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[Fiction] The La Calma

[Fiction] The La Calma

by Andrew Eastwick

For much of my eleventh year Mother and I lived in La Calma Inn. We never called it “The La Calma,” the way other Anglos did, which always amused Luz. “Don’t they know ‘la’ means ‘the’?” she’d say.

After Father disappeared, Mother hired lawyers and a detective but no one could find him and we couldn’t afford the apartment anymore. We packed everything that would fit in the Buick and moved to a hotel. In what would become a pattern, Mother moved us out after five days, citing poor management. For years I assumed it was customary to leave hotels in the middle of the night.

Pretty soon we left Los Angeles altogether. Mother said she needed to get out of town for a little while. A “sabbatical,” she called it. She was eager to resume her acting career but claimed it was a difficult time for blond bombshells such as herself. “Marilyn and Kim are taking all the good roles for our type,” she said, “and Jayne and Mamie are taking all the bad ones.” It would be better to take a break from the business, save up some money, and return at a more opportune moment.

We rumbled around the Inland Empire, living in motels and never staying more than a week in one place, until Mother landed a job at a cocktail lounge in Santa Bernardita. The nature of her work remained elusive to me. She was neither a waitress nor a performer. “I’m there for atmosphere,” she said. “To make the place feel fuller. Especially on slow weeknights. It’s easy—I just have a couple of drinks and talk to people.”

La Calma Inn was nearby. “We could live here,” she said when we first pulled into the parking lot. “This place has glamor. This place has class.”

The motel was constructed in what Mother called “the mission style,” which I guessed had something to do with the pink and blue trim that contrasted brightly with the white walls. Mother loved the bougainvillea, the fountains, the big mirrors, the colorful paintings. The place had an air of faded Spanish elegance.

Mother was out late every night. The lounge was close enough that she could walk home, but sometimes she’d get a ride. Some nights there would be loud laughter when she got out and some nights there would be yelling and slammed car doors. Some nights she’d come in crying and try to muffle it with a pillow, and to spare both of us the discomfort I’d pretend I was still asleep.

Since she worked so late she’d sleep in, and in the mornings I’d get up quietly while she snored. I’d bike to school with Luz. She was the daughter of the motel owner and less than a year older than me. One of the daughters. Her older sister, Imelda, was sixteen and went to the high school. 

La Calma was on the outskirts of town and the elementary school was too far to walk to, but Santa Bernardita was a resort town with few year-round residents and couldn’t support a school bus. Imelda always rode to school in a car with friends or boyfriends and didn’t want us younger kids tagging along. I didn’t have my own bicycle but there were a couple at the motel for use by the guests, who never used them, so Luz and I rode those.

After school we’d swim in the pool if the weather was good or play in the empty rooms. Mother would go to work in the late afternoon and rarely made any arrangements for my dinner, so Imelda usually fed me when she fed Luz. Their father, Eduardo, claimed to be a great chef, but he never cooked for us because he was always busy running the motel. Imelda’s mother had taught her how to cook but she died before she could teach Luz. Imelda always complained about having to do all the cooking but refused to teach Luz because she said she didn’t have enough time. Imelda was mean to Luz and nice to me. She tousled my sandy hair and called me “güero” while Luz glowered. Imelda was the sort of person who could make a delicious meal out of whatever happened to be around. Nothing but rice, beans and a couple tortillas? No problem—Imelda would whip up something that would taste better than almost anything I’d ever eaten. Then as soon as Luz and I were fed a car would pull up and honk and Imelda would dash out for a date.

