“I see a man in your future. And somewhere, death.” Two houses down the beach, Sabine’s friend Cecilia pores over a veneer coffee table wearing a long skirt made from faded bell-bottom jeans with a tie-dyed peasant top and red bandana around her forehead, focusing. “Not in the immediate sense, you know. It could be someone around you. Or even a tree on your property.” She looks up.
While Jules works long hours with his surgery clients, Sabine has taken to walking the kids down the sunny beach to neighbors’ houses where the girls spend afternoons sharing macaroni and potato salads and Jello molds, selling Tupperware ensembles in an endless stream of daily get-togethers. On the days they don’t trade Tupperware, they take turns painting on oily pink lipsticks from mini tube dispensers, matching the Avon lipsticks with butterfly shades of eye shadow in sky-blue, marigold, raw sienna, and burnt umber. With Jules paying off his boat, more upset about money than ever and threatening to put the house on the market, Sabine tells herself at least she is raising something.
She needs to make some money and thinks back to Alan, the high school sweetheart-turned entertainment lawyer she ran into on Sunset weeks ago. “Meet me at the Forum.” Alan said before he sped toward Wilshire.
Day after day this month, the girls have been meeting in the long hours away from their husbands to read tarot cards and talk about stopping the Vietnam war, to sit Indian-style in their living rooms smoking hashish and listening to The Doors much too loud; the kids run out to the beach or ride bikes along the sun drenched path of the PCH. Last week, the kids put together a lemonade stand and sold seventy-eight cents worth to neighbors without Sabine coming to check on them once.
“Yes, but the man.” Cecilia starts to talk again. “He’s a dark man. I see a knight. I’m not so sure you can trust him, though. The part about the death, I don’t know. You smoke?” Cecilia takes another drag off her joint, squinting.
In the night, Jules turns up the television and adjusts the antenna. Sabine looks out at the moon and thinks of the day she met Alan.
“What happened? Mom says you married a doctor.” Alan had said to her in the sun, skin fresh after a shower, fingers strumming his shining red Stingray. “You still model?” Alan lowered his voice to a whisper then watched as if trying to solve some complex puzzle. “Or has married life taken you off the circuit?”
“When I can.” Sabine cleared her throat. “I need to break into the design business.”
“Hey, Zeppelin’s down at the Forum this month.” Alan said. “I’ll be there with clients.” Alan’s car blended into the mass of colors that made up Sunset, leaving behind it a mixture of memories and longing.
People want to see my work, Sabine reminds herself.
She thinks of Jules. Even on the nights that they eat together, which they seldom do anymore, he is yawning. “You’re in bed every night at ten except New Years. By 10:01, you’ve shut out the light,” Sabine says to Jules, trying to get his attention after the kids are off to bed. Jules shrugs and turns up the 9 o’clock news. “Nixon’s on.” He holds up his hand as if to call a time out, makes no eye contact.
Even staying up to watch the moon over the water together never happens. On the hottest nights she watches it alone, falls asleep on the deck lounge wrapped in only a towel and dreams of her designs, of bringing her brother Ritchie home from Vietnam, of somehow escaping all this.
But as she lies on that deck and looks up to that moon, those words keep ringing through her, that vision of Alan in the sun. “Sure, we can we hook up. Bring the dresses.” The feeling whispers on her skin, that fresh wind of arousal and mystery, the thoughts of how far she can go with her art, how much she can do with it.
When she wakes alone on the deck in the morning, the Santa Ana winds blowing on her face and through her hair, Sabine thinks again of selling her dresses, of getting to that concert with Alan.
“Don’t care for loud rock bands,” Jules says at the beach house at six, the early evening sun turning broad. He picks over a dish of mixed nuts and settles his martini on a crystal coaster. “Or for concerts. You go with the girls.” He waves Sabine away before his eyes float back to the six o’clock news, blue silk shirt noticeably tighter around his midriff. “I’ll stay here at the beach, watch the kids.”
When Sabine shows at Cecilia’s door wearing her turquoise ruana, Cecilia swings the door open in a gold flared bodysuit and shimmery bangles, laughing with a tray in hand and whispering as she blinks to reveal sky-blue eye shadow. “Some swanky guys stopped by. One played bass for Three Dog Night.” Cecilia’s Gypsy Moon perfume trails onto the porch. “Come out to Moroccan with us. A new joint on Sunset — ”
Sabine waves a rash goodbye then rushes into the taxi, smoke billowing out from the back of the car.
At the crowded LA Forum, Sabine steps inside past the bell-bottomed, long-haired masses. In her turquoise blouse, faded denim skirt and platform boots, hair pulled back high to reveal large cat eyes, Sabine squints and wanders past the smoke-filled crowd, barely able to make out the stage or hear the Misty Mountain Hop.
