Check out my short story, 2HOT in Arizona. Inspired by a writing prompt on Reedsy.
The front vanity plate on her vintage red mustang read “2HOT”.
She thought it was funny.
This was Arizona after all.
“You know dear,” Mrs. Tanesky started in, “If you want Bill to propose, you’re going to have to sell that car. Men don’t like to compete. And that car just screams--”
“Ooops look at that, I’ve got someplace to be.” Esther Rae rolled her eyes at the nosey neighbor as she wiggled by in her jean mini-skirt and wedge heels. Her faded hemp bag was slung over one shoulder, filled with the essentials. She had on her big sunglasses, the ones she liked for driving and her floppy pink sun hat. It went perfectly with the peekaboo from her neon bikini that was visible through her sheer white flowy top.
Mrs. Tanesky could piss off.
So could everyone else at Sunshine Estates.
Bunch of no-good-gossipy-old-bitches.
As far as they were all concerned, Esther Rae was driving down the road to use the pool at Sunset West, the trailer court a few miles away. But not today. Not ever again.
No. Esther Rae had an appointment she wasn’t going to miss.
Tucked neatly in an envelope on the passenger seat of her car were the words she’d been waiting for. Her fate. And when she reached the entrance to the highway, she rolled down her window and flung out her pink hat.
“Aghhhh!” She screamed, releasing the thousand pound weight from her chest. She stomped her wedge down on the gas letting the old engine roar to life and soar across the hot pavement.
It would take a few days before anyone figured out she wasn’t coming back… They’d all look out their windows, watching for her vintage mustang. After a while, they’d start asking.
“Have you seen Esther Rae?”
“No, have you seen Bill?”
“No! He seems to be taking this well. Remember the last time she left?”
“Don’t remind me! What an asshole! He was outside screaming like the devil.”
“I thought he was going to kill her when she came home.” “Ssshhhh! Suzie, he might hear you.”
They’d look around nervously. Bill was a prick. The worst. But guess what you nosey bitches, Bill can’t hear you! Bill’s not going to hear anyone. Not ever again. By the time they found Bill, Esther Rae was going to be long gone!
Dear Ms. Apollo,
Your portfolio is exquisite! We were quite excited to hear that you have never had any formal instruction. Raw talent can be so difficult to find. We look forward to having you join us this summer. Enclosed is a check from the Young Artist Foundation to assist with your travel expenses. Your lodging has also been arranged and paid for by the foundation. Please check-in by noon on June 21st.
The Clements Colony
“You’re not going to some fucking art school hippy shit in California! Are you out of your mind Esther Rae?” Bill’s words were hateful. But, they stopped hurting her a long time ago.
“You of all people, to call it hippy shit. You’re pathetic Bill! I will not spend one more second in this hell hole with--” she snapped back. But, before she could finish, Bill was on top of her. His dried out leathery hands reaching for her throat.
Not again Bill.
He really was out of his mind.
Esther Rae might have laughed if she wasn’t busy trying to duck and roll out of the old man’s way. Bill Fletcher was, by most accounts, a hard-working and handsome man. Yeah, maybe twenty or thirty years ago! But now, he was just sad and pathetic and he resorted to beating on Esther Rae to make himself feel more in control.
“I don’t understand why you hang out with him, he’s so old and creepy!” Complained Esther Rae’s cousin Lisa. The girls were laying by the pool at Sunset West.
“Yeah well, it's complicated--” Esther Rae started to explain. But she was sick of explaining why she’d spent the last four years living with Bill Fletcher. On the surface, she was a twenty-three year old girl with daddy issues. A high school dropout. You know the type.
But under the make-up and clothes and disastrous choices in men, Esther Rae was an old soul. An artist. A dreamer. Bill had once been a dreamer. A writer. He’d been a successful studio writer at NBC-- he wrote episodes for the last few seasons of Bonanza. But, in retirement he’d pissed away his savings at the horse track, at the bar, on whiskey and women. That’s when Esther Rae found him. From the first time they spoke at the Old Cantina, she’d known he was the one. There was just something about him. He smelled like a cowboy and reminded her of her Grandpa Bob. The only man who’d ever been kind to Esther Rae.
Bill would recount the most amazing stories of Hollywood in the 1970’s. He’d been in his early twenties when he’d left the Arizona desert and drove to the Pacific Coast. He was handsome and wild. He knew everyone and used to party with Farrah Fawcett and Robert Redford.
But, more than his old stories, Esther Rae loved the way Bill looked at her. He worshiped her-- praised her-- told her she was special. And for a time, she believed him. He set up an easel for her under the ancient Saguaro on the hill behind their trailer so she could paint the high desert landscapes at dawn, when the sun was rising and the lighting was just right. He’d bring her lemonade and her pink hat when it started getting hot.
The A/C in her mustang wasn’t cold at all.
