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December 20, 2010 by The Citron Review

by Janet Shell Anderson


They have been rich so long they have forgotten how to be happy. He sleeps with meaningless women. She sleeps with no one.

“It’s like the end of the world up here,” Rachel says. Ben Austrian doesn’t really listen to her. Her false nails tap her champagne flute. From Austrian’s house on a hilltop in Malibu, Rachel sees the ocean curve like a sickle. The marine layer comes in, hiding the sunset.

“The house was worth ten million, give or take,” Austrian says. He turns toward the darkening ocean. “No one wants it now. I’m getting out of here.” He looks tired. He was a handsome man in his day. Famous too.

“Where will you go?” Rachel’s earrings are antique coins, two thousand years old, her voice, money. She used to love him.

The value of everything is vanishing like the light. She stays another half hour, politely leaves before full dark comes down.

At dawn, Juan Carlos Rivera, a young gardener, fastens on climbing gear and hoists himself up a tall palm outside the house to cut off any offending dying fronds. Tomas Sifuentez, the second gardener, blows away every single brown leaf in the ivy with leaf blower, removes every faded rose petal, each minute yellowing stalk. Stewie, a blue-point, Peke-faced Himalayan cat, drifts through the garden and studies the activity of the gardeners. The sky has no depth. The ten-million dollar view is obscured. In the gloom, the gardeners hear a whisper of tires, a car passing downhill. November first. Day of the dead.

Ben Austrian lies alone in a round bed in a room with a round, recessed ceiling painted like a gigantic rose, like a Georgia O’Keefe gone mad, and does not hear the two gardeners whispering in Spanish. His windows are opaque, allowing only the grayness to penetrate. He hears nothing. Dreams.

Twenty two years old, he stands in an airport. Gray light.  The morning of another world. He says goodbye. He is on his way to Vietnam, expects he will not live to return. Butler Aviation. Baltimore, Maryland. February 12, 1967. It is exactly in the dream as it was then and not at all the same. The light is wrong. It is Malibu light, marine layer light. The woman he loves stands near a baggage conveyor. He bends forward and kisses her goodbye.

The dream stabs through him, waking him.

He rolls over and for a moment sees the rose, threatening overhead, titanic. He should get up, get going.

“Where will you go?”

“I’m getting out of here.”

Stewie slinks across the tiled floor, leaps on the round bed. Ben Austrian does not move. His eyes are open. The cat flicks its tail and then jumps down, runs to the gardeners.


Interested in flash fiction, she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  She has been published by Vestal Review, Pindeldyboz, LITSNACK, The Scruffy Dog Review, Gemini Magazine, The Grey Sparrow Press, Convergence, and The Four Cornered Universe.  She is an attorney.


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