The buildings on Acapulco Boulevard would have yawned. Sun beamed on their rooftops in the uniform confidence she imparts on Southern California, land of pastel days where people play with their hours like new boutique electronics, only pretending to get their work done. Or that’s how Bernice saw it. Upon arriving she found it all immediately beautiful and, as most transplants muse, alive.
The boulevard was ideal in that it failed to live up to a conventional understanding of an ideal. Tangled in too much history too quickly, it felt poorly preserved yet disconcertingly alive for its wear. Sooty Art-Deco statements shaded rubbery faces from all over the world, tourists and teetering actors more willing than Bernice to spend their money. She felt grounded in the strip’s failure to betray a clear path through a categorical past. Its fight to be everything it ever was at once encouraged her to fill in the blanks.
Odes to the soft bodies of the Machine Age marked the oldest storefronts. A former law office with stout, single-pinstriped block lettering in its windows told Bernice how the loud and comfortable among her used to live. She thought she felt a yearn to settle down while staring at the soft neon cursive over a corner luncheonette. Smart fonts sandwiched between cresting rectangular column heads lent the facades dignity in retrospect. As she pushed against the crowd, her glimpses made her pretend to wonder if humanity had lost its way.
She saw Courtney & Glendale’s west coast division, a chrome banana arching high over the strip, housing the conglomerate’s trendier advertising department. Stark in its plastic angularity, the design was certain in message: Hey there. We’re from the future, and — as if we needed to state this — future-proof. Bernice remembered minor acquaintances who randomly, as far as she could tell, found work there. Anecdotes of stars aligning, synapses networking to command bureaucratic notice, providence silently providing against all odds to deliver the proper entry-level job. That wasn’t her, she assured herself, nervously shifting black bangs across emerald eyes in the law office window.
“I feel like Americans actually come from Illinois,” said a goth girl, her eyes questioningly fixed ahead and left hand held upwards, with fingers blooming like one of Michelangelo’s reaches for epiphany. She walked past Bernice, who then imagined being cool enough to be unapologetically, perhaps adorably, terrible. A life sealed from cloistered moments, projected as immediate and clever across a spectrum of circumstances. Life would be as she imagined the former lives in those empty windows, flat and quick as celluloid, something for others to reflect on as she functioned beyond a station of meaning.
“But would the memories be as good?” she murmured. A short 34-year-old man heard her as he passed and immediately wanted to answer, “Yes,” even though he most likely believed the opposite and really just wanted to answer the type of question nobody bothered to ask him. The conversation remained halved. He stayed home most nights and had little trouble sleeping.
Bernice walked into the luncheonette to pass the time. She ordered two fried eggs over medium and a side of hash browns. Her waitress thought it was weird that she used the word “haystack” to describe the hash browns while ordering, as if Bernice herself was a twee menu from a nicer restaurant downtown or they wouldn’t julienne the potatoes. The nerve of some people. They had a woefully conceptualized “Breakfast for Lunch Special,” so she ordered a tomato soup to make it a deal.
When the waitress walked away, Bernice drowsily scanned the counter across from her booth, slightly comforted by the neon light dabbing creamy springtime tonics across its eggshell surface. She felt homesick for the first time in weeks. Now in a venue her subconscious deemed poetically acceptable, she let her grief sit next to her. Phrases involuntarily nicked her mind, darting out through her forehead and into her soup as soon as the waitress set it before her.
I’m impossible and alone because of myself. I can’t tell anyone how I feel and when I try I know I sound mentally ill, splish. I use the wrong words, even in my interior life, and all my secrets harbor failure at being a decent person, splash. The more I feel connected to this world, the more I understand myself as alien and dangerous. I will be scapegoated for this, and, by the way, fuck me for even assuming anyone would care enough to logistically coordinate any aspect of my demise. Plop.
Her soup covered the tabletop now, a swamp of pink formica and pomodoro puree. In the hard light it commingled towards the greatest shade of cherubic humiliation. She felt pulled by the minor envies of the last year and sacrificed anything she decided to know about life in attempt to mute it.
“I’m a stranger,” she said, sinking into her porcelain soup bowl. She disappeared in the gritty bottom of her appetizer, denying breaths and hearing ocean static. She made the oceans a sky in a sloshing pivot of imagination, though she remained swimming and breathless. Her lips turned blue, but she was still alive. With every stroke her hair clumped together like seaweed as her complexion drained to pewter. She saw a kite floating below her, recalling how she flew a few like it off the shores of Kennebunkport, Maine, as a child. But she had no nostalgic investment in its shape or circumstance. It was just something she did, and in this implosion of nostalgia was overjoyed to ignore it.
She accepted the fact that she’d have to get up soon. Scarlet feathers grew from her chin and hips as she swam deeper into the lame void. She lost sight of the kite and couldn’t find anything or see what she became. That was more than enough.