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From Soleil Madera

 

 

Chapter 1 – Sunrise, L.A.

 

 

        “I have something to tell you, Soleil,” Ravi said.

        His words were soft-spoken.  Still they splintered my daydreams.  I didn’t want those visions splintered.  I’d almost been able to conjure up the tickle of a make-up girl’s brush on my skin, the scent of roses in my arms, the rush of excited voices chanting my name.  I wanted to be back home there, in the cheering embrace of all that admiration. 

        I had missed it more than I’d care to admit.  Would they love me again?  As much as before?

The reason I became an actress in the first place was that that’s what I thought life was all about, acting.  I remember a book we used in one of my first classes.  It said that we all act, from the first moment we understand that a well-timed cry gets us food, and a smile gets us good will when we need it the most.  I had a talent for acting, and I wanted to take it to the limit, both when I first started my career, and now when I wanted to start it all over again. 

All those sensations dwindled at the sound of Ravi’s voice. 

“Okay,” I said.  I allowed myself a deep sigh to let him know how little I welcomed his interruption, all due respect notwithstanding. 

        “But you are not going to listen.”   He spoke to my back in his unperturbed voice.

        “Not with a great deal of attention anyway.”  I smiled at my inner brat.  I was entitled to my truth, wasn’t I? 

        The plane had begun its descent into LAX.  I put my forehead against the window.  Soon I’d be down there again.  Flames of anticipation licked at my chest.   Over the clouds above L.A., the sun rose, gleaming.  I imagined the roofs below, the manicured yards, the turquoise swimming pools.  My heart throbbed against the heel of my hand.  Gold poured from the angled sun.  I wished I could make it erase all shabbiness down there, leaving only rich glitter. 

Because I wanted to create the magic of arriving at sunrise, for good luck and in honor of my name, Ravi and I had traveled a complicated route from the ashram in Italy to L.A., via Hawaii, to arrange it just so.  What would be the point of all that if I didn’t focus on the sunrise now?

My right hand went for the key chain in my pants pocket.  It held no keys, just a plastic square with the words from a review printed on it, reduced to fit.  “She first came on the scene like a baby animal one yearns to protect and help along.  Seamlessly she has turned into a lovely young woman as enchanting as a dream one wishes would never end.” 

I knew the words by heart.  The plastic touch alone was enough to bring back to me the power of the talisman.     

        “It won’t end,” I whispered to the window.  Air vibrated back to my lips.  I managed to drift away from Ravi’s presence again into the colors streaming to my eyes. 

        “I guess I will have to tell you later,” he said on the outer edge of my awareness. 

        As we descended through tendrils of clouds, the air began to turn sullen, a yellowish brown that looked sticky.  I wanted to refuse to let the dull morning light of L.A. dampen my spirits.  I pressed my fingertips, still scented from the hot wakeup towel, into the rounded window space. 

        In the space between my backrest and the seat directly behind, I saw the face of a little girl leaning into her window also.  The girl, tiny hands held over her ears, turned and stared at me with huge black eyes.  I blew a kiss at the cheerless cotton clouds, then winked at the girl.  She dimpled, blew a kiss out the window likewise and winked with both eyes at once.  Then she slipped out of my sight with shy speed.  

        I closed my eyes, wanting to rescue the joyous exchange with the girl and the gold from the sunrise above the clouds into the overcast reality we had now entered. 

        I felt so ready to have it all again, fame, visibility, the excitement of working, of knowing I could reach and touch my audience.  Whatever the cost, I would pay the price.  I was so certain I could afford it now.  And I would give it all that I had. 

        “I’ll be the best,” I whispered into the windowpane.  I imagined herself fading in and out of potential movie characters.  I’d show them.  Show them what?  Oh, anything at all.  Purple-haired rock star with belly button jewels.  Feminist activist.  Benevolent medieval witch.  Groupie to Ricky Martin, Elvis Presley, or a fictional creation of their ilk.  Modern-day nun.  Sci-Fi fantasy queen.

 

 

        The plane rumbled on the landing strip.  I loved the feeling.  End of journey.  Connecting with the ground.

