Read Los Angeles Online

Authors: Peter Moore Smith

Los Angeles (5 page)

I said, “You have no idea how terrified I am.”

“Don’t take it off yet, whatever you do…” I felt her unbuttoning my shirt.

I backed away, uncertain. “Christ, what are you doing now?”

“Trust me, Angel. You said you trusted me. Remember?”

I resigned and let Angela remove my shirt. Then she started tugging at my pants.

“Are there people here?” I hissed. “Can anyone see this?”

“Do you hear anyone?”

I listened for a moment. There was nothing but a high-pitched wind and the distant sounds of traffic, and something… something
weird, like glass breaking far away.

“There’s no one,” she said. “Just us.”

“You promise?”

Now take off your sandals.”

I reached down and reluctantly slipped them off.

She unfastened the button of my pants, then unzipped the fly, pulling at the waist.

I stepped out of them, aware that I wore nothing now but a pair of gray boxers and I had no idea where I was or who might
be watching.

I asked.

“Hold on.” I heard the sound of her shoes being dropped, of her jeans slipping off, of her T-shirt being pulled roughly over
her head. “I want you to take one step forward.” She was somewhere behind me. “Step forward one small step at a time, Angel.
Can you do that?”

I did as she asked, hands reaching tentatively in front of me.

“One more step,” Angela said. “One more tiny… step.” I felt her nude body coming up directly behind mine. I felt her lips
against my ear, saying, “Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them, okay?”

I nodded, and she removed the belt from my eyes.

I had to fight the urge to open my lids, to see where I was.

Her lips were against my earlobe, and I could feel the wetness of her mouth.

“Ready,” I said back. But I almost didn’t want to. The darkness had suddenly become comforting.

“Open your eyes.”


There is a greater moment of adjustment for a person with eyes as pale as mine. The transition from dark to light takes several
seconds longer than it might for most people. In a normal human eye, the iris acts like a camera shutter, regulating the amount
of light passing through to the retina. As the amount of light diminishes, the iris dilator muscle pulls away from the center,
causing the pupil to dilate and allowing more light to reach the retina. When too much light enters the eye, the iris muscle
pulls toward the center, causing the pupil to constrict and allowing less light in. A person with albinism, however, has no
pigmentation in the iris. Normal pigmentation results in opacity, which blocks light; lack of pigmentation causes light to
scatter throughout the eye, which is called

That’s why I’m always blinking. I’m trying to regulate the amount of light blasting across my unprotected retinas.

At this moment, I imagine, my iris dilated dramatically, allowing as much light in as possible.

Melanin is also important in the functioning and development of the retina. Because I am an ocularcutaneous albino, my retinas
did not develop properly in early infancy, which means they don’t process light as efficiently as they should. I’m lucky in
that my eyesight is relatively normal. A lot of albinos are practically blind.

Anyway, light causes a chemical reaction in the photoreceptors, or rods and cones inside the retina. Activated photoreceptors
stimulate bipolar cells, which consequently stimulate the ganglion cells. These impulses continue along the axons of the ganglions,
moving through the optic nerve to the visual center at the back of the occipital lobe.

Amazingly, the brain can detect
a single photon of light
being absorbed by a photoreceptor.

At first I only comprehended a dull, flashing glow.

I saw a blur of blue, then a silvery ripple.


The reflection of a luminous, liquid moon.

Saffron-colored lamps burned beneath a vitreous surface, a plane that oscillated, streaks of spiny light creating momentary,
ephemeral shapes… shapes that divided, then recombined, fracturing like glass.

I had never before in my life felt the impulse to catch my breath.

I caught my breath.

Angela was still just a voice in my ear, soft lips against my skin, saying,

I lifted my eyes.

Windows glimmered like fireflies. Dark silhouettes rose against an orange-blue ashen sky that was spotted with radiant windows
of blue and white and red and green corporate logos and twinkling air traffic lights. “What is this place?”

“Step forward.”

