This is the Truth

Malibu was one of those places that made you think about philosophy. It was one of those places that told stories that never happened but were completely true. It was full of that stuff, stories that just slid under impossibility and forced you to test your boundaries, stories that made you think about God and nature, and stories that stank of reality but were actually lies. Not really lies, I guess, but made-up truths. They suggested the truth, and in my book that’s enough. This was the kind of stuff that, if I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t buy in a million years, stuff that steamed out of ordinary conversations and condensed into the Pacific. I bought this one. I heard it from Warren Hughes. We were neighbours down on Broad Beach Road and hung out pretty often just to shoot the bull or light up. I got Warren’s permission to write this one a couple of months ago, and it took a lot of persuading. He’s the kind of guy who swears on his mother that this happened, and wouldn’t have me write it any other way. “This is true,” he said to me, “it’s not one of those bullshit stories, so make sure they know that.” He wouldn’t back down on this point, this was the truth-I’m going to tell it like he told it to me.

This is the truth. I was driving out down PCH, and I see this girl by the street sign for Topanga Canyon in a green summer dress and these plastic orange flip flops. She’s sticking out her thumb, this milk-white thumb, looking completely composed. She’s nursing a backpack, must be a hundred pounds, and I can’t believe no one’s stopped for her. I mean, this was 1972. That’s just the way it was, even out here if someone needed to hitch a ride someone always stopped. So I pulled over. She looked a little surprised, but she brought her arms up and tied this mass of long red hair into a ponytail and then draped her arm over my open window. I didn’t want to ask her any questions, I just told her to put her stuff in the back and get into the front seat. I figured she was some poor runaway from Santa Monica, or just some kid trying to tick off her parents, and I left it at that. She told me her name was Alice Maryworth and she liked literature very much. That was the way she’d talk. She had this knack for stringing together conversations that sounded like what you thought Malibu would say if you had a conversation with it. She told me how she always used to come from the city to Malibu on the weekends and how it was like entering some room in her home she’d never seen before. No, she amended that. She said it was like crawling into some secret part of the brain and peeking behind all the furniture and finding things you didn’t know existed. She said it was like the road out of things you knew were true into subconscious associations. She could talk for hours about how the vegetation was like a Rosenquist painting, how the greens morphed into blues that spiralled into pinks that climaxed into orange. If you think Malibu doesn’t have too much stuff now, you should’ve seen it in 1972. Things were just starting to rise out of nowhere like queer concrete flowers. The hills were draped in nasturtium and the sky looked like green-painted wood. This was before too many people knew about the place. Alice used to say she could walk on the hardwood sky-that was where she learned to walk. But sand threw her for a loop. She told me in the first hour we met that she loved the ocean but she hated the sand. She said it was like Malibu was this big party and the sand was like all your removed relatives that herded together in front of the food, something you had to drag yourself through to get to what you wanted. I felt awfully bad for her cause it was as if she had no family at all. She never volunteered where she came from, what her family was like, or why she was in this car on this highway with me.

The house on Broad Beach Road was this great yellow house a few levels removed from the beach. She decided to sleep in the car. I mean, I told her she could stay in the garage. She said she had nowhere else to go, except the beach, and it was winter and too cold to sleep out there without a “birth wish,” whatever she meant by that. Anyway, Alice, as it turned out, was from pretty rich blood. I had to assume so cause she carried around this pearl-pendant necklace strung together with sapphire. She told me once that it reminded her of the oysters in the ocean. Anyway, this old friend of mine, Whittaker James, was throwing this big party at his house on Malibu Canyon Road. Whittaker threw these shindigs seven or eight times a year, pulled out all the stops-waiters, waitresses, valet parking, caviar, red roses, champagne, and all these white vanilla candles. I took Alice Maryworth with me. Don’t ask me why. I felt bad for the girl, that’s all. No family to speak of, no home to speak of, living in some guy’s garage, I figured she needed a break. But, man, this girl was on the mark. I swear on my mother, she could charm everyone in the whole place. There were more people around her than there were people goggling at the diamond chandelier, and that’s saying something because Whittaker sold off a considerable amount of his parent’s finest crystal to buy it. She told them Malibu must have been taken from the Spanish words “mal hibu,” meaning evil owl, and that was a fact because she’d read that in an Anais Nin book, and Nin never lied. She said that whoever named it must have been pretty timid cause neither owls nor Malibu were particularly sinister unless you happened to be a small-boned rodent. She seemed to love the parties when we went together. She held my arm through it all, toasted to me, and laughed at the right parts of all my jokes. I’m not about to lie to you; I told you, this is the straight truth-the honest-to-God-swear-on-my-mother truth, I had a thing for this girl. You wouldn’t get it. Everyone told me after she’d gone that she was just a freeloader, but that wasn’t it. She smelled like the ocean. Her deep red hair was like the amorphous red of the mountainsides as you came down Kanan Road. She once told me she hoped I understood how grateful she was that she could live with me because it was imperative that she be near the ocean. “This place,” she said, “I could swallow this place, Malibu.” I told her I thought it was great too, but she sort of just shook her head.

Alice came to fewer and fewer parties as the year went on. Whittaker’s was back in April 1972. We went to the Elliot’s, the Washington’s, the Jackson’s, the Smith’s, the Hughes’, the Middlebrooks’, the Polk’s, the Ford’s, and Whittaker James’ all throughout the summer and into August. When the ocean started to turn that deep fall blue, she stopped coming to every party. Come October, she didn’t go to any at all. I always asked her if she wanted to come, but she just shook her head. “I’m going to the ocean,” she’d tell me. I didn’t think it was another guy. Alice wasn’t the type. Obviously I could never know, but I knew if it were someone else, she’d tell me. She’d say something like, “I don’t love you anymore, I’m sorry. I’m going to go.” You see, she and I developed kind of a thing after all those parties. Everyone approved. She moved out of the garage and into the house. I think it was more my persuading than her “female need for male attention,” as Whittaker put it. Anyway, in October she started to go on these long walks on the beach alone. At first three times a week, but then every day, then twice a day, then sometimes she camped out there alone. I used to bring her hot chocolate from the house and ask her to come back, but she just shook her head. On weekends she took the car out for drives over the mountains for fun, but she needed the ocean.

This is the truth. Alice left her necklace at home one Saturday in November. She wasn’t back at nightfall. I called and called at the ocean. I called the police, the neighbours, Whittaker James, but no one found her. I was at the beach a couple days later wading through the waters, hoping I’d find her, hoping she wasn’t dead. Malibu was a safe place in 1972, but I thought it wouldn’t be hard to hide a body here. So I was at the beach looking for her, and I see something in the water. The water had that eerie cast to it-royal blue on the top and deep, almost black, blue the further down you looked. I figured whatever was moving was just a fish. More likely some dead animal washed ashore. I watched it. It waved like seaweed in the ocean foam. Thin, red seaweed. And this is the part you won’t believe, but I swear on my mother, Alice came out of the water that day. She was ocean spray. Her fingernails were deep set and covered in red clay. She shook her head at me and smiled. We went back home. She wouldn’t talk and, worse, she wouldn’t wash off. This is the truth. Alice left again in December and I never found her. I didn’t look. I didn’t call the police, or round up the neighbours or ask Whittaker James for help. She was part of Malibu. She had on her blue dress and mother of pearl hair piece. She left the sapphires and orange sandals. She wouldn’t need them. I swear on my mother, that’s what happened. It’s not one of those bullshit stories, so make sure they know that.

13StarsManager
https://malibutimes.com
The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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