Read Camelot & Vine Online

Authors: Petrea Burchard

Tags: #hollywood, #king arthur, #camelot, #arthurian legend, #arthurian, #arthurian knights, #arthurian britain, #arthurian fiction, #arthurian fantasy, #hollywood actor, #arthurian myth, #hollywood and vine, #cadbury hill

Camelot & Vine (3 page)

 

 

 

 

THREE

 

The hangover that followed me through
customs and into Heathrow’s Terminal Five came with nausea and a
pounding headache. I squinted at the overhead signs. A huge clock
read 11:30. It felt like night, but sunlight filtered through the
windows and blared the morning news. I followed the crowd to the
exit and stepped outside to gulp the relatively fresh air. Overcast
but warm, with a touch of exhaust.

Now what? I should make a call, let someone
know where I was. Not Mike. Not Mother.

I dug in the purse for my mobile phone and
soon discovered I didn’t have service in England. I remembered a
bank of pay phones in the terminal and stepped back inside, only to
find my American coins were useless in them. My brain was barely
functional, but I finally figured out how to dial my agent using a
credit card. I had no idea what time it was in Los Angeles and I
was relieved to get her voice mail as opposed to her actual
voice.

“Hi Liz, it’s Casey. I had to fly to
London...for a family emergency. I don’t know how long I’ll be
gone. A few weeks maybe. I’ll call as soon as I get back.” I hung
up. I couldn’t bring myself to mention I’d lost the
Gone!
gig. She probably already knew.

It didn’t matter. Liz didn’t need me. Nobody
needed me. Not Liz, not Mike, not Mother, not Hollywood. Exhausted
and unable to think, I slumped against the phone booth, my brain
the mental equivalent of four empty plastic scotch tumblers and an
untouched tray of airline pasta.

I had no one else to call. Nobody needed me.
I had constructed my life to make certain of it. I’d remained aloof
in acting class, been too cool to give my phone number to people I
met on the set. I hadn’t wanted the complications of being nice. I
had made acquaintances, not friends.

No one cared where I was. In England I had
no phone number or address. I could die and no one would know. The
possibilities were endless.

 

-----

 

Adjacent to the phone bank stood a tourist
information booth. A pimpled girl in a drab uniform slouched behind
the counter. I thumbed through a dumbfounding array of brochures,
without the slightest inkling of which charming spot to choose for
my quiet stay in Olde England.

A handsome man with wavy blond hair reached
for a brochure, bumping into me without excusing himself. He
reminded me of Mike. When I moved out of his way I saw a travel
brochure tucked in a slot at the side of the booth. It showed a
photo of an ancient stone ruin overlooking a sunny, windswept sea.
“Tour King Arthur’s Britain,” said the medieval lettering.

“Excuse me,” I said to the counter girl.
“Where can I get a King Arthur tour?”

She shrugged. “Anywhere.”

“How about a place where tourists don’t
go?”

That made her giggle.

“Really,” I said.

“You mean like...Slough?”

That got a laugh from the rude man, who
found his train schedule and breezed away.

“I don’t know. I mean a pretty village. With
cottages. A bed and breakfast. Someplace with not a lot going
on.”

“Sounds like where my auntie lives.”

“All right.”

The girl frowned. “They don’t have a cinema.
They don’t even have a Starbucks.”

“Perfect.”

She cocked her chin, like someone who’s
about to say “I told you so” while they tell you so. “You’ll have
to alight at Salisbury and take a taxi because the bus doesn’t go
to Small Common.” She gathered brochures for me and put them in a
paper bag. “It’s the only village within miles of Stonehenge that
doesn’t cater to tourists.”

That sounded like a slogan to me. I thanked
her profusely, stuffed the brochures into my purse and shuffled off
to the restroom.

The sight in the mirror sobered me, though
it did nothing to improve my headache. My hair was stiff with
hairspray from the previous day’s shoot, and it had formed itself
into a square where I’d slept on it. My jeans felt slimy and my
T-shirt hung on me as though I’d fought with it during the flight,
which I probably had. I’d never bothered to wipe off yesterday’s
makeup. Tears and mascara had painted gaudy streaks across my face.
I’d been in public. People had seen me.

I shoved the purse onto the floor between my
feet. Ignoring the glances of more put-together travelers, I washed
my face and hair in the sink with dispenser soap. Still dripping, I
dragged myself into a stall, locked the door, hung my purse on the
hook and cried while I peed.

