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  When There's Nothing Else  - as published by Nikki Finke on Hollywood Dementia


On the afternoon of the evening in which Lacey Blaire’s life was irreparably altered, the sun cascaded through a French window pane onto Lacey and her best friend from childhood having brunch. It made tiny prisms of light dance against the rims of two diamond-cut cocktail glasses which had been filled with blood orange vodka martinis. The crisp white linen tablecloth had a stain of red where drippings from the lingonberry-braised lamb chop, plated on fine china, had dripped.


“More cocktails, ladies?” the waiter asked, in a tone that suggested they could request the hair of an Egyptian prince and he would gladly produce it.


Lacey glanced up at him with eyes bright, hair glossed, her 26-year-old freshly microdermabrasion-ed skin glowing. With an air of humble kindness, which meant that she belonged there, Lacey replied: “Why, yes, thank you.”


And Lacey did feel like she belonged there because she had earned her seat at Hollywood’s table. Arriving straight out of college with no help and no contacts, she’d worked her ass off as an unpaid intern until she PROVED that she had value. Value in keeping a desk organized, value in finalizing multiple calendars, and then, once she scored the chance to offer ideas on story and project execution, value in conceiving  ideas that got her recognized as… yes, someone of value in a labor pool inundated with bobble-headed value-less people. That struggle bludgeoned her idealism but not her drive. And tonight a movie she had helped produce was premiering. That made her worthy of white linen-ed brunches. And she was glad to show Jenny what the “good life” felt like. There was no freshly imported Swedish lingonberry back home. That was for sure.


Lacey sipped her cocktail and continued her dissertation.


“Women need to stop apologizing for not having dicks. That’s the problem with this town. We don’t have dicks and too many women assume they’re not invited to the top of the mountain because of it. So they give up. They go home. And that’s a shame.”


Jenny Walker felt terrible admitting it, but she didn’t like the lingonberry lamb chop. She didn’t say that, of course; she just kept admiring Lacey’s freshly glowing cheekbones and wondering why she herself had never desired a microdermabrasion. Probably because Jenny suffered from sensitive skin and allergies in general. The arid L.A. air had caused her to battle nosebleeds every night since she’d arrived.  


As she listened to her friend wax poetic about the trials of show business, Jenny remembered when they were eleven and Lacey’s fucked-up mother dropped her off at gymnastics without her leotard. Jenny had found Lacey crying in the locker room and lent her an extra. They’d been inseparable ever since. That is, until Lacey’s mom O.D.’d and Lacey got it in her head that she wanted to move to L.A. It seemed the hole that was inside of Lacey, a hole Jenny had noticed on that first day in the locker room, had finally been filled up with something good. That made Jenny happy for Lacey. Even though she missed her.

“Look, the women who don’t quit climb the mountain in heels, wear the perfect clothes, walk the perfect way, say just the right thing. They're smarter, more professional, eternally classy. The women at the top are some of the most impressive and intelligent badasses I've ever met. They’re like showbiz ninjas. The men? It’s like they showed up to the mountain dribbling on themselves in shorts and someone handed them a ticket to the ski lift…  And do you want to know what the women find at the top after all of that climbing? What they should have guessed all along: one big dick convention. So then, in addition to all the other work they must do, they also have to watch out for the swinging dicks. Because let me tell you what I’ve learned: swinging dicks take care of swinging dicks. That's the reality you uncover when you get to the top. I mean, not that I’m at the top… I’ve just interned there.”


Lacey laughed at her own joke.


I’m talking too much about the business, Lacey thought to herself. Jenny has no idea what I’m talking about. How obnoxious of me. Lacey turned the conversation back to something they had in common.


“So, what’s it like back home?”


“Cold as fuck.”


Lacey and Jenny laughed and talked about the latest news from their small town: who got married, who got divorced, who cheated on who with whom, who got fired, and in more hushed tones, who committed suicide, who got hooked on drugs and who wound up in jail. 


They changed the subject and talked about old times in high school when life was simpler and their biggest problems were with the boys they were crushing on. And eventually the stories circled back around to: what became of them?


A deep desire burned hot in the forefront of Lacey’s mind. She never wanted someone from her hometown to ask, “What became of Lacey Blaire?” and get anything short of an astonishing and enviable answer. Lacey grasped Jenny’s hands. 


“It means so much to me that you came out here. I’m sorry I’ve been so busy at work since you arrived but tonight we are going to have the best night of our lives.”


When the check arrived, Jenny almost fainted. But there was nothing to worry about: Lacey expensed it.


Lacey through the window of her BMW pointed out the gold embossed Beverly Hills police station. The women ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the iconic shops of Rodeo Drive and gaped at the ostentatious houses nearby. Jenny guffawed at the rather large replica of the Statue of Liberty gracing the front lawn of one particularly obnoxious house.


