On a cold, wet New Year’s Day, I strolled Forest Avenue looking for inspiration to brighten my day. I was wide-awake at 9 a.m. and feeling self-pity that I welcomed in the new year alone.
The shops and galleries were closed, the sidewalks empty. The reflection of artwork in the windows created a montage of reds, blues and yellows on the wet pavement. There were no footprints to disturb the shimmering art.
A woman sipped espresso while her three children munched croissants at Moulin. I watched passionately to create my own melodrama from that scene. All I could imagine was a hot espresso rising to my lips.
Then, it happened. A Champagne bottle cork, free of its bottle, rolled down the sidewalk towards me. I named the cork Tinker Bell, because it was flying free in the wind, and like fairy dust, it lifted my spirits and heightened my imagination to investigate.
Was there a party still happening to which I could invite myself?
I followed Tinker Bell’s path and found a broken Champagne bottle holding ajar a door with no identification of what lay inside. An adventure! Perfect for this solitary morning.
Carefully, I opened the door. Lying head-up in the middle of a steep staircase was a woman. Dressed in layers of filthy clothes, she wore a blond wig underneath a grey felt cap. Her face was red from sun exposure and heavily wrinkled. I recognized she was homeless and considered calling the Friendship Shelter.
Instead, I decided to make the arduous climb up the stairs. I wasn’t sure she was still alive, but a loud moan confirmed she was still with us. I named her Mona. She didn’t appear to be in any medical distress and was quite content with her stair step bed. I continued the climb.
At the top of the staircase was a gallery. There were no salespeople or guests. A large back room was filled with folding chairs facing a podium, indications of a lecture the night before. Crackers, cheese and fruit littered the snack table and floor. Half empty bottles of Champagne, some erect, some on their sides, were strewn across the table.
Mona must have had a private celebration with these leftovers. Calling the police seemed very unkind for New Year’s Day. I found a gallery business card and left a voicemail for the owner of BC Gallery explaining our presence. We had taken only a few leftover snacks and bubbly. However, I couldn’t be sure that Mona and I had been the gallery’s only visitors.
Needing to resolve my little drama positively, I locked the door, finished a bottle of Champagne and joined Mona on the staircase for my own Champagne nap, confident no one would check voicemails on New Year’s morning. This was enough to awaken Mona.
“Are you a cop? I didn’t do nothin’!” Tears appeared in her eyes. “Don’t hurt me.”
“My name ain’t Mona,” she interrupted. “Leave me alone.”
I offered her breakfast from Adonis on Park Street Plaza.
“You’re nuts!” she said. “I’m not sure I want to be seen with you.”
I chuckled, and more relaxed, she agreed to go.
As we left, I threw the broken bottle into the city trash bin. There, lodged at its bottom, was Tinker Bell.
“Mona,” I said, “if it hadn’t been for this little cork, I wouldn’t have met you. We both would have started the new year alone.”
Mona looked sideways at me. “You’re nuts.”
As we walked, I glanced back. Tinker Bell was following us.
When we finished our meal, Mona rose to leave.
“Thank you for helping me.“
“Mona, you helped me, too. Meet me here again next week.”
“Crazy!” The word roiled up from the depths of her chest. She walked towards Forest Avenue, Tinker Bell following behind.
Then, I knew: the magic was always for Mona, not me.
Edward Clark is a longtime Laguna Beach resident specializing in technical writing. Attending the Third Street Writers’ meetings has encouraged his adventure into writing fiction.