On Sundays, her day off, Mother would put on her pink swimsuit and work on her suntan while us kids would splash around in the pool. Sometimes she’d do her exercises, which consisted of bending down and touching her toes for about eight seconds. Sometimes Imelda would be there. Mother said she looked like Dolores del Río. When she went to school Imelda wore dresses and skirts but the rest of the time she wore tight sweaters that showed off her boobs and short shorts that showed off her long shapely legs. By the pool she wore a two-piece bathing suit. Luz caught me staring at her sister sometimes. Luz didn’t have boobs yet, and she had long legs but they were like sticks. She was beautiful but in a different way and she didn’t know it. I stared at her sister because who didn’t? Imelda’s beauty was public, obvious to everyone, even if it was out of reach to almost everyone, including most of the boys who pulled up in their cars to take her on dates. Luz’s beauty, on the other hand, seemed like something only I could see.

Eduardo would stop by the pool to chat if it was a slow day. He would bring Mother fresh ashtrays and sometimes a brightly colored drink with a little umbrella in it. Sometimes he’d bring his Polaroid and take pictures. Mother would strike glamorous poses and Imelda would look gorgeous without even trying and Luz and I would goof around in the pool. Eduardo would shake the pictures as they developed and we’d crowd around to look and laugh. Our favorite was the one where Luz and I were jumping up in the pool and the water sailed away from our raised hands in two glittering arcs. He put that one on the counter in the lobby. On the back of it Luz wrote The La Calma as a joke, along with the date.

Eduardo had married late and his young wife had died not long after Luz was born and now he was in middle age with two daughters. He had silver hair and a paunch but Mother said he was still handsome.

“You need a woman, Eduardo,” she’d say.

“I have my daughters to help out.”

“They don’t help at all and anyway that’s not what I’m talking about.”

He dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand.

“You could catch a woman like that.” She snapped her fingers. “You look like Cesar Romero. 

You could go to LA and be an actor.”

Then she’d tell a story about Cesar Romero. She had stories about everyone. Ronald Colman. Otto Preminger. Montgomery Clift was a favorite subject. “Monty is destroying himself,” she’d say, shaking her head sadly. “He’s too fragile a soul for Hollywood. Tortured. He should’ve stayed in New York where he could act on stage and see better psychotherapists.”

She claimed that Robert Mitchum had invited her to the party where he got busted for grass but she’d turned him down because she had another date. Every year her age in that story got younger until she stopped telling it entirely and replaced it with the one about how she was supposed to go out with James Dean the night he crashed his car but she’d turned him down because she had the flu. She loved when other guests were around to tell stories to but if no one else was around she’d tell us the same stories we’d heard before.

One of our favorite things to do, Luz and me, was draw. Her drawing paper was a big stack of motel stationery that had been printed with the wrong address. Eduardo had the stationery reprinted and was going to throw out the stack of misprints but Luz asked if she could have them to draw on the backs of the pages. She drew a picture of Mother in her swimsuit, with all her body parts exaggerated. She told me to draw Imelda. I did a pretty good job on her face but I drew her body shapeless and straight because I was embarrassed. Luz said the picture looked like a cartoon character and told me to try again. This time I gave her boobs and hips and oval calves. Luz laughed and I crumpled the paper and ran outside to throw it in the dumpster where no one would find it.

When the school year ended I had more time on my hands, but Mother still worked every night except Sunday and still slept until noon. The motel was busier with the summer crowd and Eduardo didn’t want Luz and me driving guests away from the pool so we’d bike into town to buy ice cream cones. We never ate inside the ice cream parlor but took our cones around the back where we’d stashed our bikes. One day she asked, “So what movies has your mom been in?”

I didn’t know. The way Mother talked about her career it sounded like she’d been in a lot of movies, but she’d never taken me to see any, and once when I had asked her the same question Luz had just asked me, her answer was so confusing I had to assume she hadn’t been in any movies. I was trying to figure out what to say when Luz kissed me. Her breath wasn’t fresh but it was sweet from the ice cream.

“You need to move your lips more,” she said.

I tried to do that.

“That’s too much.”

I tried for something in between my first and second attempts.

“You’re still just a kid,” she sighed.

“You’re only a few months older than me.”

“I’m eleven.”

“I’ll be eleven in a few months.”

“And then I’ll be twelve. Anyway I’m just kissing you for practice.”