“These people are crazy!” she exclaimed. Lacey agreed. But when they made the left onto Sunset, everything changed. The subdued ambience became quiet, classy, lush. Lacey still got goosebumps at the sight of the West Gate entrance to Bel Air, the epitome of exclusivity: wrought iron flanked by rococo style monuments and engraved with the unspoken announcement that people who drove through that gate had made it  to the next tax bracket. The one that doesn’t give a fuck about the state’s lack of water supply, or anything at all really, except maintaining the aesthetic in their residential hotbed of impudence. Lacey sat behind the windshield of her used (but in fair condition when it was bought) BMW, staring at that gate, longing for exclusivity.

Lacey did not drive through. She followed Sunset about a quarter mile more, turned left, down a hill, into a cul-de-sac and parked in front of her rented 1,000-square-foot portion of a concrete triplex owned by a Middle Eastern man she had never met. Though, he was very polite whenever he called about the $2,500 a month Lacey owed on the more than few times it was late. She made sure to show her friend a piece of her mail that indeed declared “Bel Air” in the address.  




“You want a bump?” 


With curlers interwoven through her hair, and a La Mer base coat of moisturizer freshly applied to her skin, Lacey deftly cut some cocaine into lines spread on the surface of a mirror on her vanity. She sniffed one up. Jenny balked.


“I didn’t know you still partied. I haven’t in years.”


“You’ll need it eventually. Believe me, we’re gonna be up all night.”


Jenny figured Lacey was right and did the bump while the two of them continued getting ready for their special night.


Right around this time, a text popped up on Lacey’s cell phone: Wear something sexy so at least I won’t be bored all night.


“Oh my God, how tacky. Is that a guy you’re dating?” asked Jenny.


“No. That’s my boss.”


“Your boss?”


“Yeah, he’s a sleazebag.”


“What do you even say to that?”


Lacey picked up her cell, typed a response, and hit send: LOL. No problem.


Jenny was horrified: “No. You say ‘Fuck you, sleazebag.’”


“Not if you want to keep your job.”


“It’s very inappropriate.”


Lacey laughed, “You think that’s inappropriate? You have no idea. My first job? The exec installed a stripper pole inside the office.”


“Are you serious?”


“Yes… and that’s nothing. The last pilot I worked on, the 45-year-old director was fucking his 19-year-old assistant in his trailer every day between takes and then barking orders at her on set like she was a dog. It was awful. I wanted to grab her and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re better than this.’ Look, in this town, you’re either getting hit on or screamed at, take your pick. Once, I was in a production meeting and one of the producers told us his ex-wife’s vagina smelled like factory-farmed tilapia.”


Jenny screamed in disbelief.


“And who was his ex-wife you want to know? The other producer about to walk into the meeting. That’s in-a-fucking-propriate.”


Another text came in from Lacey’s boss. Jenny grabbed the phone and  read it aloud: You never have a problem with that body. See you later.


Jenny mimicked vomiting in her mouth. 


Lacey laughed. “Look, it’s just harmless flirtation. A game you play. It’s not real. It’s like I said: you just roll your eyes, know you’re smarter than them and keep moving up till you can get into a position where you don’t have to deal with it anymore. I have daydreams about all of the slimebags I’ll kick out of production meetings when I get to be the head of a network.”


Jenny said with finality, “It’s just not normal.”


“Of course it’s not normal. If I wanted normal, I’d go home.” 


The limo picked them up in the cul-de-sac and they excitedly sat in the back, drank complimentary champagne and toasted themselves. The movie premiere was just five miles from Lacey’s triplex, and since five miles in L.A. takes three times as long to travel than anywhere else, they had plenty of time to enjoy the champagne and go over Lacey’s agenda for the evening. 


Jenny thought the agenda was for them to have the best night of their lives. And while Lacey assured her that absolutely was the frontrunner plan, there was also something very important at play. Lacey’s career depended on it. The production company that Lacey worked for had produced the movie that was about to be screened in conjunction with a studio whose execs were also going to be there. Lacey explained that she had gotten inside information from an assistant who worked at the studio that its top exec, Anita Addington, was about to leave and start her own independent production company.


“Anita is the ultimate showbiz ninja,” Lacey explained. “She’s everything I was telling you about. ‘Badass’ doesn’t even do her justice. She gives a note in the room and everyone just listens and nods. I have to work for her. Tonight is my opportunity to let her know who I am.”


Jenny interjected. “I’m just a little worried.”


“About what?”


“That your ass is gonna fall out the back of your dress.”


Lacey was incredulous: “What?! Do you have any idea what I had to do to fit into this dress? I’ve been giving myself apple cider vinegar enemas for a week.”


Jenny laughed. “That’s disgusting.”


“No shit! Worked though.”


They laughed some more at the absurdity of it all. But then Lacey asked seriously, “You think it’s too short?”


