One Reason to Drop Out
Heidi paused in front of the refrigerator, considering taking a few sips of water before heading out for her run. Her mouth was dry, lips cracked, but she still didn’t feel compelled to do anything about it. Proper hydration was a myth after all, right? It would take something drastic – passing out, maybe – for her to take hydration seriously.
Heidi was confined to running within a three-mile radius of her house, all in residential area of the Valley. Despite how manicured her immediate neighborhood was, by average standards it was a glorified wasteland. Back in 2015, there was a community-wide movement to replace grass with turf. Re-landscape entire yards so that they were ecologically sustainable. But the insertion of desert patches with artificial cacti was done haphazardly with little regard to the existing aesthetic.
Sprawled on a Versailles ivory velvet bone sofa, Heidi’s mom Sharon smoked a cigarette, sifting through the latest edition of Prevention. The cover read “Happy and Healthy at Any Age.” This month gluten was ‘in’ again, and the magazine featured a thin woman smiling while eating a salad.
Sharon looked up to see Heidi about to head outside through the sliding door.
“Now where are you going?”
“Just going for a run, Mom. I’ll be back in under an hour.”
“You’re not going past Beaker Street, right?”
“Nope. Just sticking to my usual route.”
Heidi fastened her Bluetooth earphones and was out of earshot before her mother could “ask” who was going to make dinner.
As she prepared to cross the intersection between Mar Vista and Mountain, it took an unusually long time for the pedestrian sign to flash. So much so that Heidi considered deviating from her normal route and running the Pacific Electric Trail, out of the Approved Area, but still very much in suburbia: it was a county-sanctioned paved trail couched between two main boulevards. Like a bloated alleyway with a few mile markers slapped onto the cement.
The sun felt omnipresent, its light relentlessly striking every patch of skin on Heidi’s petite frame. Her patience was wearing thin; her nose was peeling.
If the walk sign doesn’t go on in five seconds, Heidi thought, I’m running down the trail. One, two, three, four, four and a half, four and three quarters…fuck it. Heidi made a slight turn, entering the trailhead which was no more than a single boulder with the name of the trail engraved on it.
Within a few minutes of light jogging, dozens of trailers lined both sides of the trail. At the first trailer, laundry hang from makeshift clotheslines: a pink and white polka dot nightgown, a faded Warriors jersey, and pairs of mismatched fuzzy socks. Children’s toys – a Frisbee and what looked like a plastic golf club – were strewn across the “lawn.” But most pervasively, buckets. Buckets upon buckets stationed at every trailer, for what Heidi imagined had to be for human washing, animal washing, dish washing…
This was all foreign matter to her. Was it even legal for these trailers to be here?
Heidi adjusted her mesh cap to tuck in her bangs. She paused on an elderly woman in an oversized tie-dye shirt and jean capris in front of her trailer staring at the sun, as if waiting for something to fall out of the sky. Next to her stood a coffee table with what looked like a radio on it. This woman had leathery skin that visibly showed the effects of sun damage. Heidi couldn’t help herself from staring at her.
As Heidi approached her, she realized that the woman was not “elderly” at all. In fact, she was probably in her 30s or 40s.
Heidi slowed her pace down to a trot and then to a walk. She found herself embarrassed by how sweaty her face was, how rosy her cheeks were.
At last the woman pried her eyes from the clouds, taking note of Heidi. She asked, as they were only a few feet away from each other, “I’ve never seen you run here before. You new to the neighborhood?”
“No,” Heidi replied, her voice hoarse. “I’ve lived here all my life, but I haven’t been down this trail in years. I like running here. Nice and flat.”
Heidi noticed that under the woman’s matted hair were a pair of deep green eyes with specks of amber. Scrambled green eggs metamorphosed into eyes.
“Not much of a view here though. My name’s Ellen.”
“I’m Heidi. Did you grow up around here?”
Ellen coughed, one of those artificial coughs that swirls around the scarce amount of phlegm swimming in the back of one’s throat. “No, I grew up in Montana. Miles City. Don’t worry if the name doesn’t ring a bell — people usually only know our capitol, ‘Helena.’”
Heidi pressed, “How did you end up here?”
“After high school, I headed out west to pursue voice acting. I’ve been in a few commercials, nothing major though. Now I’m in a transition period…”
Ellen smiled, revealing a set of slightly crooked teeth. Heidi thought, that’s why she’s a voice actor, before wiping the thought away. She could now see that the contraption on the coffee table was not a radio. “What’s that?”
“It’s an old radar detector.”
“Why do you have it? Cars can’t go down this road…”
“I know. I use it to detect extraterrestrials.”
Without missing a beat, Ellen answered, “No. But it might detect something. Who knows what lurks on those air waves?” She flapped her arms in a wormlike motion emphasizing the waves.
Ellen placed her hand lightly on Heidi’s bare shoulder. “Do you want to come inside? I have a pitcher of lemonade we can share if you wanna rest your legs.”
The temperature had climaxed for the day.
Heidi thought about a Chapstick commercial she had seen the night before featuring a conga line of dancing lip balms. She stepped inside, licking her cracked lips before closing the door behind her.
Elena Dypiangco is a student at Scripps College in Claremont, CA pursuing a degree in English and Film Studies. She works as a Grant Writing and Development intern at the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation. In her free time, Elena enjoys running, exploring new coffee houses, and spending time with friends and family. She is currently writing her first screenplay.