This is off topic from perfume… but I thought you might enjoy my only published story (in the James White Review Fall 1992) I guess you could say it is the Memory part of Scents Memory.
Near death and on a constant morphine drip Theo passed from the hospital bed to his past on a regular basis. When cognizant of the present he knew what was happening. It is said when you die, your life flashes before you in an instant. He was on a slow slide towards death and instead of a flash card review he was, on and off, watching a disjointed, slow drug induced movie of his life. Theo was never sure when he would depart the confines of his hospital bed and float off to a different time, where he would go, or what would start him on that trip. He left on a suggestion instigated by a string of words he would catch from shadow like visitors who resembled his mother, his sister, or his friends.
Today, his lover Jeff was with him, leaning over the bed smiling and holding his hand. His face unlike the others in the room was very clear. Theo smiled up into his eyes. He looked so beautiful and strong, like he always did.
“Hi Scooter.” Jeff said, calling him by his old nick-name for Theo.
“Hi,” Theo whispered. “I’ve missed you.”
“Molly I think he’s coming around.” His mother called softly to his sister. “He’s trying to say something.”
Jeff ignored Theo’s mom and squeezed his hand. “I don’t know why, I’ve been with you all along.”
“You have?” Theo asked.
“Just like I promised I would. You know me I keep my word.”
Theo smiled. “Did you get to go around and visit everyone after you left like you wanted to?”
“Yes, and I gave a gift to each one, a special memory that I dropped off in a dream.”
“I’ve been remembering things today. Things I thought I had forgotten.” Theo said.
“What is he saying Molly? I can’t understand him.” His mother said.
“I don’t know Mom. I can’t make it out. It’s the morphine.” Molly sighed heavily.
“It’s stifling in here. I’m going out for a little while.”
“Ah yes,” said Jeff. “You’ve shown me some things on your journey today that I didn’t know about.”
“You were with me?”
“Yes I was, and today I’ll be with you all the way.”
“All the way?” Theo smiled even though he was confused.
“What’s your favorite memory Scooter?” Let’s have one to fly on.”
“It’s funny you should ask me that. Until now I didn’t have one. Always when people used to ask me that question before, I couldn’t decide. But now I know. My favorite memory would have to be of the most glamorous night of my life.”
“Yes, tell me about it.” Jeff leaned forward.
In the smog laden one hundred degree blaze of noon the bowling alley didn’t look like much, a one story turquoise concrete building next to the Los Perros Shopping Center. It was landscaped in front with semi-tropical plants and tall slanting palm trees. Along the front was a white cement decorative grill work set forward from the building three feet. Colored lights were hidden behind the grill. At regular intervals of six feet along the sidewalk in front of the alley were tall gas Tiki torches that burned day and night. At the end of the building next to San Tomas Avenue was erected a sixty foot space-age-Vegas sign that said Riviera Lanes in an exaggerated scrawl, almost a Hollywood autograph. It looked like any other bowling alley in Southern California in 1961.
But when the sky ran crimson somewhere over M.G.M. studios in the west, and the carbon monoxide in the air turned into a heady hibiscus perfume the manager of the Riviera Lanes would switch on the Malibu lights and it was magic.
Wednesday night was bowling league night for Theo’s family. To his Dad it was both family night and one with the boys. For his mother, it was a change of pace at mid-week. Molly, the oldest, hated the bowling alley, so she would spend the evening in the parking lot talking with other girls from her High School who were also forced to be out on bowling night with their embarrassing families. But to Theo it was the most exciting night of the week, even better that Saturday at the Paramount Drive In for a double feature. In this place where no one knew him, he was free of his reputation as an outcast and could be anyone he wanted. Other kids he met there would accept him as whoever he pretended to be. In the most exciting place there was, a place of night and lights, where they served cocktails to the adults and brought cokes with cherries floating in shippped ice for the kids. It was a hint of being all grown up. It was where while the adults were busy playing like children the kids played at being adults.
Theo sat alone sipping on a coke in a curved gold glitter vinyl banquet on the main floor above the lanes. His mother was at the next table talking with the wives of his father’s team as they watched their husbands knocking down pins and knocking back beers.