Jenny reassured her friend. “No. You look amazing. Just don’t bend over.”

When they sashayed like movie stars out of the limo onto the theater’s outdoor promenade, Jenny was shocked by the number of women wearing dresses just as short and even tighter than Lacey’s. She felt as if she had gone to the zoo and was now passing through the “beautiful people exhibit.” She was mesmerized by the level of perfection these women had achieved with their hair, their skin, their tailoring. And she blushed every time she made eye contact with one of the many impossibly hot men with their perfectly chiseled faces. 


Suddenly, Jenny became aware of her $100 dress (the one she’d bought three days before at the mall).  She couldn't place the feeling. She still loved the dress, still felt fantastic in it. She just had the odd sensation that some force from above was holding a mirror over all of their heads and was now taking inventory. 

"There she is,“ whispered Lacey.


They looked to the red carpet receiving area where photographers were taking pictures of Anita Addington, who had just arrived. It was true. Anita carried herself with such an air of regal sophistication that Lacey’s story about her being a showbiz ninja panned out.


Just then a man said, “Hey baby…” and Jenny turned to see Todd Dangerfield  putting his arms around Lacey’s shoulders.  He was squeezing them tight. Todd was slightly tanned and coiffed; his tailored suit was just undone enough to make people think he wasn’t vain.


Lacey tensed but greeted him with a warm smile.


“Hey Todd, this is my best friend Jenny. And this is my boss Todd Dangerfield.”


Todd forced a meager wave with minimal eye contact, then leaned in to Lacey. “Let’s get a drink before they close the bars down.”  With that, he whisked Lacey away from Jenny’s side, off to the bar.  Lacey looked back to her friend and mouthed: “I’m sorry! Be right back.”


“That dress looks great on you. It would look even better on my bedroom floor.” Todd giggled boyishly, acknowledging that he had just said something totally inappropriate and outrageous. But, of course, the laugh conveyed that he was joking and it was all normal Hollywood  behavior.


Lacey’s stomach lurched but she swallowed the stale vapor in her mouth and forced a smile.


“You’re such a pig.”


“You love it,” Todd smiled.


It really wasn't flirtatious.  Neither of them were making eye contact with each other. They were both scouring the event, clocking the guest list. This was not a date. This was not fun. This was work whose importance was always at the forefront.  The work was all that ever really mattered. 

Lacey thought her hard work was about to pay off when she saw Anita step up to the bar. The indie Film producer’s brown, freckled face exuded power and confidence despite barely any makeup and seemingly little fuss. Lacey wondered silently, How does she do that? 


And then, Speak up, idiot!  Todd and Anita were bantering back and forth about the success of the evening. Todd was great at portraying the ever charming, ever professional, team player when he had to.  Their conversation was wrapping up but Lacey hadn’t said a word. There was no way for her to interject without looking desperate. Plus, she couldn’t really talk about her skills, her plans for her future and what a perfect fit she would be at Anita’s new company, with Todd standing there. Damnit.


The lights were blinking. It was time for the screening to begin.


Say something, Lacey mentally kicked herself. But it was too late. Anita was turning to leave. And then Todd fixed everything.

"Anita... I reserved a suite upstairs.  We're all going to have a drink later. Come by."

“I’ll be there.”


And so will I, thought Lacey.  


Lacey made her way inside the theater and sat next to Jenny just at the moment it was starting. She had already seen the cut five times over, at every stage of post, but she clapped as though it was the first time. The film was good and the audience’s warm reception truly satisfying. Lacey was proud of the notes she had given at every step of the process. When the writer turned over the first draft, it was her notes that helped shape the pacing of the story. And when the director’s cut came in, it was her suggestion to juxtapose the two scenes at the end of act two so as not to telegraph the plot twist. Jenny didn’t know that. Anita didn’t know that. Lacey was pretty sure that no one who was actually in the room when she gave the notes even remembered those ideas came from her. But she knew it. She knew she was good at what she did, and it provided her with oxygen when she felt suffocated. 

She had to believe it would all pay off. Someday.


Todd looked back from his seat and found Lacey ten rows back with her childhood friend. He smiled and gave her a thumbs- up.


Jenny whispered to Lacey: “He thinks you two are dating.”


“What? No. He’s like that with everyone. We worked so hard to get this movie off the ground. He’s just excited. It means nothing.”  




“Where the fuck is it?”


Lacey’s hand slipped off the bathroom sink as she tried to balance herself. She almost fell to the floor but caught herself with her other hand, then leaned back on the sink’s ledge for balance. The white marble floor was moving as she fumbled through the contents of her sequined evening bag looking for the vial of coke. How did she get so wasted? Where was the rest of her blow? Could she have done it all?


Lacey braced herself against the wall, ran the faucet, wet her hands, put them against her face, and tried to piece together the night’s remnants floating in her brain like a broken puzzle.