It was pumping and re-circulating the arid desert air. The radio wasn’t working and the battery on her cell phone was dead. The silence was enough to make her go mad. Bill loved to talk. He talked all the fucking time! Nonsense lately, she hardly knew if she could believe a word he said.
“You’re fucked up again.” She slammed his eggs down on the table. Remembering at the last second that she’d forgotten to put Tabasco on them, like he liked.
“Mind your own goddamn business Esther Rae.” Bill stabbed at the plate. But, he couldn’t seem to make the fork hang on to the soft fluffy yellow eggs. He tried over and over. His brain screaming at his hand, but the noise in his is head made him forget what he was doing anyway. He got up and looked around. Bill wasn’t sure what time it was. He looked at his watch, but he wasn’t wearing it. “I’m late. Do you know what time Michael goes on set? I have re-writes for him.”
“What the hell Bill. Don’t change the subject! You might know what fucking year it was if you’d lay off the booze before breakfast,” Esther Rae shouted at him. But, she knew it wasn’t really the booze. It was his mind. His lights were turning off and she didn’t know how much time she had left with him. It was eating her alive.
She loved Bill.
“Bill, tell me again. Tell me about the Clements Colony,” Esther Rae asked. They were laying in bed, the window open to let in the cool midnight air. Her head was resting on his chest and he stroked her hair, ever-so-gently.
“Well my sweet desert rose, the Clements Colony is an artist colony, right on the Pacific Coast, north of Malibu. It’s where I started. Back then, in the 60’s and 70’s they let writers join. Now, I think it’s just artists, like you. You’d love it there,” his words were soft and lucid. “You know, I could write to them for you. It’s the one big thing I did before I left Hollywood-- I was in hot water with the IRS over some back taxes so I made a huge donation--” cough, cough. Bill sat up and gasped for air.
“Bill, are you okay, arms up, come on-- like I showed you. Here let me get you some water.” Esther Rae ran out to get a glass. She hated when he started to cough and choke. His body was forgetting, every day, a little more.
How to breathe and talk at the same time.
How to get dressed. She’d found him wandering in the back naked a few days ago, looking for her. He had her hat and lemonade. But, she’d been at the pool with Lisa.
He’d forgotten how to eat. She finally hid the scale from Bill. He’d lost twenty pounds over the last few months and it only agitated him to see the numbers declining.
“God Bill! Why’d you have to go and get sick you old fucker,” she sobbed while she drove. It was all she could do to keep her eyes on the road. She focused on the mirage that appeared out in front of her. Its shimmery silver reflection-- a trick in the mind’s eye from the heat and sun shining off the pavement.
She didn’t want Bill to die.
And she knew she should have called the cops to report it.
But, she was just so angry.
He’d gone and written such a beautiful letter to the Clements Colony, reminding them of the very large donation he’d made once upon a time, asking for them to look at her portfolio. But then, he’d ripped it up and thrown it in the trash in a fitful rage after a bottle of Johnny Walker when he couldn’t remember why he was writing the letter in the first place.
Esther Rae had carefully taped it back together.
She carefully placed it in the box with her portfolio before she mailed it off six months ago. She never expected to be accepted. She wasn’t even sure if Bill was telling the truth about being a member of the prestigious artist colony or if they’d remember him.
“A letter came for you today, Esther Rae. Do you have something you want to tell me?” Bill was drunk again.
“Um, no, give it to me. Who’s it from? Because if it’s the people at the power company, I paid that fucking past-due balance last week. I showed you the receipt--” she defended herself.
“It’s not from the power company,” Bill said through gritted teeth. He held the letter in one hand and made a fist with the other. “Are you leaving me? You really think you're special? You’re nothing but a trashy slut. A fucking little tramp.” Bill was belligerent. Angry. Mean. A real prick.
The words didn’t sting like they used to.
Esther Rae looked at the envelope in Bill’s hand. And then at his face.
He was scared.
“Just let me open it Bill. Don’t you remember. You wrote me that lovely letter to get into the Clements Colony. You gave them a very large donation-- you said you wanted me to go and follow my dreams. But, I won’t go if you don’t want me to. I know you need me,” Esther Rae used her calm voice. She reached for Bill and held him in her arms. She could feel his ribs, stabbing her. She wasn’t sure the last time he’d been able to eat anything.
His body sagged in her arms.
She placed him gently on the couch and took the letter from him.
It was her destiny.
They fought for a few days, back and forth, about her leaving for the summer. She promised to come home in September, but they both knew-- he was dying. There was nothing left here for his beautiful desert rose. Bill closed his eyes. He was so angry. He wanted to keep her. To hold on to Esther Rae for a little bit longer. Every time he reached for her the anger inside of him swelled up to the surface.
“You little bitch! I oughta--” he yelled and lunged at her. But god, he was so tired. And sick of looking at her beautiful face twist up, like she wanted to laugh at him or cry. Bill Fletcher was ready to die.