His favorite waitress Neily came up to the table. She wore her usual uniform, tight three quarter sleeved purple sweeter, even tighter black Capri pants, (you could see the line of her panties from behind!) and purple stiletto heels. She was topped off with a teased and tortured French twist hairdo and referred to its very original color as Champagne Frost. Theo thought she looked just like Kim Novak.
“Hi hon!” She said in her smoky voice. “How’s your drink? You want me to freshen it up for ya? I’ll even put two cherries in it this time. I know how much you like them.”
“Naw Neily. Thanks though.”
“Okay kid.” She didn’t move on. “Ya seen any good movies last weekend? I always pay attention to what ya say about movies, ever since ya told me about that Jack Lemmon picture.”
‘Yeah that’s the one. I just loved the end, ya know, when Shirley MacLaine runs to be with him and then she hears the gun shot. God that got me! I bawled like a baby. It embarrassed the hell outa my boyfriend. He only likes war movies and westerns. Yech!” She looked at her Timex. “Look, my break ain’t for a while. I’ll come back then and you can tell me all about the movie you saw last weekend.”
“Okay Neily. That’ll be great!” Theo beamed up at his vision of movie star loveliness.
“I’ll bring some French fries from the lounge.”
Theo watched the little dance her panties did under her Capri pants as she walked away. She was just about the neatest grown-up he knew. She talked to him like she understood him, like he was grown-up too. Hell, she even said “Hell” in front of him. He watched in fascination as she disappeared into the Thunderbird Lounge.
To Theo the combination cocktail lounge and restaurant was the romantic heart of the Riviera Lanes. He had always wanted to go in and see what it was like. But it was off limits, adults only. If a kid was hungry he had to eat in the over lit florescent brilliance of Stardust Coffee Shoppe. He just had to get a peek at it some how and see if it was as wonderful as his mom said it was.
He jumped up from his seat and sidled over to the double black walnut doors of the Thunderbird Lounge. He stood there for a moment if he slipped in real quick maybe no one would notice and he might get to stand there for a while before he got caught and was thrown out. As he was about to push the door inward the other door swung open.
“Where do you think your going?” Neily said with an amused grin.
“Aw Neily, I just wanted to take a quick look.”
“I’ve told you before you can’t go in. Not till you’re twenty-one. Believe me hon it ain’t nothing special. And Twenty-one will come soon enough. What grade are you in anyway?”
“Yeah that’s what I thought. Don’t rush it. Those that come in here,” She gestured toward the Thunderbird. “Don’t have as much fun as you do out here. Now run along and I’ll see you later.”
“Aw Neily, I’m bored.”
“So am I but I got to get in gear, so shoo!”
He turned back to where he had come from. His sister and some of her goofy girlfriends were now sitting in his booth. He didn’t want to sit with them. There were no kids he recognized.
He walked idly over the blue and gold universe patterned carpet to the side exit. If he liked pin ball he would have played that till it was time to go home. But he hated pinball, and for some reason he hated the best place in the world to be on a Wednesday night. For the first time ever he hated the Riviera Lanes. When he opened the heavy glass door to the outside the stored up heat in the sidewalk rose up to envelope him. He walked along the San Tomas side of the bowling alley toward the lights of the parking lot.
“Pssst!” hissed an oleander bush next to him. He jumped.
“Hey kid.” came a whisper. “Can you see the others?”
“Jeez!” Theo said peering into the bush where he could just make out the eyes of a boy hiding here, a boy about his own age. “The way you hissed I thought you were a rattle snake.”
“A rattle snake!” the boy laughed. “You dummy, rattle snakes don’t hiss, they rattle. That’s how they got the name. Besides there are no snakes around here, their up in the hills. Too much civilization for em’ outside a bowling alley.”
Theo laughed. “I guess so. What are you doing in there?’
“I’m hiding from those little kids in the parking lot.”
“Why,” Theo asked. “Are you playing hide and seek?”
“Yeah something like that. Hey, come in here. They might see you and figure I’m in here talking to you.”
“Naw, I don’t think I should.”
Don’t be a sissy. I won’t bite you.”