Jenny had been at the party and then wanted to leave. Why wasn’t she having fun? Why didn’t Lacey go with her? She knew she should have. Her gut told her to go with Jenny. She remembered that. “I’m such a bad friend — damnit — I’m a bad friend, she thought, disappointed and angry with herself. The one friend that had been there for her at every step in her life, and Lacey let Jenny go home alone in a strange town she’d never been to before.


But there’d been an important reason why Lacey had stayed. She’d been waiting for something. What was it? Martinis? There were martinis in the suite. Todd’s suite. That’s where she was. Lacey pulled out her cell and swiped through the contacts looking for Jenny’s number. But as she tried to dial, her phone went crashing to the floor. 


She crawled across the white marble to reach the cell that landed in the corner near the toilet. She rested her hot face on the cool surface for just a moment and gave the phone another try. She tried to find “Jenny” as a contact, but everything was out of focus.


Just then, the bathroom door opened. It was Todd. He swayed in the doorway, focused on Lacey and laughed whimsically.


“What are you doing on my bathroom floor?”


He crumbled next to her, with his back against the tub and regarded her. Suddenly, Lacey had an overwhelming desire to get out of there.


“I gotta go home.”


She stumbled, trying to climb over his legs. But Todd grabbed her arm.


“Wait a minute. Let me look at you. God, you are beautiful.”


“I just want to go home.” she repeated and tried to push past him.


But he leaned forward, against her.


“No, you don’t.” Todd was smiling. “We’ve been waiting for this all night. That’s why you’re in here, right?”


He put his mouth to her mouth and kissed her.


She tried to push him off, but Todd was raging with hormones, pulling his pants down as he climbed on top of Lacey who was still trying with all her might to push him off.


“No, stop. I want to go home.”


Todd wasn’t paying attention to Lacey. He wasn’t paying attention to anything but the blood coursing through his veins. He climbed over her and shoved himself into her mouth. Lacey, riddled with a wave of horror, tried to turn her head. But Todd wanted it badly so he forced himself toward the back of her throat until he wanted something else and ripped down her underwear.


Lacey, 100 pounds weaker than Todd, was cornered on the bathroom floor, unable to breathe, unable to physically outmaneuver him. So she stopped trying to do anything at all. She crawled into an orb of light and hid there until it was over. Until he was limp, out of her, exhaling air that smelled of vodka, on his knees, barely looking at her face.


He kissed her cheek and smiled.


“You can stay if you want. We can have breakfast in the morning.” 


That was all he said as he got up and left her on the bathroom floor.


Her vomit was acidic. It burned her raw throat when the vodka came back up, along with the venom, shame and disgust and found its way into the toilet of the ladies room in the lobby.   Tears fell into the toilet on top of the puke.  


She heard someone enter the bathroom and occupy the stall next to her. Finally done retching, she grabbed some tissues and wiped her face, opened the stall and headed for the sink. That was when, out of the occupied stall, walked Anita Addington in all her regal perfection.


Lacey was mortified. And then she remembered.


“I was waiting for you.”


“Excuse me?”


It all came back. “You were the reason I went to Todd’s suite. I wanted to talk to you. You said you’d be there.”


Anita could see that Lacey had been crying. Something was very wrong. She noticed that a part of the hem on Lacey’s dress was ripped and there was a scratch on her upper arm.


“Are you okay?”


Lacey couldn’t answer.


“Do you want me to call someone?”


There was no one to call.


“Maybe Todd can get you a car?”


“No! Not Todd. It was Todd.”


The words rolled out of Lacey’s mouth before she could stop them. Anita put the pieces together.


“Do you want to call the police?”


Lacey jolted awake, the seriousness of the situation hitting her...  What just happened felt like it warranted the LAPD. But the word “Yes” did not come out of Lacey’s mouth.


Instead, three different words. One. By. One.


“…And then what?”


This was a language that Anita and Lacey shared, a communication clandestine within the walls of ambition and dreams and having nowhere else to go. Anita knew that when you leave your home and move to a town so cutthroat you can’t trust your closest friends - when you have nothing but the glimmer of belief that you have something to offer that could contribute to the fabric of the world but that thing is not concrete like science or invention, it’s elusive, it’s creative, it’s magic, and the world of concrete and plaster regards you as fiction because you’ve based your livelihood on intangible things… then no “normal” language like call the police” applies.  And Lacey knew that when you can’t go back home because you never had a home in the first place and L.A. was your refuge, when you can’t give up your job - because on those times when you created something special and it made people laugh and cry and share an emotion together - it made you feel worth the breath you take, and when every other life you could choose that doesn’t include that magic would leave you desperate to just let yourself die…  then, no, you don’t call the cops on your boss, your boss who has the power to fire you and take the only thing you care about away.  And so, in that moment, you decide that what happened on the marble tile was just an unacceptable, disgusting, macabre side note.


