Friendship, friends, can come and go, but I remember the faces, the words, the good times and the bad. Memories. So that’s where the word memoirs comes from! The characters in my novel, Maggie Scratch, come from all the people I’ve known, and even though they’re free and separate from me, they’re written in my heart for all time. Claudia Rhinehart. Did I invent her? Did I know her? Did she know me once? In this excerpt, Maggie talks about her friend, her friendship, about love…and…hate.
It doesn’t surprise me that Mexico was the last place I saw Claud. She was waiting for me on the beach in Yelapa when I arrived from Puerto Vallarta. Yelapa. Where Ava Gardner and Richard Burton filmed The Night of the Iguana and I learned how to tap tap tap and pat pat pat corn flour and water into tortillas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I stepped out of the little motorboat into the turquoise water and carried my suitcase over my head and trudged towards Claud. The sandy white cove was deserted. It was early morning, palms swished, I was sleepy, but Coca Cola was bubbling in my veins. Here she was! Claud! She had been waving and now she came down to the water’s edge, barefoot in the sand, a chopstick in her hair holding long, loose wisps in a bun. My white Levis were dragging in the water. I stopped and rolled them up. I hadn’t seen Claud in over a year. She was wearing a fuchsia bikini and a man’s light blue shirt falling off her shoulders, tied loosely around her flat-as-a-pancake waist. Her eyelids were puffy in a kittenish way. In Mexico she was all angles and bones, a light tan face framed by dark eyebrows. I was fascinated by her triangular shape. Wide shoulders, tapered waist, the geometrics of her body reminded me of Picasso or Braque. Her feet and hands, I noticed, were also tan. Her mouth was partly open and her breath smelled faintly of lime and toothpaste. No make up. I followed her to the bar and we sat at a small table with our feet in the sand. Claud ordered tequila. I was on the verge of protesting, it was morning, but I told myself to relax, to let Claud lead, this was her territory, she invited me here. She leaned forward and looked over my shoulder, tapping the filter end of her cigarette on the table. Blasé, puffy lidded eyes, her voice low, she told me, “Bob Dylan is galloping towards our table.” Of course, I did exactly what she hoped I wouldn’t do, I turned around. I saw a cowboy’s brown leather vest, white arms flapping like a pair of wings, a white horse. A blue vein trickled down the bareback rider’s cheek. The horse rode past us, slowed down, swished its tail, and sashayed off towards a white villa. I was hypnotized by the horse’s tail.
“He’s here with Dennis Hopper.” Claud licked the salt off the rim of her glass.
I stared at the little sliding board between Claud’s nose and her upper lip. I wondered what she was leading up to. Her mouth was pursing into the cute little pre-snarl. I like the pre-snarl. It’s the point in our conversation when Claud thinks she’s outsmarting me. I hadn’t touched my drink.
“He’s got some ugly Australian girl with him.”
I think she’s talking about Bob Dylan who has entered through a black iron gate and is now riding his horse over a patch of fake-looking Bermuda grass.
“No,” Claud corrected me. “Dylan’s here with his wife. I’m talking about Hopper.”
She bit down on the cigarette and slumped back in her chair, struck a match with her thumb and looked at the flame.
“Dennis and I were wondering…” She lit the cigarette, blew. I still didn’t look at her.
I hate Dennis.
“Why don’t you try to fuck him?”
Fuck Dennis? Then I caught on. Sort of. “What for?”
“What for–? Maggie! Don’t you know who he is–?”
Of course I did. Everybody knew Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider. I dabbed at my drink with my pinkie. I said, “I’ve heard the name.” This got her going. She was breathing hard.
“He’s a filmmaker Maggie!… he makes films, he acts… he writes – he’s an artist! You could learn something from somebody like him… you could challenge yourself, you could–”
“By fucking Dennis Hooper?”
The snarl snuck out. “Hopper!”
A few days later, she said: “You’re weak.”
“Weak,” her Dennis repeated.
“And you choose weak men.” Claudia was referring to the shy lean man with the ponytail I had met the day before. Isadore Lawless, Jr.
God I hated her then.