That was all Theo had to hear. He didn’t want that tag to stick to him here. If it did then there would be no point to going to the bowling alley to pretend he was free. He pushed his way into the dark center of the bush. He felt a spider web tickle his face, and brushed it away in a frantic gesture. He might be standing beneath a giant pulsating Black Widow’s nest. When the boy turned back form checking out the parking lot and looked up at him Theo covered his panic with a weak smile. The boy was astonishing to look at. He had crystal blue eyes like the sky at noon and short cropped thick blond hair. He almost looked grown-up. How could a boy like that be here?
“Hey,” Theo said without thinking. “You look like…”
“Yeah, skip it. I hear it all the time. ‘You look just like Ricky Nelson.’.”
“Ricky Nelson has black hair. I was going to say Steve McQueen.”
“McQueen huh?” The boy squinted and cocked and eyebrow at Theo. “Well that ain’t so bad. I get tired of the girls moon’n over me cause of that damn ‘Hello Mary-Lou’ guy. But McQueen, he’s a rugged guy, ain’t what ya could call cute. I hate being called cute.”
“You’re not cute.” Theo looked toward what he could see of the parking lot. “I don’t see anyone out there. How long have you been hiding in here?”
“Not long. What’s your name?”
“The…ah…Ted. What’s yours?”
“Erik. Do you live in Los Perros?”
“Yeah,” said Theo. “Do you?”
“Nope. I’m from Santa Monica.”
“That must be 50 miles away. What are you doing way out here? ”
“My mom’s boyfriend lives here.” Erik said with a sneering groan. “She wanted to watch him bowl.”
Gee, Theo thought, he had never met a kid from a broken home. He seemed older and so much more self confident than Theo.
“Shit!” Erik said. “Here come those kids.” Five figures appeared from the alley behind the building, just forms backlit by the street lamp behind them. One of them called out Erik’s name. “Shhh, don’t say anything.” He whispered to Theo. “I don’t want them to find me.” He put his arm around Theo’s shoulder and pulled him down into a crouch next to him. As five pairs of tennis shoes scuffled past Theo looked at the boy who still had his arm draped casually over his back. It was obvious that the good-looking boy was probably popular at this school, good at sports, someone the other kids looked up to. All the things Theo wasn’t. And he had his arm around Theo! No one ever did that. The arm didn’t move, even after the others had passed out into the parking lot. Theo felt a wonderful flipping sensation in the pit of his stomach. Erick turned back to Theo and smiled, and the sensation multiplied into something like the first drop on the rollercoaster at Pacific OceanPark. No it was more like when you were squashed up against the wall spinning on the Davey Jones Locker ride and the floor fell out from under you.
“Don’t you want them to find us…you?” He asked not knowing what else to say.
“Not really, their just kids and I only played hide and seek with them because I was bored.” His arm slipped from Theo’s back, and he shifted into sitting cross legged on the ground. Theo did the same. “Let’s just stay here for a while. If we run into them, they will follow us around the rest of the night.”
Theo liked the idea. There was something exiting and oddly dangerous about hiding with Erik under the oleander bush. As if an adult were to suddenly stumble upon them they would be in trouble. But for what? They were only sitting under a bush.
In the reflected light from the street Theo could see by the way Erik’s tee shirt fit him that he was more mature than Theo’s first impression of him suggested. He looked like he could be as old as sixteen. The wanted Erik to touch him again.
“How old are you?” Theo asked.
“Fourteen, how old are you?”
“Thirteen, I’ll be fourteen next June.” The picked at a dead oleander flower in the dirt.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, I don’t like girls. My mom says that’ll come later. What about you?”
“I just broke up with one. She’s in High School.” Erik said with a wink.
“Well, the tenth grade.”
“What happened? Why did you break up with her?
“Cause she was getting too serious. She always wanted to be with me all the time. That was okay at first. But it got to be like she thought she owned me. I don’t like that when a girl gets to close I gotta get away. You’ll see when it happens to you.” He smiled and looked out to the street. “Look how orange the moon looks. It’s the smog that makes it look so big and that color.”
“I guess there are some advantages to having smog. It looks beautiful.”
‘Yeah, I guess it does.” Erik looked back at Theo. “There’s something different about you. I saw you sitting in there by yourself when I first got here. I watched you for a while. The only person you talked to was that bimbo waitress.”
“She’s not a bimbo. She’s nice and she talks to me like we’re the same age. She says I remind her of her brother who lives in New York.”