Anita and Lacey stared at each other, understanding that they were part of the same club.


Fucking men, Anita thought from her gut, remembering back to when she’d been just starting out in Hollywood and didn’t understand how ignorant she was. Fuck the smug entitled men who just take and take because they think “whatever they want” is their birth rite. And fuck the parents of little boys who taught the lesson that if they’re cute enough, strong enough and rich enough, they can have “whatever they want” in life and don't take the time to explain that "whatever they wan't" doesn't include people and sometimes no... NO... they can't have whatever or whomever they want.


Anita stared at Lacey’s short dress and thought, Fuck Disney who has been dressing their women in tight waist-pinching princess dresses for decades so that little girls are hypnotized by the message that beauty gives them power from the minute they’re born till the minute they die, so that when they grow into women they’ll spend their last dime and dignity trying to achieve that beauty and siphon out its baseless shallow power.

When will that change? Not any time soon, Anita thought sadly. Men won’t change until we change how we raise them. Women won’t change until we change the narrative. So what can be done in this very moment? The only thing women can do is protect our damn selves.


Three seconds had passed while Anita thought all of that. She wished she had someone who could have explained it to her way back when. But she knew full well that her young, pig headed, full of piss and vinegar self wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

She looked to Lacey hoping maybe Lacey was different, maybe Lacey could understand, and said:

"What were you doing in his suite by yourself?"


Lacey tried to explain again.


“I was waiting for you!  You said you would be there. I want to work for you. I was there because of work.”


Anita asked, “And when you got to the room and saw I wasn’t there, why didn’t you leave?”


Lacey couldn’t answer, it was all so foggy: “I don’t remember. I was drinking…”


“Playing the Hollywood game,” Anita surmised.


Lacey didn’t like the way Anita said that. But, yes, that’s what she had done. That’s what she was taught to do. If you wanted to be a player, you played the game, mingled, made connections, got yourself noticed.


Anita nodded. “The game is bullshit. Made up by monsters and predators who’ll do anything — sex, drugs, blackmail, screw over their friends or their own family — all in the name of work to get the power. And then once they’ve got the power, abuse it because they’re drunk on it. Are you one of them?” 


Lacey was confused but she thought of Jenny, out there all alone because Lacey had to do something for work. Was she a power hungry monster?  She felt like vomiting again.


Anita took Lacey’s silence for admission. “You lose yourself quickly trying to play the middle.” 

Lacey uttered: "I don't want to be that."

“Then don’t ever, ever, put yourself in a situation where you’re among them and not in total control. Don’t stay long at the parties, don’t drink, don’t do drugs and don’t dress like that.”


“Wait a minute! Are you saying what just happened to me is my fault?”


“No, I’m not accusing you.  It was not your fault.  I’m just suggesting you understand that this is a business, not a game, and that you need to decide what you’re selling: your ass or your brains. They are two very different things.”


Lacey hadn’t thought of it like that. Anita recognized the confused look, having donned it once herself, and  asked Lacey point blank, “Are you good at your job?”


“I’m fucking great at it.”


“Great doesn’t matter. There’s tons of great out there. You have to be the thing they don’t already have. You have to be the smartest, the most resourceful, the fiercest. You have to be the one person that, without you, the project falls apart. Then, if a line is drawn, a line you don’t want to cross, you don’t have to cross it and you don’t have to fear that you won’t make it in this business. Because projects will come and go, as heartbreaking as that is to accept, but you will be the thing that won’t disappear since you’ve got what this town really needs: skill. Your skill is your currency.”


The only thought that popped into Lacey’s mind was, surprisingly: “showbiz ninja.”


After a moment, Anita placed her hand on Lacey’s shoulder.


“Are you going to be okay?”


Lacey nodded: “I don’t have anything else."



Sugar and Lenny - A Sideways View

      “Hey, Leona”  Sugar said, as Lenny opened the door and saw him, in the shadows of the dark room holding the pistol.  It caught her by surprise because even though Leona was Lenny’s real name, only her Daddy ever called her by it. 

“Hey, Sugar.”

“I’m so hot, Len.”

“I know, baby.  I know.” 

Lenny knew this day was coming.  It had been a long time since Sugar was at peace with himself. In fact, Lenny had known Sugar his whole life and she didn’t know if he had ever been at peace inside.  There always seemed to be a fire raging in the pit of him.  Lenny saw the way he’d spit it out when you’d least expect it.  As she watched the steamy sweat drip from his throbbing temple down the cold steel of the gun, Lenny figured that Sugar didn’t want to burn anymore. 

      “I love you, Lenny.”

      The tears in Lenny’s eyes streamed and stung the scratches on her puffy bruised cheekbone; the wounds still open from two nights ago when Sugar spit it out. It wasn’t the first time. Each time Lenny thought to leave but he’d grab her, hold her tight by her shoulders and say: “I love you, Lenny,”  just as he did right then.  He needed her.

