Hollywood Freak
A Short Story by Liz Varley
Written using the suggestion "Routine"
Originally featured on 04-13-2007
As part of our series "Things you can live without, but most people choose not to"

Arthur circles around again; this time the axles whinnying as he makes the last, tight turn before killing the engine. The sky is very bright blue as he looks up through the upper inches of his Corolla windshield. This isn’t his real car—he drives a 1972 Jaguar, a mint green one; he’s been working on it since dropping out of college six years ago, and now the engine purrs. It used to sputter and wheeze like his emphysema ridden grandfather, would spit up the same oily yellow liquid. He chose to drive his work car, the less recognizable one.

He starts up the car again and rolls forward into traffic, again getting confused with the automatic transmission, his hand lingering around between him and the passenger seat. The car goes around the blocks, completing a perfect square, and he looks at the hotel entrance as he slowly drives by, though now the sun is hitting the revolving doors and it is difficult for him to see inside. By the time he gets back to the Starbucks it is nearly full, the line crookedly winding along the white and purple tiled floor, each person tapping, heel pressing, head cocking or clamping down upon a cell phone; a little girl runs rings around the occupied tables, to wearily annoyed glances. There is a man on the street corner, shrugged up against a light pole, he talks on his phone, gesturing his hands around, and then looks around. There are people crossing the streets now, more hurriedly than earlier, and again Arthur puts the car into the traffic.

He takes the same turns, stays in the inside lane, begins to bite his fingernails. Where is she? He asks himself as he drives by the hotel again, this time his view obscured by a large black SUV at the valet desk. He feels himself getting angry with the driver as she dangles the key in front of the valet; when she speaks she opens her mouth very wide, as if no one would hear her otherwise. She is yelling at him, shaking her long index finger back and forth as she goes into the hotel. Out the regular door comes a woman, and Arthur leans forward, inadvertently setting off the horn. He ducks down now behind the wheel, but it isn’t her. It doesn’t even look like her, he berates himself, beginning his trip around the block again. The woman from the hotel, wearing a long black trench coat, glares at him, he can tell, from behind her sunglasses and flips her long black hair over her shoulder. Wait—Arthur thinks to himself, as he takes the first left, could that be her? Could that be her in a wig? He turns quickly but can only get a glimpse of her now. She’s wearing fur, he says out loud, feeling quick relief, Anna would never wear fur, because she’s for animal rights.

When he comes back the man on the corner is gone, replaced by a homeless man, taking up camp alongside an overflowing trash can; he holds up a sign telling of his misfortune, but everyone walking by has seen it a thousand times, and the man doesn’t register. A teenager walking by throws a banana peel into the trash can and misses, the homeless man picks it up, deposits it.

He thinks of the way Anna cuts her banana in half, and then into little pieces when she puts it in her oatmeal. She makes it from scratch, he remembers, because her mother did, and because after everything, she wanted to be a stay at home mom. She was applauded for this because the audience was mostly stay at home moms. It was a complement for them, to see someone who had everything they wanted to want what they had instead. She told them all how she made her breakfast, what her favorite movies were, and it was like hearing about the discovery of a new planet.

Intermittent throngs of business casual suited people flow through the crosswalk and Arthur waits somewhat impatiently for the break, to squeeze his car through. A woman waves him on and he goes, almost hitting a biker. He is beginning to feel strain across his upper back from his shoulders being so drawn up, he presses them down and goes back around to the hotel, this time pulling up behind a dented in mini-van only a half block or so before the rotary entrance.

It is almost eight now, and she had to be on set by nine. She needs to eat breakfast before then, unless she is getting room service. He thought of the first time he met her, in the lobby of the Hilton in Pittsburgh, where he was covering some story he couldn’t remember, something about a youth program that turned out to be a gang, though he couldn’t recall the details. The entire trip boiled down to the five minute conversation with Anna at the concierge, her wearing those simple pearls and hair wound up loosely at her neck. Everything he said was so clever, he thought, and so original. She was impressed that he was a journalist.

“I always wanted to be a writer,” she told him, and looked off dreamily into the distance.

“Are you ever in the Portland area?” he asked as she was leaving, being ushered into a waiting car by a man with a squared moustache and heeled leather shoes.

“My next movie is being filmed there, how funny! Maybe we’ll run into each other,” she said, and Arthur laughed. Maybe, he thought to himself, watching her duck down into the car.

He saw her in People magazine when he was waiting in line at Fred Meyer a month or so later, taking out the trash from her million-dollar mansion. His heart fluttered at this humility, at the normalcy of it. The week after that she was carrying a bag of groceries and a to go coffee cup, and then she was at a café with Natalie Portman. They were both leaned back laughing, and Arthur wanted desperately to be in on the joke. He imagined himself a the table, in his casual clothes, not caring whether or not he was impressing anyone, drinking sparkling water and eating a Waldorf salad, existing in between the breath and the jokes and the stunning smiles of these women. He didn’t believe in fate, but he believed in making things happen, and he was going to make this happen—he was going to see Anna again.