I watched her as she climbed onto her bike and rode away. I didn’t catch up to her until we got back to La Calma.

Luz didn’t try to kiss me again. I watched her, trying to figure out what she was thinking. And I watched Mother and Imelda and Eduardo to see if they noticed that something had happened between Luz and me, and also if their reactions would help me figure out how Luz felt about it. But everyone just acted like normal.

Until one day in August when the summer crowd had thinned and we were back in the pool and I was watching Luz swim and Mother was sitting with her drink and her cigarette. I heard someone yelling words I didn’t understand and then a woman came storming into the courtyard. A man was trying to stop her but she kept shoving him away and Eduardo trailed both of them looking for the right moment to intervene. The woman grabbed an ashtray from a table and threw it at Mother, who’d already risen when she heard the commotion. The ashtray struck her drink and broke the glass and a shard of it nicked Mother’s leg, bringing forth a thin ribbon of red.

The woman screamed at Mother and then she turned around and left, giving the man one more shove. The man’s eyes met Mother’s. Then he mumbled something to Eduardo and pressed some bills into his hand before hurrying after the woman.

“I don’t know what that was all about, Eduardo,” Mother said. Her hands were shaking. “Some kind of misunderstanding, I guess.” Eduardo looked at the ground. Mother dabbed a napkin on her cut. She went into our room and didn’t come out, even when it was time for work.

Eduardo busied himself around the motel, although the only other guests had checked out that morning. Imelda cooked dinner. When the car honked outside she squeezed my shoulder before she went out.

Luz and I didn’t want to go back to the pool after dinner so we jumped on the beds in one of the empty rooms. We hit each other with pillows, but our hearts weren’t really in it. I stalled as long as I could and when I finally went back to our room Mother was packing.

“Are we moving?” I asked.

“Yes, sweetheart, we’re moving.”


“Because the school year will start soon and the school in this town is terrible. We’re going to go someplace where you can get a decent education.”

“Back to Los Angeles?”

“Not yet,” she sighed. “I want to save up a little more and the timing still isn’t right. Wait till people get sick of sitting in front of their lousy little television sets and want larger-than-life glamor again in CinemaScope.”

“Where, then?”

“I thought we’d try Reno.”


“You’ll like it. It’s the Biggest Little City in the World.”

I didn’t ask Mother what had happened to her job at the cocktail lounge or what kind of work she intended to do in Reno. We didn’t leave in the night, for once. We finished packing and went to bed and left in the morning. Eduardo hugged Mother and kissed her cheeks and shook my hand. Imelda hugged us both and cried. Luz wasn’t there but I could see her watching from the lobby. I started to go in to say good-bye but she ran away from the window.

Mother tried not to cry as we drove away. I wouldn’t look at her because then she’d cry for real and I knew I’d start crying too. I was looking anywhere but at her. We were a couple of blocks down the street, almost out of town, when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a bike following us.

“Stop,” I said.

“Sweetheart, I wish we could stay too, but we can’t. We have to—”

I pointed to the rearview mirror and we both watched Luz pedaling furiously to catch up to us. Mother pulled the car to the curb. Luz jumped off her bike and dropped it in the street. I was about to get out but she ran up to the passenger’s side and thrust something through my open window. She ran back to her bike and pedaled away, but I’d seen her face in the window for a moment and her cheeks were streaked with tears.

I looked at what she’d thrown at me, which had landed in my lap. It was the Polaroid of the two of us in the pool. One of my tears fell on it and the photo crinkled where it got wet.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Mother was saying. Her arm was around me.

“I don’t want it,” I said, flinging it away. The photo landed upside down and I saw The La Calma in Luz’s handwriting. Mother picked it up and tucked it into her purse.

“I don’t want it,” I kept saying as she put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb.

Andrew Eastwick’s work has appeared in Barely South Review, In Parentheses, and Sans. PRESS and is forthcoming from Straylight Literary Magazine. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actor/improviser Tara Copeland, and their daughter.


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