“Well if you say so.”
“And I am not different. I’m just like anybody.”
Erik raised his eyebrows inquisitively. “Too bad, cause I like people who are different from just anybody. It’s neat to find someone who is different. What do you do for fun? You play sports?”
“No, I’m not good at that.” Theo said softly.
“Hum? What about camping and fishing?”
Theo cleared his throat. “Not that either.”
“What do you do?”
“I like to go to the movies and I read some. I draw a lot and stuff like that.”
Erik smiled in a funny way and Theo wished he had lied like he always did at the bowling alley. Now it wouldn’t be long before Erik found an excuse to go off with the other younger kids he was hiding from.
“Don’t kid yourself, you are different. I know how you feel. I hate sports too. I like jazz though, and I don’t tell that to many people either.”
“But you look so athletic.”
“I lift weights. I used to be real skinny and the other kids picked on me. So my mom got me some Joe Weider weights. Now the kids leave me alone. Here,” He made a Steve Reeves pose with his right arm. “feel this.”
Theo reached out very slowly and squeezed Erik’s arm. “Wow!” That’s great.” He didn’t know what else to say and he didn’t want to remove his hand from Erik’s bicep.
“Feel my chest.” Erick said. Theo moved his hand to the place over Erik’s heart. “Hard as a rock. You should get some weights too. I bet you’d look great in no time.”
“I don’t know.” Theo let his hand slide away from Erik’s chest.
“Too bad we don’t live in the same town. We could hang out; you know and go to the movies and stuff. I bet we would get along.”
“You like me?”
“Yeah, I like you, why not?” He knit his eyebrows together. “I told you a lot a stuff I don’t normally talk about. Maybe too much. I guess because we’ll never see each other again.”
“Yeah, we won’t I guess. When I meet kids here I pretend to be someone else. Someone they would like. I tell them that I play baseball great and things like that. The never make fun of me like the kids at school. I was going to lie to you too. I’m glad I didn’t.”
“Yeah, I know.” Erik said. “We’re only friends for tonight so it’s okay.” Theo watch the expression on his face turn sad. “You kinda talk like a girl. Are you queer?”
Theo was shocked and frightened by the question. “I don’t know.” he finally squeaked.
Erik looked down at his shoes for a moment and then up into Theo’s eyes. “I am.” He said.
“I guess I am too.” Theo’s heart was pounding wildly. What would happen now?
“I thought I was the only one.” Erik said. “No one else knows, except you.”
“Everyone knows about me. It shows I guess.”
“Yeah it does a bit. That must be hard to take. I mean when they make fun of you.”
“It is. I just try to ignore them when they call me a sissy and throw things.”
“I would never make fun of you.” Erik put his hand over Theo’s and squeezed it. “Hey let’s go inside and play pinball.” He said and stood up.
Theo didn’t want to leave their secret world under the oleander. A place where magic seemed suddenly real and the truth felt as safe as Erik’s hand had over his own.
“Do we have to go in?”
‘Sure! I want everyone to see me with my best friend.” He held out his hands to Theo. “Come on.” Theo took his hands and let Erik pull him to his feet.
As they walked across the universe carpet towards where the hide and seek kids were now playing pinball Theo saw his sister notice the boy he was with and her casual look turned into a log hard stare.
“Hey,” Erik said. “You know what I’ve always wanted to do?”
“What?” said Theo forgetting all about his sister’s look.
“I’ve always wanted to see what one of those places looks like on the inside.” Theo followed the direction of Erik’s glance. He was looking at the door of the Thunderbird Lounge.
“Really? Me too! I’ve been trying to get inside of that place since they first opened this bowling alley, As a matter of fact…”
Erik stopped walking and a wide grin transformed his face to pure light. “Let’s do it, let’s go in.”
“We can’t. I tried to sneak in earlier but Neily caught me.”
“Well then she isn’t excepting you again so soon is she? We’ll get in and we won’t get caught.” Erik said with a glint of glee in his eyes.
“How? We’re just kids.”
“We’ll get in by going in the same way the adults do. Like we belong there. We’ll just walk right in.”
“If that works what do we do then?” Theo said. “They’ll catch us.”