“I’m not going anywhere, Sugar.  I’m right here.” 

Lenny remembered the first time she ever said those words.  It  was warm and the sun was glaring down on the city street.  Lenny and her friends played by the front stoop.  The girls were jumping double dutch and the boys played wiffle ball. But Sirens flooded the afternoon and even from a distance they managed to break the rhythm of the double dutch chants.  Leona and her friends stopped playing.  As the sirens creeped closer, the pit growing in their bellies grew, while they all wondered who it was that those sirens were coming for.  Before long, they would find out.  

The cop car rolled to a stop and two police men hopped out, climbed the wide steps of the tall gray stoop, and entered Lenny's building without ever acknowledging a dozen kids staring up at them in anxious curiosity.  Moments later, in a wild rush, Sugar’s daddy kicked open the front doors with a rage like the burning of hell in his eyes.  The cops held his arms behind his back and Sugar’s momma followed close behind with scratches on her purple eyelids oozing and tears dripping onto her torn dress.  Sugar came out, red faced.  Lenny cried when she saw him and as they dragged his daddy into the cop car, she followed him as he walked silently alone, up the long avenue, away from his crying momma.  

"Go away, Lenny.  Leave me alone."

"Not gonna do that, Sugar." 

"I hate him."

"If he were my daddy, I'd hate him too."

They talked for a long time, until it was time for supper.  When Lenny turned to go, Sugar grabbed her by her shoulders and looked her in the eye. 

He said, “Please don’t leave me, Lenny.”   So, she didn’t.  They were twelve.

Sugar and Lenny used to kiss in crowded bars at 3 a.m., with half eaten peanuts swimming in puddles of spilled liquor and the clanging of empty beer bottles ringing in their ears. Their lips twisted and tangled and their tongues danced in each other's mouths, while the bartender threw down their change and the tone deaf jukebox in the back of the room murmured Bruce Springsteens’s "Born to Run" - sticky nights in the middle of June, when Sugar and Lenny were on fire.  They were like two dying animals, relying on only the breath of each other to survive.  And they survived, Lenny thought. 

      “I’m hot, Len”

      “Give me the gun, Sugar.”

      “The metal feels so cool.”

      “Don't do this." 

       “I’m sorry I hit you with the bat, that time.”

      “I know...” 

Sugar’s daddy was found dead on the living room floor of a local whore’s slum apartment with a bloody syringe hanging from the other side of his left elbow.  That night, when Lenny came home, Sugar was sitting in the dark, waiting.  When she opened the door, he lunged toward her and slapped a metal baseball bat across her face.  Lenny collapsed onto the floor under a shrill scream that clanged through the room like a golden brass bell. “I hate you!”  

But the scream was not Lenny's. It was Sugar's.  Lenny was silently clawing across the floor, trying to get to the light switch.  "I HATE YOU!"  Sugar puked the words out like gross lightning from his lips. "I hate you."  Lenny knew who it was that Sugar was talking to.  She knew who it was that Sugar had beaten with the baseball bat.  Not her.  She knew it was not her.  Finally, she reached the switch, crawled up off her knees and flicked the lights on.  When Sugar saw Lenny's face, he dropped the bat and fell, shrieking, to his knees.  Police sirens wafted in through the open window, creeping closer - And Lenny, seeing that the neighbors were ogling, slowly went and closed the door - while Sugar sobbed on the floor.  

"I swear to you, with all my heart and soul, I never meant to hurt you."

"Put the gun down."

"Not gonna do that, Len."

Sugar loved to sing on summer nights.  With a radio playing, and a warm breeze blowing, he would climb on top of the corner mailbox and serenade Lenny.  And all the girls loved him.  And all of the guys wished they could be him, for that moment.   Lenny held on to those nights with a fierce grip. 

 “I love you, Lenny.”

When the gun went off and Sugar’s body fell limp, Lenny finally let go.   


