The Environmentalist

Coldwater Canyon twists back and forth precipitously on its descent from Mulholland Dr into the Valley, threatening to tumble off a cliff onto the million-dollar homes just below. Raymond was taking the turns carefully, coming home from the Beverly Hills library, where an environmentalist that had written a book on Global Warming and what the average person could do about it had given a reading earlier in the night. Raymond rarely heads over the hill because he doesn’t want to waste the gas but in this case he rationalized that the information he would glean from the lecture would offset the harm done by the trip. It was his duty, in fact, to become better informed.

Raymond drives a 1994 Saturn that gets about 24 gallons a mile but he still feels guilty and is thinking about buying a Hybrid if he could save up enough money. The lights of the Valley glow brightly below as he navigates the turns causing Raymond to think about all the electricity being used out there and what it would look like if a mushroom cloud appeared before him.Behind him headlights quickly appear out of nowhere and follow closely behind. Raymond looks in the rear-view mirror nervously as he slows down for more curves and the headlights behind him grow closer.

“What the hell, jerk? You want to kill us both,” Raymond mumbles under his breath. He tries speeding up a bit but the car behind him keeps its narrow distance on Raymond’s bumper. As they round the last curve and enter the long straightaway heading towards Ventura Boulevard the car behind Raymond swings around him into the opposing lane and speeds past. Raymond catches a look at the driver, talking on his cell phone, a salt and pepper mustache twitching over his lips as he speaks into the phone, and notes that he’s driving a black Mercedes. The man rolls down the window after passing Raymond and tosses a Starbucks cup out of it. Raymond watches it tumble to the road and bounce into the gutter. He thinks of an article he recently read about the elephants of Indonesia stomping on and attacking villagers on the outskirts of their former jungle habitat, a jungle that is cut down further everyday to grow coffee beans.

Raymond blames the driver of the Mercedes for the loss of the Elephant habitat. “Don’t these people have a clue?” He asks himself incredulously.

The light at Ventura turns red and Raymond eventually catches up to the Mercedes, making Raymond even more indignant towards the driver’s reckless maneuvering. He is in the left turn lane waiting to head west, but when the light changes, Raymond makes a split instant decision to follow the Mercedes instead of heading back to his apartment.

Raymond followed the Mercedes all the way home and watched him turn into his driveway and park. Raymond circled the block and then parked out front of the man’s house, staring at the black Mercedes and thinking about teaching the guy a lesson. He watched a light go on in an upstairs window and then ten minutes later, he watched it go off. Raymond’s radio didn’t work so he put in a Pearl Jam CD that had a scratch in it that caused Eddie Veder to keep repeating the same line over and over so he shut it off and drove away.

A week later Raymond returned to the man’s house and parked across from it. It was a little bit pass midnight and every time a car drove by Raymond slumped down in his seat criminally. After some time watching the house, it dawned on Raymond that the black Mercedes was not in the driveway and all the lights were off.

Raymond thought perhaps no one was home.

It was a hot summer night in the Valley. Raymond got out of the car and looked around but the street was quiet, the air was still, not even a breeze blew to offer some superficial relief. He quickly snuck down the side of the house keeping to the shadows and found himself in a backward almost entirely consumed by a long rectangle swimming pool, lit up blue and shimmering. A pool vac was sweeping up the leaves at the bottom. Raymond was hypnotized by a light on the water, or, in the water. The moon seemed to be underneath the surface of the pool, illuminating up from the bottom of the pool, opposed to down from the heavens, but then Raymond realized he was looking at the pool light instead and shook his head angrily and was more determined to teach this guy a lesson.

He climbed upon a wooden trellis and scouted the upstairs windows. The first room he looked into had a desk, a bed, and a bunch of soccer trophies. He slid his feet over to the second window and peered in carefully. The only light in the room was coming from the closet that was only opened a crack but it fell on the edge of the bed where Raymond could see two pairs of feet, inverted upon each other, poking through the covers. Raymond bent lower but continued to spy on the couple fucking. Raymond heard the man moan and then watched as he tossed the covers off and walked into the bathroom, a condom hanging loosely from the man’s deflating penis. Raymond looked carefully and noticed the man did not have a mustache.

