Shannen Doherty At The Formosa Cafe
By Rodger Jacobs
Paul was fifteen minutes into his conversation with the beautiful young stranger on the bar stool next to him when he suddenly knew why she looked so familiar. She was a television actress.
“What did the park rangers say?” Her voice was husky and flavored with amber and reminded Paul of the Wild Turkey on the rocks in front of him. If Shannen Doherty was a drink, Paul thought, she would be whiskey. Almost as soon as the thought entered his brain Paul mentally kicked himself for coming up with something so trite and stupid, not even worth jotting down in the small wirebound notebook he kept in the breast pocket of his sport coast at all times. No wonder he hadn’t sold a script in years.
“The park ranger said it was against all odds. The weather was calm but the tree was diseased.”
The raven-haired actress shook her head sadly and stared into her mimosa. It was three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. The famous restaurant and bar on Santa Monica Boulevard - with it’s dark interior and noir flourishes spilling over everything like hard lacquered memories refusing to die – was barely breathing. The doe-eyed bartender had nothing to do but wash and stack dishes. An elderly couple sat close to one another in a corner booth and wordlessly grazed on Cobb salads. Paul guessed that they had been patrons since the 40s or 50s when the dive played host to the likes of Bogart and Errol Flynn and Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, all of them gone now. Gone and in the ground, like his 7-year-old boy, killed in one of the freakiest of freak accidents. That’s what he had been talking to the young woman about when he realized she was Shannen Doherty.
“Sometimes things happen,” she offered, “that we’re not meant to question. I mean, they’re so strange and inconceivable that - ”
Paul cut in.
“There’s no point in asking the question when there is no operational answer.”
He was quoting Aldous Huxley and much to his astonishment she recognized the verse.
“Was that from ‘Ape and Essence’?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. You’ve read Huxley?”
She registered the surprised look on his face and smiled softly.
“I used to have, shall we say, a fondness for certain drugs. Not anymore but I used to.”
She flipped a strand of hair away from her forehead and Paul gazed into her eyes with what must have been pure lust. He remembered the tasteful nude layout she did for Playboy years ago. Now it was all he could do not to envision her sans her chic and stylish wardrobe.
“Huxley,” she was continuing when he regained control of his train of thought, “is one of those authors like Burrows that drug aficionados get into. You know, ‘Doors of Perception’ and all of that.”
Paul laughed, the first time he had laughed since the accident. “Drugs as a gateway to Huxley. That’s a fresh twist on an old adage.”
He wanted to get off the subject of his son’s death but the girl signaled the bartender for a refill, then turned to Paul and asked if he had been divorced long when it happened.
“Four years. I hadn’t seen my son in three of the four years.”
When the bartender retrieved her champagne glass for a refill, she asked him to freshen Paul’s drink as well.
“Then one day I got a card from my boy in the mail. Inside he had written, in that funny kind of little kid lettering, ‘Daddy, why don’t you love me anymore?’”
Paul grabbed the fresh glass of Wild Turkey and took a good swallow to bury the sorrow working it’s miserable way up his throat. Useless, useless emotions. He thought he saw a tear in the corner of his new friend’s right eye.
“After that I got back into his life. It was going well, a little spotty for awhile but well. Then he joined the Boy Scouts and there was this father-son weekend in the Angeles National Forest.”
What happened next was what the park ranger had described as “against all odds.” While Paul and his 7-year-old son slept in tents, a 40-foot coastal redwood, old and diseased, a goddamn tree that didn’t even belong this far inland from what Paul knew about trees, which wasn’t a lot but since the accident he’s read up on coastal redwoods with something resembling a fever, this old and diseased coastal redwood came uprooted without warning, without sound that anyone can recollect, killing the boy instantly and leaving Paul with a decided limp in his stride from a torn tendon and a life that he couldn’t make sense of or trust anymore.
“My wife used to watch your show all the time,” Paul said. “ ‘Beverly Hills 90210’. That one. Drove me crazy. A soap opera for teenagers, I always told her.”
Paul thought about pitching her the idea he had just kicked around a development exec’s office. It was the story of a blind gun for hire. He could easily retool the concept to make the character a woman. And then an avalanche of thoughts cascaded down upon him: what if his son’s death did have meaning? What if the trajectory of his grief led him here, to the Formosa, on this very bar stool on this very day to encounter Shannen Doherty who would be just the person to resurrect his flagging career.
A cell phone suddenly began chirping somewhere. Shannen fished through the soft linen bag on her lap. She spoke a few curt words into the phone then slipped it back into her bag and came back out with a $50 bill in her hand, which she slid across to the bartender.
“Gotta go.” When she stood Paul caught a vague scent of lavender and roses. She slipped her hand into his and shook it briskly. “Good luck to you.”
She started for the door. Paul watched her beautiful form become a silhouette against the harsh sunlight outside when she pulled open the door. She paused in mid-stride and just stood there for a long, lingering moment. Then she turned on her heels and walked purposefully back to where Paul was still perched on the barstool. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and offered him a quick embrace.
“I really mean that,” she said. “Good luck.”
© 2004, Rodger Jacobs
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