Editor’s Note: This edition features submissions from a writers’ workshop led by local resident Christine Fugate. All are fiction, except as noted.
Used to be when I’d get home from work, I’d take off my bra, put on my sandals and walk Scrumptious down St. Ann’s Drive to the Nita Carman Park. I moved here last October and had yet to make a friend. I figured my best chance was the dog owners that would gather at the park. Problem is that Scrumptious was extremely protective and would leap and swirl like a barking helicopter blade.
“She’s a rescue,” I would offer up. Some people would give me a dirty look, while others would bend down and try to dog whisper their way into Scrumptious’ heart. She would sniff and then snarl, causing the failed whisperer to jump back.
“Bad dog,” I would say. My crazy dog would just look at me, wagging her white fluffy tail. “I’m never going to make friends if you keep this up.” After a few months though, I gave up. I would put on my headphones and listen to Terri Gross on “Fresh Air.” Scrumptious would sniff the grass, bark at all her enemies and leave a remnant or two behind.
Last Christmas Eve, Terri Gross was taking the night off, so I walked without my phone. The park was empty; everyone was with family and friends drinking eggnog, Christmas caroling and opening presents. Scrumptious sniffed around the Leonard Glasser sculpture of the woman sunbathing, while I sat on the sculpture of the man, trying not to have my own pity party.
“What phonus balonus!” a raspy voice said behind me, “Don’t you agree?” I turned around to face a petite woman dressed in a lavender cloche and satiny pink dress that swayed back and forth just below her knees. “I was a suffragette. Now, I have a park with my name on it and a broad with her gams up in the air.”
“Are you related to Nita Carman?” I asked.
She laughed. The curls peeking out from under her cloche bounced.
“No, darling. I am Nita Carman. That is, or was, my house,” pointing across the street to the house at the corner of St. Anne’s and Wilson.
I rubbed my eyes, remembering that dusk is the hardest time of day on one’s eyesight. Surely, I was hallucinating.
“Yes, I’m supposed to be gone, but we always did call death ‘the big sleep.’ After getting dressed for dinner today, I decided to stop by and watch the sunset.”
Scrumptious sidled up to Nita.
“What a lovely Maltese.”
To my surprise, Scrumptious rolled over so Nita could rub her belly. “So dear, what’s a doll like you doing here all alone?”
“My family lives far away.” I thought it was best not to divulge my dysfunctional family history to this complete stranger.
“Say, would you like to join Mary Pickford, the gals and me for some giggle juice? We dolls like to sit around and yap before the gents arrive.”
“No, thank you, I have a turkey in the oven,” I lied.
“Very well then,” Nita patted Scrumptious on the head. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
To my surprise, Nita was waiting for me on the green bench every day, always at sunset. I would bring my iced tea while Nita sipped on her giggle juice. The other dog owners would stare at me, wondering whom I was talking to and why Scrumptious was laying on her back with her paws in the air. I soon realized they couldn’t see Nita, but I didn’t care. I finally had a friend.
We would chat into the night about love, feminism, and even how to make friends that would last a lifetime. Mostly, we talked about Laguna Beach and how its beauty and serenity were like a warm blanket on a cold night. Our conversations healed my broken heart.
One night, we were discussing Nita’s unrequited love for Douglas Fairbanks when a chill went up my spine. A coyote about three feet tall stood right in front of us, his eyes focused on Scrumptious. I screamed while Nita yelled, “shoo.” The coyote lunged at us. Scrumptious bolted out of the park. I chased after her while Nita stayed with the coyote. As I retrieved Scrumptious from under a bush, I heard a screeching howl come from the park.
That was over a month ago. Leaving Scrumptious at home, I kept walking to the park at sunset and waiting on the green bench for Nita. I worried about her, as much as you can worry about a ghost or whoever she was. I missed her and all the stories about Mary and Douglas or what Frank Capra said at dinner. Sadly, Nita never returned.
Now, I don’t even walk at night. Scrumptious and I listen to “Fresh Air” at home, while we eat dinner. I sure do feel lonely ever since the coyotes came down from the mountains.
Christine Fugate is the editor of the annual Holiday Digest. She teaches film at Chapman University and writing through the Laguna Beach community services department.