Twenty Minutes Away
by Denise Osso
In the wide shots, the Malibu beach goes on forever. You hear the waves crash over the opening credits, and in the close-ups, you can practically smell the dried saltwater on the actress’ shoulder. But when you move to L.A., you wake up to the roar of a leaf blower from the gardener next door and the sharp scent of gasoline cutting through the Night-Blooming Jasmine hiding the bars on the bedroom window of the only place you could afford. This is nothing like TV. You are nowhere near the beach.
When you first got here, somebody told you everything was just twenty minutes away, and you believed them—until you found out the truth. That morning, you learned there were two streets named San Vicente and neither of them had anything to do with the other, and the one you wanted was an hour away. Your phone was dead and you couldn’t call to say you were going to be late for the audition. You drove so fast the people on the Homes-of-the-Stars tour buses were sure you were somebody. That feeling lasted until you were in front of the camera and could see the casting director texting the whole time. You performed the bite and smile you had practiced in the bathroom mirror for the top of his head. After the audition was over, there you were at ten in the morning with nothing else to do that day. It was already eighty-five degrees and it didn’t matter that it was a dry heat, because you knew you hadn’t gotten the job and that meant you were nobody.
At home you hated the humidity, but at home you were somebody.
Now, when you meet someone who might be somebody, you drop names like breadcrumbs, hoping they lead to something you both have in common. You’re not getting anywhere, but you’re not going back.
Now, you know this is a desert and there are consequences under those hissing summer lawns.
Now, you carry water, drive everywhere, park in the shade, and always tell anyone new that where they are going is just twenty minutes away.
Now, you know what it takes to survive, even though you are still nobody.
At least you don’t take the bus. Not like those women who ride for an hour and then walk half a mile uphill to the too-big houses. The people who live in these houses trust those women to care for the babies in too-big nurseries, even though they would cross the street if those women’s grown sons approached. When the big one comes, the people who take the bus will help one another. When the grid goes down and the electric gates of the too-big houses won’t open, the people who live behind the gates will panic until they remember it’s Tuesday and that’s when the gardener comes, and he can fix anything.
You don’t take buses, and the only reason you walk uphill is to exercise your dog and burn calories. You go before the sun gets high and the snakes come out. You burn up your data plan talking to somebody about a restaurant you have both been to in Park Slope. Your dog pulls at the leash, straining toward ridgelines where the mountain lions roam from Santa Barbara to the hills above the Greek Theater. Their scat is on the soles of your running shoes. You know a guy who knows a guy who was in the deep end of his pool in Bel Air when one of those big cats just walked out of the brush, stopped, looked at him, and then went back to where the sprinklers can’t reach. The mountain lions don’t need Waze. Their GPS is genetic. They kill to live. And they were here first. We are the new ones. Too distracted to know when to run. Too weak to survive without paid help. Too dumb to leave when it’s time.
You came to L.A. expecting what you saw on television. Now you believe in the magic that will make you rise to the top of the stack of headshots. You stick to the diet that keeps you from getting too wide for the small screen. You become friends with people you meet at improv class who act like you will be big enough to fill the multiplex someday. You self-tan for the camera and learn to survive with too much sun and not enough water. Like a lizard, you lick the damp courage out of the smallest victory, swallow hard, and keep going.
You stay on the hunt, navigating the freeways built on sand, peering through windshields dulled by grit, even when you are lost, running on empty, holding your fear at ten and two, talking to people you can’t see. Even when all you hear is a voice that repeats, “Did I lose you?”
You stay because you came here to find something that shimmers in the distance. And everybody knows it’s just twenty minutes away.
Published October 28th, 2018
Denise Osso attended the Tin House Summer Workshop, was a resident at The Ragdale Foundation, and is a graduate of the Stanford University Online Writers Certificate Program in Novel Writing. Her work has been featured in the L.A. New Short Fiction Series. A published songwriter whose songs have appeared in film and TV and been captured on vinyl, she is working on The Golden State, a collection of stories about life in Los Angeles.
Kate Hush appeared in New York City via train in 2010, has been interested in wicked women since birth, and has been working with neon lighting since 2013. She is a quiet woman, and needs you to know nothing more.