Far away, Robert Plant crosses the stage in a wild rhythm, a tiny figure writhing in faded hiphuggers and tall red boots several feet away from Jimmy Page. In the smoke-filled air, Sabine squints to make out the long-haired beach types in dirty bell-bottom blue jeans without shirts. They flail past her in the flashing lights to keep time with the organic momentum.Where is Alan?
In the distance, Plant writhes rhythmically across the stage, a mystical figure in faded out bell-bottoms patched dark at the crotch. The charismatic singer spins as he elongates his torso, shaking his exaggerated mane and donning his naked chest. His voice from heaven or the gods, Plant keeps unreal time with Page, who plucks the strings of his guitar, wearing a full white suit and sending celestial power from his hands, an hypnotic magic that brings Sabine to forget her world, the night, the reasons she is there.
Teenage girls in hiphuggers dance freely through the crowd, shaking pale heads of hair wildly as they imitate Plant. Sabine closes her own eyes to forget the smoke and falls into the rhythm, the trance, the electricity of the night, and loses balance when her ruana falls to the ground. A group of stoned-out fans starts to dance past her. They flail their arms above their heads. Sabine leans to pick up the ruana and her world grows dark. She feels a large hand glide against the back of her hair.
“Alan?” she spins around, breathless in the dark, hoping to see the entertainment lawyer.
The man stands above her, half-smiling with hazel eyes and a strong unshaven chin. He wears a dark leather jacket. “You drop this, Girlie-Girl?” In his low-cut dress shirt, the man is alluring and dangerous at the same time. He towers above her and reaches out to give Sabine her ruana, his large dark hand brushing hers then lingering a moment. But he isn’t Alan. “You alone?” He reaches out toward her shoulder to straighten her hair.
“I’m just — uh, waiting for a friend,” Sabine shouts above the Misty Mountain Hop. When the song fades to a close, Sabine tries to make out the stage, to forget the alluring stranger. She looks first at the musicians and then to the crowd to search for Alan. But the stadium is still filled with the smoke of stoned-out fans who wave bottles above their heads and shout toward the stage.
“Some friend that is to take off on a drop dead gorgeous gal like you,” he calls, distracting Sabine and leaning closer so that she can hear him before the next song. “So, you a model?” He reaches toward her again. “I mean, because if you are, I mean I’m a photographer. I’ll do your pictures.”
Sabine looks toward the man’s hand. He holds out a business card. In the dark, she squints to make out the words, “Nick Stankovich — Photographer: 876–8885. Van Nuys.”
“I — I’m a fashion designer,” she calls back over the crowd. She likes the sound of it. Even if Jules condemns the title and she can’t find Alan, she still needs to make connections.
“Bring the dresses. We’ll photograph them.”
At the stage, Plant and Page dance like musical gods from the heights of Mount Olympus. The half-dressed teenage groupies scream back at the stage. When Page picks up a theremin, smoke rolls past the stage. The teenagers exchange hits of LSD and joints, and one claps repeatedly as she shouts, “Feel the night! Feel the love!”
Plant falls to his knees before he rolls across the stage. When he lifts himself, he struts slowly past Page to pull open a large box then release twelve white doves. One by one, the doves rise out of the box to then soar above the audience several minutes. One returns to land on Plant’s hand, and a teenage girl points high above her head then screams before she falls into the crowd. A random teenager wearing no shirt and faded out bellbottoms starts to kiss her and she kisses him back.
“Do ya feel it?” Plant calls out to the crowd, resembling Dionysus himself. “Do ya feel the buzz?” The music starts again.
The music is so loud and the air so thick that Sabine finds herself swept up in the power of the swaying crowd, the music, the moment. She moves in time with the new photographer named Nick and forgets to look for Alan, those words and the tune to Whole Lotta Love synonymous with the night, with the getting away that seems so imminent.
“Way way down inside, Honey, you need it
I’m gonna give you my love…”
At the Biltmore lobby after the show and several sips of his brandy, Sabine steps with Nick into the large glass elevator and he presses the button. Nick is taller and thinner than he looked in the dark at the concert. With an unexpected charismatic appeal, he moves in closer to her, his laugh very deep — the sort of laugh that reminds a woman she’s far from home. Sabine laughs herself and backs up into him. He reaches under her mini skirt and slowly runs his finger along the lace of her panties. She feels the outline of his slim hips next to her, thinks of how they fit so well next to hers. With Jules, there is still an awkwardness when they try to fit together. But not here this way, not with Nick.
When the elevator chime sounds and a well-dressed older couple steps in, the lady in a black-and-white houndstooth suit lined with sky-blue, Sabine tries to hide the erupting laughter then realizes they’re already halfway to Nick’s room. She feels the buzz from his brandy and wants more. She wants to forget. She wants to forget the horrors of Nam, the fights with Jules. She wants to forget that she has no way to bring Ritchie home. In this moment of her wanting to forget, Nick guides her out of the glass elevator and down the hall. When the door closes much too slowly, Sabine feels the couples’ watchful eye and hopes that the woman is not one of her husband’s clients.