“How did you —”

There was no one here. No one but us.

“Step forward,” she said. “One more step. One more tiny little step, little prince.”

I was standing on the very edge. I closed my eyes again and stepped forward.

A white rush. Blinding. A surge of cold.

I let myself sink, allowing my whole body to submerge, letting my skin adjust to this new temperature. From underneath, I
opened my eyes and looked up at the black sky and the water’s moon-silvered surface. Angela had splashed in after me, and
I saw her face fast approaching now, teeth flashing, eyes smiling. She was naked, so I slipped out of my boxers and, rising,
threw them onto the pool’s edge.

Now I was naked, too.

She came up, splashing, pushing that fake blond hair, stringy and wet, out of her face.

“I know the manager,” she told me breathlessly. “It’s a health club. But it’s not open this late. It’s all ours, all night.”

I found the middle of the pool, where I could stand shoulder deep, and Angela thrashed ungracefully toward me. “I’m not a
very good swimmer,” she said, laughing. “You have to rescue me if I drown.” She paddled toward me and placed her hands on
my shoulders.

“What is it?” I asked again. “What do you see in me?”

She looked up, down, and sideways all at once. Suddenly she was like a bashful kid. “You want to know the truth, Angel?”

“The truth,” I said. “Please.”

Then she pushed herself away, laughing weirdly.

“You really want to know?”

“I really want to know.”

“You’re all the same, you know that?”

“Who are all the same?”


“What men?”

She rolled her eyes.

“What men?”
I repeated.

Suddenly she sank, disappearing beneath the surface.

I waited for her to come up, watching the shape of her body quiver like a flickering television set beneath the water.

But she didn’t.

I waited another five seconds… another ten…

What the hell was she doing?

I couldn’t wait anymore and swam down after her, diving in, curling my arms beneath hers. I had to fight her twisting, slippery
limbs. She thrashed against me, bubbles rising, trying to get away. I had to scoop her up and drag her to the surface.

She gasped, coughed, choked.

“What the hell was that?”

“See?” she said, still coughing. “You rescued me. I was drowning, and you rescued me.”

I held her buoyant in the water, making sure she could breathe. “Are we speaking metaphorically?”

“Metaphorically.” She shook her head, still coughing. “Sure, Angel… metaphorically.”

“That can’t be all there is,” I said, releasing her. “That I rescued you, that I was there when you —”

“Why not?”

“Because then I could be anyone.”

“You are
not just anyone.” Angela pushed away from me again, moving toward the shallow end.

“But you would fall in love with whoever rescued you? A fireman, a policeman —”

“What is it people see in each other?” she asked. “Why does anyone ever love anyone?” She splashed water at my face. “If you
look at it too closely,” she said playfully, “it disappears.”

“You really think so?”

“Angel, don’t you realize,” she went on, “that you did this, that you came here wearing a blindfold, and you didn’t need to
take any of those pills?”

“Maybe I’ve taken so many,” I suggested, “that the residue in my system is holding me psychologically aloft. Maybe the blindfold
somehow tricked my psyche.”

She only laughed.

I let it go. I had something else I wanted to talk about. “I want to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“When you’re gone,” I confessed, “I fall apart, I just lie there thinking of you, I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I don’t take
my medication, I smile all the time, I laugh out loud and there’s no one there… I stare into space.”

Angela laughed. “Me, too.” She swam toward me. “Me, too, you.

I looked around. “How did you know?”

“Know what?”

“When I was a kid, this was my favorite thing. My mother would take me, in all those different hotels. She would speak to
the manager. ‘My son,’ she would say, ‘his skin.’ And they would open the pool at night and let me swim. How did you know?
Did I tell you?”

