”

“That’s true.” He could hear her breathing. “Well -- look, uh --” what was her name -- “Cordelia -- I’ll, uh --”

He ran out of words, and she also said nothing. He hadn’t really thought about her since that night of the Mariner’s party -- he was remembering her serious face with those big dark eyes, and that odd feeling of familiarity, and now he was having some sort of déja vu, except he didn’t know exactly what he was déja vu-ing --

“What are you doing?” she said.

“Doing?” Déja vu-ing? “Right now? Besides talking to you?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Just sitting here by my pool, drinking a beer.”

“Cool. You have a pool.”

“Yeah, it’s nice.”

“Do you swim in it much?”

“Well, not as much as I should. But I try.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah. Just trying to hold off the inevitable.”

“What’s that?”

“Decrepitude. Senility. Death.”

“That’s -- great,” she said.

“Uh-huh. What are you doing?” said Buddy.

“I was reading.”

“Great. What are you reading?”

What Maisie Knew? By Henry James?”

“Ah, good old Henry,” said Buddy. “Hank the Tank.”

“Do you like him?”

“Well, I never actually got around to reading any of his books --”

“I like them.”

“Great.”

A slight pause.

“Isn’t it weird how people always say everything is great all the time?” she said.

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “It’s great.” She didn’t laugh. “Okay, so --”

“Yeah.”

“All right --”

“Wait.”

“Pardon me?”

“Wait,” she said.

“Okay.”

He waited, sitting there in his damp bathing trunks, holding the phone to his ear. Ming had gotten out and was stalking through the newly trimmed-down garden. Buddy became aware of the humming of the freeway, the humming which of course was always there more or less, unless traffic was completely jammed up, in which case other sounds --

“Okay, sorry,” she said. “Never mind.”

“Sure.”

“You think I’m weird.”

“Not at all.”

“Yes you do.”

“Well, yeah. But that’s okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“Okay. Well -- I’ll tell them you called, when I hear from them.”

“Gr- good. So -- you don’t know when they’re getting back?”

“No. My father likes to keep things mysterious.”

“Right. Well --”

“Okay, then,” she said.

“I’ll see ya.”

“’Bye,” she said.

“‘Bye,” he said, but she’d already hung up.

Buddy pressed the off button, and stared at the pool water.

The phone rang again, and this time Buddy had a feeling it really was the weirdo who’d called earlier.

“Hello,” he said, coldly, ready to rip the creep a new asshole.

“It’s me,” she said. “Cordelia. Sorry.”

“Oh. Hi. What’s up?”

“Listen --”

He listened. To the sound of her breathing?

The freeway hummed like -- a freeway?

“There’s something I would like to talk to you about,” she said.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, go right ahead.” She didn’t go right ahead. “Cordelia?”

“I don’t know if I can get into this on the phone,” she said.

“Afraid the lines are tapped?”

“No.”

“Is it something about Joan and your father?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Oh, forget it.”

“Well, okay.”

Another pause, and then, very quickly:

“Are you free for dinner tonight?” she said. And then, right away, “Oh, what am I saying, you don’t want to have dinner with me. But maybe we could meet for some coffee, or, I mean, if you’d like to have some coffee. Or -- a drink? Or --”

“Oh, dinner would be cool,” Buddy heard himself saying.

“Are you sure?”

“Uh, yeah --”

“’Cause we don’t have to.”

“Well, that’s true.”

“So, would you rather just meet for a drink, or a --”

“Well, no, as I said, dinner would be fine.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Well, only if you’re sure.”

Buddy was getting less sure but he said he was definitely sure.

"I’ll pay my own way,” she said. “I mean, we could eat somewhere cheap -- or -- oh, but you probably like nice places. I mean, not-cheap places.”

“Actually, I prefer cheap places.”

“Really?”

"Yeah. I mean, fancy restaurants, sometimes the food’s pretty good, but the over-all experience, you know, you just feel a little -- sullied, somehow. Or at least I do."

“Oh.”

“So where ya wanta go?”

“I don’t know. I hardly ever go out to dinner. We could go someplace near where you live. You’re in Hollywood, right? I mean it’s my idea, so -- but then, if you didn’t want to -- or -- I mean if there’s some place you --“

Buddy suspected that this was one of those conversational threads that could easily go on for hours, so he said:

“Okay, right off the top of your head, what’s your favorite type of food?”

“Chinese?”

“Okay --”

“No, French. No. Italian?”

“Cool --”

“Italian.”

“Okay, great. I mean, good.” Right down the street from Buddy’s house there was Mama Maria’s, which was simple and reasonable and also very good, and he really liked it there, but he found himself saying, “There’s this place called Locanda Luigi I haven’t been to in a while.”

“Oh -- but that’s expensive isn’t it? I mean, I’ve never been there, but --”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s on me.”

“Oh, no --“

“Okay, look, you know your way around Hollywood?”

“Well, sort of --“

He told her where the joint was, and after only a little more nonsense he was able to press the button. He sat there finishing his beer and thinking about it all and then Deirdre came out of the house with what must have been her friend Trish. They both carried backpacks slung over one shoulder, and they both wore shorts and skimpy tops, which seemed okay for Deirdre but a little disturbing in Trish’s case, who looked like a small but fully-developed and slightly world-weary twenty-four-year-old.

“Oh, there you are, Uncle Bud. Uncle Buddy, Trish and I are gonna lay out and do homework now, and then we thought later we could watch movies.”

“Okay, great,” said Buddy. “I mean good.”

“Good but not great?”

“Hi, Mr. Best.”

Jarringly she had a sixteen-year-old voice.

“Hi, Trish. So, your parents know you’re here, right, Trish?”

“My mom does.”

“Trish’s parents are divorced, Uncle Buddy.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Do you want us to make dinner for you?”

“No, I’ll be going out, sweety. You guys want take-out, I’ll spring for it.”

“Sure,” said Deirdre.

“Sure,” said Trish.

“Okay, I’ll leave some bread on the kitchen table for you.”

“You rock, Uncle Buddy.”

“Oh yeah.”

Buddy got up and went into the house, successfully combating the urge to look back at Trish.

(Continued here, on the off chance that a plot might develop.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a perhaps up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, a Jonathan Shields Production.)

7 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

Great dialog: repetitive like real life, but not boring like real life. Then, too, whenever someone yells, "Stop that!" into the phone meaning the cat, you know the plot is racing subversively all around, binding you tight.

PS. I was under the impression Janis Joplin was unattractive. She looks fine here. If only she had hired David Bowie's make-up artist...But then I've heard men rave about Patti Smith's sexiness--big mystery to me.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Kathleen -- your first sentence made me smile.

Goodtime Samaritan said...

Methinks I sense a plot development!

Dan Leo said...

We can only hope.

Bald Samson said...

Female trouble!

Manny said...

phone conversations are so mysterious. You have to read the other person invisibly. But Buddy seems up to the task.

Dan Leo said...

Manny, there are people for whom the phone is a practical instrument of communication, and then there are the other sort, and I think Cordelia falls into that camp, those for whom the telephone is a means of plumbing the depths of the human soul...