I reached for my three inch lens sunglasses and pulled my white silk scarf forward to cover my long dark blond hair and shadow most of my face.  From Row One, Ravi and I were the first passengers off the plane.  I felt the hair on my arms come alive with anticipation.  If only I could stand still for a moment and smell the air—fuel, coffee, slept-in clothes and all, the promise, the new day.  But other passengers pressed on from behind. 

        “I’m back,” I sang out in abbreviated celebration.  “My life will be wonderful now.  You’ll see.” 

        “I have no doubt.”  Ravi took my arm firmly and marched me toward an exit. 

        “You see, I don’t need star treatment,” I said. 

I was amazed at the thick crowd of people, all on their humming way to somewhere else.  It hadn’t been this crowded two years before.  Or had I simply never noticed? 

“But I do need my destiny,” I continued into Ravi’s typical silence.  “I want to act.  I want people to love me, because it nurtures me to be loved.  It makes me almost immune to their judgment.  Oh, sure, I know everybody will feel entitled to have their opinions about me again.  The worst always is, ‘she’s gorgeous enough, she doesn’t need talent.’  Well, I happen to have talent to spare.”

        I had, of course, heard worse than accusations of mere beauty.  I tried hard to refuse to dwell on that now.  I had dealt with it in my fashion.  It had cost me two years to put the date rape behind me, and Nicholas’ humiliating words that, after all, my value consisted of being a masturbation icon, nothing more.  My mind, I think, had been far more wounded than my body.  I wanted to leave all that behind. 

What I would have wanted most was to have my past back as it had once been.  Not very likely.

        Still, I drove my excitement into roller-coaster mode, inching up the long stretch of emotions to the first breathless drop.  How serious I’d been two years earlier, and how cavalier at the same time.  So ready to ditch everything rather than suffer Hollywood anguish and humiliation, for which there was no cure.  Adios very much.  I’d be off to live as a nun in the mountains somewhere. 

 

 

        Keeping up with Ravi’s stride while trying to be philosophical was a challenge, though I only stumbled once.  “Good thing I’m not wearing high heels.  I mean, nobody’s expecting us, right?”

        Ravi didn’t need to respond.  I knew.  It was just the tiniest bit disappointing, despite my freshly voiced indifference to star treatment.  There was no law against conflicting emotions, was there? 

Two years ago, there would have been a crush of fans, media, cameras flashing, flowers, microphones.  I missed it, felt a bit naked without it.  But we had planned my return as a quiet affair.  I wanted to take Hollywood by surprise on my own terms.  Ravi though that was a good idea, too.  So I kept my head low and clung to Ravi’s arm as he led me forward.  He was strong for his slight physique.

        Two years ago there would also have been Robert.  I was tempted to ask Ravi if he thought I would get back with Robert.  But what good was Ravi’s opinion vis-à-vis a reality that had yet to unfold?

        “So why are we in a rush?” I asked, more to change the subject in my own mind than to elicit information from Ravi.  “I want to dance.  Breathe in the air.  Look at the shops.  Not stop, mind you, just look.”  I put my most playful persona in charge, a pixie twirling color batons. 

        Aha.  I finally got Ravi to chuckle.  “You certainly manage to make your one hundred pounds feel like a ton on my arm.  There will be time for everything later.”

        “A hundred and nine pounds,” I corrected him.  “And your line’s supposed to be that we have to live in the moment.  Not later.”  My heart suddenly felt light with banter. 

 

 

        Ravi pressed forward, negotiating the bustling airport.  Out of nowhere, a sense of dread pushed down into my gut.  I couldn’t chase it off.  Had I stayed away too long?  Was it absurd to believe that I had all the time in the world to attend to personal needs? 

All but a few of the women in the airport looked young and dewy.  I craned my neck at a newsstand to see the faces of youth on the magazine covers.  They all looked younger than my twenty-six years.  I didn’t off-hand recognize anyone either, but then again, we were walking so fast.  Two years ago she’d been one of them, on the cover, and younger.