Sunlight pierces my cornea lasering through the clouds and the plastic squoval cut out while the cold polyurethane encapsulates the malodurous cyclone of cotton, spandex, used tissues, stale lunch meat, goldfish cracker crumbs, vomit, halitosis, Lysol hands and Carpet Fresh endlessly circling its way under my nose and around my palm which is gripping the stiff gray metal.  There's a gun in my hand.
No.  That was yesterday.  
Today it's an armrest.  I'm on an airplane.  Traveling far away.
"... We are now making our initial descent."
I took a cab ride to the airport while the black night sky threatened to swallow the windows and me in the backseat.  My driver is steady, staring out at the highway. The red tail light lightning bug devils glow in the night ahead of us.  I don't say anything.  I don't make conversation.   Even though he was kind when he opened my passenger door, greeted me with a smile and threw my luggage in the trunk with thin arms and huge work ethic.  What does this man want to hear?  He doesn't care about my day. The laundry piled up in the corner, the dishes I never unloaded from the dishwasher.  I've gone to Iceland and didn't unload the dishwasher.  Is that what this man wants to hear?  I say nothing. We ride along in disassociated silence.  I wonder what he's thinking about while he drives, in his quiet desolation. Not the road.  Not at night. The night breeds highways of thought with open gates.  He's not thinking about the road. His dark chocolate skin melts smoothly into his bone structure like impossible satin; untraveled sand dunes majestically blanketed over far away desert plains.  I'd like to get under that blanket.   How is it possible? The gray hair tickling his scalp reveals the years he's lived. Maybe he's thinking about a home. Maybe I should ask him. Why, if his skin is so creamy, are his eyes so arid? I want to know. I ask him nothing.  We drive on in silence.  Alone in the moving car.
I'm going to Iceland. Iceland. That's the song that got me here.  I had a dream. I was awakening.  The vivid nightmare images left my mind like a departing old balloon, I was empty.  Just a gray melody grew louder in my cavernous psyche, Paul Simon: "I'm going to Graceland" except the words were Iceland.  I'm going to Iceland.  "For reasons I cannot explain... There's some part of me wants to see..."
"-- The current temperature is 2 degrees".
I'm going to Iceland.
Another cab.  This time I'm looking out at the midday sun shining on an endless expanse of charred prarie.  The Driver laughs, deep from his belly.  He's a giant of a man, two massive hands comically gripping the insignificant noodle-like steering wheel.
"All of Iceland does not look like that."
He must have noticed my incredulous expression.
"You're here for the beauty, the peace, the lights, eh?"
Something about the way he laughed at me. "I'm not sure what I'm here for."
"Ah.  You're here for your broken heart."
A stabbing in my gut.  I really don't know why I'm here and my heart hasn't been broken... recently.  But before I can protest, he says: "I recognize the brokenness.  My heart is too...  Ah, I told her not to do it.  But she didn't listen."
The pain warbled in his throat and croaked out onto the width of his words.  Before I could talk myself out of it, warbled words fell out of my mouth: "What did she do?"
He wiped his giant's hands over his burlap sack cheek bones, squeezed his eyes, then gripped the wheel again.  
"She got swabbed."  
She got... swabbed?
"She was an ethereal beauty.  Biggest blue orbs for eyes you ever saw, yellow straw hair that hung heavy on her head and got in her face when the wind was rough, which is often around here."  He laughed that belly laugh again.  "The first time she looked at me with those big blue orbs, I died inside. Or I knew I was alive and didn't ever want to be dead.  I don't know which... She was a tour guide, I was picking up her customers.  She popped her head in my window, looked at me very serious and said: "Don't get lost now down by the volcanoes like last time." Scared the beejeezus out of the tourists and we laughed.  She had never seen me before in her life... And nobody gets lost here... It's a small place."
The sadness with which he said that startled me.  
"I knew what she was doing with the tourists, teasing them.  And we were looking at each other, laughing, and I knew that she knew, without saying a word, that we didn't want to ever stop laughing together...  Isn't it funny how you can know someone's thinking something, without them ever saying it?"
I don't know what he's talking about.  He might as well be speaking Chinese.  Does it really happen like that?  Is he telling the truth?  "And then what?"
"I went immediately back to where I picked up her tourists and asked her to dinner.  We were together every day for five years.   Until she got itching... To see things and know things, more than this.  She found some stupid thing on the internet. Take a swab of your cheek, they tell you who your ancestors are.  I begged her not to do it.  There are only 320,000 people living in Iceland.  We're all related.  It's a joke around here...  I just knew.  I knew.  And she did it.  Found out we were first cousins.  Which was odd because I'm an orphan.  So maybe the reason we spoke an unspoken language is because we were related...  I didn't care.  She couldn't get it out of her head... She left.  Left Iceland all together... I never bothered to find out who the rest of my family is.  Don't really want to know."
He pulls the cab to a stop in front of my hotel, gathering up his guts: "I'm sorry to have bored you to tears."
But there are no tears on my face.