 

-----

 

Blue-black clouds rumbled over Salisbury,
like dust kicked up by galloping, skyborne horses. I loped off the
train and followed the tourist traffic along a main road that led
into a warren of narrow, cobbled streets. Salisbury had everything:
stationers, bakeries, souvenir shops and name brand stores, the
latter being at least expedient if not quaint. At a chain store I
bought a gray, hooded sweater—acrylic, because wool itches. The
loose knit resembled chain mail, which I thought charmingly
appropriate. I bought the matching cargo pants, too. It was the
secret, interior Velcro front pocket that sold me. With pockets in
front, back, and even on the legs I might never have to lug that
lime green horror again.

A belted pack would relieve me of the purse
entirely. It wasn’t exactly a fashion accessory, but that no longer
mattered. Nobody knew me and I was rabid to be free of things that
weighed on me. When I asked for a fanny pack the store clerk
appeared to be either confused or insulted. She pursed her lips as
though she smelled something offensive and said, “Bum bag,”
instructing me in the proper terminology in the same way she might
correct an irritating four-year-old.

Loaded with shopping bags, I retraced my
steps along the cobbled streets to the queue of taxis at the train
station. Trotting to beat the rain, I cursed myself for not buying
an umbrella. But the day was ending, I was hungry, and I needed to
get a room.

Two cabbies chatted at the head of the line.
Their eyebrows arched to their hairlines when I asked for a ride to
Small Common.

“Alex’ll go,” said the bald one.

“Got relatives there?” asked Alex. He
stroked his clean-shaven double chin with his thumb.

“No, just looking for a quiet place.”

“Small Common’s quiet all right,” he said,
sizing me up with beady eyes.

“My money’s on North Tidworth for quiet.”
The bald man scratched his pate. “It’s positively tedious.”

“Winterbourne Dauntsey’s a bit dull as
well,” said Alex.

They both nodded, considering the dullness
of Winterbourne Dauntsey.

At last the bald man folded his arms across
his chest, and with a definitive lift of his chin, proclaimed,
“Middle Wallop.”

“Ah!” said Alex, shaking his fists. “You
win.”

 

-----

 

In Alex’s rickety cab I dozed to the steady
rhythm of the windshield wipers, snapping awake when the car
slowed. "Are we here?"

"Amesbury. Only just a corner of it, then
I'll have us on the highway again."

I sat back and watched the impossible green.
After years of southern California's dry climate it was a shock to
see all that water flying around, as if it didn't know where to go.
The cab picked up speed for a few minutes, slowing again when we
caught up to traffic.

"There it is," said Alex, jabbing his thumb
at the driver's side window.

I scooted across the seat to wipe the fog
from the window behind him. I couldn't make out what he meant so I
let the window down, allowing in a few raindrops. Then I drew in a
breath that I didn't let out.

I hadn’t expected to see Stonehenge
squatting alongside the highway like a roadside zoo. My image had
been of proud stones standing aloof on the wide, open plain. But
like captive animals on display, the stones did not stand so much
as hulk. With umbrellas open against the rain, well-behaved
tourists filed past them on roped-off walkways. I closed my window.
The windshield wipers beat fast and steady.

“Going to be a full moon tonight if it
clears up,” said Alex. “The loonies are out. Want to stop while
it’s light?”

“No thanks.”

“You have to see Stonehenge while you’re
here.”

“I’ll wait for a day when it’s not so
busy.”

“No such day,” he said.

Alex soon turned north, delivering us from
the main highway to the quiet countryside via a twisted, two-lane
road lined with farmland. The entire drive from Salisbury to Small
Common, even through the Stonehenge traffic, took a little over
half an hour. By the time we arrived in the village the rain had
stopped, and late-day sun broke through the clouds. Golden drops
glistened on every drooping rose petal and thatched roof. A mist
hovered above the lane like steam on a swimming pool when the
water’s warmer than the air. In my heart I thanked the brochure
girl and her auntie.

Alex rolled the taxi to a stop on the gravel
driveway in front of a two-story brick house that looked like it
might be haunted. “Suggestion for jet lag, if I may,” he said.

Apparently it was obvious. “Sure.”