Ravi relentlessly pulled me along. 

 

 

        A stretch limousine waited at the curb outside the terminal.  Ravi lifted his hand.  A young chauffeur, with the same brown skin tone as Ravi’s, rushed to open the door for me.  “Good morning, Ma’am”.  That part felt familiar anyway.    

        I sank into the soft gray leather of the seat.  A moment later Ravi joined me.         

        “You radiate excitement.”  Ravi smiled.  “Like a storm gathering momentum.”

        I felt my ribcage rise and fall.  “And you know what?”  I raised my eyes to his.  “I’m not going to do a darn thing about it.  I deserve my excitement.  I want to relish it.  I’ll give them everything I have.”  I spread my arms, palms up.  “I’ll be even better than two years ago.  In fact, I’ll be the best.  You’ll see.” 

There.  My ambitions were out in the open now.  I had put them in words.  The words were spoken.  That ought to reinforce my energies against the odd self-doubt that would surface sooner or later.  As for Ravi, he was welcome to judge me all he wanted.  I plunked back into my seat.

        “Good,” he said. 

I exhaled.  No matter how much indifference I might pretend, approval was a welcome relief from any anticipated judgment. 

 

 

        We left the circular terminal drive and turned onto Century Boulevard.  Tinted windows kept us shielded from the jackhammer noise of ongoing construction in the California summer dust.

        “I didn’t show you the entertainment,” the driver called back through the intercom.  “The music is in the--”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” I replied.  “I just wish you could take the tint off the windows.  Then I could get a better view of reality.”

        “Sorry, Ma’am.  I’d need more notice for that.”

        I laughed with him and switched off the intercom.

 

 

        Two miles down Century Boulevard heading for the freeway, we passed a movie theater on the right. 

Ravi took a deep breath.  “What I was going to tell you earlier--”

        “Look,” I interrupted and placed my hand on his arm.  “Ravi, would you just look at that?”

From the billboard, a larger than life image of me smiled down with violet eyes that looked unreal, but were, as it happened, genuine.   

“Ravi, I didn’t expect that.”  I must have squealed.  I pressed my hands against my chest, as though I could thereby ensure that I would remain in one piece without exploding into fragments.  “After two years.  That’s so awesome.  Unlikely.  Or....”  I glanced at him sideways.  “Did you just organize that to make me happy?”

        The look I saw on Ravi’s face was far too serious. 

        My voice lost speed and volume.  I was scared.  “What is it?”  

        “That’s just it.  That’s what I’ve wanted to tell you.   Before you would see for yourself,” Ravi said.  “That was not you up there.”      

        “And the moon is made of lemon meringue,” I said with cautious cheer.  I turned my head, but could no longer see the cinema billboard.  Still, I knew what I had seen.  I might have felt disoriented from recent travel, but I was not hallucinating.

        “No, the moon is still a rock,” Ravi said.  “But that billboard we just saw was not you.”

        My skin prickled.  I felt cold, and the world seemed to turn down to slow motion.  “What are you trying to tell me?”        

“Somebody took your place while you were gone.  She makes movies using your name.”

        “You’re kidding, right?”

        “No.” 

        He didn’t blink at my stare. 

        I tried my best not to be afraid.  “Ravi, let’s go back.  I’ll show you.”  I had my hand on the driver intercom phone. 

Ravi placed his hand on top of mine. 

“I know it’s hard to believe,” he said.  “There is another actress out there using your identity.”

        “No way.”  I shrugged off his hand and crossed my arms over her chest. 

        “I wish--,” Ravi said. 

        “It’s not possible, don’t you see?”  Like a patronizing mother I waved my index finger in front of his face.  “Back there.  That billboard.  That was me.  Soleil Madera.  That’s what I look like.  You know that.  Let’s go back?  Please?  So I can show you?”  As much as I waved my finger, I couldn’t wave away the heat that reached into my chest like a searing claw.

        “It will not change anything.  Obviously she looks just like you.”

        “Nobody looks like me.”  I could hear my own voice pleading.

        “This woman does.”