Excerpt – Suicidal Maniacs

Suicidal Maniacs
and the Lady of Shalott

Part I.
On either side of the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot; 

And up and down the people go,

Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

           Alfred Tennyson

Chapter 1.

Shauna suspected from the outset, something about the slant in her daughter’s voice when Eliza first mentioned Stanley’s name, that he is in trouble if not trouble itself, which is likely the most appealing quality for her daughter.  He is a manager at the café where Eliza works part-time and how much trouble he is in Shauna now learns while on the phone with her eldest son, William.

     – No, it’s not up for sale, William.  It’s already sold . . .  Right . . .  True . . .  Well, not exactly right out from under you, dear . . .  I told you . . .  Otherwise there are extra carrying costs, and I’m taking this time  . . .

Shauna had posted the listing for the house some months ago, has even accepted an offer.  Already on the edge of West Hollywood, Shauna and Eliza wanted to move further west, pushing their way toward the sea, a move with a biblical ring.  They were thinking about moving from West Hollywood to Venice Beach.   In August the heat mercifully abates each evening, but the air has not been scrubbed by rain in five months whereas Venice at least has the marine layer in the morning dampening the sand.  Here the air hangs above the house and dusts the leaves in the garden, a dark greasy powder on the furniture inside and out.  They considered leaving L.A. altogether, moving back east, but at least Venice is closer to the airport and the ocean.  Schools might have been an issue but Eliza’s on her third high school that she hardly attends.

    – Yes, I’m sorry you feel that way, but you have a place of your own . . .  No, damnit, I’m not trying to ruin your life.  I’m not doing this to you; I’m doing this for me . . .  Yes, for me and Eliza.  William, she’s eight years younger than you.  She thinks a garden is important to me . . .  No.  You moved and that was your decision . . .   No.  I’m not punishing you for moving out on your own. . .  Good.  Good decision.  I applaud your decision.  Look, honey, there’s someone on the other line.  Could you hold for just a second?

Shauna clicks over to the other line.

     – Hello?  Oh, yes.  Mother, I’m so glad you called.  Yes, I got your note.  Could you just hold on one second?  William is on the other line.

Clicks over.  Eliza rushes in through the front door, presses her weight up against the back of it to hold it shut but the door is blocked from the other side and she is far too slight to secure it.

     – Eliza, what is it?

     – Mom, help!

William is still waiting.

    – William, it’s your grandmother, long distance . . .   Yes, I know yours is long distance, but her call is a longer distance, and the three hour time…  Oh, for God’s sake, you’re on your cell… I’ll call you back.  Okay.  When you get home tonight.  What are you doing in Orange County anyway?  Hold on a minute.  Eliza, what the hell?

Shauna sees the shadow of a boy through the frosted cut glass window, the toe of a running shoe wedged in the door as Eliza on the other side strains to slam it shut.  Shauna still holds the cordless phone in her hand, crosses the room, and throws her weight on Eliza’s side of the door just as the toe withdraws.  The door closes.  Eliza turns the bolt, rushes to secure the back door while the boy slams his fist against the door frame.  Shauna turns her attention back to her son on the line.

     – Okay.  Yes.  When you get back downtown, tonight . . .   No, I’m not selling anything else until you get here.  Look, I’ve got to go.  Something… You could have spent the whole summer here if you wanted.  Yes.  Sublet your place and move back home.  No, I’m not serious.  Look, I’ve got to go.  Talk to you later.

The boy pounds on the back door, harder and harder.

     – Eliza, what on earth?

     – Mom, it’s Stanley.  You know.

     – If that is Stanley why don’t you let him in?

     – Mom, don’t let him in.

     – Of course, I won’t.  But…

Eliza is what?  Afraid or angry?  Ginnie, Shauna’s mother, is also still on the line and might hear the alarm in Eliza’s voice which will alarm her as well, compounding Shauna’s problems, whatever problem is banging on the door.  Shauna speaks into the receiver.

     – Mom, can I call you back this evening?  Yes.  I know it is evening for you.  Can I call you later this evening?  Will you still be up at nine?  Nine your time.

The color in Eliza’s voice changes from fear to heartbreak and now she pleads.

     – Mother?

The pounding gets louder.  The boy, Stanley, his voice muffled from outside, is also pleading,

     – Eliza!  The cops, Eliza.  They’re looking for me.  Please let me in!

     – Of course the police are after you!

     – Eliza, what is going on?

Shauna demands an answer.  The pounding stops momentarily.  Stanley perhaps supposes Shauna will intervene on his behalf.  Eliza holds her breath.  No one makes a sound.  Eliza is the first to blink.

     – Mother, it’s Stanley.  You know.  Stanley!

The implication here is not simply that Shauna knows the boy but also that she knows something about the boy, something that explains Eliza’s predicament.  When his name was dropped into previous conversations Eliza described him in no detail, though affectionately, tenderly, not in this tone.  Now she hisses the initial ‘s’ and speaks in almost a whisper.

     – He robbed me, Mom.  No kidding.  He robbed the café on my shift, when he knew I’d be on cash.   He knew because he assigned me that shift.  Don’t let him in, Mom.  Please don’t let him in!

     – Of course I won’t.

     – He trained me never to let anyone behind the counter on my shift.  And he came in on my shift and I let him back!  He was even carrying a gun!  At first I thought he was kidding!

The muffled voice calls again,

     – Let me in.  They’re coming, damn it.  I’m through, Liz.  You know I won’t go back.  Let me in.

     – Stanley, I’m not letting you in!

Eliza eyes grow big as dinner plates as they meet her mother’s.  Shauna whispers to her while she dials 9-1-1.

     – Eliza, where is this gun?   I’m calling . . .

Eliza pulls the phone from her mom, shakes her head and mouths his name again, her mouth twisted between fear and fury – Stanley.

     – Liz, let me in!

     – Are you crazy, Stanley?  Go away!

It shakes Shauna up, the implication that indeed this boy whose proper name pulls her daughters face in anguish and makes her bare her teeth as she says his name in that silent scream, a name that tugs at her heart.  And this boy on the other side of their door might hold a gun.  And the police are looking for him.

Now the pounding stops.  After several minutes Shauna and Eliza look at each other.  Both suppose he has left.  They both move deeper into the house, huddle in the kitchen, drinking tea.  They share a pot of camomile tea.  That’s supposed to calm the nerves, Eliza says.  It might help, she says.  She never cries.

That evening the police come by looking for Eliza, asking her to identify Stanley from a photo.  She refuses to cooperate, even as she pretends to cooperate.  She tells them they must be mistaken, that she had never seen the robber before and she is quite certain she will never see him again.  That same day the deal on the house falls through when the prospective buyers with their house inspector arrive at about the same time as the police and, since their offer was conditional upon the inspection, they size up the Shauna’s predicament and, much to their broker’s chagrin, back out of the deal graciously.  Yes, there is in fact a plumbing problem, Shauna magnifies.  Roots from the neighbors’ eucalyptus trees clog the drains.  Running a snake helps but never solves the problem. Yes, there might be something else.  Did I mention the problem with the garage door?

Sometime during that night Stanley is arrested for robbing the café.  Everyone except Eliza told the police they saw him do it, but Eliza’s word is definitive:  It’s not him.   If he hadn’t jumped bail all the charges would have been dropped.

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