My father drives the rented car past the office building on Sunset Boulevard where I have a job. It’s night and we’ve just had our requisite dinner, the kind we always have, the kind we both like, with white table cloths, doting waiters, a muffled world that comes with the sense that we can order whatever we want.
I forgot, as I always did, what it would actually be like to sit across from my father at a table. I forgot how he would do all the talking, how my words would disappear out of me as if they had never been there.
But now I am showing him the town, this new city where I have lived for a year. The office building I point to stands tastefully on the edge of Beverly Hills. Up there on the fourth floor I spend my days sitting in a corner at an IBM Selectric outside Marty’s office while he shouts and yells through the open door at me or into the phone, making deals for writers and directors.
We glide past the building into the lights and traffic of Sunset. During the day I walk along this stretch of sidewalk at lunchtime, sometimes giving in to the temptation of an over-priced lunch, then drifting into the little dress shop where I found the dress I am wearing – deep greens and blues like the James Taylor song, shot through with gold threads.
“The trouble is,” my father says, his voice grave. He is summing up our evening together now. It is time for him to say something important. He does not just want to drop me off. He needs to make a proclamation now after seeing my life here.
I showed him our cottage earlier. I made it quick because Jeffrey was hiding in the closet. Jeffrey didn’t feel like saying hello or coming out to dinner so he hid in the closet while I gave my father a glance at the kitchen with its sticky yellow linoleum floor, the living room with its lime-green-and-white shag rug and Salvation Army furniture, and the bedroom with the squares of mirror stuck to one wall.
Jeffrey didn’t see any reason not to have the evening he almost always has – the one where he sits on the couch with an old atlas on his lap, skinning chicken with a pair of scissors and smoking pot from a pipe while the TV erupts with canned laughter.
It would be different if his father was visiting. I would go out to dinner with them because I like going out. The place would be fancy, expensive, but casual where my father is formal. Jeffrey would still be in jeans and high, but he would laugh and chat with his dad who would smoke his Parliaments and not say much.
“The trouble is,” my father is saying from the driver’s seat. He wants to give me a helping hand, set me straight. “You have no ambition.” And he says the word “ambition” as if it were a golden word. Ambition. I look out the window into the darkness spangled with lights. “You are too much like your mother.”
We are passing Tower Records where the road curves and where somewhere over there I had that awful job where I cut my hair one night without a mirror and where they fired me in the end and I burst into tears though I hated that job.