He had waited ten minutes, and the doorman had spotted him. Their meeting had to be incidental; she couldn’t see him waiting there. It had to be fate. Fate was something Anna believed in wholeheartedly, she had said so on Oprah a month ago, and Oprah nodded fiercely, to Anna and then to the audience, and then the audience nodded as well, sealing up the moment. Everything Anna said was so simple, but so wise. She was like a Hollywood sage.

He makes the trip around again, telling himself that the next time he pulls up to the hotel, she will be there, waiting in her heels and her perfect skirt and hair and he will walk by, at first not noticing her, and then turn back around.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” he will ask, making a face like he is trying to place her within his own memories.

“Maybe you’ve seen my movies?” Anna will say, flash a smile, and then look harder, to be considerate.

“Wait, no, I met you in Pittsburgh,” Arthur thinks, the scene playing in his mind while the homeless man converses with a deliveryman. The deliveryman has a dolly full stocked up high with boxes of lettuce, and is shaking his head.

Then he will ask her to dinner, at the best place he can think of—she loves fish fry, he learned, from Entertainment Weekly, and he knows just where to go. He feels like laughing, it seems so simple. She’ll fall for it so easily, he thinks, but then retracts the thought. It’s not a trick, it’s just taking being smart, doing the research and reaping the benefits. He never stalked her or anything, he comforts himself, and all the information he knows anyone could know.

At eight forty five he crawls back into the lane, taking the turn again past the corner of the Starbucks, the boutique full of smiley faced mannequins, the overpriced delicatessen. The hotel entrance is bustling now, men and women greeting each other, jumping into waiting cars, drinking coffees and the latest energy drinks. The doorman spots him again and his heart begins to quicken. It’s ten to nine and there’s not enough time to circle around again, but he can’t have the doorman warning Anna about the man in the blue Corolla who’s been hanging around. What would she think of him then? She would know it was planned, and she would certainly not accept an invitation to dinner. The SUV woman comes out again and begins speaking with the doorman, swinging her oversized black purse back and forth, her thin frame teetering on the highest heels Arthur has ever seen.

As his eyes roll he spots a woman coming towards him in the rear view mirror. He freezes, debates whether to look in the mirror again, get a glimpse of her face, or to get out of the car and take his chances. If it isn’t her, he can just walk into the lobby, maybe pretend to use the front desk phone, though no one does that anymore, not with everyone having cell phones.

He looks again. It is her. Dressed in bright blue and pulling a little white dog behind her, eyes looking tired. It’s two minutes to nine, which means she will be leaving for the set soon. Arthur pulls on the door handle, feel his limbs turning to jelly. His hands are shaking, so he puts them in his pockets; they are only feet apart now, and the little dog is eyeing him curiously. They are in step on the sidewalk now, nearly brushing hands and she isn’t looking at, as if she doesn’t notice his presence at all. He clears his throat—nothing, but then, thankfully, the dog starts barking.

Anna looks up suddenly, right into his eyes, like she has just now awaken from a dream.

“Tommy, shush!” she says to the dog, and then smiles at Arthur. She comes to a stop unexpectedly and grabs his arm.

“Arthur!” she almost yells, her eyes instantly alive. He takes a step back, his back heel almost slipping off the sidewalk. The dog continues to yip and Anna ignores it, pulling Arthur in closer to her. He glances over at the doorman who is still taken up with the SUV woman, he is nodding and attempting to speak, she is cutting him off.

“You remember me?” Arthur asks, the words escaping his dry throat as a whisper. Anna laughs.

“Remember you?” she repeats, shaking her head and again pulling on the dog leash. The dog is barking so loudly the energy drinkers are now looking over.

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you,” she says, and Arthur swallows hard.

“There was just something about you,” she continues, not seeming to be conscious of the attention they are attracting. The SUV woman is now gawking at them, having given up her fight with the doorman.

“I tried to find you later, when I came back, but they said you’d checked out, and they didn’t have your number. I asked everyone I know in Portland about you, but got nothing. And here you are!” She almost squealed this last part and Arthur could do nothing but let his mouth hang open.

“It’s fate!” she proclaimed, wrapping her arms around him, and as she did he breathed in deep, trying desperately to make sense of her words, to get back in control, but what was this? He wanted dinner and drinks, not all this. She smelled of cigarettes and something else he couldn’t place; she was squeezing harder, so her could feel her arms bones pressing into his back and his nose was pressed into her overflowing hair.

“Anna,” he says, attempting to break free from her grip. She looks up at him.

“This isn’t fate,” he says, feeling now an intense urge to be back in the Corolla, “it’s just a coincidence. The city isn’t really that big, you know. And I’ve really got to be going, I’ve got a story due that I’ve been putting off, and you know how it is…” he trails off and Anna drops her arms from his.

“Well, we should at least get together for dinner,” she says, her face screwing up as her eyes glaze over. Arthur panics at the thought of Anna crying, he can only imagine what it would look like.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and jogs back to the car. Now it is her mouth that is agape.

“Just a drink?” she says in a small voice, and he shakes his head, closing the door and shoving the key into the ignition. She is walking towards the car as he speeds off, feeling the hot glances of those standing outside the hotel as he drives off.

“Jesus,” he says to himself, switching on the radio, “who knew she was such a freak!”

Read More By Liz Varley

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