Angela closed her eyes, then reached across the surface of the water to place her autumn-colored hand on my winter-colored


When I was seven years old, I told her one night, I had the idea that if I just gave myself a severe enough sunburn, my skin
would develop some color, some melanin, anything but this pallor of pink and white. I would actually say the word
raising my arms in the California brightness, eyes closed against it as if in prayer, as if saying the word aloud could magically
bring some pigmentation into being. I remember lying on a lounge chair by my parents’ blue-and-gold mosaic-tiled pool in our
old house on Rexford Drive, letting my body marinate in my mother’s tanning oil. Naked except for a pair of underpants, I
turned myself like a chicken on a spit. I closed my eyes, facing the mid-July, Beverly Hills sky, light so harsh that beneath
the protection of my lids, it flared and morphed, the colors oscillating from ultraviolet to infrared.

Red. Orange. Bright yellow. Burning.

Our housekeeper discovered me. She pulled me from the chair and brought me into the kitchen, the whole time muttering to herself
in Portuguese. Poor Annabelle covered me in butter, greasing her hands on a stick from the refrigerator and slathering it
across my skin. The butter felt cool, at first, and then gradually melted and warmed. All over, it bubbled, dissolved. Within
minutes, the outer layers of my epidermal tissue rose away in a thin, blistery film. Tiny bumps formed, hard at first, like
Braille, then ran in nodules across my back, down my chest, over my forehead, cheekbones, and nose, a line of blisters covering
my legs down to my knees. My legs and arms began to swell, and then my eyelids and lips flared up, too, my entire face bloating
in thick blistery welts.

My mother stepped into the kitchen at that moment with her shopping bags, pastel tissue paper rustling inside them. She put
the bags down and placed a bony hand over her mouth. “What did you do?” she said. “Angel, Angel, Angel…
what did you do?”

“I got a tan.”

“Never, never, never.” She turned to Annabelle. “What did you put on him?”

“Butter,” she explained.

Get towels.” My mother was tall and blond, with clear, intelligent, ash-colored eyes. She was still beautiful then, still
human. “Get towels and soak them in cold water,” she said.

Annabelle ran to the linen closet while my mother’s spidery fingers hovered over my blistered, buttered seven-year-old body.

I opened my mouth, I remember, and screamed.



Angela said my name.



I wanted to scream like that right now.

Still holding the phone, I stepped into the living room.

In the scene that was on television at the moment, Deckard sits across from Rachael and aims a futuristic empathy-testing
instrument into her eyes. He recites one scenario after another.

“You’ve got a little boy,” says Deckard. “He shows you his butterfly collection, plus the killing jar.”

Rachael holds a cigarette nervously to her pouting red lips, and her eyes are so liquid they seem about to pour out of her

“I’ll notify the police,” the 911 operator said. “I’ll tell them everything you told me.”

I paced back and forth over the flokati the whole rest of that day, waiting for the phone to ring, anticipating the usual
sound of Angela’s stiff heels in the tiled hallway outside. I must have called her cell phone a hundred times, my messages
becoming more and more frantic. Why wasn’t she answering? I had been unable to sit, unable to think about anything except
the tone of her voice and the terror Id heard inside it, that whispery, nearly voiceless formation of my name.

I pictured her: She was curled up, lips trembling, arms around her knees, eyes wet, the only source of light the luminous
liquid crystal display of her cell phone.

Had she punched in my name? Did it say

“Mask,” a man answered.

The day had passed. The night darkness had arrived.

There was music in the background, or what you might call senseless screaming over a toxic rhythm. This was disco made monstrous,
dance music transformed into a quick-step funeral march.

And why hadn’t she called back? What was she waiting for? It only confirmed that I was right.

Something had happened. Something was wrong.

“I was just wondering if Angela was working tonight,” I said, trying to sound detached.

I thought it might be a good idea to check. Maybe I was wrong about the dark. Maybe she had called from the club and her phone
had died. Maybe she had thought of something she had to do and changed her mind the minute she heard my voice.


“Angela,” I said. “A dancer. She’s kind of tall, brown skin — ah, shit.” I remembered. “I mean
I think she dances under the name Cassandra.”

“Dancers use their own phones.”

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