“Bill, just relax!” Esther Rae was setting the table for breakfast.
“How can I? You’re leaving today,” he moaned.
“I’m just going to the pool with Lisa. I’ll be back later and I’ll make you those cactus jelly cupcakes you like so much. I picked up a jar at some cute little roadside stand when I was driving back from town the other day,” Esther Rae told him.
She placed the eggs in front of Bill.
He looked at her and smiled.
“You’re a pretty little thing aren’t you,” he complimented Esther Rae. She smiled back and held out the Tabasco sauce.
“You like ‘em hot Bill?” She flirted.
“Too hot. Hit me baby,” he teased. She sprinkled his eggs with spicy pepper sauce and set the bottle down on the table to go and fetch his toast that had popped up. Her back was to him. He told his hand to focus-- to stab the eggs with the fork-- to put a bite in his mouth. He was so hungry. So ready. He glanced up at the young lady in the kitchen, she had a beautiful behind squeezed nicely into a tight jean skirt.
“Bill, arms up!” Esther Rae turned back to her man. Her old dying man. A shell of the once handsome and hardworking man.
He coughed again and sputtered. He looked at the beautiful girl, the sorrow and sadness on her face. It pained him to see her so sad. He stopped coughing. His body had forgotten why it was trying to fight it in the first place. The food in his throat slid deep into his lungs, staving off the last oxygen that remained.
She was calling for him. Holding him. Kissing his face. Begging for him to breathe, to put his hands up, to cough out the eggs. But Bill felt free, for the first time in as long as he could remember. He was glad this was all over.
It was after dinner when Esther Rae pulled up to the front of Clements Colony. She didn’t really know what to expect. She was a full day early from when the letter said to arrive. And she wasn’t sure if any of Bill’s stories were true anymore. This place might be a complete nightmare! He’d probably been sick with Alzheimer's their entire relationship. But, she was young. Stupid. You know the type.
“Welcome! You must be Esther Rae! Bill Fletcher has been sending us the most charming letters about you! He said to watch out for his desert rose in her hot red mustang,” squealed a small man in glasses who’d come running out to greet her.
“I, uh, yes--” Esther Rae stumbled on the words.
“Bill is such a dear. He used to come back and visit all the time. You know he was the formal speaker on my first day here, that was Solstice Day ten years ago. He founded this place back in 1970 with his Hollywood friends. It's such a dream! I can’t wait to hear all about how Bill is doing these days. His letters were so cryptic!” The man continued to gush about Bill.
“Oh, I see,” Esther Rae whispered.
She felt queasy.
Her Bill. And his stupid stories. Founder? He never told her that one! And he’d been writing them letters-- about her? She thought there had only been one. The one he’d ripped up. The one she taped back together and put inside her portfolio.
He’d been so hurt when she said she was leaving. But, he’d been pushing for it all along!
And she just left him there, alone-- dead. Oh God!
“I need to make a phone call,” she said hurriedly. “My phone is dead.”
“Oh no problem! Come to the Lobby, you can use the main phone. This place used to be an old ocean side hotel when Bill bought it. We still call the main space the Lobby.”
Esther Rae wanted to scream, she didn’t need a history lesson right now! She just needed a goddamn phone.
She dialed the number to Mrs. Tanesky.
“Hello, Mrs. Tanesky, it’s Esther Rae. Can you please go over and check on Bill. When I left for the pool this morning, he was eating his breakfast. I had some errands to run and then my phone died, and he’s not answering the house phone. I--uh-- I’m in California. I’m worried that something happened to Bill. Can you go check on him, please,” Esther Rae sobbed into the phone.
She couldn’t just leave him there to rot in the trailer alone.
“Oh my! California? Are you coming back?”
“I got accepted to a summer art program. And uh, Bill and I had gotten into a fight about it. I guess I just sort of snapped today and decided to leave. But, yes, I’ll come home. Please just go check on Bill. I’ll wait on the phone. The key is under the rock by the front door,” Esther Rae explained.
“I’ll knock and if he doesn’t answer, I’ll use the key. But, if he’s naked again, or drunk and yells at me, I’m calling the cops!” Mrs. Tanesky set down the phone receiver as Esther Rae had instructed, leaving the line connected while she went next door to check on her old dying prick-of-a-neighbor.
While she waited, Esther Rae looked around the Lobby. It was beautiful, mid-century decor and art. Huge plate glass windows faced the ocean-- an artist’s view. The glowing sun was slowly setting, sinking heavily into the waters of the Pacific. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
She could hear Bill’s voice. “You know Esther Rae, there is this place for artists, I want you to go there someday and follow your dreams.”
I hope you enjoyed my short story 2HOT in Arizona! Drop by my Twitter @writingwithreed and let me know what you think. #2hotAZ