by Willard Manus
Eddie Parra cut his speed and down-shifted, fighting to stay in control
as he hit a dangerous patch on the Grapevine, a stretch of black ice that
had formed where his descent off the mountain began. He did his best to
keep his rig from fish-tailing as he slid down the steep incline. His
armpits began to sweat as he struggled to avoid a disaster.
Finally the I-5 leveled off, the ice disappeared, and he was able to gain
control of his rig again, feel the road under him. He powered through
the night, heading north towards San Francisco with a load of avocados
and Elvis crooning on the radio, Its all right, Mama, its
* * *
In the morning, while his truck was being unloaded, he had breakfast at
the market and called his mother in Los Angeles.
Shes gone, she said in Spanish. She packed two
suitcases and left without saying a word.
As Eddie spat out a string of curses, his mother calmly said, Im
glad shes left, my son. I never liked her, you know. I never thought
she was right for you.
was correct about that, he thought later, over his third cup of coffee.
She hadnt been right for him, yet hed also known many moments
of intense happiness with her. But all that was behind him now. She had
walked out and he would never see her again.
The pain ate at him when he was back on the road, returning to Los Angeles
with a thousand cases of Napa Valley wine. He had lost the biggest love
of his life and the realization brought much hurt with it. He hit the
gas pedal hard and jacked his speed up to seventy miles an hour. Only
a crazy trucker drove like that and he was certainly one of them.
* * *
Hed met Chantelle a few years back, when he was driving a refrigerated
rig between Long Beach and Las Vegas, carrying a load of frozen shrimp
to the hotels and casinos. He was about halfway to his destination when
he spotted, on a stretch of the I-15 near the desert town of Halloran
Springs, an overturned vehicle. From the skid marks he could tell the
speeding car had lost control on a curve and had gone spinning into a
What followed was a bit of a blur. He could remember coming to a screeching
halt, but not much after that. He later learned that he had rushed to
the car, arriving just as it burst into flames. Using a hammer he had
smashed open a window, unlatched the door, and pulled the driver out,
just moments before the flames reached the gas tank and exploded with
an horrific roar.
He soon discovered whose life he had saved: Chantelle Adams, the movie
* * *
knew very little about Hollywood. He didnt have the time or money
to go to the movies. Nor did he have much interest in watching the celebrity
shows on TV; he was more of a sports and animal-show kind of a guy. But
because the story of his rescue drew such a lot of attention from the
press, he couldnt help but learn a thing or two about Chantelle.
She had grown up on a cattle ranch in Fort Laramie, Wyoming
(her real name was Carol Abramovich). Her blonde hair, blue eyes and shapely
figure earned her a place on her high schools cheerleading squad,
from which she had been expelled in her senior year, after having been
caught getting it on with the football coach. She then left Fort Laramie
for Los Angeles, determined to become a movie star. She worked as a waitress
for two years before meeting and marrying Maurie Schneider, the 65-year-old
owner of a chain of Catholic funeral homes-and a regular investor
in low-budget horror films.
Thanks to his influence, Chantelle was cast as the lead in The Bodice
Ripper, a gory film about a female serial killer. Its unexpected
success led to her being signed to star in Lewd Instinct,
a story about a psychotic, axe-wielding nymphomaniac. With the money she
made on those features, she bought a house in the Hollywood Hills, dumped
Maurie, and married her second husband, Barnaby Bigelow, the director
of Lewd Instinct.
later, after discovering that Barnaby was gay, she divorced him and swore
shed never marry again. That vow was soon broken, though, when she
met Spiros Spiridakis, scion of a Greek ship-owning family. Spiros had
traded Piraeus for Hollywood, where he hoped to open his own movie studio-and
star in all of the films being made there.
He and Chantelle had a brief but fiery love affair which climaxed in a
Vegas wedding. That marriage also soon collapsed, but Chantelle walked
away from its ruins with a ten-million-dollar divorce settlement.
Most of that money disappeared when she married hubbie number four, Ronald
Birks, a British nobleman who was the CEO of an international hedge fund.
Ronald, it later turned out, was a longtime con man who was running an
elaborate Ponzi scheme. Not only did he fail to triple Chantelles
nest-egg, as promised, he blew it all when his swindle was discovered
and the Feds put him behind bars.
Thats it, Chantelle told her friends, Ive
finally learned something about myself, namely that I am the worst judge
of the male animal since Eve in the Garden of Eden. Never will I get hitched
again, never will I even let myself fall in love again. From now on, its
just fuck em and forget em.
But then came the fateful day on the I-15 when she lost control of her
Porsche and went careening off the road. Im going to die
was her last thought before the car slammed into a Joshua tree and she
But she didnt
die, though, thanks to Eddie Parra, the truck-driver who braved the flames
to save her. Eddie was not only courageous and kind, but reasonably good-looking.
The least she could do to repay him was to fuck his brains out. Surprisingly,
he then asked her to marry him. After thinking it over she decided to
accept his proposal, despite the fact that he was a working-class Latino
who lived with his mother in a gritty part of L.A. Worse than that, he
had never seen one of her movies.
