'Veronica Street' is a novel of Los Angeles by Jenny Burman, serialized here at LA Observed. Read previous chapters.
Call him the slave, the WRDI, a lucky criminal. Whatever you labeled him, it made good sense to have him here, puttering the yard, tending the chickens and the pool. One successful placement could lead to more, and once she had three or four workers, her construction costs? They'd be mitigated.
Ayla hadn't expected such fierce opposition from Caleb to Henrik's placement here. She had expected queasiness, which is why she didn't tell Caleb she had applied to the county's mentorship program, and why she didn't mention it until the day before Henrik's arrival. But to leave her over it? Caleb, her love, had actually packed up, put his bags in the old gold Mercedes, and driven out the gate. It wasn't until then that she thought of how few of his possessions had come with him to her home. For a person who spawned clutter--wherever he went, piles formed, there was paper, little objects, he actually purchashed junk toys for fifty cents out of supermarket coin machines--he could travel light when it suited him. In fact, she knew that his most valued possessions were in his office at CalArts. Otherwise, what mattered to him were his camera and his laptop. He did leave special books on her shelves. But he'd left valuable objects at the homes of other women. He'd told her about them, not the women, except cursorially, but the lost books. His Don Normark book, signed. Lorna Simpson, with a beautiful inscription to him. His Buddy Bolin book. His book of Soviet Space dog portraits.
She asked why didn't he get them back? Take his ex out for lunch, give her a gift to compensate and get his space dogs or his Yetis back?
Forward momentum, he'd said, and she more or less accepted it, though...if he really needed to move forward why was he regretting the loss?
She could imagine those book spines on the shelves of his exes, how the effect they had on these women was not what he hoped. They'd see weakness, his frailty, how easily he had given up. Ayla walked barefoot on the ceramic tile down to the living room in the dark, looked at the shelf next to the fireplace, where Caleb's books were placed next to volumes owned by her parents, and she wanted him to come home. And if he didn't come home? She would send these to his mother. Or wherever he wanted them to go. She would not keep them. Whether he came home or not.
When Caleb left, she had been sleepless. Drunk. Weak and ugly. He didn't answer her texts, though she sent dozens. Nor her calls. In the meantime, she couldn't look at Henrik, who had been the cause of it all. He went without houselhold assignment.
And what had Henrik done during those sixteen days days? She'd see Henrik's backside moving out of view behind the chicken coop. Or she'd see his shadow--yes, his shadow--near the pool house. His shadow made her throat tighten as if Caleb had snuck up behind her and grabbed it. It made her sick.
Ayla and Caleb had bonded over the environment and distress over the waste of human resources in righting things. They stayed up long into the night on two different occassions sketching marsh systems, talking out aesthetic principles that would dovetail the utilitarian ends. On those nights, they didn't want to sleep--they didn't even want to fuck. They wanted to sketch, and plan.
So now how could Caleb not understand that it would cost money to create a water-saving marsh, even if they had been able to purchase flat lots for their property (which they could not afford to do anyway)? How could he not see that just as people had to be more resourceful in the way they designed landscape and used water, they--we!-- needed to be more resourceful in the way projects were funded and in the human labor that went into them?
This is what she'd said to him: Either you find a way to actualize (she'd used that word) the effort, or it's just all just talk.
He had blinked at her a few times, his face tightening into a grimace and then he'd gone and packed. He'd left her standing in the breakfast nook. It must have been 11 a.m. There were no shadows. It was winter. Outside the kitchen window the messy date palm--an exotic volunteer that decidely had not been part of the landscape her parents' residential and landscape architects devised--swayed in the breeze like a rough mop.
Did Caleb leave for those sixteen days because of Ayla's morals, or because he'd been insulted to be called "all talk?"
Or did he leave because he felt Henrik's presence was a challenge, the sexual dynamics too threatening? As if she would stoop so low as to allow that kind of dynamic to develop. If anything, it was James to whom Martin should object, if he couldn't tolerate the presence of another adult male.
Unconsciously she mimicked the way Martin had blinked at her, as she stood now facing the San Gabriel Mountains, which were blocked from view by rain clouds, which clung to their upper peaks.
And what had she seen as she faced that blinking, lovely man, who'd made such beautiful photographs and multimedia works. She'd come once to one of his classes at Cal Arts. He was a generous teacher. His students loved him. In the classroom he was morally centered, he said what he believed.
He had said he wanted to be part of a project that was real. He wanted to help her not just in designing the community of houses. He wanted to show his students that conceptual artists could be utilitarian workers too.
She blinked her eyes shut. The hidden mountains disappeared and she saw the inside of her eyelids.
She simply couldn't find the place where Caleb's vision and her vision clashed. But he was back now. They'd purchased the acreage. It was really happening.