The Actress And The Truckdriver

Short Story by Willard Manus

Look out!

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, “It’s all right, Mama, it’s all right.”

* * *

In the morning, while his truck was being unloaded, he had breakfast at the market and called his mother in Los Angeles.

“She’s 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, “I’m glad she’s left, my son. I never liked her, you know. I never thought she was right for you.”

His mother was correct about that, he thought later, over his third cup of coffee. She hadn’t been right for him, yet he’d 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.

* * *

He’d 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 tree.

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 star.

* * *

Eddie Parra knew very little about Hollywood. He didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 school’s 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.”

Two months later, after discovering that Barnaby was gay, she divorced him and swore she’d 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 Chantelle’s nest-egg, as promised, he blew it all when his swindle was discovered and the Feds put him behind bars.

“That’s it,” Chantelle told her friends, “I’ve 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, it’s 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. “I’m going to die” was her last thought before the car slammed into a Joshua tree and she passed out.

But she didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Eddie’s mother had planted out back. Working with her hands, digging, watering and pruning, had taken her back to her childhood. She’d had her own garden when she was a kid, a small patch cordoned off from the ranch’s grazing grounds. She’d 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 hands.

Even better was the fact that she could be alone back here, away from Eddie’s mother, who was now too old and infirm to leave her room. Chantelle didn’t dislike the woman; like Eddie himself, she was salt of the earth. But Rosa didn’t 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 didn’t like her and, what’s more, believed she was going to break her beloved son’s heart.

* * *

The belief became a reality when the film offer arrived. The producer of Chantelle’s 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 mother’s health is getting worse and she needs to be looked after while I’m on the road.”

“I’m sorry,” Chantelle replied. “But this is a rare chance to get back into the business.”

“I thought you didn’t 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.”

“I’ve been out of the loop for two years. That’s an eternity in Hollywood. I’ll be completely forgotten if I don’t make a comeback, here and now.”

“You’re needed here, dammit!” Eddie suddenly shouted. “My mother is dying!”

“Sorry about that. But I didn’t sign on to become a caretaker when we got married.”

“You make marriage sound like a business deal. That’s not how it’s supposed to work between a husband and wife.”

“If you’re so worried about your mother, why don’t you stay with her? Forget about going on the road for the next month or so.”

“I can’t afford to take off that much time. We live from paycheck to paycheck, remember?”

“What about your sister? Why can’t she help?”

“My sister’s married with three young kids. She can’t possibly find the time to look after mom.”

“Well then, I don’t 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!”

“Don’t give me that crap!” Chantelle shouted back. “It won’t work with me. I’m 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 you’d throw that in my face! I knew you’d try to lay a guilt trip on me!”

“So what? Is that such an awful thing to do?”

“I’ve paid you back as best I can. I’ve lived with you for two years–-cooked your meals, done your laundry, slept with you.”

“Now who’s keeping score?”

“Fuck that. You know I’m right. We’re even. Payback time is over. I need to get back to what I was put on earth to do–-be an actress.”

“What are you saying? That you no longer want to be married to me?

“It’s beginning to look that way.”

“Hija de la chingada!” he swore.

She looked at him and said in a pinched, sorrowful voice, “I’m sorry it’s come to this. Because you see, I do love you, Eddie. You’re 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.

A vibrator!

What in hell did she need a vibrator for? They’d always had a decent sex life; he’d made love to her just about every night they’d been together. Of course, they weren’t always together; on some of his driving jobs he’d be away for as long as a week. What’s with the woman, that she couldn’t 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. They’d all disappointed her, left her wanting.

He stared hard at the vibrator. It was old and cracked, but she hadn’t 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.

* * *

Eddie’s 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! Burn!”