Inside the room, Nick pours each of them a brandy from his snifter. Then gets on the phone and dials a number. Tipsy and off balance, Sabine sits on the bed and closes her eyelids.
When she wakes, his large hands are on her feet, wanting and expressive. He sits at the foot of the bed and wears no shirt. She can hardly make out his figure in the dark except to see the outline of his hair, much longer than Jules’, and that his torso is younger and much more slim. She can see Nick continuing to look toward her with wanting intensity. Jules hasn’t looked at her this way for too long. And even though Nick is the wrong man, his attention makes her blush. She doesn’t remember blushing this way. He wraps his hands around her feet. His eyes focus on her intently.
Sabine extends her legs, not knowing how to react to his stare. In her moment of half waking and half sleep and in this desire she hasn’t felt for too long, it seems hard anymore to draw a clear line between right and wrong. Vietnam is no enemy, she thinks. And Ritchie is no fighter. He never has been a fighter, and now is too late to start. None of it makes sense. And now she and Jules are fighting all of the time. Either fighting or not talking.
When Nick hands her his joint, she simply pulls closer, rests when he gathers the small of her body into his. Feels the tingle of his large hands that cross her back, running themselves along the expanse of it. And when she realizes that all he wears is a pale towel, his full wet lips are seeking hers.
Very early into the morning, Nick is spread across the large hotel bed, sleeping lengthwise in the nude. Not able to find her aquamarine ruana in the dark, Sabine brushes aside her long dark hair, damp with sweat and smelling of hashish, and snaps the clasp of her Dior purse closed. She searches again at the foot of the bed, lifting his bellbottoms to discover a wallet that falls open to the Nevada driver’s license displaying the name Stan Moore and a picture of Nick. Next to the wallet, a faded gold band has fallen out, along with several red and yellow pills.
Sabine tiptoes out of the room, giving up on the ruana. She rushes downstairs to catch a taxi back home, then shivers in the cold outside and avoids eye contact with the stiff bellman.
Inside the taxi, Sabine looks out at the early morning lights that cross Wilshire, sighs and starts to sober. The talkative driver is wide awake for the long drive in the middle of the night and assuming she isn’t from LA, probably because he just picked her up at a hotel.
When they finally reach the outskirts of Malibu, the sky is starting to grow bright and the driver inches slowly through the dense fog of the PCH toward the beach house, where she hopes Jules is fast asleep. “A lotta wealthy folks in this neighborhood. There’s a fine Hollywood surgeon lives up here. Treats a lot of celebrities.” The driver studies Sabine through the rear view mirror. “I’ve taken ‘im home a couple times. He likes to get out now and then.”
“You can drop me here,” Sabine says abruptly and points as the taxi nears Cecilia’s ranch-style beach house.
“I’ll wait ‘til you get in.” The driver takes his time counting the change in the shivering cold, the taxi lights much too bright and the motor running loud enough that he’ll attract too much attention at four in the morning.
“It’s ok.” Sabine explains and focuses hard in both directions for lights coming on in the houses. “I — I don’t want to wake the kids.”
“They’ve got kids or you got kids? If you’ve got kids, you coulda fooled me. I mistook you for much younger.”
“Uh…my friends’ kids.” Sabine shields her eyes. “I’m in from out of town.” “Well, thanks for the twenty-spot.” The driver tips his head and takes a moment to study her again.
And as the taxi pulls slowly back into the fog of the PCH, Sabine walks barefoot in the cold so as not to attract attention, and searches the cramped Dior handbag for her key.
When she locks the heavy door that accidentally slammed closed with the wind, Sabine creeps into the downstairs bathroom where she tears away her turquoise blouse and mini skirt, smelling of stale smoke and brandy and stained from Nick. She hides them in the bottom of the vanity drawer then switches on the hot shower.
Upstairs in the room without a change of clothes, Sabine creeps into bed, still in the damp white towel when Jules starts to stir and leans on his elbow, thick gold chain catching the dim moonlight as it crosses his bare chest. “That you?” His voice is deep with sleep. “I was starting to worry. Started calling people.”
“The show with the girls ran late,” Sabine whispers, confused as she counts through the hours to keep track of the lies.
“You drinking?” Jules’ voice rings in the dark. He rests back on his side.
“We had a few after.”
Jules is snoring before Sabine can say more. And as she lies in the darkness all that night, listening to the bluffs beneath their window and watching the moon that crosses the water, Sabine wonders where her life is heading.
Copyright © Anne Tammel 2014
First published by 3Elements Literary Review, Before Led Zeppelin and After: 1973 is a work of fiction that introduces Sabine, the first missing woman in a series of literary suspense novels about Isa, a Los Angeles-based writer haunted by recurring dreams. After signing up for a series of life-or-death adventures in exotic, faraway locales, Isa must now face her own worst fears, and risk everything to expose the missing women’s unsolved mysteries and stop the dreams.
Led Zeppelin1970sMissing Women
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