The woman stood up and covered her breasts. “I think I heard something in the backyard, “ she yelled into the bathroom nervously. “Can you check and make sure my husband’s not home?

Raymond crouched down below the windowsill and heard it open and out of the corner of his eye could see the man’s neck as he looked out over the backyard. “Nope. Must have been the pool vac,” the man yelled back to the woman.

Raymond breathed a sigh of relief when he felt the window rattle shut above him.

A week or so passed and Raymond continued driving by the house every night. He began to pass by in the day, too, and one time he saw her out front watering the lawn and he slowed down to look at her closely. She was, maybe, in her low fifties, with a fit body, brunette hair with gray streaks in the front, and pink sweatpants that teenagers wear these days, the brand’s name on the ass.

Although the woman was more than twenty years older than Raymond, possibly more, he fell in love with her. After spotting her on the lawn he thought about her throughout the day, before he went to sleep, and especially when he woke up with a hard-on and called in late to work to exercise it. He forgot all about her husband, and how he threw the Starbucks cup out the window, and was responsible for all the future catastophes, and all he planned to do to his house to pay him back. All that righteousness was now swallowed up by his attraction and lust for the older woman, the man’s wife.

After calling in late to work for the third time this week, Raymond was told on the phone to never come back. It was the third job in less than 5 months that he was let go from. He wasn’t worried; he knew there was another Blockbuster or Trader Joe’s or Best Buy he could work at. He knew another crummy job at some huge, faceless corporation awaited him. Instead of getting up he watched an alarming show about the melting of the Arctic ice caps and the effect it had on the polar bear population from bed. After about an hour he shut the TV off, took a shower,and put on a pair of Dockers and a blue collared shirt. He then spiffed his hair in the mirror and locked the door to his apartment behind him.

The sun was up high on its perch and pestering. Raymond got in his Saturn and pulled it out of the garage and into the screaming light. The ravens all scattered into the air when he drove by and then landed and jumped around in the street like hopped-up junkies after he drove off. Raymond couldn’t erase from his mind the image of the polar bears trapped on ice sheets drifting further out to sea, away from land and hope and food and the other polar bears, pacing back and forth on the ice sheets in desperation. Approaching the woman’s house, he stopped at the corner of Magnolia and Whitset and bought a bouquet of flowers with the last of his cash and then sprayed citrus car freshener in the Saturn and on his clothes as he drove up to the house.

He parked in the driveway this time and walked up to the door clutching the bouquet nervously. He pressed the doorbell but heard nothing; just as he was pressing it down again, a loud chime ricocheted through the house followed by an impatient second chime. Raymond began to sweat. As the door creaked open he forgot everything he was going to say.

She stood there in the flesh, smelling like lavender lotion. She swept the hair from her eyes and, seeing the flowers in his hands, looked confused. “Yes,” she said, shielding her eyes from the harsh light. “Can I help you?”

Raymond stuttered, “um, these are for you.” His outstretched arm shook as he handed her the flowers.

“Thank you, they’re beautiful.” She took them in her hands and sniffed the petals then looked around for a note. Raymond thought she looked like she might cry. “Who are they from?” She asked fearfully.

At the foot of the stairs a young girl appeared dressed in sweats and cleats and hollered impatiently, “Mom, are you going to take me to soccer practice or not?”

“Cool it, Jessica! Yes! In a second.” Her daughter fled back up the stairs and the woman turned towards Raymond. “I’m sorry about that, who did you say they were from?”

Raymond paused, his throat was dry and he felt like he needed a drink of water. The woman had wrinkles around her eyes and Raymond thought she looked sad and tired. An orange tubby cat rubbed its body against her leg.

He mumbled, “they’re from your husband,” and then turned on his heels for his car, his heart threatening to break through his chest and splatter right there on the oil-stained driveway. Driving away, he took one last look in his rear-view mirror at the woman standing framed by the doorway, inspecting the flowers curiously.








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