“Maybe and maybe not. I’ll think of something once we’re inside. Come on!”
Theo followed Erik’s broad back as he strode across the remaining distance to the doors of the lounge. Erick pulled the door open and let Theo go first. It was so dark at first Theo couldn’t see a thing. Erik followed and pushed him to one side of the door.
“Over here.” He whispered. He pulled Theo into the telephone booth that was built into the wall. Automatically Theo started to shut the door. “Don’t do that, the light will come on.”
Together they both turned to look out into the Thunderbird. There was a curving “S” shaped bar on the other side of the room with hundreds of bottles behind it, all illuminated from beneath with colored lights of red and amber. A large tropical fish tank was above the glowing bottles. The bar stools were tall and coved with red leather as were the chairs around the tiny round cocktail tables. In the center of the room, which was curved like the bar, was a huge round sunken fire pit made from sooty grey lava rock, with a highly polished copper vent suspended above it. Just beyond the last bend in the bar part of the actual restaurant was visible. There were only a few patrons at the bar; the rest of the room was empty. Neily was filing an order at the near end of the bar where her station was by the door to the alley
“Wow, it’s really neat, like something out of a movie.” Theo whispered. “I can’t wait to grow up. I’ll live in some big city and go to real Broadway shows and meet lots of wonderful and exciting people. I’ll live in an apartment and…” Theo looked at the grown up splendor before him. “I think it’s wonderful. Things happen in a place like this. Life and love….” He suddenly realized that Erik had his arms around him, holding him so that they both could fit in the phone booth. “Thank you for showing me the way to get in and to see all of this. I will never forget you, and this night as the most…”
“Shhh!” Erik put his hand over Theo’s mouth. “That waitress friend of yours is coming this way.” He pulled Theo further back into the darkness of the cramped booth, his arms strong and natural around his waist. Neily walked past their hiding place.
“You gonna play the juke box Neily?” The bartender called to her.
“Yeah, I gotta drown out those god damn bowling pins.”
“Play anything but hat sappy Ferrante and Teicher theme from ‘The Apartment’.”
Neily laughed. “You ain’t got no romance Jimmy.” She dropped some coins in the machine. ‘Moonriver’ came on and she walked back to the bar, picked up her full tray and headed for the double doors.
“I ain’t never seen real romance in a bar.” Jimmy said with a snort.
“It’s here; you just gotta know where to look. This one’s for you hon.” She tossed the words over her shoulder. “I’ll play ‘The Apartment’ for me when I get back.”
Erik let his hand drop from Theo’s lips. And then without warning he kissed him on the mouth. Theo pulled back.
“Oh.” He managed to whisper. Blinded to the rest of the world he grabbed Erik by the back of the neck and pulled him closer to kiss him back. His eyes slowly closed has his lips parted.
When he opened his eyes Jeff was holding him. The bar was dark and deserted…no music. Strangest of all the sound of the crashing bowling pins was gone. Only silence and he in Jeff’s arms in the center of the Thunderbird Lounge exactly as he had remembered it looking thirty one years ago.
“That was a wonderful memory Theo….the best.” Jeff said.
“You’re not jealous? You always used to be.”
“No room for that kind of foolishness now.”
“I never saw Erik again. I often wondered what happened to him.”
“Wonder no more.” Jeff said.
“What do you mean?”
“Come with me now and you’ll see him. He’s waiting outside with a lot of other friends you haven’t seen in a while.”
“Is it time?” Theo asked.
“Yes Scooter, it’s time.”
Theo looked back over his shoulder and saw his mother and Molly in a hospital room that seemed so far away.
“They will be fine.” Jeff said. “And you’ll see them before you know it.” He took Theo’s hand and led him to the double black walnut doors.
“I’m scared.” Theo said.
“For the last time.” Jeff said like a man who had been there.
Just as Jeff pushed the doors open Theo heard Neily’s voice. “This one’s for you hon.” The theme from ‘The Apartment’ flooded the abandoned Thunderbird Lounge and carried the two men out through the doors into the brightest light Theo had ever seen.
(TO HEAR THE THEME FROM THE APARTMENT PRESS THE RED BUTTON ABOVE)
Michael C. Smith (Lanier)
San Francisco, California
July, 26, 1992