The phone rang minutes after Dad had left the house for work Tuesday.
“It’s me,” he said, when I picked up. “Don’t worry about the woman. You’ll see her when you come out to wait for the bus. And I told her it’s all right to park in our driveway if she wants.”
After a few moments of silence he asked, “You there, Luce?”
“Yeah. Who…What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see.” The smile in Dad’s voice audible. “She’s all right, okay?”
I started to ask what that meant, but he’d hung up.
Maddy’s new movie, Small Town Girl, premiered Friday. It didn’t officially open until the following weekend.
The role seemed tailor-made for an actress born and raised in a small town. Someone at the studio publicity department had come up with the keen idea of doing the premiere in a small town and in fact, why not Maddy’s? Problem being, Eaton didn’t have a movie theater, but that was easily worked around.
Ashmond was only 11 miles west of us and compared to Los Angeles, its population of 35,000 is still teeny tiny, still home-town values, know your neighbor, all that, at least if you discounted the semi-regular eruptions of gang violence.
Maddy and company were slated to arrive on Thursday. Maddy and Jack, still in the upper echelon of world famous movie stars, were slated to stay in the house. There’d be an assistant or two and security outside at all times.
It sounded like a logistical nightmare, but Jack and Maddy’s handlers had gotten the two in and out of famous international hot spots on a honeymoon and several vacations. Popping in and out of Hicksville, Eastern Washington ought to be a snap in comparison.
I couldn’t figure out why Dad agreed to it. It was two years after the Hollywood wedding extravaganza, and he still held the opinion that Lucentology was damaging Maddy.
Plus he’d told me we ought to plan for the fact that the house might get bugged. Every thing we said, on the phone or otherwise, or anything we did on the computer, it was all up for grabs surveillance wise until after the premiere. I understood the reason for his obliqueness on the phone that morning.
I brushed back the living room curtains and looked out beyond the yard to East Jennings Road. A figure was just getting out of a sedan parked near the intersection of driveway and gravel county road.
She’s all right.
Whatever that meant.
House locked, backpack over my shoulder, I walked down the driveway to the gravel road. Getting close I saw the sign resting at the woman’s feet and I got an inkling of what Dad had meant.
The sign read ‘Kip Arnett Was Murdered’.
Kip was one of the tens of thousands of hopeful actors and actresses who populate Los Angeles, looking for the break that catapults them from obscurity to the spotlight.
She’d been found starved to death in a Hollywood apartment. She had been battling a drug addiction, but more interesting was the fact she was a practicing member of Lucentology.
The press spin on the tragedy was that instead of going through detox or getting herself to a rehab facility, Kip had tried to tough it out using Lucentology methods to make herself clean and pure. According to the literature, Lucentology Centers were always available to help anyone – not just members – deal with addictions, but it could become costly. Just because anyone was welcome didn’t mean it was free.
Kip had appeared on one of the videos for The Program, that 12-disc series for people interested in becoming Lucentologists. Just a quick appearance, but the press had used it as fodder for stories after her death.
The woman on the shoulder of the road was a cute, short blonde, almost a perfect copy of the relatively unknown comedienne who’d been found weighing 66 pounds, her face partially eaten away by a housecat.
The woman waved at me. She wore sunglasses tipped up onto her scalp, a green jacket, and parachute pants with pockets up and down each leg.
I waved back.
She looked both ways and crossed the road, gravel crunching under her heel.
“You must be Lucy,” she said. “Your dad said you’d be out here shortly.”
She put her hand out.
“I’m Ruth. Arnett. I know,” she said. “It’s a little weird. I’m not a zombie though, I swear. I’m Kip’s twin sister.”
The protest sign leaned against her backpack on the road shoulder.
Pointing back across the road she said, “You see I’ve obviously got something to get off my chest and I’ll tell you what I told your dad. I’m not trying to make trouble for you guys. I think you guys are in the same boat I am. You have a loved one involved in something that isn’t healthy. You want to make sure they’re all right. You know, Kip thought she knew what she was doing. She didn’t. And there’s gonna be people out here, there’s going to be church members out here, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to speak up for Kip. These people are trying to forget her, trying to make the world forget her, and it’s bullshit.”
I nodded. I didn’t talk much mornings. Ruth rolled right on along.
“Since the movement started, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there’s always been something nasty about it. These people aren’t saints, much as they think they are or much as they might make you think they can make you. There are a lot of spent shells, ok? Bodies at the roadside. Griffin Sharp. Selkie Rosenfeld, ok? Right out of the gate. Those two, waaaay back when. Most people don’t know who they are. Horace Walton does. You know who he is, right? Head of the church? Ok. Good. Oh, boy does Horace know. And people like my sister, well, she found out how nasty it can be, too.”
She’d flung her hands about, making her points. She trembled slightly, the blood rolling around inside her short body.
“And if you don’t know who Griffin is, if you don’t know who Selkie is, I could tell you. Horace Walton could tell you. Well, he could tell you his version. His version. I know what the real version is.”
“Sorry. I get worked up a little. Probably a little more in your face than you’re expecting just going to school, huh?”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
“But this. You know. This-”
She angled her right arm up vertically, hand in front of her face, and laid her left arm flat so the tip of her fingers touched the right elbow.
It was an ‘L’. Imperfect if she did it or if I did it, but the intros to all the Lucentology videos and the cover of Forward, the Lucentology guidebook, featured a slender, genderless figure whose arms were positioned so that the ‘L’ their arms made looked comfortable, not too bendy or painful, the way a normal person would manage the position, sockets and joints being what they are.
That ‘L’, right hand hitting the head, left elbow near the heart, the only supplies you needed to change and move forward into the person you were meant to be. To become ‘lucid’.
“I get sick. So sick of it. The last picture Kip took of herself she was doing this. This. The last goddamn picture.” Ruth dropped her arms. “I see someone do that I just go—“
Momentarily she stuck her tongue out, both hands displaying an extended middle finger. She stared at the ground and then looked back at me. She smiled her tired smile.
“All right. I’ll leave you alone. Oh. Hey.” She held her hand out. “Let’s make it official at least. Ruth.”
“You’re a big kid.” She smiled. “No offense meant.”
“You must get asked this a lot, but you play basketball?”
“Ah. I can see that. You’ve got the legs. And I’ve got the legs of a munchkin. ‘What’s it like working at the North Pole?’ I get that a lot.”
Walking back towards her side of the road she suddenly spun on heel, arms out from her side like she was going to throw laser bolts from her hands.
“Let me ask one thing.”
“Does your sister keep telling you she’s fine? Not fine like she’s hot, but fine like she’s ok? Nothing to worry about?”
“Maddy usually complains when I talk to her.”
“No, it’s ok.” I smiled. “It’s fine.” She nodded in appreciation of my using the term. I asked, “Why? I mean was that what your sister did?”
“I’d ask if she was ok. Like right before she… And she’d say she had a really bad flu, that’s why she sounded so tired and so out of it. But she’d be fine. She emphasized that. ‘I’ll be fine, Ruthie. I promise. I swear. Fine tomorrow and fine the day after.’ And then she stopped taking my calls. And then they found her.”
Just as she got back to her backpack and her sign the school bus swung around the corner and headed towards us.
I usually rode in the row of seats behind the driver. After we picked up the one other rider beyond the house and came back headed for Eaton I made sure to look out the window and wave at Ruth. When we went by she was head down, fully engaged in texting.
It was only upon entering town that I started wondering how long in advance Dad had known Ruth Arnett was coming to town.