But what the hell, she told herself, maybe it was time to forget about
the bullshit and madness of Hollywood and start a new life, a conventional
life. It was the mature thing to do, right?
For a while things went well. Eddie was easy to live with; he was happy
with a hot meal and a six-pack when he returned from one of his long road
trips. He didnt drink to excess or do drugs, and he was unfailingly
kind to her. She found it restful and pleasant to be a housewife; it was
good to sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast, read a bit, then go out
and poke around in the garden which Eddies mother had planted out
back. Working with her hands, digging, watering and pruning, had taken
her back to her childhood. Shed had her own garden when she was
a kid, a small patch cordoned off from the ranchs grazing grounds.
Shed grown tomatoes, peppers and squash, and now here she was reliving
that experience, liking the feel of the sun on her face, the dirt on her
Even better was the fact that she could be alone back here, away from
Eddies mother, who was now too old and infirm to leave her room.
Chantelle didnt dislike the woman; like Eddie himself, she was salt
of the earth. But Rosa didnt speak much English and she watched
telenovas all day long, coming out only at night to help prepare dinner.
They had never argued or exchanged bad words, but Chantelle knew that
Rosa didnt like her and, whats more, believed she was going
to break her beloved sons heart.
* * *
became a reality when the film offer arrived. The producer of Chantelles
first film, The Bodice Ripper, now had a three-picture deal
with Netflix. He wanted her for one of them, a mummy film which was going
to be shot in Albania (to save on costs). It was a four-week shoot and
Chantelle would need to leave immediately if she wanted to play the lead.
This is a lousy time for you to take off, Eddie told her.
My mothers health is getting worse and she needs to be looked
after while Im on the road.
Im sorry, Chantelle replied. But this is a rare
chance to get back into the business.
I thought you didnt want to start acting again.
I changed my mind.
But films are being made all the time, Eddie pointed out.
Surely another opportunity will come your way.
Ive been out of the loop for two years. Thats an eternity
in Hollywood. Ill be completely forgotten if I dont make a
comeback, here and now.
Youre needed here, dammit! Eddie suddenly shouted. My
mother is dying!
Sorry about that. But I didnt sign on to become a caretaker
when we got married.
You make marriage sound like a business deal. Thats not how
its supposed to work between a husband and wife.
If youre so worried about your mother, why dont you
stay with her? Forget about going on the road for the next month or so.
afford to take off that much time. We live from paycheck to paycheck,
What about your sister? Why cant she help?
My sisters married with three young kids. She cant possibly
find the time to look after mom.
Well then, I dont know what in hell to say.
Goddammit, Eddie cried, his voice beginning to rise again.
Quit talking like that. Show a little empathy, a little compassion!
Dont give me that crap! Chantelle shouted back. It
wont work with me. Im not built to become a nursemaid!
Can I remind you of something? I pulled you out of a burning car.
I risked my goddamn life for you!
I knew youd throw that in my face! I knew youd try to
lay a guilt trip on me!
So what? Is that such an awful thing to do?
Ive paid you back as best I can. Ive lived with you
for two years-cooked your meals, done your laundry, slept with you.
Now whos keeping score?
Fuck that. You know Im right. Were even. Payback time
is over. I need to get back to what I was put on earth to do-be
What are you saying? That you no longer want to be married to me?
Its beginning to look that way.
Hija de la chingada! he swore.
at him and said in a pinched, sorrowful voice, Im sorry its
come to this. Because you see, I do love you, Eddie. Youre a helluva
guy. But I have to take this job, do my own thing. I wish you could understand.
I understand, all right. I understand that you are a self-centered,
cold-hearted bitch, and that I was a fool to think being married to you
could ever work.
* * *
That night Eddie gathered up all the things Chantelle had left behind-some
dresses and underwear, a box of costume jewelry, a drawer full of makeup
and beauty products, movie magazines and romance novels, a dozen pair
of shoes-and a vibrator.
What in hell did she need a vibrator for? Theyd always had a decent
sex life; hed made love to her just about every night theyd
been together. Of course, they werent always together; on some of
his driving jobs hed be away for as long as a week. Whats
with the woman, that she couldnt do without an orgasm when he was
on the road?
There were two possible answers to the question. One: she had bought the
vibrator when she was young and horny-and had held on to it for
sentimental reasons, the way guys did with an old penknife or a baseball
glove. Two-and this one really hurt-he had never managed to
satisfy her sexually. Chances are, no man ever had, despite her four marriages
and numerous affairs. Theyd all disappointed her, left her wanting.
hard at the vibrator. It was old and cracked, but she hadnt tossed
it in the garbage when she left. There was a good reason for that, he
realized. She wanted him to find the vibrator, knowing how much it would
upset him, shame him.
* * *
Eddies next move was to gather up her things and dump them in the
back yard. Then he poured lighter fluid on the pile and put a match to
it. He sat watching as it finally burst into flames. Then he tossed the
vibrator onto the pile and said through his tears, Burn, damn you!