The Apothecary Page 0,1

had the smartest, funniest parents I knew, and they had friends who were almost as smart and funny. They were a writing team, Marjorie and Davis Scott, and they had started in radio and worked together on television shows, first on Fireside Theater, then on I Love Lucy. They had story retreats in Santa Barbara, and the other writers’ kids and I would run through the avocado fields, playing elaborate games of tag and kick-the-can. We would gather avocados that fell from the trees, and eat fat, green slices with salt right out of the shell. We swam in the ocean and played in the waves, and lay in the sand with the sun on our skin.

In my parents’ front yard, there was an orange tree, with blossoms that made people on the street stop and look around to see what smelled so sweet. I used to pick myself an orange when I came home from school and eat it over the sink to catch the juice. In school we read a poem with the line “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!” It was supposed to be about the French Revolution, but I thought it was about my life.

But that was before I started being followed.

First the whole world changed. Another war started in Korea, against the Chinese, who had been our allies in the last war. The Russians, who had also been our allies, had the atomic bomb and seemed inclined to use it against us. The Communist threat was supposed to be everywhere, though my parents thought it was exaggerated.

In school, at Hollywood High, we watched a safety film in which a cheerful cartoon turtle named Bert explained that when a nuclear bomb came, we should get under our desks and put our heads between our knees. It had a little song that went like this:

There was a turtle by the name of Bert

And Bert the turtle was very alert

When danger threatened him, he never got hurt

He knew just what to do!

He’d duck—and cover

Duck—and cover!

He did what we all must learn to do

You—and you—and you—and you—

Duck—and cover!

Our teacher, Miss Stevens, who had been born deep in the last century and wore her white hair coiled up like a ghost’s pastry on the back of her head, would lead us in a bomb drill. “Here goes the flash,” she’d say. “Everyone under the desks!” And under we’d go—as if our wooden school desks full of books and pencils were going to protect us from an atomic bomb.

The important thing, the films emphasised, was not to panic. So instead, everyone maintained a constant low-grade anxiety. I was only in the ninth grade and I might have managed to shrug off the worry, except that I’d started to think that someone was watching me.

At first, it was just a feeling. I’d get it walking home: that weird sensation that comes when someone’s eyes are on you. It was February in Los Angeles, and it was brisk and cool but not cold. The tall palm trees by the school steps were as green as ever.

On the way home I practised walking like Katharine Hepburn, striding along with my shoulders back. I wore trousers whenever I could, and my favourites were bright green sailor pants, with four big buttons and flared legs. They were worthy of Hepburn as the cuffs swished along. She was my favourite movie star, and I thought if I could walk like her, then I could feel and be like her, so sure and confident, tossing her head and snapping out a witty retort. But I didn’t want anyone to see me practising my Hepburn walk, so at first the sensation of being watched only made me embarrassed. When I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing but the ordinary traffic on Highland Avenue, I hugged my books, rounded my shoulders, and walked home like an ordinary fourteen-year-old girl.

Then there was a day when I had the watched feeling, and looked back and saw a black sedan cruising more slowly than the rest of the traffic. I could have sworn it was driving at exactly the speed I was walking. I sped up, thinking that Kate Hepburn wouldn’t be afraid, and the car seemed to speed up, too. Panic rose in my chest. I turned down an alley, and the car didn’t follow, so I hurried along the side of the buildings, past the rubbish bins. When I Copyright 2016 - 2022