“Stay awake until a normal hour tonight,
say, ten o’clock. Then don’t sleep more than eight hours. You’ll be
on local time quick.”

“I’ll try.” I didn’t question why Alex
should be an expert on jet lag. I only doubted I could stay awake
much longer, and I had no idea what time it was. Although my
headache persisted, the nausea was gone. My stomach’s growl had
progressed to a roar.

Alex retrieved my bags from the trunk. I
paid him the exorbitant sum he requested and tipped him ten
percent.

“Coo,” he said under his breath. Or
something like that. “Full moon.” He tucked himself behind the
wheel and drove off in the direction from which we’d come.

I gazed up at the house, which leaned a tad
sideways and managed to loom even in the sun. A sign propped
against the front steps said “Langhorne Bed and Breakfast.” I
dragged myself up the stone steps and knocked. When no answer came
I opened the creaking door and stepped into a dark, low-ceilinged
hallway. The faint smell of curry arrived at my nose, making my
mouth water. A Persian runner ran the length of a hardwood hallway
so dark it was almost black. Lugging my shopping bags, I followed
the banter of television news to a doorway at the end of the
hall.

“Hello?”

“Oh!” came the response, then a little crash
of dishes. “Ah, well.” A thin, fortyish man with dark eyes and
delicate features peeked out the door, dabbing a linen napkin at a
spot on his crisp, white shirt. “Hello. Do you need a room?”

“Yes.”

“Lucky you, I’ve got one.” His socks slid
across the floor. I followed him into a dining room wallpapered
with faded toile, where he gestured for me to sit at the huge
table.

“The attic room’s all I have. A hundred and
twenty quid if that suits you. Sorry you’ve missed dinner. Where’re
you from?”

“Los Angeles.” I tried to smile. I was too
proud to ask what a hundred and twenty quid might equal in dollars,
too tired to return his sociability. He ran my credit card through
a device attached to the wall phone. We waited for the beep. “How
long will you be staying...” he glanced at my card as he handed it
back, “...Ms. Clemens?”

“Uh, a week?”

“Lovely.” His smile was genuine, his teeth
naturally white. He extended his hand to shake. “I’m Ajay.”

“I’m Casey.”

“A pleasure. The loo’s one flight up. Your
room’s at the top of the second staircase.” He lifted a small,
old-fashioned brass key from a peg on the wall and gave it to me.
“Bags?”

“Just these.” I held up my shopping
bags.

“Oh.” His voice registered slight surprise,
but he didn’t pursue it.

 

-----

 

Outside my dormer window, the last of the
sun still gilded the rooftops. The peanuts I’d eaten on the plane
were long gone and I regretted skipping the pasta. Food would have
to come before sleep, even before a shower.

After more than twenty-four hours of stress,
my long-sleeved T-shirt was no longer white. I pulled the chain
mail sweater on over it and changed into my new cargo pants. Sick
of carrying my lime green albatross, I dumped its contents onto the
yellow coverlet of the single bed.

Lipstick, makeup, note pad, sunglasses, the
tissues the flight attendant had given me, a purse-sized container
of Vaseline, a plastic sample jar of ibuprofen and that grainy,
linty stuff that ends up at the bottoms of purses. Business cards
with my picture on them. Post cards with my picture on them: dyed
blonde hair, makeup and cheesy grin. I turned all the pictures face
down and dug through the pile for my wallet. Beneath the mess my
fingers found a plastic flashlight keychain with the
Gone!
lightning logo stamped on it in bright red. The keychain was a
giveaway premium, a trinket, a piece of junk forgotten in the
bowels of my purse. I clicked the end and the flashlight shone in
my eyes. Like a pinch, it served as a reminder of my misery. I
threw it into the tin trash can next to the little wooden desk by
the window.

I considered taking my iPod but decided
against it. I never used the thing for listening to music and
nobody was going to bug me. Passport, credit cards and cash went
into the fanny pack/bum bag (both misnomers for a small, black,
canvas pack I wore belted around my belly, for easy access). I
zipped it closed, clipped it around my waist and reached for the
glass doorknob.

At the last second I remembered the brass
room key by the lamp on the nightstand. The key was small, easy to
lose. The
Gone!
keychain would have to do. I had earned that
stupid keychain. I retrieved it from the trash, attached it to the
key and tucked it into the hidden Velcro pocket of my new
pants.

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