By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
John O’Brien, the author of Leaving Las Vegas, committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 33. Akashic Books is now publishing his novel, Better, from which this excerpt is adapted.
Double Felix is semireclined. From where I stand — perhaps ten feet behind him — I can hear the whine of his headphones, excess noise that even his ears cannot collect. True to form, he has the volume control of his tape player set too high, but I won’t mention this to him; Double Felix is the sort of person who resents concern, or so he claims. Anyway, disturbing him is rarely a good idea, so I turn and walk from the room.
“I see you, William,” I hear him yell after me. “I see your fat fucking face reflected in the window.”
Rather than respond to that, I pull shut his door and continue down the hall. I should mention here that “your fat fucking face” is merely one of Double Felix’s many terms of endearment. My face, as well as the rest of me, is angular, almost gaunt. I have the sort of face that one expects to be adorned with a modicum of gratuitous facial hair, perhaps an anemic goatee, or an adolescent mustache, though I do not and would never have either. I did once spend some time with a black glass marker and a mirror; the effect was unconvincing.
Passing the familiar array of six doors, two of which stand open, I arrive at the end of the hall where I exit to the deck. Here I will stay until morning — a relatively new habit of mine — feeling the airborne chill of the Pacific Ocean sweep over my body, linger in seductive spirals, and grow ever more to the point as it waits for sleep to take me. It is then, as I lie innocently, making stupid barks and gurgles in protest to my dreams, it is then that the wind will turn malicious and send its bite to my bones. I will awaken and shiver, clutch myself and curse. Though the door behind me is unlocked and a bed awaits my name, I will stay here and watch for the sky to lighten.
In the morning I will join Double Felix for vodka on his balcony. We will have our regular palaver, perhaps joined briefly by one of the female houseguests wearing one of Double Felix’s shirts, or an outcall hooker clad in lace and wondering if Double Felix meant it when he asked her to move in. “Do you live here too?” she will ask of me, her eyes searching mine for either a clue or a warning sign. “What has Double Felix been telling you?” I will respond, trying to look mischievous. Seeing I want to sleep with her, Double Felix will then chuckle, and so give his blessing.
Our house — I mean his house, for we are all guests of Double Felix, myself the most tenacious — sits on a cliff in Los Angeles, overlooking the Pacific, just northwest of the city of Santa Monica. Most of the nearby roads are known as canyons, circuitous strips of black and yellow cut to deferentially follow nature’s compelling leads, and I have yet to find a straight line that leads here, much less a shortest distance. It is my understanding that
Double Felix purchased this house some years ago. I would have sworn he built it himself, for it matches him and he is to a degree seemingly beyond coincidence; but perhaps that can be only a result of a chance purchase, as no man could possibly know himself that well. I can’t say exactly why I find this house so appropriate for Double Felix, but I do know I feel very much an element in whatever it is he wrought here.
Very cold. Two thirty, it will get colder still. I have awakened with a rare — considering my gin intake lately — desire to urinate. If I go inside at this point, I will probably not be able to bring myself back out. This happened once before: inside for a leak, tempted and lost to my bed, inexplicable guilt for the whole day. No. At this late date — and it must truly be exactly that — I’d rather not risk it. Shivering, I get up to urinate on some weeds that lie on the other side of the railing. Small dribble hits the deck, a false alarm, bladder bluff. Water would be nice; I opt for more gin instead.
With the calender now firmly rooted in the ambivalence of autumn, sleeping on the deck is much more to the point. A few months ago, as I lay watching fireworks launched from passing yachts, it seemed a fun way to get a little attention, warm nights and pretty stars the only things on and above the horizon. It has since dug itself in, lies deeper, nearer its origin. Now I find I am here for reasons that I can no more control than I can understand.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city