On the door of the three story mini-hostel.  The sun is starting to set.  Night's coming.  A wave of nausea wells up in my abdomen, burning my throat.  What am I doing here?  
"Would you like some tea" says Elsa the host, a frail woman, with twinkling blue eyes, who shows me a small private room with a single bed against an orange wall.  "I'd love some".
"You're here for 12th night, then?"  
Elsa places the steaming cup in front of me, as we sit at the tiny kitchen table.  Every nook of the flat is utilized, decorated, each wall a different color.  There's no space here.  She's made the most of it.  We have too much space in America.  I don't know why I'm here.  
"What is 12th night?"  
Elsa laughs, "Prettándinn? Prety much the biggest celebration of the year here.  There will be bonfires, fireworks.  It's quite a show.  And of course keep an eye out for the elves."  
Elsa smiles but not in a joking way, in admiration.
"I'm sorry, did you say elves?"  
"Huldufólk... The Hidden People", she nods.  "Been here for centuries.  They live in many of the magical rocks and boulders all over the place here.  They're invisible to most of us, but some can see them, if they wish it so.  Many times they've been spotted on 12th night.  But, if you see one at a crossroads, don't take anything from them or you'll go crazy in the head... They're quite beautiful.  One legend has it that if they reveal themselves to you, they will give you the gift of sight, revealing a hidden truth you've not yet been able to see."
Elsa is not crazy.  Everything about her seems absolutely sane.  She believes every word of what she's saying.  
The fire blazes against my face.  I've found my way down to one of the bonfires.  At least a hundred Icelanders are dancing, shooting off fireworks, the colors explode in the sky and cascade down upon me.
I sit on a boulder and watch them dance.  For hours.  It's freezing.  I don't care.  I'm trying to freeze something out of me.  A coldness.  The cold steel metal in my palm.  Yesterday.  I can't shake it.  The fire dies.  The people go home.  I stay.  
"I wouldn't sit too much longer on that rock, you might disturb the elves."
He's tall, blonde, red lips from the cold.  Blue eyes.  These people and their crystal blue eyes, haunting and calling for you to swim in them like the sea.
"A little cold and cramped for a living quarter, no?"  I jokingly refer to the rock.
"You'd be surprised" he smiles and sits at a comfortable but intimate distance.  I look to the hostel just yards away.  I don't feel that I am in danger but at least there is Elsa and the other guests who know where I am and who I can run to, if I need to run. I don't feel the need to run, for the first time in a long time. It strikes me.
"I'm sorry.  I was just... getting away.  Watching the party."
"First time here?"
"Yes."  First time anywhere I want to say.  But I don't.
"It's pretty cloudy.  I don't know if you'll be able to see the lights tonight."
"The lights?"
"The Northern Lights.  Is that what you've come here for?  Most people come to chase the lights and spend so much time looking up they miss the magic right at their feet."
I smile.  The Northern Lights.  Can you see the Northern Lights in Iceland?  I thought that was Alaska.  God, I'm dumb.  This is so absurd.  I don't even know where I am.   Maybe it's the crystal ball hue of his eyes pulling the words out of my mouth...
"I don't know why I'm here.  I really don't.  I woke up from a dream and bought a plane ticket."  It sounds so absurd.  I laugh.  So does he.  
"So you're lost."  He laughs, and so do I.
The words spill out: "... I was at a gun range.  One of those dumb team building exercises they take you on when they want you to loosen up and get to know your co-workers. It was my turn to shoot.  I picked up the gun.  The cool metal in my palm felt good.  It felt really good.  Something came over me.  I could barely control it, a command, a wish, I don't know.  It said: "Do it... pull the trigger. Put the gun to your head and shoot."    
The words fall on the burning amber speckles of the charred and dwindling bonfire.
"I hadn't thought of killing myself before that moment.  But it felt right. Like it made sense, like it would be a huge relief... Then, a light flooded my brain waking me up and I dropped the gun and ran out.  I didn't say goodbye.  I didn't say I quit.  I just ran out of there."    
I look over, is he listening?  Does he think I'm crazy?  How the hell could I have just said that to a complete stranger?  And yet, who else better to say it to?  
He's listening.  He meets my eyes.  He doesn't think I'm crazy.  What will he say?  What could he possibly say?  There's nothing to say.  
He only smiles a knowing smile, as if opening a door to a secret garden and says: "Look".  
I'm confused until he lifts his finger toward the sky.  
And there they are. A mercury river of blue and green stardust running over the sky.    The Northern Lights.
My breath escapes me.  I'm no longer sitting on a rock in Iceland.  I'm no longer me.  I'm a bright star in the most magnificent sky.  
Tears pour unexpected.  The whooshing aurora pulls them out salty mixing with their waves of blue and green.
The cabbie was right.  I do have a broken heart.  Nothing is what broke my heart.  I never thought to live because I never knew I was dying.  
More tears.  An exorcism.  A baptism.  A dunking of my head under the waters of a revelation:  I broke my own heart.  I never listened to it because I didn't think it had anything to say.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  I have had no answers because I never bothered to ask the questions.
The cabbie was right and Elsa was right because the elf... The elf?  What?  
I look to my right.  He's gone.  The young blonde mystical man with the blue eyes.  He was there.  And now he's gone.  And he delivered me a truth.  I called him an elf.  
I gasp and jump up from the rock.  Was he on his way home?  I look around, there's no one else there.  
I look up.  The lights are beginning to fade.  But I'm alive. In Iceland.  


Iceland of Storytellers
when the's nothing
Sugar and Lenny
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